January 30, 2014

Jesus: The Harold Camping of His Time

In a recent post suggesting that the Jesus character described in the Christian bible was not about charity as liberal Christians commonly claim, Staks Rosch (Dangerous Talk) wrote a sentence that made me laugh out loud and then stop and think for a bit.
Those who attempt to portray Jesus as this humanistic, liberal, hippy are taking those statements out of context. If you look at the context of Jesus’s ministry in the Bible, it is pretty clear that didn’t think people should give to the poor for any moralistic reason; he was preaching about the end times. Jesus stated that a generation shall not pass before the end of days. According to the Gospels, Jesus believed that the end was near. He was basically the Harold Camping of his day.
I've italicized the sentence to which I am referring. The Jesus character does appear to a great deal in common with Harold Camping and the tens of thousands (or more) of failed prophets who came before him.

Biblical scholars and historians tell us that failed prophecies about the end of the world occurred with great regularity prior to the period of time in which the Jesus character allegedly lived. There was already a long tradition of people making such predictions in place. It continued through the time period associated with Jesus, and and as we all know, this tradition is still present today.

Harold Camping in 2008
Harold Camping in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Harold Camping told us the date on which the world would end. Of course, the date passed without incident. Camping was wrong. According to the Christian bible, the Jesus character told his contemporaries that the world would end during their lifetimes. Jesus was wrong too. Like Camping, the Jesus character was a failed prophet.

Assuming that the Jesus character had outlived his contemporaries, one can only wonder whether he would have revised his prediction like Camping did, gaining the opportunity to be wrong a second time. Perhaps the Jesus character might have eventually provided a partial apology like Camping did.

Is it relevant to Christianity that the Jesus figure was a failed prophet? It does not appear to be relevant to most Christians. Some merely reinterpret this part of their bible to make it say something quite different from what it says. Others acknowledge the failure but insist that it does not diminish their faith in any way.

For some atheists, this failed prophecy is a big deal because it raises questions of credibility, trust, and divinity. We don't generally associate being wrong and making failed predictions with someone who was supposed to have a direct line of communication to an omniscient being. The question these atheists are fond of asking is something like this:
If the Jesus character was wrong about when the rapture would occur, what else might he have been wrong about, and why should we necessarily assume that he wasn't wrong about all sorts of other things?
For other atheists, this particular failed prophecy is not remarkable because it is precisely what we'd have to expect after having examined the historical record. Again, countless failed prophecies were offered before this point in time and since this point in time. Why would anybody expect an exception?

What do you think? Is this failed prediction something worth highlighting? Should we note the similarities between the biblical Jesus and other failed prophets like Harold Camping?

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