Do you know who built the Coliseum in Rome? The Roman emperor Vespasian. That’s not all he was known for:
At Alexandria a commoner, whose eyes were well known to have wasted away …fell at Vespasian’s feet demanding with sobs a cure for his blindness, and imploring that the Emperor would deign to moisten his eyes and eyeballs with the spittle from his mouth.
… Vespasian …. did as the men desired him. Immediately … daylight shone once more in the blind man’s eyes. Those who were present still attest both miracles today, when there is nothing to gain by lying. – Tacitus, The Histories, 4.81 (c 110 CE)
How do Christians explain that? Was Vespasian stealing the powers of Jesus by healing people’s blindness with spit?
I can explain both. It’s real simple: They made it up.
The context of both Tacitus’ Histories and works like the gospels about Jesus is that both are pretty much the social equivalent of movies playing in a theater. It’s not like any Joe from the street can make a movie, get it marketed effectively, and then get it distributed across thousands of movie theaters across the globe.
The same was true for paper (well, papyrus) and quills in the time of Jesus. It’s not like you could just go to the Wal-Mart on the corner in Judea and get some paper and pencil and write a story. It took quite a bit of resources to acquire writing material 2,000 years ago. The majority of the population couldn’t even read or write. No, the people writing these stories are probably the equivalent of 1%-ers or Hollywood directors who are trying to make their stories sell. They weren’t CNN reporters.
Most Christians hearing these stories almost 2,000 years ago heard them in house churches, just like most people today see the latest movies in theaters.
Do you see something that happens in a movie and are like “No way, that didn’t happen” and actively go out and try to find people to confirm/deny what you saw? No. You enjoy the story.
That’s why Tacitus can write about Vespasian healing blind people with his spit, why the writers of the gospels of Mark and John can do the same. There certainly were no shows like Mythbusters in ancient Judea.
Apply this to every so-called miracle you read about in antiquity and it accounts for it all pretty elegantly.
Now, I picked Vespasian for a reason. This is the writing of a Jewish historian who lived during Vespasian’s time:
But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.
– Josephus, Jewish War 6.5.4
Not only was Vespasian said to heal blind people with spit, but was declared to be the Jewish messiah by this Jewish historian! They certainly don’t teach this in Sunday school, now do they?