Cygnus Study Debunking the Bible: Critique

Update 10/20: Amazingly, Sam Gibson's website remains up to this day, with a last updated date in 1998 -- and a note that it is still under construction.

Sam Gibson, aka "Cygnus," is not the sort of person one can take seriously. He lifts material uncritically from Burton Mack, the Jesus Seminar, etc. and accepts it without question. He also sports credentials from the Universal Life Church; you'll notice he says below it, "This is a joke!"

There's a reason for that: Some 10 years ago, that was not there, and I called him down for sporting irrelevant credentials. (Those certificates can be gotten by anyone who pays a few dollars.) Today he'd claim it was always a joke -- but that's far from believable.

For one thing, when Gibson replied to me shortly after the original version of this critique was posted, he spent nearly a quarter of his reply objecting to my public exposure of his "credentials". It used to be that he would admit they were a joke, yes -- in a far corner of his page. For the average and casual reader, that's not going to do: I'll admit that I'm a proponent of the principle of caveat emptor, but I am also not without sympathy for the "Consumer Reports" position that anyone presenting themselves in any capacity of authority or knowledge is bound by the dictums of personal responsibility to represent themselves clearly for what they are.

One is not relieved of his burden by saying (as Gibson does of his case) that the credentials are presented "to show that we have stood by as a civilization for thousands of years and listened to men (and fed them) because they told us that they were some sort of conduit for their god"/some sort of conduit for experienced medical knowledge.

I believe this is what many behavioral experts call "rationalization," but even granting that it is true, who was thereby responsible for those who didn't "get the point" and assume that Gibson is a bona fide minister who thereby knows better what he is talking about? If it is a lesson by Gibson, then it is a very poorly taught lesson, akin to teaching a mathematics class without using the plus and minus signs.

I'll grant that to fall for such a ploy is a sign of ignorance, and many die from ignorance; but that makes the original conduct no less reprehensible. I think Gibson hoped people would take the credentials seriously, but that he kept the "just a joke" information in a corner, just in case someone called him on it, as I did.

Incidentally, Gibson goes on to say that as a Christian, I am "one who would continue to support these conduits" he refers to.

I would? No, I wouldn't. My page is full of criticisms of those conduits. (To be fair, though, they weren't there when I wrote about Gibson years ago.)

Even so, Gibson's lack of quality material is quite clear as we take a further look at some specific items Gibson has to offer. We will look at a few alleged "contradictions" -- Gibson has about 70 listed (including the terrible "Who Killed Saul" selection. We'll also look at his responses to me, and a few of his other commentaries.

"Realeased from the Holding Cell"

One of the things you'll note about this critique on Gibson's site is that Gibson hasn't updated it since 1999. It still has a very old URL for my original critique. I think that speaks for itself in term of Gibson's attentiveness to opposing points of view.

Gibson also spent almost no time answering actual arguments. As noted, he spent a goodly amount of time on the issue of credentials. He also objected that Tekton was "one of the slowest loading sites on the net -- due to poor design".

I'll buy that, at the time it was written, but that's been a non-issue for at least the past 15 years. It also doesn't do much to answer my arguments. (It's also horribly ironic as in 2020, Gibson's site remains as it was since 1999.)

Gibson also had much to say to object to my characterization of him as insufficiently educated in the realm of Biblical scholarship. Despite his protests, that wasn't ad hominem -- it was, and still is, certified and proven fact. Gibson's use of source material is severely limited; his evauations of the Biblical text amount to what he thinks they say, in English, and he accepts favored source material as though it were the last word on the subject. That is a demonstration of an insufficient education.

Gibson also inserted a gratutious comment that I was lucky to be living in a country where we had freedom of speech. I never said anything to the contrary, but note that Gibson, in making this comment, implicitly assumes that I am in support of all forms of censorship, book-burning, etc. -- my view on the matter is actually far more complicated, but that he takes the route of convenience and easy characterization also speaks for itself -- both in terms of the lack of breadth of his exposure to Christian thought, and his readiness to resort to stereotypes without evidence.

Gibson further says that I "forgot" to "let me know that he had stopped by and attempt (sic) to save me."

Let's make something clear. I didn't forget to do that -- I intentionally bypassed it. I'm into defense of the truth on behalf of the brethren in need -- not evangelism of those with no interest in serious analysis of the Biblical text. I won't tell them they are tools of Satan, because I'm a preterist who thinks Satan is now bound; but even if I didn't think that, I'd say if Satan would distance himself from Gibson as quickly as possible and seek someone who can do a more informed job of criticizing the Biblical text.

With Gibson in particular, I wrote on him because a young lady who had had interactions with Gibson at the time (and who remains a strong Christian to this day) had some questions about his material. (She was also a little disgusted by his resort to certain sexual innuendo in correspondence with her -- especially as she was underage at the time; a point I bring up for good reason, as shown below, not merely ad hominem.

When I am asked to do such things, and when it was my practice to write articles on request (as it no longer is), I had no interest on whether the subject knew about it or not. Of what interest could it be to me? Gibson clearly had his mind made up, and clearly had no interest in expanding his epistemic horizons. Evangelizing such a one is a task whose destiny indicates the fate of Chorazin.

That touches on the substance of another of Gibson's major issues, in his reply and in a couple of emails that followed. Gibson "invites" me to "come out from behind (my) HTML editor" and "participate in the online forum at (Gibson's) website to deal with the issues of apologia" -- and later charged me with "cowardice" for refusing to do so.

Indeed? Let me make a few observations on that, now with more insight than I had when I first replied.

Gibson also thanks me for putting him "in some very fine company" with a list I once maintained of persons I refuted. I need not list these here as I once did: The names can all be found on the appropriate pages in alphabetical order, via the pulldown menus to the left.

One of the few places where Gibson did offer a reply of substance had to do with my very long, four-part project on Harmonization, a combination refutation of anti-harmonizers and certain principles of the Jesus Seminar. What Gibson addresses, though, are some summary principles in which I very generally address (and recast) the seven "pillars of scholarly wisdom" the Seminar adheres to.

What Gibson does not address is the real meat of the project, wherein I show how these principles would lead to absurdity if they were applied to our four Lincoln biographies. That's where the real arguments lie, but Gibson declined to go that far.

As a preface, Gibson expresses some confusion over my addressing of two topics (harmonization, the Seminar) in one essay set. The continuity would have been obvious had kept reading into the Lincoln biography comparisons.

In terms of the seven pillars, here is what is said:

General Assumption #1. If it is only mentioned in one Gospel, it is doubtful that it happened. This is nothing more than an argument from silence at its core. Of course, the corollary and logical next steps would be that if it is mentioned in 2 Gospels, it may have happened; 3, it probably did happen, and if it is in all four, it definitely happened; so that would mean that the Resurrection definitely happened! But of course, critics never take these next steps because it upsets the apple cart.

Gibson replies:

What we are dealing with here is attestation. Holding doesn't argue against this presupposition as much as he tries to apply this very reasonable rule to a situation that contains conflicting evidence. Let's read what the rule that Seminar uses when searching for historical information:
Sayings or parables that are attested in two or more independent sources are likely to be old. Note that the rule is neither categorical nor absolute. It is simply a guide on how to evaluate evidence. This same rule is used in courtrooms around the world. Corroborated evidence is more likely believed than evidence which rests on its own authority.

This is rather a short response, and that's in part because Gibson apparently didn't take the time to see how I worked out my objections to the Semimar's rule. In the main, I pointed out that several facts were found in only one of the four Lincoln bios; yet who would discard them merely on that basis?

In terms of the claim that the rule is not "categorical or absolute," perhaps this is so as far as application, but that is beside the point. It is a completely arbitrary rule, and is never applied at all to secular works of history, not even with regard to multiple witnesses (like those for Socrates).

At the same time, the rule is not used in courtrooms at all, in the same sense that it is used by critics like the Seminar. If a witness testifies to A and B, and another testifies to B and C, this is not taken to mean by itself that A and C do not have sufficient evidence behind them. This only happens if A and C are incompatible in their occurrence, or with B.

Put it this way: Additional witnesses gives more reason to believe, but fewer witnesses does not equate with less reason, and this is where critics like the Seminar too often misuse this criteria.

General Assumption #2: If it reflects the needs, likely questions, or problems of the early church, it is doubtful that it was said or done by Jesus. Instead, the words and deeds were written back into the Gospel records. In the words of the Seminar: "Sayings and parables expressed in 'Christian' language are the creation of the evangelists or their Christian predecessors...The Christian community developed apologetics statements to defend its claims and sometimes attributed such statements to Jesus." (pp. 24-5) No matter how fancy you say it, the bottom line is : The Gospels writers were liars. They invented sayings of Jesus to address problems in the church.

Here, Gibson accuses me of using the word "liar" because "it invokes the proper emotional response from his less than critical readers."

And he's right. No matter how they try to soften it by referring to "creative communities" and so on, the Seminar is accusing the Gospel writers of lying and fabrication, and circomlocution by Gibson is going to change that fact. The Seminar, indeed, is arguably trying to subvert the proper -- because it is warranted -- response from readers, so my correction is quite proper in itself.

He goes on to add: "The truth of the matter is that the gospels were written with an agenda and the Jesus Seminar realizes the need to see through this smokescreen to get to what is likely to be historical."

In response we challenge Gibson to read, address, and refute Glenn Miller's item on this subject. No more needs to be said, for Gibson, who is unable to recognize that the Seminar has its own biases, needs no further response on this.

General Assumption #3: If it reflects something that was already being taught in Judaism or some other philosophy at the time, it it doubtful that it was said or done by Jesus. The Seminar puts it this way: "Words borrowed from the fund of common lore or the Greek scriptures are often put on the lips of Jesus." (p. 23) This is rather a stringent demand to place upon any literary work. To their credit, the Seminar does not ALWAYS say that such quotes are invented; they admit that at times Jesus may have used common lore and proverbs when speaking. (Actually, that Jesus did use common lore and such should be taken as authenticating the Gospel records; but in the wild world of the Seminar, this is not the case.) Skeptics often take this argument a bit further by asserting that elements of the Gospels (the virgin birth, for example) were borrowed from other religions or fables.

In reply here, Gibson asserts that "this is true is simply common sense" and repeats the a standard argument about Scripture-searching Christians who made up "gospel fictions" from the OT (see my response to Randel Helms on this). This is yet another "already refuted" contention.

Also, speaking of Matthew, Gibson makes this observation: "There is absolutely no reason to suspect that a Galilean peasant would be so familiar with Jewish scripture that he would be able to quote Zechariah or Jeremiah before there was a fixed Jewish canon."

It is interesting how frequently Skeptics make statements like these that would be regarded as profoundly offensive if they were framed in other terms -- e.g., "Indian" instead of Galileean, and "Hindu" instead of "Jewish," and so on.

In any event, he's wrong on several counts: Matthew was no mere "Galilean peasant" but a tax collector, among the most educated and literate in Jewish society; but even without the identification, Matthew's gospel shows every evidence of having been written by one who was familiar with rabbinical teaching techniques, and is considered widely to be a work of literary craftsmanship.

Finally, Gibson should know that having a "fixed Jewish canon" had/has nada to do with being able to quote a prophet. Remember (as the Seminar tends to forget), this is an era of strong and accurate oral tradition, of memory and mnemonics. Even the lowest "Galilean peasant" would be likely to recite Scripture more accurately than even Gibson could.

Finally Gibson adds that "the question is not whether or not the gospel authors used other religions or fables in their stories. The question is how much did they use and from which other religions or fables."

Actually the question has been asked and answered in the negative. For the premier refutation of this idea, see Glenn Miller's item here.

General Assumption #4: If it has a miraculous element, it didn't happen.

Gibson says, "Holding does not attempt to refute this and so we will pass over it."

He's right -- such obvious historiographical presumption requires no refutation. Hume had been refuted and we remain waiting for a return volley.

General Assumption #5: The Gospel writers added to or expanded upon Jesus' sayings with their own interpretations or comments, or attributed their own statements and/or stories to the Gospels. This is easy to assume, but difficult to prove. The Jesus Seminar creates a variety of scenarios to explain how certain parts of the Gospels have been thusly altered, generally using elements of Assumptions 2 and 3.

Gibson asserts to the contrary that "this is quite easy to prove" but he provides no specific examples, only a generalized comment. He's going to have to do a lot better than that (as well as refute my samples exposing such theorizing in this article.

General Assumption #6: Many saying of Jesus are invented for the occasion. (p. 30) The Seminar applies this mainly to non-teaching words of Jesus. For example, where Jesus exorcises a demon and says, "Come out of him!" this is regarded as just being storytellers' license to fit the situation....It is also said that such sayings could not have been transmitted orally, in the context of a larger story, so they cannot be relied upon - ignoring the possibility that the story itself may have been transmitted in writing, or that oral tradition can indeed be reliable to the required extent.

Gibson only replies, "The reason for this should be obvious and the response to it is quite simple. Oral traditions do not preserve little sayings like the one mentioned above but remember the general idea of a story."

Actually, oral traditions may indeed preserve such little sayings, but that isn't my main point; my main point is the Seminar's pedantic ranking of such sayings at all. It's perfectly fine to pass them over. At any rate, their criteria here, like many of the others, is merely assumption/presumption.

General Assumption #7: Only sayings and actions that fit a specified portrait of Jesus are authentic. The Seminar has a host of criteria in this regard which we will not recount here. However, it is noteworthy that one admonition to their members is to beware of finding a Jesus that is congenial to them - is this not what they are doing when they set arbitrary criteria beforehand? (Obviously, for them, this wipes out all of Jesus' claims to divinity.)

Gibson objects that this "is about as vague as it could possibly be" but once again, had he read the remainder of the Lincoln project, he would have seen exactly how my response is put into application. It is quite easy for my fictional Dr. Futz to sound authoritative saying that the Lincoln biographies were written by the 20th century civil rights movement to canonize their hero; so likewise the Seminar can easily dismiss whatever does not suit them.

Gibson then says that my point "assumes knowledge of the scholars' motives and intentions. Since we know that Holding is not omniscient, we can completely disregard this statement as the ranting of someone with a preconceived idea of who and what the members of the Seminar are."

Preconceived, is it? It's not necessary: With Robert Funk, the Seminar founder, offering his own commentary about the need to come up with a new Jesus unlike the one "fundamentalists" prefer, it doesn't require any "preconceptions" to make this assessment -- the Seminar offers enough material to the effect I have specified.

I'll close this by noting something Gibson is probably unaware of: Opposition to the Seminar is not just the province of fundamentalists, but comes from many quarters: From the likes of Luke T. Johnson, Richard Hays, John P. Meier, Jacob Neusner, and Philip Jenkins, and others of middle-road persuasion who recognize that the Seminar's methodology is errant.

If Gibson wants to defend them, let's see him do so against these scholars .

Of the 70+ contradictions Gibson offers between two separate pages, only a few have not been covered by myself (or by Glenn Miller) at some past point. Many others, though "new", show the standard bypassing of textual criticism and proverbial literature. In line with our new format we are providing links to appropriate answers.

I have noted as of this editing (May 2009) that Gibson's list of contradictions has not changed in the 10 or so years since I have addressed him, save that he seems to have deleted one (#69). Although he mentions my name and says I am "answered," he doesn't offer any answers to any of my articles. He does answer another replier, whose answers I do not find useful, but he doesn't answer me anywhere.

1. How many Gods? -- The answer to this may be found between my essay on Wisdom regarding multiplicity within the Godhead, though I see no reason (and Gibson gives no reason against) God speaking to angels in Gen. 1:26. Either is fine with me.

2. 3. Who has seen God?

4. Who is punished for sins?

5. Who finds Wisdom?

6. Does God keep anger forever?

7. Is lying with your sister really bad?

8. Is it OK to kill?

9. Is revenge OK?

10. Did God speak of attonement? (sic -- after 10+ years, he has also never fixed this spelling error)

11, 12. Is monetary wealth good or bad?

13. Salvation by faith or by works? -- plus here

14. Is it OK to judge?

15. Did Michal have children?

16. Who commanded David to count the people of Israel?

17. How old was Ahaziah when he began to reign?

18. Just what was the population of Israel? And, how many fighting men did they have?

19. How old was Jehoiachin when he began to reign? And, how long did he reign?

20. How many stalls of horses?

21. How many overseers?

22. How many baths?

23, 24. How many freed Israelites?

25. How many animals?

26. Who did the Midianites sell Joseph to?

27. What did Jesus drink on the cross?

28. Who can be forgiven?

29. Just what were Jesus' last words? -- see also here and the linked item above on Wisdom.

30. How did Judas die?

31. How long does it take Jesus to get to Heaven? Or did he know? -- Gibson doesn't really explain what the problem is here. He seems to think that "Paradise" and the Matthew reference ean different places, but since "the heart of the earth" is synonymous with death, and "Paradise" was the Jewish abode of the righteous dead, I do not see a problem.

32. When was Jesus transfigured?

33. Who carried Jesus' cross? -- defunct

34. What time was Jesus crucified?

35. Who were Jesus' disciples? - defunct

36. Who was Jesus' grandfather?

37. Was John Elijah or not?

38. Did Jesus, as God, punish himself?

39. Did John recognize Jesus before the baptism?

40. Did John recognize Jesus after the baptism? -- defunct

41. Where did Jesus go after his baptism?

42. Where did Jesus meet Simon Peter and Andrew?

43. Was Jairus' daughter alive or dead when he came to Jesus?

44. Did Jesus allow his disciples to carry a staff on their journeys?

45. How did Simon Peter learn that Jesus was the Christ? -- defunct

46. Who brought the Capernaum centurion's request to Jesus?

47. Was the man in the tax collector's office named Matthew or Levi?

48. Did Jesus speak openly to his disciples or in secret?

49. Did Jesus ride into Jerusalem on one animal or two?

50. Did Jesus cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem on the first or second day? -- This is another one where I just don't see the problem. Gibson doesn't outline Matthew and Luke's respective chronologies proving that they have Jesus cleansing the Temple on different days, he just quotes verses.

51. Did the tree that Jesus cursed wither immediately or overnight?

52. Did Jesus say that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed once or twice?

53. Where was Jesus on the sixth hour of the crucifixion?

54-6. Harmonization issues

57. Is all scripture ptofitable? [sic] -- Here again I do not see any difficulty at all, and Gibson offers no "interpretation" explaining what discrepancy he perceives.

58. Did Jesus bring peace or warfare (spiritual or otherwise)?

59. Is Jesus in danger of hellfire?

60. Did Jesus teach his followers to do their deeds openly or in secret?

61. Is Jesus to be trusted?

62. Did Jesus think that he was God?

63. Did Paul's traveling companions see and hear correctly?

64. How many children did Abraham have?

65. Who has ascended to heaven?

66. Who was King Abijah's mother?

67. How many generations were there between the Babylonian exile to the birth of Jesus?

68. When Paul saw the light and fell to the ground, did his travelling companions also fall?

69. Who slayed Goliath?

70. Who killed Saul?

From Gibson's other list:

1. Acts 20:35

2. on the House of David

3. John 7:38 -- this is an example of what the article refers to

4. on Is. 7:14