An account from a contemporary of the writers of the four Gospels illustrates the problem of accepting the testimony of others as "revelatory" to you personally, as we Christians do with the Bible. This problem was addressed in a post last week.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who was born roughly 20 years after Christ was crucified, and died roughly 80 years after the crucifixion. During that span, scholars believe the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were composed. Tacitus even mentions Christ being crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate in Judea in one of his books.
Tacitus also recounts the life of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who, sometime before 70 A.D., traveled to Alexandria, Egypt. While in Alexandria, he was approached, and we'll let the words of Cornelius Tacitus in one of his great works entitled The Histories pick up the story there:
"In the course of the months which Vespasian spent at Alexandria, waiting for the regular season of summer winds when the sea could be relied upon, (1) many miracles occurred. These seemed to be indications that Vespasian enjoyed heaven's blessing and that the gods showed a certain leaning towards him. Among the lower classes at Alexandria was a blind man whom everybody knew as such. One day this fellow threw himself at Vespasian's feet, imploring him with groans to heal his blindness. He had been told to make this request by Serapis, the favourite god of a nation much addicted to strange beliefs. He asked that it might please the emperor to anoint his cheeks and eyeballs with the water of his mouth. A second petitioner, who suffered from a withered hand, pleaded his case too, also on the advice of Serapis: would Caesar tread upon him with the imperial foot? At first Vespasian laughed at them and refused. When the two insisted, he hesitated. At one moment he was alarmed by the thought that he would be accused of vanity if he failed. At the next, the urgent appeals of the two victims and the flatteries of his entourage made him sanguine of success. Finally he asked the doctors for an opinion whether blindness and atrophy of this sort were curable by human means. The doctors were eloquent on the various possibilities. The blind man's vision was not completely destroyed, and if certain impediments were removed his sight would return. The other victim's limb had been dislocated, but could be put right by correct treatment. Perhaps this was the will of the gods, they added; perhaps the emperor had been chosen to perform a miracle. Anyhow, if a cure were effected, the credit would go to the ruler; if it failed, the poor wretches would have to bear the ridicule. So Vespasian felt that his destiny gave him the key to every door and that nothing now defied belief. With a smiling expression and surrounded by an expectant crowd of bystanders, he did what was asked. Instantly the cripple recovered the use of his hand and the light of day dawned again upon his blind companion. Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying."
Two things: first, should I believe this account, the exact same account given by some of Christ's followers about similar healing powers, because I am told that "these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses" and that "there is now nothing to be gained by lying?" And secondly, should the fact that there is ALSO a pagan account of this miracle attributed to a different a healer, a different God, in a different land, necessarily negate, or even lessen, the chance that Christ did in fact perform a similar miracle?
The answers to both questions, for me, is no. I don't believe that the spit of a Roman Emperor cured a blind man and a crippled man. And I don't believe that the recounting of Vespasian's miracle should dictate what I do or do not believe about God. They are mutually exclusive. Too many scholars make the argument that, because similar stories exist in the pagan world, accounts of the followers of Jesus must necessarily be rejected. Christians will say, "hey, they stole that story from the word of mouth going around from early Christians," while non-Christians will say "hey, Christians assimilated pagan beliefs and stories into their own mythology." Maybe the Gospel accounts happened as recounted, maybe they didn't, but it cannot be established definitively either way. So it is left to what we "believe," and hopefully "know," somewhere in the cores of our being, in our hearts, regardless of the persuasiveness of written words presented to us as "revelations" which "are still vouched for by eye-witnesses."