Skip to content

Jesus (1) vs. Leo Tolstoy

For yesterday we’ll have to go with Hobbes. As Zbicyclist put it: “A seminar that promises to be nasty, brutish — and short!” Jonathan put the anti-David argument well: “If there were ever someone who would try to bullshit his way through a seminar, it’s Larry David. Unprepared (with some excuse of course) and a waste of time. The whole point of Larry David is to be irritating to those he comes in contact with. Wasn’t screwing up a seminar he was invited to give already an episode?” And, as an extra benefit, Tom linked Hobbes to Aki’s classic birthdays analysis. So the political philosopher advances.

And today we have another serendipitously appropriate pairing. The #1 Christian of all time vs. a successful landowner who, at the end of his life, devoted himself to Christianity. The teller of crisp parables vs. the author of a really long novel about a lady who throws herself under a train. Two white guys with beards.

We got some high-quality talent here in the lower-left corner of the bracket.

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I vote against the one with the long unreadable book.

    • Andrew says:

      Hey—if being involved with a long unreadable book were a problem, I’d be disqualified too!

      • Ken says:

        I don’t think having a long and “unreadable” book disqualifies Tolstoy. I think we can pin the Bible, or at least the New Testament anyway, on Jesus. I would probably go with Jesus because some of the most memorable seminars I’ve attended had presenters with lots of memorable anecdotes. Plus Jesus comes with the possibility that he’d help out if the food and drinks at the seminar sucked or wasn’t enough. Oh, and then there might even be good wine.

    • Nick says:

      The one with all the war? And stuff about peace? Yeah everybody says they read that book but not many actually have.

  2. Tom says:

    Jesus has by far the best encore of all time, so we know he must be a bit of a showman. Also – five loaves and two fishes will take care of the catering for the seminar. Dinner and a show – what more do you want?

  3. George says:

    Jesus. He can answer any question about Leo and more.

  4. Dalton says:

    A fight between the two of the leading anarcho-pacifists in world history? Sounds pretty boring either way. They’d each try to out humble each other, and it’d eventually devolve into a passive-aggressive duel of niceness which Tolstoy is bound to loose (and by losing advance to the next round). It’d be like two drivers at stop sign in Oregon each trying to give each other right of way until one of them finally blinks. I think Tolstoy gets the nod just because when Jesus declines how Tolstoy ever go against his idol? Plus who wants to climb a mount (or write an essay) just to hear a seminar? I only go if it’s on my side of campus and there’s food.

  5. Matt Beaven says:

    Go with Jesus– his name along will draw all the attention you need. People either love him or hate him but almost nobody is indifferent.

  6. Tom M says:

    Well, I think you nailed it with “teller of crisp parables”; JC pretty much owns the seminar format. There would be lots of time for questions LT would barely have time to get through acknowledging his collaborators, with all their pet names.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve got about 1,000 questions I’ve been dying to ask Jesus. Unfortunately, they’re all about carpentry.

  8. Maartha says:

    Tolstoy might be interesting, but Jesus beats him out. All the reasons why
    Muhammed would be interesting also apply to Jesus. In addition, Jesus’
    story that has come down from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul,…has a lot
    of drama (virgin birth, star in the east, wise men bringing gifts, water
    into wine, crucifixion, resurrection,…). It would be really interesting
    to have Jesus give a PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter type talk on some of these.
    For example, the virgin birth: Was it just a line (possibly inspired by
    Isaiah’s prophesy) that Mary fed to Joseph because some other guy knocked
    her up? Or a hallucination or dream (consistent with Matthew’s account)
    that Joseph had that rationalized his choice not to divorce Mary? Or
    (consistent with the accounts in Luke and the Quran) a dream or
    hallucination that Mary had? Or was it a fairy tale (again, perhaps
    inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy) that Mary told her son to make him feel special?
    Or was it a delusion of grandeur that sprang out of her psyche? Or out of
    Jesus’ psyche? (Again, Isaiah might have inspired these.) Or was it a
    rumor that Jesus heard, but dismissed? Or heard and capitalized on? Or did
    one of his disciples start the rumor and feed it, perhaps using Jesus in
    other ways as well? Or was it a legend that started after his death? And
    if Jesus does believe in his virgin birth, would he be willing to donate a
    DNA sample to assist scientific research on the subject?

  9. Martha says:

    Oops,”Martha” not “Maartha”

  10. jrc says:

    Jesus, I like him very much. But he no help with curveball.

    On the other hand, I have this funny story about Tolstoy – see, when my favorite professor in undergrad was dying of an incurable and rapidly progressing lung disease, he was reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich and…. wait a minute, that isn’t funny at all.

    So a guy that can’t hit a curveball against a guy that gave up a life of privilege and gambling to spend his time worshipping a guy that can’t hit a curveball. I guess it would be funny to watch undergrads ask Jesus questions: “Professor Christ – why did my dog die? And as a follow-up, will I see him in heaven?”

  11. J says:

    Jesus wasn’t a white guy! Just cuz the Europeans painted him that way, doesn’t make it so.

  12. pk says:

    If Jesus were chosen, wouldn’t that be the end of the world? Although more boring, Tolstoy seems to be a more benign choice.

  13. Shecky R says:

    Jesus vs. Jimmy Swaggart would’ve made for a more interesting pairing… but still, I’ll take J.C. (he just better not make it into the finals).

  14. Johannes says:

    I go with Tolstoy. Jesus might be a no-show.

  15. Chip Lynch says:

    My only concern is that Jesus would probably seem a little preachy. Cast my vote for Tolstoy.

  16. Dan says:

    This is my first vote on these and I’m going for Jesus.

    I’m not Christian, so I potentially could have a lot to learn from Jesus if he showed he was a god! He could convert me to a religion, which is more than Tolstoy could likely do (and as many people say, Jesus could help with the catering). Although pk’s point is valid. I would be converted just to see the apocalypse. Of course if he showed he was not a god that would probably affect many people in the audience. Regardless of whether he was divine or not, he probably wouldn’t want to show this, but it would be interesting his take on Christianity.

  17. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Hayes Carll has the answer:

    She left me for Jesus and that just ain’t fair
    She says that He’s perfect, how could I compare?
    She says I should find Him and I’ll know peace at last
    If I ever find Jesus, I’m kicking His ass.

    The other verses are just as good.


  18. Dan Simpson says:

    While the prepared content of Jesus’ seminar would probably be divine (and he’s a dab hand at the catering), it’s the Q&A that really separates the sheep from the goats. And for that aspect, historical evidence just doesn’t line up with Jesus. (Even Andrew Lloyd-Webber couldn’t make that bit fun, and he gave Evita and Juan Peron that soldier chorus of gay misogyny).

    So I must regrettably go with Tolstoy for, frankly, being a more rounded human.

  19. Bill Jefferys says:


    In my view there is very sufficient evidence that the character of the New Testament of the Christians, named ‘Jesus’, never existed. How embarrassing it would be if Jesus were to win the final slot and not show up because he never existed!

    • Rob says:

      Please name a serious biblical scholar who believes this.

      Jesus is mentioned twice by Josephus (one in a verse thought to be “improved” rather than made up completely, and again in reference to his brother James, who was martyred). Also, Jesus is mentioned by Tacitus as have been executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.

      • Rob says:

        John Dickson explains this better than I can.

        “In God we trust; all others must bring data.”
        W. Edwards Deming

        • Bill Jefferys says:

          I guess he’d better start eating. I’ve named two.

          • Bill Jefferys says:

            BTW, in addition, Bart Ehrman thinks there was an historical figure but that most of the things attributed to this figure were ahistorical. So, does this count as a genuine Jesus? Or would we end up with itinerate preacher/wanderer with nothing of real interest to say in this supposed lecture?

            IOW, did ‘Jesus’ exist if most of the stories that are told about him aren’t true? The birth stories, the flight into Egypt (contradicted by Luke’s narrative), the miracles (do you really believe water into wine, feeding 5000 with a small amount of fish and bread), miraculous hearings, and “ta dah!” the Resurrection?

            Now if you think that such an individual actually existed in history, I’d agree that it would be interesting to hear from him. But I think you’d have an empty stage; no such individual ever existed.

      • Bill Jefferys says:

        Robert Price; Richard Carrier (historian). Just to start.

        The Josephus quotations reflect what people were saying long after the alleged existence of this individual, and are not reliable evidence of anything. Similarly, the Tacitus reference is just saying what people were claiming long after the fact.

        Anything else?

        • Rob says:

          But doesn’t that apply to most history of the period? If you only look at contemporaneous accounts, you have discounted a lot of ancient history with the exception of powerful people whose heads were on coins.

          • Bill Jefferys says:

            Yeah, but that’s what you were giving as “evidence.” Tough. That’s life.

            My own assessment: A historical person “Jesus” was less likely to have existed than Socrates (but the things reported about Jesus’ life are mostly not true, and most of the things reported to have been said by him were probably appropriated from other sources and put in his mouth), and more likely than a historical King Arthur (though again, the Arthur myth may have been based on an actual person, who cares, he didn’t have a round table and stuff attributed to him.)

            So again, suppose that there was a historical “Jesus” upon whom these stories were based, so that a lecture might actually happen. Would you rather hear that lecture from a boring first-century itinerate preacher than from Tolstoy?

            • George says:

              Whether Jesus was a historical person or a nobody is irrelevant. Millions of people have died and live with the consequences of his unlikely existence as current as ever. They do not care about the source, but they do care about the message. Even if you come up with a proof of your claims abut Jesus’ existence it won’t change anything. Tough. That’s life!

    • Bill Jefferys says:

      I’ve changed my mind.

      It would actually be very interesting to invite “Jesus” to deliver the lecture and end up with no one, or an uninteresting itinerate preacher preaching the immanent end of the world (2000 years late), or maybe several such, who get into a fight over who’s right.

      Jesus over Tolstoy.

  20. mark says:

    I have to go with Tolstoy. Jesus had plenty of good traits, and I’m sure he’d be a great guy to have a beer with. Pretty good record debating with other scholars.

    But have you looked at his style when you give him the floor uninterrupted and he goes in “teaching” mode? The parables on their own would be tiresome, but then after each one he feels the need to explain what they meant in tedious detail as if he’s talking to the most literal minded blockheads in history. Might have worked in the 1st century AD but the audience is different these days. No way do I want to sit through a seminar full of this stuff.

  21. zbicyclist says:


    Having the actual Jesus sort out how much of what’s in the gospels is actually gospel truth would be wonderful and likely surprising.

    Besides, to judge from his novels, Tolstoy would go long. Too long.

  22. Hernan Bruno says:

    My vote goes to Jesus. But I disagree with the “crisp parables” description of his style. The parables were anything but crisp. Jesus spoke in parables to avoid committing to a specific point, like he was saying things without really saying them. In other words, he was deliberately ambiguous. If he were a modern day researcher, he would propose all this ambiguous theories, that can always come true with a bit of data and multiple comparisons. Jesus would publish in Psych Science.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to revive an old thread, but…

    It looks like you made a mistake dumping Larry David. He seems pretty popular at the moment:

Leave a Reply