I was born in 1961, so I was too young to recall the national tragedy that my mother remembered with such shock and dismay. She talked often of presidential assassination that occurred in 1963, and it was clear that it impacted her deeply. You probably already know the president to whom I am referring:
Prior to his election, he had been a boat captain. He was related to a U.S. Senator, Attorney General, ambassador to Great Britain, and the mayor of Boston.
He was elected to Congress in ’47 and was the vice-presidential runner-up in ’56.
He was elected President in ’60.
He was in his thirties when he was president; his wife was a socially prominent twenty-four year old girl at the time of their marriage. She spoke French fluently.
While living in the White House, his wife suffered the loss of a child. His family consisted of three children.
As president, he was deeply involved in civil rights for African Americans.
He was assassinated and shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while seated beside his wife (she was not injured).
On the day of his assassination, a staffer told him not to go to the event where he was murdered.
Following the assassination, there were insistent claims that the fatal shot must have come from a different direction.
His assassin was born in ’39, and was a southerner who held extremist views.
This assassin was murdered before he could be brought to trial; he was killed by a shooter who used a Colt revolver and fired only one, fatal shot.
After the assassination, he was eventually succeeded by a vice-president who was a southern democrat (and former senator) named Johnson.
Does this president sound familiar? I used to think so too, but I’m not so sure anymore. It turns out that the president I just described is not John F. Kennedy, but Abraham Lincoln. I think that my mother created this piece of fiction by borrowing the details from Lincoln’s personal story. After all, the details I just listed are accurate facts related to Lincoln. How could they also be true of Kennedy? I think my mom has been lying to me all along.
Well it turns out that both Lincoln and Kennedy share these common characteristics, and while this seems to make them nearly identical on paper, you and I know how different the two men really were. It’s easy to make people sound the same when we are selective about describing similarities and intentionally leave out all the characteristics that distinguish one from the other. Imagine that historians are researching Kennedy 2,000 years from now. Will they doubt his existence simply because Lincoln shared so many similarities? Will “Kennedy Skeptics” deny the historicity of Kennedy because he is so similar to Lincoln? Maybe. There are lots of skeptics who try to deny the historicity of Jesus just because he allegedly shares some similarities with gods or mythologies that pre-date him. Truth be told, the similarities related to Jesus are more fiction than reality, but even if they were all true (like those I’ve listed related to Kennedy and Lincoln), the mere existence of similarities does not invalidate the historicity of Jesus (or Kennedy, for that matter). If we’re prepared to say that Jesus is a myth just because he shares a few characteristics, we better be ready to tell the world that there was never a president named John F. Kennedy.