March 5, 2009

Why The “Minimal Facts” Model is Unpersuasive

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:35 pm by Andrew

This post continues a thread over at Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea on what seems to be an increasingly common apologetic tactic designed to assert the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (and from there, assert the truth of Christianity).

As far as I can tell, this argument originates with Gary Habermas’ book Historical Jesus; what appears to be a straightforward summary from a Christian source can be found here. (UPDATE: epologetics seems to be down at the moment; here’s another site. You can also download a podcast of Gary Habermas explaining his argument on the Infidel Guy show.)

As you can see, the minimal facts (“MF”) argument takes the following form:

1. Lots of biblical scholars generally agree that various things recorded in the Bible actually occurred in real life — a) Jesus really lived; b) Jesus really died by crucifixion; c) Jesus’s disciples, as well as Paul and James the brother of Jesus all had some sort of real experiences that changed their lives; and d) Jesus’ tomb was found empty.

2. Therefore, those events are “facts.”

3. Accordingly, the nonbeliever bears the burden of proof to offer a well-defined secular hypothesis explaining the asserted “facts.” (Epologetics says: “Though nearly 2000 years have passed, not a single naturalistic explanation has been given that can account for the minimal facts. If you have any explanation that accounts for the known facts without the resurrection, I (and many, many others) would love to hear it.”)

4. The MF apologist will then pick apart arguments that generally fall under the category of theistic rationalism (that is, the Christianity of Thomas Jefferson and others) — arguments that presume the authenticity of the Bible but search for naturalistic explanations of the miraculous events recorded therein. One particularly favored punching bag is the so-called “swoon hypothesis,” which suggests that Jesus did not really die on the cross but instead fell unconscious and merely looked dead.

5. Therefore, the MF apologist concludes that the Biblical resurrection is the best explanation for these “facts” by default.

I have serious problems with each phase of this argument.

1. First, Habermas is essentially trying to conduct a meta-analysis of the historical literature. My understanding from the IG podcast is that Habermas continually updates a database of “biblical scholars” (as defined by him) and then marks fields as to whether that scholar agrees or disagrees with a particular asserted “fact.” This allows him to then sum up all the fields and conclude that 95% of his population accept “fact” A, 90% accept fact B, 70% accept fact C, and so on.

As an overview, note that Habermas’s methodology falls far short of the basics of performing meta-analysis in the social sciences and would not, for example, pass peer review in a secular academic journal. Wikipedia nicely summarizes some of the basics required for a formal meta-analysis. Habermas’s approach is really closer to a simple literature review, whereby the author summarizes the current state of the relevant research in their field to give the reader a “one-stop-shopping” kind of approach. (Lit reviews are great, but they don’t establish facts, which is Habermas’s goal.)

But I don’t want to limit my criticism of this model to form; it’s not just that Habermas is summarizing where he should be regressing. Fundamentally, the problem is that a meta-analysis is only as good as the underlying data being aggregated. Most “biblical scholars” are, by definition, believing Christians: why would you spend your entire adult professional life researching something if you think it’s ultimately worthless?

The underlying problem is one of selection bias: if an intelligent and informed person thinks the Bible is probably true and therefore significant, he or she is more likely to pursue a career in biblical study and then publish his or her findings (confirming that the Bible is true). If, however, an identically-qualified person thinks the Bible is probably false and therefore not significant, he or she is dramatically less likely to trundle off to seminary regardless, and is exponentially less likely to publish his or her findings confirming that the Bible is false. Robert M. Price is the rare exception — someone who finds Christianity to be false historically but nevertheless powerfully inspiring, and therefore worth devoting his life to studying. (Richard Carrier is another exception — someone who finds Christianity to be false and is active in the atheist community. But these are the proverbial exceptions that prove the rule.)

Those exceptions aside, the basic selection bias principle at work is clear: if you think Jesus was a well-meaning legend, you’re not likely to spend the time and money getting the sort of credentials that will let you in to Habermas’s study. A powerful example of this selection bias at work is the exclusion of Earl Doherty, whom Carrier described as “one of the most expert amateurs I have ever encountered.” But Doherty — who only has undergraduate degrees in History and Classical Languages, not Ph.Ds — doesn’t qualify as a biblical scholar, and so he’s out.

Please note here that I am not trying to impugn the character of Dr. Habermas — even though he’s the one who designed the selection criteria and he’s the one who gets to decide whether X scholar is in or out. The field itself is a sufficient gatekeeper; it doesn’t need to have Habermas put his thumb on the scale.

Thus, even if Habermas were to read this blog and allow Doherty in to his study, his underlying methodology is designed to marginalize Doherty’s contributions — which is the exact opposite of what a good literature review or meta-analysis would do. If Habermas sets his threshold at 90% (and in practice it’s set much lower; see below), then so long as a Christian is just nine times more likely to attend seminary than a non-Christian, the skeptic will be dispersed like a drop of ink in a glass of milk.

That’s not an accident; that’s the whole point of Habermas’s exercise. That’s why you’ll hear Habermas refer repeatedly to liberal theologians in his presentation, saying things like, “The Jesus Seminar folks are not sympathetic to my cause, and even they agree….” Well, true. But the Jesus Seminar folks are liberal Christians, not atheists. As ex-Jesus Seminar fellow Bob Price notes, among Jesus Seminar fellows, their “methods and assumptions differ little from those [conservative Biblical scholars] and his allies use,” and most Jesus Seminar fellows are “far less skeptical, less methodologically rigorous, than Rudolf Bultmann and the critics of the previous generation.”

In other words: Habermas’s argument is a strategy for ignoring Biblical critics outside the mainstream, by padding the universe from which his meta-analysis is drawn with Christians. At its core, Habermas can tell us what Christians believe, but not what actually happened. I expand on this immediately below.

2. Second, I think Habermas avoids calling his methodology a meta-analysis because he doesn’t want to call attention to the huge leap of logic here at step two. For comparison, let’s take a look at a really simple meta-analysis: one compiling statistics on various prospects on the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. (I’m a Rays fan.)

Go ahead and click on that link and you’ll see an excellent example of what even a simple meta-analysis is supposed to do. As it turns out, there are a number of recognized “experts” in picking baseball prospects — Keith Law at ESPN, Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, and so on. Now each of these people share a pretty common set of background principles, but they’re all different in their approaches, and so each one will put out “prospect lists” that differ slightly from each other.

By aggregating all of the data across all of the prospect lists, the Rays Index people use meta-analysis to tell the fan something interesting. For example, all of their sources list David Price as the #1 prospect on the Rays. Half call Tim Beckham as the second-best prospect, another third of them say it’s Wade Davis, and one guy says it’s Desmond Jennings. And so on.

The meta-analysis part comes in the “TVI” column on the right, which summarizes the overall value placed on prospects across all of the expert lists. By looking at it, you can see that generally the scouts agree that Price is awesome, with Beckham and Davis right behind him, and Brignac, Hellickson, and Jennings after that. And that tells you something you didn’t know.

But think about what it doesn’t tell you. It doesn’t tell you that Tim Beckham is the second-best prospect on the Rays. Rather, it tells you that in the opinion of the experts who comprise the sample, there’s rough consensus that he’s the second-best prospect. In reality, Beckham is 19 years old. He could get run over by a bus, or hit .100 at A-ball, or whatever and turn out to be one of the very worst players in the Rays’ organization.

In other words: a meta-analysis doesn’t give you facts; it gives you a summary of the data compiled by the sources comprising your universe. Similarly, Habermas’s meta-analysis/literature review doesn’t tell us what actually happened — it tells us what his sources (almost all of whom are Christians) mostly believe to have happened.

Worse, Habermas also concedes that for the linchpin “fact” in his argument — the empty tomb of Jesus — the level of agreement among his sources is not 95% but only 70%. Think about that for a moment. What Habermas is really saying is that, among Christians who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible, nearly one in three denies the empty tomb!

Isn’t that staggering?? I mean, if three out of every ten biologists denied the common descent of all living animals from a last universal common ancestor, then the creationists would really be on to something. Imagine if three out of every ten cosmologists thought it was possible that the universe was 6,000 years old instead of fourteen billion, or if three out of every ten astronomers thought that the Moon landing was faked, or… you get the idea.

In other words: Habermas’s case is, on close inspection, a powerful argument against the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and a good reason for even Christians to take seriously the work of skeptics, such as Robert Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder’s The Empty Tomb.

3. Third, Habermas’s argument rests on the same sort of god-of-the-gaps inference as other failed apologetics. Even if the items asserted to be “facts” were, indeed, actual facts, it would be reasonable for someone challenged to provide an explanation to say, “I don’t know.”

Imagine that you’re a twelfth-century Viking skeptic, watching a mighty lightning storm. “Eric,” says your religious friend, “if mighty Thor is not creating those thunderbolts by striking Mjolnir against the sky, then what is your secular explanation for lightning?” Knowing nothing of electrons, are you forced to concede the existence of mighty Thor by default? Isn’t, “I don’t know,” in fact, the better answer?

4. Fourth, the sort of secular arguments that Habermas and MF apologists are seeking as potential refutations are, at their core, very strange. I do not think I am mischaracterizing anyone here; check out this apologetics site employing the MF model for example, for a refutation of the swoon hypothesis:

The Swoon Theory (basically that Christ did not actually die on the cross, but only “swooned” and later was rescusitated) is counteracted by medical studies examining death by Crucifixion. The victim dies ultimately of asphyxiation, although their are other contributing factors. The spear wound to Christ’s side was a wound inflicted as a final stroke to insure His death.

Now this is not a straw-man, because there are serious historians and theologians who have offered and defended the swoon hypothesis. But it is nevertheless a very odd argument; essentially, the apologist is saying that if you accept John 19:34 as literally true, then you have to believe Jesus died on the cross. Well, sure. But if John 19:34 is evidence, why not just quote John 19:30, which says that Christ “gave up his spirit” on the cross? Why not just quote John 3:16 and be done with it?

Asking the atheist to offer a naturalistic explanation for the resurrection of Jesus assuming that the Bible is true is sort of like asking the literary historian to explain why Captain Ahab didn’t just take the Pequod, sail off to Barbados, and spend the rest of his days drinking rum, eating fresh conch, and lying on the beach. I suppose the clever English major could come up with a reason involving Ahab’s fatal pride, but the real reason is: because Herman Melville didn’t write Moby Dick that way!

5. Finally, even if you concede the rest of the argument, Habermas’s conclusion requires you to assess the probability of whatever ad hoc theory you concoct at argument #4 and weigh it against the probability that the resurrection actually occurred. This is conceptually impossible, and not simply for the reasons given by David Hume. Any comparative analysis requires you to assign some nonzero value to Pr(R|B), which is the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge. If Pr(R|B) is zero, then Pr(R|B&E) — the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge and some new evidence E — is also zero via Bayes’ theorem.

In other words: the MF apologist must begin with the assumption that the probability of a resurrection given our background knowledge (i.e., that the Bible is not true) is not zero and is therefore possible. For example, Lydia McGrew asserts on page 2 that “…and this is true because the probability that the resurrection took place is virtually nil if there is no God and higher if there is.”

That sounds reasonable on face, but notice the dodge: McGrew asserts that Pr(R|B) is “virtually” nil, which is a clever way of arguing that it is not zero without offering a justification for why Pr(R|B) cannot be zero.

My own assessment is that asking someone to define Pr(R|B) is another way of asking someone whether they believe in God. If you do, you’re likely to say that it’s at least possible. If you don’t, you’re likely to say that it’s zero. But nobody has a rigorous argument for why Pr(R|B) is nonzero — at least, not one that I’ve seen — and so therefore I conclude that Habermas’s argument, even if corrected for the myriad flaws identified above, amounts to nothing more than a tautology. If you believe in Jesus going in, you’ll conclude that the resurrection hypothesis “is more likely” an explanation than secular alternatives; if you don’t, you won’t.
In other words, Assessing Pr(R|B) is just another way of asking someone whether they believe in God.

118 Comments »

  1. Andrew said,

    Another note: Greta Christina offers her take on the MF model (among other questions) on her blog.

  2. Matt said,

    Historically speaking, for virtually every recorded (real) case of crucifixion in the Roman Empire, the body was consumed by wild animals before it could be dragged off to a grave or tomb. Why should we believe that Jesus was an exception on that mundane matter as well?

    I do agree with you that the “swoon theory” is really stupid, and I’ve never heard a serious atheist advance it.

  3. Anselm said,

    I see several problems with your arguments above:

    1) Discounting the conclusions of New Testament scholars because most are believing Christians is like the argument that political conservatives make about the “liberal media”: any “news” reported by the media that is portrays conservatism in a negative light can be discounted because the overwhelming number of reporters are liberals and Democrats. That does not follow. If those reporters are following the accepted disciplines of the profession, then the results of their reporting should be prima facie accepted. The burden is on the disgruntled conservative to show that those disciplines were not followed and that therefore the results can be discounted as biased. Similarly, the burden is on you to show not just that the scholars happen to be Christians, but that they have failed to follow accepted historiographical methods (accepted by the profession in general, regardless of personal religious beliefs) in reaching their conclusions.

    2) The fact that 3 in 10 of the scholars do not accept the empty tomb indicates the opposite of what you conclude. If they allow their conclusions to be biased by their Chrisitianity, then they could easily affirm the empty tomb based on the inerrancy of scripture. The fact that 30% of them use accepted historiographical analysis and fail to affirm the empty tomb even against the bibilcal testimony is a striking demonstration of the fact that they are not bound to a pro-orthodox conclusion a priori.

    3) While it is fine for anyone to say “I don’t know” to any historical question (for example, “Did Alexander the Great exist?” “The evidence does not meet my exacting standards, so I don’t know”), it makes little sense for such a person to be engaged in active anti-apologetics. To paraphrase Wittgenstein in another context: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent.”

    4) The site you link to is an amateur apologetics site, not the site of one of the scholars Habermas is referring to. Extrabiblical evidence regarding the techniques of Roman execution are relied on to confirm this sort of detail regarding the crucifixon.

    5) Only the most fanatic atheist would say that the probability that God exists (which would be included in our background knowledge) is ZERO. Surely most atheists would not claim to have 100% certainty of the nonexistence of God after considerations of the arguments of natural theology (the cosmological argument, argument from fine-tuning, etc). Just as a Christian would concede that the arguments for God’s existence do not yield 100% certainty, surely the atheist would concede that there is SOME probability of God’s existence. If that is the case, then the use of Bayes’ theorem is not just another way of asking someone if they believe in God.

  4. [...] but not least, Andrew at Evaluating Christianity explains Why The “Minimal Facts” Model is Unpersuasive. The underlying problem is one of selection bias: if an intelligent and informed person thinks the [...]

  5. Andrew said,

    Anselm.

    Respectfully, I would ask you to go back and read my argument again. I think you’ve missed my point on virtually all of your responses. I’ve tried to clarify below.

    1. I’m not claiming that Christians are biased; I’m claiming that Habermas has introduced a selection bias as his mechanism for populating his universe, which is then compounded by his non-standard methodology.

    2. Again: I’m not saying Christians are biased. I’m saying that taking a meta-analysis of what Christians believe is not a shortcut for determining actual facts.

    3. No. When an apologetics model sets up a false dichotomy, one can critique it internally. That’s what I’m doing here.

    4. I think you’ve missed the point. We know the details of the crucifixion only from John 19:34.

    5. If you’re going to assert that the probability of a resurrection is nonzero, you’re going to have to justify that assertion. As for the prior probability that a God exists, I don’t see how one can quantify that.

    • anselm said,

      1. Habermas universe includes all New Testament scholars. New Testament scholarship is a secular, not a religious, discipline (unlike, e.g., theology, homiletics, etc.). It utilizes the same historiographical methods that secular historians use to investigate ancient history. These scholars are simply historians who specialize in the languages, issues, etc. surrounding the New Testament. If you are not saying that Christian faith leads them to biased conclusions, and cannot show that they have failed to follow secular historiographical standards, then why do you discount their conclusions?

      2. See (1) above

      3. Habermas is simply offering an inference to the best explanation given the information we have. Of course you are free to remain agnostic as to an explanation, but there is nothing wrong with him offering one or requesting an alternative explanation from skeptics.

      4. A reported episode in the bible that conforms to everything we know about Roman techniques of crucifixion can be accepted as credible if we analyze the New Testament documents using the same standards used to analyze other ancient texts. The entire bible need not be accepted as true by historians for them to accept parts of it as accurate by secular professional standards. Thus there is a clear distinction between this clinical report of crucifixion technique and a pure theological statement like John 3:16, and historians would not automatically dismiss the former because it is in the same text as the latter.

      5. Not being able to precisely quantify it is quite different from stating with certainty that the probability is zero. Obviously Bayes theorem as used by historians uses rough approximations as a tool of analysis, but that does not mean it is a useless exercise as you implied.

  6. Ben said,

    Anselm, you’re just repeating arguments Andrew has already dealt with. “What 2/3 of Christian scholars believe is somewhat reliable about the Bible” simply does not equal “fact,” no matter how you want to spin it.

    • Anselm said,

      You are free to dismiss the very idea of historical fact (of course, mainstream historians–Christian and non-Christian–would disagree with you, but it is your right to embrace a fringe position).

  7. Anselm said,

    As a follow-up, you cannot read the following extended dialogue (see link below) among New Testament scholars and not be impressed with the fact that they bring the same critical and rigorous historiographical techniques to bear on the New Testament that other scholars of ancient history bring to bear on the writings of Tacitus, Plato, etc.

    If there is “self-selection” going on, it is not affecting the objectivity of their scholarship (just as the fact that there may be “self-selection” among journalists–because more liberals than conservatives are interested in becoming journalists in the first place–does not affect the accuracy of political news reported under rigorous journalistic standards, even if political conservatives don’t like the results).

    http://www.slate.com/id/2132974/entry/2132989/

    • Gustavo said,

      That is a wonderful point, Anselm, and I for one really appreciate it. The article was intriguing, particularly since I am reading Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities and have often questioned whether or not the evidence and conclusions he presents, as a scholar, might not be just fluffy speculation. I find the evidence much more convincing, now.

  8. Ben said,

    I’m not dismissing the “very idea of historical fact.” I’m saying that I am persuaded by this article that polling a bunch of Christians about what they believe is not the same thing as establishing a historical fact, any more than polling a bunch of baseball writers about who they think the best team is establishes *that* as a fact. That’s the main point, isn’t it?

    • Anselm said,

      No, because these aren’t a “bunch of Christians.” These are historians applying secular historiographical standards to the New Testament documents, the same standards that are applied to other ancient documents. Do you similarly dismiss the scholarly consensus of historians regarding other documents of ancient history? If so, then you are just rejecting the idea that history as a discipline can provide us with factual knowledge. That’s fine if you want to take that position, but it is a fringe position.

  9. Nathaniel said,

    Anselm is quite right. Andrew wrote:

    Most “biblical scholars” are, by definition, believing Christians

    This is just false: the majority of biblical scholars are not Christians of any stripe at all, and of those who consider themselves Christians, most do not believe the Bible to be inerrant or inspired in any sense.

    Andrew’s argument for his claim is couched in the form of a rhetorical question:

    [W]hy would you spend your entire adult professional life researching something if you think it’s ultimately worthless?

    But the assumption behind this question conflates thinking that Christianity is false, or that a particular version of evangelical Christianity is false, with thinking that the study of the documents of early Christianity is “ultimately worthless.” These are quite distinct.

    So the argument give here that Habermas’s statistics embody an objectionable selection bias fails. They might have such a bias, but this argument does not establish that they do.

    • Andrew said,

      Again, maybe I haven’t been clear in my critique above, but it seems to me that you and Anselm have rushed to the conclusions (in the numbered paragraphs) and skipped over the analysis.

      1. Methodologically, what Habermas purports to be doing is something in between a meta-analysis and a literature review. I identified two major problems with his approach: (1) a selection bias (akin to the file drawer problem) in the universe, and (2) a nonstandard simple aggregation of the data that’s designed to minimize the value of dissenting opinions, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what a good lit review does.

      Respectfully, none of what you’re saying responds to those basic methodological criticisms.

      2. With respect to the predispositions of biblical scholars, you’re responding to the wrong claim. My argument is not that these people are all evangelical, Bible-believing inerrantist Christians; my argument is that they aren’t atheists. And of course that’s the case; even John Dominic Crossan and Elaine Pagels and everybody else you consider way to the left in Habermas’s database nevertheless hold themselves out as Christians.

      So ultimately what Habermas gives you is a nonstandard lit review of Christians as to what they believe about the Bible.

      Now perhaps you disagree with the self-identification of the Jesus Seminar fellows; if so, your quarrel is with Crossan. (I try to stay far, far away from True Scotsmen!)

      As far as I can tell, Habermas does not release the identity or any statistics about his database, except to say that it involves over 2,000 scholars. I would be interested to know how those 2,000 break down, given the relatively small number of critical scholars and Jesus Seminar fellows. Do you know?

      • anselm said,

        Andrew,

        You write: “My argument is not that these people are all evangelical, Bible-believing inerrantist Christians; my argument is that they aren’t atheists”

        I’m sorry, but the idea that only a scholarly consensus with a significant representation of ATHEIST New Testament scholars would have credibility is absurd. Surely that is not what you are trying to say? The point is, can you demonstrate that the Christians among Habermas’ universe of scholars are violating their professional standards by allowing their historical conclusions to be skewed by their theology? The burden is on you to show that (unless you are some sort of radical postmodernist who believes no historical knowledge is possible–which I don’t believe is the case, since you recommend the work of scholars whose conclusions you like, such as Robert Price).

  10. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew ,

    You write:

    McGrew asserts that Pr(R|B) is “virtually” nil, which is a clever way of arguing that it is not zero without offering a justification for why Pr(R|B) cannot be zero.

    First, this is a misrepresentation: what the McGrews are saying is that P(R|B&~T) is virtually nil, not that P(R|B) is virtually nil.

    Second, you write that

    nobody has a rigorous argument for why Pr(R|B) is nonzero — at least, not one that I’ve seen

    It is easy enough to justify the claim that P(R|B&~T) > 0. Massive thermodynamic anomalies or quantum coincidences could, in principle, lead to the revival of a dead body. It isn’t, to put it mildly, the way to bet. But the wild improbability of R given B&~T is precisely what the McGrews are exploiting for the comparison of likelihoods: the lower that probability, all else being equal, the stronger the argument from R to T. If P(R|B&~T) were in fact 0, this would only strengthen their argument by rendering the inference from R to T deductive.

    So their use of “virtually,” far from being a dodge to make the argument work, is actually a concession in the direction of someone who might argue that the resurrection isn’t quite impossible given the non-existence of God.

    If P(R|B&~T) > 0, then a fortiori P(R|B) > 0. There’s one proof.

    There is another argument for the same conclusion. By definition,

    P(R|B) = P(~T|B) P(R|B & ~T) + P(T|B) P(R|B & T)

    It would be a bold man who would argue that the resurrection is impossible even if God exists. So the question of whether P(T|B) P(R|B & T) is nonzero comes down to the question of whether P(T|B) is nonzero. One may disbelieve in the existence of God without believing that the existence of God is impossible.

    On some pretty uncontroversial assumptions, therefore, P(R|B) > 0 even if P(R|B&~T) = 0. So the burden is on you, if you want to maintain that P(R|B) = 0, to show that the existence of God, considered apart from the specific evidence for the resurrection, is not merely improbable but actually impossible. There are some attempts to do this, but they are normally very narrowly tailored — attempts to show that various properties that some religious believers have attributed to God cannot be co-exemplified — and even those narrow arguments, which don’t succeed against mere theism, have not been conspicuously successful.

    Finally, there is a simple conceptual argument that P(R|B) > 0: R is a contingent matter, and its falsehood is not entailed by our background knowledge. Hume himself would acknowledge this, as a resurrection is clearly a “matter of fact” on his scheme.

    • Andrew said,

      Nathaniel,

      I appreciate that you — unlike the McGrews! — at least try to offer a justification for Pr(R|B) being nonzero. You state:

      Massive thermodynamic anomalies or quantum coincidences could, in principle, lead to the revival of a dead body.

      But the real question for our term R is whether (a) massive thermodynamic anomalies or (b) quantum coincidences could, in theory produce the effects that are described in the Bible — not just the revival of a dead body in the way, for example, that doctors do every day.

      I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t suspect that you do, either — and that’s my point. Anyone arguing that it is even theoretically possible at least to me seems to bear the burden of substantiating that assertion.

      • Nathaniel said,

        Andrew,

        Doubtless the McGrews didn’t bother to argue that P(R|B) > 0 because it is so obvious that it is hard to believe that any serious philosopher would try to defend the contrary view.

        Yes, of course thermodynamic reversals could in principle revive the corpse of a buried, crucified man, just as ten billion fair dice tossed into the air simultaneously could all land with the same face uppermost. Again, not the way to bet, but perfectly possible.

        Waiving that, unless (a) the existence of God is impossible or (b) the occurrence of the resurrection of Jesus, given that there is a God, is impossible, P(R|B) is going to be greater than zero. So there are two clear and convincing arguments for the conclusion that P(R|B) > 0.

        I do think that in other respects you have badly mischaracterized the argument of the paper, as I have pointed out both here and over on Dangerous Idea.

  11. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    You write:

    First, Habermas is essentially trying to conduct a meta-analysis of the historical literature.

    Why would you think that? The historical literature in question isn’t a collection of statistical studies; it doesn’t even lend itself to a meta-analysis in the normal sense of the word.

    As I read him, Habermas is simply trying to show that there is scholarly consensus on certain issues. The evidence he has provided for that is fairly convincing.

  12. Ben said,

    Andrew — I think your point is exceedingly clear, and I think Nathaniel and Anselm are being deliberately obtuse when they claim not to get it.

    I do think that what Habermas is doing is closer to a literature review than even a meta-analysis, although I love the baseball example you give above. Another good illustration is the Zagat restaurant ratings, although even those use considerably more standardized procedures than Habermas.

  13. gcallah said,

    No, Ben, you’re the one being deliberately obtuse.

  14. Nathaniel said,

    Ben writes:

    I think your point is exceedingly clear, and I think Nathaniel and Anselm are being deliberately obtuse when they claim not to get it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Helena said,

    Matt’s comment above about dogs devouring crucified bodies originated with Crossan (although he seems to have backed away from it). The fact that it took so long for anyone to realize that is quite amazing.

    Saying that most NT experts agree therefore it must be so, is utter nonsense even if none of them were Christians. People aren’t right, their arguments are and if an argument advanced by a thousand people is flawed its wrong and if an argument advanced by one is not flawed it has a better claim to be right. Granting that, I will cite two facts mentioned by Morton Smith whose obvious conclusion has not made much impact in NT scholarship:

    1. If you were going to take a local story from Palestine about the abuse of power by government officials and transmute it for use in communities throughout the Mediterranean , it is likely that you would change the death of the hero from some local form of execution at the hands of local authority, you would change it so that the Romans were responsible for the execution and that it took the form of the hateful Roman method of execution: crucifixion.

    2. If a person in the early first century were tried and convicted of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, the usual outcome would be for him to be stoned to death. This happens to several early Christians persecuted by Saul, for instance, in Acts. None of the Gospels give any plausible reason for why this would not have been carried out in the case of Jesus.

  16. Nathaniel said,

    Hanna,

    What evidence does Crossan cite for his claim that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs?

    What evidence is cited by those who maintain that Jesus’ body was buried?

    As for Smith’s second argument, the trial at night before the Sanhedrin was illegal in several different ways. The weight of the historical evidence is that the Sanhedrin, though they had the right to initiate proceedings cognitio causae, did not have the official right to execute someone for blasphemy, though they did sometimes break the Roman law on this point — and sometimes got caught. See Josephus, Antiquities, 20.200.

    Regarding Smith’s first argument, you also probably wouldn’t try to do that at all since it would be too easy for your story to be caught as a forgery. It isn’t so easy to get away with a forgery as all that. This is a consideration that perhaps Smith did not weigh carefully enough, as he has now been caught in a forgery of his own.

    • Helena said,

      My name is Helena.

      There is no evidence about what happened to Jesus’ body, but eaten by scavengers is simply probable.

      Local authorities certainly did have the right of capital punishment over their own subjects, though not over Roman citizens. Look at St. Stephen.

      I only have access to an on-line text of Josephus–I assume you mean the stoning of James passage. Its clear from reading it that what is not at stake is not a matter of law but factional disagreement. The appeal about the judicial excesses was not the Romans, but to Agrippa, showing it was entirely a matter for the local authorities.

      It would be impossible for the story to be caught as a forgery–who in Alexandria in the year 95 could have contradicted the author of Mark and on what basis? In any case the story was exposed as a forgery, by Celsus, not too long thereafter, and so far as we know only one Christian ever knew or cared. Its not as though they were all getting the latest breaking news over the internet. In any case we know the text is forged. The last time I looked it was an established absolute fact that people do not come back from the dead, and one ancient source followed by three others is not the kind of evidence that contradicts that fact, otherwise we would have to accept that Zalmoxis rose from the dead as the savior of the people of Thrace. So we know that Jesus did not rise either. It is a case of what Bowersock calls Fiction as History.

      No forgery has ever been proven against Smith. People who are supposedly Christians, who hate him because of his rather speculative interpretation of Jesus’ ultimate aims, are very happy to break the commandment about lying to try to smear him.

      • McGanahan Skejellyfetti said,

        “The last time I looked it was an established absolute fact that people do not come back from the dead, and one ancient source followed by three others is not the kind of evidence that contradicts that fact, otherwise we would have to accept that Zalmoxis rose from the dead as the savior of the people of Thrace. So we know that Jesus did not rise either.”

        This is a truly remarkable bit of logic, Helena. I count at least four logical fallacies:
        1) Said the chicken to the farmer: “it is an established absolute fact that the frmer does not kill chickens — he’s come out here and fed me every day, and never killed me!” Fallact: Naive induction.
        2) “They claimed this guy rose from the dead. But people don’t rise from the dead. Therefore, that’s a lie.” Fallacy: Petitio principii.
        3) “otherwise we would have to accept that Zalmoxis rose from the dead…”
        There are two fallacies in those one phrase! And I’m not sure either has a name. First one: More reports of the same phenomenon are taken, not to support each other (“hmm, then maybe people have come back from the dead on occasion”) but to CONTRADICT each other! Second fallacy: “If we believe Neil Armstrong’s unlikely report that HE landed on the moon (after all, no one did before, therefore, by Helena’s method of inductive proof, no one CAN do so!), then we have to believe me neighbor’s Bill’s claim that he drove his car there Saturday night.”

        Helena: A bold pioneer in historical research by the method of logical fallacy!

      • Nathaniel said,

        Helena,

        I did post a comment at 12:27 p.m., one minute after my original one, correcting the name slip. Again, my apologies.

        As for Smith’s forgery, I recommend that you read Carlson’s book; then as you please. If you can point out any lies, or even factual falsehoods, that are critical to Carlson’s case, do share.

        You write:

        There is no evidence about what happened to Jesus’ body, …

        On the contrary: we have at least five first-century documents that state quite unequivocally that he was buried.

        … but eaten by scavengers is simply probable.

        There is not a single scrap of historical evidence for this claim. Why, then, think it probable?

        Local authorities certainly did have the right of capital punishment over their own subjects, though not over Roman citizens. Look at St. Stephen.

        The consensus of historians since the nineteenth century has been that the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to execute anyone, Roman citizen or not. Beyond this point, there are various disagreements. Some scholars have taken the view that the trial before Caiaphas was the act of a group of ecclesiastical vigilantes with no authority to conduct a trial whatsoever. Others, such as Renan, have maintained that the only purpose of the appearance before Pilate was not actually to re-try the case but to secure Rome’s approval for the sentence passed. Innes goes further, maintaining that Pilate resisted merely countersigning the Jewish condemnation and conducted a trial in his own right in order to take matters directly into his own hands. But what they all agree on is that, whether or not the Sanhedrin had the right to find a man guilty, they did not have the right to carry out the execution without Roman approval.

        Regarding the passage from Josephus, you write:

        Its clear from reading it that what is not at stake is not a matter of law but factional disagreement. The appeal about the judicial excesses was not the Romans, but to Agrippa, showing it was entirely a matter for the local authorities.

        You are summarizing only half of the pasage:

        But those of the city residents who were deemed the most fair-minded and who were strict in observing the law were offended at this. Accordingly, they secretly contacted the king [Agrippa II], urging him to order Ananus to desist from any more such actions, for he had not been justified in what he had already done.

        However, read on a few lines:

        Some of them even went to meet Albinus, who was on his way from Alexandria, and informed him that Ananus had no authority to convene the Sanhedrin without his consent. Convinced by these words, Albinus wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening him with punishment. And King Agrippa, because of this, deposed him from the high priesthood, in which he had ruled for three months, and replaced him with jesus, the son of Damnaeus.

        So Josephus confirms that Albinus, who succeeded Porcius Festus as procurator of Judaea, personally intervened in the case, accusing him of overstepping his bounds in even convening the Sanhedrin without Roman permission.

        Note also how the entire section begins:

        Having such a character, Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way he would have the proper opportunity.

        It is perfectly plain that, in Josephus’s opinion, Ananus was trying to get away with something at a time when he thought the Romans would not be paying close attention.

        This explanation, which has direct documentary support from Josephus, sheds light on the stoning of Stephen: the members of the Sanhedrin got away with whatever they thought they could, even though the execution of a capital sentence did not fall under their purview.

        You write:

        It would be impossible for the story to be caught as a forgery–who in Alexandria in the year 95 could have contradicted the author of Mark and on what basis?

        Who said anything about the year 95? As for the supposed “transfer” of the responsibility of Jesus’ death from the Jews to the Romans, this fails to square with the multiple attestations in the uncontested Pauline epistles that Jesus died by crucifixion, a method of execution reserved exclusively to Rome. Those letters date from the 50s, less than a generation after the crucifixion of Jesus.

        You continue:

        In any case the story was exposed as a forgery, by Celsus, not too long thereafter, …

        I assume you are referring to the passage quoted in Origen, Contra Celsus 2.55. But there is no argument presented there for the conclusion that the gospels are forgeries — unless you count the snide reference to “a half-frantic woman” as an argument.

        You go on:

        In any case we know the text is forged. The last time I looked it was an established absolute fact that people do not come back from the dead, …

        In this context, you are begging the question.

        … and one ancient source followed by three others is not the kind of evidence that contradicts that fact, …

        It most certainly does contradict your claim, whatever you think of the merits of those documents.

        … otherwise we would have to accept that Zalmoxis rose from the dead as the savior of the people of Thrace.

        I am sorry to have to say this, but you have been deceived. I urge you to bypass secondary sources and read Herodotus, Persian Wars 4.94-96, for yourself. You will find Herodotus’s own report of what was told to him by the Greeks dwelling on the shores of the Hellespont and the Pontus. They never claim that Zalmoxis died and rose again; rather, their story is that he hid himself in an underground chamber for three years and then reemerged, to the surprise of his friends, who had mistakenly believed him to be dead. This is not in any way a parallel to the story of the resurrection in the gospels, whatever those in the grip of parallelomania may say.

  17. Nathaniel said,

    My apologies — that was for Helena, not for Hanna.

  18. Matt said,

    Helena: great comment, and nice work calling out Nathaniel and others on the smear job they’ve done on Morton Smith.

  19. McGanahan Skejellyfetti said,

    “Helena: great comment…”

    Hmm, I point out four logical fallacies present in the comment. You don’t dispute one but call it ‘great’ — your definition of ‘great’ must be ‘agrees with what I said’.

  20. Great post and interesting comment thread. Sorry I’ve come into it a few weeks too late.

    It seems to me that the minimal fact argument, like all arguments about what Jesus did or didn’t do or say, rests on the extremely shaky knowledge we have about his entire existence.

    The vast majority of biblical scholars, believers and non-believers, agree that we don’t have a single eyewitness or contemporary account of his life and deeds.

    All we have is a collection of random and conflicting stories, including the non-canonical gospels, of a man who performed a range of mystical feats, including killing small children and bringing to life small birds made out of clay (both contained in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). There is as much evidence for those stories as the ones contained in “Mark” – i.e. none.

    As we don’t have a single credible account of his life at all, debating whether or not he might have resurrected from the dead is an exercise in futility. It seems to me that atheists should spend our energies focusing on making sure the general populace understand that there isn’t a single eyewitness or contemporary account of his life at all. Most people I meet, Christian and non-Christian, are surprised and shocked to learn that the Gospels of the NT are not, in fact, eyewitness accounts.

  21. Nathaniel said,

    Cameron,

    You write:

    The vast majority of biblical scholars, believers and non-believers, agree that we don’t have a single eyewitness or contemporary account of his life and deeds.

    I can name a couple dozen scholars who would agree with this. But I can also name a couple dozen who would flatly disagree; and from my own research, I think the latter group has much the better of the argument. Nothing that Andrew has scraped together in his assault on the Bible comes close to making a persuasive case for this dismissive claim.

    Three questions:

    (1) How do you know that the former group is in “the vast majority”?
    (2) Supposing that they are, should this be explained by the fact that the evidence supports this view, or should it be explained by their prior commitment to naturalism?
    (3) If you think that it’s a function of the evidence, why not just discuss the evidence directly?

  22. Nathaniel, good questions.

    1. My reference for saying that the majority of biblical scholars agree that the NT gospels are NOT direct eyewitness accounts comes from two sources:

    a) Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament#Authorship

    b) Interviews I’ve done personally with scholars, including Ben Witherington, Robert Price and John Dickson. They all confirmed for me that the consensus view is that the NT gospels are not direct eyewitness accounts. The big question is: are they reliable accounts told to the authors of the gospels by actual eyewitnesses or at least reliable accounts passed on orally from original eyewitnesses down the chain to the authors?

    2) I’d suggest that most biblical scholars probably have a prior commitment to Christianity rather than naturalism. People who go into the field of bible study are more likely to have a Christian perspective than atheist.

    3) As I understand it, the evidence for the NT gospels not being written by direct eyewitnesses is as follows:

    a) The Gospel called “Mark” is written anonymously. Even if Papias’ attribution of Mark as being the author is correct (for which we have no evidence), Papias himself says that Mark was not a firsthand witness of Jesus.

    b) The consensus amongst scholars is that “Matthew” and “Luke” aren’t eyewitness accounts mostly because they borrow heavily from “Mark” and another source called the Q source (the so-called “two-source hypothesis” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-source_hypothesis).

    c) The Johannine works (the gospel of John, the first, second, and third epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation) are considered by most scholars to NOT have been authored by the apostle John for a variety of reasons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorship_of_the_Johannine_works#Modern_criticism).

    One obvious reason is that John is described as a fisherman “without learning” or “unlettered” and the gospel with his name is “a highly intellectual account of Jesus’ life, and is familiar with Rabbinic traditions of Biblical interpretation” (source: Wikipedia).

  23. Steven Carr said,

    Habermas’s 4 facts approach is remarkably similar to other debate tactics.

    Suppose a Holocaust-denier came up with these 4 facts.

    And these are real facts, unlike Habermas’s pseudo-facts.

    Fact 1. Hitler never signed a document ordering Jews to be liquidated in Europe.

    Fact 2. No German ever recorded hearing Hitler say orally that all Jews were to be killed.

    Fact 3. The building now known as gas chamber 1 in Auschwitz was an air-raid shelter in 1944.

    Fact 4. After the war , trained historians like David Irving and clergymen like Bishop Williamson testified that there was no systematic killing of 6 million Jews.

    Now these are all genuine facts, unlike Habermas’s claim that it was a fact that a person called Joseph of Arimathea (where’s that) buried Jesus.

    And imagine if Holocaust-deniers suddenly demanded that people explain these 4 facts, and refused to consider anything else in a debate.

    Habermas’s 4 facts appraoch to a debate is so bad that even Holocaust-deniers do not use that kind of logic that Habermas uses!

  24. Steven Carr said,

    ‘They never claim that Zalmoxis died and rose again; rather, their story is that he hid himself in an underground chamber for three years and then reemerged, to the surprise of his friends, who had mistakenly believed him to be dead.’

    Well, let us look at what Herodotus wrote :-

    ‘While he was acting in this way, and holding this kind of discourse, he was constructing an apartment underground, into which, when it was completed, he withdrew, vanishing suddenly from the eyes of the Thracians, who greatly regretted his loss, and mourned over him as one dead. He meanwhile abode in his secret chamber three full years, after which he came forth from his concealment, and showed himself once more to his countrymen, who were thus brought to believe in the truth of what he had taught them. Such is the account of the Greeks.’

    In other words, there were people who did believe that Zalmoxis had been dead and returned from the dead, and were thus brought to believe in the truth of what he had taught them.

    And there were people who did not believe that.

    This does seem very parallel to the Christian story.

  25. Nathaniel said,

    Steven,

    Yep, I’ve read it.

    Helena wrote:

    … otherwise we would have to accept that Zalmoxis rose from the dead as the savior of the people of Thrace.

    In response, I wrote:

    They never claim that Zalmoxis died and rose again; rather, their story is that he hid himself in an underground chamber for three years and then reemerged, to the surprise of his friends, who had mistakenly believed him to be dead.

    So let’s see:

    * According to Herodotus, Zalmoxis didn’t die, he just dropped out of sight, and some people thought he was dead. According to the gospels, Jesus did die, in public, and everyone knew it.

    * According to Herodotus, Zalmoxis was pulling a scam. According to the gospels, Jesus wasn’t.

    * According to Herodotus, Zalmoxis disappeared for three years. According to the gospels, Jesus was dead on Friday and alive on Sunday morning.

    * According to Herodotus, when Zalmoxis reappeared, nobody thought he had risen from the dead, since it was explained that he had just been hiding. According to the gospels, everyone who came to believe that Jesus was alive realized that this meant he had risen from the dead.

    In other words, everything I said about the Herodotus passage is correct, and the disanalogies are striking on their face. The account is more nearly perpendicular to the Christian story than parallel to it.

    If you think that supports the idea that the story of Zalmoxis could plausibly have been an influence on the gospel stories, I don’t think there’s much hope for you.

  26. Nathaniel said,

    Cameron,

    Thanks for the substantive and irenic response.

    Re: 1, I’m disinclined to put great weight on an opinion claim from Wikipedia, but I’m interested in the interview with Witherington; if he made this claim in these strong terms then this does count as evidence. (I don’t trust Price’s judgment so much; I’m not familiar with Dickson.) Is this interview online somewhere? I would be interested to know whether Bauckham’s book has made an impact on the professional consensus.

    Re: 2, I confess to being very skeptical as to whether the majority of scholars a commitment to Christianity of a sort incompatible with naturalism. What percentage of the members of the SBL would acknowledge a belief that miracles are both possible and open to historical investigation, I wonder?

    Re: 3

    a) The Gospel called “Mark” is written anonymously. Even if Papias’ attribution of Mark as being the author is correct (for which we have no evidence), Papias himself says that Mark was not a firsthand witness of Jesus.

    The statement that Mark’s gospel is written anonymously is ambiguous. If it means simply that the author does not name himself within the text, that is true but not of great relevance; it certainly doesn’t mean that it was circulated unattributed, that its author was ever unknown, or that the author wanted to be unknown.

    We do not have, so far as I know, a single complete ancient text of any of the four gospels — or even a fragmentary text that includes both the beginning and the ending of any of the four gospels — that is unattributed. In fact, the very grammatical form for the names of the gospels in superscriptiones is stylized and remarkably uniform, as Martin Hengel has pointed out. We have no textual evidence that they ever circulated unattributed.

    The question of whether we have a contemporary account of Jesus’ life swings free of the question of whether Mark was himself an eyewitness. Peter was certainly an eyewitness. If Mark wrote and published his gospel in Rome and/or in Alexandria in the 60s after writing down what he could of Peter’s preaching, as both tradition and internal evidence suggest, then we do have, in Mark, a contemporary record – unless “contemporary” is being redefined as “something written down before Jesus’ death.”

    b) The consensus amongst scholars is that “Matthew” and “Luke” aren’t eyewitness accounts mostly because they borrow heavily from “Mark” and another source called the Q source (the so-called “two-source hypothesis”

    Luke makes it plain that he is not himself an eyewitness, but he also makes it plain that he used source material, and it seems overwhelmingly likely that at least many of his sources were eyewitnesses. See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, for detailed argument on this point.

    The overlap between Matthew and Luke, though interesting, is not nearly comprehensive. Even if you cut out all of the passages in Matthew that overlap with Luke and Mark, you would still have a significant body of independent material, most particularly (and sometimes puzzlingly) in the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection narrative. So even granting the two-source hypothesis (and I share the doubts of Goodacre and Wright regarding Q), it by no means follows that Matthew was not an eyewitness. There are also internal signs of firsthand knowledge in the text of Matthew.

    c) The Johannine works (the gospel of John, the first, second, and third epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation) are considered by most scholars to NOT have been authored by the apostle John for a variety of reasons . . . One obvious reason is that John is described as a fisherman “without learning” or “unlettered” and the gospel with his name is “a highly intellectual account of Jesus’ life, and is familiar with Rabbinic traditions of Biblical interpretation” (source: Wikipedia).

    Yes, and Shakespeare had little formal education as well. This is not a compelling reason to discard a tradition that reaches back to Ignatius and Polycarp, making contact with John’s own lifetime.

    • Andrew said,

      Nathaniel: On the last bit — I think Cameron’s point was not to indict John as a source for being without formal education, but rather to suggest that the material credited to him (demonstrating a high degree of familiarity with Rabbinic traditions) does not match up with how John is described elsewhere (“unlettered’).

      For example: if I told you that Bob did not have a law degree, and then tried to pass off a Supreme Court brief as being authored by Bob, you would probably suspect at least error, regardless of how smart Bob is. Non-lawyers simply don’t write the same way or use the same jargon that lawyers use, and the difference is instantly recognizable to a lawyer.

      Finally, I will give you points for consistency in that you don’t appear to be a Shakespeare skeptic, either. :)

      • Nathaniel said,

        Andrew,

        My point regarding Shakespeare is that it is a poor inference from “so-and-so is described as having little formal schooling/training” to “so-and-so can’t have written this brilliant stuff.” John spent three years following around a man who was arguably the greatest Rabbi of all time, probably taking notes, as the text of John’s gospel reveals at points. Then he spent the next 70 years reflecting on what it had all meant. Is it any wonder that, at the end of his long life, he has a rich and deeply thought-out theology and shows familiarity with the rabbinic traditions of his time? I simply don’t find this a persuasive argument against Johannine authorship.

  27. [...] tagged Atheism, christianity, Bible, inerrancy, resurrection, Zalmoxis at 5:05 pm by Andrew In the comment section of a previous thread, there’s a bit of a discussion about the parallels (or lack thereof) between the Zalmoxis [...]

  28. Steven Carr said,

    ‘According to Herodotus, when Zalmoxis reappeared, nobody thought he had risen from the dead, since it was explained that he had just been hiding.’

    Let us quote Herodotus yet again, for people who need 2 goes at comprehending it.

    ‘Thracians, who greatly regretted his loss, and mourned over him as one dead. He meanwhile abode in his secret chamber three full years, after which he came forth from his concealment, and showed himself once more to his countrymen, who were thus brought to believe in the truth of what he had taught them’

    Not one word about NOBODY thinking he had risen from the dead.

    Instead, there is a lot of talk about how the Thracians, an ignorant people, were brought to believe in the truth of what he had taught them, after they had thought he was dead, and then saw him alive.

    Now why oh why would they be brought to believe the truth of what Zalmoxis had said, simply because he had hidden for 3 years, and they realised they had been foolish to think he had been dead?

    ‘Oh what fools we were! He must have been telling the truth, because nothing miraculous has happened.He has just been in a cave, so he was telling the truth.’ I don’t think they thought that.

    Those ‘ignorant’ Thracians clearly believed he had returned from the dead, and this brought them to believe what he had said.

    ‘ In fact, the very grammatical form for the names of the gospels in superscriptiones is stylized and remarkably uniform, as Martin Hengel has pointed out. We have no textual evidence that they ever circulated unattributed.’;

    Oh dear. The worst kind of argument from silence. The copies are lost, so Christians claim there is no evidence to prove they did not have ‘Mark” written on them, therefore they don’t need to produce any evidence that Mark wrote them.

    Talk about shifting the goalposts!

    The very fact that they are uniform means one central authority decided to name them.

    And we do not know who or what evidence these persons or persons unknown had.

    So produce some evidence that Mark wrote that work, and stop with the useless argument from silence that all the early copies have been lost so nobody can say Mark didn’t.

  29. Steven Carr said,

    ‘Luke makes it plain that he is not himself an eyewitness, but he also makes it plain that he used source material, and it seems overwhelmingly likely that at least many of his sources were eyewitnesses. See Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, for detailed argument on this point.’

    No let us see some real evidence, rather than this fallacious argument from aurthority – ‘Bauckham’ I have seen Bauckham and his arguments are useless and his evidence non existent.

    http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm has real ,documented evidence that the anonymous author of Luke just took Old Testment stories, and rewrote them to become stories about Jesus.

    This is the sort of real evidence that Bauckham would cut his hand off to have.

  30. Nathaniel said,

    Steven,

    You should learn to restrain your sarcasm until you actually read the primary sources. It would spare others the embarrassment of refuting you.

    Here is Herodotus on what Zalmoxis taught:

    Zalmoxis, therefore, who by his commerce with the Greeks, and especially with one who was by no means their most contemptible philosopher, Pythagoras to wit, was acquainted with the Ionic mode of life and with manners more refined than those current among his countrymen, had a chamber built, in which from time to time he received and feasted all the principal Thracians, using the occasion to teach them that neither he, nor they, his boon companions, nor any of their posterity would ever perish, but that they would all go to a place where they would live for aye in the enjoyment of every conceivable good.

    When Zalmoxis reappeared and used the occasion to convince the Thracians that what he taught was true, that involved convincing that neither he nor they would ever perish.

    So get over yourself instead of flailing around as if you knew something.

    ‘ In fact, the very grammatical form for the names of the gospels in superscriptiones is stylized and remarkably uniform, as Martin Hengel has pointed out. We have no textual evidence that they ever circulated unattributed.’;

    Oh dear. The worst kind of argument from silence. The copies are lost, so Christians claim there is no evidence to prove they did not have ‘Mark” written on them, therefore they don’t need to produce any evidence that Mark wrote them.

    No; you just can’t read, that’s all. I’m talking about the copies we haveall of them — not about lost copies. You’re the one who wants to say that the gospels circulated unattributed. I suppose that would be the lost copies, since the ones we have aren’t? Jeez.

    http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm has real, documented evidence that the anonymous author of Luke just took Old Testment stories, and rewrote them to become stories about Jesus.

    Actually, it’s “evidence” that would make Bauckham laugh his ass off. και εγενετο as evidence that Luke 7 is a rip-off of 1 Kings 17? Get real.

    Luke talks about a city that has a gate (shocker) and so does 1 Kings, and Luke says “… to the gate of the city; and behold …” and so does 1 Kings — and you think this is persuasive evidence of copying??

    Peter remembered the Septuagint? A bilingual Galilean Jew familiar with the Septuagint — d’ya think? I mean, what were the odds that a Jew in a Greek-speaking country would be familiar with the official Greek version of the Old Testament that all of the Palestinian Jews of the time used?

    If this sort of silly phrase-matching is the best that the UK’s leading atheists can manage in the way of a critique of the New Testament, then they’re in deep trouble.

  31. Look, it really doesn’t matter how similar the case of Zalmoxis is to that of Christ, because the whole premise of the initial claim is absurd: “If we accept that Christ rose from the dead, then we have to accept that Zalmoxis did as well.”

    Here is the same claim, in another context: “If we accept the idea that Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world in his twenties and early thirties, then we have to accept the similar claim of Joe Papoluzzi of Hoboken that he did the same.”

    That’s just obvious rubbish. Each such claim must be evaluated in its own right, and the truth of some similar claim has no relevance whatsoever to the truth of its compatriot.

  32. Nathaniel said,

    Gene,

    I quite agree.

    The claim being pushed is that the gospels are legends inspired by these earlier supposed parallels.

    I find this claim historically risible.

  33. And, let me point out, I have no ‘horse in this race’ — I am a Buddhist, and have never spent any time evaluating the historical evidence concerning the resurrection of Christ. I just know that Helena’s bit of ‘reasoning’ is absolute rubbish.

  34. Nathaniel,

    You can hear my interview with Ben Witherington here:

    http://gdayworld.thepodcastnetwork.com/2008/09/18/gday-world-344-ben-witherington-iii-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/

    It’s interesting to me that you aren’t interested in listening to the interview with Robert Price. If you want to get a broad perspective on this issue, surely you should be open to listening to scholars who disagree with your position? That’s certainly why i seek out people such as Witherington. I want know understand his perspective, not avoid it.

    If you don’t accept Wikipedia’s view on articles, perhaps you should edit it. Wikipedia, though, has been tested to be more accurate that the Encyclopedia Brittanica, so I think it’s just fine.

    As for the anonymity of Mark, it’s extremely important to those of us who have a genuine interest in the historical reliability of the testimonies contained with the gospels. If we don’t know who wrote them, then it’s impossible to tell the veracity of the source of the information.

    Let’s take Mark as an example. The best we can do, when trying to verify the accuracy of Mark, is say that: a guy living in 330CE (Eusebius) tells us that a guy who lived 180 years earlier (Papias) was told by someone (we don’t know who) that another guy (Mark) knew a guy (Peter) who witnessed the miracles of another guy (Jesus).

    It’s hardly a very strong case.

    • Steven Carr said,

      Not only is it not a strong case, but Papias never identifies this work by Mark with the work now known to us as the Gospel of Mark.

      Of course, all fragments of the Gospel of Peter say they are by Peter. Nobody ever said they were written by another named person.

      Which gives some idea of just what rubbish Christian arguments are, as they also mean that the Gospel of Peter is by Peter.

    • Andrew said,

      Cameron — can you post a link to your interview with Dr. Price? I’m definitely interested, and I would urge my Christian readers (including Nathaniel) to give him a try. If you go in expecting (say) Richard Carrier, you’ll come away very surprised.

  35. Steven Carr said,

    NATHANIEL
    ‘Peter remembered the Septuagint? A bilingual Galilean Jew familiar with the Septuagint — d’ya think? I’

    CARR
    What an illiterate man? A Galillean peasant who read the LXX? Pull the other one.

    And in a moment of terror, this illiterate (according to Acts) peasant managed to bring to mind and speak the exact GREEK of Ezekiel 4:14, that being the place where Ezekiel also was told to eat unclean food?

    NATHANIEL
    ‘When Zalmoxis reappeared and used the occasion to convince the Thracians that what he taught was true, that involved convincing that neither he nor they would ever perish.’

    CARR
    So Zalmoxis used the occasion of his reappearance to teach that the Thracians would have eternal life?.

    And Nathaniel swears blind this has no parallels to Christians believing Jesus was dead, rose again and promised them eternal life.

    Still not one word by Nathaniel from Herodotus saying that nobody believed Zalmoxis had returned from the dead.

    Nathaniel claims that if we read the primary literature about Zalmoxis we will see that nobody believed that Zalmoxis had returned from the dead.

    Guess what? When we look at what Herodotus wrote, we find not ONE WORD saying everybody believed he had always been alive.

    We find Thracians convinced by the re-appearance of Zalmoxis that what he said was true, and that they would receive eternal life.

    As for Nathaniel;s ability to deny the evidence of his own eyes, anybody looking at http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm can see how desperate Christians are to shore up their belief systems by denying the evidence.
    In 2 Kings 4:27-37 a distraught parent of an only child comes to Elisha just as in Mark 5:22-24 (which continues in verses 35-43) a distraught parent of an only child comes to Jesus,pleading for help.

    In both stories someone tries to discourage the parent from bothering Elisha and Jesus.
    In both stories it is unclear to some people in the story whether the child is dead ,dying or asleep.
    In both stories the child is in a house some distance away.
    In both stories a second source comes from the house and confirms that the child is dead.
    In both stories Jesus and Elisha continue anyway to the house.
    In both stories the parent precedes Elisha or Jesus
    In both stories Elisha and Jesus seek a high degree of privacy by turning people out of the house before their miracle .
    The story in Mark is such an obvious rewrite of the story in Kings that if I remind you that Jairus in Mark 5 falls at Jesus’s feet, you can guess what the parent in 2 Kings 4 did.
    The name Jairus has 2 meanings. 1 is ‘he enlightens’. The other is ‘he awakens’. Is not ‘he awakens’ a remarkably apt name for someone in a resurrection story, where Jesus says that the child is not dead but sleeping?

    As confirmation that Mark used 2 Kings 4 for his stories of the feeding of a crowd, and the raising of a dead child, Mark 5:42 says that after the miracle, the parents were ‘amazed with great amazement’ (exestesan ekstasei megale), while 2 Kings 4:13 we have virtually the same Greek ‘amazed with all amazement’ (exestesas… pasan ten ekstasin tauten)

    Jesus in Luke 7 raises the son of a widow from the dead. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah raises the son of a widow from the dead. Both stories employ exactly the same words – and he gave him to his mother.The Greek is ‘kai edoken auton te metri autou’, copied word for word from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

    Did Luke use 1 Kings 17 as a basis for his story? Jesus met the widow at the gate of a city. Elijah met his widow in 1 Kings 17:10. It should come as no surprise that it was at the gate of a city. Luke 7 also copies other phrases from the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 17.

    Luke copies ‘kai egeneto’ (and it came to pass). ‘Kai egeneto’ is used many, many times in the Greek Old Testament and Luke used this phrase from the Septuagint so much that it has become a cliche. When writing the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith also used ‘and it came to pass’ a lot. Here he was copying from the King James Bible , but we can see that the writer of Luke’s Gospel copied in a very similar manner to Joseph Smith.

    If Joseph Smith was a fraud because he copies out ‘and it came to pass’ a lot, why is the anonymous author of Luke, not a fraud?

    Luke writes ‘tay pulay tays poleos kai idoo’ (to the gate of a city and behold), which is almost identical to the Old Testament Greek of ‘tou pulona tays poleos kai idoo’.

    Acts gives many speeches by Peter. All of them show signs of being composed by Luke. Readers of ancient histories expected the authors to compose the speeches of the subjects. The better the speeches, the better the histories. There is nothing wrong with Luke composing Peter’s speeches, unless you want to argue that Luke was simply reporting what Peter said. I regard it as an open question as to whether Luke ever met Peter.

    Luke also seems to have based some of Acts on classical Greek literature, especially Euripides’ Bacchae. In Acts 26:12, Luke says that Paul heard Jesus say , in Aramaic or Hebrew, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the pricks’. ‘Kick against the pricks’ (laktizo pros kentron) was a well known Greek saying, which first seems to appear in line 790 of Euripides’ Bacchae.

    In Euripides’ Bacchae, line 447, we read the following ‘Of their own accord (autamato), the chains were loosed from their feet and keys opened the doors (thura) without human hand.’ In Acts 10:12, we read how doors opened for Peter of their own accord (automatos) and in Acts 16:26, we read how an earthquake loosed the chains from everybody and all the doors opened by themselves.

    Did an earthquake really loose a chain from a prisoner, not a noted result of seismic activity? Or did Luke base his account of Peter and Paul’s escapes on Euripides’ play about the persecuted followers of a persecuted and misunderstood deity, the son of Zeus and a young , mortal woman?

    Just out of curiosity, Euripides play ‘Alcestis’ is about a person who dies voluntarily in the place of another and then conquers death by being raised from the dead by a god. This is speculative, but perhaps ‘Alcestis’ is what first drew Euripides to Luke’s attention.

    Of course, Christians just deny the evidence.

    Hard, clear-cut evidence that the Gospels are lies and frauds.

    Less speculative is the admission by F.F.Bruce in his book ‘The New Testament documents – Are they reliable?’ that Acts 14:12 ‘ho hegoumenon tou logou’ comes from ‘The Egyptian Mysteries’ of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as ‘the god who is the leader of the speeches’ (theos ho ton legon hegemon). Clearly, Luke was well acquainted with Greek classical literature.

    • Nathaniel said,

      Steven,

      You write, speaking of Peter:

      What an illiterate man? A Galillean peasant who read the LXX? Pull the other one.

      Simple failure to understand the term αγραμματοι.

      And in a moment of terror, this illiterate (according to Acts) peasant managed to bring to mind and speak the exact GREEK of Ezekiel 4:14, that being the place where Ezekiel also was told to eat unclean food?

      See above.

      NATHANIEL
      ‘When Zalmoxis reappeared and used the occasion to convince the Thracians that what he taught was true, that involved convincing that neither he nor they would ever perish.’

      CARR
      So Zalmoxis used the occasion of his reappearance to teach that the Thracians would have eternal life?

      No. Rather, to show them that none of those who were his companions, nor their children would ever die; they’d just keep partying forever.

      And Nathaniel swears blind this has no parallels to Christians believing Jesus was dead, rose again and promised them eternal life.

      “Parallels” are cheap. Anyone can invent them for any reasonably detailed writing out there. There is certainly nothing here to suggest an influence, no matter how hard you try to twist it.

      Still not one word by Nathaniel from Herodotus saying that nobody believed Zalmoxis had returned from the dead.

      Actually, you’ve just missed the point again through failure to read what Herodotus actually says. Zalmoxis taught that he and his followers would never die. They thought he had died; when he returned, his return convinced them of what he had taught them. Now what would that be, again? That Zalmoxis had died? Nope.

      Nathaniel claims that if we read the primary literature about Zalmoxis we will see that nobody believed that Zalmoxis had returned from the dead.

      Guess what? When we look at what Herodotus wrote, we find not ONE WORD saying everybody believed he had always been alive.

      A typical Carr distortion. You wrote:

      In other words, there were people who did believe that Zalmoxis had been dead and returned from the dead, and were thus brought to believe in the truth of what he had taught them.

      Not only is this not what Herodotus says, but he makes it perfectly obvious that Zalmoxis’s reappearance convinced the Thracians of his teaching – which was that neither he nor they would die. Now if they were convinced, they couldn’t have believed that he had returned from the dead, since that would contradict what he said.

      All of which is perfectly obvious to anyone of good will who can be bothered to read the text.

      If Joseph Smith was a fraud because he copies out ‘and it came to pass’ a lot, why is the anonymous author of Luke, not a fraud?

      Where did I use that argument as a ground for saying Joseph Smith was a fraud? Oh yeah, nowhere. Right.

      Luke writes ‘tay pulay tays poleos kai idoo’ (to the gate of a city and behold), which is almost identical to the Old Testament Greek of ‘tou pulona tays poleos kai idoo’.

      Denman Thompson, in The Old Homestead, writes that Sue “was standing by the gate and waved,” which is almost identical to what Helen Mackay writes in Accidentals, where Xavier “stopped … by the gate and waved.” Gosh, must’ve been cribbed. I mean, person, gate, standing, waving—crushing evidence. Not.

      Acts gives many speeches by Peter. All of them show signs of being composed by Luke. Readers of ancient histories expected the authors to compose the speeches of the subjects. The better the speeches, the better the histories. There is nothing wrong with Luke composing Peter’s speeches, unless you want to argue that Luke was simply reporting what Peter said.

      Verbatim recounting of any long speach is improbable, though not impossible. But wholesale invention of speeches was castigated by ancient historians. See Polybius, Histories 12.25.

      Less speculative is the admission by F.F.Bruce in his book ‘The New Testament documents – Are they reliable?’ that Acts 14:12 ‘ho hegoumenon tou logou’ comes from ‘The Egyptian Mysteries’ of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as ‘the god who is the leader of the speeches’ (theos ho ton legon hegemon).

      Is it even possible for you to quote anyone without distorting his meaning? Here is what Bruce actually writes:

      Sometimes minor details in the New Testament narrative have been illuminated and confirmed by archaeological research. For example, when Paul and Barnabas, in the course of their first missionary tour, visited Lystra in Asia Minor, and healed a lame man, the populace jumped to the conclusion that the gods had come down to them in the likeness of men, ‘and they called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker’ (Acts xiv. 12). Now Zeus and Hermes (whom the Romans called Jupiter and Mercury) were traditionally connected with that region; in the eighth book of his Metamorphoses (lines 626 ff.) the poet Ovid tells a well known story of how they came to those parts incognito and received hospitality from an aged couple, Philemon and Baucis, who were well rewarded for their kindness, while their inhospitable neighbours were overwhelmed by a deluge.

      But more precise evidence of the joint worship of these two deities in the vicinity of Lystra was found in 1910, when Sir William Calder discovered an inscription of c. AD 250 at Sedasa near Lystra, recording the dedication to Zeus of a statue of Hermes along with a sundial by men with Lycaonian names,’ and again in 1926, when the same scholar, along with Professor W. H. Buckler, discovered a stone altar near Lystra dedicated to the ‘Hearer of Prayer’ (presumably Zeus) and Hermes.’

      A good parallel to the phrase ‘the chief speaker’ (Gk., ho hegoumenos tou logou; literally, ‘the leader of the speaking’) is found in The Egyptian Mysteries of Iamblichus, where Hermes is described as ‘the god who is the leader of the speeches’ (Gk., theos ho ton logon hegemon). In their way, these ‘undesigned coincidences’ are as telling as the more direct confirmations of biblical statements.

      So (1) Bruce does not “admit” that the phrase is from Iamblichus but rather says that it is found there, and (2) his point is not that Luke is borrowing from Iamblichus, which he never says, but rather that the parallel to the phrase in Iamblichus shows the minute accuracy of Luke’s account of Lystra.

      As a general rule, narrative parallels are a very, very poor reason for supposing that an ostensibly historical text is a reworking of some previous text. Virtually any Winnie the Pooh story can be described in such a way as to make it parallel to some story or other in the scriptures. This sort of tomfoolery proves nothing. And sane people know it.

  36. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel says (above):

    My point regarding Shakespeare is that it is a poor inference from “so-and-so is described as having little formal schooling/training” to “so-and-so can’t have written this brilliant stuff.”

    Respectfully, my understanding of the argument isn’t that the Gospel of John is “brilliant” and therefore couldn’t have been written by the “unlettered” John the Apostle as described elsewhere in the Bible, particularly Acts 4:13. I agree with you that — standing alone — wouldn’t be a persuasive claim.

    However, that’s not the argument. The argument is that, inter alia, the Gospel of John demonstrates specific knowledge of Rabbinic traditions that are markers of someone with specialized education and training in the field. That’s the point of the Supreme Court brief analogy. Stephen Hawking is certainly smarter than David Boies, for example, but Boies can write one and Hawking can’t. It’s that simple.

    It’s why, for example, virtually all lawyers cringe at virtually all courtroom scenes in movies and TV — those scenes are generally written by scriptwriters, not lawyers, and they wind up ringing false. You can see that they just don’t speak our “language” properly. (The first five seasons or so of Law and Order are a notable exception.)

  37. Hi Andrew

    Yes you can find my interview with Robert Price here:
    http://gdayworld.thepodcastnetwork.com/2008/09/12/gday-world-343-robert-m-price-did-jesus-exist/

    cheers
    Cameron

  38. “Most “biblical scholars” are, by definition, believing Christians: why would you spend your entire adult professional life researching something if you think it’s ultimately worthless?”

    Most “Homeric scholars” are, by definition, believing polytheists; why would you spend your entire adult professional life researching something if you think it’s ultimately worthless?

    That ‘by definition’ is just priceless! I’m starting to think a theos, by definition, equals a noos!

  39. Ben said,

    Hey Gene, can you show me where Odysseus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through me”? Because I just can’t put my finger on when he says that, but it seems REALLY familiar…

    You are right on thinking that the Odyssey and the Bible are pretty much identical, though, and that scholars value each one BECAUSE they know they’re false. Great analogy!!

  40. “Hey Gene, can you show me where Odysseus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through me”? Because I just can’t put my finger on when he says that, but it seems REALLY familiar…”

    Sure, Ben, I’ll tell you that, if you tell me what the hell that question has to do with my point? Andrew asserted that scholars would only study a religious text if the believe in that religion. So, it follows that Homeric scholars must be pagans polytheists.

    Now you ‘defend’ him by asserting that, actually, scholars only study religous texts because they DON’T believe in that religion! So, from your point, it follows that NO biblical scholars are Christians. So you think Andrew is completely wrong?

    Also, after pointing out how different the Bible and the Odyssey are, you next assert they are identical.

    Perhaps you just fell asleep while posting and your head rolled around on the keyboard?

  41. Ben said,

    *facepalm*

    Okay, I’m going to go REALLY SLOW for you here, Gene. Maybe you’ll figure it out before its time to get off the short bus.

    Gene says, “Andrew asserted that scholars would only study a RELIGIOUS TEXT if they believe in that religion.”

    Check! Holy shit! Gene actually said something correct! But I’ve left a little hint in this quote for you Gene, maybe you can figure it out. Let’s see…

    Next, Gene says, “Now you ‘defend’ him by asserting that, actually, scholars only study RELIGIOUS TEXTS because they don’t believe in that religion!”

    Hint: I repeated the clue in all caps up there. Have you figured it out yet?

    That’s right! If the argument has to do with RELIGIOUS TEXTS, then you would think that a valid analogy would require you to compare the bible to… wait for it… another RELIGIOUS TEXT, right?

    So when you decides to make some dimwitted crack about the Odyssey instead, I figured I’d call you on it. I asked you to back up that moronic assertion and prove that the Odyssey is a RELIGOUS TEXT.

    Sadly, I apparently drastically overestimated your intellect as well as your ability to recognize clever sarcasm. Instead of just saying, “Gee, moron, where’s your evidence that the Odyssey is a RELIGIOUS TEXT?”, I decided to be slightly clever and phrase it with a reference to the bible that I thought you might pick up on, you being a god-bot and all.

    It’s SARCASM, Gene. You know, sort of like the bit you wrote about my falling asleep on the keyboard and rolling around and… well, okay, sort of like that, only actually funny. Anyway, since you apparently have the mental acuity of your average lamppost coupled with a vulcan immunity to sarcasm, I’ll just say it directly.

    The Odyssey is not a RELIGIOUS TEXT.

    So you see Gene it’s not really a good comparison to the Bible. Duh. Hey Gene, you know what would have been a good comparison to studying the Bible? Other contemporary RELIGIOUS TEXTS.

    Here, let’s try some on for size. Do you think people who spend their life studying the Koran are, by and large, Muslims? Do you think Maryologists are, by and large, Roman Catholics? &etc.

    Feel free to reply when the little lite bulb goes on. I’ll check back in a week or so.

  42. Ben, that would be a crushing argument, except for the little fact that the Odyssey is chock full of gods and goddesses, and is, in fact, one of the two foundational religious texts of (late) Greek paganism. (The Illiad being the other, of course.)

    My mistake was that I thought you actually knew what the Odyssey was! You see, having taught comparative religion at the college level, I tend to assume most people are familiar with this stuff.

    And, by the way, I just finished a whole CD course on Is;am by a professor of Islamic studies who is a Roman Catholic. In fact, I’d wager that, in the US, less than half of Islamic studies scholars are Muslim. But even should that be untrue, that doesn’t make Andrew’s ‘by definition’ any less ridiculous.

  43. Oh, and what’s a ‘god-bot’, Ben? Are you referring to the robotic lack of thought displayed by, say, Pythagoras, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Aquinas, Kepler, Newton, Pascal, and Hegel?

  44. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    You write:

    [T]he Gospel of John demonstrates specific knowledge of Rabbinic traditions that are markers of someone with specialized education and training in the field.

    If you want to make this argument stick, you will have to show two things:

    1. You will have to show that John was uneducated.

    The proof text for this is Acts 4:13:

    Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

    So John was “uneducated and untrained” by the judgment of the Jewish leaders. What, exactly, does this mean? Certainly not that they were illiterate. Every Jewish synagogue of the time had a cognate parochial school where the children were taught reading, writing, and the rudiments of natural science as it was known at the time. The Jewish children of the common people were far better educated than their counterparts in Greece or Rome.

    What the judgment of the Jewish leaders means is that Peter and John had not received formal training in the traditional lore of the church. By that standard, Plato himself would have been “uneducated and untrained” in their eyes.

    Recall also that the Jewish leaders leveled the same charge against Jesus — John 7:15 — and that they were baffled by the fact that, lacking the sort of education they prized, Jesus could teach in a way that commanded their respect. When they send soldiers to seize him, the soldiers return in awe, their charge unfulfilled. The interplay is quite fascinating (John 7:45-49):

    The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” The officers answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

    2. You will have to show that the level of Rabbinic learning exhibited by John would be highly unlikely to be obtained if he had not had, as a child, the level of education that the Pharisees would have accounted to be formidable.

    Here, the Shakespeare analogy really does come into play. Shakespeare received a grammar-school education. Profound familiarity with classical literature is, to use your phrase, a “marker” of someone with a university-level education. But it can be acquired by those who haven’t had that sort of education, and Shakespeare did just that.

    Now o’er the one half-world
    Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
    The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
    Pale Hecat’s off’rings; and wither’d Murder,
    Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
    Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
    With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
    Moves like a ghost.

    “With Tarquin’s ravishing strides …”? Where did this guy come from? The fact that, by all our evidence, Shakespeare did not have a higher education — at most, he was entitled to attend The King’s School in Stratford until the age of 14 — is one of the points used by those who deny that this uneducated peasant could have written the works attributed to him, works that reveal knowledge of contemporary science, medicine, astronomy, and several languages and an astonishingly broad vocabulary, nearly 30,000 words by comparison with the mere 6,000 words used in the King James translation of the Bible at about the same time. As Henry Stratford Caldecott puts it:

    The plays of Shakespeare are so stupendous a monument of learning and genius that, as time passes and they are probed and searched and analysed by successive generations of scholars and critics of all nations, they seem to loom higher and grander, and their hidden beauties and treasured wisdom to be more and more inexhaustible; and so people have come to ask themselves not only, ‘Is it humanly possible for William Shakespeare, the country lad from Stratford-on-Avon, to have written them?’, but whether it was possible for any one man, whoever he may have been, to have done so.

    Nevertheless, William Shakespeare wrote those plays. He was apparently an autodidact, like Ben Jonson and Thomas Cooper. That is why I drew the analogy in response to the challenge regarding John’s authorship of his gospel. The doubters, in both cases, are simply underestimating the capacities of exceptional individuals to assimilate information normally acquired only by specialized education.

  45. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel,

    I think you’ve misunderstood my point. First, I don’t think I have the burden “to show” that you describe in your first response; I’m simply describing what appears to me to be a contradiction in the Scriptures. I haven’t said that the contradiction is irreconcilable via clever apologetics; I’ve just said that the prima facie contradiction is enough to make me suspicious — and I don’t have a preexisting commitment to harmonizing so-called apparent contradictions.

    Second, I don’t understand why in your (2) you continue to ignore the real significance of the argument, which is that John demonstrates specialized knowledge and vocabulary we wouldn’t expect from a layperson, as with a Supreme Court brief.

    I understand that Shakespeare (if he really existed!) was brilliant. Similarly, Jimi Hendrix taught himself how to play guitar and “The Wind Cries Mary” is pretty freakin’ awesome.

    That’s not the point; the argument isn’t “this seems like it requires a smart person to write, and Acts 4:13 tells us John is a dummy.” The argument is: scholars uniformly agree that whoever wrote John was highly familiar with Rabbinical traditions and that contradicts the description of the apostle John in Acts 4:13. So even if the apostle John was the Jimi Hendrix of Jerusalem, we would expect unanticipated brilliance, but we would not expect familiarity with traditions that require Rabbinic instruction and education.

    That’s all.

    Note that I am not arguing that this contradiction “proves the Bible false” or whatever; it’s just yet another datum in the cumulative case that the Bible is of human origin.

  46. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    A contradiction is a rather special thing: it’s a case where the very same proposition is both asserted and denied. There is no contradiction here.

    Recall Cameron’s original framing of the issue:

    One obvious reason is that John is described as a fisherman “without learning” or “unlettered” and the gospel with his name is “a highly intellectual account of Jesus’ life, and is familiar with Rabbinic traditions of Biblical interpretation”

    “Highly intellectual” is worth little here; Shakespeare’s writings are staggeringly intellectual. So we fall back on “familiarity with Rabbinic interpretations.” How much familiarity does John display, and is it unreasonable to suppose that someone who spent most of a long life as a Christian in a Jewish mileau could be to that extent familiar with Rabbinic interpetations? More unreasonable, say, than to suppose that Will Shakespeare would be familiar with multiple languages and technical scientific terminology?

    Your turn.

    • Andrew said,

      The key words are “familiar with Rabbinic traditions” not “highly intellectual.” You seem to think it’s okay to postulate, as an argument from silence, that John picked up that familiarity while wandering around with Jesus. I agree with you that it’s possible — in the same sense that it’s also possible John was strength-training for the Olympics and could run a four-minute mile and bench-press 300 pounds. We don’t have any evidence that he couldn’t do that from the Bible, but we also don’t have any evidence that he could. So it’s an ad hoc explanation.

      As such, then, there’s a basic tension (if you object to the word ‘contradiction’) between the Acts 4:13 description of the apostle John and the words that are supposedly attributed to him. As I’ve said before: my argument is not that it’s impossible for John to have written John, just that the tension undercuts that notion in the same way that attributing a legal brief to Stephen Hawking (or Jimi Hendrix, for that matter). Not sure what I can add to that.

  47. Nathaniel said,

    Andrew,

    Sorry, but mere assertion won’t be persuasive. You need to establish that the degree of familiarity with Rabbinic traditions required to write the Johannine works is so great that it is very implausible that someone who was not trained as a Jewish lawyer could acquire it. Why “very implausible”? Because your argument has to overcome the weight of both the internal and the external evidence that the gospel was, indeed, written by John.

    Controversy over the authorship of the fourth gospel has been continuous ever since Bretschneider published his Probabilia in 1820, and it shows no signs of going away. But there are serious considerations on the traditional side. If you want to pursue this line of argument, it would be a good exercise for you first to familiarize yourself with the evidence for the traditional ascription. Then examine the places where John is supposed to display familiarity with Rabbinic learning, which turn on fairly indirect inferences regarding things like his use of the term “δοξα” or the possibility that “και ο λογος σαρξ εγενετο” in John 1:14 is an allusion to the Memra of the Targums, or “και εσκηνωσεν εν ημιν” an allusion to the Shekina.

    After that, if you still think it can be done, you can try to press the case that someone who followed Jesus for three years, who became a pillar of the church at Jerusalem, who met and discoursed with Paul, and who reflected throughout his long life on the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus of Nazareth, was not in a position to have assimiliated enough Rabbinic learning to display these traces of it, such as they are, in his thought.

  48. Awesome McCool said,

    They really are hasty in rejecting the swoon theory, I feel. The whole argument in general is profoundly stupid, but “Jesus was in a coma” is certainly more acceptable than “God made him come back.” Consider:
    Crucifixion has an incredibly variable rate of killing a person. The cause of death could be anything from dehydration to sepsis (average length supposedly 2-4 days from crucifixion, with a record of nine days.) Staying alive on a cross for less than eight hours (the traditional account holds that he was crucified at around 9 AM and buried at around 5 PM) is certainly within the realm of possibility.
    As for the stabbing, well, maybe the soldier didn’t do it very hard or something.
    Not terribly convincing, but even if you proved that Jesus existed, you’d also have to account for this naturalistic explanation before you could even think about advancing a supernatural account.

    Sources:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion
    http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=3&contentID=3129&commInfo=8&topic=Crucifixion
    http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=00AjfO

  49. There is an atheist who is planning on becoming a Biblical Scholar, Matthew J. Green. Most Biblical scholars who become liberal, agnostic or atheist didn’t start that way at all. They started as believers. So I chuckle to myself how many liberals, agnostics and athiests might actually become inerrancy touting evangelicals while pursuing their goal to become a Biblical scholar? I’d like for someone to point them out to me. ;-)

    • Andrew said,

      That’s a great point. Bart Ehrman is an obvious example.

    • danielg said,

      If we look into history, we see a few – C.S. Lewis, Simon Greenleaf, perhaps Sir Alfred Ayer, maybe Antony Flew (he just needs a little more time to come the full distance ;).

      But there are good reasons why you may see more xian conversions than atheist, none of which have to do with how true their positions are.

      1. The fact that the starting ration of christians/atheists is so high means that, just based on probability alone, you will see more converts from xianity > atheism.

      2. There are other naturalistic reasons why more xians might seek to convert than atheists. For example, while agnosticism and atheism can and do form in a vacuum of religious information, without any social pressure, xianity’s particulars must be learned.

      People are more likely to rebel against a tightly taught ideology than a lesse faire one. It is human nature, as well, to be dogmatic about ideology, so more xians might start out with that deficit, and so have something, rather than nothing to rebel against.

      3. If you limit yourself to atheist SCHOLARS, you are truly talking about a small number (though perhaps not in today’s world ;). If you talk about just plain atheists, you can find a significant number who have abandoned atheism. And if you widen to agnosticism, I’d say that as many as half of all christians may have started out as agnostics (I did).

      4. If, as some contend, the psychology behind atheism and unbelief is the defective father, converting away from atheism may be harder (just like homosexual > hetero conversion) because it is rooted in deep childhood psychological wounds that are hard to reach. So such transformations, if and when this root is present, are perhaps very difficult.

      Anyway, I just think that the ‘you don’t see many atheist > xian conversions’ argument is weak on its face, for the reasons above, and probably more.

  50. Tim Tesar said,

    Perhaps someone has already made this point. I did not want to take the time to read all the comments.

    The overwhelming evidence that we have from the real world that we observe today is that people do not rise from the dead and that the possibility is utterly contrary to our modern understanding of the way the Universe works. Therefore, no evidence of ANY sort, let alone that of the Bible, from 2,000 years ago is sufficient for us to reasonably conclude that such an event occurred. All this stuff about arguing over how to interpret the Bible is ridiculous and irrelevant.

    • Nathaniel said,

      The overwhelming evidence that we have from the real world that we observe today is that people do not rise from the dead and that the possibility is utterly contrary to our modern understanding of the way the Universe works.

      This is the very point Christians insist on: the universe, left to itself, can’t do this. Therefore, if it happened, the universe wasn’t left to itself.

      Therefore, no evidence of ANY sort, let alone that of the Bible, from 2,000 years ago is sufficient for us to reasonably conclude that such an event occurred.

      This does not follow — and it had better not, or we would never be able to overthrow a well-entrenched scientific theory with new evidence.

      • Steven Carr said,

        ‘This is the very point Christians insist on: the universe, left to itself, can’t do this. Therefore, if it happened, the universe wasn’t left to itself.’

        Nathaniel then immediately decides to claim that such dogmatic claims cannot be allowed to stand.

        So how does Nathaniel known that such things cannot happen naturally, when he himself states that dogmatic claims of such things not happening naturally simply do not follow from observation of the natural world?

        Can mass hallucinations happen ‘naturally’, or do Christians insist there can never be evidence of mass hallucinations, because mass hallucinations have never been observed?

      • Nathaniel said,

        Steven,

        So how does Nathaniel known that such things cannot happen naturally, when he himself states that dogmatic claims of such things not happening naturally simply do not follow from observation of the natural world?

        I have no idea what you think you are talking about here. Neither history nor biology is a demonstrative discipline; in both cases we deal with probabilities. There is no contradiction between saying that empirical claim X regarding how the universe functions when left to itself is well founded and saying that even well-founded empirical claims can be overturned by sufficient evidence.

        Can mass hallucinations happen ‘naturally’, or do Christians insist there can never be evidence of mass hallucinations, because mass hallucinations have never been observed?

        Strictly speaking, “mass hallucination” is a contradiction in terms. I think what you want to ask is whether simultaneous coordinated multi-sensory hallucinations could happen naturally — the kind where you ask me to pass the milk and I hallucinate that I’m passing it to you while you’re hallucinating that you’re receiving it from me, and everyone else in the room just happens to hallucinate that the milk is being passed, even though there’s no milk involved. Well, it’s logically possible — but who cares? Logical possibility is cheap. It’s certainly improbable enough that, if we were persuaded that it had appeared to a group of people that such things had taken place while there were no physical correlates to their perceptual experiences, we would have to take seriously the idea that the phenomenon had a non-natural cause. That’s Dale Allison’s theory in a nutshell.

  51. exapologist said,

    Another thing that worries me about Habermas’ argument is that he’s gerrymandered the evidence to be explained.

    Suppose we’re detectives investigating a murder, and that we know that either Smith committed the murder or that Jones did it. Then we have two hypotheses:

    H1: Smith committed the murder
    H2: Jones committed the murder

    Suppose I argued that H1 is the best explanation of the death, and in support of my claim, I offer the following pieces of data:

    D1: Smith’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon (a gun)
    D2: Smith strongly disliked the victim
    D3: Smith lives 15 minutes away from the victim’s house.

    What’s the probability of H2 on D1-D3? Well, if that’s all the relevant data, then it’s pretty high. However, suppose you later find out that I left out the following data:

    D4: Jones’s fingerprints are also on the murder weapon
    D5: Jones had a strong grudge against the victim for sleeping with his wife
    D6: Jones is a good shot
    D7: Smith is a terrible shot
    D8: Jones lives about 5 minutes from the victim’s house.

    Well, besides realizing that I’m dishonest and opportunistic, you’ll realize that while H1 is the best explanation given gerrymandered data set D1-D3, H2 is the best explanation given *all* the relevant data.

    Similarly, even if one were to grant, at least arguendo, that the hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection by Yahweh is the best explanation of his gerrymandered “minimal facts”, it’s not obviously the best explanation given all the relevant data. So, for example, suppose we throw in the “consensus” facts that, say, Jesus falsely predicted an imminent eschaton, and that the OT has Yahweh condemning false prophets. If we do that, then, wholly apart from debates about “methodological naturalism”, Humean arguments against rational belief in testimony-based miracle reports, etc., the probability of the hypothesis that Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead is virtually nil.

    • Steven Carr said,

      Habermas tactics are reminiscent of other debator tactics.

      I shall repeat my post from above, which backs up Exapologists’ evaluation

      Habermas’s 4 facts approach is remarkably similar to other debate tactics.

      Suppose a Holocaust-denier came up with these 4 facts.

      And these are real facts, unlike Habermas’s pseudo-facts.

      Fact 1. Hitler never signed a document ordering Jews to be liquidated in Europe.

      Fact 2. No German ever recorded hearing Hitler say orally that all Jews were to be killed.

      Fact 3. The building now known as gas chamber 1 in Auschwitz was an air-raid shelter in 1944.

      Fact 4. After the war , trained historians like David Irving and clergymen like Bishop Williamson testified that there was no systematic killing of 6 million Jews.

      Now these are all genuine facts, unlike Habermas’s claim that it was a fact that a person called Joseph of Arimathea (where’s that) buried Jesus.

      And imagine if Holocaust-deniers suddenly demanded that people explain these 4 facts, and refused to consider anything else in a debate.

      Habermas’s 4 facts appraoch to a debate is so bad that even Holocaust-deniers do not use that kind of logic that Habermas uses!

    • Nathaniel said,

      Exapologist,

      I think you general point is sound, but the particular application to the imminent eschaton doesn’t seem cogent. There are several alternative ways to address the question of the Olivet discourse, ranging from incomplete information theories to inaugurated eschatology to preterism, that don’t have “virtually nil” probabilities.

      That said, it would be interesting to know which of those alternatives Habermas or Craig would prefer, and why.

  52. Steven Carr said,

    NATHANIEL
    Well, it’s logically possible — but who cares? Logical possibility is cheap. It’s certainly improbable

    CARR
    Resurrection? Well, it’s logically possible – but who cares? Logical possibility is cheap, but it’s certainly improbable.

    Certainly a lot more improbable than a group of people each thinking they had seen something when they hadn’t.

    That is so well documented as to be commonplace.

    Just ask half the crowd at a football game if they had seen pass interference when there wasn’t any….

    But apparently such self-deception is as improbable as a corpse rising from the dead…

    Of course, I no more believe in mass hallucinations than I believe that Peter really did have a vision of food appearing, or that Paul really did travel to the third Heaven. …

    We simply have only Paul’s word for it that these appearances happened, and one person does not a mass hallucination make. Especially when that person cannot produce a single piece of detail about what these ‘appearances’ were like?

    How does Nathaniel know that people do *not* rise naturally from the dead, when he himself claims that we cannot dogmatically say they do not, as otherwise ‘ we would never be able to overthrow a well-entrenched scientific theory with new evidence.’?

  53. Nathaniel said,

    Steven,

    Resurrection? Well, it’s logically possible – but who cares? Logical possibility is cheap, but it’s certainly improbable.

    You’re missing the point of the distinction between something’s being naturally improbable and its being improbable sans phrase. That Jesus should be raised from the dead is no more improbable than the conjunction of two claims: that God exists, and that Jesus would be raised from the dead were it the case that God exists. Appeals to “our modern understanding of the way the world works” do not show this conjunction to be improbable.

    Certainly a lot more improbable than a group of people each thinking they had seen something when they hadn’t.

    That is so well documented as to be commonplace.

    Just ask half the crowd at a football game if they had seen pass interference when there wasn’t any….

    Right, that’s just like hallucinating having a meal with a friend.

    Of course, I no more believe in mass hallucinations than I believe that Peter really did have a vision of food appearing, or that Paul really did travel to the third Heaven. …

    … neither of which is presented as a phenomenon available to other people.

    We simply have only Paul’s word for it that these appearances happened, and one person does not a mass hallucination make.

    You’re shifting the subject now, I think, from Peter’s vision to the post-resurrection appearances. If this is an attempt to undermine the evidence of the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, it’s a failure. Paul refers to these appearances as to things notorious, something he would not have done if they were not widely attested. Only someone in the grip of a strong ideology could fail to see this.

    Especially when that person cannot produce a single piece of detail about what these ‘appearances’ were like?

    You’re back to the silly debating tricks again. I’ll reply to this when you produce evidence that Paul couldn’t produce details about them. You might as well argue that Josephus’s scribes didn’t have noses because he nowhere describes their noses.

    How does Nathaniel know that people do *not* rise naturally from the dead, when he himself claims that we cannot dogmatically say they do not, as otherwise ‘ we would never be able to overthrow a well-entrenched scientific theory with new evidence.’?

    This shouldn’t be difficult to grasp. Observation of the natural world tells us how nature behaves on its own. Our explanatory theories are fallible, but they are reasonable as theories of how nature behaves when it is not interfered with. Why assume that the only stronghold this side of epistemic anarchy is hidebound dogmatism about current scientific theory?

  54. Steven Carr said,

    These events were ‘notorious’?

    What? Not one other person in history, including Christian writers in the NT,mention an appearance to James, or to this alleged 500+.

    Or names any of these 500+?

    How can something be ‘notorious’ if nobody mentions it?

    NATHANIEL
    Observation of the natural world tells us how nature behaves on its own.

    CARR
    So you claim that we are justified in saying that resurrections do not occur, as we can see that there is no God raising people?

    God. left on his own, does not raise people from the dead. We can observe this (alleged) God and see that he does not do that.

    Nathaniel’s logic seems to be that if we observe , and see that nature does not raise people on its own, then we are not justified in saying that nature might have raised Jesus on its own.

    Nathaniel’s logic seems also to be that if we observe , and see that God does not raise people on his own, then we *are* justified in saying that God might have raised Jesus on his own.

    |Double standards? Of course…..

    The fact is we see neither God nor nature raising people. Neither does it. Observation tells us so.

    So if Nathaniel claims that if we see neither God nor nature raising people, and we are then only allowed to dismiss *nature* raising Jesus, then he is committing a very obvious case of special pleading.

    And Nathaniel is back to the silly claim that Paul spends a chapter in 1 Corinthians and a chapter in 2 Corinthians trying to describe a resurrected body , and he knew all about those eyewitnesses and their alleged encounters with resurrected bodies, but chose just never to use any of those details.

    Was Paul as dumb as a brick or something? Was he mentally impaired? His Lord and Saviour allegedly teaches on the very subject of the nature of a resurrected body, and Paul knows all those details, but is too damn stupid to realise those details would be useful to him….

    • Nathaniel said,

      Steven,

      These events were ‘notorious’?

      What? Not one other person in history, including Christian writers in the NT,mention an appearance to James, or to this alleged 500+.

      Or names any of these 500+?

      When will you learn that arguments from silence are a bruised reed?

      How can something be ‘notorious’ if nobody mentions it?

      (1) Paul did mention it.

      (2) How can it be notorious that Josephus had a nose if nobody mentions it?

      NATHANIEL
      Observation of the natural world tells us how nature behaves on its own.

      CARR
      So you claim that we are justified in saying that resurrections do not occur, as we can see that there is no God raising people?

      Obviously not. Rather, the claim is that we are justified in saying that, if Jesus rose from the dead, it was not as a result of the operation of nature alone.

      God. left on his own, does not raise people from the dead. We can observe this (alleged) God and see that he does not do that.

      You’re trying, I think, to make an analogy between the actions of a law-governed, isolated natural system and the actions of a free agent. If so, your argument would run like this:

      (1) If God raised Jesus from the dead, then God raises people from the dead today.

      (2) God doesn’t raise people from the dead today.

      Therefore,

      (3) God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead.

      Why should anyone accept premise (1)?

      Nathaniel’s logic seems to be that if we observe , and see that nature does not raise people on its own, then we are not justified in saying that nature might have raised Jesus on its own.

      Are you trying to play games with the modal term “might” here? I grant the bare physical possibility of a massive thermodynamic reversal, but as that would be a natural event, we can tell by a back-of-the-envelope calculation that the improbability of the event, as a natural event, is enormous. So we would certainly be reasonable in rejecting it, on the grounds that what we know about nature, left to itself, makes it enormously improbable.

      Nathaniel’s logic seems also to be that if we observe , and see that God does not raise people on his own, then we *are* justified in saying that God might have raised Jesus on his own.

      See the discussion of your argument, above.

      Double standards? Of course…..

      Only from you, Steven.

      The fact is we see neither God nor nature raising people. Neither does it. Observation tells us so.

      See the discussion of your argument, above.

      So if Nathaniel claims that if we see neither God nor nature raising people, and we are then only allowed to dismiss *nature* raising Jesus, then he is committing a very obvious case of special pleading.

      See the discussion of your argument, above.

      And Nathaniel is back to the silly claim that Paul spends a chapter in 1 Corinthians and a chapter in 2 Corinthians trying to describe a resurrected body , and he knew all about those eyewitnesses and their alleged encounters with resurrected bodies, but chose just never to use any of those details.

      Here we go with the arguments from silence again …

      Was Paul as dumb as a brick or something? Was he mentally impaired? His Lord and Saviour allegedly teaches on the very subject of the nature of a resurrected body,

      Feel free to elaborate on what you mean here. Which passage of Jesus’ teaching did you have in mind?

      … and Paul knows all those details, but is too damn stupid to realise those details would be useful to him….

      Paul seems to do just fine describing the resurrected body. Why insist that he must say more, if what he says does the job in the situation at hand? This argument from silence is worthless.

      • eheffa said,

        Nathaniel,

        Your entire belief in the resurrection of Jesus is dependent on the assumption that the Canonical Gospels, these undated anonymously authored evangelistic stories, are somehow reliable history. This is anything but a proven assumption as a very good case can be made that the gospels or at least the gospel of “Mark” were authored as midrashic allegory & are not history at all.

        The passage in 1 Corinthians 15 is almost certainly a late interpolation by those oh-so ethical Christian scribes who like Eusebius seem to have no qualms fabricating evidence for the Kingdom.

        Whenever one examines a scientific paper one needs to evaluate the quality of the primary data.

        Garbage IN = Garbage OUT

        Sorry but the Gospels are not history. They are not valid data.

        We have no evidence for an historical Jesus as a real person let alone that he was executed under Pontius Pilate & resurrected 2 days later.

        No other contemporaneous author in that area seemed to have noticed this wonder-working, regionally famous messiah or the miraculous events around his very public execution & resurrection. The supposed minimal facts assertion fails totally when one realizes that the primary evidence of the event has as much credibility as the Book of Mormon or the The Lord of the Rings….(BTW: Do you suppose the soldiers in the Army of the Dead were old fleshly bodies resurrected or were they just new spiritual bodies?)

        -evan

  55. Steven Carr said,

    I love to taunt Christians to name one of these 500 people, or say what event brought 500+ brethren together in the short time between the third day, and Jesus disappearing into the sky like a Saturn 5 rocket, on his way to Heaven.

    What did these alleged people allegedly see? Why has nobody in history ever heard of any of them?

    Because they never existed.

  56. Nathaniel said,

    Steven,

    We know that you love to taunt Christians this way. But it’s a foolish jibe.

    Want a name? Likely Matthew, since he speaks of the journey of the 11 to Galilee.

    Want to know what brought them together in Galilee? Try Jesus’ instruction for the disciples to meet him in Galilee. (Matthew 26:32, 28:7, 10, 16).

    What did these people see? Jesus.

    Why has nobody in history ever heard of any of them? We have: Paul mentions them in 1 Corinthians 15.

  57. danielg said,

    >> why would you spend your entire adult professional life researching something if you think it’s ultimately worthless?

    I made this exact point about evolutionary scientists, and why they are likely to be self-deceived about evolutions verity – see Mass Delusion – 10 Reasons Why the Majority of Scientists Believe in Evolution

  58. eheffa said,

    Further editorial comment:
    Er…I meant to point out that the gospel we call Mark was clearly the progenitor to the other gospels & despite the possibility of a Q source, the other three gospel writers (unlike most other literate Christians until the mid to late second century) were quite familiar with Mark & were quite happy to plagiarize him when it suited their theological purposes.

    -evan

  59. danielg said,

    >> EVAN: he other three gospel writers (unlike most other literate Christians until the mid to late second century) were quite familiar with Mark & were quite happy to plagiarize him when it suited their theological purposes.

    You may be correct about Luke and Matthew copying from Mark or Q, but not so John. It is obvious that John knew about the synoptic gospels, but rather than copy, he filled in the gaps – he mentions NONE of the parables, discusses Jesus’ ministry in Judea and Samaria before his Galilean ministry (which the synoptics only allude to), includes Jesus’ first miracle at Cana and many others unique to his gospel. He is also the only one who includes the Nicodemus event and other doctrinal passages indicating what Jesus said about himself and his deity.

    • eheffa said,

      Thanks Daniel,

      Yes. I probably overstated the case as it relates to the the writer of John but as you say, this author was clearly familiar with the Mark version & was seemingly keen on taking the story into new directions.

      It is interesting to speculate as to what the theology of Christianity would look like without the huge influence of the John version of this Jesus fable.

      -evan

      • danielg said,

        I think you meant ‘history,’ not ‘fable.’ ;)

  60. Nathaniel said,

    Evan,

    Your entire belief in the resurrection of Jesus is dependent on the assumption that the Canonical Gospels, these undated anonymously authored evangelistic stories, are somehow reliable history.

    As far as my beliefs go — and here I should know, whereas you are merely guessing — the conversion of Paul and the contents of the Pauline epistles are also very significant factors.

    Despite the fact that the claim is often made, the canonical gospels are not “anonymously authored” in the sense of being circulated without ascription of authorship attached. There is no evidence that they ever circulated without the names of the authors attached. They often circulated dated as well, but you wouldn’t like the dates.

    You got one thing right: I am persuaded by the available evidence that they contain much reasonably reliable history.

    This is anything but a proven assumption as a very good case can be made that the gospels or at least the gospel of “Mark” were authored as midrashic allegory & are not history at all.

    I’ve seen the arguments; I simply find them wildly unpersuasive.

    The passage in 1 Corinthians 15 is almost certainly a late interpolation …

    There is not a shred of evidence for this claim. And yes, I’ve read Robert Price’s piece in The Empty Tomb.

    … by those oh-so ethical Christian scribes who like Eusebius seem to have no qualms fabricating evidence for the Kingdom.

    Sigh. See Roger Pearse’s thorough debunking of the “Eusebius endorsed lying” myth here.

    We have no evidence for an historical Jesus as a real person let alone that he was executed under Pontius Pilate …

    Why do real, credentialed, academically employed ancient historians laugh themselves silly at this thought? (And they do. Trust me. I’ve asked them.) Could it have something to do with Annals 15.44? Or with the fact that, barring some internet crackpots, a solid majority of ancient historians accept the fact that Josephus referred to Jesus twice in the Antiquities? Or maybe it’s those passages from Suetonius. Or Pliny’s letter to Trajan. Or Trajan’s reply. Or Hadrian’s rescript to Minucius Fundanus. Or the references in Juvenal, Martial, Epictetus …

    No other contemporaneous author in that area seemed to have noticed this wonder-working, regionally famous messiah or the miraculous events around his very public execution & resurrection.

    Another argument from silence. How much literature do you think we have from the 30s to the 70s, and why would you expect any of those authors to take notice of what they thought of as an obscure Jewish sect? Maybe you think it should crop up in Columella’s work on agriculture? Or in the Satyricon of Petronius — as if it would be a burning issue for Nero’s pimp? Or maybe you think Lucan should have worked it into his poem about the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey.

    You should make a study of the way that the argument from silence would wreak havoc in secular history. It is most instructive.

    The supposed minimal facts assertion fails totally when one realizes that the primary evidence of the event has as much credibility as the Book of Mormon or the The Lord of the Rings.

    Not much one can say here except that you might try to read some actual history. It would prevent you from saying things like this.

    • eheffa said,

      Nathaniel,

      I am not a scholar but I have been quite interested in these issues. I have read much of what you have quoted many times. You suggest I do my historical homework & yet trot out these same tired old “proofs” for the historicity of Jesus Christ. I have done my homework. These are not good arguments or evidence for an historical Jesus.

      I first encountered & wrestled with these arguments as a Christian trying to find good evidence that would support my beliefs. I eventually decided that in the interest of truth, it was necessary to try & minimize presuppositions & ask the question differently. Instead of looking for support for the default position of inspired, inerrant scripture what if we turned it around & asked the following:

      What evidence do we have for the veracity of the Biblical accounts and the person of Jesus Christ?

      When coming at this question with an open mind, most of this supposed “supporting evidence” for the historicity of Jesus you quote is either useless, ambiguous or irrelevant. Most of these references date from the early second century & only demonstrate that a sect called “Christians” existed in the Roman Empire around that time & had some sort of embryonic ideas around a Jesus or Chrestos figure (a common name at that time BTW).. Many second century apologists calling themselves Christians had very little knowledge of the Gospel Jesus & represented a belief system that had little in common with the later orthodoxies constructed after the fact. The existence of the Christian sect we would identify with some knowledge of the “Gospel story” Jesus only start to show themselves in the mid second century or later. Why would that be? Where are all these disruptive dynamic Book of Acts Christians in the first century…oh yeah they hadn’t been invented yet.

      The Book of Acts is almost certainly a second century fabrication to reconcile the Marcionite/Pauline & Catholic/Petrine factions to a common background. The author plagiarized Josephus in many places to give his historical novel a veneer of plausibility & verisimilitude. Like the Gospels, it is not reliable history either. There is no good reason to accept an account from the second century as evidence for Jesus & his early followers. (See: Richard Pervo – Dating Acts for a good analysis of the origins of this book)

      I’m afraid that your list of supposed proofs for the existence of the Historical Jesus retort reads like some sort of rehash of Lee Strobel / Josh McDowell apologetics. The Testimonium Flavium is a clear forgery & not worthy of serious consideration. See: http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/ see the Article# 10 on Josephus. You may not like Earl Doherty but he supports his conclusions with good data.

      You & Phil may laugh or scoff at the question & cite the incredulity of all the Bible school professors you hang out with but; in actual fact the evidence for the existence of this supposed Saviour of the World – God’s sole remedy for the sins of mankind – is remarkably poor. Do you really honestly think that the creator of the universe, that precision-freak designer of the periodic table & the nucleus would leave his most important historical intervention to be documented so poorly?

      As for evidence for interpolation of 1 Cor 15, yes there is evidence to support this assertion. Price makes a good case as do other authors for this passage being a later interpolation. Presumably you just refuse to see it. Marcion apparently quoted this passage but failed to note the witnesses etc. I don’t have the reference close at hand but suffice it to say that there is evidence for interpolations in many of these supposedly sacred, God-inspired writings. The Early Church seemed to have as many qualms around altering their primary documents as they did murdering their Gnostic & Docetic rivals. Do you really think you would trust these people to be scrupulous & honest in how they handled the documentation?

      Anyways. I’m rambling.

      My search to understand the historical basis for my Christian faith eventually led me to conclude that the whole thing is a man-made construct with no evidence of divine involvement – just like all those other religions.

      Why not admit to yourself that it could all be a man-made crock & consider the evidence for that? I know, it’s not easy to do; because, while you consider these arguments, Jesus can read your mind & he will know that you are contemplating heretical traitorous thoughts. That’s what he created Hell for… ( It took me a long while to realize & accept the idea that my thoughts were not being recorded in heaven somewhere to condemn me later.)

      Just to annoy you,
      Have a look here:
      http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/camel1.html
      Undoubtedly, you will dismiss this argument as an argument from silence. When the silence is surprising or inappropriate, an argument from silence is quite valid & appropriate. The Silence or lack of contemporaneous documentation for the greatest man to have ever lived is truly deafening…

      Cheers.

      -evan

      Postscript: I had not read the Roger Pearse discussion of the Eusebius Liar issue before. I’m not sure that he is convincingly able to dismiss the position that Richard Carrier puts forward here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html#6 but I am happy to concede that the arguments for & against are complex enough to put enough doubt into the true intent of what Eusebius may or may not have written. Knowing that he was more than happy to support the Constantine backed extermination of his theological opponents puts him, for me, into a similar category to other disreputable figures of history….Cromwell comes to mind.

      • eheffa said,

        Addendum:

        I hadn’t read the Doherty essays for a while but I think they are worth some consideration & certainly make a more scholarly case for the Mythical or Non-historical Jesus.

        They laughed at Galileo & Darwin too.

  61. Phil said,

    Exapologist,

    You could have said all that by just noting that conditional probabilities depend on the scope of data being considered. The whole Smith v. Jones scenario makes you sound like an overzealous philosophy grad trying to intimidate readers with needless complexity. You need to show (not just assert) that Habermas is leaving out probability-changing facts; until you do so your point is not worth serious consideration, at least, not in this context.

  62. Phil said,

    We have no evidence for an historical Jesus as a real person…

    LOL

  63. Nathaniel said,

    Phil,

    In fairness to exapologist, I think he was trying to make the point about conditional probabilities in a way that would be accessible to people who don’t know probability theory. He also put forward the well-known issue of the prima facie reading of the Olivet Discourse as a prediction of an imminent second coming, so he did try to provide at least one datum that might shift the odds backwards. I disagree with him about the significance of the datum, but he did provide it. Evan Fales once tried a more elaborate version of this same response in a debate with Bill Craig, putting forward a handful of facts that, in his view, undermined the trustworthniess of the texts. Unfortunately for Fales, his own elaborate theory (the New Testament was deliberate political allegory that somehow got misread) is too off the wall to be believable.

  64. Nathaniel said,

    Evan,

    I am not a scholar but I have been quite interested in these issues. I have read much of what you have quoted many times. You suggest I do my historical homework & yet trot out these same tired old “proofs” for the historicity of Jesus Christ. I have done my homework. These are not good arguments or evidence for an historical Jesus.

    They’ll do to put a burden of proof on your side of the issue – a burden considered insuperable by virtually every living Roman historian and classicist.

    I first encountered & wrestled with these arguments as a Christian trying to find good evidence that would support my beliefs.

    I’m heartily sorry that you didn’t get better advice and help when you were struggling with these questions. That’s heartbreaking.

    I eventually decided that in the interest of truth, it was necessary to try & minimize presuppositions & ask the question differently. Instead of looking for support for the default position of inspired, inerrant scripture

    Why would “inspired, inerrant scripture” be the default position? Why not “historical documents prima facie from the first century”?

    … what if we turned it around & asked the following: What evidence do we have for the veracity of the Biblical accounts and the person of Jesus Christ?

    This is a very reasonable question to ask, if it is approached with an open mind and a good set of resources on hand for following out the evidence.

    When coming at this question with an open mind, most of this supposed “supporting evidence” for the historicity of Jesus you quote is either useless, ambiguous or irrelevant.

    I’m sorry to have to be blunt, but this is a ridiculous statement.

    Most of these references date from the early second century & only demonstrate that a sect called “Christians” existed in the Roman Empire around that time & had some sort of embryonic ideas around a Jesus or Chrestos figure (a common name at that time BTW).

    This is partly true, partly irrelevant, and partly misdescription. Tacitus, Pliny, Trajan, and Suetonius are all writing in the early second century; that’s the true part. But the details of what they actually say indicate that Christianity was very well entranched in the first century. Tacitus’s account shows that there were a great many Christians in Rome in 64. Suetonius’s passage makes it probable that the Jews in Rome were in an uproar over Christianity around the year 42. That is why the 2nd century date is irrelevant.

    The misdescription comes in your characterization of the passages as demonstrating that the Christians had only an “embryonic” idea about Jesus. The passages certainly do not support that claim; they say nothing of the sort. It would be absurd to suggest that the Christians had no better developed ideas than what a Roman historian mentioning them in passing deigned to write down.

    Many second century apologists calling themselves Christians had very little knowledge of the Gospel Jesus & represented a belief system that had little in common with the later orthodoxies constructed after the fact. The existence of the Christian sect we would identify with some knowledge of the “Gospel story” Jesus only start to show themselves in the mid second century or later.

    Where do you suppose Marcion got his copies of the gospels and Paul’s epistles?

    Where are all these disruptive dynamic Book of Acts Christians in the first century…oh yeah they hadn’t been invented yet.

    I have no idea what you think you are claiming here. Are you pretending that Pliny didn’t torture two deaconesses? Or is the idea that Nero didn’t really torch the Christians at Rome in 64?

    The Book of Acts is almost certainly a second century fabrication to reconcile the Marcionite/Pauline & Catholic/Petrine factions to a common background. The author plagiarized Josephus in many places to give his historical novel a veneer of plausibility & verisimilitude. Like the Gospels, it is not reliable history either. There is no good reason to accept an account from the second century as evidence for Jesus & his early followers. (See: Richard Pervo – Dating Acts for a good analysis of the origins of this book)

    I haven’t read Pervo’s book, but I have seen this sort of argument before. To see why it no longer merits serious support, have a look at Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History and A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. For that matter, a close study of the Horae Paulinae should suffice to disprove Pervo’s second century dating of Acts. There is a reason that the scholarly consensus has rejected that position for over a hundred years.

    I’m afraid that your list of supposed proofs for the existence of the Historical Jesus retort reads like some sort of rehash of Lee Strobel / Josh McDowell apologetics.

    I haven’t read a complete work by either author, since I tend to concentrate on the sources written by professionals instead. But even Strobel and McDowell get some things right.

    The Testimonium Flavium is a clear forgery & not worthy of serious consideration. See: http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/ see the Article# 10 on Josephus. You may not like Earl Doherty but he supports his conclusions with good data.

    Here’s where you’re wrong. Doherty-style arguments have been rejected by the scholarly community for a long time. You owe it to yourself—as a seeker of truth—to have a look at this book where two actual scholars take apart his gerrymandered case for the myther position.

    As for evidence for interpolation of 1 Cor 15, yes there is evidence to support this assertion. Price makes a good case as do other authors …

    Feel free to point to these others. Price couldn’t seem to find any when he wrote his essay for The Empty Tomb; perhaps you’re aware of some that he was not.

    … for this passage being a later interpolation. Presumably you just refuse to see it. Marcion apparently quoted this passage but failed to note the witnesses etc. I don’t have the reference close at hand …

    Then there isn’t much to discuss.

    … but suffice it to say that there is evidence for interpolations in many of these supposedly sacred, God-inspired writings.

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t find myself obligated to take your word for this claim. I’m interested in looking at the documents simply as historical texts, not as sacred writings. Yes, the long ending of Mark and the pericope adulterae and the Johannine comma are apparently interpolations. But we discover this by textual means, and the textual evidence for 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is unanimous.

    The Early Church seemed to have as many qualms around altering their primary documents as they did murdering their Gnostic & Docetic rivals. Do you really think you would trust these people to be scrupulous & honest in how they handled the documentation?

    My friend, if you are really saying that the early church as a body murdered its rivals and radically altered its texts, you are far down the rabbit hole. They excommunicated Marcion; they didn’t kill him. And they excommunicated him for … altering the text of the sacred works.

    My search to understand the historical basis for my Christian faith eventually led me to conclude that the whole thing is a man-made construct with no evidence of divine involvement – just like all those other religions.

    I’m really sorry. You were deceived by bad arguments.

    Why not admit to yourself that it could all be a man-made crock & consider the evidence for that? I know, it’s not easy to do; because, while you consider these arguments, Jesus can read your mind & he will know that you are contemplating heretical traitorous thoughts. That’s what he created Hell for… ( It took me a long while to realize & accept the idea that my thoughts were not being recorded in heaven somewhere to condemn me later.)

    I’ve never had that worry, thanks. Maybe you came from a much more uptight branch of Christendom than I did.

    Just to annoy you,

    Have a look here:

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/camel1.html

    Undoubtedly, you will dismiss this argument as an argument from silence.

    You’re right. I will.

    Evan, do you have any idea how much of the literature of the first and second centuries is lost? From the lists of titles alone we have some idea of what was written in the second century – and 85% of that literature is lost. It is beyond reasonable doubt that much more was lost for which we do not know even the titles. The situation can hardly have been any better with respect to the literature of the first century. That is just one of the reasons that the George Washington analogy fails.

    When the silence is surprising or inappropriate, an argument from silence is quite valid & appropriate. The Silence or lack of contemporaneous documentation for the greatest man to have ever lived is truly deafening…

    The central problem is that you have an exaggerated view of what we should have expected, both because you exaggerate the importance of first century Christianity from a Roman perspective – they noticed it only when it annoyed them or served as a handy wag-the-dog distraction in the case of Nero – and because you have an unrealistic expectation that people writing ancient documents would record the sorts of things that we would record if we were there. A study of history would disabuse you of this notion.

    If you really lost your faith because of these arguments, and if you would really be interested in reconsidering it if you found that you had been misled by Doherty, Price, and company, then I would be happy to help you find your way out. But I’m afraid you’re not really interested at this point.

    • eheffa said,

      Sorry for the late reply.

      It seems you have it all well sorted out but don’t you find it troubling to think that the librarian in your local community library is a better archivist than the Lord of Hosts?

      Don’t you find it strange that this supernaturally directed historical event, vital to the salvation of the entire world, has such poor and ambiguous documentation?

      Could it be that this is indicative of its entirely human genesis & its utter lack of Divine involvement?

      I am convinced that the Christian faith is a delusion. Would you be able to entertain this possibility or are you too committed to making sure of your conclusions in favor of the Christian faith?

      Just wondering.

      -evan

  65. Jon said,

    A) Reasons to consider 1 Cor 15:3-11 as an interpolation:

    1. “according to the scriptures”: Paul is fond of citing his sources when dealing with Hebrew bible material. The only place he instead uses this generic phrase, a creedal favorite, in all his writings is here, twice.
    The orthodox confess to us that Marcion was something of an expert on Paul. The first to compile his letters. We also know that Marcion avoided the
    orthodox Forged letters of Paul. Marcion was honest compared to the orthodox in that he realized that the Christian Bible god could not be reconciled with the Jewish Bible. Therefore, his Paul would not have had “according to the Scripture”.
    2. “on the third day”: the earliest gospel traces use the phrase “after three days” so “on the third day” should be seen as later christian tradition.
    3. “Cephas”: this figure is placed separately from the twelve and is privileged in such placement, suggesting a time when Cephas/Peter had a special position in the christian tradition.
    4. “the Twelve”: this is not the tradition that has come down to us for there were only eleven according to the gospel accounts at the time, so it wasn’t part of the earliest tradition.
    5. “five hundred brethren”: not part of the earliest tradition and not known by the gospels as they didn’t take up such a phenomenal appearance.
    6. “some have fallen asleep”: obviously post-Pauline coming to terms with the non-arrival of the eschaton. (Related to 15:18.)
    7. “James”: this figure, not included among the twelve, reflects another non-gospel tradition which if known at the time of Paul, didn’t survive into the gospel era.
    8. “the apostles”: a group separate from the twelve and another non-gospel tradition
    9. Irenaeus argued with the followers of Marcion who said that “Paul alone knew the truth and to him alone the mystery [of the resurrection] was manifested by revelation”. Irenaeus countered that Paul himself maintained that “the same God worked in himself and Peter” (Against the Heresies 3:13). Irenaeus’ explanation would have been more compelling had he used the passage in 1 Cor 15:3-8, yet he did not.
    For this reason, Ellegard and others suggest the possibility that 1 Cor 15:3-8 may be an interpolation that did not exist in the version of 1 Corinthians that Irenaeus knew.

    B) The original Marcionite text per Hermann Detering:

    “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. I delivered to you first that Christ died, and was buried, and that he rose again the third day.”

    http://www.hermann-detering.de/1kor15.pdf

    Returning to the later Biblical interpolation:

    C) Outside of 1 Cor. 15:1-11, in the Pauline epistles where did Jesus make a public appearance to anybody? In fact, aside from this interpolation and Paul’s presumed vision in 1 Cor. 9:1, you can’t find where anyone had ever seen Jesus. Wow, only two questionable passages in the entire Pauline corpus where anyone was ever alleged to see Jesus, whether alive, after resurrection, or in a vision. Talk about silences. No one was said to see Jesus in his alleged life, and you can barely find it after the begged for resurrection. This sticks out like a sore thumb.

    D) Assuming 1 Cor 15;3-8 is legitimate, let’s take a look at what Paul means by “appeared”.

    Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)

    We know that Jesus only “appeared” to Paul “spiritually” on the road to Damascus. 1 Cor 15:3-8 makes no differentiation between what it means for Jesus to “appear” before Peter, the “Twelve”, the 500, James and all of the apostles and what it means for Jesus to “appear” before Paul. The implication is that all of the appearances recounted in 1 Cor 15:3-8 are of a spiritual nature only (like Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus). In other words, 1 Cor 15:3-8 is not saying that Peter, the “Twelve”, the 500, James and all of the apostles saw a physical Jesus walking, talking and eating three days after he was crucified. They, like Paul, experienced a vision, a “direct revelation from a (spiritual) Jesus Christ.”

    E) The idea of Jesus’ physical resurrection is an outgrowth of Mark’s
    allegorical tale of the empty tomb. The other evangelists apparently
    did not realize that the tomb was empty for a reason; the
    resurrection and ascension were for Mark the same event. No eating
    of fish, no trouncing about with open wounds, just the simple “He
    has risen; He is not here;” Mark 16:6. He has gone forward into the
    metaphorical Galilee whence he came. Mark 16:7. According to Mark, if you want to see Jesus again, you have to follow after him. He is not coming back.

    Mark’s fictive account has leveraged the language of Enoch, he was not found because God took him up. Gen. 5:24, Hebrews 11:25.

    All of the “public appearances” (to use N.T. Wright’s language) of
    the resurrected Jesus, including the interpolation into 1 Corinthians
    15, stem from the reluctance of later writers to accept Mark’s
    stark ending of his gospel.

    F) Paul’s supposed confirmation of the resurrection in I Cor 15:3-8 contradicts the Gospels when it says that Jesus first was seen of “Cephas [Peter], then of the Twelve.”

    And G) shouldn’t it be the “Eleven”? Who replaced Judas to bring the “Eleven” back to “Twelve” so soon after the crucifixion? Or did Judas hang around (pun intended) long enough to see Christ resurrected before offing himself? And let’s all studiously refuse to pay attention to the fact that here, as elsewhere in the Pauline epistles, the existence of Judas is nowhere stated or implied.

    • Nathaniel said,

      Jon,

      That’s an impressive collection of truly bad reasoning.

      A1: Arguments based on linguistics in short passages are always tenuous. But in this case, the argument completely misses the target, as Paul is quoting something that was not original with him.

      A2: Even waiving objections to tendentious talk about “the earliest gospel traces,” this objection presupposes that only one phrase could be used.

      A3: Actually, it just suggests that Jesus appeared to Peter separately. See Luke 24:34.

      A4: It seems obvious that dodeka was a standard term for the apostles as a group, not the result of counting heads.

      A5: Argument from silence. These are the favorite tools of the conspiracy theorists. See also A9, below.

      A6: Tendentious theology alert.

      A7: Argument from silence. One cannot infer from the fact that something was not recorded in the gospels that it “didn’t survive into the gospel era.”

      A8: Could be the 70. The gospels do not purport to be comprehensive.

      A9: I could pass over Alvar Ellegard’s claim as another argument from silence. But it is such a spectacular example of the folly of this mode of arguing that I cannot forbear to quote two passages from Irenaeus. First, Adversus Haereses 1.8.2, where he is describing how the Valentinians pervert the scripture to support their own pious opinions:

      [T]hey affirm Paul to have declared in his Epistle to the Corinthians [in these words], “And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time.”

      Second, Adversus Haereses 3.18.3:

      He was likewise preached by Paul: “For I delivered,” he says, “unto you first of all, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.”

      So much for Ellegard’s scholarship.

      B: Why should anyone pay the least attention to Hermann Detering? We already know what the Dutch Radicals had to say a century ago; they should be left buried in decent obscurity.

      C: Another argument from silence, which would be nutty even if you hadn’t completely overlooked the numerous references to the crucifixion and the resurrection throughout the Pauline corpus. “No one was said to see Jesus in his alleged life, …” Er, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, anyone?

      D: Talk about overreading ophthe. Your method of exegesis is making me wonder if you’re a former fundamentalist who has changed his beliefs but not his methods.

      E: Mark’s gospel ends at 16:8 because the last page got torn off. We are simply missing the rest of the story as Mark told it. No inference from silence can be made from our lack of the original ending of this gospel.

      F: See A3, above.

      G: See A4, above.

      • Jon said,

        Excellent retort.

        Two things.

        1) Of course 1 Cor, as you pointed out, suggests that Jesus appeared to Peter separately. Otherwise Peter would have had to share the bragging rights with others who first saw Jesus. The point is that 1 Cor claims a sequence of appearances including Cephas (Peter) as being the first person to see the risen Christ.

        Matthew, Mark and John claim otherwise.

        Matthew 28:9
        And as they (Mary and Mary Magdalene) went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

        Mark 16:9
        Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

        John 20:14
        And when (Mary) she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

        Gee. All of the Gospel accounts contradict each other. How about that?

        And how does the word “dodeka” explain why Judas is nowhere to be found in the Pauline epistles?

        • Nathaniel said,

          Jon,

          1) Of course 1 Cor, as you pointed out, suggests that Jesus appeared to Peter separately. Otherwise Peter would have had to share the bragging rights with others who first saw Jesus. The point is that 1 Cor claims a sequence of appearances including Cephas (Peter) as being the first person to see the risen Christ.

          Actually, it just means that Peter is the first of the ones listed here. In a deplorable but culturally understandable bit of chauvinism, the members of the early church who formulated this creed left out women, whose testimony would do no persuasive or pedagogic good in a first-century Jewish context.

          Matthew, Mark and John claim otherwise.

          Matthew 28:9
          And as they (Mary and Mary Magdalene) went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

          Mark 16:9
          Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

          John 20:14
          And when (Mary) she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

          Gee. All of the Gospel accounts contradict each other. How about that?

          Three things:

          1. Mark 16:9 isn’t part of the original text of the second gospel; the original ending is lost. So you’re shooting a blank here.

          2. None of the evangelists is trying to write a complete account of what happened. Unless they were doing that, you cannot reasonably squeeze a contradiction out of the comparison you give of Matthew and John. Matthew just gave a very brief sketch of things he was personally involved in.

          3. The existence of contradictions of detail among the narratives would merely place them in the same category as the narratives of the death of Julius Caesar. Big deal. Kiss inerrancy goodby, but unless you subscribe to the theory that the whole of Christianity stands or falls with inerrancy, this line of argument is good only for baiting earnest fundamentalists.

          And how does the word “dodeka” explain why Judas is nowhere to be found in the Pauline epistles?

          It doesn’t, and I never said that it does. But this is just another argument from silence, and it is just as misguided as the others you tried above. The absence of the name “Judas” from Paul’s epistles doesn’t require explanation. Paul wasn’t writing an account of Jesus’ betrayal.

          Surprisingly, however, we actually do have a reference that indicates Paul knew the story of Judas: 1 Corinthians 11:23: For in the night in which he was betrayed … We had no particular right to expect that Paul would display his familiarity with some arbitrarily selected bit of the betrayal story, but out of sheer luck, we have it.

          Unless, of course, we are reduced like Steven to assuming that Paul thought the disciples were all blind and therefore couldn’t have seen Jesus when he broke bread and gave them the cup.

  66. Steven Carr said,

    ‘It seems obvious that dodeka was a standard term for the apostles as a group, not the result of counting heads. ‘

    In other words, there is a contradiction between Paul writing that Jesus appeared to the 12 and one of the disciples having died.

    ‘Luke 24:33 ‘ There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together….’

    It is OBVIOUS that the 12 was used to refer to the apostles as a group, which is why Paul writes 12, because he has no knowledge of Judas, and why Luke writes ‘Eleven’, because he does not know that they were referred to as the ‘Twelve’, even at times when there were only Eleven.

    ‘“No one was said to see Jesus in his alleged life, …” Er, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, anyone?’

    OK, I admit I can’t see any reference in there to somebody seeing Jesus in 1 Cor. 11:23-26.

    But I am a sceptic and so am limited to the actual words in the text, and cannot see the bits which say that somebody saw a physical Jesus give Paul this ‘revelation from the Lord’

    Who does Paul say saw Jesus do that?

    And where does Christian history record a named person who claims to have ever seen Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea,Judas, Thomas, Salome, Joanna, the other Mary, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus etc etc.

    These people are as well documented as the Angel Moroni.

    How strange that an allmighty God makes the evidence for the true religion as shadowy as the evidence for all these false religions?

  67. Jon said,

    Chauvinism! What a delicious bit of spin! Then why not exclude the chicks from the Gospel stories…er.. I mean the Gospel “accounts”?

    Excuse me? The original ending of Mark is lost? Well so what? Just because it was the “original” ending does not mean it was the “correct” ending. Obviously the “correct” ending, however truncated, has come down to us by the hand of God himself – just like the rest of the 66 books. So the ending we got is the ending God intended. And the ending you refer to must have been of Satan. It’s not in the Bible. It must have been of Satan. Thus saith the Lord thy God. I may be “shooting a blank” but you are using an excuse to ignore the divinely inspired inerrant ending of Mark. Shame on you.

    You say the Gospel stories…er.. I mean “accounts” are not “complete.” But the problem is not a lack of compleness. A lack of completeness, in this instance, would require, that an author failed to identify who first saw the risen Christ. But that is not the case. What we have are four competing accounts each listing a different name or names. In terms of who saw the risen Christ first, the Gospel stories…er.. I mean “accounts” are actually too complete. What we have here is inaccuracy, contradiction, not a lack of completeness.

    As for the “night he was betrayed”. The traditional text reads “the night he was delivered up”, an obvious allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.
    Furthermore, if the word “betrayed” proves the author has knowledge of Judas, we may as well claim the word “assassinated” in a history book proves the author has knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald.

    And while Paul says Jesus appeared “before the Twelve” Matthew contradicts him and says that Jesus appeared “before the Eleven”.
    If Paul knew about Judas’ betrayal he would certainly have said Jesus appeared to the eleven.

    I note also that Jesus knew Judas would betray him and yet promised to the Twelve, including Judas:

    Matthew 19:28
    “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his throne in heavenly glory, you who have followed me will also sit on the twelve thrones; judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

    Maybe Jesus appreciated the fact that he needed a “betrayer” in order to complete his mission? I wonder if Judas and Jesus went over their lines together before the final “act”?

    • Nathaniel said,

      Then why not exclude the chicks from the Gospel stories…er.. I mean the Gospel “accounts”?

      Because the Gospels are not programmatic creeds designed for catechesis and evangelism; they are memoirs.

      Excuse me? The original ending of Mark is lost? Well so what?

      So if you continue to quote from Mark 16:9-20 as if it had been part of the original document, people who know the basic textual facts will decide that you are too ignorant to be worth taking seriously.

      Just because it was the “original” ending does not mean it was the “correct” ending. Obviously the “correct” ending, however truncated, has come down to us by the hand of God himself – just like the rest of the 66 books. So the ending we got is the ending God intended. And the ending you refer to must have been of Satan. It’s not in the Bible. It must have been of Satan. Thus saith the Lord thy God. I may be “shooting a blank” but you are using an excuse to ignore the divinely inspired inerrant ending of Mark. Shame on you.

      Thanks for sharing, brother. Were you by any chance a teenage fundy? That does seem to be a slippery slope to the sort of fundamentalist atheism that looks to Detering and Ellegard as if they were real scholars.

      You say the Gospel stories…er.. I mean “accounts” are not “complete.” But the problem is not a lack of compleness. A lack of completeness, in this instance, would require, that an author failed to identify who first saw the risen Christ. But that is not the case. What we have are four competing accounts each listing a different name or names. In terms of who saw the risen Christ first, the Gospel stories…er.. I mean “accounts” are actually too complete. What we have here is inaccuracy, contradiction, not a lack of completeness.

      The accounts fit together about as well as multiple accounts of secular historical events do. Why demand more? (Besides more preaching, which I do hope you have out of your system now.)

      As for the “night he was betrayed”. The traditional text reads “the night he was delivered up”, an obvious allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

      Only to those who read with the eyes of faith, Jon. The rest of us see that Paul is just using the passive form of the same verb used by the evangelists to describe Judas’s betrayal:

      Matthew 27:3 — τοτε ιδων ιουδας ο παραδους αυτον

      Mark 3:19 — … και ιουδαν ισκαριωθ ος και παρεδωκεν αυτον

      John 18:5 — … και ιουδας ο παραδιδους αυτον

      1 Corinthians 11:23 — … εν τη νυκτι η παρεδιδετο

      Furthermore, if the word “betrayed” proves the author has knowledge of Judas, we may as well claim the word “assassinated” in a history book proves the author has knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald.

      If he’s writing about the assassination of Kennedy, then it’s a pretty safe bet.

      And while Paul says Jesus appeared “before the Twelve” Matthew contradicts him and says that Jesus appeared “before the Eleven”.

      You’re repeating yourself; I dealt with this above.

      If Paul knew about Judas’ betrayal he would certainly have said Jesus appeared to the eleven.

      Why? If dodeka was established as a common term for “apostles” then it would not necessarily be dropped just because of Judas’s defection and death.

      I note also that Jesus knew Judas would betray him and yet promised to the Twelve, including Judas:

      Matthew 19:28
      “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his throne in heavenly glory, you who have followed me will also sit on the twelve thrones; judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

      And if Jesus knew that much, then he knew that Matthias would be chosen to fill the tally.

      • Jon said,

        And where (in the Bible) is it written that 1 Cor 15 is a “programmatic creed designed for catechesis and evangelism” which must exclude chicks?

        I am not quoting from Mark 16:9-20 as if it had been part of the original document. I am quoting from Mark 16:9-20.

        Multiple accounts of secular historical events are not believed to be the divinely inspired inerrant word of God. If the Gospel “accounts fit together about as well as multiple accounts of secular historical events” then the Gospel accounts are about as divinely inspired and inerrant as secular historical accounts. If this is the case then the Gospel accounts are the words of men and not God. Don’t you find it troubling to think that the librarian in your local community library is a better archivist than the Lord of Hosts?

        As to the Oswald analogy: We know that the Pauline epistles were among the earliest Christian writings. Although the word “betrayal’ is used in the Pauline epistles, we know that Judas is not mentioned by name in the Pauline Epistles. We know that the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963 were among the earliest reports of the Kennedy assassination. Although the word “assassin’ is used in the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963, we know that Oswald is not mentioned by name in the the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963.

        Why is this? Because Oswald, like Judas, was not yet part of the story.

      • Jon said,

        In Matthew 19:28 Jesus is speaking to his disciples. Was there a 13th disciple I don’t know about? Or were the eleven “good” disciples going to sit on 12 thrones? I mean why not? Jesus sat on two animals simultaneously on his way into Jerusalem. So why not have 11 disciples sit on 12 thrones. It makes perfect (Biblical) sense. But I digress.

        If Matthias was not among the disciples to whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 19:28 (and he couldn’t be because he was not yet a disciple) then he was not among the disciples to whom Jesus promised 12 thrones.

        “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his throne in heavenly glory, you who have followed me will also sit on the twelve thrones; judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

        Maybe it was to be a game of musical chairs? 11 disciples 12 chairs. If the musical chair theory is correct then there would always be 1 chair unoccupied but all 12 chairs would ostensibly get equal coverage. Our Lord is truly a mighty and just Lord.

  68. Nathaniel said,

    Jon

    And where (in the Bible) is it written that 1 Cor 15 is a “programmatic creed designed for catechesis and evangelism” which must exclude chicks?

    Nowhere. That’s the conclusion of scholars who have actually studied it.

    I am not quoting from Mark 16:9-20 as if it had been part of the original document. I am quoting from Mark 16:9-20.

    Okay. I won’t take you seriously.

    Multiple accounts of secular historical events are not believed to be the divinely inspired inerrant word of God. If the Gospel “accounts fit together about as well as multiple accounts of secular historical events” then the Gospel accounts are about as divinely inspired and inerrant as secular historical accounts. If this is the case then the Gospel accounts are the words of men and not God.

    Did I ever say otherwise?

    Don’t you find it troubling to think that the librarian in your local community library is a better archivist than the Lord of Hosts?

    No. I don’t think the Lord of Hosts is an archivist. If you think He is, then no wonder you’re not a Christian.

    As to the Oswald analogy: We know that the Pauline epistles were among the earliest Christian writings. Although the word “betrayal’ is used in the Pauline epistles, we know that Judas is not mentioned by name in the Pauline Epistles. We know that the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963 were among the earliest reports of the Kennedy assassination. Although the word “assassin’ is used in the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963, we know that Oswald is not mentioned by name in the the initial TV reports of November 22, 1963.

    Why is this? Because Oswald, like Judas, was not yet part of the story.

    Paul wasn’t giving a TV report on the night of the betrayal; his first letter to the Corinthians is dated about AD 55.

    In Matthew 19:28 Jesus is speaking to his disciples. Was there a 13th disciple I don’t know about? Or were the eleven “good” disciples going to sit on 12 thrones?

    I mean why not? Jesus sat on two animals simultaneously on his way into Jerusalem.

    Bart Ehrman may think that, but it’s obviously a stupid reading of Matthew 21:5, which is simply using a standard Semitic literary trope: the ass and the colt are the same animal.

    If Matthias was not among the disciples to whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 19:28 (and he couldn’t be because he was not yet a disciple) then he was not among the disciples to whom Jesus promised 12 thrones.

    “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his throne in heavenly glory, you who have followed me will also sit on the twelve thrones; judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

    That’s why the phrase “you who have followed me” is in there.

    Jon, I could rattle off over a hundred of these cheesy criticisms myself. Been there, done that. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, and they’ve been answered thousands of times, in print and online. If this sort of stuff is the reason you lost your faith (or never had any), then I’m genuinely sorry for you. But simply rehearsing stock objections and the obvious, well-known replies to them in a comments thread becomes boring quickly. I’ve answered a couple dozen of your tries now. Let’s give it a rest.

  69. Jon said,

    “Paul wasn’t giving a TV report on the night of the betrayal; his first letter to the Corinthians is dated about AD 55.”

    And Judas was not yet part of the story.

    Matthew 21
    2saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there **and** a colt with her; untie **them** and bring **them** to Me.

    3″If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of **them**,’ and immediately he will send **them**.”

    6The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them,

    7and brought the donkey **and** the colt, and laid their coats on **them**; and He sat on the coats.

    It’s not a stupid reading. It’s a stupid story.

    “They’ve been around for hundreds of years, and they’ve been answered thousands of times,”

    But never adequately.

    I lost my faith, if I ever had any, in an anthology of ancient writings. God is real but God is not exclusively or uniquely represented by any *thing* in this world. Scriptures are things. To believe that scriptures or any other *thing* in this world (including a man) exclusively or uniquely represents God (or is God) is to engage in idolatry. Ergo, all practitioners of Sola Scriptura and many Christians are idolaters.

    God needs no defense (certainly not mine). Dogma and belief systems, on the other hand, require constant defense.

    John 5:39-40
    You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

  70. Nathaniel said,

    And Judas was not yet part of the story.

    You can repeate that until you’re blue in the face, but no reasonable person reading 1 Corinthians 11 will concur.

    and He sat on the coats.

    It’s not a stupid story. It’s a stupid reading.

    But never adequately.

    How about if we just transcribe the entire text of the Monty Python Argument Clinic sketch and insert it here?

  71. Jon said,

    How about if we go out with this bit from Monty Python’s Life of Brian?
    I think it’s the last word on theologians.

    GREGORY (Trying to listen to the Sermon on the Mount):
    Could you be quiet, please?
    JESUS (In the far distance):
    They shall have the earth…
    GREGORY:
    What was that?
    JESUS:
    …for their possession. How blest are those…
    MR. CHEEKY:
    I don’t know. I was too busy talking to Big Nose.
    JESUS:
    …who hunger and thirst to see…
    MAN #1:
    I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’
    JESUS:
    …right prevail.
    MRS. GREGORY:
    Ahh, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?
    GREGORY:
    Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

  72. Nathaniel said,

    Love it. Lots of theologians out there deserve that, including some to whom Andrew likes to link. It’s also perfect for people who think that when Paul, writing to people about the way they conduct themselves at the Lord’s supper, talks about the last supper on the night Jesus was betrayed, he doesn’t mean the last supper on the night Jesus was betrayed, but is instead trying to do some kind of weird midrash on Isaiah.

  73. kontaktne leæe said,

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  74. Christopher said,

    Reblogged this on Prepared for the Worst and commented:
    I see this mentioned every now and again, so I thought I would reblog a critique.

  75. metheory said,

    Nathaniel,

    Thanks for your excellent comments including some very fine arguments! They certainly are impressive. In fact, I want to say what Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian’! For those of us who are genuine agnostics, could you point out resources you’d recommend we consider? I saw you link to The Jesus Legend by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy. Are there other similar books? Thanks in advance!

    • metheory said,

      I realised this was from several years ago! I suppose Nathaniel is not longer around. Pity.

      • Nathaniel said,

        Metheory,

        Hey, it only took me a bit over a year (!) to notice this comment. Sorry about that.

        If you’re looking for serious historical discussions of the New Testament evidence for the resurrection, I would recommend The Jesus Legend as well as N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, and Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. There is some good background information in Craig Evans, Jesus and His World.

        At a less intense level, Charles Foster’s book The Jesus Inquest is worth a look. And J. Warner Wallace’s new book Cold Case Christianity brings a homicide detective’s perspective to the investigation of the evidence.

        You might also want to take a look at the essay discussed higher up in this thread, which you can find here. You could also write to the McGrews if you want to follow up on their essay. I know that they do at least sometimes engage with friendly correspondents.

        Hope that helps!

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