Women at the Tomb Are Weak Evidence for the Resurrection

Resurrection Easter WomenLet’s consider an incident from that first Easter. All four gospels say that women were the first to discover the empty tomb. (Of course, who was actually at the tomb varies by the gospels, as do many other important details about the resurrection, which makes the gospels unreliable as history. But let’s ignore that for now.)

Many apologists point to the women as an important fact arguing that the gospels are reliable. Greg Koukl says:

Women, disrespected in the ancient world, are the first to witness the risen Christ. Why include these unflattering details if the Gospels are works of fiction?

I don’t know who argues that the gospels are fiction. I don’t think they’re history, but I certainly don’t think that they were deliberately invented. But let’s set that aside as well.

William Lane Craig says:

The discovery of the tomb by women is highly probable. Given the low status of women in Jewish society and their lack of qualification to serve as legal witnesses, the most plausible explanation … why women and not the male disciples were made discoverers of the empty tomb is that the women were in fact the ones who made this discovery.

That is, having women make this momentous discovery is embarrassing.

This is an application of the Criterion of Embarrassment, which argues that you’re likelier to delete something embarrassing than add it to your story. And if a story element is embarrassing, that points to its being historical fact.

The trick to using this criterion is knowing what’s embarrassing. Things that look embarrassing to us may not have been so to the author. For example, all four gospels show Peter denying Jesus three times. That’s pretty embarrassing … or is it?

Not if that story was written by someone who didn’t like Peter. Paul’s lenient approach in converting gentiles conflicted with the more traditional approach of Peter and James. Supporters of Paul might have strengthened their case by circulating a story to undercut Peter, and this story became part of the canon.

So our question becomes: is it embarrassing to have women discover the empty tomb? These apologists certainly think so, and historical records agree on women’s unreliability. Josephus, a first-century historian, stated, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted because of the levity and boldness of their sex,” and the Mishnah (a Jewish legal text written in 220 CE) concurs.

However, this flimsy argument is much more popular than it deserves to be.

Give the original authors credit for being good storytellers. As plot twists go, having women make the discovery instead of men isn’t particularly shocking. I find it hard to imagine an early Christian evangelizing an unbeliever and having the unbeliever say, “Whoa—hold on. You say women found the body? That’s a whole new ball game! I wasn’t on board before, but your story is sounding a lot more compelling now.”

But if you find it a powerful argument for the truth of the story, then you can imagine why that element might have become attached to the story.

The gospel story wasn’t made up. The point that women were unreliable witnesses is relevant only in rebutting the charge that the story was deliberately invented, a claim I don’t make. I’ve never heard this hypothesis except by apologists. Instead, what best fits the facts for me is that the story documented in the gospels is the result of forty or more years of oral history. Each gospel is a snapshot of the tradition of a different church community in widely different places (perhaps Alexandria, Damascus, or Rome?) and over decades of time.

Believers might demand, “Well, how do you explain the empty tomb?” But of course, that assumes the accuracy of the gospel story to that point. It’s like saying, “How do you explain Jack’s cutting down the beanstalk any other way than that there really was a giant climbing down after him?”

Who cares about women’s “unreliability”? Women discover the empty tomb, they tell men, the men verify the story, and then the men spread the word. If you don’t like women as witnesses, you’ve got the men.

That women were less reliable as witnesses in court doesn’t matter because there is no court in the story! The women were trustworthy where it mattered—in conveying the story to people who knew and trusted them.

Tending to the dead was women’s work in this culture. Instead of women discovering that Jesus had risen, imagine that the Bible had this incident:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, Simon Peter and James entered the kitchen to prepare bread for the community. In the darkness of the kitchen, a voice called out to them saying, “Why do you tend to minor matters when there is the LORD’s work to be done?” And they took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.

What’s wrong with this story? It’s that preparing bread is women’s work in this culture. It makes no sense to have men come across Jesus in the kitchen. And the same is true for men dealing with the dead. According to the Women in the Bible web site:

It was the women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial. … Tombs were visited and watched for three days by family members. On the third day after death, the body was examined. … On these occasions, the body would be treated by the women of the family with oils and perfumes. The women’s visit to the tombs of Jesus and Lazarus are connected with this ritual.

The Bible also gives clues to women’s role in mourning in Jer. 9:17–20 and 2 Sam. 14:2.

Mark focuses on reversals, and the other gospels followed Mark’s lead. Richard Carrier gives a detailed discussion of this topic and argues that a philosophy of “the last shall be first” led Mark to add this touch.

Given Mark’s narrative agenda, regardless of the actual facts, the tomb has to be empty, in order to confound the expectations of the reader, just as a foreign Simon must carry the cross instead of Peter, a Gentile must acknowledge Christ’s divinity instead of the Jews, a Sanhedrist must bury the body, and women must be the first to hear the Good News.

Seeing the gospel story as no more supernatural than any other myth from the past best explains the facts.

Religion—it’s like Wikipedia. 
Anyone can write something in.
— Bill Maher

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 4/8/12.)

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About Bob Seidensticker
  • Greg G.

    Mark ends with the women being afraid to tell. If the apologists are correct that women’s testimony is not worthy of belief, that would be the perfect ending. The other gospels didn’t like that ending so they added men to the story but they were still stuck with women making the discovery. Mark’s ending explains why the “pillars” did not go to Galilee but would have been swept up in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    • wtfwjtd

      Leaving Mark’s original ending as-is, at v 8, and how would anyone else have known about the resurrection? Mark has women making the discovery, and then not telling anyone. So, the other 3 gospel writers, seeing the problems with this, have to add their own embellished endings so that the word gets out. Matthew embellishes even further, and adds in a nice straw man conspiracy story of paying large sums of money all around to say the disciples stole the body and other nonsense.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I read recently that Mark’s bizarre short ending (“The angels told them to spread the word, but they didn’t. The End.”) might’ve been an attempt to explain why no one had heard of the incredible story until this moment (sometime after 70CE). Well, you see, it was hushed up; that’s why this amazing story didn’t spread.

      • Greg G.

        It could be one of the reversals from the Carrier quote. You expect the women to tell but they don’t. Throughout Mark, Jesus tells people not to tell but they do and when they are supposed to tell at the end, they don’t.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        That contradicts later claims of 500 witnesses, of course. It’s always problematic for Christians to explain why more Jews didn’t convert. Assuming that so many people saw what the Gospels portray, far more would be expected to. That was not what happened, though-mostly it’s gentiles who became Christians. So even if you’ve used Mark’s ending, it falls short of explanation for this, since the Gospels portray Jesus doing things before the resurrection that had attracted many people’s notice.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The argument for 500 witnesses is crap, according to the gospels. Those authors either hadn’t heard it or thought it was a bad argument. Either way, not much of an argument.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          It’s probable that they knew the story wouldn’t stand up, as clearly that many witnesses didn’t see any resurrected Jesus. So the Gospel writers wisely didn’t repeat it, but only claimed a few witnesses who (conveniently or not) were unavailable.

        • UWIR

          It’s amazing to me that people seriously present this obviously circular argument, that the Bible is true because there are 500 witnesses, and we know about 50 witnesses because of the Bible. And it’s not just once that I’ve seen this; Dinesh D’Souza and someone else have made this argument.

        • Greg G.

          Maybe Mark 2:1-2 is a representation of the 500. Mark uses the Twelve but Paul doesn’t include Cephas and James as part of that group as Mark does. Mark uses information from Paul but alters it sometimes. The idea just popped into my head as I read your comment.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But the 500 are witnesses after he rose. Yes, Jesus spoke to crowds while he was alive, but not after he rose (according to the gospels, anyway).

        • wtfwjtd

          And Paul says the 500 only saw what he saw, which, apparently, the gospel writers didn’t think was worth a mention.

  • MNb

    “Peter denying Jesus three times. That’s pretty embarrassing … or is it?”
    Not even if the story was written by someone who liked Petrus. The meaning of the story is to show how flawed man is, even if he is Jesus’ most faithful follower, in contrast to the impeccable character of Jesus himself. The author didn’t mean to make Petrus look especially bad, he meant to make Jesus look especially good. Note that Jesus even predicted that Petrus would deny him, making it a very powerful story about the human condition. I remember btw this was my first intuitive reaction when I read it in an adapted version: if we cannot fully rely on our closest friends (the other apostles remained silent), then whom can we fully rely on?

    Wikipedia offers a third explanation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterion_of_embarrassment

    “A further limitation is the possibility that what could be classed as embarrassing could also be an intentionally created account designed to provoke a reaction. For instance, Saint Peter’s denial of Jesus could have been written as an example of the consequences of denial.”
    There is nothing embarrassing here either.

    The best example of the Principle of Embarrassment (PoE) I know is still Herodotus showing his ignorance:

    http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodotus/hist01.htm

    “Sailing on their westerly course, they must have observed that they had the sun on their right. (Something that Herodotus, who was unaware of the earth’s spherical shape, was unable to believe.) ”
    The only possible explanation is that those Phoenician sailors indeed observed it, because it doesn’t make any sense that either they or Herodotus made it up. So when applying the PoE you have to convincingly show this, which in this example is very easy. Then it’s very powerful, but only then.

    “It was the women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial.”
    Exactly. So the PoE could have been applied if the earliest version of the story (which is Marcus, iIrc) had specifically told about men going to the tomb to prepare the dead body.
    In short: the PoE applies when the author writes something down that puts himself, his hero or his story in a bad light. That’s not the case with women finding the empty tomb, on the contrary.
    You should adapt the title: Women at the Tomb are no evidence for anything at all.

    • smrnda

      The problem with the ‘principle of embarrassment’ is that in any narrative, it’s quite common for the main characters to be less than perfect; Peter fails to stand up for Jesus and they later reconcile, which is pretty standard drama fare. What would be implausible is a story with no such happenings; totally, in spite of the arrest of Jesus all the disciples would behave in a totally courageous fashion all the time.

      • MNb

        Well, yes. Once again I refer to Herodotus’ story of the Phoenician sailors rounding Africa. The Principle of Embarrassment is here related to our modern knowledge that you’ll see the Sun where these sailors according to Herodotus claimed to have seen it. So the option of the sailors being imperfect on this issue doesn’t work either.

  • MNb

    “Why include these unflattering details if the Gospels are works of fiction?”
    Btw 21st Century apologists seem to be very fond of false dilemma’s. Yeah, Koukl, either the Gospels are completely made up (Jerusalem didn’t exist, Pontius Pilatus is a fictional character) or every single detail is historically 100% reliable.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Even better, you can apply math to this: you’ve got 2 possibilities, so that means that it’s 50/50 for each one.

      There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
      — Mark Twain

    • wtfwjtd

      And, most of these details are only unflattering in the apologists’ mind. As Bob explained, what to an apologist is an embarrassment, is just a normal cultural occurrence to most. Nothing special or unusual at all.

      • MNb

        I addressed that one underneath.

    • Nemo

      I call it the Geisler and Turek Tactic: if some of the minor setting details are accurate, what more proof do you need? Magic is real!
      Named, of course, after the guys who literally state in their book that minor setting details justify swallowing all the bold claims of the Bible.

      • smrnda

        Then I guess Leopold and Molly Bloom are real people?

    • UWIR

      I don’t think that the term “fiction” is inconsistent with parts being true, or the story not being deliberate deception. Certainly, fictional works tend to include true facts, and a product of cultural narrative accumulation can be reasonable called “fiction”.

      • smrnda

        Good point. Some fictional books are almost encyclopaedic in their attention to details about setting – something like Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ combines incredibly realistic details with fictional elements.

        There’s also an issue of a narrative based on true events to become fiction if adequately embellished. Truman Capote’ “In Cold Blood” is listed in the fiction section.

        • UWIR

          Strangely, though, I found The Mousetrap in the nonfiction section.

  • wtfwjtd

    This part of the story always bothered me, even as a died-in-the-wool fundie. Why *didn’t* Jesus appear to more people? Why all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy? Wouldn’t the story have been a lot more readily acceptable if a lot more people would have seen Jesus? Forget the 500 nonsense–how about thousands and thousands? I always figured as a kid, if Jesus could fly off into the clouds at the end of the story, why didn’t he hover over Jerusalem for awhile, and let everyone get a good, long look?(even kids can see through a bluff). It would have been at least something for the historians to record, and there wouldn’t be all this contradiction and confusion. But no, we get nuttin’… and I can only logically conclude that’s because nothing was all there was, and it didn’t really happen.

    • Greg G.

      Instead of visiting his followers, why didn’t he go to each house of the members of the Sanhedrin to show them what happened. I bet they would really rip their garments, then.

      • wtfwjtd

        Great idea! I always thought he could pull that “appear in the room” trick, say “hey” to a few folks–maybe some soldiers, or Pilate, or ,yes, even some of the Sannedrin–and then, *poof* disappear. It may or may not have changed anybody’s minds, but at least it would have gotten some folks to really thinking.

        • Greg G.

          If he could let Thomas touch his wounds to prove he was alive, why can’t he do it for everyone? He could multiplex himself to be in many places at once. That is if he really cared about our immortal souls.

        • wtfwjtd

          Now that you mention it, that’s another thing that’s always bugged me about John’s account. First, he appeared to “all the disciples”. Then suddenly, we’re told it was “all the disciples except Thomas”. Then, it’s Ok for Thomas to touch him, but he tells others not to, and does the magical pass-through-the-walls trick. Was he human after the resurrection or not?Could people actually touch him or not? John never really can make up his mind on these rather important little points.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I view the author of the Gospel of John as The Great Closer. As the last Gospel writer, his role was to answer the critics.

          Only his Gospel has the story of the spear thrust and the story of the beloved disciple. These are embellishments to answer the good Qs of critics.

        • Greg G.

          I think Luke was later than John. I think the Rich Man and Lazarus in Hades story is a rejection of John’s Lazarus resurrection. The rich man is Caiaphas and his five brothers are his brothers-in-law, per John 18:13 and the second sentence in Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1.

          There are several correlations between Matthew and John but I think the conundrum of John 7:40-42 was Matthew’s motivation to come up with a nativity story explaining how Jesus could be the Messiah by being born in Bethlehem yet coming from Galilee plus the genealogy. Luke appears to have rejected Matthew’s justification and substituted his own.

          Jesus’ three main sidekicks in Mark are the three named in Galatians 2:9, though Peter is mentioned most. I think John invented the “beloved disciple” to take Peter down a notch, leaving that one unnamed so that none had preeminence.

        • wtfwjtd

          Have you ever watched TruthSurge on YouTube? He proposes a similar idea, that the book of John was included to patch up some rather glaring plot holes in the resurrection story, and to place witnesses in certain scenes where none are present in the third-person accounts of the other (synoptic) gospels.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecaTzz-AKPM

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I’ve invited him to meet with me and several others, believers and nonbelievers, and he never shows up. My conclusion is that he is still dead. If he were alive I don’t think that he would withhold the Greatest Fact Ever from common truth-seekers.

        • Greg G.

          Why does he only provide satisfactory evidence for people with low standards of evidence?

    • Nemo

      Jesus to his disciples: Oh, don’t worry about spreading the word. Dad’s got dozens of giant televisions being set up in major cities all over the world to broadcast the event, as well as give out the “turn or burn” theology.
      Disciples: What’s a television?
      Jesus: Don’t worry about it.

    • UWIR

      You died in the wool?

      • Castilliano

        Died in the wool so he could be reborn by the Lamb.
        It’s not a misspelling, it’s a revelation.
        (Or so I imagine a fundie spinning it.)
        Cheers.

        • wtfwjtd

          Uh, yes, that’s it! Thanks for clarifying!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Or: why didn’t he stick around for more than 40 days (Acts) or 1 day (Luke) or ? days (Mark)? He could’ve gotten a lot done.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      I think you make a good point. If Jesus came back to life, wouldn’t he have met with Pilate and the Sanhedrin? Why not?

  • Greg G.

    For example, all four gospels show Peter denying Jesus three times. That’s pretty embarrassing … or is it?

    Tim Widowfield points out a couple of interesting bits in How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 2) showing that both authors sandwiched Peter’s denials around Jesus testifying before Annas. While Jesus was admitting to being the Son of Man, Peter was denying being a follower. When Jesus was being beaten and told to prophesy, his prophecies were being fulfilled.

    In GJohn, Peter was always the runner-up to the “disciple Jesus loved best”. In GMark, Peter’s wavering is a main point of the story. It would only be embarrassing after the Book of Acts made a hero of Peter and the church adopted him as a saint.

    • wtfwjtd

      Robert Price in “Shrinking son of Man” discusses how various mentions of characters in the gospels at key points in the story are primarily designed to give a “hat tip” to favorite characters and leaders of different factions, rather than recording actual or purported events. He specifically mentions the incident in which Jesus’ supposed family is listed to illustrate this point. This was likely a “laundry list” of revered personages of specific traditions, in an attempt to reconcile various factions with each another, rather than actual listing of blood siblings. He also says the rather odd list of characters we get in the famous I Cor 15 passage is also a list of this type,and this is the reason it has an awkward, cobbled-together feel.
      No doubt, these Peter mentions are also probably an attempt at pacifying or possibly ingratiating certain early factions, rather than recording any supposed event.

  • UWIR

    If the presence of embarrassing details make the story more credible, then the presence of embarrassing details is completely consistent with someone putting in embarrassing details to make it sound more credible. The only way embarrassing details distinguishes between two hypotheses is if one of the hypotheses is that the author had no understanding of human nature, or if the details would have been more embarrassing back then. The presence of women has a prima facae case of being in the latter category, in that it now not embarrassing to have women as witnesses. The Peter story, however, does not fall under that category. Any arguments we can now make about it being convincing due to the Principle of Embarrassment, someone thousands of years ago could have also made.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      The original fabricator’s plot with the women discovering the empty tomb was embarrassing to the author of the Gospel of John, and so he had to add two male disciples going to the tomb to verify the womens’ report.

      • Greg G.

        Mark is written in a chiastic format. The abrupt ending is a pregnant pause where the reader would be expecting an ending like:

        The women-folk said, “Pete, move away from there.”
        Said, “Capernaum is where oughta be,
        so they loaded up the camel
        and they moved to Galileeee.”

      • Pofarmer

        I especially like how the original ending of Mark had the women just running away and not telling anyone, almost as if to explain why the listener/reader had never heard this amazing tale……………………….

        • Greg G.

          I have seen some say that it evidence that it was a true story as it would be too embarrassing to make it up considering the opinion of women back then. But it would also be the kind of thing to end a fictional story with to self-explain why the story wasn’t well known.

  • Brian Murtagh

    Speaking of embarassing details, why do all these paintings of the tomb have a round rock for sealing a square hole?

    • Greg G.

      I think the stone door is round so the tombs could be opened. When the flesh decayed, the bones were placed in an ossuary. I don’t know why the tomb opening would be square.

      • Pofarmer

        I just read an article/blog post that was talking about the issue of the tomb doors. It seems that round stones were common after about 100 A.D. Before 100 A.D. it seems like most all the tomb stones were square. The only tombs that had round stones were the tombs of the very wealthy. Family tomb complexes. Wish I could remember where I read it.

        • Greg G.

          That sounds familiar. Now that you’ve jostled my memory, I recall that the round seals became more popular in the second century.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        We see the output of a painter, not a historian or archaeologist. Perhaps well educated about the times; perhaps not.

      • Gary Whittenberger

        Most doorways are made rectangular. However, a large circular stone can cover a rectangular doorway and can be more easily moved (rolled) than an rectangular stone.

  • R Vogel

    I am less surprised from the like of Koukl and Craig, who strike me a mostly clowns, as I was to read a similar argument put forth in the beginning of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. He is one of the darlings of the progressive christian movement which I assumed would not engage is such a transparently poor argument. In addition to your criticisms I would add that a good story teller would do exactly what they say they wouldn’t, using an unusual figure at the climax of the story, and there is plenty of biblical precedent for the literary twist: David was a shepherd boy, Amos was a bumpkin, Moses has a speech impediment, Judith was the savior of Israel. It is an argument that only someone beginning with belief thinks is valid.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The professional apologists puzzle me. I suppose you could say that they’ve got a good thing going, which might explain things, but they do seem to honestly believe.

      I think you’re right. Perhaps if you start with an earnest belief, you’ll pull together whatever arguments are at hand. Since they all point to the truth, whether they’re actually strong or not may not much matter.

      But, yeah, I’d be embarrassed to put forward such a weak argument.

      • Gary Whittenberger

        Yes, I think they sincerely believe this crap. Childhood indoctrination is difficult to overcome.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      But the women finding the empty tomb is what we would expect from the plot written by a single primary fabricator.

  • hector_jones

    These arguments assume that the gospels are basically historical accounts, albeit embellished, from which real facts can be drawn by the application of these criteria. More and more, however, analysis of the gospels shows that they are not historical accounts in the least, any more than are the Iliad or the Odyssey.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      I don’t agree with your hypothesis. I don’t think everything in the Gospels is made up, but much of it is. Just think of the Gospels as being in the same genre as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

      This is the way I see it: The Original Resurrection Fabricator hypothesis, or ORF hypothesis, is the idea that there was one man who in 30-35 CE fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus which is the most significant common plot in the four Gospels. This man created the story line of the dead Jesus being buried in a tomb, Jesus coming back to life and exiting the tomb, women discovering the empty tomb, Jesus meeting with his disciples on one occasion, and then Jesus meeting with them on a second occasion after which he ascended to heaven. The Gospels are all variations on the basic plot created by the ORF who may have been inspired by myths and legends of the past.

      • Greg G.

        I don’t agree with your hypothesis. I don’t think everything in the Gospels is made up, but much of it is. Just think of the Gospels as being in the same genre as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

        Which parts of the gospels do you think are not made up? We can reject the miracle account because they are prima facie implausible or we can reject them because they appear to be based on OT miracles, miracles from other Jewish literature, from Greek literature, such as the Homeric epics, and from Roman propaganda. If we use the latter method, we can apply it to the less implausible accounts and make them implausible, leaving little but Jesus going here and there for no apparent reason.

        In New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash, Robert M. Price has collected independent studies done by scholars on various aspects of the gospels. Combined they show sources for 90% of Mark and much of the other gospels where they are not dependent on Mark. In The Sermon on the Mount Site: James and the Sermon on the Mount, Robert I. Kirby is draws a different conclusion but in light of the rest of the gospels being taken from other literature and the fact that James never quotes Jesus despite that the arguments would be much stronger with a “Jesus said”, it is probable that Matthew put the words and ideas from the Epistle of James into Jesus’ mouth.

        This is the way I see it: The Original Resurrection Fabricator hypothesis, or ORF hypothesis, is the idea that there was one man who in 30-35 CE fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus which is the most significant common plot in the four Gospels.

        The whole idea of Jesus appears to have been created from an interpretation of certain OT scripture about the Messiah. Someone, perhaps the Pharisees, began to read the Suffering Servant really was about a real person but it was a hidden mystery in the metaphor. Isaiah 53 tells how he was killed, buried, and intercedes in heaven, which implies a resurrection.

        It appears that Paul came up with the idea of the crucifixion. He uses the first two chapters of Galatians to discredit Cephas, James, and the circumcision faction. He opens the letter with a rant about not following human authority, says he didn’t learn anything from human authority, then specifically says that he didn’t learn anything form Cephas and James by saying he met with them. He mentions that James assumes the human authority to send people on missions in Galatians 2:11-12, which he says in Galatians 1:1 is what the Lord tells him to do, so when he calls James “the Lord’s brother”, he is being sarcastic about him having power equal to the Lord. Paul also associates “the brothers of the Lord” with “human authority” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 and 8.

        In Galatians 3, Paul starts with a rhetorical question about who bewitched them and immediately goes into to justifying the idea that Jesus was crucified by explaining his loopy logic. But he doesn’t mention anybody but Cephas, James, John, and the circumcsion faction. After arguing for faith for a few chapters, in Galatians 5:12, he wishes they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves, an extremely sarcastic shot at the circumcisers.

        Galatians 6:12-13 (NRSV)12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.

        Even to the end of the letter, Paul is still pointing out that the circumcisers reject the crucifixion idea.

        Twice in 2 Corinthians, Paul insists his knowledge is not inferior to the “super-apostles”. Paul insists his knowledge came from revelation and the scriptures but the revelation is also from the scriptures. Paul loves to talk about Jesus. He mentions “Jesus” and/or “Christ” about once every five verses. But everything Paul says about Jesus is information that can be found in the OT. If he thinks his knowledge is not inferior to the other apostles, he must think they got their information the same way he did.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          GW1: I don’t agree with your hypothesis. I don’t think everything in the Gospels is made up, but much of it is. Just think of the Gospels as being in the same genre as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

          GG2: Which parts of the gospels do you think are not made up? We can reject the miracle account because they are prima facie implausible or we can reject them because they appear to be based on OT miracles, miracles from other Jewish literature, from Greek literature, such as the Homeric epics, and from Roman propaganda. If we use the latter method, we can apply it to the less implausible accounts and make them implausible, leaving little but Jesus going here and there for no apparent reason.

          GW2: I agree with you that the miracle stories are false and probably mostly fabricated. I think Jesus was probably a real man who traveled around ancient Palestine in the early 1st century CE, preaching revisionist and apocalyptic theology, and was crucified and killed. Do you agree? If not, why not?

          GW1: This is the way I see it: The Original Resurrection Fabricator hypothesis, or ORF hypothesis, is the idea that there was one man who in 30-35 CE fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus which is the most significant common plot in the four Gospels.

          GG2: The whole idea of Jesus appears to have been created from an interpretation of certain OT scripture about the Messiah. Someone, perhaps the Pharisees, began to read the Suffering Servant really was about a real person but it was a hidden mystery in the metaphor. Isaiah 53 tells how he was killed, buried, and intercedes in heaven, which implies a resurrection.

          GW2: I don’t think we differ by much. I think the Jesus Seminar concluded that what is written about Jesus is about 20% true and 80% false. I pretty much agree with that. You seem to think that 0% is true. Is that correct?

          GG2: It appears that Paul came up with the idea of the crucifixion.

          GW2: That’s possible, but I doubt it. The four Gospels and Josephus also mention a crucifixion of Jesus. The Romans crucified many persons whom they viewed as criminals or trouble makers, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Jesus was crucified. He was probably viewed as a seditious crack pot.

          GG2: In Galatians 3, Paul starts with a rhetorical question about who bewitched them and immediately goes into to justifying the idea that Jesus was crucified by explaining his loopy logic.

          GW2: I agree that Paul has “loopy logic,” but this does not rule out a historical Jesus.

          GG2: Even to the end of the letter, Paul is still pointing out that the circumcisers reject the crucifixion idea.

          GW2: Who cares?

          GG2: But everything Paul says about Jesus is information that can be found in the OT. If he thinks his knowledge is not inferior to the other apostles, he must think they got their information the same way he did.

          GW2: I don’t have very high regard for Paul, but I think he is correct that Jesus existed, was a traveling Jewish preacher, had unusual and rebellious ideas, and was crucified. I do think Paul was the inventor of Christianity.

        • Greg G.

          GW2: I agree with you that the miracle stories are false and probably mostly fabricated. I think Jesus was probably a real man who traveled around ancient Palestine in the early 1st century CE, preaching revisionist and apocalyptic theology, and was crucified and killed. Do you agree? If not, why not?

          I used to think that. There may have been somebody named Jesus going around preaching and he may have been crucified by Pilate. But the New Testament says nothing about that guy. There is no preacher or teacher nor any of his teachings in the early epistles. 1 Timothy and 2 Peter prove they were late by being apparently dependent on the gospels. 2 Peter tries to prove it is not “a cleverly devised myth” by citing the Matthew version of a cleverly devised myth.

          In the authentic Pauline gospels, he likes to talk about Jesus a lot, mostly about him hanging out in heaven, but everything he tells us about Jesus is information found in OT scripture. Where he appears to be quoting Jesus, it is actually an OT reference. 1 Corinthians 14:21 is a “Lord said” verse but it is a quotation of Isaiah 28:11-12. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is what the Lord said but it what comes from Deuteronomy 24:1-4 on divorce. The people Paul was writing to were under a law that allowed women to divorce while Deuteronomy has no provision for that. When Mark put that into Jesus’ mouth, it would be weird as the people in that land wouldn’t know of women divorcing, which is probably why Matthew and Luke omitted that part. Another is 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 on being paid for work but it is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:3-8.

          The Lord’s Meal in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 seems to be based on Psalm 41:9 and Isaiah 53:12 but more of the way Mark used OT scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 sets up a pattern of an exhortation, a rhetorical question, and an answer to the question using the same metaphor. But the answer to the third cycle is not found there, but can be found at 1 Corinthians 11:30-31, identifying a seam where a huge interpolation was inserted. I suspect it was whoever forged the Pastorals and the Luke version was used.

          But the other pseudo-Paulines and the other general epistles also never speak of Jesus except in OT terms. There are no teachings or miracle stories.

          I think the Gospel Jesus was a combination of Odysseus and Paul who each traveled around the Mediterranean but was set around the “Sea” of Galilee amalgamated with Epistle Jesus. His main companions were the three Paul mentioned in Galatians 2:9.

          GW2: That’s possible, but I doubt it. The four Gospels and Josephus also mention a crucifixion of Jesus. The Romans crucified many persons whom they viewed as criminals or trouble makers, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Jesus was crucified. He was probably viewed as a seditious crack pot.

          Mark got the crucifixion from Paul. The other three gospels got it from Mark. The Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery and the evidence points at Eusebius who has been accused of it for at least a thousand years.

          The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus by Gary J. Goldberg, Ph.D. makes a strong case that there is an association with the Emmaus Road story in Luke but he rejects the idea that anyone could have imitated Josephus back then and concludes that it was embellished but that Josephus and Luke used a common source. But that is ridiculous because the Emmaus Road conversation is a summary of the story of Luke which came from Mark and since the TF is not like Mark, it could not be a common source. The Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius, and Consensus by Ken Olson shows that Eusebius used Josephus-like phrases in his non-Josephus writings, including several of the phrases in the TF, in both the embellished phrases and the base phrases.

          Josephus had accounts of crucifixions as late as the early first century and during Josephus’ adulthood but no crucifixions are mentioned during the time Pilate was the prefect. He does have several account of mass slayings by Pilate’s men but they are when a group formed and were surrounded by his men. I don’t know whether I have read all of Philo’s accounts about Pilate, but he didn’t have much good to say about him but I don’t think he mentioned any crucifixions either.

          Josephus (Jewish War 6.5.3) tells of a Jesus who was probably insane who went around yelling “Woe, woe to Jerusalem”. He was flogged by the Romans but deemed a harmless “crack pot” and released. He met his doom walking around Jerusalem saying his woes. He added, “Woe to me also” just before he was struck and killed by a rock from a seige engine.

          GW2: I don’t have very high regard for Paul, but I think he is correct that Jesus existed, was a traveling Jewish preacher, had unusual and rebellious ideas, and was crucified. I do think Paul was the inventor of Christianity.

          Where does Paul say Jesus existed in the first century? Even in 1 Corinthians 15, he says the death, burial, and resurrection are “according to the scripture” which is Isaiah 53:5, Isaiah 53:9 and Hosea 6:2. He uses the same word for “appeared to” for himself as he does for all the others, Jesus only appeared to him through the scripture, and he insists his knowledge is not inferior to the “super-apostles'” knowledge so he doesn’t think the others knew a first century Jesus.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I have read some on the debate about the existence of Jesus, but apparently not nearly as much as you have. I don’t feel qualified to get into the finer details.

          However, among the experts regarding biblical history the position you hold (and that of Carrier, Price, etc.) is quite a minority position. I would guess that if we took a survey of the 500 most qualified scholars in the world on this topic, the position that there was no real Jesus would be held by about 5%. Do you agree?

        • Michael Neville

          You have to remember one important thing about New Testament scholars. The vast majority are practicing Christians. Their biases make them very unlikely to deny the existence of the god they worship.

        • Pofarmer

          Interestingly, Gary’s 5% would be about 2% higher than the number who are practicing Christians.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          The percentage I proposed is just a rough estimate. Because of that the comparison you are trying to make isn’t very useful.

          I know more about the topic of Jesus than most people (even more than most Christians), but I am far from an expert in this topic. There are experts in this area, like there are experts in most areas. From my reading it appears that the vast majority of these experts have concluded that Jesus existed. He was a traveling Jewish preacher in the early first century CE, who attracted a small following, and was crucified. Stories were fabricated about him, in which supernatural status was attributed to him, and a world religion was subsequently developed with him as the central character.

          Is it possible that Jesus never existed? Yes, I think it is, but I see that as unlikely at the present time.

        • Michael Neville

          I’m willing to accept that there was an early First Century itinerant preacher named Yeshua ben Yosef giving revivals in Palestine. What I don’t accept is the Biblical Jesus performing miraculous cures, revivifying dead people, and raising himself from the dead. The two individuals are wholly separate and have little to do with each other besides the similarity in names.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I agree with your claims here, except for the last one.

          I believe the character Jesus Christ is based on the real person Yeshua ben Yosef. Stories were fabricated about the latter to produce the former.

          If the life of Jesus Christ were portrayed in film (The Greatest Story Ever Told) then there should be a declaration at the beginning which says “10-20% based on a true story.” We could quibble about the percentage. Of course, none of the miracle narratives are true.

        • Pofarmer

          But then you have “experts” like Thomas Brodie and Tom Halpur, that all of a sudden go “Holy shit, this is a religious myth based on all these other religious myths.” That makes a lot more sense than thinking that you can know something about a character in a story set in Ancient Palestine by authors you don’t even know. The inconvenient thing is that nobody “knows” anything about any historical Jesus. It simply isn’t possible with the type of information we have. It’s also true that the vast majority of NT and Jesus scholars are believing Christians. They believed Jesus existed long before they ever studied it. And if you believe in the divine Jesus, of course you’re going to believe in the historical Jesus. It’s just silly to think that they would be impartial here.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Again, you can’t simply exclude from a group of experts people who disagree with you on the claim we are discussing. You have to set up rational criteria for selection of the group of experts ahead of time, not knowing what they already believe about the historical Jesus. You can’t cherry pick.

          Some possible criteria for selection of experts:
          1. Training at secular universities
          2. Doctoral degree in relevant area
          3. Training in rational methods of history
          4. Training in relevant languages
          5. At least 20 years of study in the field
          6. Minimum number of peer reviewed publications
          There may be other good ones, but that is a start.

        • Pofarmer

          Gary, you can include or exclude anyone you want. That won’t change the facts. The facts are that we have anonymous stories, written a good distance from event, written and indeterminate amount of time after the events were said to occur, set in Ancient Palestine that get some geographical facts wrong, for instance. It’s a fact that any family line of Jesus just vanishes. That’s why we have the whole “assumption of Mary” and nothing at all about Joseph, period.” The facts are that we have no archaeological evidence of any Jesus, and some archaeological evidence, or rather the absence of such, that really precludes the Jesus story. The facts are that everything you “know” about Jesus is based on this literature. There is no other. Degree’s don’t change that. Years of study don’t change that.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          PF1: Gary, you can include or exclude anyone you want.

          GW1: No, you can’t do that and think rationally.

          PF1: That won’t change the facts.

          GW1: What are the facts is in dispute. Even when they are not in dispute, the interpretation of the facts is in dispute. The conclusion is in dispute! You just can’t select “experts” who agree with you in advance. That would be cherry picking your experts.

          PF1: The facts are that we have anonymous stories, written a good distance from event, written and indeterminate amount of time after the events were said to occur, set in Ancient Palestine that get some geographical facts wrong, for instance. It’s a fact that any family line of Jesus just vanishes. That’s why we have the whole “assumption of Mary” and nothing at all about Joseph, period.” The facts are that we have no archaeological evidence of any Jesus, and some archaeological evidence, or rather the absence of such, that really precludes the Jesus story. The facts are that everything you “know” about Jesus is based on this literature. There is no other. Degree’s don’t change that. Years of study don’t change that.

          GW1: I agree with most of those “facts” which you present. There are others outside the OT authors who wrote about Jesus within three hundred years of his alleged death, right? There is the fact that a popular world religion has developed on the assumption that Jesus existed, right? Given the facts which we have, what is more likely — that the Minimal Jesus existed or that he did not? I think the former is more likely.

        • Greg G.

          1. Training at secular universities
          2. Doctoral degree in relevant area
          3. Training in rational methods of history
          4. Training in relevant languages
          5. At least 20 years of study in the field
          6. Minimum number of peer reviewed publications

          None of that is evidence of a first century Jesus. If someone uses their training in relevant languages to come up with a novel translation that proves a first century Jesus, it is likely to be wrong.

          Their training allows them to come up with certain criteria to believe something came for Jesus.

          A few examples from http://mythicismfiles.blogspot.com/2015/03/cry-creationism.html

          •The Criterion of Embarrassment- (1899)[1]
          Description: This criterion says that sayings or actions of Jesus that would have embarrassed or created difficulty for the early Church are more likely to be authentic. The Church would not have gone out of its way to create material that would have been embarrassing or that undermined its credibility or status.
          Example: The supposed inferior John the Baptist–who baptized people for the repentance and forgiveness of sins–baptized the superior and sinless Jesus. Other embarrassing reports include Peter’s denial, Judas’s betrayal, Jesus’ crucifixion, and the suspicion by Jesus’ family that he is insane.

          •The Criterion of Dissimilarity- (1953)[2]
          Description: This criterion focuses on actions or sayings of Jesus that cannot be derived either from Judaism at the time of Jesus or from the early Church.
          Example: Jesus’ prohibition of all oaths (Mt 5:34,37), his rejection of voluntary fasting (Mk 2:18-22), and his prohibition of divorce (Mk 10:2-12) are not found in Jewish or early Christian writings.

          •The Criterion of Multiple Attestation- (1911)[3]
          Description: This criterion focuses on those actions and sayings of Jesus that are attested in more than one independent literary source (e.g., Mark, Q, M, L, Paul, John, and extracanonical sources) and/or more than one literary form or genre (e.g., parable, conflict story, miracle story, prophecy, aphorism).
          Example: We can be certain that Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God (this criteria says) because it is found in several independent traditions (Mark, Q, M, L, John, and Paul) and in a wide variety of genres (parable, beatitude, prayer, aphorism, miracle story).

          •The Criterion of Aramaisms- (1925)[4]
          Description: This criterion posits that since Jesus spoke in Aramaic, traces of Aramaic in our Greek gospels argue in favor of a primitive tradition that may go back to Jesus.
          Example: The pun in Matt 23:24, “straining out the gnat (galma) and swallowing a camel (gamla).” The use of Aramaic words such as amen (Mk 8:12), abba (Mk 14:36), bar (Mt 16:17), talitha cumi (Mk 5:41), eloi eloi lama sabachthani (Mk 15:34) all point in the direction of the historical Jesus, so says this criterion.

          1. Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel, in Encyclopaedia Biblica
          2. Ernst Käsemann’s lecture in Oct of that year titled “The Problem of the Historical Jesus”.
          3. F. C. Burkitt, “The Gospel History and Its Transmission”.
          4. C. F. Burney, “The Poetry of Our Lord”.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          “None of that is evidence of a first century Jesus. If someone uses their training in relevant languages to come up with a novel translation that proves a first century Jesus, it is likely to be wrong.”

          GW: You are engaged in question begging. I was not listing evidence of a first century Jesus. I was listing possible criteria for the selection of experts about Jesus.

          “Their training allows them to come up with certain criteria to believe something came for Jesus.”

          GW: That is just irrelevant. You can’t cherry pick your experts and be rational. You seem to be talking on some tangent.

        • Greg G.

          You are citing a consensus that is not based on evidence. Many in the consensus have never, ever questioned the existence of Jesus, let alone investigated the evidence.

          If there was a case to be made based on the evidence, scholars would have presented it by now instead of continuously citing the consensus.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          No, Greg, I am citing a consensus based mostly on the same evidence that you and I have access to.

          I suspect that all the experts I am referring to have questioned the existence of Jesus at some point in their careers. How could you possible study Jesus intensively for 20 years and not question his existence?

          Those in the consensus do cite evidence. You and I might not consider it evidence or good evidence. Or we might have a different interpretation of the same evidence. Your belief that Jesus did not exist is not obvious from an examination of the evidence. Our opinions should be stated in terms of probabilities.

          I believe it is roughly 75% probable that the Minimal Jesus existed. You don’t believe it is impossible, do you?

        • Greg G.

          No, Greg, I am citing a consensus based mostly on the same evidence that you and I have access to.

          I suspect that all the experts I am referring to have questioned the existence of Jesus at some point in their careers. How could you possible study Jesus intensively for 20 years and not question his existence?

          I have seen a mythicist and an historicist say that they have spoken to NT scholars who are completely unaware of the historicity question. They may be lulled into not questioning it because nobody questions it. Historians don’t question the existence of George Washington but if they did, there is evidence in the form of writings in his own hand and artifacts of his existence.

          Those in the consensus do cite evidence. You and I might not consider it evidence or good evidence. Or we might have a different interpretation of the same evidence. Your belief that Jesus did not exist is not obvious from an examination of the evidence. Our opinions should be stated in terms of probabilities.

          I have questioned Jesus’ existence and examined the evidence for about a dozen years. I have not seen anybody convincingly demonstrate Jesus’ existence from the evidence. I thought Bart Ehrman was going to do it but he convinced me that there is a lack of real evidence and there is no way to arrange the little there is to arrive at that conclusion. What I hear is the “consensus” over and over and that it was settled years ago when the book cited specifically says it did not address the arguments made.

          Those in the consensus do cite evidence. You and I might not consider it evidence or good evidence. Or we might have a different interpretation of the same evidence. Your belief that Jesus did not exist is not obvious from an examination of the evidence. Our opinions should be stated in terms of probabilities.

          I think the evidence we have favors that the New Testament Jesus is completely made up. The extra-biblical evidence is too late, testifies only to the existence of second century Christians, and is likely dependent on the gospels even if indirectly. The gospels are too late, mostly myths, and the the way the myths were created exposes that they are based on the literature of the day, not oral traditions. The early epistles, that is, those not dependent on the gospels, do not mention a minimal Jesus. They only speak of Jesus in OT terms and references, so even that part is imaginary.

          So I think a Minimal Jesus is 95% unlikely, and that 5% is a generous possibility of new evidence being discovered. The evidence we do have points to a literary Jesus only.

        • Pofarmer

          Ignorant Amos and I were both commenting on James McGraths blog once, and I asked him point blank how he had determined that the Gospel stories weren’t wholly fictional. His response was “Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?” In other words, the assumption is that there is an underlying story IRL and they are trying to uncover it. They’ve never even considered it the other way round. Also keep in mind that McGrath, and a lot of other NT scholars, think there is historical evidence for the ressurection. Those you have to throw right out, because they obviously aren’t looking at the evidence without bias. Take those out, and I wonder what the discussion would look like then?

        • Pofarmer

          You’re citing a consensus based mostly on the work of people who ALSO think that the ressurection is an historical event.

        • Pofarmer

          Read the works of Paul considered Authentic and forget the Gospels. Remove a couple key interpolations, and it becomes pretty clear Paul didn’t require or have any experience with or real knowledge of an earthly walking around Jesus.

        • MR

          Yeah, these are not apples and oranges. Seems a disingenuous argument to me.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Well, you can’t disqualify somebody from the expert group just because they disagree with you. We’d have to define what is an “expert” in this area first, select the group on those criteria, and then survey it with proper questions.

          I like this analogy: 97% of qualified climate scientists have concluded that recent global warming is real and is very likely the result of the burning of fossil fuels by human beings.

          I believe that something similar is the case with the belief that Jesus was a real person, among qualified experts.

        • Greg G.

          How many of the climate scientists concluded global warming was real when they were 8 years old? Climate scientists don’t rely on consensus to make their point, they show the evidence.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          None reached their conclusions when they were 8 years old. So what?

          Climate scientists don’t rely on consensus to draw a conclusion, but we may. I think you are missing my point altogether.

          None of us can be experts in all subject areas. We don’t have the intellectual ability or the time to do this. So, when we are not an expert in a particular area, like climate science or the historicity of Jesus, it is rational for us to consult with and rely on a CONSENSUS of experts. Do you agree, yes or no? If not, then please explain and defend your position.

          From my reading, listening, and debating experience, I believe that the consensus of relevant experts in the subject area of “Jesus” is that Jesus was a real person about whom many false stories were written. For simplicity, I’ll call this the “Minimal Jesus.” You may believe that this Jesus did not exist, but if you do, you are out of step with the consensus of relevant experts. Do you agree, yes or no? If not, please explain and defend your position.

          Are you an expert on Jesus? If so, what are your credentials?

        • Greg G.

          None of us can be experts in all subject areas. We don’t have the intellectual ability or the time to do this. So, when we are not an expert in a particular area, like climate science or the historicity of Jesus, it is rational for us to consult with and rely on a CONSENSUS of experts. Do you agree, yes or no? If not, then please explain and defend your position.

          For those two positions, no. Several years ago, I studied up on climate change science because I was frustrated with the arguments presented on the internet that were using middle school explanations for climate change while the anti-climate change side was presenting science to support their position. I studied the formulas cited and realized that all of the AGW sites were making errors in their claims. It all comes down to more energy into a system than goes out raises the temperature, raising the temperature means the energy escaping is in the form of higher energy photons, and the average temperature stabilizes when a balance is reached. I was able to predict the temperature of Venus by looking at a graphical diagram of the wavelengths of light that are absorbed by H2O and CO2. My calculation was between two measured temperatures of Venus. One doesn’t need to become an expert to understand the principles.

          Are you an expert on Jesus?

          I do not claim to be.

          If so, what are your credentials?

          I know all of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and so do you.

          I accepted the Minimal Jesus model because I assumed the experts had some formula that favored the existence of Jesus. I thought Bart Ehrman would show me that formula in Did Jesus Exist? But he resorted to imaginary evidence like Q, M, and L, which is circular reasoning as they are theorized based on the assumption that there was a Jesus, so they came from oral traditions. Luke rejected parts of Mark but it is accepted that Luke used Mark as a source. Why is it so hard to accept that Luke used Matthew, too, and rejected parts of it? Why couldn’t Matthew and Luke make up stories the way Mark did?

          When you compare the gospels with the literature of the day that still exists, it is apparent that much of the gospels are drawn from those literary sources, not from oral traditions. Jesus scholars tend to not compare the NT writings with other literature because they think they are historians who are prone to assuming oral traditions and common sources. It is experts in ancient literature who are familiar with the Bible who point out the similarities to other writings of the day, which show the errors in assuming the oral traditions and common sources.

          The Minimal Jesus hypothesis assumes a Jesus that was so inconsequential that nobody wrote about him during his life but became famous about two generations later. Whether or not that is true, it was because of Paul’s writings.

          I am going on vacation with my wife so my internet time will be limited for at least 8 days, unless my wife brings a needle-point project.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          GW1: None of us can be experts in all subject areas. We don’t have the intellectual ability or the time to do this. So, when we are not an expert in a particular area, like climate science or the historicity of Jesus, it is rational for us to consult with and rely on a CONSENSUS of experts. Do you agree, yes or no? If not, then please explain and defend your position.

          GG2: For those two positions, no.

          GW2: I don’t agree with you. I am not an expert in either of those two areas, and it is rational for me to consult with and rely on a CONSENSUS of experts to make up my mind. The fact that you did some studying on climate change doesn’t make you an expert. I would not trust your belief in this area above a consensus of experts if the consensus came down on the other side.

          GW1: If so [if you are an expert on Jesus], what are your credentials?

          GG2: I know all of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and so do you.

          GW1: Your reply is irrelevant to my question because you are not an expert on Jesus.

          GG2: I accepted the Minimal Jesus model because I assumed the experts had some formula that favored the existence of Jesus. I thought Bart Ehrman would show me that formula in Did Jesus Exist? But he resorted to imaginary evidence like Q, M, and L, which is circular reasoning as they are theorized based on the assumption that there was a Jesus, so they came from oral traditions. Luke rejected parts of Mark but it is accepted that Luke used Mark as a source. Why is it so hard to accept that Luke used Matthew, too, and rejected parts of it? Why couldn’t Matthew and Luke make up stories the way Mark did?

          GW2: Bart Ehrman is only one of hundreds of experts who hold the consensus position. Not knowing anything else but his credentials and yours, I’d believe him rather than you. However, I’d love to hear a debate of him with you. Mark was the first Gospel to be written. Do you agree, yes or no? If not, tell us why. Now, we have two hypotheses – Mark is talking about a real Jesus or Mark is talking about a made up Jesus. These are mutually exclusive. One has to be true and the other has to be false. Is it more likely that a religion of 2.5 billion adherents is based on a man who existed or who did not exist? I think the former is more likely. We can’t be certain about this. We just have to make an educated guess.

          GG2: When you compare the gospels with the literature of the day that still exists, it is apparent that much of the gospels are drawn from those literary sources, not from oral traditions. Jesus scholars tend to not compare the NT writings with other literature because they think they are historians who are prone to assuming oral traditions and common sources. It is experts in ancient literature who are familiar with the Bible who point out the similarities to other writings of the day, which show the errors in assuming the oral traditions and common sources.

          GW2: Similarities of NT writings to other literature of the time does not “prove” that Jesus did not exist. Did Abraham exist? Did Paul exist? Did Muhammad exist? Did the Buddha exist? Did Confucious exist? Did Joseph Smith exist? Did Ron Hubbard exist? Which is more likely –that a world religion be based on a man who did exist or one who did not exist?

          GG2: The Minimal Jesus hypothesis assumes a Jesus that was so inconsequential that nobody wrote about him during his life but became famous about two generations later. Whether or not that is true, it was because of Paul’s writings.

          GW2: It is a matter of degree of “minimal” or “inconsequential.” My hypothesis is that Jesus existed, was impressive to some people, had a following (not a huge one), was talked about during his life and after his life, was crucified, was considered a martyr, and was written about 30-40 years after his death. I support the ORF hypothesis, which I already explained. Of course we agree that none of the miracle stories is true.

          GW2: I hope you enjoy your vacation. I think you are doing some good work for the skeptical cause.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          when we are not an expert in a particular area, like climate science or the historicity of Jesus, it is rational for us to consult with and rely on a CONSENSUS of experts.

          About science, yes, I strongly agree. Religion is a different area, however. Bias screams out as a possible concern.

          For simple things like “How do Catholics view the eucharist?” I will certainly rely on their consensus, but I don’t automatically accept their consensus when it comes to historical claims, like I would with science’s consensus.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Which experts?

          The relevant experts here are the experts in the history and archeology of first century Palestine, not experts in religion. When it comes to the question “Did Jesus exist?” I am going to rely on their consensus since I do not have the skills or the time to devote to the question. I have made some suggestions as to how we would select a pool of experts in this area.

      • Pofarmer

        ORF hypothesis, is the idea that there was one man who in 30-35 CE
        fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus which is the most
        significant common plot in the four Gospels.

        Dude, dude, dude.

        Dying and rising God motif’s FAR predate any Jesus story. It’s a very, very old tradition in the area where the Jesus myth’s also originated. It’s not original in the least. It’s just a localized take on a very old story.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Dude, dude, dude, the ORF hypothesis includes the idea that the fabrication may have been influenced by previous myths and legends. The existence of dying and rising god legends doesn’t falsify the ORF hypothesis.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Do your last two argument contradict each other? One seems to say, “Of course women found the empty tomb. Going to the tomb was women’s work.” The second seems to say, “Of course women found the tomb. Mark was big on surprise endings.” (I know the second one is from Carrier, but it sounds like you support it. Maybe I’m misunderstanding.)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yes. This a choose-your-own-adventure thing. If you insist that women would be startling, you have Carrier’s comment. But if you’re willing to consider that they might not be, you have the fact that tending to the dead was women’s work.

      • Kingasaurus

        There’s definitely more than one reasonable objection to the apologetic in question.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      Women finding the empty tomb fits nicely with the fabricator’s plot line.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    A couple other problems with the argument:
    (1) The reader relies on the credibility of the storyteller (i.e. Mark), not the credibility of the characters in the story.
    (2) We know from Paul’s letter to the Romans that many women played prominent roles in early Christian communities. An audience of pagan converts in such a community would not have cared about the status of women under Jewish law.

  • Asmondius

    ‘Of course, who was actually at the tomb varies by the gospels, as do many other important details about the resurrection, which makes the gospels unreliable as history.’

    Actually, Bob, that makes it More likely that there is some historical truth to the story from a research perspective. It’s rather hard to believe that Christians were smart enough to revise Josephus’ writings (another of your claims) but forgot to come up with a uniform resurrection story.
    This is a gross misunderstanding that you and many of your readers seem to have.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

      You could be right. Most atheists don’t realize that the Christian position is unfalsifiable.

      • Asmondius

        Nothing to do with Christianity, Bob. This same method would logically apply to any ancient tract. If you wish to discuss a similar scenario involving a non-religious text, I’ll be happy to do so.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          You need to separate ancient tracts into two groups: those which claim supernatural events vs. those which do not claim supernatural events.

          It is reasonable for us to have higher standards for the former than for the latter.

          “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Carl Sagan

      • Gary Whittenberger

        Perhaps the Christian claim that Jesus came back to life cannot be falsified, but it can be strongly undermined, and that is good enough for me. Consider these two approaches.

        Observe a thousand consecutive men who go to the hospital and die. Watch them all for five more days. Count the number which come back to life. Zero! Men don’t come back to life. Jesus was a man. Thus, Jesus almost certainly did not come back to life.

        If Jesus came back to life, then he is still alive. If he is still alive, then he would meet with me, you, and some of our friends. But when I invited him to meet with us, he didn’t show up. Therefore, Jesus is not still alive.

        Add these two perspectives to the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Gospels and the lack of actual eyewitness reports of Jesus and you must conclude that Jesus almost certainly did not come back to life.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Men don’t come back to life.

          I’ve heard this response: Sure, men don’t come back to life naturally. And that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something supernatural.

          The problem of God’s hiddenness, to which you allude, is IMO the biggest problem for Christians to explain.

    • MNb

      “It’s rather hard to believe that Christians were smart enough to revise Josephus’ writings”
      BWAHAHAHAHA!
      Josephus’ writings had to be copied once or twice a century, because papyrus is not stable. Guess who copied those writings from say 200 CE on? Indeed, christians. Who totally could read and write. Hence were smart. But weren’t obsessed by separating fact from fiction like you and me. So didn’t mind to “correct” stuff they thought wrong.
      You know who for instance takes this position?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_P._Meier

      A well respected scholar. And totally catholic.
      The real question, Mr. Braindead, is if those revised quotes go back to an original core from FJ himself. The majority of scholars thinks so. But they all agree that the quotes have been “revised”.

      • Asmondius

        ‘Josephus’ writings had to be copied once or twice a century, because papyrus is not stable…’

        Well, then it must follow that All scribed ancient writings are suspect – right?

        The fact that different scholars disagree on an issue is a result of individual discernment, it does not decide the issue.

        Joe Biden professes to be a Catholic yet supports abortion. Does this provide insurmountable evidence that abortion is moral or that the Catholic Church supports abortion? Nope. The error of your attempt is obvious.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, we don’t know how ancient writings were copied. They are indeed unreliable.

          You sound like an atheist.

        • Asmondius

          Yet we don’t discount them entirely – right?

        • 90Lew90

          There are degrees of motivation to alter texts. The motivation to alter religious texts, particularly when the institutions purveying the texts are so bound up with political power, is far greater than the motivation to alter, say, Plato. The motivation there would be greater to maintain the rigour of his thought and method. That both are readily accessible is testament to their integrity. That the New Testament is such a jumble of bunk is testament to its having been cooked many times over.

          Geneva?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ Bob Seidensticker

          No, we don’t.

          I’m happy to say that the lunatic’s manifesto might be accurate, though there is a very low a priori chance of that.

          Maybe the NT is accurate, but there’s a mountain of evidence necessary for that conclusion, and I’m not seeing much of that.

        • MNb

          “Well, then it must follow that All scribed ancient writings are suspect – right?”
          Right. That’s why historians of Antiquity – ie scientists – have developed methods like Testis Unus Testis Nullus.
          Only Mr. Braindead can see what Joe Biden, abortion and morality have to do anything with the widely acknowledged facts I mentioned above. Please explain – I’d like to have some more fun with you.

        • Asmondius

          Then there is no reason to believe the New Testament is any different form other ancient writings.

          Right?

        • 90Lew90

          Wrong again. Screamingly so. Do you think before you write this stuff? That Geneva case…?

        • Pofarmer

          The NT is basically religious Hagiography and theology. You have to critique it within it’s context. You also have to realize that there were additions, and possibly subtractions, for theological reasons, just like it looks like there were additions to Josephus, for theological reasons.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          But the core is almost certainly false. A man dies and comes back to life? Come on, give me a break.

        • Pofarmer

          Ya think? Lol.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Yep, I think. Lol.

        • MNb

          Right. It’s christians who demand a different treatment, not the scientists called historians of Antiquity. None of them accept supernatural events in the case of Alexander the Grat, Julius Caesar, Constantine the not so Great, you name them. So none of them accept supernatural events as described in the NT either.
          The Resurrection was not a historical event. The (other) miracles as described in the Gospels were not historical events either.
          Now that was simple.

    • Gary Whittenberger

      It is likely that there was a single resurrection story fabricated by one man. The basic plot appears in all four Gospels which are enhanced or embellished with different details. See my ORF hypothesis for more on this.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    “The point that women were unreliable witnesses is relevant only in rebutting the charge that the story was deliberately invented, a claim I don’t make. I’ve never heard this hypothesis except by apologists.”

    I am an atheist and I claim that the story was deliberately invented. It is likely that Jesus was crucified, that his dead body remained on the cross for a day or two, and that it was then deposited in a dump, pit, or common grave for criminals. I believe that the story beginning with Joseph of Arimathea getting custody of the body is a fabrication.

    Why would the author of the story write that women discovered the empty tomb? Because this would be consistent with what he already wrote. The women were the only avid followers of Jesus who were present at the crucifixion. (The male disciples were scared to be there and escaped the area for fear of arrest.) These women were the only avid followers who knew where the tomb was. They were the only ones who cared enough about the details of Jesus’ burial to make a follow-up trip to the tomb. For women to discover the empty tomb fit nicely with what the author had already written about the women!

    The Original Resurrection Fabricator hypothesis, or ORF hypothesis, is the idea that there was one man who in 30-35 CE fabricated the story about the resurrection of Jesus which is the most significant common plot in the four Gospels. This man created the story line of the dead Jesus being buried in a tomb, Jesus coming back to life and exiting the tomb, women discovering the empty tomb, Jesus meeting with his disciples on one occasion, and then Jesus meeting with them on a second occasion after which he ascended to heaven. The Gospels are all variations on the basic plot created by the ORF who may have been inspired by myths and legends of the past.

    I now believe that the ORF hypothesis is the best naturalistic explanation of the data we have.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Interesting thinking, but why does ORF beat oral history? That is, embellishments to some core story happened inadvertently rather than being invented deliberately.