Open Thread: A Christian Visitor

This is an open thread to address the comment below left by a Christian visitor. Replies are welcome; as always, let’s have a civil discussion.

SF/F Saturday: Terry Pratchett’s Death
I Get Religious Mail: If Wishes Were Airplanes
Weekend Bonus Music: Hard Believer
Weekend Coffee: February 22
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Matt

    This is the first time I have contributed to a weblog. Being a follower of Christ, I typed in “Christian weblogs” on Google. Then I stopped and decided it was time to test the mettle of my own beliefs.

    So, if you are willing to tolerate me, I will offer my beliefs to your questions and critiques. I have a lot of questions about atheism as well.

    But I’ll start with this: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, how do I explain the empty tomb?



  • OMGF

    How do you even know that the tomb was there, that Jesus existed in the first place, that it was empty at all, etc.? We have scant evidence of the historicity of Jesus in the first place, and worse yet, the gospels are not written by eye witnesses. The gospels can not even agree on what happened, and they are our only source for this particular story. There are many inconsistencies.

    But, let’s say for the sake of argument, that Jesus did exist, and died on a cross. Many things could have happened. He might not have been placed in the tomb in the first place. He might have been placed there and then secreted away in the night by his family in order to be placed in the family burial area. It could have been a hoax by the guards in order to rile up the populace, or a hoax by others that wanted to prove the divinity of their itinerant preacher. IOW, there are lots of potential reasons why the tomb might have been empty, and that’s granting that all there was a Jesus or a tomb at all! In selecting the supernatural “explanation” you’ve selected the least parsimonious of the possible causes of the observation.

  • mikespeir

    Well, first, how do you know there was an empty tomb to explain?

    Second, if there was, why do you believe Jesus coming back from the dead is the best explanation for it? I believe it was Hume who asked why the miraculous is a better explanation for a mystery than misapprehension, exaggeration, and out-and-out lying. We can prove people misapprehend, exaggerate, and lie. On the other hand, if anybody could prove Jesus rose from the dead, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  • Troy

    If there is no Peter Pan, why is there a Neverland?

    Unless I missed something in the News no empty “TOMB OF CHRIST” has yet been found and verified. Even if it had wouldn’t any Jesus’ contained within have become “Doc Mathesons Miracle Powdered Jesus *TM” many years ago? Generally we verify a death, and thus a life, with remains, but your positing that a tomb without a body would prove that the person who’s body doesn’t exist in the tomb did in fact exist? Huh?

  • jbCharleston

    One of the interesting questions to ask is, why was he removed from the cross after only 3 days? The customary procedure was to leave the person’s body up until the birds were finished (yes, I know, it’s pretty gruesome). Crucifixion was a terror weapon designed to cow the populace. Some component of the story might point to some bribes payed to the low-level guards toget the body and hide it from the authorities. What happened next (even if any of this happened) can only be supposition. But there is no compelling reason to invoke a supernatural hand to create the visions of the people close to him. Visions of departed loved ones are not uncommon. And seeing the mangled body of a loved one so brutally killed could send almost anyone into an altered state.

  • Eunomiac

    Thank you, Matt, for bravely entering the lion’s den :) Hopefully we can all learn from each other.

    I echo the concerns raised by the posters above: on what grounds do you believe there ever was an empty tomb, or that resurrection is the only way to explain an empty tomb if it really did exist?

    Consider how unreliable witnesses are, even today. How many people claim Elvis is still alive, or that the Loch Ness Monster exists? And these events all happened within the last few decades; the empty tomb was supposedly witnessed over two thousand years ago!

    If the followers of an Indian “magic man” claimed that he had risen from the dead, and pointed you to an empty tomb in the middle of a slum as evidence, I’m sure you would question whether the magic man’s followers spirited him away to preserve the myth. Why would you believe the two thousand year old followers of Christ to be any more honorable? Because they said so, in the gospels they wrote? Hmm…

    Whenever you’re faced with something that sounds incredible, you have two choices:

    - You could choose to believe the incredible occurrence, trusting the evidence completely, OR
    - You could question the evidence, knowing that humans are fallible, and witnesses especially so.

    When it comes to two thousand year old corroborations of a man rising from the dead, I think it’s much more likely that the evidence has been exaggerated or misinterpreted (as you MUST believe happened for every religion you DON’T believe in), than the events described really happened.

    Thanks again for your questions; if the above sounded harsh or confrontational, I do apologize: It’s just my natural debating tendencies coming out :)

  • Todd Sayre

    Every religion has a mythology filled with miraculous events. Atheists don’t privilege any religion above any other when considering what is true and what is false. They are all equally false.

    The question of the empty tomb isn’t alone. Every religion makes historical and metaphysical claims. If Joseph Smith didn’t translate the Book of Mormon from the golden plates, how do I explain where it came from? (And if Moroni didn’t take the golden plates back, then how do I explain why they disappeared?) If Mohammed didn’t fly up to heaven on the back of a winged horse, how do I explain how he got there? If Athena didn’t spring forth from the head of Zeus, how do I explain where she came from? If Anubis doesn’t weigh my heart against a feather, how do I explain all that stuff that happens with him after I die? If Xenu didn’t blow up dissidents with hydrogen bombs in volcanoes millions of years ago, then how do I explain where Thetans come from? et al.

    Every religious person picks and chooses what they believe to be true (or True) and what is false (or mythology). It is not just atheists who do not believe in the Christian resurrection story. You might want to ask some Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists this same question.

    (A brief note about the historical Jesus. There was a historical L. Ron Hubbard, a historical Joseph Smith and a historical Mohammed. Atheists do not argue about whether they exist in historical records. They do not believe that the supernatural events that occurred in their lives actually happened.)

  • Martin

    The Bible is a collection of texts written by dozens of people over a span of centuries. Some of it is parable, some of it is mythology, and very little is historically accurate. Two events mentioned in the Bible, the great flood and the exodus from Egypt, are so large in scope that it would be easy to find evidence that these events happened.

    Israeli archaeologists have been looking for evidence of the exodus for decades. They have found neolithic camp sites where 40-50 people lived. They found Egyptian military camps where about 200 men lived. The Bible says that 600,000 men, along with women and children and a “mixed multitude” of others — about 2 million people, all tallied — crossed the Sinai peninsula. There should be ample evidence for this migration, but zero evidence exists. It simply never happened.

    Likewise, a global flood would have left obvious evidence — a distinct, global layer in the geological strata — which simply doesn’t exist.

    Most of these stories are myths, told orally for centuries before they were written down, copied, recopied, and eventually chosen by a council in Nicea to be included in the Bible. They are not historically accurate. The Bible is, for the most part, not historically accurate. It is, for the most part, mythology.

    Moses is probably a completely fictional character. Jesus probably did exist, but there have been many self-styled prophets and messiahs. Hell, there are people claiming to be God or the Messiah today. It doesn’t mean any of them are. One dude in Galilee just got lucky, because his cult was picked up by Constantine and forced on the Roman Empire, from which is spread around the world.

  • Martin

    Just to follow up, I want to point out that some of the claims of the Bible are directly testable (like the exodus story), but they don’t hold up to the evidence. Therefore, we know that there are false stories (myths) in the Bible. Why should we believe in the Jesus myth?

  • James B

    For another perspective on the “How else do you explain it” argument, see Bad Moves.

    Perhaps it would be worth taking a step back and asking, “How do you know the gospels are/aren’t true?”

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    At the risk of repeating something from above, you’ll have to ask yourself two questions before you attempt to answer your own:

    1. What evidence do we have for a tomb, much less an empty one? You seem to presupposing the existence of this tomb, and then you further presuppose that the tomb was to contain the body of Jesus, which then presupposes the existence of Jesus himself. Your question, then, presumes too much. Prove to yourself first that Jesus actually existed, that he was in fact crucified, and that his body was put into a tomb, before you ask why the tomb was empty. If you assume these facts first, without any evidence, it’s really easy to ask why the tomb was empty, and you’ll never get a satisfactory answer. Your presupposition of these facts comes from one book, and no where else. There is zero evidence for these facts anywhere than in that book, which is so full of contradictions and inaccuracies that it should be rejected as evidence.

    So you’re left with no evidence for these presupposed facts. Does that help answer the question? If not…

    2. Ask yourself why a supernatural explanation is the best explanation. If you drive down the road past a house you know has been there for your entire life, and find that it is no longer there, that the lot it was on is devoid of any structure, do you automatically assume that it was supernaturally removed to another place? Probably not. You would probably assume that it was physically moved to another lot with the help of a house moving organization, many jacks and some large trucks. Or perhaps it was demolished and the ground filled in since the last time you drove buy. You would not assume that it had been magically lifted into space and now sits in one of the moon’s craters, would you?

    If not, why would you first accept a supernatural explanation for a tomb that was empty? You know that people don’t rise from the dead under any normal circumstances, right? You know that there is no verifiable evidence that a person has been raised from the dead anywhere else in the history of the world, right? So why would you not first look at natural explanations, and once they were all exhausted, THEN look at the supernatural explanation?

    OK. As someone suggested above, someone stole the body. Now there’s a nice, simple explanation that explains the empty tomb without resorting to the supernatural. The body was buried somewhere else?

    See how easy it is? No magic involved.

  • Martin

    Also, Matt, here’s something to think about. If the Bible is true and the Genesis creation story is accurate, then everyone around the world should share the same creation story up until the Tower of Babel incident when God spread people around the globe and mixed up their languages.

    However, what we find is a variety of creation stories that have nothing to do with each other. It makes sense from a secular perspective: primitive people invented many creation myths, and the Genesis account is just one myth, localized to the Middle East. The Christian is forced to rationalize that God deliberately falsified the prevailing knowledge about history of all the tribes that he scattered around the world, privileging only the Middle East with the “truth.” However, there is no mention of this in the Bible.

    Also, the Genesis account mentions that the languages of the various peoples spread across the world was divided into 70 or 72 (depending on which account you believe) dialects. No further information is given, but it doesn’t agree well with what we know about distribution and evolution of language over time, which correlates with genetic divergence. Again, the secular account makes more sense.

  • Adrian

    What needs to be explained isn’t why there was an empty tomb, but why there were stories of an empty tomb. Certainly a genuine empty tomb is one explanation for these stories but it’s not the only one or even the best one. We know there are stories of strange miracles and myths from all over the world and we don’t think they were real, so the starting point should be that this story is like all others: a myth.

    Maybe that’s wrong and maybe there really was an empty tomb, and if so, the question should be “why do you think there was an empty tomb?” Or perhaps “why should we believe this ancient account of magic and mystery yet reject similar accounts from other religions?”

  • Joffan

    Hi Matt

    Plenty of things happened in the past that I don’t know about, some that I do know about but I don’t know how accurately they were reported, and I don’t feel any great need to find out in either case.

    Here’s one for you, though – crucifixion was basically asphixiation through exhaustion, or pain, when you could no longer pull yourself up enough to breathe. How, then, could Jesus cry out in a loud voice just before dying?

  • Tommykey

    My theory is that the empty tomb story was concocted because it gave skeptics of the time no place to go.

    If the resurrection of Jesus was written as some fantastical event witnessed by thousands of people, it would be possible for people in the region considering a conversion to Christianity to check out the story themselves. They could take the journey to Jerusalem and ask around “Did this really happen?”

    But with an empty tomb, what can a skeptic of the era verify? Since no one actually saw Jesus coming out of the tomb, how do you disprove such a thing then?

  • Doug

    More than a day and no answer, Hmmmmm.

    Matt, are you a troll?

  • Greta Christina

    What everyone else said. But I also want to add this:

    Asking a question like, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, how do I explain the empty tomb?” is what we call, “Assuming the thing you’re trying to prove.” You’re assuming that the unexplained empty tomb of Jesus really existed… which, as everyone else here has pointed out, isn’t necessarily a reasonable assumption. In other words, you’re trying to prove Jesus’s divinity by assuming Jesus’s divinity.

    It’s a common logical error, and it’s not just made by religious believers. But if you want to find out about atheists, one of the first things you’ll learn is that atheists can spot an “assuming the thing you’re trying to prove” fallacy like a hawk spotting a mouse. Religious apologetics are full of it, and we’ve gotten very good at recognizing it.

    If you’re serious about wanting to test the mettle of your beliefs — and if you are, I applaud you — then I’d like to suggest that you start looking at all the places where you’re just assuming that your beliefs are true. Instead of starting with the assumptions that your beliefs are true and then asking questions about those beliefs, it’s more rigorous and honest to start with the assumption that your beliefs might or might not be true, and then look at whether those beliefs are really the best explanation for the world as it is.

    In other words:

    Instead of asking, “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, how do I explain the empty tomb?” some good questions might be:

    “How do I know that Jesus rose from the dead? Why do I believe the Bible when it tells me the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection? If I didn’t already believe in Jesus’s resurrection, would I find this to be a plausible story? Would it seem any more plausible than any other of the thousands of religious beliefs in the world?”

  • Alexander

    Hi Matt,
    Many interesting points have already been made and I am interested in your response to any of them.

    My two cents, are the following:

    For any answer we might provide to make a difference to you, assumes it has the where-with-all to have you reassess your current beliefs in Christ. I would venture a guess that your current beliefs are in some part due to the level of correctness you have assigned to the gospels.

    I would ask this then, what level of correctness would you allow any of our answers to have and how do you make that assessment?

    I would suggest you give each of the answers above the same authority you have reserved for the gospels and then make your assessment of the arguments on their merits. Otherwise think you are merely looking for more ways of insulating yourself from reality.

  • steve bowen

    I really hope you’re not a troll.
    You have had enough food for thought on your first question to move the discussion on and plenty of willing and knowledgable debators to engage with here. If you are sincere about questioning your beliefs now is probably the time to respond. I would also suggest you spend some time on Ebonmuse’s home page where you will find many well considered essays to help you understand the Atheist perspective.

  • Kallan G

    While it’s a good idea to question the truth of the account, another question might be to ask whether or not it is possible for the Bible itself to be evidence of anything and if so what.

    The problem with books seems to be that they are relatively intangible in terms of evidence, we seem to respond to them in exactly the same way as we respond to beliefs held by a person. Now when a person expresses a contentious belief we generally need there to be some evidence for the claim, it needs to point to some kind of facts about the world that make it true; a good measure of an explanatory account tends to be the ammount and quality of it’s referencing with good science books often using hundreds. The only time we wouldn’t need external evidence would be if the book was making a claim about itself. Any claim about the contents of the book would likely be true except when inconsistent in much the same way as someone talking about their own subjective experience would tend to be true.

    In the question of the tomb therefore what we have is a bald claim in a book that is uncorroborated in any meaningful sense. It doesn’t matter what the book claims, without direct supporting evidence we don’t even need to consider it.

  • TheNerd

    Matt, it’s a breath of fresh air to find someone who is not afraid of the truth. Thank you for taking a look at all possible angles, come what may.

  • Deacon Duncan

    First of all, I invite you to consider the fact that Matthew says that no guard was even requested for the tomb until after Passover. Secondly, consider that the reason Jesus had such serious conflicts with the Pharisees was because he defended the idea that there was not an ironclad prohibition against doing good deeds on the Sabbath. So neither the military nor the theology was necessarily any obstacle to disciples taking the body out of the rich man’s tomb. Plus, Jesus had many disciples; the “body snatchers” wouldn’t need to be Peter and John, and the missing corpse could well come as a surprise to the apostles. The first believers were not without their schisms…

    If the disciples did take the body, though, it would be difficult to keep this a secret. People in the area would be sure to report that the disciples had taken it. Thus, it is extremely interesting that Matthew also testifies, indirectly, that there were widespread reports in Palestine claiming that the disciples had taken the body–a fact he tries to explain away by accusing the guards of having been bribed by the Pharisees.

    Lastly, consider the extent to which Jesus’ teaching encouraged believers to hold intangible things as being spiritually more true than material things. Christians, for example, have no difficulty claiming that Jesus is truly in their hearts, even though an X-ray would show nobody inside their chests but themselves. If the very earliest Christians began by believing in a spiritual resurrection, much like the one Paul describes in I Cor. 15, the seeds of the resurrection gospel could be sown by those who believed he was “risen” just as strongly, and in the same way, as Christians today believe he is in their hearts. The legend would evolve over time, of course, just as we see the story of why we are in Iraq metamorphosing before our eyes (you don’t hear much about WMD’s these days, and to hear some people talk WMD’s were never part of the reason we invaded, but that’s not what they were saying at the time!)

    Thus, it’s quite possible for some disciples to have removed the body, surprising other disciples, without threatening the “spiritual truth” of Jesus allegedly rising in a “spiritual body.” As current events demonstrate, the decades that passed between the writing of the New Testament Scriptures, and the events they purport to describe, for the legend to have blossomed into a full-blown physical resurrection story. But if Jesus really did die so that we could be with him always, and really did rise to prove that the barrier had been removed once and for all, then he would be here with us, visibly, tangibly and audibly. And that’s not what we find in the real world.

  • BruceA

    Matt -

    I’m a Christian too, but I don’t think that a belief in the resurrection is something that can be built from evidence. As you can see if you’ve read through the comments, it’s trivially easy to simply deny the historicity of the empty tomb. We can’t exactly point to the tomb itself and gather DNA samples from it to prove he was once there.

    On top of that, it’s also easy for someone to accept the empty tomb and deny the resurrection. Many historians have taken this route (see Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, or Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew for two examples). Given that the story of guards at the tomb appears only in Matthew, who adds a number of historically implausible details (an earthquake, dead people coming out of their tombs) that are found only in Matthew, it’s hard for historians to take Matthew’s word without even the corroboration of the other gospels. If the guards fail the test of historicity, the body could have been stolen, either by Jesus’ followers or by others.

    Most Christian apologetics question why Jesus’ followers would later die for something they knew to be a lie. Yet the stories about Jesus’ followers becoming martyrs are extremely late. The Bible itself records the death of only one of the twelve (James in Acts 12), and even that was written probably 40 years or more after the fact.

    So there are plausible historical reasons even to accept an empty tomb but deny the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith; and it’s only through the lens of faith that it makes sense. If you’ve decided Jesus is the Savior of the World, it’s easy to believe God raised him from the dead. Apart from that filter of faith, it’s — shall we say — less than compelling.

  • Martin

    Belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith; and it’s only through the lens of faith that it makes sense.

    Um, nothing makes sense through the lens of faith. Faith is just believing in whatever whim or fancy strikes you. Beliefs are a model of the world that you hold in your mind. In order to be “true,” they must accurately reflect, or at least reasonably approximate, the external world. The only way to acquire true beliefs (to have an accurate model of the external world) is through evidence — because evidence is the causal connection between the external world and your model of it.

    Faith is belief without evidence, so it’s just believing whatever you want. If I ask you to draw a map of some territory, you have to actually go out and explore the territory in order to get an accurate map (you have to gather evidence). If you just sit down and start scribbling on paper, you’re unlikely to draw anything that approximates the territory. But that’s what faith is, just scribbling down whatever you want.

  • HairTonic

    “Belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith; and it’s only through the lens of faith that it makes sense.”

    Faith in the religious sense is belief in the absence of evidence, without reason. Yet, it’s the fundamental barrier stopping theists from seeing the falsity (from an atheist perspective, of course) of their beliefs. The strongest argument and most damning evidence against religion can be made, but all it takes for a theist to dismiss it is a “I shall have faith in god and the (insert holy book here)” Matt, if you really want to put your religion to the test, avoid this pithole.

    An example:
    “…., if all the evidence in the universe turns against Creationism, I would be the first to admit it,but I would still be a Creationist because that’s what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.”
    -Kurt Wise, Director of the Center of Origins Research at Bryan’s College

    One last point:
    If theists consider their religious book to be the final authority on all matters, how can they ever find out if it’s true or false, since any evidence against it would be automatically overruled by the final authority of the religious book?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Matt –

    Were you there?

  • goyo

    Given that the story of guards at the tomb appears only in Matthew, who adds a number of historically implausible details (an earthquake, dead people coming out of their tombs) that are found only in Matthew, it’s hard for historians to take Matthew’s word without even the corroboration of the other gospels.

    Great, another “not part of the original text” comment.

    Bruce A, and Matt:
    Look at the hoops you have to jump through just to explain away contradictions. How do you feel about the words of jesus in Mark where he talks about handling serpents, and drinking poison? Are those not in the original text either, so you can disregard them too?
    How do you decide which verses are supposed to be there, and which ones aren’t?
    You’re right, it’s very hard for historians to take any of the bible’s words for sure, when the very texts contradict each other.

  • OMGF

    At this point I recommend Bart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus.” The four gospel accounts aren’t meant to be corroborations of each other, nor are they meant to be harmonized or complementary stories. They are meant to be competing stories where the authors are trying to emphasize their version of Jesus over the other versions.

  • André Phillips

    I’m not sure Matt’s coming back. But Thumpalumpacus sure made me laugh! Great points, all, thanks for the good reading.

  • cl

    The entire world is pink through rose-colored glasses.

  • KShep

    I’m thinking Matt is possibly a troll, too.

    Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but his lack of response makes me think he may be a scammer of some sort, like Contraskeptic last year. He may be trying to provoke a flaming response which can then be used as evidence for how unhinged all the atheists are.

    If so, he’s gotta be scratching his head over the responses here.

  • exrelayman

    As stated above, it is a matter of faith. I prefer reason to faith, since I find it difficult to discern between faith and gullibility. Just for anyone who would like to be more informed about the origins of the new testament, the 5th chapter of Forgery in Christianity is wonderful. You can read it here. From the way this has played out, I don’t see much chance of Matt checking this out.

  • Jim Speiser

    Believe it or not, The Empty Tomb is one of Dr. William Lane Craig’s Five Arguments. I damn near fell off my chair when I attended one of his debates and he trotted this one out. I had heard such great things about him, how sophisticated and intelligent he is (and mostly he does fit the bill). It was hard for me to restrain my laughter when he came up with this one. I’ve often fantasized about challenging him to a debate, and if he brings up the Empty Tomb in my presence, I shall be prepared. I will place an empty gerbil cage on the podium, and intone with appropriate gravitas, “I want you all to meet my invisible gerbil, Marvin”….

  • BruceA

    The four gospel accounts aren’t meant to be corroborations of each other, nor are they meant to be harmonized or complementary stories.

    I apologize if I gave the impression that I thought they were. I was simply replying to Matt’s premise: Given an empty tomb, how could we explain it without a resurrection? The simplest explanation would be, someone stole the body.

    Most Christian apologists try to rebut this with two claims: 1) There were guards at the tomb, and 2) All the apostles were martyred for their faith. However, these two claims do not hold up to even the most basic test of historicity: multiple attestation. The empty tomb, at least, is mentioned in all four gospels. The guards appear only in one; two Christian martyrs are mentioned in Acts, but only one of these is one of the original apostles.

    They are meant to be competing stories where the authors are trying to emphasize their version of Jesus over the other versions.

    I don’t think they were in competition so much as were written at different times to different people. Each writer emphasized things that were important to the target audience.

    Faith is belief without evidence, so it’s just believing whatever you want.

    That’s one way to define it. Marcus Borg has identified four types of faith, which he labels with the Latin terms assensus, fiducia, fidelitas, and visio. These can be roughly translated belief, trust, fidelity, and vision – a way of seeing the world.

    The first type, assensus, corresponds to what we think. This is the type of faith that enables Kurt Wise to say that he would embrace creationism despite a complete lack of evidence. I don’t have much of that kind of faith. I can’t just accept the notion that, “The Bible says it, I believe it.” Not at face value.

    The other three kinds of faith relate to who we are. These kinds of faith are much more valuable than the first: To find someone or something that we can trust, to be faithful, and to see things as they could be, rather than as they are — these are the ground of a genuine faith, and these are what make sense of the assensus statements. (Actually, probably none of that makes sense, but I’m not sure at the moment how to explain it any more clearly.)

    Anyway, I think many Christians today portray faith as assensus and nothing more. I think that’s sad, because that has given us a world where it is OK to discriminate against people of different beliefs, gender, skin color, ethnic origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and who knows what they’ll come up with next.

    Yes, many people let themselves be deluded by such “faith”. But that’s not faith as I understand it. It’s not just believing what I want, without evidence.

  • Brock

    “I don’t think they were in competition so much as were written at different times to different people. Each writer emphasized things that were important to the target audience.”

    A good example of a gospel in competition with another one is the Gospel of John, written in a place where the Syriac Tradition of Thomas had apparently a very strong influence. Thomas is mentioned several times in John, always emphasizing his cynical qualities, until the climactic scene where the Risen Christ confronts him with indisputable evidence of his resurrection. This speculation is my own, but the exiatence of two Christian communities with competing apostolic traditions explains John’s disdain for Thomas very well.

  • BruceA

    A good example of a gospel in competition with another one is the Gospel of John, written in a place where the Syriac Tradition of Thomas had apparently a very strong influence.

    That’s a good point. I may have misunderstood the earlier comment. There was competition between what became orthodox Christianity and other groups, but I don’t think there was competition within what became the four canonical gospels.

  • Robert Madewell

    Matt is trying to prove an assumption with an assumption. He assumes there is an empty tomb as proof of the assumption that Jesus rose from the dead. It like saying, “If there’s no Santa Clause, why is there a toy shop at the north pole?” or “If there’s no life after death, why is there a heaven and/or hell?”.

    BTW, where is Matt? I’d expect him to comment on the discussion. Ebonmuse, I think you’ve been trolled. Matt was just wanting to ruffle some feathers and he obviously did so.

  • André Phillips

    I disagree, I don’t think anyone’s feathers were ruffled. I think everyone enjoyed this opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of reason. It’s just too bad this tree fell in the woods with nobody around.

  • OMGF


    I don’t think they were in competition so much as were written at different times to different people. Each writer emphasized things that were important to the target audience.

    I dug out my copy of Ehrman, because he says it better than I.

    Luke has changed the account…The point is that Luke changed the tradition he inherited. Readers completely misinterpret Luke if they fail to realize this – as happens, for example, when they assume that Mark and Luke are in fact saying the same thing about Jesus.

    [From pg. 213-214, Misquoting Jesus, 1st ed. paperback]
    I originally commented because you said this:

    Given that the story of guards at the tomb appears only in Matthew, who adds a number of historically implausible details (an earthquake, dead people coming out of their tombs) that are found only in Matthew, it’s hard for historians to take Matthew’s word without even the corroboration of the other gospels.

    I guess I’m being a little pedantic here, since you seem to agree with the sentiment that I’m expressing, but I’m simply pointing out that there is no corroboration of the other gospels, nor are they meant to corroborate each other. If historians are looking to the four books as independent stories that can corroborate each other, then they are not being good historians.

  • Memory

    Huh. Cool.

    The comments on the other atheist blogs/sites-of-commentary that I’ve seen
    ~ oh, only about half a dozen, during times of nearly obsessive link-following ~
    would’ve quickly devolved to ranting and frothing and ad hominem antics,
    from the theist side or the atheist side or both at once.

    Yet here’s an ongoing, calm, and reasoned (and damned expert, it seems like)
    discussion of faith and belief and (this is what I mean by expert) Biblical minutiae and the interpretations thereof.

    Huh, as I say: cool.


  • Ebonmuse

    Hi Memory! We do things a little differently around here. :)

  • DamienSansBlog

    More than a day and no answer, Hmmmmm.

    Matt, are you a troll?

    I don’t think that’s quite fair. Not everybody has the opportunity (or inclination) to post once or twice a day, or even once or twice a month. Matt may simply have lost track of this thread, since Ebon puts up a new one every other day.

    This has happened to me. I suppose it’s possible for it to happen to a Christian.