Easter Ehrman

The subject of historical study and methodological naturalism has come up in a recent bloggersation, and since Easter is approaching, I thought I’d share a particularly poignant passage relevant to this issue that I came across in a recent book:

Why was the tomb supposedly empty? I say supposedly because, frankly, I don’t know that it was. Our very first reference to Jesus’ tomb being empty is in the Gospel of Mark, written forty years later by someone living in a different country who had heard it was empty. How would he know?…Suppose…that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea…and then a couple of Jesus’ followers, not among the twelve, decided that night to move the body somewhere more appropriate…But a couple of Roman legionnaires are passing by, and catch these followers carrying the shrouded corpse through the streets. They suspect foul play and confront the followers, who pull their swords as the disciples did in Gethsemane. The soldiers, expert in swordplay, kill them on the spot. They now have three bodies, and no idea where the first one came from. Not knowing what to do with them, they commandeer a cart and take the corpses out to Gehenna, outside town, and dump them. Within three or four days the bodies have deteriorated beyond recognition. Jesus’ original tomb is empty, and no one seems to know why.

Is this scenario likely? Not at all. Am I proposing this is what really happened? Absolutely not. Is it more probable that something like this happened than that a miracle happened and Jesus left the tomb to ascend to heaven? Absolutely! From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one…”

The quote is from Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted. It reminds me somewhat of the scene in the movie The Messenger in which Satan presents Joan of Arc with all the other possible explanations for the sword she found in a field, and asks her why she chose one particularly improbable one. But it also nicely illustrates the historian’s dilemma, namely that all sorts of fairly improbable scenarios are inevitably going to be more likely than an extremely improbable one. That doesn’t necessarily mean miracles never happened then or don’t happen now – it just means that historical tools are not the way to answer that question.

"That makes perfect sense to me! ^_^ Anyone else agree?"

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  • Any chance of any evidence for the existence of Joseph of Arimathea, Arimathea, Nicodemus (also allegedly at the burial), Joanna , Salome, Mary Magdalene, or the other Mary?1 Corinthians 1For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Paul states that Christianity was not built on what Greeks looked for, which was worldly wisdom. Nor on what Jews demanded , which was miraculous signs. Indeed, Paul seems to suggest that it would be wrong even to look for the miraculous signs that the Jews were demanding. They were wrong to ask for signs, as Christianity was no more in the business of supplying miraculous signs as it was in the business of building on Greek worldly wisdom. Miracles would be no more God’s way than using worldly wisdom as a basis for Christianity. Had there really been no miracles which could have been regarded as signs that Christianity was true, signs of the type that the Jews were demanding? So how could there have been a visible ,earthly resurrection if miraculous signs were to be as despised as worldly wisdom?Of course, in Mark’s Gospel, the women tell nobody about this empty tomb.And the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is made to say ‘He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” So how could there have been an empty tomb, signalling the resurrection of Jesus?

  • steph

    I suspect Steven wants a video recording of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Joanna , Salome, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, declaring their identity. Same with all the people described by Thucydides, Josephus, Suetonius, Al-Biruni, Williams Bradford and of Tyre …

  • It is worth noting that, even in the Gospels, the empty tomb doesn’t prove anything – immediately after finding it, the disciples are wondering who moved the body. It is other sorts of experiences that persuade them that Jesus has been raised from the dead.I might add that I certainly didn’t go into this with an a priori assumption that methodological naturalism was the way to do history. I went into this as a conservative Christian wanting to do effective apologetics and evangelism. It was troubling for me to discover that there were genuine difficulties raised by facets of the Biblical text itself – the fact that we are told in Matthew that some who had post-Easter experiences of seeing Jesus doubted, the fact that sometimes they say they saw someone that didn’t look like Jesus, the fact that Luke has them told to remain in Jerusalem while Matthew and Mark have them told to go to Galilee, and so on. It made me uncomfortable, it troubled me. The key turning point was realizing that what I was trying to do was to force the Bible to live up to my standard of inerrancy, and when you ride roughshod over what the text actually says in order to maintain your doctrine of Scripture, it is that doctrine rather than Scripture that is the ultimate authority, and that lands you in the midst of a lot of dubious and circular reasoning.

  • So Steph is not at all suspicsious that all those Gospel characters disappear from church history in exactly the same way that the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates disappear?I suppose she wants a video recording of the Angel Moroni and to see photographs of these Golden Plates.These Gospel characters are never seen or referred to again, as soon as there is a public church in Acts 2.Not even Christians see them again.Paul doesn’t mention them. Nor in 1 Peter, James, Jude, 1 John etc.Not even in Acts.They all disappear as though they had never been…..But , of course, nobody is allowed to be suspicious as that would be mean.

  • steph

    SC – You take yourself too seriously 🙂

  • Jay

    I’ve almost completed Jesus, Interrupted, and so far I’ve found it interesting and typical of Ehrman’s popular works (which is to say that it’s well-written and accessible.)Steven makes a good point, though. We only know characters like Joseph of Arimathea from the Gospels, and what they tell us isn’t much (and even then one has to string the various references from across the Gospels together, which assumes more harmony between the Gospels than is really there.)If I read the Gospels the way I’d read any random novel, characters like Joseph of Arimathea and the Marys look a lot like bit characters – they’re introduced to advance the plot, then they disappear again. Someone was needed to bury Jesus, so Joseph was introduced into the narrative with just enough detail to plausibly fill that role. Characters that witnessed Jesus death, burial, and empty tomb provide the narrative with a chain of custody that can help refute claims like “Jesus wasn’t really dead” or “maybe Joseph didn’t really bury Jesus”. Giving these characters names and some quasi-specific details provides them with some credibility.Does this mean that those characters didn’t exist at all? I don’t think so, but I also think that’s a less significant issue than the roles they played in the early oral and written traditions about Jesus.

  • Steven….funny reference to the Golden Plates. It’s not exactly the same, though. Joseph Smith was the only one to “see” the angel Moroni. He was the only one to translate the plates…from a language that has never been found to exist. And the plates just so happened to be taken away/disappeared.The beginnings of Christianity are not dependent on one individual in the same way that Mormonism is. The New Testament was written by many people over a period of time, in common languages of the time, getting certain historical facts right.That doesn’t mean you have to believe it, or that it is perfect in every way, but it really can’t be compared to Joseph Smith.If you’re looking for something parallel…..Scientology or Islam would make a better comparison….started by one particular individual and their “encounters”.Now as far as disappearing from history….we may be overreaching here. How many millions of people are not recorded in the annals of History? Most everyone lives and dies in obscurity. In order to preserve those things/memories of people, one has to know beforehand that there is going to be a reason to preserve them. Who knew at the time what the future held for Jesus’ believers? How many of them were literate and could write? EVen if they could…what are the chances that what they recorded would survive the ages?Even all the New Testament texts scholars study are not the originals….and that’s something that the church had a vested interest in preserving. I think there is always circularity in these arguments. For instance, in order to refute the resurrection or show it’s improbableness, James refers to the confusing events surrounding Jesus return and the disciples confusion.So….we are relying on the Scripture’s accuracy in describing those events, but not the accuracy of it in describing The Resurrection and the disciples belief in it.You can’t really escape circular reasoning in all its forms….from either side…in my opinion.

  • Is this scenario likely? Not at all. Am I proposing this is what really happened? Absolutely not. Is it more probable that something like this happened than that a miracle happened and Jesus left the tomb to ascend to heaven? Absolutely! From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one…” Bull. Steve,You lack reading comprehension. Have you ever heard of Hyperbole?

  • Ben Witherington has started a review of Ehrman's new book on his blog herehttps://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=11840313&postID;=5230466613938683759He hasn't touched on the Easter material but he gives a useful critique of much of the book and is planning a second instalment. From reading the extract from Ehrman quoted here, it's clear that Witherington is pretty justified in arguing that Ehrman has not gotten over a fundamentalist inerrancy mindset.

  • just adding this so I can mark the e-mail notifier..I always forget and wind up having to visit the page over and over when I am interested in a particular conversation.

  • James”You said, “But it also nicely illustrates the historian’s dilemma, namely that all sorts of fairly improbable scenarios are inevitably going to be more likely than an extremely improbable one. That doesn’t necessarily mean miracles never happened then or don’t happen now – it just means that historical tools are not the way to answer that question. “I just read about your spiritual/religious experience and it made me think, by the same methodology wouldn’t we have to find another explanation for your experience? An actual spiritual experience of something transcendent (and not just a purely natural psychological experience based on biological factors) is just as historically improbable, or “virtually impossible”, as a resurrection isn’t it? I mean after all they both require the belief that God or some transcendent non material being is able to break into the natural material world and do something out of the ordinary to change something in the world and which there is no natural explanation for. And the historical method can never accept that and will always see it as impossible. Right? So what does that mean? Does it mean no one should trust that you actually had a spiritual experience and if we were to recount it we would have to say you had some natural psychological experience that really didn’t mean anything (would you as a historian be forced to tell your story this way)? Or does it mean that the historical method is not adequate to explain everything that happens and so historical explanations of supposedly supernatural events should always be taken with a grain of salt and shouldn’t be seen as having any more authority than the supernatural explanation? Or historians shouldn’t even attempt to address an unrepeatable supposedly (according to the witnesses) supernatural event because they don’t have the tools to do so? Something else?Bryan L

  • ‘It’s not exactly the same, though. Joseph Smith was the only one to “see” the angel Moroni. He was the only one to translate the plates…from a language that has never been found to exist.’The difference is that nobody has ever seen Arimathea, and not one person named himself as having ever seen Joseph of Arimathea, Simon of Cyrene, his sons, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Martha, Joanna, Salome,Bartimaeus, Judas, Thomas etc etc.They disappear from church history, and appear only in works, where Simon Peter protests when asked to carry the cross, and then Simon of Cyrene literally carries the cross.Or Barabbas, the Son of the Father, is released although a convicted murderer, while the real Son of the Father is about to be crucified , although innocent.How clearly does an author have to signal that he is writing myth?For Mormons, at least we have the testimony of David Whitmer, inscribed on his tombstone.For Christianity, we have Paul saying in Romans 10 that Jews did not believe, either because they had never heard of Jesus, or they did not accept Christian preaching about him.

  • Steven,But why would they have seen them? We’re talking about regular people, as they are described in the New Testament, not leaders.Prostitutes, on-lookers, followers of Jesus who didn’t disclose their belief in him.(Joseph of Arimathea)And who is the “they” you are referring to? Early church fathers? Secular historians?I guess my question is what “proof” could a person provide that a particular, ordinary person actually existed 2,000 years ago?

  • Bryan, I don’t think historians have reason to doubt that people have religious experiences. They’ve been studied by anthropologists, psychologists and more recently neuroscientists. What none of these disciplines seems able to answer is whether the experiences reflect contact with a transcendant reality. And presumably a historian should refrain from making such judgments. But I don’t think you can explain the rise of Christianity without religious experience being part of the explanation. The question is how we get beyond the historical question – did someone have an experience – to the question of how that experience relates to reality. It’s much the classic philosophical conundrum: how do we distinguish between someone having a dream that God spoke to them, and God speaking to someone in a dream?Let me also mention that Roger Pearse has joined in the diablog.

  • Jay

    Roger has a decidedly different view of scholarship than most.I can’t argue with him that we shouldn’t be looking at all the data and following the data where it leads – that’s just common sense. However, when he tries to make the backdoor claim that the bodily resurrection of an executed man that is only attested in writings dating decades after the purported event is more likely or even on par with a host of much more mundane explanations, he’s really gone off the page.At least he didn’t call you obscurantist, James.

  • Anonymous

    Where alleged witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were anonymous, it argues against the credibility of the passage, because anybody could invent anonymous witnesses. Even today, journalists can fabricate quotes from anonymous sources. I worked at a newspaper where one of the reporters would go to a murder scene and always come up with juicy quotes from anonymous hookers or homeless people. Everybody but the editor knew he was making it up.It would have been easy for an author to make up a person such a Simon of Cyrene or Joseph of Arimathea or Barabbas. Obviously here we are dealing with probabilities, not certainty. But the more you layer improbality, the less certain the whole becomes. For example, with Barabbas, there was no known custom of releasing prisoners at the Passover. Either the Bible knows a custom not reported by any other ancient source, or it was an invented story, or maybe someone named Barabbas was once released on appeal for some unknown reason, and it was wrongly conflated with Jesus.pf

  • ‘But why would they have seen them? We’re talking about regular people, as they are described in the New Testament, not leaders.’What? Lazarus was raised from the dead, and nobody in the early church named himself as ever having seen him, and Lazarus, like almost every other Gospel character is never mentioned even in passing in Pauline letters, Hebrews , 1 Peter, James , Jude etc.Unlike , say, Junia, who was probably not as famous in Christian circles, not having been raised from the dead.

  • Steven,The Epistles don’t name Mary and Joseph either….so Jesus’ parents didn’t exist….if we follow that line of argumentation. The Epistles are letters dealing with doctrinal issues and problems raised by various churches. The people they name are people who are somehow related to the topic at hand in the epistle. They do not purport to be anything else, or to somehow exhaustively record all the people associated with the gospel stories.As far as Lazarus….hey maybe he died again! :-)After all the gospel of John says that people were wanting to kill him because of the many people who began following Jesus after his resurrection.How do you like that? Get raised from the dead only to be killed soon after. These arguments only work if you assume all of the gospels to be complete fabrications. If you do, that’s fine. It’s easier at that point to just say that Jesus never existed a la “the God who wasn’t there.”If you don’t assume everything is false, then we’re back to trying to figure out how much of what is written is accurate…..and thus the circularity of deciding why exactly we’re trying to figure it all out in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    terri:Raising Lazarus is arguably the most dramatic act of Jesus life. You don’t find it curious at all that he wasn’t prominently mentioned in other literature or a cult wasn’t formed around him? Especially since — as you point out — a number of people suposedly believed in Jesus specifically as a result of what happened to Lazarus?It’s hard to read the Bible without assumptions. If you start with the idea that everything is false unless proven otherwise, then it would be next to impossible to show anything to be true after 2000 years or more. But if you don’t start with the assumption that it is all or mostly true, as most Christians do, then there is a lot that doesn’t pass the test of making sense. That Paul says so little about the actual Jesus does seem to indicate either that the actual Jesus was not important to him, or he just didn’t know much. Quoting Jesus would have been a great trump card in those epistles. The actual Jesus was important to James, who in his letter took the time to quote or paraphrase Jesus’ ideas extensively.Now, unlike Steven, I believe Jesus lived. I think it is hard to believe a cult was formed and so much specific written about someone who never existed. But I’ve come to doubt he did things like walk on water, cast out demons or raise people from the dead.pf

  • steph

    Hi Bryan,I don’t doubt religious experience. I studied it as an undergrad. We have anthropological, psychological and neuroscientific approaches to religious experience as James states. That the experience is of a transcendent reality though doesn’t come into it. Not that it denies a transcendent reality – it is just not part of the historical explanation.

  • James:I wasn’t meaning to imply that historians doubt people have religious experiences (if by that we mean experiences people interpret in a religious manner).My point was that according to the historical methodology you mentioned, when you speak of your experience in the past tense as an historical event (as we would the events after Jesus’ death and burial) and then try to give an explanation for what happened you can’t entertain a supernatural explanation or even consider it a possibility because it is just a much “virtually impossible” because it requires us to beleive something the historian can’t allow as an option—a God who intervenes in the natural world to bring about something (and a true spiritual experience if it were caused by God would be just that). I know we often don’t think about it like that because it is internal but by the same criteria our internal events must be explained naturally just as much as external events.If you would argue for historical agnosticism in the case of what happened with your religious/spiritual experience and not argue that a natural explanation must be the answer (even if you don’t know what it is) then why not for the events that happened after Jesus’ death and burial?If as a historian you can say that there a possible supernatural cause behind your experience, not ruling it out as impossible, why not in the case of what happened to Jesus?Thanks for pointing me to Roger Pearse’s interaction with your post.Bryan L

  • Terri still makes excuses for why almost all the entire cast of Gospel characters disappear from church history , as totally as the Golden Plates and the Angel Moroni vanish.I’m tired of listening to excuses.Give me some evidence.Put up or shut up.Christianity has had 2000 years to find these people.But even the very earliest writers trash the idea that Christianity was built on miraculous signs or worldly wisdom.Paul is very clear what Christianity is built on.Romans 16Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.Jesus has finally been revealed to the world through the Old Testament.Paul said it. I believe it. That settles it.

  • StevenFIrst of all….can we throttle back on the tone? I haven’t been meaning to come across as rude, so if I have…I’m sorry.As far as excuses….I guess I haven’t viewed my responses as excuses, but as very good questions that need to be resolved if we’re going to follow the line of thought that you are proposing. I’ve posed several questions to you about how we would be able to prove that ordinary people in that time actually existed. No one has answered that. I’ve mentioned that other people aren’t mentioned by Paul, yet we don’t take that as proof that they didn’t exist. I’ve mentioned that the Epistles usually only mention the people who are directly related to the topic at hand in the Epistles, yet that doesn’t seem to matter.I fail to see how the things I’m saying are untrue or simply excuses.One can say…”well such and such should have happened if so and so existed”….but that’s pure speculation. We can’t stand back 2,000 years from events and say “This is false because things didn’t happen the way we think they should have.” We are not so sure of human nature that we have any skill in predicting the ways in which people will react to things in our current age, so forgive me if predictions about what “probably” should have happened are not convincing to me.As far as Paul and Jesus…I’m confused about where exactly you’re coming from. I believe in Jesus. I believe there is spiritual truth in the Epistles and in the gospels. I thought the topic at hand was Jesus and the gospels. I’m not sure if your last sentence is supposed to be a declaration of your beliefs or a mocking swipe at mine in the fashion of “God said it. I believe it. that settles it.”Getting back to your first post…..Matthew and Luke both have Jesus quoted as saying –no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah–referring to his resurrection. And Mark has the quote from Jesus about rebuilding the temple in three days–one not made by man. Anyway…I’m going to pull back from this conversation because it was never my intent to turn it into something heated. The subject has been interesting to me and I have enjoyed reading other people’s thoughts, even if they are not my own.

  • Terri still gives no evidence for the existence of these people.I guess they are all having a dinner party with the Angel Moroni in Heaven.After all, like the Angel Moroni, they all disappear from view, even in church history like Acts.

  • I was unaware that shouting “Angel Moroni” in every post was a reasoned rebuttal.I’m going to try that one every time someone disagrees with me. Maybe I’ll switch it up very once in a while and shout out “Lord Xenu!”I’m really done now.

  • TERRII was unaware that shouting “Angel Moroni” in every post was a reasoned rebuttal.CARRIt seems to have worked so far. There has not been one shred of evidence to show that Christianity is not as much a fraud as Mormonism.Not one word to refute Paul , who regarded Christianity as no more based on miraculous signs than it was based on worldly wisdom.

  • I know.. I know…I said I was done. What can I say…the angel Moroni told me he was tired of all this talk about him and to say that Lazarus said, “hi!” :-)I guess 1 Corinithians 15 must have been written by someone other than Paul?It seems to me Paul very much believed in the resurrection, going as far as to say that if Christ isn’t raised from the dead, then Christians are to be pitied.12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.Now if Moroni will stop bombarding me with messages, I’ll stop posting here.

  • Steven, respectfully, while I might agree with you on most of the points you have made, I agree with Terri about your tone — it sounds little different than the triablogue comments here and on other threads.Your points may be related to the original post, but they are not in keeping with the theme of the original post. It sounds like you are forcing the issue in order to promote your own agenda, rather than thoughtfully engaging the topic of the original post. Not that the points you make are irrelevant, but they are not on topic.

  • Anonymous

    Steven:There is a world of difference between the Angel Moroni and the accounts of biblical people.On the scale of probability, which is more likely: that there was an Angel Moroni dictating to Joseph Smith or that a guy named Simon was enlisted by the Romans to carry the cross of a bloodied and beaten criminal on his way to crucifixion? Angel Moroni or a guy named Joseph who agreed to bury a crucified rabbi in his family tomb? Angel Moroni or the fact that the rabbi had a friend Lazarus, whether you believe he was raised from the dead or not? Clearly, the existence of Angel Moroni is far, far less probable than the existence of any of those other people, whether you believe the Christian message or not.The Angel Moroni also allegedly existed in a period closer in time to us, when there were better means available (such as photography) to prove existence. If Jesus existed during the time of the Internet and there were no contemporaneous sites devoted to him, then that would make his existence less probable.You also take Paul out of context. If I gather what you are saying, you think Paul said that the resurrection was miraculous a sign and therefore not a foundation of his beliefs, although Paul elsewhere says that the resurrection is the key fact of Christianity.pf

  • PF, I’d add that Mark’s account (the earliest) is even more plausible, since it doesn’t have Joseph bury Jesus honorably in his own tomb, but merely in “a tomb”, doing the bare minimum the law required, which is just what we’d expect (on the basis of Josephus as well as later Rabbinic sources) Jewish leaders to do.Sorry to jump in like that, but the burial of Jesus is my thing… 🙂

  • Anonymous

    James, no problem, I’m happy to be corrected by someone who knows what he is talking about! I just hope I don’t get a bill from Butler for college credits. I’ll have enough of that in the next decade.pf

  • Of course my remarks were on topic.Ehrman is a good enough historian to know that anonymous works which mention a whole host of people , who never appear again in church history, are not of great value to historians.So why is Ehrman trying to explain an empty tomb?Not one person in history ever named himself as seeing this empty tomb.

  • What? The Angel Moroni is less probable than the Gospels?Simon of Cyrene (who nobody can find evidence of of), carries the cross of Jesus, in a work where Simon Peter is denying Jesus, and is rebuked as a Satan just before Jesus says people must carry a cross?And in this work, Barabbas (son of the father) is released although a convicted insurrectionist,while the real Son of the Father is about to be killed as ‘King of the Jews’,although innocent?People actually think this is more probable than stories of angels visiting Joseph Smith?

  • steph

    I don’t see why it’s so difficult to understand why some people disappeared from Christian history. It seems so obvious. They doubted – the gospel tradition tells us that. So the women didn’t believe and some of the disciples. But some disciples did believe. And if you want a rational explanation they quite probably had visions. Even people today have visions of loved ones who have died. Of course I’m not rejecting the supernatural, I’m just offering a rational alternative

  • Anonymous

    Steven:You don’t appear to be stupid, so if you can’t see any distinction between the people named in the gospel stories and the Angel Moroni, then you are being deliberately obtuse.I can grant you that maybe the gospel stories didn’t happen the way they are portrayed, and it is not completely illogical to argue they didn’t happen at all. But if you see no difference between that and essentially a story about the Easter Bunny, you are not serious.pf

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I’m Allan Popa from Brisbane, Australia.Well, I’m a “liberal” Christian.However, I do see this as one of the problems of methodological naturalism in historical studies. Real life is very very messy, things happen and leave no trace, some things happen and leave virtually no trace, multiple things can happen at once which can lead to a trace – and historical studies under the current methodology will not even be able to notice.Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza proposes an alternative to historical methodology. A methodology both strict, clinical, “objective” and imaginative. A methodology that doesn’t presuppose neat-and-tidy outcomes. A methodology of which the results are far more likely simply because they’re not likely. And if we’re wrong then we can play with it. History simply needs a lot more imagination.Allan

  • STEPHI don’t see why it’s so difficult to understand why some people disappeared from Christian history. It seems so obvious. They doubted – the gospel tradition tells us that. So the women didn’t believe and some of the disciples.CARRYou mean Mary Magdalene saw Jesus and didn’t believe?Lazarus was raised from the dead but didn’t believe?And these people disappear entirely from the epistles and the history of the public church in Acts 2 onwards, until they then appear in anonymous , unsourced works 30 years later?The difference between these people and the Angel Moroni is that at least we have a named person , Joseph Smith, who testifies to having seen them.We don’t have that for Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, or even the whole town of Arimathea.The difference between these people and the Golden Plates is that at least we have a named person , David Whitmer, who testifies to having seen them and who demanded that his testimony be put on his grave stone.That is different from Christianity where the earliest witness , Paul, claims Jesus has now at last been revealed to the world.In the following manner – ‘Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him’According to Paul, Jesus has now been made known through the Old Testament, so that all people might believe and obey him.I can spot the difference between Jesus and the Angel Moroni.Nobody claimed the Angel Moroni was made known to the world in the Old Testament.So why is Ehrman trying to find a natural explanation for any alleged empty tomb?

  • steph

    Like a brokn record Stevie… Were you brought up as a fundamentalist Christian?Who knows what happened to Mary. There are various suggestions and I find some more plausible than others. There is a perfectly rational explanation for Lazarus. Raised from the dead? I don’t think so. You know that Stevie. Go and read a little medical history instead of being so simplistic. Lazarus was a Jew. Why on earth should he appear in later Christian history? He wasn’t a disciple, he didn’t have a vision. Why should those Jesus healed in his mission to the Jews, have become believers in his alleged resurrection from the dead? Come on Stevie. If only a very few close people had visions, why should all the Jewish people believe them? And the empty tomb stories? So what? And I don’t claim that Jesus was foretold in the Hebrew Bible. I’m not a Christian Stevie and never have been. I’m a biblical historian. But really Stevie why don’t you go and learn Aramaic and do some real scholarship.

  • Steph is baffled that anybody would ever wonder why Paul, the author of Hebrews, or James, or Jude or 1 John , or 1 Peter would ever mention Lazarus, as he was a Jew.Similarly not one person ever names himself as ever having seen Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Judas, Thomas, the other Mary, Martha, Joanna, Salome etc etc.And when you ask for evidence of these people, you are told to shut up because historians do real research, which means telling people to shut up if they ask for evidence of these people ever having existed.

  • steph

    Oh Stevie I’m not baffled and I didn’t tell you to shut up. I just think it’s silly to pick on characters in the early tradition who weren’t mentioned in the later tradition when there are characters in the early tradition who are mentioned in the later tradition. Those Jewish characters and others obviously didn’t make an appearance in the later Christian community. Who knows – maybe some even said ba things about that Christian community and the Christians didn’t feel like recording all those who opposed them. But their existence is substantiated by their presence in early tradition. But you won’t allow that because you seem to want nothing less than video evidence. The advantage of learning biblical languages is that it helps to identify the context and history of some of these traditions and just to complain that people suggest you do is a bit of a cop out. But bleat away, I know you will and I’m sure you have a captive audience somewhere.

  • STEPHBut their existence is substantiated by their presence in early traditionCARRWhat prescence in early tradition?They are not mentioned by Paul, the author of 1 Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, Jude , 1 Clement, 1 John etc etc.They even disappear from all early tradition in Acts.As soon as there is a public church, these people vanish.And only appear in anonymous ,unsourced works like the Gospel of Mark.And still ‘Bible historians’ show the poverty of their discipline by claiming that these people are in early tradtion, when nobody names himself as ever having seen them,or names himself as meeting a named person who ever saw them.Even the town ‘Arimathea’ does not exist in any public record.At least the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates actually do exist in the early tradition.We don’t have early Mormons doing a Paul and saying that the Angel Moroni has been made known to them in their study of the Old Testament.Named people claimed to have seen the Golden Plates, while nobody writes to say that he saw an empty tomb.Where’s the beef?Where is the evidence that Mark did not invent all these people?After all, already in Paul’s time, he was complaining in 2 Corinthians 11 about falsehoods being accepted by Christians.SO I want some evidence,not patronising comments, and complaints about bleating.You know, real evidence like legitimate historians produce.

  • steph

    oh Stevie, without going into the dating arguments, the gospel of Mark is probably alot earlier than all of them including some of Paul if not all. Acts is about what happened after the “resurrection”. This is a waste of time and very boring Stevie. It goes on and on and all you do is jump up and down and bleat “I want” like a little child. Well surprise, we haven’t got the photos. Have fun bleating.

  • So Acts is about what happened ‘after’ the resurrection, just like Mormon church histories are about what happened ‘after’ the Angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith the Golden Plates?Still no evidence from Steph, despite my taunting her.Just find one person who named himself as ever having seen Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalene, Judas,Thomas, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Joanna , Salome, the other Mary,Martha, Simon of Cyrene, Barabbas.Just find this uprising where Barabbas (son of the Father) took part, and this mysterious custom of releasing a convicted prisoner.Mark’s Gospel is anonymous myth. Those people no more existed than did the Angel Moroni.And Bible historians cannot produce a shred of evidence that they existed or that there was an empty tomb.I know they can’t. You can taunt them, and they still decline to rub my nose in the evidence.Because there isn’t any.There is no more evidence for the Son of the Father being released , at the same time that the real Son of the Father was about to be crucified, than there is evidence for the characters in Pilgrim’s Progress.

  • Steve,Would you care to share your alternative hypothesis for the origin of the events narrated in the Gospels about Jesus and his disciples and also what you beleive led to the rise of the early church? Hey if you got a good alternative that is better than the normal explanation that much of what is recorded in the Gospels is historical and those people actually existed and did some of the things that they’re said to have done then I’m willing to listen. I’m not interested in debating this with you so hopefully we can keep this civil. I’m just curious about what you beleive really happened.Thanks,Bryan L

  • The events narrated in the Gospels?The author of Mark made them up, just like Joseph Smith made up stories about the Angel Moroni, and John Bunyan made up stories about Pilgrim.As for what led to the rise of the early church, that is hard to say as we have nothing from Peter or James, the pillars of the church, and Paul has nothing other than claims that reading the Old Testament had led to Jesus being made known and revealed to the world. (Romans 16)And that now it was up to Christian preachers to preach about Jesus, as people had not heard about him ,as up to then preachers had not been sent to preach about Jesus.(Romans 10)

  • Steve:Can you elaborate a bit more and give a more detailed hypothesis of the origins of the Gospels and the rise of the early church than just someone made a bunch of stuff up and everyone believed it? If you are looking at it from a purely detached and objective historical perspective you have to come up with some sort of historical explanation that takes full account of all the details and tries to explain how they’re all related. Even with your modern example of Mormonism we can hypothesize how this small movement started and grew. We won’t just say Joseph Smith made up a bunch of stuff and got everyone to beleive it. There is much more to explain than just that (such as its growth and continued survival). Not only that but it’s important to realize in using the example of Mormonism it didn’t start all by itself out of thin air but was piggy backing on Christianity and even considers itself to be part of Christianity and an attempt to reform it or get at its true meaning in some way. So an explanation of Mormonism will take that into account as well.Similarly an explanation of Christianity will have to explain it’s roots in Judaism and how this small sect grew out of it and even more importantly how it survived and grew so large.So maybe if you don’t mind you could offer that kind of explanation. It doesn’t have to be a book length or anything but just a bit more fleshed out. If you’ve written it out somewhere else than you can just copy some of the relevant portions here for us to see. I have some further questions on your hypothesis but I’d rather see it fleshed out a bit more before asking them.Thanks,Bryan L

  • I’m sorry.I’m neither a psychiatrist nor a policeman , so cannot give that sort of analysis.If we had something by Peter or James , explaining where their beliefs came from.Or an explanation by Paul of how Jesus had ben revealed in the Old Testament, then there might be some data.Otherwise, it is like trying to find out why Christians were happily accepting false Jesus’s and false Gospels a la 2 Corinthians 11.I really don’t know what those false Jesus’s were. Paul doesn’t day. Perhaps Mark’s Jesus was one of them.

  • So you don’t actually have an alternative hypothesis, you just don’t beleive any of the stuff in the Gospels or any explanations for the rise of Christianity? My mistake, I was under the assumption that you were coming at this from an historical point of view and trying to sit through all the data and figure out what happened. Never mind then. Take care.Bryan L

  • *sift*

  • bryan:Steve just isn’t a serious person. He has one standard for everybody else and another for him.

  • ‘He has one standard for everybody else and another for him.’I have one standard for the Angel Moroni and one standard for Barabbas.It is the same standard.Who can say where Christainity came from?According to Acts 5, some Jewish leaders wondered if Christianity came from God.Obviously, they all knew it had come from a recently executed blasphemer from Nazareth , everybody knew that.So naturally it made sense for them to wonder if the Christian movement came from God. Just like churches in 19th century America wondered if Mormonism came from God, rather than from Joseph Smith….

  • steph

    No, he has the same standard. Pretty much every figure mentioned in ancient non Christian history is mythological because we have no ‘evidence’. Nobody existed at all before Steven Carr.

  • Steph continues to demonstrate the bankruptcy of Biblical historians , who cannot produce any evidence that there was a ‘Son of the Father’ who was totally uncrucified, and was released by the Romans while the real ‘Son of the Father’ was about to be crucified , although innocent.She just cannot recognise myth when she sees it.No wonder the Quest for the Historical Jesus has been such a spectacular failure, as much a failure as the search to turn base metal into gold.Not that I am comparing Biblical scholarship with alchemy, of course.

  • No person ever names himself as seeing or hearing of Lazarus.And Lazarus was raised from the dead – a deed that apparently worried Jewish leaders so much because of the possibility of the news of this miracle reaching Rome.But Paul never mentions this miracle – a miracle that would have drawn the attention of the entire Roman empire, according to the anonymous Gospel of ‘John’John 12Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.Lazarus vanishes as soon as there is a public church in Acts 2. He is not even described as having been murdered by the chief priests.This guy was raised from the dead, and large crowds came to see him.But not one Christian ever names himself as ever having seen or heard of Lazarus.Of course not. The guy was famous that large crowds came to see him.So naturally he vanishes entirely from church history and early letters.’Real’ scholarship has no problem with things like that…..

  • amused

    Did Steph claim evidence that there was a ‘Son of the Father’ who was totally uncrucified, and was released by the Romans while the real ‘Son of the Father’ was about to be crucified , although innocent? I don’t think so. Perhaps you should explain why absolutely everyone made absolutely everything up.

  • amused

    I don’t think Steph believes that Lazarus actually rose from the dead and large crowds came to see him. What gave you that idea? First, he may have been unconscious and Mark never claims large crowds came to see him. If Jesus was a healer, each healing would have been regarded as equally miraculous. How do you know people didn’t talk about it afterwards? People didn’t write every conversation down all the time. And eventually stories fade. But we still have the story in Mark. And why on earth pick on the Gospel of John, a well developed tradition possibly even dependent on Mark? I don’t think Steph would approve of that. She wouldn’t consider John to be historical.

  • STEPHBut their existence is substantiated by their presence in early tradition. AMUSEDDid Steph claim evidence that there was a ‘Son of the Father’ who was totally uncrucified, and was released by the Romans while the real ‘Son of the Father’ was about to be crucified , although innocent? I don’t think so.CARRSO Mary Magdalene is in the same ‘early tradition’ as Barabbas, and yet this early tradition is evidence for the existence of Mary Magdalene, but nobody has claimed there is evidence for the existence of Barabbas?I’m baffled.

  • So the early traditions aren’t even historical?Barabbas didn’t exist. No Lazarus was raised from the dead….Any chance of any evidence of these people existing?You know, real scholarship , using real data, rather than ‘How do you know people didn’t talk about it afterwards?’I get really tired of listening to excuse after excuse of how these people might have existed, even though the Gospellers lied when they said that large crowds came to see Lazarus.Can’t ‘real’ scholars come up with anything better than excuses?

  • steph

    You really are baffled aren’t you. You don’t even know what you’re arguing against. The whole point of studying textual tradition is to separate the historical from developed tradition. And that’s where knowing the languages comes in. However you don’t know about ‘real scholarship’ – you seem to think everyone thinks everything including the gospel of John is literally true. If you’re tired, go away. You’re obviously too confused. You can’t provide a viable hypothesis yourself and you don’t actually know what you’re attacking or who you’re aiming at.

  • Still not a trace of evidence or arguments from Steph.Apparently the best she can do is that these people existed because Steven Carr knows no Aramaic.That is the only argument she has put forward, so I assume it is her best shot.Is there any real evidence for the existence of Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, the other Mary, Martha, Barabbas?There isn’t.Or else Steph would have given some by now…These people are all as invented as the talks by Jesus with Satan in the desert were invented.And this is a fact, as can be seen by the silence of Steph when challenged to produce evidence of their existence.

  • Steven Carr said:”Just find one person who named himself as ever having seen Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalene, Judas,Thomas, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Joanna , Salome, the other Mary,Martha, Simon of Cyrene, Barabbas.”Steven, your demand is phrased rather oddly – you ask for one person who “names himself” and who claims to have seen various people. That’s an odd way of putting it – what you are really asking for is an eyewitness. What you are demanding is that we have an eyewitness account provided by that eyewitness (not recorded by others), that they saw/knew so and so. But why don’t you phrase it that way? Because I think you know that’s an absurd demand if stated plainly. By these standards we’d have to discard much of what we believe we know about ancient history. After all, can you name one person who “names himself” and claimed to have seen Hannibal? What about Alexander? I don’t think you can. Neither can you find this for many personages of ancient history. Your demand is silly and yet you keep repeating it like a comforting mantra.

  • Steven Carr said:”But Paul never mentions this miracle – a miracle that would have drawn the attention of the entire Roman empire, according to the anonymous Gospel of ‘John'”Do you just make stuff like this up? That’s not what John says:Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place[c] and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)They don’t say the miracle would draw attention of the entire Roman Empire. They’re worried about the impact of ALL of Jesus’ miracles (not just Lazarus) on the Jewish people, that they would see him as a messiah, and that it would lead to a revolt and the Romans coming and putting it down with violence.

  • steph

    Steven wouldn’t believe an ‘eyewitness’ account any more than I would. He doesn’t understand that the evidence for the existence of any historical figure is based on arguments on cumulative weight which make it extraordinarily unlikely that particular historical figures, like Jesus, didn’t exist. The only ‘proof’ would be bones with a signature and there isn’t much likelihood of that. However Steven is too lazy and arrogant to consider this. It is much easier to just slam it all and not listen.