Easter Week: What Really Happened?

In comments on earlier posts Bradley Bowen offers some speculations about what really happened at the crucifixion. In his view, Jesus might have survived the crucifixion, and so was discovered alive on Easter morning, prompting stories of a resurrection.

As I have argued elsewhere (see my essay in The Empty Tomb), I do not think that we have enough information to establish ANY account about what really happened during “Easter Week.”
If I had to conjecture, I would imagine a scenario (and a scenario is all we can have) something like this:
After his crucifixion Jesus was not buried in an honorable tomb, but tossed into a common grave, a limed pit where criminals were dishonorably interred. The Joseph of Arimathea tales and the empty tomb stories are legendary accretions that grew up to cover Christians’ shame over the ignominious treatment of Jesus’ corpse. You can actually watch the Joseph of Arimathea legends grow as you read the Gospels. In Mark, Joseph is merely a good, pious, and respected member of the Sanhedrin. In Luke, he is depicted as actively dissenting from the Sanhedrin’s policy. In Matthew he is described as a disciple of Jesus, and in John he is a disciple, but a secret one “for fear of the Jews.” Further, as Gerd Ludemann notes, the burial itself is described in increasingly positive tones. Mark merely says that it was a rock tomb. Even better, John locates it in a garden. Matthew, Luke, and John describe the tomb as new, which would be a mark of distinction.
After Jesus’ arrest and execution, the disciples, never the most intrepid lot, anyway, went into hiding, perhaps even returning to Galilee. While thus sequestered, two or more disciples had hallucinations, visions, or perhaps just intense dreams of Jesus, and became convinced that he had risen from the dead. Hallucinations of the recently deceased are a quite common phenomenon, especially among those who have a strong sense of isolation, rejection, or depression. If two or more had such experiences, it would be easy for them to convince each other that they had encountered Jesus after his death. Returning to Jerusalem some time later, some of the disciples gathered with other followers of Jesus and hear a very strange story from Mary Magdalene about how she had found an empty tomb on Easter morning. Now Mary was a mentally unstable person (Jesus is said to have cast seven devils out of her), and it is not clear what she experienced. Nevertheless, her story would seem to corroborate the visionary or hallucinatory experiences of some of the disciples. Like sightings of Elvis, such stories and bizarre experiences feed off each other and snowball.
Also, consider that all sorts of crazy stories can grow up around historical events, even with people claiming to be eyewitnesses to things that provably did not occur. Consider the famous “Darwin legend.” Within a short time after Darwin’s death in 1882, stories began to spread that before his death he had repudiated evolution and accepted salvation through Christ. Sermons were preached on the topic and the story circulated in evangelical circles. In 1915 one Lady Hope published an account in which she claimed to have interviewed Darwin six months before his demise and said that he expressed regret for his theory of evolution and professed faith in Christ. The Darwin children, who were present throughout Darwin’s final illness and at his deathbed, consistently and vehemently repudiated Lady Hope’s story as a total fabrication, yet it continued to spread. I heard Jimmy Swaggert give a version of it in a sermon a year or two before his downfall.
Of course, we will never know what really happened. It was too long ago and the sources are just too exiguous and unreliable. Still, it is fun to speculate. When you consider the power of strange experiences and how convincing they are to the people who have them, and the various complex dynamics that make crazy stories grow and spread, you can at least get a general idea of how miracle claims get traction.

About Keith Parsons
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Keith Parsons said…

    Of course, we will never know what really happened. It was too long ago and the sources are just too exiguous and unreliable.
    ==============
    Comment:

    Agreed. Also, your scenario is more likely the case than that Jesus survived crucifixion.

    My support for the Apparent Death Theory is based on hypothetical reasoning: granting some significant assumptions to the other side, and then showing that even based on those assumptions, the Apparent Death Theory holds up fairly well.

    The assumptions that I would grant, for the sake of argument, are: (1) Jesus was alive and walking around without assistance within a few weeks after Jesus was crucified. (2)The gospel accounts of the crucifixion and burial are generally reliable at least in terms of the outline of the crucifixion and burial, though specific details are subject to doubt based on a critical reading of and close comparison between the four gospels (and other historical sources).

    I don't particularly believe (1) or (2), so this reasoning is not an attempt to determine objective historical truth, but is rather a strategy or approach to persuading people who are inclined to believe in the resurrection of Jesus that there is good reason to doubt that a miracle happened in this case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Not that I find any of this "imagined scenario" probable, but at a minimum, you need to make it consistent. So the burial by Joe of A. in a tomb, and the empty tomb narratives are both legend, but the disciples return to Jerusalem to hear Mary Magdalene give her account of finding a tomb empty? You might need to fix that…Presumably the disciples somehow forgot that Jesus was buried dishonorably in a "limed pit"! Oh wait. We can fix this quite easily. The disciples were grieving and we know that depression shrinks the hippocampus and thus affects memory. That might explain why their memory would slip so severely with regards to one of the most important aspects of their culture.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex,

    Thanks, I did need to clarify that, but it is not an inconsistency at all.

    If, after the crucifixion, the disciples scatter, and the Galileans sneak out of Jerusalem and go back to Galilee (which would be the safest bet, considering that the Romans had just executed their leader), then we can speculate about what happened over the next while. If, over the next few weeks or months, two, three, or more of the disciples had intense visionary or hallucinatory experiences of Jesus, then they might have come to think that Jesus had escaped death and was still in touch with them. Motivated by their shared visions, they return to Jerusalem when things had cooled down a bit, and get in touch with Jesus' followers there, including Mary Magdalene. They hear from Mary, who, the Gospels say, was watching the crucifixion "from a long way off." She says that Jesus was not given the usual criminal's burial, but was buried in an honorable tomb. This, of course, was great news since they had assumed a dishonorable burial. Then Mary says, even more remarkably, that she visited the tomb on Easter morning, and…It was empty! The disciples seize on this because it apparently corroborates their visions.

    What did Mary really see? What made her think that Jesus (highly contrary to the usual practice for crucified criminals) was honorably buried? Which tomb did she go to? Did she fantasize the whole thing? We can never know. The testimony of one very possibly deranged individual is a VERY slim reed to base anything on.

    But wouldn't the disciples know that Mary was a loon, if she was? Sure, but people far more readily believe a nut that says what they want to hear than a rational person who says what they don't.

    So, this got the ball rolling and legend took over from there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Alex,

    Ha Ha! I'll take the shrunken hippocampus hypothesis under advisement!

    Seriously, of course I agree with you that the scenario is quite improbable. My only claim is that it is not much more improbable than any other scenario–and far MORE probable than the Usual Story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01446667699309047846 Keith Russell

    In "The Case for Christ", Lee Stroebel uses a straw man argument against (unnamed) atheists' claims that the Crucifixion, as described in the Bible, wouldn't have resulted in death.

    Stroebel then relates interviews with several doctors who state that the treatment of Jesus, as described in the Bible, would have been fatal.

    Stroebel argues that this "proves" that Jesus was crucified and died, just as the Bible claimed.

    I know a great many atheists, being one myself, yet I've never encountered even one person who has denied the divinity of Jesus, because of believing that Jesus would have survived crucifixion.

    I could easily write an accurate description of the "fatal wounds" of some fictional character–and I'm neither a physician nor an executioner.

    The Romans were very good at crucifying people, and most folks who were around when the New Testament was written had probably personally witnessed one or two of them–or had heard such events described by someone who had. It would be easy for any educated writer to describe an actual–fatal–crucifixion, and simply state that this was how "Jesus" was killed.

    For me, the most compelling arguments against the Jesus story, are 1) the fact that people don't return "from the dead"; 2) the extreme unliklihood of the other miracles, and 3) the fact that myths with many of the same particulars–December 25 birthdate, Virgin Birth, a Star in the Sky above the birthplace, 12 disciples, various miracles, capital punishment, visiting the realm of the Dead, Resurrection–as the Jesus story were written in some cases centuries before the New Testament.

    Mithras, Dionysus, Krishna, Horus, Attis, etc.

    It seems clear to me that the details of the Crucifixion were simply added to the story to make it appear more believable–the way any good fiction writer includes elements that "ring true"…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12830849914015375449 bradleyc

    I think it is interesting that you choose to accept some details of the Gospels yet not others just to fit what you want to be true. You say that Mary Magdalene was "mentally unstable" because it was written that she had seven demons cast out of her, and you accept that the disciples scatter after the crucifixion as it is written in the Gospels. Yet you also chose to doubt the burial of Jesus in a the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Unfortunately you cannot pick and chose what to accept as fact.

    And could you please explain to me why the Jewish leaders of the time wouldn't just end Christianity by pulling out Jesus body to prove that he was dead? And why wouldn't the Roman government also present Jesus body in order to stop the revolution that was forming as Christianity grew? And why would the disciples die for their faith if Jesus didn't really rise from the dead? Would you die for something you knew wasn't true? And lastly, how could twelve people all hallucinate the same thing? To me, that seems almost as unlikely as Jesus rising from the dead.

    And thank you for talking about "The Case for Christ" because I think that this book provides such immense and startling evidence to the truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. The evidence is so strong that it actually, in my opinion, takes more faith to NOT believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    I could go on for days about all of the proof about Jesus and why He is the Son of God, but ultimately I know that facts will never change your mind. And the goal of Christianity is not to argue people into becoming Christians; it is to love people and show them that no matter what is happening in our lives, there is a God that loves us so much that he would die for us. If you just open your eyes to the possibility that maybe this story is true and Jesus really is the Son of God, you may find that you can be free to love and receive love. Because ultimately, Jesus came to this earth to save EVERYONE, and he wants to set YOU free from all of the hurt and pain of this world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Bradleyc,

    Thanks for your comments, and you raise some interesting points. Actually, rather than try to spell everything out in this limited space, you might want to look at my long essay "Why I am not a Christian" that is in the Modern Library of the Secular Web. There I deal with all these claims in much greater detail.

    In general: As for picking and choosing from the sources, there is nothing wrong here. That is what all critical historians do. The historian tries to piece together the most reasonable account given what the sources say and given everything else that is reasonably believed. Ancient texts should not be accepted uncritically, but should not be rejected out of hand either. They are sources–invaluable sources–but they should not be taken at face value, but vetted in the light of what seems most probable.

    I am curious as to why so many Christians are convinced that those who disagree with them are irrational and, as you charge, incapable of being convinced by the facts. This seems uncharitable, to say the least. Were I to speak from a Christian perspective, I would say this practice is a terrible witness. It seems to say: "Love thine enemy, unless he disagreeth with you. Then shouldst thou call him names."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12830849914015375449 bradleyc

    I am sorry if I have come off as trying to judge you and ridicule you for your beliefs. That was not my intention whatsoever. And I don't believe that you are irrational at all; resurrection is a hard pill to swallow. I, too, was a skeptic for much of my life. I believed that God and science could not exist together, yet I have found nothing to disprove that there is a God and nothing to disprove that Jesus was resurrected. I guess it's just a matter of whether you view the glass half-full or half-empty when it comes to belief in God.

    I read a good chunk of your article about why you are not a Christian, and you bring up some valid points about the inability of Christians to obey Jesus's commands to love. It is unfortunate that Christians come off as a group that judges and hates the world, because that is the complete opposite of what we are taught to do. I am sad that the evils of the Christian church have driven you to such hatred of all Christians. The Christian church has contributed much good to the world, though…just look at the Golden Rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself," which was taught by Jesus as the second most important command.

    Also, through reading your article, it seems as though you are very set in your beliefs. With that in mind, I know that facts and quotes aren't going to change your mind. I want to say that I'm sorry for all of the judgement and the hatred of Christians, and I am sorry if I have come off as judging you. As a Christian I am called to love you, and that is why I am trying to get you to see that Jesus came to this earth to die for YOU and he wants to have a relationship with you. I only hope that one day you will realize the freedom that comes from having a Savior and knowing that you are always loved, no matter what you may have done.

    I do have one question for you that I hope will play on your heartstrings: If there is no God and no eternal life in heaven, then what is the purpose of your life here on earth? And since this is your only life and you don't know when it might end, are you doing everything you can to live life to the fullest, to make each day count?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BradleyC,

    Thanks for the amended comments. If you are really interested in my thoughts about meaning-of-life issues, you might check some of my older posts here on Secular Outpost. I discussed these points a good bit. In general, I think that Erik Wielenberg did a terrific job of discussing these questions in his Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. Anyway, thanks again and Merry Christmas!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I personally do not find at all relevant to know what exactly happened to Jesus of Nazareth’s corpse. I suppose the reason so many Christian apologists today debate this issue is because the official Christian position is that Jesus resurrected physically. Now, according to the Gospels, disciples could speak with the resurrected Jesus for hours without recognizing Him, Jesus could walk through walls, etc, so after the resurrection it seems Jesus had a very unphysical kind of physical body. I think the reason early in Christianity the belief was formed that Jesus’s resurrection had been physical, i.e. that His corpse reanimated while transforming itself into some kind of imperishable/supernatural material, is because of the influence of Greek philosophy and particularly of Aristotelian thought. according to which the human soul is the “form” of our body. According to such a view there can’t be a resurrection without the resurrection of the body. I don’t think that such a view comports with the best theology of today, and I find it unfortunate that so much ink is spilled over an issue which is of little relevance at best.

    So, what did really happen? The reasonable answer to this question depends very strongly on one’s background beliefs, so a theist and a naturalist are apt to answer this question very differently. Which shows that “evidence” is not something which works independently of what one thinks one knows. A naturalist, no matter what evidence is or could be available, cannot believe in a physical resurrection simply because in a naturalistic reality corpses do not resurrect. I mean even if extraterrestrials were to visit us, explain that they had been observing our history since prehistoric times, and actually showed us a video of Jesus’s corpse reanimating – that would not be sufficient evidence for a naturalist, would it? For other alternative explanations of that particular evidence would be more probable. But then, I wonder, what profit is there for Christians to argue with naturalists over the actual evidence?

    Nevertheless I think there is some common space for agreement among theists and naturalist: Given that the first gospels were written within living memory of the events, and given that they were in turn based on older documents as well as on oral tradition, and given that almost immediately after the crucifixion there was a strong Christian resurgence as well as a strong counter-Christian movement bent to prove that Christianity was a fraud, it seems to me reasonable to believe that the broad historical claims of the Gospels are veridical. For example I am inclined to believe that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, at least temporarily. Joseph must have been a well known figure those days and if that particular Christian claim were not true I suppose the counter-Christians would have exploited it at full. Was Joseph’s tomb later found empty? Perhaps. At least there are many scenarios of how this might have happened besides a physical resurrection, including the possibility that Joseph himself changed his mind and had Jesus’s body moved somewhere else, possibly without the knowledge of the disciples. On the other hand it is as historically certain as it gets that shortly after the crucifixion Jesus’s small and insignificant band of followers underwent some kind of experience strong enough to energize them into starting the greatest religious movement in history. I suppose both theists and naturalists could agree that that experience was the vision of a risen Jesus. Christians will interpret these visions as being of an extraordinary nature and supernatural origin (including perhaps because of the physical presence of Jesus in their midst), while naturalists might point out that such visions do sometimes happen in precisely the kind of circumstances the early disciples found themselves in. So, why not leave this question at that, and concentrate on the far more important issue of whether theism or naturalism is more probably true?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    BradleyC,

    One more comment. You say:

    I am sad that the evils of the Christian church have driven you to such hatred of all Christians.

    Let me emphasize that I do not hate all Christians. Even the ones I do despise I dislike for reasons other than the fact that they are Christians. For instance, I despise George W. Bush, not because he is a Christian, but because he is George W. Bush. No, I do not dislike people because they are Christians or even fundamentalists. I am from Georgia and if I hated all fundamentalists, I would have to hate 98% of my extended family, but I am actually quite fond of many of them. No, if I dislike someone, it is because they are bigots, hypocrites, fanatics, obscurantists,or champions of militant stupidity.

    William Rowe distinguishes between friendly atheists and unfriendly atheists. Unfriendly atheists are those who think that all believers are knaves or fools. Friendly atheists are just as committed to atheism as the unfriendly ones, but admit that the existence of God is an issue on which perfectly rational people might arrive at opposite conclusions. Alvin Plantinga once asserted that he was doing his "epistemic best" in believing. That could well be, I am happy to admit. I only ask that that theists extend the same courtesy to atheists and admit that we could be doing our epistemic best in disbelieving.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16175830373964472006 Nick

    To begin with, the reason that chapter is in The Case For Christ is that there are some people today who do hold to the swoon theory. Strobel is simply showing that, yes, Jesus was categorically dead. That's not a straw man.

    Also Keith, your explanation just doesn't mesh. For instance, while Mary had seven demons driven out of her, why should that mean we automatically assume she had a mental condition? Even if you don't believe in demon possession, demon possession in the Bible is not just the cause of mental illness but several other conditions. I'm sure also you're aware of the dangers of doing psychohistory from a distance of time.

    Your theory also doesn't account for the conversion of Paul, who it is a definite fact was converted, or of James, who while some people question that he was converted a good historical case could be made. Upon what grounds do these people come to believe that Jesus is the Christ and rose from the dead?

    Frankly, I place a lot more stock in the arguments I've seen put forward by Habermas, Licona, and Wright. I don't see any interaction with them in this post unfortunately.

    As for not believing in Christianity because of the way Christians have acted, I'm not condoning great crimes in church history, but because some Christians did terrible things, it does not follow that Jesus did not rise from the dead. It only follows that those Christians are not living in accordance with the teachings of Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03818630173726146048 Papalinton

    Hi Keith
    Your re-counting the story of what really happened at Easter is laudable.

    Strobel et al present 'evidentiary' material for the crucifixion, burial and ascension, not from the modern conception of the word, but from a purely theo-logical perspective. We must remember, the story is not logical, it is theo-logical, a somewhat differing concept altogether.

    We know for a fact, by analogy, that dead putrescent corpses of some 2-3 days old do not come back to life. So your case that he may not have died is simply so much more plausible than that of the USUAL STORY. Either that, or he was thrown into a lime-pit, as was the usual practice at these times. And when read against the plethora of similar 'hero saviour' archetypes, any thought of belief in this one story is nothing other than special pleading.

    But even most Christians know that. But are driven largely by the desperate nature implied in Pascal's Wager. Generally called 'hedging their bets'. As I've heard it described, the turn to christianity in old age [at their most vulnerable and defenseless] or the death-bed confession, is known as 'cramming for the finals'.

    Never let it be said that facts, evidence, information, reality, and proof ever got in the road of christians telling a good [as in 'gift of the gab'] story.

    Cheers

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03859046131830902921 Mark Plus

    Jesus had it easy compared to the injuries people routinely experience in wartime. Think of all the U.S servicemen who've come back from recent wars suffering from amputations, paralysis, third degree burns, loss of major organs, traumatic brain injuries, parts of their faces shot off, etc. If Jesus had died from those sorts of injuries, and then "rose from the dead," he'd look really frightening.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Keith: Perhaps it is helpful here to distinguish your view from either a pure hallucination theory or a pure legend theory. With a pure hallucination theory, you take the Bible's record as substantially accurate at every point except where hallucinations are needed to explain the disciple's conduct. On a pure legend theory, the whole account is made up out of the whole cloth, leaving us wondering whether we even can believe that Jesus existed at all. With the former kind of theory, you have the problem of having to explain every detail of the Bible naturalistically (he knew where the stones were, et al), while in the latter you really have to deny what seems pretty evident, that the Gospels (and Acts) have a substantial historical core.

    I do think this is a more challenging skeptical response than the other two types of theories that I outlined above.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03818630173726146048 Papalinton

    Hi Victor Reppert
    You say, " … you really have to deny what seems pretty evident, that the Gospels (and Acts) have a substantial historical core."

    I think Keith has mentioned the historical core. But the story of jesus and his crucifixion, burial and ascension is the mythical part of the story. It is the jesus legend that has been grafted onto the historical core, you know, the jewish temple, the Romans, Roman administration of Palestine, the various cities in which this story is placed. So we know all about the historical core. Apart from Paul [who never met him, and did not know anything about his earthly life] and the Gospels [which is one story copied over several times by the other apostles, each a story serving variously independent communities] there is absolutely no independent external sources to suggest the historical veracity of the jesus legend.

    There is plenty of other sources of history for the period corroborating aspects of historical fact, but nothing of the jesus myth.

    Cheers

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16175830373964472006 Nick

    That Jesus was crucified is a sure fact of history. Anyone who denies that is denying ancient history.

    As to external sources for Jesus's life, we have numerous sources. Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius, etc.

    btw, this idea that we know dead people stay dead. Ancient people knew that too. That's why they buried dead people. When you make a claim like that, you act like the ancient people were not aware of this basic fact.

    That's why it's called a miracle. To deny miracles is one thing. To deny ancients knew that dead people naturally stay dead is another.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03818630173726146048 Papalinton

    Sorry Nick,
    Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius, etc are all redaction, hearsay, or interpolation at best.

    And for some one who was supposed to have such a following and been so dramatically influential in people's lives, that he elicits only and off-hand comment in all of those mentions.

    Perhaps a reality check is needed here. Refer to the following website of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden:

    http://www.hum.gu.se/english/current/news/Nyhet_detalj/what-do-we-really-know-about-the-crucifixion-of-jesus-.cid938216

    The bottom line is that " .. the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what's even more challenging is
    that the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion
    of Jesus."

    Cheers

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11927997059763346839 Curt

    It seems that discussions about the events of Easter often get pressed into a dichotomy between a particular naturalistic theory and the Christian theory. The believer will point out problems with the proposed naturalistic theory and claim this increases the odds that their theory is correct. But, in reality there are hundreds of possible naturalistic scenarios. When evaluating the claims of the believer its not a 48% vs. 52% probability (or whatever, the numbers are just for example). Rather, it is 0.1% vs 1000 other 0.1% probable naturalistic theories.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13036816926421936940 Edward T. Babinski

    "I envy you not having to think any more about Christian apologetics. My correspondents force the subject on me again and again. It is very wearing, and not v. good for one's own faith. A Christian doctrine never seems less real to me than when I have just (even if successfully) been defending it. It is particularly tormenting when those who were converted by my books begin to relapse and raise new difficulties." C. S. Lewis to Mary Van Deusen, June 18, 1956, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III, p. 762.

    God puts Christians in the unenviable place of having to explain "God" and "the Bible" to the rest of the world. God apparently can't or doesn't want to get through to people a bit more directly. So long as some human writes a book, saying someone else said or did something, that book is supposed to be enough for the world to understand, at least that's what the apologist/preacher tell us, whose very presence soon makes one realize that hey, we need not only that book that humans wrote, but another human apologizing for it or preaching to us from it, and getting us to understand it HIS way, which he claims to be GOD'S WAY.

    Even worse.

    Yes, worse.

    The apologist/preacher claims that only one book is God's true handbook, and that those who accept that handbook also have a Spirit guiding them into all truth, and a regenerated heart, and the power of an infinite God that performs miracles on their side (see also all the promises in the Bible).

    So why isn't the world convinced?

    Why can't Christians even convince other Christians on a host of issues and interpretations?

    And why is it that conservatives, moderates and liberals exist in each major denomination?

    Furthermore, understanding the Bible in its original language and ancient context takes a lifetime or more.

    And lastly, why do miracles tend to grow less impressive over time? From a worldwide flood, to a worldwide confusion of tongues, to hundreds of thousands seeing the "sea of reeds" part in the middle, to a multitude seeing Jesus multiply some fish, to some resurrection miracles that a limited number reported seeing, to today, when Christians apologists like Gary Habermas cite Near Death Experiences of people whose hearts merely ceased for a few minutes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13036816926421936940 Edward T. Babinski

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking, I'm asking.

    I've been asking ever since I first left the fold. I've prayed and prayed. I've read and read. I have a list of eight books I suggest Christians read, some of those books having been written BY Christians:

    http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/09/seven-books-every-christian-should-read.html

    And I've pondered the resurrection stories as in my discussion with resurrection apologist Gary Habermas:

    http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~slocks/asym/babinski-jordan/2.html

    And more recently:

    http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/03/word-about-growing-words-of-resurrected.html

    I've kept an eye out for miracle stories of all sorts as well, not just Christian-related ones.

    Christians say "Many miracle stories might be untrue, but that doesn't mean they all are." But they neglect to add that the same could be said of miracles related to all other religions and mystical groups.

    Hence, I remain agnostic when it comes to the "one true religion, doctrines, dogmas" as to what lay behind the metaphysical curtain.

    Speaking of the so-called inspiration of the Bible, how does one prove something is "inspired?" To call something "inspired" is more like emitting a pious ejaculation, because the word "inspired" is used by everyone, conservatives, moderates, liberals, mystics, secularists, and has no substance unless attached to some creedal, doctrinal, dogmatic view concerning "what kind of specific information" a person thinks is being conveyed by the "inspired" book, person, or object.

    Whether or not someone agrees such and such a verse or book is "inspired" and "in what way" remains the question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10962948073162156902 Victor Reppert

    Papalinton: That was the whole point, to explain the advantages of Keith's theory over a) the attempt to plug a hallucination theory into the Bible while assuming everything else is literally true and b) denying what seems to be the evident historical core of the New Testament. No apologetics at this point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    Nick said
    "…the conversion of Paul, who it is a definite fact was converted…"

    Converted by what? According to the Bible it was a bright light with a voice that converted Paul to a believer in Jesus. Do you find that impressive? Do you consider that to be powerful objective evidence?
    And how many people throughout history have had religious conversions? There's nothing unique about religious conversions, including Pauls.

    "…we know dead people stay dead. Ancient people knew that too."

    You should read Richard Carriers article "Kooks and Quacks in the First Century" to see how gullible people in ancient times could be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Edward T. Babinski said…

    Speaking of the so-called inspiration of the Bible, how does one prove something is "inspired?" To call something "inspired" is more like emitting a pious ejaculation, because the word "inspired" is used by everyone, conservatives, moderates, liberals, mystics, secularists, and has no substance unless attached to some creedal, doctrinal, dogmatic view concerning "what kind of specific information" a person thinks is being conveyed by the "inspired" book, person, or object.
    ============
    Comment:
    Different people do indeed have different ideas in mind when using the word "inspired". However, in the context of skeptics debating Evangelical Christians or traditional Catholics, I think the idea is clear enough for us skeptics to grasp.

    The Bible is said to be the "Word of God" meaning that it contains messages, teachings, principles, warnings, and advice that are from God. In so far as God is all-knowing and perfectly good, the point is that the messages, teachings, principles, warnings, and advice that come from God are true and/or wise.

    The quality and value of the ideas in a book can be (at least initially) evaluated on the basis of the credibility and authority of the author of the book.

    If you want to get smarter, then read books written by really smart people, not books written by idiots and fools. If you want to learn the truth about some subject, then read books by people who are recognized experts in that subject area.

    There may be some conceptual problems or ambiguities in the notion that some book or text was "inspired by God", but the idea seems clear enough to be considered a meaningful and useful concept.

    How does one prove that such-and-such book "was inspired by God"? By showing that the contents of a book are what a reasonable person would expect of a book that contains messages, teachings, principles, warnings, and advice from a person who was all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good.

    Presumably, such a book would contain information (such a predictions about the future) that ordinary human beings could not know. Presumably, such a book would contain only true claims and assumptions concerning theoretical matters (physical science, mathematics, logic, social science, history) and the teachings, principles, and advice would be significant, morally and practically sound, and very helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    bradleyc said…

    And could you please explain to me why the Jewish leaders of the time wouldn't just end Christianity by pulling out Jesus body to prove that he was dead? And why wouldn't the Roman government also present Jesus body in order to stop the revolution that was forming as Christianity grew? And why would the disciples die for their faith if Jesus didn't really rise from the dead? Would you die for something you knew wasn't true? And lastly, how could twelve people all hallucinate the same thing? To me, that seems almost as unlikely as Jesus rising from the dead.
    ========
    Comment:
    These are standard Christian apologetics talking points, which is fine, but, as with much popular apologetics, these points are based on several unsupported and dubious assumptions. Where to begin? I suppose I should start with the first sentence:

    "And could you please explain to me why the Jewish leaders of the time wouldn't just end Christianity by pulling out Jesus body to prove that he was dead?"

    1. Was Jesus in fact buried in a stone tomb? Perhaps, but it is certainly possible that the burial stories are legends created in order to imagine an honorable burial for an honored prophet/messiah.

    2. Assuming Jesus was buried in a stone tomb, how can we be sure that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem knew the location of the tomb? Why would they care so much about one more crucified Jewish peasant who was thought to be a trouble maker?

    3. Christianity started out as a sect inside of Judaism, so how can we be sure that the Jewish authorities would be uniformly opposed to the claim that Jesus (a devout Jewish preacher) was brought back to life by God?

    4. Assuming that the Jewish authorities were uniformly opposed to belief in Jesus' resurrection, and assuming that they knew the location of his tomb, what good would it do to parade a rotting corpse through the streets of Jerusalem? If Jesus had been badly beaten and scourged as you no doubt claim, wouldn't his face be hard to recognize even at the time of burial? Given that a dead body would decay rapidly in those days and in that location, dragging a rotting beaten up corpse around town three or four months after the crucifixion of Jesus may have provided proof of nothing (even if they did in fact have possession of the dead body of Jesus).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    5. What makes you so sure that the Jewish authorities did NOT parade Jesus' dead body through the streets of Jerusalem in the weeks or months following his crucifixion? The followers of Jesus could have simply shrugged this off saying: "The authorities just grabbed the corpse of some random crucified Jewish peasant who was about Jesus' size, and falsely claimed it was the body of Jesus. The face was bruised and battered, and the corpse was decaying, so identification of the corpse was impossible."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03818630173726146048 Papalinton

    @ Vic
    Keith Parson's 'hallucination theory' is neither mutually exclusive to the story nor can it to be disregarded as a viable alternative to the USUAL STORY even within the historical core of the NT. But the main story of the NT is not and has never been a component of the historical core. The main story, that of jesus and his exploits and demise, is the fable that has been grafted onto the historicity of the times.

    Even in recent times group hallucinations have been recorded and great interest being shown by gullible believers, even the Vatican today. The site below;

    http://www.medjugorje-online.com/apparitions/medjugorje.php

    is a clear example of the group hallucinatory experience that can be induced, and is consistent with the Disciples experiencing something akin to the marian visions in Medjugorje.

    No miracle there, no miracle of one said jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16175830373964472006 Nick

    Papa: Sorry Nick,
    Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius, etc are all redaction, hearsay, or interpolation at best.

    Reply: Wow. Do cop-out assertions like this really work with some people? You see, if you're making a charge like this, I need evidence. For instance, Tacitus was one of the best historians of his time and he was extremely skeptical of information even coming from his best friend Pliny. If he says Jesus was crucified, there's all reason to believe Jesus was crucified.

    One passage in Josephus could have some interpolation, but scholars do not think it was entirely interpolated. Even if it was, there is still the other passage no one thinks is an interpolation.

    As for Seutonius, please back the case. By your account, we'd have to throw out all ancient history.

    Papa: And for some one who was supposed to have such a following and been so dramatically influential in people's lives, that he elicits only and off-hand comment in all of those mentions.

    Reply: Jesus did not have a huge following. Why would you even think that? Furthermore, why would anyone else really want to mention him? No one would want to draw attention to a backwater rabbi teaching in Judea where there was an idea that he rose from the dead.

    Papa: Perhaps a reality check is needed here. Refer to the following website of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden:

    http://www.hum.gu.se/english/current/news/Nyhet_detalj/what-do-we-really-know-about-the-crucifixion-of-jesus-.cid938216

    The bottom line is that " .. the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what's even more challenging is
    that the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion
    of Jesus."

    Reply: No. Even if we don't know much about crucifixion, it does not follow that the accounts are false. Crucifixion is indeed not described much because it was said to be a punishment that was so severe the writers did not even want to mention it. The very word "Excruciating" came from crucifixion. It was the ultimate shame and thus would not have been described in detail.

    Kilo:

    Converted by what? According to the Bible it was a bright light with a voice that converted Paul to a believer in Jesus. Do you find that impressive? Do you consider that to be powerful objective evidence?

    Reply: According to Paul's own testimony in the letters attributed to him by even critical scholars today, he says the risen Jesus appeared to him. How is that supposed to sound impressive? Is a conversion of an enemy only impressive if the entire heavens open up and armies of angels come down and force a conversion?

    Papa: And how many people throughout history have had religious conversions? There's nothing unique about religious conversions, including Pauls.

    Reply: Yes. People have them. The question is why they have them. Muhammad had much to gain apparently from his conversion as he got women and money and power from it. Feel free to point to any others but saying others convert doesn't do anything about Paul's conversion, a fact that real scholars take seriously. This was a conversion so strong that he went from persecutor to great evangelist. Do tell your theory about what happened.

    KilO: You should read Richard Carriers article "Kooks and Quacks in the First Century" to see how gullible people in ancient times could be.

    Reply: You should read Glenn Miller's response to find out how wrong people in modern times can be about people in ancient times. You should also read N.T. Wright where he is clear that for the ancient Greeks, resurrections did not happen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16175830373964472006 Nick

    Papa: Sorry Nick,
    Tacitus, Josephus, Seutonius, etc are all redaction, hearsay, or interpolation at best.

    Reply: Wow. Do cop-out assertions like this really work with some people? You see, if you're making a charge like this, I need evidence. For instance, Tacitus was one of the best historians of his time and he was extremely skeptical of information even coming from his best friend Pliny. If he says Jesus was crucified, there's all reason to believe Jesus was crucified.

    One passage in Josephus could have some interpolation, but scholars do not think it was entirely interpolated. Even if it was, there is still the other passage no one thinks is an interpolation.

    As for Seutonius, please back the case. By your account, we'd have to throw out all ancient history.

    Papa: And for some one who was supposed to have such a following and been so dramatically influential in people's lives, that he elicits only and off-hand comment in all of those mentions.

    Reply: Jesus did not have a huge following. Why would you even think that? Furthermore, why would anyone else really want to mention him? No one would want to draw attention to a backwater rabbi teaching in Judea where there was an idea that he rose from the dead.

    Papa: Perhaps a reality check is needed here. Refer to the following website of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden:

    http://www.hum.gu.se/english/current/news/Nyhet_detalj/what-do-we-really-know-about-the-crucifixion-of-jesus-.cid938216

    The bottom line is that " .. the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what's even more challenging is
    that the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion
    of Jesus."

    Reply: No. Even if we don't know much about crucifixion, it does not follow that the accounts are false. Crucifixion is indeed not described much because it was said to be a punishment that was so severe the writers did not even want to mention it. The very word "Excruciating" came from crucifixion. It was the ultimate shame and thus would not have been described in detail.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    bradleyc said…

    And why wouldn't the Roman government also present Jesus body in order to stop the revolution that was forming as Christianity grew?
    ===========
    Comment:

    My points 1, 2, 4, and 5 apply to this question, by just subtituting "Roman government" for "Jewish authorities".

    There is also a similar point to 3 with respect to Roman government. It is not clear to me why a new Jewish sect would be viewed as revolutionary by the Roman government.

    The gospels, at any rate, and the letters of Paul, do not indicate that the first century Christians had an interest in overthowing the Roman government or resisting the Roman government. Christians were taught by Jesus (according to the gospels) and by Paul to pay their taxes and to defer to government authorities, for example. That was what mattered to the Romans.

    The early followers of Jesus were promoting pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by, for those who believe in Jesus and act with love and charity towards others. This hardly seems the sort of thing that the Roman government would be very concerned about.

    Also, the Roman government had other means of putting an end to revolutionary movements. It is implausible to think that the Romans would be likely to engage in anti-Christian apologetics and try to cast doubt on a Christian theological belief. Rather, if the Roman government viewed the Christian movement as revolutionary, then they would be much more likely to combat this problem by torturing and killing suspected Christians, their families, their friends, their neighbors, any stray pets in the area.

    The Roman solution to revolutionaries was the cross and the sword, not the power of reason and rhetoric.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    bradleyc said…

    And why would the disciples die for their faith if Jesus didn't really rise from the dead? Would you die for something you knew wasn't true? And lastly, how could twelve people all hallucinate the same thing?

    ============
    Comment:

    6. Who do you have in mind by "the disciples"? Since you mention the "twelve" in the third question above, are you claiming that twelve of Jesus' disciples died "for their faith"? Who specifically (names please) are you claiming to have died "for their faith"? We don't have enough historical information to conclude that "the twelve" were all willing to die for their faith.

    7. How much do we know about the theological beliefs of "the twelve" disciples of Jesus? It is probable that the resurrection of Jesus was a central belief for some of "the twelve", such as Peter, but we don't know that the resurrection was central to the theology of all of "the twelve" because we really don't have much information about "the twelve" at all. Thus, even if we knew that "the twelve" were all willing to die for their faith, we still would not know that "the twelve" were all willing to die for the belief in Jesus' resurrection. That belief may not have been of central importance to the faith of all of "the twelve".

    8. If Jesus did not in fact rise from the dead, that does not mean that his disciples were aware of this fact. Some of the twelve disciples may have heard from some female followers of Jesus that Jesus had died on the cross, and some of the twelve disciples may have had dreams or visions of Jesus after the crucifixion.

    For devout Jewish followers of Jesus who were convinced that God was working miracles through Jesus, this may have sufficed as sufficient "evidence" to form a firm conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

    From a modern skeptical point of view, such evidence is way too thin to be proof of such an extraordinary claim, but that does not imply that the twelve (or eleven, since Judas was presumably not a believer) disciples of Jesus were insincere in believing or proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

    9. The stories of Jesus appearing to "the twelve" found in Luke and John are unhistorical in my view, so I don't think there is an established fact here that needs to be explained (e.g. in terms of mass hallucination).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Curt said…

    The believer will point out problems with the proposed naturalistic theory and claim this increases the odds that their theory is correct. But, in reality there are hundreds of possible naturalistic scenarios.
    =========
    Comment: Good point.

    The probability that skeptics or naturalists are correct in thinking that Jesus did not rise from the dead is actually the sum of the probabilities of all possible naturalistic scenarios.

    If there is a one in ten chance that Jesus was not crucified at all (either because the crucifixion is a legend, or because there was a person who looked like Jesus who was crucified instead of Jesus), and if there is a one in ten chance that Jesus was crucified but did not die (i.e. stop breathing) while on the cross, and if there is a one in ten chance that Jesus did die (i.e. stop breathing) on the cross but started breathing again soon after being removed from the cross (without any supernatural intervention), and if there are two chances in ten that Jesus died on the cross and stayed dead (the resurrection appearances being dreams or hallucinations and/or legends), then the probability that one of these naturalist theories is correct would be: .5 (five chances in ten).

    Also, the Christian theory is not the only possible supernatural theory. Other supernatural theories would include:

    (1) An angel broght Jesus back to life (without God's command to do so).

    (2) A demon brought Jesus back to life (without God's command to do so).

    (3) The devil brought Jesus back to life (without God's command to do so).

    (4) Zeus brought Jesus back to life (without God's command to do so).

    (5) Jesus while not being divine, possessed supernatural powers that enabled him to bring about his own resurrection.

    (6) Peter (apart from any divine intervention) possessed supernatuarl powers and used them to bring Jesus back to life.

    (7) Jehovah brought Jesus back to life, but Jehovah is a finite and morally imperfect supernatural being and thus is not 'God' as understood by most theists.

    (8) A powerful wizard or witch brought Jesus back to life.

    etc.

    So, the probability that the Christian theory is the correct theory is something less than one minus the probability that one or the other naturalistic theories is true.

    If the probability that one or the other of the various naturalistic theories is true was .5, then the probabilty that the Christian theory is true would be .5 minus the probability that one or the other of the various non-Christian supernatural theories is true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Suppose that the sum of the probabilities of all of the various non-Christian supernatural explanations (of the evidence concerning Jesus alleged resurrection) was equal to the probability of the Christian supernatural explanation.

    Suppose, also, that the sum of the probabilities of all naturalist theories was .5 (five chances in ten).

    On these assumptions, the probability that the Christian supernatural explanation was true would be .25 (less than three chances in ten) and the probability that one or the other of the naturalist theories was true would be .5 (five chances in ten).


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