Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus – Part 22

In Joseph “Rick” Reinckens’s webpage A Lawyer Examines the Swoon Theory we get a short snippet from Origen: 

In his Commentary on Matthew, Origen, one of the early Church Fathers, says the lance thrust to Jesus was administered “according to Roman custom, below the armpit.”  (See Humber, Thomas.  The Sacred Shroud. New York, Pocket Books, 1977)

Neither Reinckens nor Humber give us details about where this comment is to be found in Origen’s Commentary on Matthew.  

Note that the quoted phrase “according to Roman custom, below the armpit” does not specifically mention the following: (a) crucifixion, (b) Roman soldiers, (c) spears, (d) lances, (e) spear wounds, (f) execution, (g) coup de grace, or (h) Jesus.  Nor does it say anything about how Origen obtained this information.  

Given the brevity of the quotation, one should not simply accept Reincken’s and Humber’s interpretation of Origen.  One ought to first examine the passage that this short phrase came from, to see the context and to form one’s own interpretation in view of that context.  That is why it is especially sloppy and careless for Reinckens and Humber to fail to provide a specific reference to where this phrase appears in Origen’s Commentary on Matthew.

Furthermore, there are textual and translation issues involved here.  I’m no expert on Origen, but I understand that he wrote his Commentary on Matthew in Greek in the final years of his life, ( around 246-248 CE).  Recall that the brief quote from Origen is from Latin, according to Humber:
     Origen, in the Latin translation of his Commentary on Matthew, says that the lance thrust was administered ‘according to Roman custom, below the armpit.’ …” 
(The Sacred Shroud, p.60)

If this commentary was written in Greek, then why are we given an English translation of a Latin translation of this passage from a work in Greek?  Why not translate straight from the Greek text?  

Apparently, a significant portion of this commentary no longer exists in Greek, but does exist in a Latin translation:

Of the twenty-five books of the Matthew commentary, eight survive in Greek (books 10-17), which comment on Matthew 13:36-22:33.  More of the work survived in an anonymous Latin translation of the late fifth (or early sixth century), … . The Latin version begins at the point of the Greek text that corresponds with Greek book 12, chapter 9 (relating to Matthew 16:13), but as it develops after that there is no way of telling where one is in terms of the original Greek volume structure.  The Latin version carries on more or less to the end of Matthew (Matt. 27:66) omitting Matthew 28. 
(Westminster Handbook to Origen, by John McGuckin, p.30)


Assuming that Origen’s comment occurs in the context of discussing the crucifixion scene in Matthew, it would be a comment concerning Chapter 27 of Matthew, and thus would indeed be from the part of Origen’s commentary that only exists in “an anonymous Latin translation of the late fifth (or early sixth century)…”.

The section of Origen’s commentary that only exists in the Latin translation is known as “the Commentariorum Series”.  One standard Latin text that is based on the ancient Latin translation is available in GCS (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte -  The Greek Christian Writers of the Early Centuries ). This is a series of German books with scholarly editions of ancient Greek works by Christian writers.  I was unable to locate the GCS volume with the Commentariorum Series in the state of Washington, but found a copy available at UCLA in California and arranged for an interlibrary loan through a local public library (in Bellevue, I think).

I don’t read German or Latin, but based on the headings that indicate what section of Matthew is under discussion, I was able to locate the pages that cover Matthew 27, and I then located the apparent source of the brief quote given by Humber in The Sacred Shroud.

To be continued…

INDEX of Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus posts:
http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/05/argument-against-resurrection-of-jesus_03.html

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05962018593312392087 Leo

    Bradley, I recommend you make an index post, and then put an link at the beginning of every entry of these series.

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

    Leo,

    Thanks for the suggestion. Can you point me to an example where someone has done this, so I can see how it should look and work?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05962018593312392087 Leo
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07559081710058635050 Pulse

    In Parts 14 and beyond, you have been examining specific wounds allegedly inflicted upon Jesus while being crucified. The understanding is that if the Gospels are historically unreliable on these points, then the case for Jesus' death by crucifixion is significantly weaker.

    I do not know your outline for future posts or what other considerations you plan on examining, but I would like to offer a suggestion.

    The Gospels claim that Jesus was on the cross for only a matter of hours and that his crucifixion was executed hastily. They also claim that his legs were not broken to expedite his death (apparently because he was already dead). Now, if the Gospels are historically unreliable on these points, then wouldn't that significantly strengthen the case that Jesus died by crucifixion? After all, the claim that Jesus was crucified is not unbelievable, but the claim that Jesus was crucified under such unusual circumstances and died quickly is a bit more of a stretch.

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

    Pulse said…

    The Gospels claim that Jesus was on the cross for only a matter of hours and that his crucifixion was executed hastily. They also claim that his legs were not broken to expedite his death (apparently because he was already dead). Now, if the Gospels are historically unreliable on these points, then wouldn't that significantly strengthen the case that Jesus died by crucifixion? After all, the claim that Jesus was crucified is not unbelievable, but the claim that Jesus was crucified under such unusual circumstances and died quickly is a bit more of a stretch.

    ================
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    I think you are pointing to an important principle that should be observed in thinking and discussions about the alleged resurrection of Jesus: One should not cherry-pick the evidence to support one's favored conclusion.

    I am fully in agreement with the idea that people have a natural tendency towards focusing on evidence that fits with their current beliefs and ignoring evidence that goes against their current beliefs, so if we want to be critical thinkers about the resurrection issue, then we need to watch out for falling into this common irrational tendency. This problem and this principle applies to both Christian believers and to atheists and skeptics.

    First of all, you are correct in pointing out that the Gospel accounts provide both evidence supporting the view that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and also evidence that points in the opposite direction.

    The Fourth Gospel provides a striking example of this. On the one hand it is only the Fourth Gospel that explicitly mentions the use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus and the spear wound to Jesus' side.

    On the other hand, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is not crucified until around noon. So, if Jesus appeared to die at 3pm, then he appeared to die after being on the cross for only two or three hours. The Synoptic gospels have Jesus crucified in the morning around 9 am, so they roughly double the time Jesus was on the cross.

    If one takes the position that the Fourth Gospel is generally unreliable and is significantly less reliable than the Synoptic Gospels, then it would appear to be cherry-picking to argue that Jesus was on the cross for only three hours (per the Fourth Gospel) while rejecting the claims that Jesus was nailed to the cross, and that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear while on the cross.

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

    Although I am especially skeptical about claims about Jesus that are grounded only in the Fourth Gospel (such as the claim that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear while on the cross), the general unreliability of the Fourth Gospel does not give me grounds for concluding this claim to be false. Rather, I allow that this claim might be true, but not that it is certainly true nor that it is very probable.

    One should look at the currently available evidence, including passages from the Fourth Gospel, and assign a low probability to this alleged event.

    So, there is a sense in which I am having my cake and eating it too. I believe we should consider both logical possibilities: (a) Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear while on the cross, and (b) It it not the case that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear while on the cross. It is just that we ought to assign a fairly low probability to (a), or so I would argue.

    Similarly with the length of time Jesus was on the cross. It is possible that Jesus died on the cross after only two or three hours, as suggested by the Fourth Gospel. But I would assign this a low probability, and a higher probability to the Synoptic view that Jesus was on the cross from around 9am to around 5pm.

    We must also consider other logical possibilities, such as that Jesus was on the cross for two or three days. However, in the case that Jesus was on the cross for two three days, all of the Gospel accounts would be seriously defective and pretty much worthless as support for the resurrection claim.

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

    My strategy in defending a skeptical view of the alleged resurrection of Jesus is to focus in on specific factual claims that are key to determining the probability of the primary factual claims, which are that Jesus was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday and that Jesus died on the cross on the Friday just prior to the first Easter Sunday.

    One specific factual claim relevant to determining the probability of the death of Jesus on the cross is the claim that Jesus had been hanging on the cross for about eight hours at the time he was removed from the cross.

    If someone concludes that this claim is improbable and asserts that Jesus was probably on the cross for only about two or three hours, and if this claim is made on the basis of the reliability of the Fourth Gospel, then that person would need to also assume the reliability of the Fourth Gospel when determining the probability of other specific factual claims about the crucifixion of Jesus, such as the claim that Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear.

    Looking at the resurrection claim from a broader point of view, and focusing on the issue of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus, there are various possible positions to consider:

    (a) The Gospel accounts are 100% accurate. – This position is unreasonable given the various apparent contradictions and inconsistencies between the Gospels.

    (b) The Gospel accounts are very reliable (i.e details are correct 80 to 90% of the time). – This position is implausible too for similar reasons as given against (a).

    (c) The Gospel accounts are somewhat reliable (i.e. details are correct 70 to just under 80% of the time). – This is a bit dubious, but is at least a reasonable point of view.

    (d) The Gospel accounts contain significant elements of fact and significant elements of fiction (i.e. the details are correct 50% to just under 70% of the time).

    If the Gospels were known to be 100% accurate (in details other than concerning the crucifixion), then we could place great confidence in the Passion narratives and Christian apologists could potentially make a strong argument for the resurrection of Jesus. But this is clearly not the case.

    Obviously, if the Gospels are highly unreliable sources, then Christian apologists will be unable
    to make any sort of plausible argument for the resurrection of Jesus.

    So, the potential of a strong argument for the resurrection exists only if the Gospel accounts are more than just somewhat reliable, and (given reality of what we know about the Gospels in the 21st century) are less than 100% reliable.

    The danger-zone for skepticism, if you will, is if the Gospels are very reliable. However, if the Gospels contradict each other on key points that determine the probability of the primary factual claims related to the resurrection, then even the general assumption that the Gospels are highly reliable will not be sufficient to make a strong case for the resurrection of Jesus.

    Given the requirement of extraordinary evidence to support extraordinary claims, a case that is less than a strong one will not suffice to make it reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

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

    A balancing point on the side of Christian apologists is that even assuming that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are less than very reliable (less than 80% to 90% correct on the details), it is still possible in theory to establish a specific Gospel claim about the crucifixion as being very probable (probability equal to or greater than .8 and equal to or less than .9) based on considerations other than the general reliability or unreliability of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion.

    When looking at a specific alleged fact or detail about the crucifixion of Jesus, the general reliability of the Gospel accounts plays a significant role in determining the probability of that alleged fact. However, there are other considerations that are also relevant:

    1. Consistency/Inconsistency between Gospel accounts on the point in question.

    2. Corroboration/Coherence between Gospel accounts on the point in question.

    3. Consistency/Inconsistency between Gospel account(s) and other historical sources on the point in question.

    4. Corroboration/Coherence between Gospel account(s) and other historical sources on the point in question.

    5. The intrinsic historical plausibility/implausibility of the point in question.

    6. Potential for motivated bias/distortion in the Gospel account(s) on the point in question.

    Considerations such as these can raise or lower the probability of a specific factual claim about the crucifixion of Jesus, so that the probability of such a claim might well be significantly higher or significantly lower than what it would be based solely upon the general historical reliability of the Gospel account(s).

    I suspect that even if we grant the assumption that Mark's account of the crucifixion is fairly reliable (say: correct 80% of the time on specific details) and somewhat lower reliability to Matthew and Luke (say: correct 70% of the time on the details) and an even lower reliability to the Fourth Gospel (say: correct 60% of time on specific details), a Christian apologist would still not be able to construct a strong argument for the death of Jesus, especially given the additional assumption that (JAW) was true.

    Part of the reason for my doubting that a strong case can be made for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, on Friday just prior to the first Easter Sunday, is that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are inconsistent with each other, fail to corroborate each other (on key points such as use of nails and spear wound to Jesus' side), and are simply too vague and sketchy on physical/medical details that would be needed to form a strong case. Furthermore, historical sources outside the Gospels have little to say about the crucifixion of Jesus, as we saw in PART 13.

    In conclusion, although the reliability or unreliability of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are an important factor in determining the probability of a specific factual claim about the crucifixion (thus the fact that the Gospel accounts are only somewhat reliable at best puts Christian apologists in a tight spot), other considerations are relevant and can significantly alter the probability of a specific factual point, either in favor of a skeptical viewpoint or in favor of a Christian viewpoint.


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