Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 4

William Craig asserts that “Jesus rose from the dead”. In making this claim, Craig takes on a burden of proof. A crucial part of this burden is to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, since a person can rise from the dead ONLY IF they have previously died. Unfortunately, in most of his books, articles, and debates, Craig simply ignores this issue.

However in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (hereafter: TSR), Craig does make a brief attempt to prove that Jesus did actually die on the cross.

Craig’s case for the death of Jesus is made in a little more than just two pages of text, in five paragraphs, consisting in a grand total of 35 sentences. I have reviewed the first 24 sentences (about two-thirds of Craig’s case) and the results are as follows: Craig has made about 53 historical claims related to the crucifixion and alleged death of Jesus, but he has provided ZERO historical evidence to support the dozens of claims he has made. So, it looks like Craig’s case for the death of Jesus is a complete failure, and thus that his case for the resurrection is a complete failure as well.

There are 11 more sentences left to consider, so perhaps Craig can pull off a miracle of his own and prove the death of Jesus in just 11 sentences (but I’m not going to hold my breath over this). In today’s post, I will only examine the last two sentences of paragraph three.

These sentences assert several historical claims, and potentially they represent a complex logical structure, and this is also the one and only place in Craig’s case for the death of Jesus where he provides an End Note, citing a passage from a document as historical evidence for an important historical claim. I have a few things to say about this End Note and the evidence to which it points.

In the last two sentences of paragraph three, I believe that Craig asserts about seven historical claims:

It is interesting to note that because [claim 19]
it is difficult to determine just when the victim dies [claim 20],
the Romans, if they did not simply leave the body on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim with a lance. [claim 21]
The Roman executioners were aware that [claim 22]
death might be apparent [claim 23]
and [thus for that reason] [claim 24]
had a method of ensuring that the victim was really dead. [claim 25]

NOTE: The numbering of claims starts over with each paragraph, so “claim 25″ above is the 25th claim in paragraph three (not the 25th claim overall).

One could argue that the last sentence in this paragraph merely re-iterates in different words what was already asserted in the second-to-last sentence. This is a plausible interpretation, but there are some subtle differences between the claims made in the two sentences, and it seems to me that these various specific claims can be put together in a logical structure that is relevant to the question at issue, so I’m inclined to think that all (or most) of these claims should be taken as separate historical claims.

Here are the seven historical claims from the end of paragraph three, spelled out a bit more clearly:

19. Because it is difficult to determine just when the victim [of a crucifixion] dies, the Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.

Claim 19 is a causal historical claim that implies or presupposes two other historical claims:

20. It is difficult to determine just when the victim [of a crucifixion] dies.

21. The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.

22.The Roman executioners were aware that death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual].

23. Death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual].

24. Because the Roman executioners were aware that death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual], the Roman executioners had a method of ensuring that the victim [of a crucifixion] was really dead.

25. The Roman executioners had a method of ensuring that the victim [of a crucifixion] was really dead.

I can make use of all seven of the above claims in a logical structure that seems somewhat plausible:

Claim (20) does seem to be a reason supporting claim (23), and claim (23) does seem to provide support for claim (22). Claim (21) does provide a reason supporting claim (25). However, I don’t think the above analysis accurately captures the meaning of the last two sentences of paragraph three.

One problem is that a key inference in the reasoning, according to this proposed interpretation, is that claims (22) and (25) work together to support claim (24). Claim (24) is a causal or explanatory historical claim. While it is true that (24) presupposes the truth of claims (22) and (25), these two claims are merely necessary conditions for (24), and they don’t really provide a solid reason for believing (24) to be true. This inference would border on the post hoc fallacy.

For example:

(S) John was smoking in bed last night (in his own home).
(F) John’s house caught on fire and burned to the ground last night.
Therefore:
(C) John’s smoking in bed last night caused John’s house to catch on fire and burn to the ground.

Claim (C) does presuppose the truth of (S) and (F), but (S) and (F) provide only a very weak reason for believing (C). The truth of (S) and (F) merely show that it is a plausible or reasonable hypothesis that (C) correctly explains why John’s house burned to the ground last night. There are still many other possible explanations that ought to be considered and investigated (unless someone actually saw John’s burning cigarette ignite the bed sheets and the fire on the bed sheets ignite the curtains, etc.). We cannot immediately conclude that John caused the fire simply because smoking in bed is dangerous and could potentially lead to a fire.

I’m not inclined to accuse Craig of a post hoc fallacy at the end of paragraph three. Also, it seems to me that claim (21) is at the heart of the matter, and that the other claims play a much less vital role. I don’t think Craig cares much about WHY the Roman soldiers had various practices and techniques related to crucifixion. What he cares about is THAT they did have a specific method for ensuring that a victim of crucifixion was really dead.

So, I think a more charitable, and more plausible, interpretation of the last two sentences of paragraph three would be that Craig is mainly ASSERTING claim (21), and that the other claims merely serve to show that (21) is a plausible historical claim: it makes sense that the Romans would have a method to ensure the death of a victim of crucifixion, given that death could (in some cases) be merely apparent but not actual.

But showing that (21) is plausible is not the same as showing that (21) is true. The truth of (21) is supported by the one-and-only end note that Craig provides for his five-paragraph “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross:

Quintillian Declamationes maiores 6. 9.

I have a few comments and objections concerning this footnote and the historical evidence to which it points, and that will be the topic of my next post in this series.


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