Seidensticker Folly #45: “Zombies” & Clueless Atheists

Seidensticker Folly #45: “Zombies” & Clueless Atheists August 29, 2020

Atheist Neil Carter Joins in on the Silliness and Tomfoolery as Well

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “Someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 41 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

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Bob and fellow atheist Neil Carter provide a delightfully humorous and classic example of a purported biblical contradiction where there is none. And they both could have avoided making fools of themselves by simply reading the next verse, (um, this is called context . . .) and (as a bonus) seeking a little bit more understanding about some of the techniques in Hebrew literature. Get some popcorn, sit back in your seats, and enjoy this one. and we’ll see who is being stupid and gullible in this instance: Christians or atheists.

Bob brought up the topic at hand in his article, “Six Christian Principles Used to Give the Bible a Pass” (5-6-20, but an update of an earlier version, dated 2-15-16):

For example, Paul says, “. . . the Messiah . . . the first to rise from the dead, . . .” (Acts 26:23). But this is contradicted by (1) the zombies that came out of their graves on the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:52), who were actually the first to rise from the dead, . . .

Really? Bob claims this event was “on the death of Jesus” but the text doesn’t claim that. The problem is that he neglected to take into consideration the next verse, which reads: “and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (RSV). Don’t believe the RSV? There are many more translations that state the same thing:

Young’s Literal Translation: “after his rising”

Weymouth: “after Christ’s resurrection”

KJV / Douay/Rheims / NRSV / NKJV / NASB / ESV / ASV: “after his resurrection”

NIV: “after Jesus’ resurrection”

Not content with this remarkable display of clueless exegesis, Bible-Basher Bob digs in with his article, “More of the Top 20 Most Damning Bible Contradictions (Part 5)” (4-15-19). This is particularly comical because here he cites the larger passage (Matthew 27:51-53), yet misses the phrase “after Jesus’ resurrection” in 27:53, and goes on his merry way, oblivious to his blind spot, mocking Christians and yet another so-called biblical contradiction in his section, “Jesus and the zombies”:

[W]hy would it have been astonishing, on Sunday morning, to find Jesus risen from the dead? Remember this incident [passage cited] . . . Here’s the chronology. Jesus died on Friday evening, and at that moment many worthy dead people came to life. Jesus resurrected . . . and then the newly undead people left their tombs to walk around Jerusalem. . . . 

[N]o one would be surprised by a risen Jesus once they’d seen the crowd of undead. What’s one more, particularly when he was the instigator of the process? Word of the remarkable sight of walking dead would’ve traveled quickly through Jerusalem.

When the women returned, breathless with the news of having seen Jesus (or just the empty tomb), the disciples could’ve replied that Jerusalem was crawling with zombies, so what’s one more?

There are several insuperable problems with this scenario. First, Bob contradicts himself. A little over three years earlier, he claimed that these raised bodies walked around Jerusalem “on the death of Jesus.” But in this article he places that event after Jesus’ resurrection. Which is it?

Secondly, he appears to posit the very odd and implausible scenario of these bodies coming to life at the “moment” of Jesus’ death. But of course the text never says that. The only time-frame it gives is sometime after Jesus’ resurrection. Nevertheless, Bob pulls this idea out of a hat and runs with it. But this means that these saints were lying in their graves, resurrected and conscious, from Friday till Sunday, at which time they decided to lose the claustrophobia and get out of their graves for some fresh air (and how they managed to breathe all that time is another mystery to solve, but I digress . . .).

The third silly thing is that Bob assumes (with no textual reason to do so) that these raised dead were already walking around Jerusalem before the women reported the risen Jesus. But this doesn’t follow and we simply don’t know whether their walking around “after” Jesus’ resurrection was before or after the women discovering the empty tomb. Both things occurred after the resurrection of Jesus, but we have no way of knowing which came first in time (after the resurrection, in relation to each other). But these logical facts and plausibility factors cause Bob no hesitation in wildly speculating about biblical “contradictions” all over the place. He’s having too much fun mocking to consider mere logic, self-consistency, and the English language and what its words mean, in context.

Bob then sends us via link to fellow atheist Neil Carter’s post, “The Greatest Story Never Told” (3-29-15): from which he “learned about this contradiction.” Neil also has a great deal of self-deluded fun with the issue:

Do you know how many people the Bible says were raised from the dead on Easter weekend? . . . when I ask them this question, the answer I usually get is: “It says only one person was raised from the dead:  Jesus.” But that’s not correct, . . . 

The Walking Dead

I have to point out to Christians, many of whom maintain that the Bible cannot be wrong, that in one place (and only one place) the Bible says that a whole bunch of people came out of their graves right after Jesus died on the afternoon of Good Friday and then walked around Jerusalem…a couple of days later.

Neil, too, cites Matthew 27:51-53, yet can’t grasp its meaning. He claims that they emerged from their burial spots on Good Friday right after Jesus’ death, whereas the text says, “coming out of the tombs after his resurrection” (27:53, RSV). That’s a direct contradiction. His take varies from Bob’s in that Bob (at least truer to the text) has them come alive and lay there in their tombs for many hours, whereas Neil (utterly ignoring the text) brings them out right away. Then they hang out till Sunday (doing what? Playing chess or hopscotch?) and decide after a referendum to show up in Jerusalem, so they can have more fun scaring people, as zombies.

It’s an extraordinary display of being unable to read a text. He continues:

This story is problematic for several reasons.

First of all, no other gospel writer says a word about a mass resurrection. This story is unique to Matthew’s gospel. If something this dramatic really happened, why did no other gospel writer say a word about it?

Maybe because Matthew already did, and so there was no obligatory need for anyone else to do so? If we assume that all four Gospels must contain all of the details that all the others contain, this would pose a problem, but of course, this assumption itself has no basis, so it’s a non-issue and non sequitur. If all the Gospels were exactly the same in the events they described, there would obviously be no need for all four in the first place.

Even the details of the story are really fuzzy. It says there was an earthquake when Jesus died. It was so big that “rocks split.” It’s unclear whether or not that was the cause of the graves opening, but what’s clear is that it says a bunch of people came back from the dead at that moment.

Actually it’s not clear if one understands one of the common techniques of Hebrew literature. more on that below.

How long had they been dead? Were they decomposed or had they been resurrected in fresh form?

Who cares? Why does that matter?

And how long did they hang around their graves before they came into town to circulate among the townspeople? All weekend? It says they were raised on Friday afternoon but curiously it says they didn’t go into town until after the resurrection. What did they do during all that time?

Here Neil stumbles into the criticism I already made above before I read this. But it’s not silly because of the text. It is because if what they seem to think is the only possible interpretation of the text. It’s not.

Think about how dramatically this would change the credibility of the resurrection of Jesus for everyone at the time. I mean, imagine you are poor doubting Thomas and you missed out on the initial appearance of the risen Jesus to the rest of the disciples behind closed doors. Would you really have had any trouble accepting that one more person had come out of his grave at that point?  Would it even have been news? The town was supposed to have just witnessed a whole bunch of people back from the dead! What’s one more person added to the mix?

This is the same unsupported assumption about chronology that I noted above. People often simply think illogically: including even atheists, who almost invariably think they are so vastly intellectually superior to us lowly Christians.This is one of the first things I learned in logic class in college: even some of the greatest minds can and have fallen into illogical, fallacious thinking.

The story of Easter weekend is a big deal—it’s central to the Christian message—and finding this random scene which never gets mentioned again is really a bit of an embarrassment.

Really? How? Lots of things are only mentioned once. The Annunciation to Mary, announcing the birth of Jesus, Who is God Incarnate was only in Luke, etc. There is very little in Scripture about original sin, which virtually all Christians believe. There is nothing at all about the canon of Scripture: which books belong to the Bible. That had to be declared by the [Catholic] Church and Christian tradition. This is a non-issue: as much as atheists like Neil would love to force-fit it into a “problem.” And of course, nothing in Scripture ever suggests that an event or doctrine must be mentioned more than once (or even at all, in the case of the canon) to be considered “important.” So where does Neil get off thinking that this is actually  a requirement? On what basis?

I think if most were willing to be honest, they’d have to admit that they’re not sure this story should really be in the Bible. It doesn’t belong. . . . nobody in his right mind can make a good case that this other part of the story makes any sense.

I don’t see how he can conclude this either, in terms of the framework of the bible and Christianity. It simply is an illustration that all believers are to be resurrected, as a result of the resurrection of Christ. It’s a straightforward application of what St. Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 15. I don’t see why any Christian should have any problem with it at all. We’re not atheists. we believe in miracles and the power of God. I think Neil just has a flair for the melodramatic and gets carried away . . .

But I’d like to submit a feature of Hebrew literature that can easily explain this passage in its chronological elements. I dealt with it in a previous refutation of Bob (#15). It’s called “compression” or “condensation” of events in a text:

In his book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP: 2nd edition, 2007, p. 216), Craig Blomberg took note of this and applied it to the Bible:

Perhaps the most perplexing differences between parallels occur when one Gospel writer has condensed the account of an event that took place in two or more stages into one concise paragraph that seems to describe the action taking place all at once. Yet this type of literary abridgment was quite common among ancient writers (cf. Lucian, How to Write History 56), so once again it is unfair to judge them by modern standards of precision that no-one in antiquity required. The two most noteworthy examples of this process among the Gospel parallels emerge in the stories of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter and cursing the fig tree.

F. Gerald Downing, in his volume, Doing Things with Words in the First Christian Century (Sheffield: 2000, pp. 121-122) observed that the Jewish historian Josephus (37-c. 100 AD) used the same technique:

Josephus is in fact noticeably concerned to ‘improve’ the flow of his narrative, either by removing all sorts of items that might seem to interrupt it, or else by reordering them. . . . Lucian, in the next century, would seem to indicate much the same attitude to avoidable interruptions, digressions, in a historical narrative, however vivid and interesting in themselves.

See much more about this in that earlier installment. It’s these sorts of “literary / cultural” things that atheists rarely ever understand or seek to understand, leading them to arrive at all sorts of mistaken and silly ideas about the Bible and theology. I would urge them for their own good not to “try this at home” and to leave it to the experts.

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Photo credit: Leonard J Matthews (5-20-15), Caboolture cemetery, Queensland [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]

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