Bayesian Jesus

Bayesian Jesus July 1, 2016

Bayesian Jesus

For those who may not get it, the meme above is poking fun at the fact that two apologists on the fringes of academia – Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig – have both attempted to introduce Bayesian reasoning to bring rigor to the subjects that interest them. In the one case, it supposedly proves that Jesus did not exist, while in the other, it supposedly proves that he rose from the dead.

The combination proves that Bayesian logic doesn’t eliminate the problem that its calculations are only as valid as the judgments that are incorporated into it. And both Craig and Carrier make judgments which are highly questionable.

The meme came to me via the Facebook page for an upcoming documentary about the quest for the historical Jesus, “Who Do They Say That I Am?” You can listen to the trailer here:

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  • Marcus Maher

    I haven’t bothered to read either of them. Are they just exploiting Bayes theorem or using full fledged Bayesian statistics? If it’s the latter then your assumptions that you bake in should be explicitly stated. That’s one of the big advantages of Bayesian statistics, it’s a responsible way of dealing with the fact that we all have (or should have) prior knowledge that guides our research. If they’re really using Bayesian statistics and are coming up with actual probabilities (which to me is crazy when dealing with ancient history) then it’s pretty standard to do a sensitivity analysis as well to make sure that your choice of priors isn’t overwhelming the data.

    I think Bayesian analysis is very difficult to do in ancient history because I think it’s impossible to separate priors (presumably previous scholarship and your own predispositions) from the data. They’re not independent which will lead to overconfident inference.

    • Well said. The valid use of Bayesian statistics in both cases is suspect to say the least.

  • John MacDonald

    Carrier’s and Craig’s “incompossible” presentations seem to come from the necessarily subjective and arbitrary assignment of probabilities to historical questions. Craig is a conservative fundamentalist, so he assigns probabilities in that light. Carrier is a mythicist, so he assigns probabilities in that light. We see something similar in Law when justices of the supreme court base their rulings on their liberal or conservative biases.

  • Alex Dalton

    James – Craig is not at all on the fringe of academia. He is a first rate philosopher, even if we disagree with his highly conservative views, or conclusions when he ventures into areas of NT history. His publication record and even the respect he gets from the atheist community within professional philosophy speaks for this – particularly in the area of Philosophy of time. There are plenty of philosophers who apply Bayes Theorem to historical issues, and actually specialize in probability calculus. Using Bayes Theorem to address historical issues does not put someone on the fringe. Carrier is way outside his field, as he is on most matters he addresses, and has been hammered by both philosophers and cosmologists for how he misunderstands and misapplies Bayes Theorem, and that is a different matter altogether.

    • John MacDonald

      Historians deal in probabilities. Craig argues that we can conclude from the historical evidence that it is “probable” that miracles have taken place (the resurrection). Now, miracles are the most wildly “improbable” thing you can imagine. So Craig basically argues it is “probable” that miracles have happened, while at the same time being blind to the fact that reasoning to miracles is excluded from the historical-critical method by definition. Robert Eisenman is also qualified in the field he writes about, but that doesn’t mean his theories about the Dead Sea Scrolls are in any way credible.

      • Alex Dalton

        Craig is a philosopher, not a historian, and his arguments to the effect that miracles are probable are not bound by historical-critical method. Philosophy can address the matter of whether or not there is evidence for or against the existence of God. That’s what Craig has spent most of his career doing, and, whether or not we agree with his positive conclusions on that matter, as a philosopher, he can make arguments to the effect that miracles are probable given his conclusions re: the background evidence for God’s existence. All of this is outside the bounds of the historical-critical method, which operates under a metaphysically neutral methodological naturalism, but none of this is outside the bounds of philosophy.

        • John MacDonald

          Craig does indeed use the historical-critical method in his own way, arguing what he sees as the historical bedrock (e.g., the empty tomb, the post mortem appearances people were reporting to have had of Jesus) as being best explained by the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is far removed from an analytic of concepts that one might find, for instance, in the ontological argument.

          • Alex Dalton

            Right, the burial, empty tomb, and sightings of the risen Jesus are the “historical” datum that he builds the argument from. It doesn’t make an argument any less philosophical if some of the premises happen to be ones a historian would accept. This is probably the most effective way to argue towards philosophical conclusions when arguing with an actual NT historian, which is often the case in his debates. The argument itself is a philosophical one though, that takes into account the background evidence for the existence of God, which Craig assesses positively. Indeed, in his debates about Theism, he uses the argument from the resurrection as an argument *to* the existence of God.

            Here’s another way to look at it. If you’re interested in the question of whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead, you may refer to historical facts, for instance the historical fact that there was a man named Jesus, but as a historian, under your definition of doing history as bound by the methodological naturalism of the historical-critical method, no actual historian would be able to ask or answer the question. A philosopher is actually the only person who could do so credibly, as the second you ask the question, you are basically doing philosophy, dealing with background issues related to metaphysics (e.g., the existence of God, possibility of miracles, etc.) Craig indeed addresses all of those issues in his body of work.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said above, it is silly to try to argue from a set of accepted historical facts to the inference that a miracle has happened, because, as Carrier points out, the standard of evidence to support the “miracle inference” would have to be ridiculously high. For instance, if I told you I have a job, you would not require a great deal of evidence because lots of people have jobs. On the other hand, if I told you I have an interstellar vehicle, you would need extensive and convincing evidence of my claim (you would probably have to see the vehicle and watch it work). On the other hand, wildly extraordinary claims like The New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead would require massive amounts of convincing evidence (which we don’t have). The only evidence we have is miracle stories in the New Testament. As Carrier also says, just as we have no reason to believe the miracle stories in the writings of a competent ancient historian like Herodotus, we have absolutely no ground to believe the miracle claim of the resurrection of Jesus presented in The New Testament. This is why Craig’s argument is foolish. It doesn’t lend any weight to Craig’s argument to call it “philosophical.”

          • Alex Dalton

            Again, as Craig argues, the probability of whether or not a miracle is possible, particularly if that miracle is Jesus being raised from the dead by God, is going to be relative to the probability of God existing in the first place. If God exists, particularly if the evidence for God is strong, the probability for the occurrence of a miracle will not be so low. Particularly if your case for God is cumulative, and can establish things like “God created the Universe”, “God fine-tuned the Universe for life”, “God is the source of objective morality”, etc. – all of these would be miracles that have already occurred within history, and these are the areas where Craig makes his case in Natural Theology. So while I can totally understand the case being much harder to establish, if you come down on the side of atheism, its simply not the case for the theist, or Christian theist in particular. Jeff Lowder, a much more philosophically adept atheist, who has written on the resurrection, also employing the use of the historical-critical method but arguing ultimately to philosophical conclusions, makes the very point. The level of justification will depend on prior beliefs and conclusions in other areas.

            You also miss the point of Craig’s reliance on the historical critical method for the earlier premises of the argument when you say “all we have are stories”. If the historical evidence is good for the burial, empty tomb, visions of the risen Jesus, etc., then it is not the stories, but the historical datum extracted from the stories that the case rests on. Calling the argument “philosophical” isn’t an attempt to lend it more weight, it is to explain to you why your argument to the effect that Craig is “out of bounds” methodoligically, due to the stipulations of the historical-critical method, are beside the point. I would also say that calling an argument “foolish”, especially on the grounds of the vacuous analogy with Herodotus that you gave, would probably be a better example of foolishness.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think you are making any sense at all, but I’ll bow out here and see if anyone else wants to weigh in.

          • Alex Dalton

            Well, I think the points I’ve made are pretty straightforward and easy to understand, so If there’s anything in particular you want me to clarify, I’d be happy to.

          • John MacDonald

            I meant “you’re not making any sense” in that you’re being completely unpersuasive. For instance, I brought up Carrier’s point that just as we have no reason to believe the miracles presented in the historical writings of Herodotus, we have no reason to believe the miracles presented in The New Testament. Instead of trying to refute this argument you simply said “I would also say that calling an argument ‘foolish’, especially on the grounds of the vacuous analogy with Herodotus that you gave, would probably be a better example of foolishness.” You can’t really expect anyone to take you seriously if you simply dismiss arguments without explanation.

          • Alex Dalton

            I think you’re stretching the semantic range of “you’re not making any sense” quite a bit here John. As for your statement concerning Herodotus you didn’t actually *make* an argument so there is nothing to refute. It is simply an analogy. Never mind the fact that you are shifting from your original argument about methodology which you seem to have abandoned, but that kind of statement about Herodotus is simply empty bluster. Has anyone ever attempted to argue for any specific miracle in Herodotus? Is there any reason to believe that the evidence for any miracle in Herodotus is on par with the evidence for the resurrection? More to the point, have you even read any of the miracle accounts in Herodotus? Or are you just repeating what Carrier says about Herodotus? One thing I’ve learned about Carrier, is you should always check any primary source he is citing on anything. His source work is very sloppy, and that’s what makes responding to him so tedious. You basically need to rifle through his footnotes and read all of the works he apparently hasn’t read carefully.

          • One needn’t reference Carrier to know that there is no more reason to credit biblical miracle stories with any more credibility than miracle stories found in any other sources.

            There are many who have pointed this out. One of my favorites is Matthew Ferguson in his discussion of the “miracles of Vespasian”:

            https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

          • Alex Dalton

            I actually like Matthew Ferguson’s work, and I’ll have more to say on this article later. It doesn’t turn John’s analogy into an argument though, and it doesn’t make the point you want it to make.

          • Actually, it does.

            Ferguson shows that there is better literary evidence for Vespasian’s miracle of healing than for Jesus resurrection, but that in both cases, “the ancient texts that report the miracle are not strong enough to offset its low prior probability”.

          • Alex Dalton

            I read through the section on Vespasian. I like that paper as a whole and I think it makes some very good points about ancient history. I’m not as impressed by the section on Vespasian. He pushes the date of the healing back simply because one NT scholar thinks Mark is alluding to the healing. A possible allusion is not really a solid reference point to ante-date a reference to that miracle at all. Indeed, Josephus fails to recount this miracle, which hurts Eve’s hypothesis that it was widely known among the Jews and seen as legitimating Vespasian’s divine sanction to rule or competing with messianic hopes of the time. Josephus is his court historian and himself wanted to legitimate Vespasian’s divine claim to the throne.The other problem with that particular miracle of Vespasian is that I’m not sure it even qualifies as a miracle according to Matt’s definition. In Tacitus’ account, a group of physicians investigated the man prior to the healing, concluding he was not entirely blind, and this apparently gives Vespasian the confidence boost he needs to proceed. Doesn’t seem too hard to conjure a naturalistic explanation for what is going on here, especially given all of the political motivations that would be behind staging such an event, or fabricating it.

            Regardless though, here is my overall point regarding other ancient miracle claims. They don’t really affect much regarding the argument for the resurrection for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong here) the Christian apologist is *not* making the claim that Jesus’ resurrection is the best attested ancient or modern miracle. I personally think there are plenty of modern miracle claims that are more well attested than the resurrection. Just about any member of the Christian charismatic movement for instance, that believes they have witnessed or experienced modern day miracles first-hand, would obviously be in a better epistemic position with regards to those miracles. Secondly, accepting a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts would actually put the apologist in a better position evidentially, raising the background evidence/prior probability for the resurrection. So I just think, overall, its a bit of a red herring from the skeptic, unless its just being used to point out the hypocrisy of a particular type of Christian who refuses to accept pagan miracle accounts for instance. Both the OT and the NT attest to pagans who have supernatural abilities and/or knowledge.

          • Eve’s argument about Mark is not the only reason Ferguson pushes the date back; and the date is not critical to his argument. He is more generally demonstrating that scholars of both miracles can “push the date back” by making guesses about the sources of the extant writer. Whether, Eve’s hypothesis is correct or not, Tacitus himself states: “Both facts [the curing of the blind man and the crippled man] are told by eye-witnesses even now when falsehood brings no reward.”

            “Doesn’t seem too hard to conjure a naturalistic explanation for what is going on here”, Ferguson would probably agree, and continue that the same could be said of Jesus’ corpse coming to life.

            Actually, apologists frequently make the claim that the “resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best attested event of the ancient world.” (Lee Strobel in this quotation. You are absolutely right that the resurrection is not well attested. There is better attestation that young girls danced with the devil in colonial Salem.

            Hmmm, “accepting a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts” might put the apologist in a better evidential position in their own rich and varied imagination, but not in the minds of anyone else.

          • John MacDonald

            Beau said: “Hmmm, ‘accepting a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts’ might put the apologist in a better evidential position in their own rich and varied imagination, but not in the minds of anyone else.”

            (1) Atheist: the ancient world was a superstitious and gullible place, so there is no more reason to believe the reported Christian miracles than to believe any other reported miracles in the ancient world that no one today believes happened.

            (2) Apologist: No, all the miracle reports, Christian and Pagan, they were ALL true!

            At some point desperation born out of a ludicrous position will latch on to any argument in order to not be inconsistent. It’s like the apologists of the 19th century arguing that God put the dinosaur bones in the earth, even though dinosaurs had never lived.

          • Alex Dalton

            John wrote “(2) Apologist: No, all the miracle reports, Christian and Pagan, they were ALL true!”

            Unfortunately no one actually said this, John, so this is just a misleading caricature.

          • John MacDonald

            Alex said: “Secondly, accepting a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts would actually put the apologist in a better position evidentially, raising the background evidence/prior probability for the resurrection. So I just think, overall, its a bit of a red herring from the skeptic, unless its just being used to point out the hypocrisy of a particular type of Christian who refuses to accept pagan miracle accounts for instance. Both the OT and the NT attest to pagans who have supernatural abilities and/or knowledge.”

          • Alex Dalton

            John – do you understand how “accepting a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts” does not equate to accepting all miracle reports? Accepting a wide variety could mean simply the best evidenced miracle accounts of antiquity regardless of whether they are Christian or pagan. You went on to give a caricature that had nothing to do with what I said. You are just making my point by quoting me. Next time, maybe you can simply quote me, and respond to what I actually said, rather than rewrite what I said as an inaccurate caricature.

          • John MacDonald

            Only a bizarre, uncritical worldview would lead one to accept a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts.

          • Alex Dalton

            “Only a bizarre, uncritical worldview would lead one to accept a wide variety of ancient miracle accounts.”

            This is really another red herring. You’re misrepresenting what I said is the issue at hand.

          • John MacDonald

            Can you give one example of a “persuasive” ancient pagan miracle claim? One that is not from the bible?

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – please provide the citation for the statement you attribute to Lee Strobel. I’d like to see that gaff for myself.

            And you don’t really address my “overall point”, which you basically respond to with “it ain’t so”. But I will build on what you say actually. That a Christian can be justified in accepting the evidence for a resurrection depending on his her her background beliefs, just as the atheist can be justified in rejecting it, is actually a point Lowder has made in the past, and I actually agree with him there. So in that regard, being in a better evidential position in one’s own mind, is perfectly fine by me. That’s really the best we can ever really attain anyway IMO – a subjective assessment of the evidence relative to our experience and present knowledge.

          • Your overall point sounds more reasonable than the contention of Craig, Licona, and Habermas that their assessment of the literary evidence could be construed as “minimal facts”.

          • By the way, Alex, the video in which Strobel called the resurrection the “best attested event of the ancient world” has now been removed from circulation (perhaps someone told him it was a gaffe) – but as you can see from the source below, it hasn’t stopped people from quoting him on it:

            http://www.v2load.com/videos/4LFrocL3U8c/

          • Alex Dalton

            Ok – well, its a really ridiculous thing to say. Pretty much disqualifies you from being taken seriously on anything you say regarding history from that point forward.

          • Maybe that’s why it was deleted.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: “Eve’s argument about Mark is not the only reason Ferguson pushes the date back”

            What other argument does he give? I missed it.

          • I’m sorry you missed it. You should reread the article.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – I wasn’t being sarcastic. I did reread it and I don’t see any other arguments he gives for an early date, other than a poor argument by Eric Eve for a possible allusion in a text (whose date we also aren’t sure of). I like Matt’s work in general, but this is not convincing. It seems to me there are no other reasons in there for the early date, but if you found them, I’m asking you to share.

          • Well, the dating of the Tacitus account is only a small point in Matthew’s entire argument. But part of the reason for bringing in Eve’s argument is to show that there is no better argument for pushing back the date of the “creed” in 1 Corinthians.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau, you continue to avoid my question. Your response to my discussion of Eve’s “possible allusion” argument concerning Mark, and Ferguson’s relying on that to ante-date Vespasian’s healing, was to say “Eve’s argument about Mark is not the only reason Ferguson pushes the date back.”

            You made this statement and I asked you what other reasons does Ferguson give to push the date back, because I do not see any other ones in that article. Apparently you do, but you are not producing them. Have you misread Ferguson here? Why are you not forthcoming with the other reason(s)?

          • Sorry, Alex, I’m certainly not trying to avoid your question. Ferguson points out that the independent reporting of the Vespasian miracle by Tacitus and other historians, demonstrates that both rely on earlier sources. Again it’s only a small point in a much larger argument.

          • John MacDonald

            So in other words, as I said, you have no counterargument to the analogy I made. Instead of trying to defend yourself, you just prattle on about nothing.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier is perfectly reliable for the use I am making of him here. Carrier writes:

            “Fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 B.C. Herodotus the Halicarnassian asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years, and then wrote a book about it. Though he often shows a critical and skeptical mind, sometimes naming his sources or even questioning their reliability when he has suspicious or conflicting accounts, he nevertheless reports without a hint of doubt that the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightning bolts, and collapsing cliffs; the sacred olive tree of Athens, though burned by the Persians, grew a new shoot an arm’s length in a single day; a miraculous flood-tide wiped out an entire Persian contingent after they desecrated an image of Poseidon; a horse gave birth to a rabbit; and a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish! (Carrier, “Why The Resurrection is Unbelievable,” in “The Christian Delusion” pp. 291-92).”

            As Carrier says, just as we have no reason to believe in the miracles presented in the historical works of the historian Herodotus, we have no reason to believe the miracles presented in The New Testament.

          • Alex Dalton

            John – you claim Carrier is perfectly reliable in his reference to these miracles in Herodotus. I assume that means you have fact-checked him rather than just blindly believing he is accurate (very dangerous with Carrier as I’ve said). If so, please share the actual detailed citations of Herodotus on these miracles (not Carrier). I have my copy of Herodotus at hand and first we will fact-check Carrier who you say is accurate, then if accurate, we’ll discuss how significant these matters are to the resurrection.

          • John MacDonald

            My argument, following John Loftus’ outsider test of faith, is that just as we would not believe pagan miracle reports from antiquity, there is no reason to believe Christian ones. One of the examples of these pagan reports that Carrier cites is the miraculous growth of the sacred Olive tree that had been burnt. Herodotus reports that:

            “and the reason why I made mention of this I will here declare:–there is in this Acropolis a temple of Erechtheus, who is said to have been born of the Earth, and in this there is an olive-tree and a sea, which (according to the story told by the Athenians) Poseidon and Athene, when they contended for the land, set as witnesses of themselves. Now it happened to this olive-tree to be set on fire with the rest of the temple by the Barbarians; and on the next day after the conflagration those of the Athenians who were commanded by the king to offer sacrifice, saw when they had gone up to the temple that a shoot had run up from the stock of the tree about a cubit in length. These then made report of this. (Book 8:55)”

            I think this is the passage Carrier has in mind.

          • Alex Dalton

            Ok, so you “think” this is the passage Carrier has in mind. Are you telling me that Carrier doesn’t actually give the specific citations of Herodotus in the work you provided the quotation from?

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t have Carrier’s book anymore so I can’t check (I donate my books to Goodwill after I am done with them). The quote I gave from Carrier was from the internet. But this really doesn’t matter. I gave you a direct quote from Herodotus about his report of a miraculous event that happened, one no one would believe today because we understand miracles don’t happen and the ancients were just superstitious and gullible to believe in them. And as Beau said, we don’t have to fixate on Carrier because writing in antiquity is full of miracle stories (like in the biography of Apollonius of Tyana) that we don’t believe ever happened. The fact is that people bring a sober, critical eye to most of the events reported in antiquity, and then suspend common sense when it comes to Christianity, accepting the outlandish miracle stories in the latter without protest. My argument, which you have refused to address even though I have made it repeatedly, is that we have no more reason to accept the miracle story of Jesus’ resurrection than we do any other miracle story from antiquity.

          • Don’t worry about it. Alex likes to lay down citation “challenges” that are ridiculous to answer in blog comments.

            Even so, I just posted an answer to his “challenge” to show him that the journals NTS and JSNT publish articles on theology. I guess he didn’t think I could look it up – I listed 20 articles from each for him. Only the first 20 from search queries that yielded thousands!

            But I doubt this will shut down his penchant for issuing “challenges”.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – do you get offended in some way when someone challenges you to justify claims you’ve made? I would think that would be something you’d be more than glad to do as a skeptic. That’s part of critical thinking is it not? Justifying the claims you make? It shouldn’t really be seen as much of a challenge. I think its just the leg-work we have to do when we make a claim publicly. It should be evidenced in some way if that is requested.

          • Oh I’m not offended. But I do think that the language of “challenge” in the context of blog comments is silly. How about a simple question: I don’t think these journals are theological; do you know of any examples to the contrary?

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote “But I doubt this will shut down his penchant for issuing “challenges”

            It definitely will not. After seeing how you responded to my initial challenge, and then how you responded to how James pointed out your failure to actually meet the terms of the challenge, I have had to challenge you again on your reading comprehension.

          • What’s interesting to me is that you only seem to be concerned about parsing out “some” and “vast majority” in my exchange with James …

            …. when the more salient point is that I answered your “challenge” to show you “where they publish articles that are theological”.

            So now I’ve answered both your challenges.

          • Alex Dalton

            John, you speak of gullibility, but then you refer to Richard Carrier as “perfectly reliable” when citing an ancient source you have not checked the citations yourself on? How can you say someone his perfectly reliable when you haven’t even checked the citations and thus don’t know how accurately they are using them! You seem to suspend critical thinking when it comes to the authors of your choosing. Carrier has a track record of misrepresenting sources. McGrath has pointed this out himself, and so have others. For anyone to say he’s perfectly reliable and then not have checked the source work given his track record, is perfectly gullible.

            Sorry, your citation from Herodotus is nowhere near on par with the evidence for the resurrection. We don’t know if he’s reporting something people hold to as a myth, or if it was literally believed, who believed it, how many believed it, when they believed it, if it was just a mistaken observation, etc. See Ferguson’s article that Beau linked to on Vespasian’s miracles where at least Ferguson shows how Vespasian’s are much more on par evidentially with the resurrection evidence, according to actual criteria of history. You are just throwing spaghetti at the wall with this Herodotus nonsense. Quote Ferguson over Carrier when you make this argument. You’re on much better grounds:

            https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

            Now here’s why the whole argument fails. As has been said many times in this thread, the probability of an event is always conditioned upon the background knowledge, and of course a theist and an atheist are bringing different background knowledge (meaning they will disagree one what the background knowledge is), to any assessment of a miraculous claim. So when you try to argue *against* the probability of the resurrection with a Christian, *IF* you are actually expecting your argument to have import for the degree of justification the Christian themselves has in accepting the resurrection, that is basically aiding their argument. You are simply showing them an equal or higher probability of another ancient miracle claim. The Christian who is accepting the resurrection on evidential grounds, already feels the evidence for the resurrection is good enough to warrant the ascent of belief. Showing them another equally or better attested miracle would do nothing to lower the probability of the resurrection, and only increase their background knowledge relative to the possibility and probability of miracles occurring. It may seem like a good rhetorical move, but it really doesn’t harm the resurrection argument logically at all.

            OF COURSE, you’re going to come back and say “well that’s just stupid. All miracles have poor evidence.” etc. etc. We already know you don’t accept evidence for miracles. And we already know the Christian does. So just repeating that mantra doesn’t really get us anywhere. I’m just showing you why your point about other miracles doesn’t strengthen your case.

            In fact, your worldview actually entails that you cannot accept any evidence for a miraculous claim. You cannot even consider it. Perhaps I’m wrong but I would wager to say there is no amount of evidence on your worldview that would ever be strong enough to justify a claim to the miraculous. So in even entering these arguments, if you are claiming to be able to openly assess the evidence, you’re misleading others from the start. Maybe I’m wrong, but do you accept that miracles are even possible? If so, what is the standard of evidence that could convince you of a miracle? I’d be interested to hear that.

          • John MacDonald

            Alex said: “Sorry, your citation from Herodotus is nowhere near on par with the evidence for the resurrection.”

            What evidence for the resurrection? I wasn’t aware there was any.

          • Alex Dalton

            John wrote “What evidence for the resurrection? I wasn’t aware there was any.”

            See the Matt Ferguson article where he discusses this. But also, have you ever read an actual book arguing for the occurrence of the resurrection? If so, which book(s)?

          • John MacDonald

            Paul mentions nothing of the empty tomb, which you think he would have given his fascination with the crucifixion. In any case, maybe Jesus was buried in a unmarked tomb along with other prisoners that got the death penalty, and so no one knew where he was buried, or maybe someone stole the body as a prank. In any case, all we really have as evidence of the resurrection is the post mortem hallucinations of the disciples of Jesus recorded in the pre Pauline Corinthian creed. As Dr. McGrath pointed out elsewhere in this thread, we can have recourse to a perfectly natural explanation for the hallucinations/appearances. Dr. McGrath wrote:

            “The first person to have the kind of religious experience was Cephas, whose failure in relation to Jesus would naturally create precisely the kind of psychological state that leads to some sort of experience that would help him alleviate his guilt and find catharsis. Once one person has a powerful experience, they may in turn facilitate others doing likewise. One can offer a naturalistic account of how things unfolded without any need to deviate from the depiction in our earliest sources.”

            And so, since we have a situation that is easily understandable as natural, not miracle, we should choose to accept the naturalistic explanation. Choosing to believe in a miracle here would be analogous with blaming invisible leprechauns because you can’ find you car keys.

            As I said above, it is silly to try to argue from a set of accepted historical facts to the inference that a miracle has happened, because, as Carrier points out, the standard of evidence to support the “miracle inference” would have to be ridiculously high. For instance, if I told you I have a job, you would not require a great deal of evidence because lots of people have jobs. On the other hand, if I told you I have an interstellar vehicle, you would need extensive and convincing evidence of my claim (you would probably have to see the vehicle and watch it work). On the other hand, wildly extraordinary claims like The New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead would require massive amounts of convincing evidence (which we don’t have).

          • John MacDonald

            The point is, if you MISPLACE YOUR KEYS, you don’t (unless you’re insane) draw the conclusion “There may be a naturalistic explanation, but I think the most probable explanation is that the invisible leprechauns took my keys.” Similarly, if you MISPLACE A CORPSE (in this case Jesus), the reasonable direction to go is not to conclude that a miracle happened, but rather that there was some naturalistic explanation (eg. someone stole the corpse as a prank, etc.)

          • Alex Dalton

            John wrote: And so, since we have a situation that is easily understandable as natural, not miracle, we should choose to accept the naturalistic explanation. Choosing to believe in a miracle here would be analogous with blaming invisible leprechauns because you can’ find you car keys.

            John, we can get into the details of the resurrection argument, and you and I will just disagree ad nauseum around those things. I’ve studied bereavement hallucinations extensively actually, and I actually have my own theories on how these correlate with what happened at the resurrection, but I think there are deeper philosophiacl points that are less tedious and more easily encompassed on a blog like this, and also bring into focus the areas where we actually have sharper disagreement rather than pushing me into a place where I’m arguing against your refutations of an argument I don’t even back.

            For instance, you wrote: “since we have a situation that is easily understandable as natural, not miracle, we should choose to accept the naturalistic explanation.”

            This I think is one of the key areas where I don’t think your position really lends itself to an actual consideration of the evidence. As I charged you above, I think “your worldview actually entails that you cannot accept any evidence for a miraculous claim.”

            So let me ask you very directly – can you allow for the possibility of a miracle? Can you give me one example of anything that could possibly occur, at any time in the history of the universe, even in your own personal experience, that could count as evidence for something miraculous?

            I’ll hint at where I’m going with this. Basically, there is nothing that you can’t give a naturalistic explanation for, so your criteria of always preferring naturalistic explanations rules all miraculous claims out from the start, and I will demonstrate this as we move forward.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m a tentative agnostic, so I haven’t, as of yet, encountered evidence that would tip the scales in favor of theism or atheism.

            In terms of miracles, as I said, I would have to see powerful, compelling evidence that a miracle has taken place.

            As I said above, following Carrier, if I told you I have a job, you would not require a great deal of evidence because lots of people have jobs. On the other hand, if I told you I have an interstellar vehicle, you would need extensive and convincing evidence of my claim in order to believe me (you would probably have to see the vehicle and watch it work). On the other hand, wildly extraordinary claims like The New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead would require massive amounts of convincing evidence (which we don’t have).

            This has nothing to do with the ontological question of whether a miracle has actually happened, but rather the epistemological question of whether we are justified in “believing” that a miracle has happened.

            And we don’t have powerful, compelling evidence for a miracle if the miracle could just as easily be explained by a purely materialistic, natural explanation.

          • Alex Dalton

            John, you wrote: “In terms of miracles, as I said, I would have to see powerful, compelling evidence that a miracle has taken place.”

            So what exactly would that look like? Give me an example of something that you would *hypothetically* attribute to the miraculous and we will see if your epistemological criterion of “easily explained by a purely materialistic natural explanation” works.

          • John MacDonald

            For instance, if I crapped out a square circle, that suddenly morphed into a married bachelor, I would be convinced of the supernatural. lol

          • Alex Dalton

            John wrote: ” if I crapped out a square circle, that suddenly morphed into a married bachelor”

            This is a really poor example, not just because it sounds strange. You are saying you would only accept evidence that is logically impossible. This is equivalent to ruling out the consideration of the miraculous a priori, and really an avoidance of the question.

            For the sake of argument, let’s say we take it seriously as your criterion of evidence, it would also not be adequate to demonstrate the supernatural. It simply does not follow from the premise “the laws of logic do not hold”, that anything supernatural exists. By your own criterion of preferring a naturalistic explanation, if one is at hand, one could simply hold *naturalistically* that the laws of logic are incorrect, that you have a severe mental disorder, are hallucinating, are in a particular universe within the infinitely exhaustive Multiverse where the laws of logic vary randomly (some have actually posited this for the Multiverse), etc. These are all fairly straightforward naturalistic explanations, and by your own criterion, we should prefer those.

            So again, please try to show me what would count as evidence for the supernatural, according to your own criterion. And specifically, what would count as evidence for God?

          • John MacDonald

            Here’s a question for you: If someone calling themself Satan suddenly appeared to you and began performing all kinds of wonders and demanded your obedience, would you figure that the miraculous had taken place, or would it be more reasonable to suppose that it might it just be an advanced crew of aliens in a cloaked ship is playing a deception, like in the 1991 Star Trek The Next Generation episode “Devil’s Due?” Here’s a clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ofYRHe1cFM

          • Alex Dalton

            John – why is it that you won’t tell me what evidence would convince you that God exists?

            On your question with regards to Satan vs. aliens, it really depends on the nature of the event I suppose. I probably would take it at face value unless I had some alternative reason to suspect foul play on the part of extra-terrestrials. The reason being that super advanced alien deception is an ad hoc hypothesis – a catch-all that could account for anything naturalistic or supernatural.

          • John MacDonald

            There are lots of things that would convince me. For instance, if my dead Grandmother, who I watched die ten years ago and buried, would, when I was visiting her grave with my family, rose out of the grave alive and took a selfie with us (so I knew we weren’t hallucinating), this would probably convince me of the supernatural.

          • Interesting that Craig’s “historical critical method” approach to the resurrection has gained no traction in academic peer review after over a decade. It is only repeated ad nauseum in apologetic literature.

            The problem, of course, is that the historical evidence is not good for the empty tomb (as Jeff Lowder, among others, has already shown). And the very slight historical evidence for the “visions” does not imply what Craig likes to insist it implies.

            Yet despite the failures of his argument that have been demonstrated repeatedly, Craig still calls such evidence as the “empty tomb” ,”minimal facts” to his apologetic audience. Such apologetics masquerading as scholarship, bespeak Craig’s dishonesty.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – there are plenty of academic dissertations, peer reviewed books, and journal articles that cite Craig’s work on the resurrection in both philosophy and New Testament studies. In fact, Craig’s books in which he debates the resurrection with both world-renowned historians and philosophers are just about the most exposure, and the most critique and peer review you could ever hope to have for such an argument – well beyond anything the peer review process for journals involves. There are also plenty of academics that make arguments that are along very similar lines. You just are going to see these citations and similar arguments obviously in more conservative circles, as to accept these arguments sort of makes that a necessity. It is quite a conservative position to argue for such things philosophically. I would wager that even most Christians object to the arguments on *theological* grounds as I myself do.

            My initial response was really just regarding the category error made in assuming a philosopher had to abide by the methodology of the historical-critical guild, it wasn’t to defend Craig’s historical datum, or his philosophical argument. I myself do think the evidence for the burial, empty tomb, and visions is solid, but I have my own preferred arguments, and I think Lowder’s work is insufficient in rebutting the historical evidence, and shows a lack of familiarity with the historical evidence, though he does show that Craig overstates his case in areas. To attribute Craig’s lack of acceptance of papers like Lowder’s to some sort of dishonesty is probably closer to *actual* dishonesty. I like Lowder though, and I respect him and have interacted with him a bit in the past, and Lowder respects Craig and would never accuse him of dishonesty. All of the snark and slander really is just unnecessary and unfounded.

          • Alex, what obscure portion of Craig’s “work on the resurrection” has been published in peer review? Or are you really referring to works of apologetics? Did he happen, in such professional venues, to call the empty tomb a “fact” as he does in his own popular apologetic books?

            And no, Alex, popular books and debates are not equivalent to “peer review” by any stretch of the imagination, regardless of Craig’s constant habit of misrepresenting his opponents in such settings. What other academics make arguments along similar lines – Habermas, Licona, and others who spread the minimal facts dishonesty in popular apologetic books?

            The point that James is making in this blog is completely legitimate. To the extent that William Lane Craig engages in apologetics masquerading as scholarship, he completely misrepresents what is even possible in the field of history.

            Craig is not dishonest because he doesn’t accept papers. Craig is dishonest because he habitually misrepresents his opponents.

            I am perfectly willing to say that we cannot know with any degree of certainty whether a tomb for Jesus existed, and whether, if it did exist, it was at any time “empty”. There isn’t nearly enough evidence to derive any sort of certainty regarding the state of the tomb of Jesus.

            Forgive me, but your notion that the “case” for the emptiness of a tomb 2000 years ago, especially with the scant and sketchy sources for such a tale, is “solid”, gives me little confidence in your understanding of historical methodology.

            incidentally, if you truly find “snark” offensive (it’s never bothered me particularly), you have a poor memory of Craig’s debates. He engages in “snark” ubiquitously.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – first you say his work has “gained no traction in peer review.” I disputed this based on citations and now it has shifted to asking which “obscure portion” of his work on teh resurrection has been published in peer review. Google his CV yourself. He has published several articles on the empty tomb in New Testament Studies, and one on the appearance accounts in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, both of which are peer-reviewed periodicals and much more respected journal for NT research than anything Richard Carrier or Jeff Lowder have published their work in, on any aspect of the resurrection. He’s also published on the res. in peer-reviewed theological journals like Modern Theology, Kerygma und Dogma, Expository Times and philosophcial/theological journals like The Heythrop journal, interacting with heavyweights like Pannenberg, Byron McCane on the burial of Jesus, and John P. Meier respectively. Further, Edwin Mellen is an academic press that also peer-reviewed and published his major monograph on the argument for the historicity of the resurrection in their “Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity” series. As far as respect, credentials, academic accomplishments, publications, etc., Craig far outshines Lowder, Carrier, and James McGrath as well. He is a much more accomplished scholar in his respective field than any of these three.

            Like I said though, peer-review, though skeptics love to harp on this, is really not all that big of a deal compared to the forums Craig has been engaged in. I think its a necessity but a paper will usually simply pass through 2 reviewers that the editor sends it off to, who look for major inaccuracies or flaws. If rejected, papers quite often get shopped around at different journals and subsequently accepted. The debate formats that Craig has engaged in, to the contrary, are with leading scholars in the relevant fields, which are then critiqued, in detail, by other leading scholars in those fields, far beyond any notations from a couple anonymous reviewers, and Craig and opponent then engage those criticisms directly. This is more of a scholarly activity than anything that occurs when a scholar simply passes the bar to get a paper published in a journal.

            All your stuff about “apologetics masking as scholarship” is just bluster. Lowder is doing counter-apologetics, as is Carrier, and this doesn’t make their work any less scholarly. Craig is unashamedly an apologist for the Christian faith. There are also atheist historians who are unashamedly counter-apologists doing very interesting work right now. Have you actually read Licona’s work on the resurrection?

            Please show me how Craig is dishonest by habitually misrepresenting his opponents. Forgive me for not sharing your opinion on the empty tomb; we’ll have to just disagree there. I’ve read the major works on the subject and I’m not too concerned about your confidence in my understanding of historical methodology. My favorite work on the evidence for the empty tomb comes from Dale Allison. Its quite even-handed and thorough. And yours?

          • Actually, Alex you had provided no citations whatsoever before this comment. Now I see your confusion. These are theological journals. Craig’s “historicity” arguments would never hold water in a history publication. His standards of evidence are ridiculously low.

            Alex, all academics in any field “harp on” peer review – not just “skeptics”. Peer review, citation, and the gradual consensus of acceptance in a given field is the measure of this process. Not popular readership or debate circuits.

            Actually, I have read Licona’s laughable work on the resurrection. He makes the same predictable leaps of logic we’ve come to expect from most apologists – he even repeats the silly notion (as does Craig) that the apostles would not have martyred themselves for a false resurrection, completely ignoring the fact that there are no credible historical records of how or why any of the apostles died.

            Craig misrepresenting his opponents? I’ve seen it nearly every debate – he “rewords” his opponents arguments, and ignores it when his opponents call him on his misrepresentations. I’m not the only one who has noticed:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2012/07/documenting-william-lane-craigs-lies-about-his-opponents/

            https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/craig-misrepresentation-harris/

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgxUTJmcWsM

            Yes, far from finding Dale Allison convincing, his arguments are stretch of believability. The one I find most comical is idea that the empty tomb explains why early christians didn’t venerate Christ’s tomb. Because it was empty. Really? They wouldn’t venerate the site of the great miracle? There’s a simpler explanation – they didn’t know where it was.

            My favorite book on the empty tomb? James McGrath The Burial of Jesus.

          • Alex Dalton

            JSNT and NTS are not primarily theological; they are biblical studies. Have a look through the table of contents which are available online. See if you can find one article that looks theological in content. I pointed out which journals were biblical studies, which theological, and philosophical. This really isn’t a problem either as the resurrection is properly a topic of theology. Theology also encompasses the historical claims of Christianity – with both negative and positive critiques.

            You obviously have either not read Dale Allison on the empty tomb accounts, have VERY poor reading comprehension, are being dishonest in misrepresenting him, or have a poor memory. In any of these cases, to then go on and describe one of the premier historical Jesus scholars in the world today as having arguments that “are stretch of believability” is simply sloppy on your part. See his _Resurrecting Jesus_ , p. 313-314, where the idea you find “comical” – that lack of tomb veneration is evidence for the empty tomb – is actually repudiated and Allison HIMSELF finds this argument comical.

          • Yes most “biblical studies” journals tend to have theological ties. You won’t find other areas of historical study so intrinsically linked to a vast majority of scholars with religious bias. Hector Avalos has demonstrated this adeptly.

            I stand corrected on Dale Allison; my apologies, you’re right, I looked up where I remembered that bit of veneration logic – it’s from another apologist who graced the shelves of my old church library: james Dunn: The Evidence for Jesus. I’m glad to hear Allison dismisses it.

            So what of Allison? I certainly hope he has better evidence than Craig. You have mentioned what his arguments consist of.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – theological ties? That is extremely vague. I could say most *people* tend to have “theological ties” depending on how you define that term. So basically all you are doing is moving the goal posts. First it was peer-review. I show you plenty of peer-reviewed journals that really do NOT publish theological articles at all, and now its any “ties” now to theology, which obviously the STUDY of theological texts is going to have, is now instantly disqualifying anything Craig has published on the resurrection. Where exactly would you expect a topic as provincial as the resurrection of Jesus to be published in peer-review?

            As for Allison, read the book. You said you did read it. How this can be confused with Dunn’s apologetic tract “The Evidence for Jesus” is beyond me. Too entirely different kinds of work, with an entirely different scope.

          • Come again? You showed me “plenty” of peer reviewed journals that “do NOT publish theological articles at all”, in which articles proving the resurrection appear? Really?

            It’s beyond you how one could confuse which apologist wrote which particle defense of the resurrection? Really? I’ve told you I misattributed the veneration argument. Why would I lie to someone who had already told me he was familiar with Allison?

            Perhaps I will read Allison. Though how literary historical methodology could be used to determine the existence of 2000 year old tomb rather escapes me.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: “Come again? You showed me “plenty” of peer reviewed journals that “do NOT publish theological articles at all”, in which articles proving the resurrection appear? Really?”

            Again, your habit of distorting the words of others shows up. Nowhere do I say that any of these journals do articles “proving the resurrection appear”. These are simply peer-reviewed journals dedicated to biblical studies where Craig has published on aspects of his resurrection argument, particularly the empty tomb accounts. NTS and JSNT are not theological journals, and I challenged you to show me where they publish articles that are theological. I’m waiting. Further, please show me how the articles Craig has published in those journals are actually theological. Your “theology” issue was really just another attempt to shift the goal posts.

            Notice how you also evade my question. I’ll ask again: Where exactly would you expect a topic as provincial as the resurrection of Jesus to be published in peer-review?

            As for your confusion on Dunn’s work vs. Allison’s, it still persists. Allison’s is not an apologetic work at all, and he argues against apologists in it, as much as he argues with skeptics. Its quite a balanced treatment. Allison is more of a neutral position on the matter, but very detailed in his critiques.

          • Alex

            In answer to your silly challenge:

            “NTS and JSNT are not theological journals, and I challenged you to show me where they publish articles that are theological. I’m waiting.”

            Either you are truly ignorant and misguided about the content of these journals, or you know better and hope that I don’t have the library access and resources to prove you wrong. For both NTS and JSNT, here are only the first 20 articles in each journal that I found in a search query on theology that yielded thousands of returns:

            (Now don’t expect me to waste my time doing this sort of homework on every ignorant “challenge” you spout).

            New Testament Studies

            The Problem of a New Testament Theology
            Ernst Käsemann
            New Testament Studies / Volume 19 / Issue 03 / April 1973, pp 235 – 245

            Israel’s Enemies in Pauline Theology
            Lloyd Gaston
            New Testament Studies / Volume 28 / Issue 03 / July 1982, pp 400 – 423

            Paul’s Theology: Consistent or Inconsistent?
            J. C. Beker
            New Testament Studies / Volume 34 / Issue 03 / July 1988, pp 364 – 377

            Der Theologe als Prophet
            Helmut Merklein
            New Testament Studies / Volume 38 / Issue 03 / July 1992, pp 402 – 429

            Pauline Theology in the Letter to the Colossians
            Eduard Lohse
            New Testament Studies / Volume 15 / Issue 02 / January 1969, pp 211 – 220

            A Straussian Question to ‘New Testament Theology’
            Robert C. Morgan
            New Testament Studies / Volume 23 / Issue 03 / April 1977, pp 243 – 265

            The Theological Structure of Romans v. 12
            A. J. M. Wedderburn
            New Testament Studies / Volume 19 / Issue 03 / April 1973, pp 339 – 354

            The Golden Rule: Exegetical and Theological Perplexities
            Paul Ricoeur
            New Testament Studies / Volume 36 / Issue 03 / July 1990, pp 392 – 397

            The Present Position of New Testament Theology: Retrospect and Prospect
            H. G. Wood
            New Testament Studies / Volume 4 / Issue 03 / April 1958, pp 169 – 182

            The Theology of Rudolf Bultmann and Second-Century Gnosis
            W. Rordorf
            New Testament Studies / Volume 13 / Issue 04 / July 1967, pp 351 – 362

            Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and the Contemporary Relevance of ‘Biblical Theology’
            Reginald H. Fuller
            New Testament Studies / Volume 30 / Issue 03 / July 1984, pp 321 – 334

            The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul. A Linguistic and Theological Enquiry
            preview
            New Testament Studies / Volume 20 / Issue 02 / January 1974, pp 217 – 228

            Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1. 15–20
            N. T. Wright
            New Testament Studies / Volume 36 / Issue 03 / July 1990, pp 444 – 468

            Theology and Ecclesiology in the Miletus Speech: Reflections on Content and Context
            BEVERLY ROBERTS GAVENTA
            New Testament Studies / Volume 50 / Issue 01 / January 2004, pp 36 – 52

            Apostleship in the New Testament as an Historical and Theological Problem
            Schuyler Brown
            New Testament Studies / Volume 30 / Issue 03 / July 1984, pp 474 – 480

            Paulus Oecumenicus: Interculturality in the Shaping of Paul’s Theology
            Andrie Du Toit
            New Testament Studies / Volume 55 / Issue 02 / April 2009, pp 121 – 143

            The Place of the Old Testament in the Formation of New Testament Theology: Prolegomena
            Barnabas Lindars
            New Testament Studies / Volume 23 / Issue 01 / October 1976, pp 59 – 66

            W.M.L. de Wette’s Contributions to Biblical Theology
            B. Reicke
            New Testament Studies / Volume 29 / Issue 03 / July 1983, pp 293 – 305

            The Epoch of Israel: Luke I–II and the Theological Plan of Luke-Acts
            W. Barnes Tatum
            New Testament Studies / Volume 13 / Issue 02 / January 1967, pp 184 – 195

            The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor 11.2–16
            FRANCIS WATSON
            New Testament Studies / Volume 46 / Issue 04 / October 2000, pp 520 – 536

            The Three Variant Accounts of Peter’s Call: a Critical and Theological Examination of the Texts
            S. O. Abogunrin
            New Testament Studies / Volume 31 / Issue 04 / October 1985, pp 587 – 602

            Journal for the Study of the New Testament

            C.K. Barrett and New Testament Theology
            Robert Morgan
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, June 2015; vol. 37, 4: pp. 432-457., first published on May 11, 2015

            ‘Dalit Theology’ and the Parable of the Good Samaritan
            M. Gnanavaram
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, April 1993; vol. 15, 50: pp. 59-83.

            Narrative/Literary Approaches To Matthean Theology: the ‘Reign of the Heavens’ as an Example (Mt. 4.17-5.12)
            Warren Carter
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, January 1998; vol. 20, 67: pp. 3-27.

            Methodological Rivalries: Theology and Social Science in Girardian Interpretations of the New Testament
            John Dunnill
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, October 1996; vol. 18, 62: pp. 105-119.

            The Use of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 6.16c-18 and Paul’s Restoration Theology
            James M. Scott
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, April 1995; vol. 17, 56: pp. 73-99.

            Book Review: The Ways of our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology
            John Lyons
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, March 2005; vol. 27, 3: pp. 375-376.

            Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Solle and Contemporary Feminist Theology
            Claudia Janssen
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, January 2001; vol. 23, 79: pp. 61-78.

            Sins of the Flesh and Suspicious Minds: Dunn’s New Theology of Paul
            R. Barry Matlock
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, April 1999; vol. 21, 72: pp. 67-90.

            The ΔIAΘHKH From Durham: Professor Dunn’s the Theology of Paul the Apostle
            Douglas A. Campbell
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, April 1999; vol. 21, 72: pp. 91-111.

            J. Andrew KIRK, Liberation Theology. An Evangelical View from the Third World. Marshall’s Theological Library. Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1979, 246pp. £6.95
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1981; vol. 4, 12: pp. 73-74.
            Glory to God and to the Lamb: John’s Use of Jewish and Hellenistic/Roman Themes in Formatting his Theology in Revelation 4–5
            Russell Morton
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, September 2001; vol. 24, 1: pp. 89-109.

            Leonhard Goppelt. Theology of the New Testament. Volume I: The Ministry of Jesus in its Theological Significance. Translated by John E. Alsup. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981 xxvi + Pp.292. n.p
            Barnabas Lindars
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, September 1982; vol. 5, 16: pp. 125-127.

            J. Andrew KIRK, Theology Encounters Revolution. Inter-Varsity Press, 1980, 188pp. £2.95
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1981; vol. 4, 12: pp. 74.

            James D. SMART, The Past, Present and Future of Biblical Theology. Westminster Press 1979, (associated with T. and T. Clark) 162pp. $7.95
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1981; vol. 4, 12: pp. 74.

            The Freeing of the Bent Woman and the Restoration of Israel: Luke 13.10-17 as Narrative Theology
            M. Dennis Hamm
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, January 1987; vol. 10, 31: pp. 23-44.

            Jesus On the Mount of Olives (Luke 22.39-46): Tradition and Theology
            Joel B. Green
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, January 1986; vol. 8, 26: pp. 29-48.

            Jesus On the Mount of Olives (Luke 22.39-46): Tradition and Theology
            Joel B. Green
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1986; vol. 9, 26: pp. 29-47.

            Book Reviews : Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester and Downers Grove, Illinois, 1981. Pp. 1064. £16.95
            Stephen S. Smalley
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1984; vol. 7, 20: pp. 110-111.

            Book Reviews: Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester and Downers Grove, Illinois, 1981. Pp. 1064. £16.95
            Stephen S. Smalley
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, January 1984; vol. 6, 20: pp. 110-111.

            Theology, History and Jesus: a Response To Maurice Casey and Clive Marsh
            N.T. Wright
            Journal for the Study of the New Testament, July 1998; vol. 20, 69: pp. 105-112.

          • I do feel that I must point out that the overwhelming majority of those articles are about the theology of New Testament authors and the description thereof as a historical enterprise, which is a different undertaking than systematic theology, the attempt to formulate and defend beliefs that people currently hold.

          • That seems a rather blanket statement to make about all of the articles that appeared in my search.

            Given that I was only answering the “challenge” to show me “where they publish articles that are theological” …

            Given that “New Testament Studies” is self-described on it’s own site as at least in part pertaining to theology: “The journal publishes original articles and short studies in English, French and German on a wide range of issues pertaining to the origins, history and theology of the New Testament and early Christianity.”

            Givent that the “Journal for the Study of the New Testament is self-described on it’s own site as at least in part developing theological approaches: “All the many and diverse aspects of New Testament study are represented and promoted by JSNT, including innovative work from historical perspectives, studies using social-scientific and literary theory or developing theological, cultural and contextual approaches.”

            I question both your application of this distinction to all or even the vast majority of the articles in my query search, and it’s applicability to Alex’s challenge.

            I’ll have to tell you, James, seeing articles in these journals (which Alex certainly pointed out) in which William Lane Craig actually argues for the “fact” of the empty tomb and the historical evidence of a resurrection …

            … makes me question the degree to which rank apologetics has infiltrated journals dealing with the study of the New Testament. You have said in the past that such journals eschew apologetics for history.

          • It looks like some part of your comment got lost…

          • Yes, I shouldn’t try to comment on blogs with an Iphone standing in a line at Sears. I’ll edit it.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau has been forced to “question the degree to which rank apologetics has infiltrated journals dealing with the study of the New Testament.”

            I’ll be sure and send a letter to the editors of JSNT and NTS to let them know.

          • Thank you. You won’t be the first. And surely they’ll listen to someone of your academic prominence.

          • Really, James, it’s a bit of stretch to argue that some of these articles are not primarily theological in nature (as opposed to being concerned only with historical matters of theology in the NT). Even just looking at some of the titles:

            “The Ways of our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology”?!

            In fact, James, it doesn’t take much browsing on this search to find abstracts that don’t fit your distinction:

            The Golden Rule: Exegetical and Theological Perplexities
            Paul Ricoeura1
            a1 Chatenay, France
            The problem which I offer for your discussion may be raised in the following terms: if one assumes that the Golden Rule constitutes the basic moral rule about which the wisest may agree, what happens to this rule when it is put within a religious perspective, more precisely, within the perspective delineated by the symbolic network characteristic of the Jewish-Christian scriptures?

            The Present Position of New Testament Theology: Retrospect and Prospect
            H. G. Wooda1
            a1 Birmingham
            New Testament theology is admittedly the most important and the most difficult of New Testament studies. All our other disciplines—textual criticism, the study of the grammar, idiom and vocabulary of Hellenistic Greek, the examination of the literary and historical problems which the literature of the New Testament presents—all derive their interest from their bearing on New Testament theology.

            Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and the Contemporary Relevance of ‘Biblical Theology’*
            Reginald H. Fuller
            In the early 1950s a cartoon appeared in Punch depicting a British motorist able at last to resume touring the continent after World War II. The first scene shows a straight, tree-lined chaussée, with the driver saying to his passenger, ‘Now for these lovely straight French roads’. In the next scene they quickly come to a barrier with the warning, ‘Déviation 19 kilomètres’.

            W.M.L. de Wette’s Contributions to Biblical Theology*
            B. Reicke
            Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette lived in Germany and Switzerland from 1780 to 1849. He belonged to a family that had emigrated from the Netherlands to Germany in 1559, and several of his ancestors including his father had been Lutheran ministers in the Duchy of Weimar. After six years of study in Jena, he taught theology in Jena, Heidelberg, Berlin, and eventually in Basel from 1822 to his death in 1849.

            Paul’s Theology: Consistent or Inconsistent?*
            J. C. Beker
            . Recent discussions of Paul’s theology have reached a virtual consensus that Paul is not a dogmatic theologian, but rather an interpreter of the gospel. In this light we would expect that the tendencies of the history of Christian thought to discover a dogmatic ‘Mitte’, from which all other elements of his thought can be deduced, would have ceased. And yet the immense dogmatic pressure of the Christian tradition still persists: with their search for ‘die Mitte’ of Paul’s thought which they locate in justification by faith and/or in the righteousness of God, both Barth and Käsemann show that the dogmatic quest of the church from the time of Augustine to Luther and Calvin is still alive.

            A Straussian Question to ‘New Testament Theology’
            Rev. Robert C. Morgana1
            a1 Lancaster, England
            David Friedrich Strauss died on 8 February 1874. His Leben Jesu of 1835 was said by Albert Schweitzer to be ‘no mere destroyer of untenable solutions, but also the prophet of a coming advance in knowledge’, namely eschatology. The claims that it ‘has a different significance for modern theology from that which it had for his contemporaries’ and that it ‘marked out the ground which is now occupied by modern critical study’ appear even more true in the light of subsequent history of religions and form-critical research than Schweitzer himself realized. But as well as marking an epoch in the historical critical study of the New Testament, this book, and with it the fate of its author, remains a symbol of something else: the tension between historical research and the formation of a systematic or doctrinal theological position. Ecclesiastical authorities have in the meantime learned to live with theological pluralism and become more tolerant, but the problem itself has not disappeared. The investigation and development of Strauss’ generally unappreciated contribution is perhaps an appropriate centenary celebration

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau, you apparently did not read James’ comments very carefully. You responded to him with “Really, James, it’s a bit of stretch to argue that some of these articles are not primarily theological in nature”, but NOWHERE does James say “some of these articles are not primarily theological in nature”. Some of those articles being primarily theological in a nature would be ENTIRELY consistent with what James DID SAY, which is that “the overwhelming majority of those articles are about the theology of New Testament authors and the description thereof as a historical enterprise”.

            In fact, the statement James made actually *implies* that “some” of the articles are primarily theological in nature, just not the “overwhelming majority” of the articles.

          • I like James, Alex, I comment on his site all the time;so don’t mistake me – this is a friendly disagreement.

            But you apparently did not read my reply to James very carefully:

            “I question both your application of this distinction to all or even the vast majority of the articles in my query search, and it’s applicability to Alex’s challenge.”

            I think I’m pretty clear that by “some”, I mean more than could be ruled out by a “vast majority”.

          • Alex Dalton

            Saying “”I question both your application of this distinction to all or even the vast majority of the articles in my query search, and it’s applicability to Alex’s challenge.” means you are saying his distinction does not apply to all of them, or even the majority. Further, your INITIAL response was to say that it was a “stretch to argue that SOME of these articles are not primarily theological in nature”

            Any way you look at that, whether or not you make a clarification next (which is also inaccurate), you mis-characterized the response of James in that referenced statement. James never argued or even hinted that “SOME of these articles are not primarily theological in nature”.

          • Alex, I don’t understand your confusion. James said:

            “the overwhelming majority of those articles are about the theology of New Testament authors and the description thereof as a historical enterprise, which is a different undertaking than systematic theology, the attempt to formulate and defend beliefs that people currently hold.”

            I disagreed, and showed quite a few of the articles I cited which were clearly dealing with systematic theology. I can show you more, if you like. “Overwhelming majority” is definitely an overstatement. I like James; he and I have long since been having a completely different conversation on another blog post.

            In any case I obviously answered your challenge to show articles that were theological in nature,

          • Alex Dalton

            Yes indeed. This should’ve been really obvious, Beau.

            And the more relevant point is that those journals, especially in the more recent publications, are MAINLY discussing the theology of the NT in this manner. Even more relevant than that, is that, EVEN IF we granted that it was 50/50 theology and historical-Biblical studies, none of the articles by Craig I cited are actually theological in their content.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote “Alex, all academics in any field “harp on” peer review – not just “skeptics”. Peer review, citation, and the gradual consensus of acceptance in a given field is the measure of this process. Not popular readership or debate circuits.”

            As I said, peer-review is necessary, but harping on peer-review as if it establishes anything beyond mere academic acceptance to a particular journal is what I’m referring to. Its not impressive, it doesn’t guarantee that any viewpoint has undergone any real critical scrutiny at any level of depth, though it does filter out major faults in some instances. Craig’s major monograph on the resurrection was peer-reviewed by an academic press as I said. It doesn’t mean any of the reviewers agrees with or accepts his arguments. Much more rigorous is the process of public and detailed written debate with recognized experts in the field, which is a format Craig has published in numerous times.

            You say your favorite book on the empty tomb is James McGrath’s? That is ridiculous given your standards for peer-review. The book is self-published! It doesn’t even have footnotes, a bibliography…an index! Its not worthy of even being called a book.To compare this anemic pamphlet to the depth of scholarly analysis in a work like Allison’s _Resurrecting Jesus_ is utterly ridiculous. Sorry dude. I think McGrath would even agree with that conclusion, and I mean my comments as no slight to him.

          • Well, it’s certainly true that peer review is only the beginning of the process of rigorously gaining academic support for one’s work. But public debate is most certainly not the measure of academic acceptance. Nothing is determined by debate. Academic consensus through continued writing and citation is the measure.

            Oh, I see. So when you offered your friendly little share of favorites:

            “My favorite work on the evidence for the empty tomb comes from Dale Allison. Its quite even-handed and thorough. And yours?”

            What you were really doing was setting up a “Gotcha!”, whereby you could compare your book (whose title you hadn’t mentioned) to mine and then victoriously crow at how far more “authoritative” your source is than mine. How very nice of you.

            Of course, though James has also published in many of the same journals that Allison does, he also publishes popular books for lay audiences (Allison does as well). The reason that I appreciate James’ admittedly non peer-reviewed book The Burial of Jesus, is that he provides excellent explanations throughout for lay readers of the process of literary historical investigation, what it can determine and what it cannot, while humbly laying out his own thoughts on Jesus burial and graciously sharing the theories of other scholars along with their citations. I appreciate James’ book for precisely what it purports to be: a scholar’s explanation of the field to nonscholars.

            So forgive me. I did not realize that your seemingly innocent question was a ploy to compare academic penis length.

            Apparently at the expense of our host on this blog …

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote “But public debate is most certainly not the measure of academic acceptance.” You keep only responding to portions of my points. This could be construed as misrepresenting my position, no? I’m not just referring to public debate. The format for the debate books is more htan that. It firstly involves top scholars in the field. And it is actually WRITTEN response/interaction with several of these experts to which the proponents of either side respond, in detail. As I’ve said again and again, these aspects make the process a much more rigorous academic treatment than anything involved in shopping an article for peer-review.

            Beau wrote: “What you were really doing was setting up a “Gotcha!”, whereby you could compare your book (whose title you hadn’t mentioned) to mine and then victoriously crow at how far more “authoritative” your source is than mine. How very nice of you.”

            Not at all Beau. I really hate these internet debates because they do get so heated. I’m not trying to offend you at all, but you are the one proposing the lofty academic standards (peer review, traction amongst peer reviewed literature, etc.), and really McGrath’s book is a very short treatment of the subject and is self-published by a non-academic press, not having undergone peer-review. None of his work on the burial or empty tomb has.

          • Give me a break, Alex. “You keep only responding to portions of my points.” No, Alex, I keep responding to the fact that you repeatedly leave at the most important measure of an academic position gaining traction: academic consensus and citation. You want to throw in a few debate books – that’s fine, as far as it goes.

            No, Alex, in your attempt at one-ups-manship, you have made a complete category confusion.

            Many academics publish in a range of venues for different reasons, academic journals, reviewed books, unreviewed books, popular books even blogs. The fact that we communicate ideas through a range of media does not invalidate the importance of vetting ideas with one’s academic peers. I enjoyed James’ book as a summary of the field. I didn’t promote it as the height of scholarship in the field.

            I might as well retort – “Ha! Dale Allison appears in blog interviews! You can’t imagine that a blog interview has the same clout as an academic journal!”

            It would make about as much sense.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: “No, Alex, I keep responding to the fact that you repeatedly leave at the most important measure of an academic position gaining traction: academic consensus and citation.”

            Actually Beau this is the first time you have ever mentioned consensus and citation as “the most important measure of an academic position gaining traction.” Initially you were just asking if Craig’s arguments had gained traction in the peer-reviewed literature. Then you asked if “portions” of Craig’s argument to the resurrection had been peer-reviewed. But really, your statement above is just a tautology. Of course consensus and citation are important for gaining traction, because they literally are really the only measures we’d have to decide whether or not an idea has gained traction. Can you please show me where you mentioned consensus before and I avoided it? For the record, I certainly confess that there is no consensus on the very controversial topic of whether or not Christ was raised from the dead, amongst scholars, if that’s what you’re getting at. Can you tell me where you’re looking for a consensus precisely? Also, what does a consensus look like to you? 51% of scholars accepting a position? And how exactly would you measure a consensus? Is it strictly on scholars writing on an issue? How would we know the position a scholar holds on a particular issue, if they have not done specific research on it? These are really important questions I think, in determining how relevant a consensus is ona given issue.

            You speak of scholars, then you say “the fact that we”. Are you a scholar? I certainly don’t need to be told that scholars communicate through a range of ideas. I agree, and Craig apparently does as well as he uses all of those. How do you know James’ book was a summary of the field?! It doesn’t even reference any of the major works on the subject! No footnotes or bibliography! You mentioned it as your favorite work on the subject so I guess I just expected you to hold it to the standards of peer review that you hold Craig to.

          • Alex, I have no interest in wasting my time with you if you’re going to make false statements about me …

            ‘Beau this is the first time you have ever mentioned consensus and citation as “the most important measure of an academic position gaining traction.”‘

            … Because you didn’t bother to read (or even browse) my earlier comments:

            “Peer review, citation, and the gradual consensus of acceptance in a given field is the measure of this process. Not popular readership or debate circuits.”

            “But public debate is most certainly not the measure of academic acceptance. Nothing is determined by debate. Academic consensus through continued writing and citation is the measure.”

            And I see that you’re still behaving like a jerk to our host by trying to to compare James McGrath’s popular writing to Allison’s academic writing. You didn’t ask me for the most academically rigorous treatment of of the subject. You asked me for a favorite book.

            Obviously, the measure of an academic position is measured by peer review, citation, and eventual consensus; but single books, articles, or even blog posts can still be valued for the purposes they serve.

            Good lord if nothing a person writes has value except what is published in peer review – what the hell are you doing commenting on a blog?!

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: “And I see that you’re still behaving like a jerk to our host by trying to to compare James McGrath’s popular writing to Allison’s academic writing.”

            The actual comparison was basically to show that Allison’s writing is academic and McGrath’s is popular, this it is much more up to snuff when it comes to the academic standards you’ve demanded of Craig with regards to arguments concerning the resurrection of Jesus. You’re clearly being hypocritical and only demanding this of Craig.

            Beau wrote: “single books, articles, or even blog posts can still be valued for the purposes they serve.”

            I have never said otherwise. You are the one who has been demanding certain levels of acceptance of ideas among academics according to academic standards. These same standards just don’t apply to your favorite works on the subject.

          • Alex, this pretty simple. Academic research standards apply to academic research publications, not pedagogical publications or popular publications.

            You were the one who tried to disparage a popular book by comparing it to an academic book. Not I.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote “James has also published in many of the same journals that Allison does”

            And Craig has also published in the same journals as both Allison and McGrath. None of McGrath’s or Craig’s NTS articles are theological in nature.

          • Perhaps not. Does Craig argue that there is evidence that Jesus corpse came to life 2000 years ago in NTS?

          • Jim

            I rarely comment here (although admittedly, I lurk this site often), but your slam of prof McGrath’s book, written primarily for a lay audience, is of pure slime mold origin. Compound to that is your quasi-subliminal passive aggressive qualifier, “… and I mean my comments as no slight to him.”

            Along with McGrath’s “pamphlet” (as you refer to it), Dale Allison has also written a “pamphlet” aptly titled “The Historical Christ”. Both McGrath’s and Allison’s “pamphlets” provide excellent summaries of detailed academic perspectives distilled for lay readers like me. I’d prefer to look at these pamphlets as mini-reviews.

            So to slam “The Burial of Jesus” is … well dude … extreme cheese factor.

          • Alex Dalton

            I apologize. I really didn’t mean to slam McGrath. My comment was made in the context of Beau having the standard for peer review, and “traction” amongst peer review literature. McGrath’s work is clearly not in this category so I think there’s a double standard here when this is one of his preferred works on the issue. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing or really addressing a topic from any platform in my opinion. My point all along has actually been that peer-review, though necessary within the academy, is not really a guarantee of anything.

          • Jim

            Certainly agree that peer review is mainly directed to accessing whether a manuscript should be/is worthy of publication rather than as a total endorsement of the contents of the manuscript by the reviewers. Ty for your comment of clarification … so on to your battle with that ferocious tag team of Beau and John 🙂

          • John MacDonald

            Beau is pretty much doing this one on his own. I’m more of a sidekick who throws a banana every once in a while when no one is looking.

          • I’m tiring of this quickly. Alex is apparently the type of commenter who misrepresents other commenters in order to win points and behave like a jerk. I have little patience left for him.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote “Alex is apparently the type of commenter who misrepresents other commenters in order to win points and behave like a jerk. I have little patience left for him.”

            I think its pretty clear that you’ve misrepresented *several* scholars throughout this thread. Now you’re resorting to name-calling and it isn’t putting you in a much better light.

          • I’m sorry for calling you a Jerk.

          • This “battle” is becoming idiotic and a bit of a waste. I can only guess that I Alex doesn’t think we can look it up when he says things like:

            “NTS and JSNT are not theological journals, and I challenged you to show me where they publish articles that are theological. I’m waiting.”

            I just posted for him the first 20 articles on theology from each journal that came from database searches yielding thousands. I think my patience has just run out.

          • Jim

            I found that your back and forth with Alex was very interesting in the initial stages and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, for me at least, things turned when there was an assessment/attack when you mentioned a book that you liked.

            I had also hoped to see a comment from Alex on Krauss’ comment that you linked. And I admit that I secretly wished that John M could have closed the loop on throwing bananas and zombies.

            Again, I learned a lot from your comments and wished that conversation hadn’t turned (sorry for the zombie ref).

          • I like zombie references! I think it’s always useful to remind ourselves from time to time, that when we’re talking about “evidence for the resurrection”, what we’re really talking about is “evidence for a rotting corpse coming back to life”.

          • You made this slam of McGrath in the context of asking me for a “favorite book”!

            Then used my answer as pretext for an idiotic taunt that included slamming James’ book.

          • John MacDonald

            Alex said of Dr. McGrath’s book: “Its not worthy of even being called a book.”
            Alex also said: “I mean my comments as no slight to him.”
            Perhaps you should google the definition of the word “slight.”

          • Alex Dalton

            As I said, I really didn’t intend to offend him, but McGrath is a big boy and I’m sure, judging from his style of posting, he can handle a jab here and there. In this very post he is claiming that two other scholars (at least one of which is much more accomplished in his respective field than McGrath is) are on the “fringe of academia”.His work on the burial is simply not a serious academic treatment. I doubt he would try to say otherwise.

          • John MacDonald

            What mainstream New Testament historians teaching at an accredited public institution find Craig’s theories persuasive (non conservative fundamentalist apologists)?

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote:

            “Actually, I have read Licona’s laughable work on the resurrection. He makes the same predictable leaps of logic we’ve come to expect from most apologists – he even repeats the silly notion (as does Craig) that the apostles would not have martyred themselves for a false resurrection, completely ignoring the fact that there are no credible historical records of how or why any of the apostles died.”

            This is another time where you mock a particular author on the subject of the resurrection, claiming you have read them, but then proceed to misrepresent their view. Licona does not anywhere in his work argue that “the apostles would not have martyred themselves for a false resurrection”. He does not use martyrdom as evidence for the actual occurrence of the resurrection at all. He has a very short section in his massive work on this subject (The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 366-371), and is very careful to say that their *willingness* to die (not their actual martyrdom) for their beliefs simply shows that *they* were assured of their beliefs, and he actually COMPARES this to the same conviction in the Muslim terrorist or the Buddhist who sets himself on fire.

            You are basically doing exactly what you accuse Craig of doing, for which you label him dishonest.

          • Mike Licona, in his own words:

            “After Jesus’ death, the disciples endured persecution, and a number of them experienced martyrdom. The strength of their conviction indicates that they were not just claiming Jesus had appeared to them after rising from the dead. They really believed it. They willingly endangered themselves by publicly proclaiming the risen Christ.”

            “… sometime after the crucifixion of Jesus, James became a follower of his brother, a leader in the church Jesus had started and finally died as a Christian martyr. The best explanation for this change of heart is that James came to believe that his brother had risen from the dead.”

            In fact, following your quotation, he goes on to defend the very notion I’ve discussed:

            “We may ask whether it is likely that the disciples willingly suffered and/or died for the beliefs. What if they were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and executed against their wills and may have even recanted prior to their death and that Acts cleaned up the historical recollections of their ordeals? This seems unlikely. The disciples became well aware that publicly proclaiming Jesus as risen Lord on certain occasions and locations would likely result in sufferings and possible martyrdom. Accordingly to continue on this path while fully aware of the possible outcomes demonstrated their willingness to endure suffering and martyrdom regardless of whether these were actually experienced.”

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – this is making my point. In your initial post about Licona, you said he “repeats the silly notion (as does Craig) that the apostles would not have martyred themselves for a false resurrection, completely ignoring the fact that there are no credible historical records of how or why any of the apostles died”. In your quotation he simply says the disciples were aware of possibly being martyred, not that they were actually martyred, and he disputes the credibility of some of what other apologists have used as evidence of actual martyrdom in that section. All of this is NOT to argue that this willingness to be martyred shows that the resurrection must have been true, ONLY that they had a firm belief in it, as a Muslim terrorist believes in his own cause to his death. What exactly are you disputing with what he actually says? What is “laughable” here as you claim? And have you actually read the entire work or are you just google book searching this stuff? I ask this because he actually addresses issues you’ve raised with regards to Bayes, singular events, and prior probability.

          • Whether he is proposing that the apostles faced martyrdom or the fear of martyrdom, he is still laying this out as evidence for a resurrection. And yes, that’s laughable. Christianity is not the only faith with martyrs; and the evidence of what the apostles might have feared and when they feared it is scant.

          • Alex Dalton

            No, he is simply citing the evidence as an indication of their level of commitment TO the actual belief. That may be a step in an argument TOWARDS the resurrection, but there is actually nothing wrong with the way in which he uses their willingness to die for that specific purpose in that portion of the book. You are just painting with an extremely wet and sloppy broad brush and misconstruing the nature of Licona’s work. Even worse, you do it on the back of slandering him. Very poor form here.

          • How did I “slander” him? Clearly you think I’ve misrepresented him by over-simplifying his arguments, but slander? No.

            His suppositions about the apostles motivations, based on activities for which there is no more evidence than the resurrection, is circular and very weak evidence.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: “How did I “slander” him? Clearly you think I’ve misrepresented him by over-simplifying his arguments, but slander? No.”

            You broadly referred to the sum total of several years of research in his major work on the resurrection as “laughable”, then proceeded to mis-characterize his argument. This implies that, as far as his scholarship goes (which is basically his life’s work), he is a joke. You can dodge with semantic moves all you want. The point is your comment was inappropriate and inaccurate.

            Beau wrote: “His suppositions about the apostles motivations, based on activities for which there is no more evidence than the resurrection, is circular and very weak evidence.”

            So far you show no evidence of even understanding Licona’s argument. It is a very simple argument in that section (primarily focused on Peter and Paul), that they had a firm belief that Jesus actually rose from the dead, and their missionary activity, which was indeed dangerous, attests to this. What part of this do you disagree with specifically?

          • Whatever Licona’s “life’s work” may be, I confess I do find attempts to evidence that a corpse came to life 2000 years ago rather laughable. I don’t necessarily find the belief laughable; people have beliefs for all sorts of reasons. But the notion that one could find convincing historical evidence for a dead corpse rising 2000 years ago? Laughable.

            Of course, finding someone’s position laughable is not an example of “slander”.

            What do I disagree with? That the stories passed on in the gospels and acts provide particulary good evidence for the motivations of any of the people they depict. The original leaders of Christianity might have been motivated by their newfound status as leaders of a fast growing movement with lots of followers. They may have been motivated by escaping the drudgery of their former professions. Licona’s “evidence” for the firmness of their belief comes from writings designed to encourage their followers and proselytize.

          • John MacDonald

            Maybe the disciples invented the story of the risen Jesus after Jesus died to lend weight to Jesus’ ethical teachings (love your enemy; love your neighbor as yourself; etc.). Maybe this was a cause the disciples were willing to die for. As Seneca famously said, “Religion is true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” And it was not uncommon to institute religious beliefs for purely “social engineering” reasons. For instance, Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

          • Yes, the gospel tales came decades after the fact; the original disciples may have believed something simpler – that Jesus was visiting them in dreams or visions (the same sort of experiences you hear from Pentacostalists today), and the stories grew from there.

          • John MacDonald

            By the time we get to the gospels, a big focus is on selling the new religion:

            (A) 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

            (B) The Great Commission

            16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

            (C) Sending out Emissaries (Luke 10:1-3, 17-30)

            Just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be “conquered,” so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).

          • John MacDonald

            As Ehrman bluntly said in his debate with Craig: “You can’t prove the resurrection using math.”

          • Alex Dalton

            I actually talked to Ehrman after his debate with Craig. He had no idea what Bayes Theorem even was prior to the debate or after it. He was just completely confused by Craig’s presentation and I think Craig should not even be expecting an NT scholar to grasp probability calculus at first glance, but still, Ehrman is no authority on when or when not to use Bayes.

          • Yes, Ehrman, doesn’t claim expertise on Bayes Theorem (an expertise I’m sure you lack as well). He was simply making the same point that James has made in this blog. In Ehrman’s own words:

            “I’ve always found the use of Bayes Theorem amusing, in no small measure because prior to Carrier’s use of it to PROVE that Jesus almost certainly never existed, the theorem was most commonly used, among those wanting historical results, by the likes of Richard Swinburne to PROVE that God *did* exist and that Jesus almost certainly was raised from the dead. How can they both be right?”

            What anyone who actually works with Bayesian logic will tell you, is that the process is only as valid as the presumptive probabilities you assign to it.

            If you think Ehrman was “confused” by it’s use in a debate format, I have to say I share his confusion. Of what value is it to say in a layman’s debate. “I’ve assigned all the appropriate values and made all the appropriate calculations. True, I’m not a scholar of mathematics, but you can trust me – the resurrection was real!”

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau you wrote “What anyone who actually works with Bayesian logic will tell you, is that the process is only as valid as the presumptive probabilities you assign to it.”

            >>>Of course. It all depends on the priors. The only thing amusing about this is that Ehrman finds it amusing. Using Bayes theorem doesn’t guarantee anything, anymore than using a syllogism. I don’t think anyone is using “proof” in the way Ehrman is using it here. It does offer a way of codifying/quantifying argumentative steps that are usually already taking place, just implicitly or unstated. As the article you referenced by Matt Ferguson states:

            “Historians do not always need to assign precise numerical values to the probability of events, as I did above. In fact, most historical judgements will not be so precise. This does not mean, however, that a historian is not using Bayesian logic when assessing the probability of historical claims. Good historians when they argue for the greater probability of a certain historical theory — even if they do not assign precise numerical values — are still evaluating their hypothesis through considerations of of its prior probability, expected evidence, and the probability of alternative hypotheses.”

            https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

          • Yes, and that presumptive logic is based on available evidence. That’s a very helpful citation to Matthew Ferguson, thank you. As Ferguson says:

            “Often times apologists use false analogies when discussing the probability of miracles with Bayes’ Theorem. William Lane Craig, for example, has argued that winning the lottery may be an extremely unlikely event, but this does not mean that a historian cannot say that someone won the lottery in the past when there is good evidence (like the example I gave above). However, this completely misrepresents the nature of a miracle. ”

            “Thomas Bayes set out to find a formula ‘to find a method by which we might judge the probability that an event has to happen, in given circumstances, upon the supposition that we know nothing concerning it but that, under the same circumstances, it has happened a certain number of times, and failed a certain number of times.'”

            “But how many people have immortally resurrected into an imperishable body and never died again? Well, none.”

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau – I’ll address later on how apologists use Bayes despite initially low probability of any man in particular rising from the dead, but that’s another issue. Do you see how Bayes can be used as a heuristic to codify and quantify probabilities someone is working with? That was the point of the Ferguson citation, as elsewhere in this thread you are claiming the use of Bayes is “suspect” because of potential bias in priors.

          • You still seem to be under the illusion that I think Bayes cannot be a useful measure. Of course Bayes has useful applications. I never claimed Bayes theorem itself is suspect. Craig’s use of it, especially in a debate forum, is suspect.

            As I’ve shown, you don’t have to quote Ferguson to me; I already introduced him to the conversation. His article, demolishing Craig’s use of Bayes, is excellent.

          • Alex Dalton

            Beau wrote: Of what value is it to say in a layman’s debate. “I’ve assigned all the appropriate values and made all the appropriate calculations. True, I’m not a scholar of mathematics, but you can trust me – the resurrection was real!”

            Craig never says this, and this is a really poor and dishonest caricature of his, or anyone’s use, of Bayes. Its like you and Ehrman saw some mathematical notation and got frightened and or upset. Its ok. No one is arguing “LOOK ITS MATH. I USED MATH, SO GOD EXISTS!!”. People can use Bayes properly and still disagree. Any philosopher using it understands that people will disagree on the priors, and further arguments will take place there.

          • I’ll grant that it’s a caricature, but the point of course, is that Craig could not expect his debate audience to follow a Bayesian formula laid out in overhead slide. They had no choice but to take his word, or to not take his word. In the context of debates Bayes formulas add nothing but the appearance of authority.

            Actually, there are excellent uses of Bayes theorem in scientific fields. Of course it can be used properly. Craig does not. As John Horgan says:

            “Embedded in Bayes’ theorem is a moral message: If you aren’t scrupulous in seeking alternative explanations for your evidence, the evidence will just confirm what you already believe. …In this way, Bayes’ theorem can promote pseudoscience and superstition as well as reason.”

            http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/bayes-s-theorem-what-s-the-big-deal/

          • Alex Dalton

            There are all sorts of applications for Bayes theorem and I myself have used it in philosophy (epistemology in particular). There are many who advocate its use in history as well. These are debates that will go on and on. Epistemological vs. Frequentist etc. There is nothing wrong with couching one’s argument in probability calculus but I agree it was poor form on Craig’s part for a debate with someone who is a New Testament scholar.

          • Agreed.

          • arcseconds

            It does rather have the air of ‘Sir, (a+b^n)/n=x hence God exists; reply!’ doesn’t it?

          • Yes, and neither would I accept “‘Sir, (a+b^n)/n=x hence God does not exist”!

          • arcseconds

            The most straightforward principles of Bayesian reasoning can be explained without recourse to formulae, and people who already have a reasonable handle on how evidence bears on hypotheses are already familiar with some of them (e.g. ‘extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence’) and others they should be able to grasp without difficulty.

            So you should be able to do that in your debate.

            Of course, some applications of Bayes’s theorem are far too involved to go over in detail in a presentation for the general public. But then it’s not really a topic for a public debate, instead it’s some kind of specialist area, to be adjudicated by specialists.

          • I agree. I’ve seen how Craig uses “Bayesian reasoning” in debate. He does not explain his application of it in a straightforward way to his audience. He merely tosses it out as another authority that the audience should presumably chalk up to his side.

          • Actually, the probability of a resurrection occurring is still outlandishly low, even if you believe God exists.

            Unless, of course, you believe that God resurrects people commonly. Even if you think that the only resurrections to have taken place are those in the Bible (say … 9 or 10 if you discount the unlikely mass resurrection in Jerusalem during the crucifixion), then that’s 10 known resurrections out of the 107 billion people who have ever lived.

            Even if I gave you those 10 biblical resurrections as “evidence”, the probability of a person on earth experiencing a resurrection is still astronomically low.

            Unless of course, you believe that millions more have experienced a bodily resurrection on earth. But for that contention, you have exactly zero evidence.

    • Klapaucius

      Craig is a supporter of Reformed Epistemology, a nonsense philosophy that a first year philosophy student could drive holes through. He has a position at Biola University, a bible college, and is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute. These characteristics are hardly compatible with being a “first rate philosopher.”

  • I don’t care if it rains or freezes ’cause I’ve got my Bayesian Jesus.

  • Deane
  • The Yeti

    A few months ago Carrier restarted an exchange with cosmologist Luke Barnes over an article that supposedly refuted the fine-tuning problem using Bayes Theorem. The exchange had two verbose, rambling blog posts from Carrier (with multiple book length comments) along with several blog article responses from Barnes. Barnes really exposed Carrier’s lack of expertise in both probability and Bayes Theorem. The main takeaway I got from the exchange is that Carrier’s claimed expertise in probability is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

    Barnes’ final post on Carrier (the others are worth reading as well): https://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/final-word-on-richard-carrier/

    Carrier’s post: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/9429
    It appears that Carrier took the rather cowardly route of banning comments from Dr. Barnes on his blog. However, Carrier gets taken to task and exposed in the comments by a commenter “Tim Hendrix” who is a subject matter expert on probability.

    • Alex Dalton

      I read the exchange between Barnes and Carrier. I was really embarrassed for Carrier, but really, that is what happens when you stray too far from your field into what are some pretty technical areas. Even with his foray into NT research, if you just follow the footnotes in his books, Carrier is very sloppy with his sources. He has some creative ideas and I wouldn’t say that to discredit him entirely. I still think there’s some value in some of his research, but he is really out of his depth in most of the areas he actually writes on.

    • arcseconds

      gosh. that’s…. rather left field, to say the least.

      I kind of always presumed Carrier had a reasonable understanding of the basics of Bayesian probability, in the sense we might expect from someone with an undergraduate B.Sc. with a minor in mathematics, which they left lie for several years then came back to their notes when they thought that Bayesian stuff might come in handy after all.

      But here he just seems very confused.

      He appears to be trying to show that Bayes’s theorem doesn’t need the flim-flam that normally goes along with it to justify it, and that it just emerges out of Reason Itself in the form of an Aristotelian syllogism. I can see why he’d want to do that, because he wants to show that it’s simply irrational to disagree with him ever.

      And then there’s the idiosyncratic interpretation of degrees of belief as the proportion of beliefs with a certain amount of evidence for them that we’d expect to be true. While that’s of course what we’d expect, it’s surely a result of Bayesian analysis, not a foundation.

      Again, he seems to be reaching for some account he thinks is absolutely simple.

  • James, the conversations on this post have now convinced me more than ever of what I’ve pointed out to you many times before. Apologetics masquerading as scholarship is a far more rampant problem in your field than mythicism.

    • John MacDonald

      The Pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed says:

      “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve,” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

      If Mark read Paul, and John read at least one of the Synoptics, then the account of the crucifixion/burial/resurrection of Jesus may go back to only one source, the author of The Pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed, who cites only visions (hallucinations?) and scriptures as sources.

      • More to the point for me, is that “evidence” of people rising from the dead 2000 years ago would not be accepted as serious scholarship in any academic field except biblical studies.

        • John MacDonald

          I guess you’re not impressed by my academic title of “John MacDonald, Night Of The Living Dead Chair in Zombie Studies” at Oxford.

          • arcseconds

            Are you in fact a subject matter expert on zombies?

          • John MacDonald

            I’m not “directly” affiliated with Oxford University. “Night Of The Living Dead Chair in Zombie Studies” is more of an honorary degree that people there have given me for my ongoing work of going around campus and giving out pamphlets on the zombie apocalypse, which is imminent. I have done extensive research and self-publishing on the internet about how to survive the zombie apocalypse. I have studied zombie movies and novels extensively. My source for the impending zombie apocalypse is that my pet hamster Rupert recently disappeared from his cage after he died. I might have thrown him in the garbage while drunk and not remembered, but I think the far more likely explanation is that he was raised from the dead and was the “first fruits” of the general zombie resurrection.

          • John MacDonald

            I’d be willing to bet $5.00 that the whole empty tomb thing got started because some drunk, bored teenagers decided to play a prank and steal Jesus’ body from the grave, and then start the rumor that it was the end of the world (that the general resurrection had begun), and that Jesus had been seen raised from the dead. You could imagine Jesus’ followers hearing this rumor and out of joy that Jesus had been raised, and terror that the end of the world had begun, hallucinating that the raised Jesus had appeared to them.

        • John MacDonald

          That’s very true. For instance, according to Herodotus’s Histories, the seventh century BC sage Aristeas of Proconnesus was first found dead, after which his body disappeared from a locked room. Later he was found not only to have been resurrected but to have gained immortality. Now, no classicist in the world would claim this miracle actually happened. Rather, it is understood that accounts like this can be chalked up to the fact that the ancients (like many today) were superstitious and gullible.

      • I think that, rather than speculating on the genealogical pre-history of these traditions in an attempt to attribute them to a single point of origin, it might be more persuasive to note what Paul explicitly says: that the first person to have the kind of religious experience was Cephas, whose failure in relation to Jesus would naturally create precisely the kind of psychological state that leads to some sort of experience that would help him alleviate his guilt and find catharsis. Once one person has a powerful experience, they may in turn facilitate others doing likewise. One can offer a naturalistic account of how things unfolded without any need to deviate from the depiction in our earliest sources.

        • John MacDonald

          First rate analysis, as always!

          • John MacDonald

            Although I must say it doesn’t really seem to follow from the fact that an explanation agrees with what Paul says that it would “be more persuasive” than one that speculates away from the direction given by Paul. It’s all mere speculation in any case.

            And besides, I think my explanation should get the most “creativity points” for thinking outside the box:

            The whole empty tomb event could have gotten started because some drunk, bored teenagers who were tired of listening to Christians prattling on about the end of the world decided to play a prank and stole Jesus’ body from the grave, and then started the rumor that Jesus had been seen raised from the dead, and it actually was the end of the world (that the general resurrection had begun). You could imagine Jesus’ followers hearing this rumor and out of joy that Jesus had been raised, and terror that the end of the world had begun, hallucinating that the raised Jesus had appeared to them. lol

          • John MacDonald

            And the idea of bored teenagers stealing Jesus’ corpse and starting rumors as a prank that (a) Jesus was raised and (b) that the general resurrection had begun, may even be suggested by the text. After all, the rumor was started by the teenager in Jesus’ empty tomb in Mark:

            “…But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, even though it was extremely large. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here! See the place where they laid Him.… (Mark 16:5).”

            The point is, this scenario is a “possible” scenario used to construct a naturalistic account of how faith in the resurrected Jesus began. There are many other models. But as Dr. Carrier says, we don’t want to overstep the bounds of reason by saying we have a “possible” explanatory framework, therefore we have a “probable” explanatory framework. These reconstructions of the possible reasons behind the arising of faith in the resurrection are “only possible,” and therefore merely speculative.

          • John MacDonald

            Thank God for the edit feature. One wrong word and my whole first sentence didn’t make any sense!

          • Mark appears to be the first gospel; and the other gospels (the synoptic Matthew and Luke) draw from it liberally, even to the point of copying most of the text verbatim. They then go on to alter the text and add elaborations.

            I think it’s likely that the Matthew, Luke, and John empty tomb tales are conflicting elaborations on the story that originated in Mark.

            The Mark version, ending with the women running away in fear and telling no one of the empty tomb, has the appearance of an apotheosis story, in which a famous figure is taken up to heaven and the body disappears or is never found. Dag Endsjø spends a section in “Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity” discussing Greek and Roman figures for whom a “body disappearance story” accompanies the translation of a hero to heaven.

          • John MacDonald

            John Dominic Crossan argues that the empty tomb narrative in Mark requires no source beyond Joshua (=Jesus, remember!) chapter 10. The five kings have fled from Joshua, taking refuge in the cave at Makkedah. When they are discovered, Joshua orders his men to “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (10:18). Once the mopping-up operation of the kings’ troops is finished, Joshua directs: “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave” (10:22). “And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (10:26-27). Observe that here it is “Jesus” who plays the role of Pilate, and that Mark needed only to reverse the order of the main narrative moments of this story. Joshua 10: first, stone rolled away and kings emerge alive; second, kings die; third, kings are crucified until sundown. Mark: Jesus as King of the Jews is crucified, where his body will hang till sundown; second, he dies; third, he emerges alive (Mark implies) from the tomb once the stone is rolled away.

          • Interesting!

          • Given that crucifixions and the rolling of stones over the mouths of tombs were pretty much daily occurrences in the ancient world, should such details be considered evidence of literary borrowing?

          • John MacDonald

            I guess not. Rats, I thought I made a good point. lol

        • That’s an interesting naturalistic account, but it requires the historicity of traditions about “Peter’s denial” that appear later in NT writing. Not that some of such traditions can’t be historical; but the source is not quite the same as the Pauline letters.

          • John MacDonald

            Good point. I hadn’t thought of that.

          • John MacDonald

            On the other hand, the denials by Peter would be an odd thing for, say, Matthew to include in his gospel if there weren’t a kernel of truth to them. Throughout his gospel, Matthew stresses the importance of public witness as an essential element of discipleship, stating: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.(Matthew 10:32-33).” Peter’s denial is in direct conflict with what the nature of discipleship must have meant in those days, as described by Matthew. Why would Matthew “invent” portraying Peter in this way?

          • Oh yes, the old “criterion of embarrassment” . But who would be embarrassed by the story? It serves it’s purpose quite well, teaching Christians about the sad state of affairs that results when they deny Christ. The only one who might be “embarrassed” would be Peter; but by the time this story was being written, Paul had already “embarrassed” Peter in his epistles.

            The failings of the apostles is just one of the story devices one sees in the gospels.

          • John MacDonald

            Well played sir! I bow to your superior intellect!

          • No need to bow; James could very well be right about Peter. My guess? We will probably never know, and textual analysis can ultimately “prove” very little about the origins of the stories.

          • John MacDonald

            I’ve been thinking about what you said. Calling the pericope embarrassing for Peter might not get it past the criterion of embarrassment for Peter, for the reasons you gave. But don’t you think Jesus being publically rejected by one of his closest disciples might have been an embarrassing anecdote for the gospel writers to attribute to the biography of Jesus because it would have diminished Jesus’ public status as a teacher and prophet? Maybe the criterion of embarrassment here might not work for Peter, but it might work for Jesus?

          • Anything’s possible. But in my opinion, this sort of speculative picking at the possibilities in the text can only be just that – speculation. Biblical texts are wrung dry with this sort of criticism, and apologists like William Lane Craig and even N.T. Wright will insist on great truths that can be “established” based on really questionable surmises. For example, they find the empty tomb stories in the gospel to be beyond reasonable doubt based on the the criterion of embarrassment applied to the women who were witnesses. They honestly think that this is strong “evidence” that the empty tomb really existed.

            I think that in any other field of historical inquiry, historians would simply acknowledge that a literary tradition can only tell you so much, speculate a little, and then move on. But biblical apologists have such a need for biblical tales to be “true”, they give far more weight than is feasible or appropriate to such analytical speculations as the “criterion of embarrassment”.

            So in the end, we can certainly speculate about whether such stories as Peter’s denial are true; but we can’t really know.

          • John MacDonald

            So you don’t ascribe to the generally accepted criteria of authenticity?

          • Generally accepted in any field of history other than biblical studies? I don’t think you find these “criteria” referenced by any historians outside the field of biblical studies.

            To me, it’s just another sign that this particular field tries to read far more into a text than it is actually possible to ascertain by the measure of any other historical field.

            Such “criteria” might guide speculation usefully, and perhaps some of the ideas might be informally used in other fields. But they don’t carry nearly the authority that apologists try to grant them.

          • John MacDonald

            I think it is hard to establish that a gospel writer would have found a certain element embarrassing.

            For example, many commentators take for granted the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, because they think it meets the criterion of embarrassment. But I would say that just because later gospel writers may have found the account embarrassing, it doesn’t mean that Mark did. Mark seems to just be spinning an eloquent theological tale in his inclusion of the baptism pericope:

            (1) For instance, as some commentators have pointed out, Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, AS IT IS WRITTEN IN THE PROPHETS.” Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (like Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.) He then says John ate locusts and wild honey, the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on).

            (2) Far from seeing it as embarrassing, some say that Mark might have seen the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit as reminiscent of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

            (3) Some commentators have argued that, in the baptism itself, Mark seems to have an intricately crafted theological pericope. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.”

            (4) Some have pointed out that Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice.

            So there is really no reason to think Mark found the Jordan baptism embarrassing.

          • The designation is a New Testament studies thing, some of the “criteria” are specific to the question of Jesus, and some of them have been challenged even within NT studies. And within scholarship, they aren’t given the authority that apologists try to when they use them – which is itself selective, since they do not accept their negative judgment about historicity.

            But the principle that an individual or group is unlikely to invent something that runs counter to their core emphases is not limited to NT studies. A future historian could argue as you do that the stories about Hillary Clinton’s husband having been involved in a scandal and attempted impeachment could have been invented to highlight her own strong character. But the majority will rightly conclude that it is more likely that her supporters who begrudgingly discuss the matter are spinning something that they cannot deny, and which at the end of the day they are more likely having to deal with as known historical information rather than having invented it.

          • I’m not saying there isn’t some logic in the principle, and it’s easy to apply to known quantities like the Clintons in an imagined future. In practice, it is far more problematic to determine what might have embarrassed an ancient author.

            Whether historians in other fields might use the principle, it is in historical Jesus studies, in particular, in which this principle has been codified alongside other criteria of authenticity. And I believe I would be correct in stating that it’s not just laymen like myself who have criticized the overuse and reliability of these criteria?

          • There have definitely been challenges to the usefulness of the criteria of authenticity in general, and of some more than others in particular. Much of that reflects a shift away from positivism in the field of history more generally, with large numbers of postmodernists and chastened modernists trying to be more realistic about what we can hope to know about the past, and with what degree of certainty.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed. What I hope I have said before, but either way will say now, is that precisely to the extent that there are apologists for Christianity participating in the scholarly process, their claims are subject to responses and rebuttals from other scholars through that very process. My addressing mythicism on this blog, on the other hand, is participating in a different sort of conversation.

      • Are you saying that this just happens to be the battle you’ve chosen?

        • Not exactly. On the one hand, long before mythicism came across my radar, I spent even more time arguing against various kinds of Christian fundamentalist claims. And I have not ceased doing so. But there too, I tend to focus on those claims which are being taken directly to the public, bypassing scholarly discussion. And so, on the other hand, where there are attempts to make the case for conservative Christian dogma in and through scholarly modes of communication, it is appropriate to engage those things through that same mode. And in between the two extremes, there have been a far greater number of Christian books that make reference to scholarship and either reject it or claim to be reliant upon it, and so for instance I tried to tackle the claims of apologists about the resurrection in my book The Burial of Jesus.

          And so I am not sure what the complaint is. Is it simply that you would like me to blog more often about the resurrection and apologists’ claims about it?

          I think it may be that, to the extent that I have done that less frequently, it probably simply reflects the fact that mythicists have shown up to debate things I have posted about mythicism to a far greater extent than defenders of religious dogma have shown up to debate things I have posted about those topics. And so I feel as though the battles have chosen me via the comments section, and not just vice versa.

          • Maybe it’s just a reflection of what annoys me the most. In my circle of family, friends, and colleagues, there aren’t very many people trying to convince me of mythicism. But I can’t tell you how often I get referred to faulty Lee Strobel logic; bolstered by his friends with scholarly credentials: Habermas, Licona, Craig, and Wright.

          • Perhaps you can get some more people with those views to read my blog and pester me? It might annoy me enough to write more about the topic!

            These days I am more concerned with how to get students to be discerning enough to recognize that a source like Lee Strobel is a popular journalistic one rather than a scholarly one, and how to recognize when they are dealing with sectarian scholarship that may still be scholarship, but which is both far from the mainstream and far along in the direction of apologetics.

          • KingJaffa

            James, it seems to me that you are mixing a philosophical issue with a methodological one. Dr. Craig isn’t claiming like Richard Carrier that Bayes Theorem can prove the resurrection. Or that we have to quantify the probability of Jesus being raised from the dead by a discrete number. Nor that Biblical studies must and can use the historical method/Bayes Theorem to prove the resurrection.

            What Dr. Craig is referring to is a refutation of David Hume’s argument against the identity of miracles and was using a philosophical argument by another philosopher named John Earman 🙁https://www.amazon.com/Humes-Abject-Failure-Argument-Miracles/dp/0195127374) who himself is not a Christian but an agnostic, but he and most philosophers who have studied Hume on this issue pretty much agree that Hume’s argument against miracles is not persuasive. I’m not using that as evidence, just to point out that Dr. Craig’s argument is not like Richard Carrier who is claiming that historians must do x y and z in order to do real history.

  • John MacDonald

    For anyone who hasn’t heard Dr. Richard Carrier has moved his Blog from Freethought Blogs to here: http://www.richardcarrier.info/

    He says he did this so as not to associate Freethought Blogs with his recent issues.

  • Paul E.

    It is telling that at the same time it is indisputable that both Carrier and Craig are both on the fringes of academia, both seem to have a lot of online followers who engage in fierce defenses of their credentials while at the same time downplaying the significance of the academic process and consensus. Both sides want to have it both ways on a lot of issues.

  • KingJaffa

    Dr. Craig’s argument is not a methodological argument but a philosophical argument. Dr. Carrier’s argument is a methodological argument and therefore would be considered fringe since he’s claiming that historians must use Bayes theorem in order to prove Jesus existed.

    Dr. Craig’s argument is one that many philosophers take seriously. Most philosophers who have studied David Hume on the subject of miracles think his argument is unpersuasive because Hume had a problem with the identity of miracles.

  • SkepticalScholars

    Frank Zindler, one of the top Jesus Mythicists, devoted an entire chapter to the Bayesian analysis of Nazareth in his book, “Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth” (2013, American Atheist Press). Zindler, past president of American Atheists, concludes that Nazareth never existed at the time Jesus would have lived. Therefore, Zindler concludes that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. But Zindler’s probability analysis is grossly incorrect. He starts with the assumption that Nazareth never existed (almost 0% probability) and comes to the conclusion that Nazareth never existed, exactly what he was trying to assess. This shows the dangers inherent in the use of Bayesian probability in the assessment of ancient history. Confirmation bias, cherry picking, uncertain and incomplete data and mathematical incompetence can all lead to highly misleading conclusions that seem scholarly and impressive. The use of Bayesian probability in Jesus mythicism arguments is permanently damaged by this book.