The Tragedy of Pelagius the Wise

The Tragedy of Pelagius the Wise March 31, 2017

This gem of a mash up of Star Wars and Christian theology came to my attention via Facebook:

Tragedy of Pelagius the Wise

Many of the comments on Reddit are wonderful, responding in ways that continue the mash-up.

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  • John MacDonald

    “The Dark side is a path to many things that some consider to be unnatural.” (Palpatine)

    Check out my Blog post on “Palpatine’s Way” about the Dark, deceptive side of Christianity:

    • John MacDonald

      Including the resurrection, the Gospels record that Jesus did a whopping 34 miracles. The question for a secular person like myself is: If I don’t believe there are such things as miracles, how am I to understand the presence of this massive amount of miracle stories in the Gospels? C.S. Lewis concluded that Jesus was either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. I take Lewis seriously on this point.

      • Lewis missed a fourth possibility: legend, i.e. that Jesus, like other famous figures, became more miraculous in the eyes and perception of others over time, including after his death as stories continued to be created, embellished, and exaggerated.

        • John MacDonald

          Absolutely, that’s possible too!

          • John MacDonald

            On the other hand, some say that the miracle story about the resurrection, as described in the pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed (1 Cor 15), is perhaps too early to be the result of “legendary development.” I think the more reasonable explanation is that it was a lie.

          • John MacDonald

            Carrier argues that the resurrection appearance stories recorded in the pre Pauline Corinthian creed were hallucinations, but I find it unconvincing that such a large and diverse groups as Cephas, the twelve, and the 500 brethren ALL had resurrection appearance hallucination experiences. That’s one of the reasons I think it was a lie.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, let’s think about it with an analogy. Let’s say in a family of 4, two parents and two children, one of the children dies. Now, out of extreme grief, the father starts to hallucinate, seeing his child’s ghost from time to time. That’s fair. But it would be highly idiosyncratic if both 2 remaining family members also start hallucinating right along with the father. To believe Carrier and the hallucination theory of the risen Jesus, we have to imagine that 13 people, Cephas and the 12, all independently hallucinated experiences of the risen Jesus. I don’t find that credible. The simpler explanation is that they were lying about it.

          • Happens all the time at charismatic churches, when one person (underscored by music and other atmospheric religious background) calls out that “Jesus is here”; then others, caught up in the same emotional/psychological fervor, call out similar declarations. Such “visions” don’t have to be identical; everyone is affected by each other, but their personal visions/feelings/rushes of excitement may completely differ from person to person.

            Bart Ehrman often refers to a study in which the subjects were asked to describe the video-tape reports of a well-known plane crash. Quite a number of the subjects described in detail what they had seen in the video.

            Here’s the catch. There was no video. The plane crash had happened and there were news reports about it, but it was never captured on video. The simple suggestion to the subjects that there had been a “video”, stirred false memories of an event with which they were familiar but had never seen.

            The psychological process is this. The subjects had heard news reports about the crash, and this prompted them to imagine the event. When it was later suggested that they had seen video footage of the event, their brains interpreted what they had imagined as memories.

          • kawts

            Lying is a simple explanation, except that all but one of the apostles died for their faith? Why would anyone become a martyr for a lie?

          • On the one hand, this argument is not wihout force – it seems that when people are willing to die for something, they may still be mistaken or misled, but are less likely to be making it up. But on the other hand, we don’t really have strong evidence about the fate of the apostles.

          • John MacDonald

            We can imagine the Jews of that time believing that God wanted them to lie about the appearance of the risen Jesus (in hopes of creating a better world), citing such texts as:

            “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. (1 Kings 22:21-22).”

            I don’t think it’s “probable” that this happened, just that it is “possible,” along with the other possibility that Cephas, the twelve, and later Paul all hallucinated the risen Jesus.

          • John MacDonald

            Richard Carrier characterizes the possibility of the “Noble Lie” theory of Christian origins in the following way in a recent blog post (I have been making the same point for many years now, although I disagree with Dr. Carrier that the theory has anything to do with mythicism):

            “Of course Habermas tries to sell Strobel on the tired apologetic line that “no one dies for a lie.” Surely not, “if they knew it was a hoax,” we hear said. This is a classic straw man. And as such, another lie. It’s one thing to ask how likely it is the resurrection appearance claims were a hoax. It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.”

            If you are interested, I have outlined the theory that the resurrection stories were “Noble Lies” here: – check it out along with the reader comments.

            I also more fully explain the theory in my dialogue with Neko in the reader comment section of Dr. McGrath’s blog post from a few days ago here:

            It’s not “probable” that the original Christians were lying, just “possible,” along with the other naturalistic explanation that Cephas, the twelve, and later Paul were all hallucinating the risen Jesus.

            On the other hand, maybe the risen Jesus actually did appear to the disciples.

          • John MacDonald

            And the “noble lie” theory of Christian origins is as old as the religion itself (see Matthew 28:11-15).

            It is also (questionably) attributed to Pope Pious X, quoted in John Bale, Acta Romanorum Pontificum “For on a time when a cardinall Bembus did move a question out of the Gospell, the Pope gave him a very contemptuous answer saying: All ages can testifie enough howe profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie.” Whether Pope Pious actually said this or not, it still shows the “noble lie” theory of Christian origins was definitely present in history.

            The permission of lying under special circumstances would not separate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures from other ancient spiritualities. It would actually put them all very much in line.

            The justification of lying hypothesis is very interesting. It resonates with much in spirituality … even shamanism …where the neophyte is taken in with ‘magic’ to attract their attention and then is taken to the Truth… and the understanding that what they initially through was magic was simply deception … and the recognition of how early they were deceived.

            Justified lying occurs a lot in ancient spirituality. Confucius, in the ‘Analects,’ indicates “The Governor of She said to Confucius, ‘In our village we have an example of a straight person. When the father stole a sheep, the son gave evidence against him.’ Confucius answered, ‘In our village those who are straight are quite different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their fathers. In such behaviour is straightness to be found as a matter of course.’ (13.18)” .

            This is also true of the Code of Manu. Roger Berkowitz says of the Manu based society, that its division of society into four castes, each with its own particular obligations and rights, is a desired end because it reflects the natural order of society. He says ‘“The order of castes, the highest, the most dominant Gesetz, is only the sanction of a natural-order, natural legal- positing of the first rank, over which no willfulness, no ‘modern idea’ has power. It is nature, not Manu or the Brahmin legislators, that divides the predominantly intellectual from those who are predominantly physically or temperamentally strong, and both of these from the mediocre, who are extraordinary in neither intellect nor strength. The ancient Indian caste system is an artifice, a Holy Lie—but it is a lie that serves natural end.’

            Similarly, we see the permission of lying in Islam. In the Pro-Muslim book ‘The Spirit of Islam,’ Afif A. Tabbarah writes, concerning the mandates of Muhammed, ‘Lying is not always bad, to be sure; there are times when telling a lie is more profitable and better for the general welfare, and for the settlement of conciliation among people, than telling the truth. To this effect, the Prophet Muhammed says: ‘He is not a false person who (through lies) settles conciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.’

          • John MacDonald

            I’ve been reading Lataster/Carrier’s book “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists,” and Lataster agrees that the resurrection of Jesus could have started out as a noble lie. Lataster writes “Jesus’ … resurrection could also easily be seen as a Platonic ‘noble lie,’ cleverly incorporating Jewish and Pagan elements (Lataster/Carrier, JDNE, 76).”

          • Why do you believe the apostles were martyred? There’s no convincing evidence that they were.

            Even if they were martyred, why do you think it would have to involve a choice to die “for a lie”. Most martyrs are never given a chance to live just by recanting their beliefs. If the apostles lied initially, that doesn’t mean they expected to die for it. And if they were killed for it later, it’s not like they could have saved their lives by taking back the lie.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s more “noble” and “impressive” to portray the disciples as willing to die for Jesus, just as it was all the “more meaningful” to portray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane struggling and in fear for his demise, but ultimately “victorious” in overcoming his fears and going through with God’s plan.

            All of this could easily just be a literary device.

          • Neko

            He doesn’t overcome his fears. He’s simply resigned (or in theology, “obedient”).

          • John MacDonald

            There’s no reason to think Jesus didn’t become resolute in his obedience after the Gethsemane incident.

          • Neko

            I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’m talking about the gospel story, not HJ. If Gethsemane even occurred, we don’t know and can’t know what HJ was thinking.

            In the gospels Jesus prophecies his own death, so it’s fair to say he’s fatalistic at (literary) Gethsemane.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m just talking about the hermeneutic of the Gethsemane periscope. The question isn’t whether Jesus was fatalistic in the Gospels, but whether some time after the Gethsemane account if Jesus is portrayed as “overcoming” his fears, and the reader might think Jesus was heroic about it – resolute rather than resigned. After the prayer Jesus doesn’t seem resigned, but resolute: “It is enough! The hour has come. (Mark 14:41).”

          • Yep, most of what we know or think we know about the apostles can be attributed to theological literary agendas, most of which could have developed a generation later.

          • John MacDonald

            Later on, the story of the martyred apostles would have been a magnificent teaching tool for the faithful: “Don’t let anything unseat you from the throne of your faith, just like the apostle’s didn’t!”

          • And there were many other martyring of saints stories that followed

          • Neko

            True. And we know from centuries later that many Christians submitted to horrible deaths rather than recant “heretical” views.

          • Not just Christians… Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs…adherents of virtually every religion have been martyred for their beliefs.

            Heck, atheists have been martyred for their beliefs!

          • Depends on what one means by “hallucination”. Paul says he “appeared” (1 Corinthians 15, NRSV) to these people and includes himself as the last person to whom Jesus “appeared”.

            In Galatians 4:12 he calls this experience a “revelation of Jesus Christ”.

            He may also have been describing this experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 in this way “snatched up to the highest heaven (I do not know whether this actually happened or whether he had a vision—only God knows)”. He cryptical describes this experience in the 3rd person (“I know a certain Christian man who”), then makes it clearer in verse 7 that he is talking about himself “the many wonderful things I saw”.

            And in the same chapter (15) of 1 Corinthians where he refers to the appearances of Jesus, he explains what the resurrection is like: “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

            These sound like visionary experiences to me; the same sort of experiences many catholics have had of the Virgin Mary, or the sorts of experiences Pentacostals have when they are sharing what they call charismatic gifts. These experiences don’t seem so much like lies, but rather like the sort of ecstatic emotional experiences that are common to many religions around the world.

            Such ecstatic religious experiences may later have evolved into the physical appearances described in the gospels.

          • John MacDonald

            They could have been hallucinating, or they could have been lying. Who knows? My point was just that there is no more reason to think the original Christians were being honest, than that they were being dishonest. It’s all guesswork. My guess is that they were lying.

          • All of them? Or just the ones who first communicated particular miracle stories (including stories of multiple witnesses)?

          • John MacDonald

            I think it originated by the disciples stealing Jesus’ body and making up the resurrection story. It’s like Joseph Smith and the lie that he found golden plates from heaven.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t know why it is problematic to figure out why Christianity succeeded. From beginning to end the purpose of the movement was to sell the new religion to the world:
            (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
            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).
            (D) For Paul, Jesus resurrection is understood as the “first fruits” of the general resurrection, and so was a selling point for the new religion: “The end of the world is at hand, so you better join the winning team.”
            Christianity was all about winning converts and spreading the word, so it is no surprise that they succeeded doing just that.

          • Wow. That’s very specific. You grant the gospels a lot more credibility than I do.

            I find it much more likely that the most dramatic miracle tales in the gospels (including the resurrection) were invented long afterwards, when all or most of the apostles were already dead.

            Especially since apotheosis stories and divine birth stories are Greek and Roman tropes. They seem more likely the inventions of the later Greek and Roman Christians.

          • John MacDonald

            I think the resurrection appearances to Cephas and the twelve outlined in the pre Pauline Corinthian creed never happened. I think they were lying about that after they (or someone with them) stole Jesus’ body. Those are my thoughts anyway (for what it’s worth / which isn’t very much lol)

            But your interpretation could be true to. Or maybe Jesus really did rise from the grave and appear to his disciples! It’s all meaningless guesswork lol.

          • Right.

            I think the Corinthian creed describes a much simpler, less complicated earlier version of Christianity in which early Christians were sharing ecstatic religious experiences (not unusual in religious practices around the middle east), a part of which included experiences with a spiritual version of Jesus – much like virgin Mary experiences that are frequently reported among Catholics.

            The much later anonymous gospels portray the more fantastical, complicated, agenda driven, physical resurrection stories, replete with an emptied tomb, angel appearances, examinations of post death piercings, along with fish eating stories important to the later Christians who had developed a theological agenda requiring that the resurrection be physical.

          • John MacDonald

            The “lie” / “stolen body” hypothesis finds the idea that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb plausible, since A CLAIM OF A RISEN JESUS COULD HAVE EASILY BEEEN CHECKED BY LOOKING IN THE TOMB (since Cephas and the 12 were claiming Jesus rose and hence wasn’t in his tomb). The hypothesis has existed since the days of Early Christianity; it is discussed in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s gospel raises the hypothesis: according to it, the claim the body was stolen is an accusation spread by the Jewish high priests.

          • John MacDonald

            On the other hand, maybe Paul doesn’t think Jesus rose bodily, leaving an empty tomb.

            Some like to point to a few verses in support of their claim that it was a spiritual resurrection. Their go-to proof text for the non-physical resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:42–44. Here Paul is contrasting the earthly body with the resurrected body. The earthly body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural. The resurrected body is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.

            “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural [psychikos] body; it is raised a spiritual [pneumatikos] body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:42–44)”

            So, Paul seems to describe our present, earthly bodies as ‘natural,’ and our future, resurrected bodies as ‘spiritual.’”

            However, it may be they wrongly assumed that natural and spiritual mean physical and nonphysical, respectively. The question is: What does Paul mean by the terms “natural” and “spiritual”?

            Paul uses the exact same words earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes,

            “The natural [psychikos] person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual [pneumatikos] person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (1 Cor. 2:14–15)”

            Notice the natural person does not mean a physical person, but rather a person oriented toward human nature or soul. In fact, psychikos, which is translated “natural,” literally means soul-ish. Similarly, the spiritual person does not mean a non-physical, spirit person. Rather, it’s a person oriented toward the Spirit. Paul may be contrasting soul-led persons with Spirit-led persons. The contrast is not one of physicality, but of orientation.

            Therefore, Paul may be explaining that the future resurrected body will be freed from slavery to the weak, mortal, dishonorable, sinful human nature. The resurrected body will be led, sustained, empowered, and made glorious by the Spirit.

            Anyway, regardless of whether there was an empty tomb or not, it is just as likely that the appearances of Jesus to Cephas and the twelve were “lies by Cephas and the twelves,” “ordinary non divine psychological experiences of the numinous,” or “an actual appearance of the true raised Jesus.”

            Who knows?

          • Possible, I suppose, but however Paul understood the resurrection (and it was vitally important to him that Christians believe it), he never once mentions the empty grave stories of the later gospels.

            What’s interesting is that, in your eagerness to brand the apostles as liars, you’re basically making the same arguments as resurrection apologists, including N.T. Wright’s convoluted interpretion that Paul’s spiritual bodies could be physical bodies, a conclusion he needs to keep his empty grave argument intact.

          • John MacDonald

            I think picturing whether Paul had an empty tomb scenario in mind depends on what the ancient Jews thought of as the end of days and the general resurrection of souls. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” of this general resurrection. Matthew thought the first stage looked like this:

            51At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. 52The tombs broke open, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After Jesus’ resurrection, when they had come out of the tombs, they entered the holy city and appeared to many people.… (Matthew 27:51-53)

            Where and when Matthew thought subsequent stages would happen Matthew doesn’t say. But from him at least we know some Jews thought that the general resurrection of souls meant bodies rising from the graves.

          • You may be right about how Paul would have seen Jesus’ resurrection; there is conflicting scholarship on the matter, but that may even be the majority opinion. In fact, let me totally concede that point. I was wrong to argue that only apologists had that interpretation of Paul.

            However, that still doesn’t make the empty grave stories any more likely. How would you know where Jesus body was in order to check? How would you know his body from any other body buried in the same location? In the climate of Israel, by the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ body would have deteriorated past recognition.

            The need to rob a grave would only be true in the very particular circumstances of the grave story shared by the later gospels. The idea that instead of the usual treatment of a crucifixion victim (exposure or a mass grave), Jesus was treated to his own personal, above ground grave, blocked by a huge stone and guarded by soldiers. Without that fanciful tale, there’s just a dead body indistinguishable from all the other dead bodies in a usual criminal grave.

          • John MacDonald

            The gospel writers don’t seem to think it was “odd” to know where Jesus was buried. Maybe they had a different view of the matter of his crucifixion and burial than you. And also, some of Jesus’ opponents are portrayed as believing they knew where Jesus’ grave was, because otherwise the stolen body accusation never would have arisen:

            —– “some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

            I’m not contending that everything in Matthew’s account here is totally historically reliable, just that he is preserving a tradition that some of Jesus opponents of that time believed they knew where Jesus’ tomb was, since otherwise it doesn’t really make sense that his opponents at the time would have been accusing the disciples of stealing the body.

            Beau, I’m not trying to say that I have evidence that the “lie / stolen body thesis” is “probable,” just that it is (a) one “possible” explanation, along with (b) your interpretation that Cephas and the twelve had perfectly naturalistic numinous experiences of Jesus, or (c) that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

            I’m just outlining possibilities.

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus’ opponents wouldn’t have been accusing the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body if, as you seem to think Beau, it was impossible to know where a crucifixion victim was buried.

          • John MacDonald

            Keep in mind that Jesus’ opponents were accusing the disciples of stealing the body, NOT denying that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and accusing the Christians that Jesus was in fact placed in an unmarked mass grave so there would be no way to know if the body was missing.

          • That’s just it. We already know that Matthew takes Mark’s gospel and changes and embellishes it.

            If Mark can invent an empty grave story, Matthew can embellish it with guards and counter claims. Don’t forget that the story in which the guards are bribed to say the disciples stole the body, is the same story in which the guards are confronted by an angel and freeze like dead men. I just don’t find the gospel writers that credible.

          • Sure, if you take Matthews word for it that the guards saw an angel, froze in fear, ran to tell the high priest, and were bribed to tell that story.

            It’s a good story within a story.

          • There are lots of things the gospel writers don’t consider “odd” … virgin births, fish miracles, resurrections, ascensions into heaven (must be in outer space?). If they can make up miracles and empty graves, they can embellish the stories with counter claims. Most scholars consider 2 Thessalonians pseudepigraphal, which is quite ironic, since the author of 2 Thessalonians warns his readers not to trust forged letters from Paul. This sort of baiting of counterclaims predates the gospels.

            I remember an argument that I had with an apologist in which he claimed that the healing of the blind man must have been true, because anyone could just ask the blind man. My response was, “what blind man?” If the gospel writer can make up the healing, he can make up the blind man.

            I agree that the stolen body hypothesis is possible.

            However, you misread my interpretation of 1 Corinthians. I agreed with you that most scholars don’t interpret Paul as believing in a purely “spiritual” resurrection. But that does not, by any means, make the appearances of Jesus to the apostles naturalistic. Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus was a visionary experience (what he describes is more dreamlike than anything else), and yet he lists the appearance of Jesus to himself right alongside the appearance experienced by everyone else in 1 Cor 15.

            Even if Jesus rose as a physical body, does not mean that’s how he appeared to everyone. In fact, in the only appearance Paul describes in any detail, he does not.

            But I agree with you about the possibilities. What we don’t know about early Christianity is far greater than what we know.

          • John MacDonald

            Another point is that the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed says the risen Jesus appeared on the THIRD DAY after he died:

            “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

          • John MacDonald

            Surely they could have easily found Jesus’ body 3 days after the fact!

          • Who could have found it? Who was looking?

          • John MacDonald

            Presumably if Cephas and the twelve were going around saying it was the end of the world and the inception of the general resurrection because Jesus had risen as the “first fruits,” Jesus’ Jewish opponents would have checked the grave! Even if Cephas et al were just saying Jesus had risen, Jesus’ Jewish opponents would have checked the grave — Don’t you think? If the Jewish opponents of Jesus went to the trouble of getting him crucified, don’t you think they would go to the trouble to see whether he had risen or not? C’mon Beau!

          • John MacDonald

            Especially if it was just three days after Jesus was crucified!

          • You have a confusing way of reading the gospels, John. When the gospels say the apostles fled to Galilee, you say it’s a literary device. But when the gospels claim the apostles saw the risen Jesus three days later, you swallow it hook, line and sinker!

            And then you embellish it – to say that not only did the apostles “see” Jesus 3 days later, they “report”ed it.

          • John MacDonald

            The Corinthian creed says Jesus was raised three days after he died, which I guess means that’s when people started reporting that they were seeing him:

            “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve,” (1 Cor. 15:3-5).

            And I reserve the right not to be consistent! lmao

          • Yeah, I reserve the right to be inconsistent, too! 🙂

            Of course, the Corinthian creed is a belief about when things happened to Jesus, not about when it was publically reported.

            But, John, if you believe that Jesus was raised three days after he died … I suppose you could make all sorts of ancillary suppositions …

          • I think you are assuming that these disciples had not fled back to Galilee, that they had the courage to go to the tomb where criminals were buried, and that they did so quickly enough that they could distinguish Jesus’ body from those of others executed on the site.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s certainly possible too. Mark records that all the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. On the other hand, Mark also records that the women followers knew where the tomb was and visited it.

          • John MacDonald

            And I didn’t say the disciples went to the tomb to check if the body was there (though they may have). What I said is that Cephas and the twelve reported seeing the risen Jesus three days after Jesus died, so this would have prompted Jesus’ Jewish opponents to check the grave.

          • John MacDonald

            Once the Jewish elite checked the grave and found Jesus was not there, this would have been the genesis of the tradition that some of Jesus’ followers stole the body.

          • And if those disciples are in Galilee, as the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Peter suggest?

          • John MacDonald

            Yes, then the “stolen body” thesis would seem to depend on the women (or whoever) finding the empty tomb.

            On the other hand, if Cephas and the twelve were reporting something as astounding as risen Jesus when they went to Gallilee (the Corinthian creed reports Jesus was first found to be risen three days after he died), it is perfectly reasonable to suppose word might have reached back to the Jewish elite in Jerusalem and they would have checked the grave.

          • John MacDonald

            And, as I said, there is no reason to suppose Mark’s claim that “When Jesus was arrested all the disciples fled” is historically true. It seems like a literary device to show that Jesus was completely abandoned at the time of his death = The whole “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” motif. And it would be odd that the female disciples stayed behind if the male disciples all fled.

            And as to the attestations of the disciples in Galilee by Mark, Matthew and Peter that you mentioned, Matthew uses Mark, so that is not necessarily an independent source, and Peter is late, so he might have just been repeating what the Christians of his time were saying about the disciples in Galilee.

            In any case, regardless of whether there was an empty tomb or a stolen body, I still think I make an interesting argument about deception in early Christianity in the link I provided at the top of this thread. I get points for creativity!

          • Lots of things are theoretically possible, but a historian should be asking which scenarios are most likely given the evidence. That the male disciples stayed and fact-checked for themselves, but then the earliest stream of Christian narrative about what happened depicted them as fleeing, seems less likely than that their flight reflects what actually transpired.

          • John MacDonald

            That makes good sense too! That’s why you’re the Religion Prof!

          • John MacDonald

            And Mark’s report that the disciples all fled when Jesus was arrested might just have been a literary device to show Jesus was completely abandoned in his death = the whole “My God My God, why have you abandoned me” motif.

          • No, I don’t think that. You can’t convince me to take the gospels at face value that easily (even with a friendly “c’mon!”).

            Even if you take the gospels as reliable records, there’s no record of anyone going around claiming Jesus had risen from the dead until the day of Pentacost.

            I don’t take the gospels as reliable records, so I rather doubt anyone was expecting a resurrection (including the itinerant rabbi the gospels are based on). I think it likely that the whole notion of Jesus’ resurrection was a later development – well after the crucifixion.

            Again, I just don’t find the gospels as credible as you do.

          • John MacDonald

            Fair enough. Let’s agree to disagree.

          • Yeah, I’ve never put any stock in the old apologetic argument that the empty tomb could have been “checked”.

            There’s no claim of an empty tomb in Paul’s letters, just a spiritual resurrection, which Paul specially qualifies (1 Cor 15) as NOT involving an “earthly body”. The gospel accounts (started by Mark) came decades later, when it would be easy to make up the empty grave wholesale. After all, the gospels are addressing Greek speaking Christians, scattered around the Roman Empire. They’d have to spend months traveling by foot, animal, and boat, to even reach the vicinity of a grave in Israel, and that’s assuming they would even know where such a grave existed. According to the records of Roman crucifixions, the dead bodies were generally discarded to be openly scavenged by wild animals or tossed into open graves containing lots of bodies. How are you going to “check” the random “grave” of a common criminal.

            I think it much more likely that the apostles never claimed an empty grave in the first place. Just visionary “appearances” that don’t require a missing body.

            The empty grave tale came later, replete with a handy dandy wealthy, never-heard-of-before Joseph of Arimathea, ready with a nice, clean expensive tomb, in a time when most folks didn’t have such tombs and bodies were rarely buried alone. Dress up the story with angels, authorities who would actually find it worth their while to guard the grave of an itinerant rabbi, and it all adds up to an apotheosis story that looks more Greek or Roman than Hebrew.

          • Nick G

            There are other possibilities. For example, consider the appearance of Jesus to two disciples (Cleopas and another unnamed) on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus supposedly appeared to them, but “their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (KJV, Luke 24:16), and they thought he was a stranger to Jerusalem, because he didn’t appear to know about Jesus’s crucifixion. They recognise him just before he disappears, and then feel that their hearts had “burned within them” while he was talking to them. A plausible explanation is that this person was a stranger, and that they persuaded themselves afterwards that it was Jesus – quite likely when stories of Jesus having been seen post mortem were already going around. Who among his faithful disciples would not have wanted to be among those to whom he had appeared? Neither lying nor hallucination necessary – just ordinary self-deception, and the re-telling and re-re-telling of anecdotes.

          • Neko

            Very well said, Beau. It’s completely plausible the early Jesus followers believed they had “seen” the risen Christ. I myself have experienced the kind of ecstatic religious episodes that make converts. Did I have visions, no; it was along the lines of “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” But they induced a presence so palpable that at one point I literally said to the air, “What do you want?”

            If I, a stone-cold atheist, could know religious euphoria, how much more the fervent disciples who believed Jesus was the Messiah?

        • Tony Prost

          Instructive is the way Ronald Reagan has been sanctified since his death.