Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 11: Producing Jesus’ Corpse

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 11: Producing Jesus’ Corpse May 6, 2019

WHERE WE ARE AT

Peter Kreeft raises seven objections against The Conspiracy Theory (hereafter: TCT) in an attempt to disprove that theory, as part of an elimination-of-alternatives argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  Kreeft thinks that by disproving four skeptical theories, he can show that the Christian theory is true, that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

  • In previous posts (Part #4, Part #5, Part #6, and Part #7), I argued that Kreeft’s Objection #1 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #8 I argued that his Objection #2 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #9 I argued that his Objection #3 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #10 I argued that his Objection #4 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.

Since the first four of Kreeft’s seven objections against TCT are all miserable FAILURES, it is likely that none of the remaining three objections will turn out to be a solid objection against TCT.  Nevertheless, I will continue to consider and evaluate the remaining objections.

 

OBJECTION #5:  PRODUCING JESUS’ DEAD BODY

Here is  the main point in Kreeft’s Objection #5:

If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it.

The use of the expression “the Jews” here is bothersome.  Afterall, Jesus was a Jew, and all of the Twelve apostles were Jews,  and nearly all of the disciples of Jesus (during his lifetime) were Jews.  What Kreeft means by “the Jews” here is this: the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBJECTION #5 IS BASED ON SEVERAL QUESTIONABLE ASSUMPTIONS

Objection #5 is based upon a number of historical assumptions:

HA1: The body of Jesus was removed from the cross and buried in a stone tomb.

HA2:  None of the Twelve apostles, none of Jesus’ followers, and nobody in Jesus’ family removed his body from the tomb.

HA3: IF the body of Jesus was removed from the cross and buried in a stone tomb, and none of the Twelve apostles, none of Jesus’ followers, and nobody in Jesus’ family removed his body from the tomb, THEN the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion knew where Jesus’ body was buried (or could easily find out where it was buried).

HA4: Some of the Twelve apostles began to preach the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem just a few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, claiming to have personally and physically seen the risen Jesus.

HA5:  Immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem was strongly motivated to suppress the growth of the religious movement that was later called “Christianity”. 

HA6: IF immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem was strongly motivated to suppress the growth of the religious movement that was later called “Christianity”, THEN they probably would have made serious efforts in the days immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus to refute the new Christian belief that Jesus had risen from the dead.

HA7: IF the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem made serious efforts in the days immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus to refute the new Christian belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, and IF they knew where the body of Jesus was buried (or could easily find out where it was buried), THEN they probably would have produced Jesus’ corpse a few days after Jesus was crucified and put it on public display in Jerusalem.

HA8: IF the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem had produced Jesus’ corpse a few days after Jesus was crucified and put it on public display in Jerusalem, THEN that would probably have eliminated any belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and thus ended Christianity before it had a chance to get started.

There is not a single assumption above that amounts to an historical FACT.  Every single one of these assumptions is a questionable or dubious historical hypothesis, yet Kreeft has provided ZERO historical evidence in support of these assumptions.  Kreeft’s Objection #5 thus rests on at least EIGHT different questionable historical assumptions, none of which he has made any effort to prove or substantiate.  Thus, Objection #5 is clearly a FAILURE.

 

IT IS VERY PROBABLE THAT ONE OF THESE ASSUMPTIONS IS FALSE

If just ONE of these EIGHT questionable historical assumptions is FALSE, then that would pretty much sink Objection #5, because each one of these assumptions is needed to establish the correctness of Objection #5.  Since each of these assumptions is questionable and has some significant probability of being FALSE, it is very probable that at least one of these eight assumptions is FALSE.  Therefore, it is very probable Objection #5 rests upon at least one FALSE historical assumption.  In that case, Objection #5 is not merely a FAILURE, but it is a miserable FAILURE, like all of the four objections that preceded it.

The Gospels do claim that Jesus was removed from the cross and that his body was placed in a stone tomb.  So, there is some historical evidence for HA1.  But the details of the burial of Jesus vary between the Gospels, victims of crucifixion were usually not allowed to have a proper burial, and the shame of Jesus not being given a proper burial is something that early Christian storytellers would likely have edited out, and replaced with fictional accounts of a proper burial.  Thus NT scholars do not all agree that Jesus’ body was removed from the cross and given a proper burial in a stone tomb.  Though there is some evidence for HA1, its truth is uncertain.

What sort of evidence is there that could establish HA2?  We don’t know the activities of all of the Twelve apostles in the days immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion.  We don’t know the activities of his family members in that time frame, and we certainly don’t know the activities of all of Jesus’ followers in that time frame.  So, HA2 is just speculation.  It might well be the case that somebody who knew or followed Jesus moved his body out of the tomb (if he was in fact buried in a stone tomb).

There is no reason to think that the leaders of Jerusalem had any interest in whether the body of Jesus was buried in a stone tomb or in the location of such a tomb.  The Gospel of Matthew includes a story that indicates that Jewish leaders requested that Roman soldiers be placed at Jesus’ tomb to prevent the theft of his body, but many NT scholars view this story as apologetically-motivated fiction.  It is intended to be a response to the skeptical challenge that the tomb was empty because the apostles stole Jesus’ body.  Thus, it appears likely that HA3 is FALSE.

There is no reason to think that the apostles began to preach about the death and resurrection of Jesus in the days immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus.  First of all, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew indicate that the apostles left Jerusalem shortly after Jesus was crucified, and that the first appearances of the risen Jesus to the apostles took place in Galilee, which was several days journey north of Jerusalem.  So, the belief of the apostles in the resurrection of Jesus probably did not begin until at least a week after Jesus was crucified.  Then they would have to travel back to Jerusalem before they could preach about the resurrection there.  So, the very earliest that the apostles would have preached about the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem is about two weeks after the crucifixion, which means that they did NOT start preaching in Jerusalem about the resurrection of Jesus “just a few days after” the crucifixion of Jesus.

Kreeft himself approvingly quotes William Craig who talks about the apostles preaching in Jerusalem “a few weeks after the crucifixion” that Jesus had risen from the dead.  If the apostles started preaching about the resurrection “a few weeks after the crucifixion”, then the apostles did NOT start preaching about the resurrection “just a few days after the crucifixion Jesus’ crucifixion”. Thus, there is good reason to believe that HA4 is probably FALSE.

Recall that it took over a decade for the first of the Twelve apostles to be killed (i.e. James the brother of John), and James was NOT killed by order of the Jewish Council in Jerusalem.  If the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem was indeed instrumental in getting Jesus crucified by the Romans, they appear to have been satisfied with killing the charismatic leader of this religious movement, and were not so anxious about killing off the lower-level of leadership, i.e. the Twelve apostles.  So, HA5 is probably FALSE.

Assumption HA6 is improbable on its face, because it is foolish to try to suppress a religious movement by presenting evidence against some central belief of that religious movement.  It is far more effective and far more common to suppress a religious movement by killing the leaders of the movement.  Engaging in rational debate with fervent religious believers about the truth of their central religious beliefs is pretty much guaranteed to fail, no matter how strong the evidence might be against those beliefs.

Note the various conditions involved in HA7:

IF the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem made serious efforts in the days immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus to refute the new Christian belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, and IF they knew where the body of Jesus was buried (or could easily find out where it was buried), THEN…

Both conditions are unlikely, so it is very unlikely that both conditions would have been met.  But in the unlikely event that both conditions were true, it is NOT probable that the consequent would follow:

…THEN they probably would have produced Jesus’ corpse a few days after Jesus was crucified and put it on public display in Jerusalem.

Remember that the leadership in Jerusalem were unable to identify Jesus; they had to bribe Judas, so that Jesus could be identified and arrested.  There were no newspapers, no photographs of Jesus, no wanted posters with a mug shot of Jesus, no videotape of Jesus.  So, the only way for someone to get to know what Jesus looked like would be to go in person to hear him preach and/or watch him perform faith healings.  Producing Jesus’ dead body would not be persuasive evidence for the majority of people living in Jerusalem who never laid eyes directly upon Jesus.

  • Why not simply produce the body of some random dead Jewish peasant and claim that the body was that of Jesus?
  • Why not hire witnesses to falsely testify that they saw Jesus’ dead body in the tomb after the apostles began preaching the resurrection?
  • Why not hire witnesses to falsely testify that they saw the apostles steal the dead body of Jesus from the tomb?
  • Why not put forward their best theological arguments against Jesus being the messiah or divine Son of God, and thus not a likely candidate for resurrection by God?
  • Why not hire witnesses to falsely testify that Jesus was a fornicator or a thief, in order to cast doubt on the alleged resurrection of Jesus?
  • Why not hire witnesses to falsely testify that the apostles were fornicators or thieves, in order to cast doubt on their claims to have seen the risen Jesus?

There are many different ways to try to persuade people to reject the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, so we cannot reasonably conclude that it is PROBABLE that the Jewish leadership would have chosen the specific strategy of putting Jesus’ dead body on public display.  HA7 is therefore probably FALSE.

The assumption that Christian believers would have been universally persuaded to reject belief in the resurrection of Jesus by putting Jesus’ dead body on public display is naive and implausible.  People who have a fervent religious conviction are very often impervious to factual evidence that goes against their basic religious beliefs.

Furthermore, since there were no photographs or videos of Jesus, and since there was no such thing as fingerprinting or DNA testing, there would not be a good way to PROVE that a particular dead body was the body of Jesus.  Finally, putting Jesus’ corpse on public display would have been convincing evidence for only as long as the body remained recognizable as being Jesus, which would only be a matter of days.  After a week or two, the decomposing body would not be readily identifiable.  So, HA8 is probably FALSE, because it supposes that people who have a fervent religious conviction would be easily and universally persuaded to abandon that strongly-held conviction on the basis of evidence that was merely modest evidence, not in any way conclusive evidence.

 

CONCLUSION

Objection #5 is a FAILURE, because Kreeft presents ZERO historical evidence in support of several historical assumptions supporting this objection, and it is a miserable FAILURE as an objection against TCT, because each of the EIGHT historical assumptions supporting Objection #5 is questionable or dubious, and each of those assumptions has a significant chance of being FALSE, so it is very likely that at least ONE of the EIGHT assumptions is FALSE, and thus that Objection #5 is based on a FALSE assumption.

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