Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 14: Exposure by Adversaries

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 14: Exposure by Adversaries May 30, 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, I argued that Kreeft’s Objection #1, Objection #2, Objection #3, Objection #4, Objection #5, and Objection #6 were all miserable FAILURES.   Since the first six of Kreeft’s seven objections against TCT are all miserable FAILURES, it is likely that Objection #7 will also turn out to be a miserable FAILURE.

In part #13 of this series, I pointed out that Objection #7 included two separate reasons for thinking that a conspiracy between the twelve apostles to lie about having personally and physically seen the risen Jesus would have been EXPOSED, thus putting an end to Christianity before it had the chance to get started.

The second reason was examined in part #13:

2a. Common experience shows that: All CONSPIRACIES are inevitably exposed.

I argued that this claim was FALSE, because the core claim (“All CONSPIRACIES are inevitably exposed.”) was NOT based on common experience, but was, rather, a tautology (or something very similar to a tautology).

There is also a serious problem with the core claim itself, namely it is much too weak to be of any use to Kreeft as an objection against TCT, because of the word “inevitably”.  Kreeft needs a much stronger claim, one that would be very dubious:

All (or nearly all) CONSPIRACIES are exposed in less than a year after they are initiated. 

Kreeft provides no evidence whatsoever to support such a questionable generalization.  So, the second reason included in Objection #7  is a miserable FAILURE.

Kreeft needs this much stronger claim, because the exposure of a conspiracy by the apostles would probably NOT have had a big impact on the spread of Christianity, if that exposure happened a number of years after the apostles had been preaching about salvation by faith in Jesus and about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

After a couple of years of preaching by the apostles, converting hundreds or thousands of people to the new Christian faith, belief in Jesus and in his resurrection probably would have continued to spread anyway.  A community of believers is capable of ignoring and resisting strong evidence that runs contrary to the cherished religious beliefs of that community of believers.

 

THE EXPOSURE-BY-ADVERSARIES ARGUMENT 

In this current post, I will critically examine the first reason included in Objection #7:

1. If there had been a conspiracy, it would certainly have been unearthed by the disciples’ adversaries.

The term “unearthed” here means the same as “exposed”, so lets revise this statement to consistently use the term “exposed”, which Kreeft favors.  And the term “disciples’ ” is too broad; we are only concerned with the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, namely “the twelve”.  Let’s revise this key statement accordingly:

1a. If there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the apostles’ adversaries.

Kreeft briefly states an argument in support of claim (1):

…the disciples’ adversaries…had both the interest and the power to expose any fraud [perpetrated by the twelve apostles].

The term “fraud” here means the same as “conspiracy”, so we can replace the term “fraud” with “conspiracy” in that statement.  The term “disciples’ ” should be replaced by the more specific term “apostles’ “,  which refers to “the twelve apostles”.

Kreeft’s Exposure-By-Adversaries argument has at least two premises plus an unstated assumption:

3. The apostles’ adversaries had the INTEREST to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles.

4. The apostles’ adversaries had the POWER to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles.

A. IF the apostles’ adversaries had both the INTEREST and the POWER to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, THEN if there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the apostles’ adversaries.

THEREFORE:

1a. If there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the apostles’ adversaries.


 


CLARIFICATION OF THE EXPOSURE-BY-ADVERSARIES ARGUMENT 

Before we can rationally evaluate this argument by Kreeft, it needs some clarification.  The most problematic phrase in his argument is “the disciples’ adversaries” which I have already improved upon by replacing the way too general term “disciples” with the more specific term “apostles” which I take to be a reference to “the twelve apostles”, the inner-circle of Jesus’ disciples.  But the phrase “the apostles’ adversaries” is still vague.  We need to spell out more clearly who Kreeft has in mind here.

My initial thought is that Kreeft is referring to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem around the time that Jesus was crucified and to the Roman rulers at that time.  Kreeft made some comments in his article on TCT that support this understanding of “the apostles’ adversaries”.  Sometimes, he indicates Roman rulers as being their adversaries:

Even when people broke under torture, denied Christ, and worshiped Caesar, they never let that cat out of the bag, never revealed that the resurrection was their conspiracy. For that cat was never in the bag.

Obviously, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem would have no interest in trying to get people to worship Caesar.  Such worship would be considered idolatry or worship of a false god by devout Jews.  It would be Roman rulers who might try to force Christians to worship Caesar.

Sometimes, Kreeft indicates the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem as being their adversaries:

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 phrase “the Jews” in the above quotation is a reference NOT to Jews in general (which would include Jesus, his apostles, and most of the followers of Jesus in the early years of the Christian faith!) but is a reference to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who, according to the gospels, persuaded Pilate to order the crucifixion of Jesus.

Sometimes, Kreeft indicates that both Jewish and Roman leaders were adversaries of the apostles:

What advantage did the “conspirators” derive from their “lie” ? They were hated, scorned, persecuted, excommunicated, imprisoned, tortured, exiled, crucified, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions—hardly a catalog of perks!

The term “excommunicated” implies involvement of Jewish leaders.  Roman rulers did not excommunicate people, but Jewish leaders did, at least at one point in the first century, excommunicate Jews who believed in Jesus as the messiah and savior of humankind from participation in religious activities at Jewish synagogues. But it was Roman rulers who “crucified” people, and who ordered Christian believers to be “fed to lions”, not Jewish leaders.

So, it is clear that by “the disciples’ adversaries” (or, better: “the apostles’ adversaries”) Kreeft means: the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified (about 30 CE), and Roman rulers at that time.  Let’s revise Kreeft’s argument to make this clarification:

3a. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified and the Roman rulers at that time had strong INTEREST to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles.

4a. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified and the Roman rulers at that time  had sufficient POWER to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles.

A1. IF the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified and the Roman rulers at that time had both strong INTEREST and sufficient POWER to expose any conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, THEN if there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified or by the Roman rulers at that time.

THEREFORE:

1b. If there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified or by the Roman rulers at that time.

 

EVALUATION OF THE EXPOSURE-BY-ADVERSARIES ARGUMENT 

Kreeft’s argument makes three historical claims, but he provides ZERO historical evidence in support of these claims.  So, we can already see that he is headed down the same well-worn path of intellectual sloth towards yet another miserable FAILURE of an objection.  Not that this is any surprise, given that each one of his first six objections were all miserable FAILURES.

Based on the above clarification of the phrase “the apostles’ adversaries”, my initial objection to Kreeft’s argument is that the Jewish leadership had the INTEREST but not the POWER to snoop out a conspiracy by the apostles, and the Roman rulers had the POWER but not the INTEREST to snoop out a conspiracy by the apostles, so nobody had both the POWER and the INTEREST to do this.

On further reflection, it is not clear that the Roman rulers had sufficient POWER to expose a conspiracy by the apostles, and it is not clear that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had sufficient INTEREST to expose a conspiracy by the apostles, so the argument is even more dubious than my initial objection suggests.

The Jewish leadership of Jerusalem did NOT have the authority to execute people, which is why they (supposedly) had to persuade Pilate to order the crucifixion of Jesus.  So, their POWER to threaten the apostles and their fellow believers was limited.

The Jewish leadership of Jerusalem did have INTEREST in opposing the new Christian movement.  But it also seems to me that their INTEREST in exposing a conspiracy by the apostles was probably not very strong.

First of all, the strategy of disputing and attempting to disprove some basic beliefs of a religious group or movement seems a naive and impractical way to diminish the growth of such a group or movement.  Religious beliefs tend not to be easily crushed by rational argument or powerful contrary evidence.  People are good at ignoring evidence and arguments that run contrary to their basic beliefs, especially to their religious beliefs.  It is more realistic and practical to kill or silence or ostracize the leaders of a religious group or movement in order to diminish the growth of the group or movement.

Second, the fact is that the first apostle to be martyred was James the brother of John, and he was “executed by Herod Agrippa I in 44 C.E. (Acts 12:2).” (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.669), many years after the crucifixion of Jesus.  He was NOT arrested or executed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and we don’t know WHY Herod Agrippa had James executed.  It might have had nothing to do with belief in Jesus or in Jesus’ resurrection, for all we know.

So, the apostles were able to preach about Jesus and Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem for many years without any of them being killed or silenced, and when one of them was finally killed, we don’t know WHY he was killed.  It seems to me that if the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem had a strong INTEREST in destroying the new Christian movement or in diminishing its growth, they would have figured out a way to have the apostles killed or silenced or ostracized in the first couple of years after Jesus was crucified. The fact that they did not do this, and that there is no indication that they made repeated attempts to do this, implies that their level of INTEREST in snooping out a possible conspiracy among the apostles was low or moderate.

Roman rulers would NOT have been concerned about Jewish theological disagreements about whether Jesus was the messiah or a prophet or the divine son of God, nor whether God had raised Jesus from the dead.  So, Roman rulers would NOT have a strong INTEREST in exposing a conspiracy by the apostles about the resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, Roman persecution of Christian believers did not begin until about three decades AFTER Jesus was crucified:

Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire occurred intermittently over a period of over two centuries between the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD under Nero and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, in which the Roman Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius legalised the Christian religion.

(“Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire” in Wikipedia)

So, it is doubtful that Roman rulers had a strong INTEREST in crushing the Christian movement in the months and years immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Roman rulers did, however, have the authority to execute people, but in order to snoop out a conspiracy between the apostles, they would also need to have a good understanding of the language and culture of the apostles.  The apostles spoke Aramaic, not Latin or Greek, so there was a language gap between Roman rulers and the apostles.  The apostles were Palestinian Jews by culture, but Roman rulers were NOT Jewish and were fully hellenized in their culture.  The language and culture of Roman rulers is very different from the language and culture of the twelve apostles, which would make it difficult for Roman rulers to get a clear understanding of the words and actions of the apostles.  This would significantly hinder the ability of Roman rulers to snoop out a conspiracy among the apostles.

Recall that there was great concern a few years ago that the Pentagon and the CIA had did not have many people who were fluent in Arabic and familiar with the countries and cultures of the Middle East.  Even though the USA is the most powerful country in the world in terms of military might, there was concern that we did not have good intelligence about terrorist organizations, leaders, and plans because our country was lacking in people who understood the language and cultures of the Middle East countries where terrorists movements were developing and growing.

Our military might does NOT equate to full POWER and control, because our government was lacking in the ability to understand the words and actions of people who were involved in, or who could become involved in, terrorist movements and organizations.  The Romans faced a similar issue: unfamiliarity with the Aramaic language and with the culture of Palestinian Jews.

Let’s review Kreeft’s Exposure-By-Adversaries Argument, in light of the above considerations:

Concerning premise (3a), the Roman rulers would probably have NO INTEREST in becoming involved in the Jewish theological disagreement over whether God raised Jesus from the dead, and did not show strong INTEREST in opposing the Christian faith until decades after Jesus was crucified.  The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem might have had some interest in opposing belief in Jesus’ resurrection, but it seems unlikely that they had a strong INTEREST in a strategy of disputing or disproving the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, as a way of destroying, or diminishing the growth of, the Christian movement. Furthermore, the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem allowed the apostles to continue to preach about Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus for at least a decade.  Thus (3a) is probably FALSE.

Concerning premise (4a), the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem did not have the POWER to execute the apostles or other Christian believers, so their ability to threaten Christians was limited.  Roman rulers did have the POWER to execute apostles or other Christian believers, but there was a big language and cultural gap between Roman rulers and the apostles that would make investigation of the words and actions of the apostles difficult for Roman rulers.  So, although Roman rulers had the POWER of life and death over the apostles, it would be difficult for them to investigate and discover a conspiracy among the apostles.  The Roman rulers had limited POWER in terms of their ability to expose a conspiracy between the apostles.  So, (4a) is probably FALSE.

Based on the above considerations, it is very probable that either (3a) or (4a) is FALSE, so it is very probable that this argument by Kreeft is UNSOUND.  This argument is a miserable FAILURE as an objection to TCT, because (a) it makes historical claims that Kreeft supports with ZERO evidence, and (b) upon closer examination two historical claims that are key premises in the argument are both probably FALSE.

 

EVALUATION OF THE EXPOSURE-BY-ADVERSARIES OBJECTION 

This is the conclusion of the Exposure-By-Adversaries argument:

1b. If there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified or by the Roman rulers at that time.

Even if this conclusion were true, this would NOT constitute a strong objection against TCT, because there is no specified time-frame in the conclusion.

If it took a decade for the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to EXPOSE a conspiracy by the twelve apostles to deceive others about their having personally and physically seen the risen Jesus, this would probably have been too late to put an end to the Christian faith and to the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God.  But EXPOSING such a conspiracy a decade after the crucifixion of Jesus would be consistent with the truth of the conclusion (1b).

The truth of the conclusion of the Exposure-By-Adversaries argument would still leave open the possibility that the twelve apostles did conspire to lie about the resurrection of Jesus, and that this conspiracy was exposed by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and yet that the Christian faith and belief in the resurrection of Jesus continued to spread in spite of this “refutation” by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.

 

CONCLUSION

Kreeft presented two reasons that a conspiracy by the twelve apostles about the alleged resurrection appearances of Jesus would have been EXPOSED:

1b. If there had been a conspiracy perpetrated by the twelve apostles, it would certainly have been exposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who were in power around the time Jesus was crucified or by the Roman rulers at that time.

2a. Common experience shows that: All CONSPIRACIES are inevitably exposed.

Both of these objections are miserable FAILURES as objections to The Conspiracy Theory, so Objection #7 is a miserable FAILURE, just like all of the previous six objections.  Thus, Kreeft’s case against The Conspiracy Theory is totally and completely a miserable FAILURE.


NOTE (6/1/19):

I have NOT argued that The Conspiracy Theory is TRUE.

What I have argued is that Peter Kreeft has FAILED utterly and completely to show that The Conspiracy Theory is FALSE.  His case against The Conspiracy Theory is no weaker or more flawed than the cases made by other well-known Christian apologists, so I believe his case is representative of the cases made by most apologists against this skeptical theory.  I don’t believe that anyone has ever refuted or disproved The Conspiracy Theory.

My view is that it is very probable that ONE of the four skeptical theories (swoon, conspiracy, hallucination, or myth) is true, and that there is also a significant chance that there was no historical Jesus at all, and that the Gospels are works of fiction.

I don’t think that ANY of the skeptical theories has been proven to be TRUE, but I also don’t think that ANY of them have been proven to be FALSE.  Each one of the skeptical theories has a significant chance of being TRUE.  The historical data that we have to work with is too skimpy and too unreliable to be able to prove or disprove any theory about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  The most we can reasonably hope for is to establish rough probability estimates for each of the skeptical theories (including the theory that Jesus did not exist).

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