On the Skepticism of the Resurrection (part 3)

On the Skepticism of the Resurrection (part 3) January 5, 2015

As mentioned in my previous posts, someone in Malawi is about to have a debate on national TV with a Christian about the Resurrection accounts and I have been asked to help provide some ideas for the debate, so here goes.

There are three aspects to the debunking of the Resurrection:

1) The Gospels are not reliable sources of information; they are poor quality evidence

2) The claims of the Resurrection are incredible claims which require very good quality evidence

3) If the Christian claims of the Resurrection are not true, then what, if anything, actually took place, and what hypothesis can better explain the data?

Having looked at points 1) and 2) it is time to see if there is a more plausible explanation for the data from a naturalistic perspective than the Christian claims. Before setting out the positive case, I want to spend a little time going over some of the data from the Gospels and how they are problematic. Really, this belongs in the first post under point 1), but it sort of required its own post for reasons of length.

Here are what are often called the “minimal facts” by people like William Lane Craig:

  1. After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
  2. On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
  3. On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
  4. The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. [source]

With these in mind, let us see if these data points stand up to scrutiny.

The Silence of Paul

Had the Resurrection account based on followers discovering an empty tomb been a pre-existing oral or written tradition, in all likelihood, the Apostle Paul would have mentioned it; not in all of his letters, since many were about local church issues, but in 1 Corinthians at least, I would posit. We learn very little from Paul about the historical Jesus, but 1 Corinthians is slightly different to the other letters. After all, Paul reminds the Corinthians of their general acceptance of Jesus’ Resurrection, that he was buried and raised. And yet there is no mention of an empty tomb, or of its discoverers. Paul goes to length in persuading the reader of how important the Resurrection was. Surely, then, to help persuade, as the Gospel writers do, then mentioning the ‘facts’ about this event would have been vital! As Geoffrey Lampe states:

If Jesus’ resurrection is denied, he says, the bottom drops out of the Christian gospel. And the evidence that he raises consists in the appearances to himself and to others. Had he known that the tomb was found empty it seems inconceivable that he should not have adduced this here as a telling piece of objective evidence. [note 1]

As Kris Komarnitsky states in Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection:

Given Paul’s ability to defend ideas, and given his effort above to defend Jesus’ resurrection, it is hard to understand why Paul did not mention a discovered empty tomb if he knew about it. It would have been a great bolstering point for Jesus’ resurrection and in turn for the general resurrection, which Paul argues for right after arguing for Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-57), including giving a seed/plant analogy that attempts to describe how a dead body is raised (1 Cor 15:35-54). The discovered empty tomb is the only piece of major evidence missing from Paul’s argument for Jesus’ resurrection. [note 5]

Thus we appear to have a later development for this perhaps legendary overlay. Absence of evidence, when expected, IS evidence of absence.

Joseph of Arimathea

Here are some videos I did ages ago documenting the issues with J of A. He is most likely a theological and literary device who was fictional (his name probably meaning “best disciple”, using an analysis of “Arimathea” which appears not to exist as a geographical location, amongst many other points made). Please watch to save me expounding them all here.

Further to this is the idea that he also seems to be conveniently fulfilling some particularly contrived prophetic verses, which I set out here (Joseph of Arimathea; a rich prophecy fulfilment).

Many interpreters of the Markan account of J of A lead one to believe that he was a God-fearing Jew as opposed to some new Christian convert, and wanted a burial to fulfil Jewish predilections for burial before the sunset and the Sabbath, rather than fulfilling any desire to appease any faith in Christ. [Note 4]

75% of New Testament scholars believe in the Empty Tomb

This is a claim, often without the percentage, made by William Lane Craig and others who follow in his lines of arguments. It is used to set up the Resurrection account as likely to be true. There are several things to say here:

a) Almost 100% of Islamic scholar believe in the truth of the Qu’ran, it does not say much about the intrinsic truth value of the book. Most NT scholars are Christian and enter the field of study in order to ratify their own beliefs. Of course they will find this cornerstone of the Resurrection narrative true.

b) IF the claim is based on Jakob Kremer then this was a bald assertion with no backing at all, and Kremer himself was apparently agnostic about the empty tomb anyway. Craig’s use of Kremer can be seen critically analysed here. Craig, in debate with Carrier, and when Carrier spent a long time critiquing Habermas on this point, switched and claimed he was using Kremer as a source, and of course Carrier had not prepared for this sidestep (considering Craig was almost certainly using Habermas: a sort of bait and switch tactic).

c) IF the claim is using Gary Habermas’ study, then the claim is problematic since the study is fraught with issue. Firstly, as mentioned, most people asked were Christians, some studying at Christian universities with doctrinal statements making sure the pollsters HAD to believe in the empty tomb! To say that, even with such huge selection bias, only 75% believed the minimal facts thesis of the empty tomb shows that fully 1 in 4 still do not think it viable. That is no small proportion. This article shows how the survey would never pass peer review and is full of statistical issue. Richard Carrier in “Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix” also provides an excellent critique of Habermas’ arguments relating to the minimal facts, and the statistical problems. The fact that hardly any agnostics or skeptics are included as scholarly sources for the survey is dubious to say the least.

An Honourable Burial in a Tomb

This is a vastly important point. The biblical account has a blasphemous traitor given a quick trial to make sure he goes down, and then being allowed a burial befitting someone worthy of honour. This is a 180 about turn. I set out the myriad issues here, detailing burial practices in the area – “Jesus: burial practices and crucifixion”:

We return back to the idea that Jesus was especially toxic, and people went utterly out of their way to get him crucified. The likelihood of going back on this to give honour in death is preposterous. It makes no sense. The precedent question is more specific – there is no precedence for someone in the same situation as Jesus being given an honourable burial. In other words, there are very particular occasions of low criminals having bodies taken down for proper burial, but for treason, as Jesus, uh-uh, nope.

The likelihood is that Jesus would have been left to die on the cross and have his flesh picked off by wild animals as the usual deterrent. He would then have been buried in a shallow grave, perhaps unknown to anyone of importance to the narrative. This is corroborated by the Secret Book of James, which has Jesus saying:

Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Or do you not know that you have not yet been mistreated and have not yet been accused unjustly, nor have you yet been shut up in prison, nor have you yet been condemned lawlessly, nor have you yet been crucified without reason, nor have you yet been buried in the sand, as was I myself, by the evil one? [my emphasis]

This is Jesus claiming he was buried in the ground, in the earth, and not a tomb. As Josephus stated:

He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner” (Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.6) [my emphasis]

So not only is J of A unlikely to be a real character, but burial in a brand new rock-hewn tomb is equally fictitious, in all probability.

More Problems with the Empty Tomb: Veneration

Again, I have written about this elsewhere in “Why was Jesus’ tomb not venerated?”:

So I think we can successfully conclude that Jews did venerate sites and even artifacts. Would it then seem likely that early Jewish Christians would give the tomb of Jesus any such veneration? Absolutely. Remember, this is probably the greatest site of spiritual interest in the world. Bar none. This is where God, incarnate in man and dying nearby, was given life again to rise into heaven magnificently in order to pay for our sins and give us hope. It also acts as the birthplace, if you like, for the entire Christian religion. It would be insane to think that the site would not be venerated and given special accord.

Let us ask whether the site would be known and remembered. The tomb was that of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. Even if one didn’t know exactly where this tomb was, one could surely find out. His description within the New Testament hints at him being of some notoriety. Moreover, there are a number of people who visited the tomb who clearly HAD to have been, in some way, the sources to the resurrection accounts. Whether it was Mary, the other Mary, Salome or Simon Peter, we have a number of candidates who qualify for having such geographical knowledge. It would be strange if they could recount all the details of the resurrection to their fellow Apostles and disciples, and yet somehow forgot where it took place. This is almost a moot point since in describing the visitors to the tomb, it is clearly implicit that they knew where it was.

So if they knew where it was, and if they were culturally and spiritually highly likely to venerate the spot, why didn’t they? Let us look briefly at reasons why they would not want to do so.

Of course, the best reason that it was not venerated is because, like I have mentioned, it did not exist and Jesus was buried in a shallow grave.

The Women Discovering the Empty Tomb

Mark ends his Gospel:

They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The rest, after 16:8 is interpolation. What could explain this? Well, if they said nothing to anyone until they got home 30 minutes later, then this is a crass way to end the first Gospel. If they went home and said nothing to anyone, period, until the claims seeped out decades later, then this has a purpose, and the ending actually makes sense. It is not until later Gospels that we hear of the empty tomb that was heretofore unknown. In fact, the silence of the women here gives the excuse as to why no one knew where the tomb was, why it is not venerated, why this and why that. It is the ultimate excuse, the ultimate method of denying skeptical Jews the ability to challenge the empty tomb thesis. Suddenly, decades later, disciples are claiming that “well, of course, the first witnesses kept silent about it, so you wouldn’t have known etc. in order to falsify it”. This lends itself to the later legendary overlay. In fact, Matthew and Luke seem to want to take Mark in their own directions to the point that eminent Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, states:

True, we have in the Matthean and Lucan accounts of the burial an early interpretation of Mark; but…there is a very high possibility that these two evangelists have changed and developed the Marcan outlook. Consequently, I shall not use Matthew and Luke as a primary guide to Mark’s intention. [Note 2]

What is even more difficult with this is that mourners were explicitly forbidden from mourning at a criminal’s burial, and the Romans were big on enforcing it, as Kris Komarnitsky reports in Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection:

Such behavior by the authorities is noted by first-century historian Tacitus. He noted that as people lingered around the corpses of those executed by the Romans in 32 C.E. (within a year or two of Jesus’ crucifixion), “Spies were set round them, who noted the sorrow of each mourner…” (Annals 6.19). All of the above suggests that if Jesus was buried dishonorably, it is doubtful that any of his family, friends, or followers would have attended the burial. (location 609)

Moreover, it was explicitly forbidden at festivals, as this was, whether criminal (and  dishonourably buried) or not (see the Mishnah, eg Moed Katan 3.7-9). This means that it would be very unlikely that the women would be there at all, at any rate.

Matthew’s Guards at the Tomb

Again, I have written about this in more length; see here: “Matthew and the guards at the tomb”. The fact that only Matthew includes guards in his narrative means that it is pretty much accepted now as being a-historical (Craig has defended it, but admits it may well be false). Here is what probably occurred:

  • Christian legend arises that Jesus’ tomb was found empty.
  • Some Jews counter that his followers probably stole the body.
  • Christian legend arises that the tomb was guarded.
  • Jewish legend arises that the guards fell asleep.
  • Christian legend arises (reflected in Matthew’s Gospel) that the Jewish claim of sleeping guards comes from the guards being paid off (decades earlier) by the authorities to say they fell asleep instead of reporting the supernatural angel they saw. [note 3]

We can see that the myth of the guards arises out of this tit-for-tat back and forth that seems to have happened. The many problems are:

  • They do not appear anywhere else
  • There is still time in the chronology to steal the body
  • The guards are the first to see the resurrected Jesus, do not seem to convert and are not heard from again
  • They return to the priests and report the event, unperturbed by whaat they see which would shake them to their religious and personal foundations
  • If this is a clear fabrication, then what else in the Resurrection accounts also is? Where do we draw the line?

Conclusion

This is by no means at all exhaustive. I suggest, for more depth, reading all the hyperlinked articles and documents for more complete analysis – this is but a mere summary.

What we can tell from this is that, before we even look at a plausible naturalistic explanation for the data, the data itself is obviously rife with issue. It is inaccurate or fabricated to start with, to the point that we are simply not sure how much can be relied on as having any truth value whatsoever – and remember the critical analysis of the sources, too, made in the first part to this series.

Christians read the Gospels as some kind of either literal historical document, or in cases such as this, almost that. Trying to harmonise how many angels were actually at the tomb is one thing, but answering all these other conundrums is nothing short of an irrational headache.

In some senses a naturalistic explanation is not even necessary, since the source documents can be pulled apart and thoroughly questioned, like pulling apart four accounts of some miracles of Sathya Sai Baba written by his followers thirty to a hundred years after his death. We do not necessarily need to explain the data because the data is most probably false to start with. That said, my next post will present possible naturalistic hypotheses to explain the pertinent data of the Gospels.

NOTES

Note 1 – “Easter: A Statement” in The Resurrection, ed. William Purcell, 1996, 43

Note 2 – R.E. Brown, “The Burial of Jesus,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly Vol. 50.1 (Jan 1988): 233-234.

Note 3 – K. Komarnitsky, “Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?”, Stone Arrow Books, 2014, location 401

Note 4 – R.E. Brown, Death of the Messiah, II, ABRL 7, New York: Doubleday, 1994, 1216, 1239 and “The Burial of Jesus”, Cathollic Biblical Quarterly, Vol 50.1, (Jan 1988), 240, 243

Note 5 – K. Komarnitsky, “Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?”, Stone Arrow Books, 2014, location 296

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  • A few comments:

    That Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb was empty. Paul is not providing a detailed argument for Jesus’s resurrection but merely reminding the Corinthians of what he had told them at an earlier date (1 Cor. 15:1). Hence, the claim that he would have surely narrated the discovery of the empty tomb, if he had known about it, is based on a misreading of the passage.

    Jesus is not buried in a tomb because Pilate thought he was worthy of honor, he is buried in a tomb because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath (Jn 19:31). It is disingenuous for someone skeptical of the canonical Gospels to appeal to a much later writing, the Secret Book of James, in an attempt to prove his point about Jesus not being buried in a tomb. Nonetheless, the citation is not even evidence that the author of the Secret Book of James thought Jesus was not buried in a tomb. In the sign of Jonah story (Mt 12:40) Jesus says he will be in the heart of the earth for three days but Matthew sees no contradiction between this and burial in a tomb. A tomb can be in the earth/sand.

    The women’s apparent silence in Mark 16:8 concerning the empty tomb is irrelevant to whether the location of the tomb would be known. The location of the tomb was known when Jesus was buried, not when he was resurrected. The women knew what tomb to go to before they found the tomb empty.

    Your attempt to reconstruct how the account of the guards at the tomb arose is pure speculation.

    • Ed

      Jayman, picking up on the claim “Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb was empty.” It implies the tomb or grave was empty. If it was a communal grave under the jusristriction of the Romans then there was no way of checking if the body had vanished or not, so the disciples just assumed it was gone. Johno’s work shows why a visitable rock tomb was unlikely.

      My view of why Paul (or the creed he quotes) needed to spell out ‘buried’ is that prophesy drove them to believe in a burial rather than decomposition on the cross, and as decomposition on the cross was a common fate it needed to be clearly stated as a burial.

      Regarding the belief in Secret Book of James account while rejecting the gospels, you make a good point. But a stronger issue is to question which is more likely …. the Christian rumour mill making an empty tomb into a sand grave … or vice versa? It seems that this James document is important because tells us that it has to be one or the other.

      • My point about Paul and 1 Cor. 15 is that we can’t expect him to have mentioned the discovery of the empty tomb even if he had known about it. The argument from silence that Jonathan tries to get off the ground fails.

        In my comments about the Secret Book of James (The Apocryphon of James) I noted that a burial in earth/sand and a burial in a tomb are not incompatible. Matthew has no problem saying Jesus prophesied he would be in the earth and also saying Jesus was buried in a tomb.

        • “My point about Paul and 1 Cor. 15 is that we can’t expect him to have mentioned the discovery of the empty tomb even if he had known about it. ”

          – um, why not? It fits perfectly with what he is trying to express. As Komarnitsky states:

          “Given Paul’s ability to defend ideas, and given his effort above to defend Jesus’ resurrection, it is hard to understand why Paul did not mention a discovered empty tomb if he knew about it. It would have been a great bolstering point for Jesus’ resurrection and in turn for the general resurrection, which Paul argues for right after arguing for Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-57), including giving a seed/plant analogy that attempts to describe how a dead body is raised (1 Cor 15:35-54). The discovered empty tomb is the only piece of major evidence missing from Paul’s argument for Jesus’ resurrection.”

          • In 1 Cor 15 Paul is not providing a detailed defense of Jesus’s resurrection. That’s the problem with your argument from silence.

          • josh

            The problem is that Paul nowhere provides a description of Jesus’s physical resurrection, especially from an empty tomb. Jesus is spiritually resurrected in a new body to make mystical appearances to people like Paul, in his telling.

            One would think that Paul would have opportunity somewhere to mention the great tomb story he’s heard about, in your telling. He could go visit it on his trip to Jerusalem for instance.

          • The problem is that Paul nowhere provides a description of Jesus’s physical resurrection, especially from an empty tomb. Jesus is spiritually resurrected in a new body to make mystical appearances to people like Paul, in his telling.

            A study of Paul and the resurrection is too much for a comment section. I would point you to N. T. Wright’s exegesis in The Resurrection of the Son of God where he shows that when Jews spoke of resurrection they spoke of physical resurrection.

            One would think that Paul would have opportunity somewhere to mention the great tomb story he’s heard about, in your telling.

            Like Acts 13:29-37 (NIV)?

            29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

            32 We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “You are my son; today I have become your father.” 34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.” 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “You will not let your holy one see decay.”

            36 Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

            First, Paul is aware of Jesus’s burial in the tomb. Second, if Jesus had only been “spiritually” resurrected his body would have seen decay, so Paul must be saying that Jesus’s body was raised.

          • GearHedEd

            See Luke 1: 1-4 (paraphrased)

            “I, Luke, am not an eyewitness to these events. I heard it second-hand (at best) from a bunch of unnamed guys who claimed they WERE eyewitnesses.”

            Yeahhhhh… I’m convinced.

          • As I mentioned in a previous comment thread, Luke is quite accurate in the we sections of Acts. All the evidence points to him being a companion of Paul. Thus we have a companion of Paul stating that Paul believed Jesus was buried in a tomb and physically resurrected.

          • GearHedEd

            Thus we have a companion of Paul stating that Paul believed Jesus was buried in a tomb and physically resurrected.

            We have a companion of a guy who never met Jesus in the flesh (and should have!), a guy who had a reason to promote belief in Jesus’ resurrection (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-14!) since he was already on record making the claims and it was far too late to change direction (again!) and still have anyone put any stock in anything he said, and a guy who was also NOT an eyewitness. Luke’s testimony as it relates to Paul is THIRD-HAND at best.

            Paul had cast his die, and was constrained to follow it wherever it led him.

          • Luke’s testimony as it relates to Paul’s testimony about Jesus is THIRD-HAND at best.

            Your paragraph preceding this statement fails to demonstrate this claim. As a companion of Paul’s, Luke provides first-hand evidence for Paul’s beliefs.

            Paul had cast his die, and was constrained to follow it wherever it led him.

            How do you know this? In Galatians 2:2, for example, he seems open to the possibility that he had run his race in vain.

          • GearHedEd

            Paul, from Galatians 2:2 (paraphrased):

            Oy, gevalt! These fershlugginer Galatians! Why do I waste my time? Oy!

          • josh

            Firstly, we are talking about Paul specifically, whose writings we have, not Jews, generally, who did not generally believe in the Christian myth. And Wright is hardly an impressive authority to toss at me.

            Secondly, Acts was not written by Paul, and even conflicts with Paul’s version of events in various ways.

          • Firstly, we are talking about Paul specifically, whose writings we have, not Jews, generally, who did not generally believe in the Christian myth. And Wright is hardly an impressive authority to toss at me.

            Paul is writing in a Jewish context so that context is relevant to interpreting Paul’s writings. Plus, Wright exegetes all of the Pauline passages dealing with resurrection.

            Secondly, Acts was not written by Paul, and even conflicts with Paul’s version of events in various ways.

            But it was written by a companion of Paul and so is quite relevant to your question. Conflicts between two sources (assuming there are significant conflicts) does not mean we toss them both out.

          • josh

            Paul is writing in a Jewish context so that context is relevant to interpreting Paul’s writings.

            More relevant are the actual writings of Paul and the fact that he was a schismatic zealot, not a mainstream Jew. Paul goes on and on about how we have a corruptible body which will be replaced by an incorruptible spiritual one with Jesus as the prototype. (Incidentally, I don’t think exegete is a verb.)

            The author of acts is unknown and doesn’t even claim to be a companion of Paul. But since his account conflicts with the genuine Pauline letters that isn’t a well-supported theory. Even if it were true we would still stick with what Paul wrote, rather than a different guy who would have his own agenda and theological views.

            Remember, we are talking about what the early Christian Paul actually said and thought that we can reasonably confirm. Not what non-Christian Jews might have thought. Not what his secretary wrote anonymously according to legend.

          • Paul goes on and on about how we have a corruptible body which will be replaced by an incorruptible spiritual one with Jesus as the prototype.

            I’m well aware of that but an incorruptible body is still a body (not a spirit).

            (Incidentally, I don’t think exegete is a verb.)

            A difference between American English and British English?

            The author of acts is unknown and doesn’t even claim to be a companion of Paul.

            By using the term “we” in places the author puts himself in the action. The author is only unknown if we ignore the unanimous external evidence and the fact the author seems even more knowledgeable than normal in the “we” sections.

            Even if it were true we would still stick with what Paul wrote, rather than a different guy who would have his own agenda and theological views.

            This is a false dichotomy. We can learn about Paul both by what he wrote and by what others wrote about him.

          • Are you conversant with the analysis of the “we” passages in Luke/Acts and its correlation with inly being used during or about sea voyages, and how this relates to ancient literature?

            eg VK Robbins:

            http://www.religion.emory.edu/faculty/robbins/Pdfs/WeSeaVoyages.pdf

          • Yes: “The problems would Robbins’ theory can be articled in two points. First, Robbins fails to demonstrate the existence of a literary convention that ancient writers would portray sea voyages in the first person plural. Second, even if such a convention existed, Acts does not fit within it.”

          • Whether you take Robbins at face or not is academic; to me, the fact that LA only slips into wes on sea voyages is implausible unless some literacy device is being employed.

          • Whether you take Robbins at face or not is academic; to me, the fact that LA only slips into wes on sea voyages is implausible unless some literacy device is being employed.

            Did you even read my quote, let alone the link? Another quote:

            “A common missperception about proponents of Robbin’s theory is that the “we passages” only occur, or mostly occur, during sea voyages. (For example, see Doherty, op. cit., page 360 n. 123: “All such passages in Acts begin with and mostly encompass sea-voyages”). Even a cursory examination of the relevant passages shows that this is not the case. All of the “we passages” include a substantial amount of events that occur on land–before, after, and sometimes between sea voyages.”

          • I find this quite amusing, because I had this exact same discussion with a theologian (a best friend of mine). He claimed EXACTLY as you did.

            The problem is, both you and him (and the link you stated) are wrong.

            What is wonderful is that I sat down with him, Biblegateway, the NASB version, and ctrl+F, using the term “we “.

            And he apologised and changed his mind.

            Because if you did that analysis yourself right through Acts (which we did together), you would see that the other we uses are within speech (there might be one use when he mentions specifically 6 people doing something, otherwise all narration is in the third person). There is no other we used in narrative other than at sea voyages.

            Just do it and see the highlights

            It is quite staggering.

            Or in other words, don’t believe everything you read on apologist websites.

          • I apologize if I don’t recall exactly where we were in this discussion. I take your claim to be that “we” is never used to describe events on land. What do you make of Acts 16:10-17? It seems to me that the words “we” and “us” are used to describe events on land.

          • Hi

            Firstly, it takes you 16 chapters of Acts to get there…

            Secondly, it is clearly part of the Troas expedition – in fact, Robbins calls that entire section a ‘we-section’ (Acts 16:10-17).

            I mean, that is the voyage to Macedonia. You can see Luke, as he goes on voyages, uses ‘we’ which then filters out within a paragraph.

            It is very distinct and needs explaining. It is particularly distinct when highlighted in yellow using the ctrl+f function. The narrative then always slips right back into the third person.

            I also love the use of direct speech in so-called historical accounts!

          • Firstly, it takes you 16 chapters of Acts to get there…

            I’m not claiming Luke was an eyewitness to all the events in Acts.

            Secondly, it is clearly part of the Troas expedition – in fact, Robbins calls that entire section a ‘we-section’ (Acts 16:10-17).

            It is still an action on land. What position are you really defending?

            I mean, that is the voyage to Macedonia. You can see Luke, as he goes on voyages, uses ‘we’ which then filters out within a paragraph.

            Now you’re admitting that Luke was really going on voyages? I don’t believe paragraphs existed in the original.

            It is very distinct and needs explaining.

            It can be explained by the fact that Luke witnessed some things but not others.

            I also love the use of direct speech in so-called historical accounts!

            Quotation marks are not present in the original. But are you seriously claiming that historical accounts do not include speeches?

          • josh

            “I’m well aware of that but an incorruptible body is still a body (not a spirit).”

            Paul speaks explicitly of a natural body and a spiritual body. He’s not terribly clear on what the spiritual body is except that it is unlike the natural, corruptible, earthly one. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” says Paul. Again, what you don’t have is any mention of a tomb that his physical body walked out of.

            “A difference between American English and British English?”
            More of a neologism apparently that some sources accept.

            “By using the term “we” in places the author puts himself in the action.”
            A few passages in the middle of otherwise third-person narration doesn’t constitute proof of anything. Nor does it identify the author. “We went into Iraq and Afghanistan” doesn’t mean I, an American, literally went to either place. C.f. Jonathan’s interesting link.

            “This is a false dichotomy. We can learn about Paul both by what he wrote and by what others wrote about him.”

            There is a dichotomy whenever accounts and theology are in conflict. But I am not arguing that we couldn’t learn about Paul from someone else’s writing. Whether any person is a reliable source on Paul is another question. However, this is moot, because the quotes you cited above don’t say anything about what Paul believed, they say what the unknown author of Acts believed. (And only one of them has anything to do with a tomb burial and nothing to do with a body disappearing from a tomb.)

          • I repeat to you, too, are you aware of people like VK Robbins and the analysis of the we passages?

            eg

            http://www.religion.emory.edu/faculty/robbins/Pdfs/WeSeaVoyages.pdf

          • A few passages in the middle of otherwise third-person narration doesn’t constitute proof of anything. Nor does it identify the author.

            Which is why I also mentioned the external evidence in my comment. The external evidence identifies the author.

            “We went into Iraq and Afghanistan” doesn’t mean I, an American, literally went to either place.

            What do you think the “we” means in Acts?

            There is a dichotomy whenever accounts and theology are in conflict.

            You haven’t given examples of this alleged conflict.

            However, this is moot, because the quotes you cited above don’t say anything about what Paul believed, they say what the unknown author of Acts believed.

            Acts 13:29-37 are the words of Paul as told by Luke. So, if I am correct that Luke is a reliable historian, this passage is evidence that Paul believed in a physical resurrection.

          • GearHedEd

            …if I am correct that Luke is a reliable historian, this passage is evidence that Paul believed in a physical resurrection.

            Paul also believed in the eschaton happening in Paul’s very near future.

            He was wrong about that, too.

          • There is not one mention of the people who discovered the tomb (who, they can’t agree), not the angels (how many, they can’t agree) and where he was buried. As a reminder, then this is very unpersuasive. It is NOT what you would expect.

      • The use of James, as you note, Ed, is exactly as communicated. It doesn’t prove anything per se but shows an existing rumour or similar.

    • GearHedEd

      That Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb was empty.

      If Paul doesn’t give any information regarding the character of Jesus’ burial, then you cannot project your own dogmatic response about Paul’s “belief”. Better to just admit that you cannot infer what Paul “believed” from something he did NOT say.

      Jesus is not buried in a tomb because Pilate thought he was worthy of honor, he is buried in a tomb because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath (Jn 19:31). It is disingenuous for someone skeptical of the canonical Gospels to appeal to a much later writing, the Secret Book of James, in an attempt to prove his point about Jesus not being buried in a tomb.

      But giving a reason why Jesus was buried quickly from Gospel of John (last of the Gospels, c. ~130CE; i.e., late), is somehow better than citing disagreement from another late (although non-canonical) text is splitting dogmatic hairs in your own favor. We all know that the canon was determined by popular vote, which dilutes any authority it may have ever had.

      The location of the tomb was known when Jesus was buried, not when he was resurrected. The women knew what tomb to go to before they found the tomb empty.

      Aside from the fact that all we have in reality is a STORY of an empty tomb (not an actual empty tomb) this misses the point of the post entirely: that the disciples/followers/women who knew where the tomb was, according to the story, declined to venerate it and left it up to the Empress Helena (Constantine’s mother, fercrissake!) to “discover” it 300 years later.

      • Well said, Ed!

      • If Paul doesn’t give any information regarding the character of Jesus’ burial, then you cannot project your own dogmatic response about Paul’s “belief”. Better to just admit that you cannot infer what Paul “believed” from something he did NOT say.

        This seems to be nothing more than a quibble. I can rephrase my statement to say: “That Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb or grave was empty.” My main point is that Paul is not providing a detailed defense of Jesus’s resurrection and so we shouldn’t expect that he would mention the discovery of the empty tomb by the women.

        But giving a reason why Jesus was buried quickly from Gospel of John (last of the Gospels, c. ~130CE; i.e., late), is somehow better than citing disagreement from another late (although non-canonical) text is splitting dogmatic hairs in your own favor. We all know that the canon was determined by popular vote, which dilutes any authority it may have ever had.

        A date of 130 for the Gospel of John is very late even for liberal scholars. I don’t appeal to the Gospel of John because it’s canonical but because of its author’s reliability, particularly on matters in Judea. The note about bodies being taken down for the Sabbath is the kind of “Judean knowledge” John is known for. And I’m not aware of any scholar who would claim The Apocryphon of James is on equal footing with the Gospel of John when it comes to history. Plus you ignore the fact that burial in earth/sand is not incompatible with burial in a tomb.

        Aside from the fact that all we have in reality is a STORY of an empty tomb (not an actual empty tomb) this misses the point of the post entirely: that the disciples/followers/women who knew where the tomb was, according to the story, declined to venerate it and left it up to the Empress Helena (Constantine’s mother, fercrissake!) to “discover” it 300 years later.

        Most historical facts are based on “stories.” If I don’t hold this against other historical facts I’m not going to hold it against the empty tomb.

        My initial comment was not intended to be an exhaustive reply to this post. Jonathan and I have gone back and forth on such matters from time to time and I don’t feel the need to re-hash everything whenever he makes a new post (nor do I have the time to do so).

        In short, I’m not convinced we should expect the first Christians to have venerated the tomb and, if they did venerate the tomb, for us to hear about it in our extant sources. There is, however, the interesting remark by Tertullian that Jews thought a gardener stole Jesus’s body so that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants (The Shows 30).

        • James is very plausibly written at the same time as John. The empty tomb motif is just the one that won over at the time.

        • GearHedEd

          A date of 130 for the Gospel of John is very late even for liberal scholars.

          …but not completely out of range. Earlies dates postulated are no better than around 95 CE, and the first independent confirmation is no earlier than the “middle of the first century”.

          • Depending on the date of P52 (c. 125), a date of 130 may very well be out of range.

          • GearHedEd

            I see your 125 CE, and raise you a “who cares?”

            You’re splitting hairs over the difference between 95 years and 100 years after the fact, when not a single “eyewitness” can be reliably identified, no corrective eyewear existed for the estimated 70% of humanity that NEEDS corrective eyewear, and the vast majority of people cannot tell you what they had for lunch the day before yesterday, let alone remember events (without embellishment: example–when you hook a fish that later breaks free, and you tell your buddies about “the one that got away”, was the fish this big, or was the fish THIS BIG?) that happened nearly 100 years earlier.

            You’re assuming that the tellers of this tale had no reason to give anything but the unvarnished truth.

          • I see your 125 CE, and raise you a who cares? You’re splitting hairs over the difference between 95 years and 100 years after the fact…

            I don’t think a date of 125 is any more plausible than a date of 130. I’m merely noting your tendency to date John as late as possible even if it bumps up against hard evidence. I would date John to the 90s or earlier. Even in the 90s there would have been hundreds of witnesses to Jesus’s ministry still alive (see the life tables in Robert McKiver, Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels, p. 206-207).

            …when not a single “eyewitness” can be reliably identified…

            John claims to be an eyewitness and the external evidence supports this. Since I would take such facts seriously in other historical contexts I must take them seriously in this context too.

            …no corrective eyewear existed for the estimated 70% of humanity that NEEDS corrective eyewear…

            Needs corrective eyewear for what purpose? To read? To determine that a dead man has risen from the dead? Let us remember that John was young during Jesus’s ministry.

            …the vast majority of people cannot . . . remember events (without embellishment: example–when you hook a fish that later breaks free, and you tell your buddies about “the one that got away”, was the fish this big, or was the fish THIS BIG?) that happened nearly 100 years earlier?

            This is false at worse and exaggeration at best. In Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels, Robert McKiver studies human memory and how it relates to the Gospels. Regarding personal memory he concludes (p. 58):

            “Not all details are remembered, and not with 100 percent accuracy. What is retained, though, is sufficient to contain the gist of the event. Thus, one is safe in concluding that personal event memories are more long-lived than other types of memory and can be relied on to conserve the gist of the event, even if some of the details might be lost or even wrong.”

            Regarding collective memory and fabrication he writes (p. 109):

            “While it is possible to document the occasional complete fabrication in collective memories, collective memories do not usually work in this manner. To be sure, aspects of a historical figure that do not fit current ideology and interests are ignored, and those that do fit are emphasized. But in collective memory, traditions about past events and figures generally correspond in important ways to what actually happened and the personality and achievements of individuals from the past. Such a wholesale invention of tradition as proposed by Dibelius and Bultmann appears inconsistent with what else is known about collective memory.”

            Speaking of the Gospels he concludes (p. 187):

            “So it can be concluded that, like most products of human memory and despite all the frailties of such memory, the Gospels should be considered to be generally reliable. If the evidence presented thus far may be relied on, then — at least for the apophthegmata, the parables, and the aphorisms — the burden of proof should lie with those who wish to claim that a saying found in the Gospels is not from Jesus or that an incident reported about him did not happen, not with those who assume its authenticity. Human memory is a remarkable facility, and the traditions found in the Synoptic Gospels may be considered to be a product of its effectiveness.”

          • GearHedEd

            Can you steer me to a “scholar” who ISN’T a seminary-educated Christian apologist and comes to similar conclusions?

            A Christian Scholar supports Christian dogma…

            *GASP!* There’s a surprise…

          • No, I’m not going to spend my time trying to find a scholar who may or may not be acceptable to you. His book was published by the Society for Biblical Literature which is hardly a conservative Christian publishing house. I haven’t required the atheists in these comments to steer me to Christian scholars who support their claims.

          • GearHedEd

            No, I’m not going to spend my time trying to find a scholar who may or may not be acceptable to you

            I’ll bet a month’s pay you couldn’t find a non-Christian scholar who defends your theology if you tried. I expected as much.

            His book was published by the Society for Biblical Literature which is hardly a conservative Christian publishing house.

            He (Robert McKiver) is a professor in the School of Ministry and Theology at a Seventh-Day Adventist college in New Zealand. Is he going to say, “No, I don’t think there is any merit in the claims of Jesus’ resurrection…”

            Not if he wants to keep his job.

          • That’s not much of a bet. Of course a non-Christian is not going to defend Christian theology. I bet you can’t find a theist who defends atheism. Big deal.

          • Travelman

            “That’s not much of a bet. Of course a non-Christian is not going to defend Christian theology. I bet you can’t find a theist who defends atheism. Big deal.”

            The statements are not analogous.

            A theist, by definition, has adopted a position in which, whether he likes it or not, he will attempt to tailor the evidence to his viewpoint. Even the most supposedly independent will do this.

            The atheist, on the other hand, is not in a pre-suppositionalist tunnel. If the theist adduced good evidence then the atheist will accept it and deal with it. Had this been the case then you’d expect, whether within the confines of this post and its comments or 2000 years of tradition, that we’d be convinced. We’re not.

          • Just for fun and since this thread is about the resurrection, I will note that Pinchas Lapide, a Jew, apparently believes in the resurrection (The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective).

          • GearHedEd

            You know, if it was as well accepted as you try to make it out to be, there wouldn’t be ANY non-Christians on Planet Earth. That we’re still arguing about it 2,000 years later should tell you something.

            It was a ridiculous story then, and it’s even more ridiculous now.

          • GearHedEd

            I’m merely noting your tendency to date John as late as possible even if it bumps up against hard evidence. I would date John to the 90s or earlier.

            Hard evidence, please.

          • GearHedEd

            “…Human memory is a remarkable facility, and the traditions found in the Synoptic Gospels may be considered to be a product of its effectiveness.”

            On the contrary, human memory is notoriously faulty, and this is why modern juries decline to convict on “eyewitness” testimony alone.
            Your citation is special pleading in favor of incredible stories.

        • GearHedEd

          Most historical facts are based on “stories.”

          Supplemented by independent accounts and other tangible evidence. Otherwise they’re not called “facts”. The Gospels are not independent attestations, and the “other tangible evidence” is absent.

          • Supplemented by independent accounts and other tangible evidence. Otherwise they’re not called “facts”. The Gospels are not independent attestations, and the “other tangible evidence” is absent.

            Accounts are stories so you’re admitting that historical facts are based on stories. And tangible evidence is not required to know historical facts.

            Independence is a matter of degree. Each NT author is independent, to at least some extent, from the others. Hence Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude provide independent attestation to the resurrection. The gist of the NT story is confirmed by non-Christians such Josephus, Tacitus, and Celsus.

            The Gospels and Acts are also supported by tangible archaeological evidence. I mentioned earlier that John was familiar with Judea. For example, he knew about the Pool of Bethesda whose existence was once doubted by so-called skeptics. I mentioned in the other thread that Colin Hemer notes hundreds of details in Acts that are confirmed by outside sources.

            That the NT is historically trustworthy is on as good of grounds as any other claim from antiquity.

          • GearHedEd

            The gist of the NT story is confirmed by non-Christians such Josephus, Tacitus, and Celsus.

            Josephus was a forgery (or he’d have been a Christian, too!), Tacitus mentions “Chrestians” at best (and late, at that!), and Celsus was branded a heretic.

            I mentioned in the other thread that Colin Hemer notes hundreds of details in Acts that are confirmed by outside sources.

            Hundreds of details of geography and political personages, mostly. As I’ve said before (elsewhere), a fiction based on actual places and people is still fiction. If mentioning places and people who actually existed as backdrop for your fiction qualifies as history, then The DaVinci Code is history, too.

            That’s just me, being a skeptic. Sue me.

          • Josephus was a forgery (or he’d have been a Christian, too!)

            This was covered in the previous thread too. There is an interpolation but the text, as reconstructed by J. P. Meier, for example, supports the outline of the Gospels.

            Tacitus mentions “Chrestians” at best (and late, at that!)

            He mentions Jesus’s crucifixion by Pilate. It is funny how he is “late” when it comes to Jesus but he is an important source for Roman affairs from the same time period. This is a double standard on the part of skeptics.

            and Celsus was branded a heretic.

            I assume you mean Origen, not Celsus. For someone who falsely accused me of appealing to the canonical Gospels because of their canonicity it is hypocritical to now ignore Celsus because Origen was branded a heretic. Try to think consistently.

            Hundreds of details of geography and political personages, mostly. As I’ve said before (elsewhere), a fiction based on actual places and people is still fiction. If mentioning places and people who actually existed as backdrop for your fiction qualifies as history, then The DaVinci Code is history, too. That’s just me, being a skeptic. Sue me.

            It is worth mentioning that Dan Brown still makes historical errors in The Da Vinci Code despite having access to modern transportation and communication. Luke’s impressive accuracy given his ancient circumstances is most impressive. And historical fiction is taken as fiction by the readers. The readers of Acts took it as history.

            Note that in your earlier comment you said tangible evidence would be needed. Now, once tangible evidence is supplied, you fall back to the “historical fiction defense.” This defense proves too much. I can deny an account of the Holocaust even if it seems accurate. This is not skepticism, it is conspiracy theory talk.

          • GearHedEd

            I assume you mean Origen, not Celsus. For someone who falsely accused me of appealing to the canonical Gospels because of their canonicity it is hypocritical to now ignore Celsus because Origen was branded a heretic. Try to think consistently.

            Nope. You have it exactly backwards there. Origen is still considered an Early Church Father (although he did have a personality conflict with Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, his ecclesiastical superior), while Celsus was branded a heretic.

            Mainly by Origen.

          • GearHedEd

            The readers of Acts took it as history.

            The readers of Acts wanted to believe it, and had absolutely no way to fact-check the stories, besides being in a pre-scientific, semi-literate culture.

          • The fact-checking verifiability of Luke/Acts is precisely what Carrier goes to town on as well in NTIF.

          • GearHedEd

            I can deny an account of the Holocaust even if it seems accurate.

            Tell that to the still-living survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau. Tell me that I haven’t seen documentary film taken by the U.S. Army as they were liberating the camps. There is nothing even remotely equivalent to that level of evidence for the Jesus story.

          • The readers of Acts wanted to believe it

            Perhaps on some matters. On other matters, such as the death of Stephen or Paul’s imprisonment, I would think they wanted things to be different.

            had absolutely no way to fact-check the stories

            If Luke could fact check then why couldn’t his readers? Early Christian writings (not just the NT) indicate that Christians traveled around the Roman Empire and passed on information.

            besides being in a pre-scientific, semi-literate culture

            I don’t see how modern scientific knowledge (as opposed to technology) would help them record what happened any better. That they were not as literate as we are merely means they were more adept at the oral transmission of information.

            Tell that to the still-living survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau. Tell me that I haven’t seen documentary film taken by the U.S. Army as they were liberating the camps. There is nothing even remotely equivalent to the Jesus story.

            I could have been more clear. My hypothetical example was intended to be an account by an individual of living through the Holocaust, not the Holocaust in its entirety. Person X can give a false account of the Holocaust (e.g., he really wasn’t at Auschwitz) even if the Holocaust happened. I’m not comparing the evidence for the Holocaust to the evidence for Jesus’s life. I’m pointing out how your apparent method can be used to deny the historicity of any account by passing it off as historical fiction.

            Suppose an alleged eyewitness to the Holocaust provides an account of his life during the period. We try to check as much of his story as we can and he seems accurate. Based on your apparent method we would be justified in passing off said account as historical fiction. Does this seem reasonable to you?

          • GearHedEd

            Early Christian writings (not just the NT) indicate that Christians traveled around the Roman Empire and passed on information.

            Depends on the character of that “information” as to whether that was a good thing or not. Josef Goebbels spread around a lot of “information”, too.

            That they were not as literate as we are merely means they were more adept at the oral transmission of information.

            This is a non sequitur. One has little to do with the other, and I’ve never heard of another example about how adept the Jews were at oral transmission of data except as to how it relates to the alleged historicity and truth of the Gospels. Remember, there are many identifiable passages in the Gospels that cannot possibly be eyewitness accounts; i.e., they were invented (examples: the nativity accounts, the places where there were no possibility of witnesses such as the “guards on the tomb” conversation in Matt 27:62-66 I pointed out earlier, etc…). If the authors invented parts to embellish the story on mundane matters, I can have little confidence they did NOT embellish the accounts of miracles. Claiming a hyperbolic “500 witnesses” doesn’t help here.

            P.S. Admit you were wrong about Origen and Celsus, instead of ignoring it.

          • Depends on the character of that “information” as to whether that was a good thing or not. Josef Goebbels spread around a lot of “information”, too.

            The point is that they could check facts.

            This is a non sequitur. One has little to do with the other, and I’ve never heard of another example about how adept the Jews were at oral transmission of data except as to how it relates to the alleged historicity and truth of the Gospels.

            Humans need to transmit truth to each other. If this cannot be done in writing we will find a way to do it by speech. Oral cultures in general, not just oral Jewish culture, can transmit facts reliably. Your ignorance is not an argument.

            Remember, there are many identifiable passages in the Gospels that cannot possibly be eyewitness accounts; i.e., they were invented (examples: the nativity accounts, the places where there were no possibility of witnesses such as the “guards on the tomb” conversation in Matt 27:62-66 I pointed out earlier, etc…).

            You seem to have a strange definition of possible. It is not possible that Joseph and Mary witnessed the nativity? It is not possible that someone among the chief priests, Pharisees, Pilate, or the soldiers could have witnessed the conversation in Mt 27:62-66?

            P.S. Admit you were wrong about Origen and Celsus, instead of ignoring it.

            I ignored it because it’s irrelevant to my main point and because the links you provided did not seem to support your claim. How about providing quote from Against Celsus where Origen calls Celsus a heretic?

          • Carrier shows in NTIF that not only were they barely able to check facts, but that there is evidence that they simply didn’t.

            Holding claims that “you start a religion by linking to obscure and nameless people,” but it’s unclear to me why anyone would have to do that. Is Holding presuming the only alternative is that the Christians made everything up? Why? The only claim at issue is whether Jesus rose from the dead, since that’s the only claim that really distinguished Christianity from every other sect of the Jews. Even supposing the Christians fabricated everything (and I see no need to suppose that—we can reject the resurrection claim without rejecting every other claim they made), why would they make up a bunch of momentous events in a small, unknown, unnamed hovel, featuring unknown, unnamed yokels? Wouldn’t a prestigious location and cast of characters be more momentous, more awesome, more persuasive?

            All Holding has to say against this is that it would have been more risky. But that’s true only if the ‘famous’ details had anything to do with proving Jesus rose from the dead—yet none did. And even granting Holding’s ‘domino’ theory, the only ‘risk’ then would be preventing the recruitment of wealthy, highly-skilled scholars or legal magistrates who had the time and desire to check the facts in meticulous detail—yet there is no evidence any such people were recruited in that first century. Even Sergius the proconsul was converted (according to Acts) without any investigation of he facts of Christ’s resurrection (a unique case I’ll discuss Chapter 13). We also have no evidence that anyone who converted in that period did so after checking even a single historical claim made in Luke-Acts—much less all of them. We don’t even have any clear evidence they could. Moreover, even if a document or claim was refuted, Christians could simply have resorted to the excuse that it was really allegory or not representative of what “honest” Christians say. So where’s the risk? The Christians didn’t have to make up any of these ‘famous’ details, because none related to their claim that Jesus rose from the dead; and even had they made them up, there’s no evidence any actual converts ever checked to find out, or even could have. Maybe those who rejected Christianity could have—but that lends no comfort to Holding’s thesis.

            And that’s the bottom line: we can deny the resurrection without denying all these claims about famous people, since no events connected to such people have any bearing on whether the resurrection was true. Not even the darkness, earthquake, or miraculous curtain-ripping. Even if you believe those things happened—based on the unsupported assumption that (a) many converts could and did check, and then (b) they actually confirmed these events, and (c) they did so on evidence we ourselves would consider sufficiently reliable—none of these events even implies Jesus rose from the dead. So including famous people and events in the story was perfectly safe. The resurrection remained a private claim impossible for anyone to confirm or refute, no matter how capable or diligent. Even those remarkable few who could have attempted (a), (b), and (c) enough times to grow weary of Christian lies would simply join the ranks of the vast majority who rejected Christianity. And we’re only interested in those who converted.

            Of course, the first Christians could be offered as an exception, since they would have access to evidence no one else would have, but it’s notoriously difficult to identify with confidence what the first Christians really believed, or why, since we only have the testimony of later Christians. Even Paul, close as he is to the first witnesses, does little to confirm any of the most contested claims of the later Gospels, such as the empty tomb, or that Christ rose in a body of flesh, or that Christ was seen flying up into heaven—or the darkness, earthquakes, rent veil, healed ear, and so on. And even with regard to the ‘ancillary’ claims—associating the story of early Christianity with so many ‘famous’ people— we have no evidence any of those claims were circulating before the Jewish War (after which, checking such facts would have been all but impossible, or moot). Nor is there any reason to assume Christians needed to make any of these claims up—being ancillary, such claims could tell the straight truth, since they had nothing whatever to do with whether their essential claim was true (that Jesus rose from the dead); and being public, even a mediocre scholar could get such facts right, and still not get anywhere near the real truth behind the private and uncheckable evidence of the resurrection. Therefore, even if the Christians “had their ducks in a row” regarding all these famous connections, since none of those famous connections bore any relevance to the resurrection of Jesus, such a row of ducks would offer no real support to that claim. So even if potential converts could check these facts, that doesn’t even imply they could ‘confirm’, to any reliable standard, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Never mind that we have no clear evidence anyone did, or even cared to (two points I’ll examine in Chapters 13 and 17, respectively).

            Conclusion
            Holding presents no evidence that any Christian convert did any fact-checking before converting, or even would have done so. And for many of his own examples, Holding has not even made an adequate case that they could have. That there were people in antiquity who could and would is moot, since we have no evidence any such people converted. Holding also presents no evidence that any checkable’ claims involving famous people and events were employed to win converts before the end of the first century (rather than purely private claims that could only be trusted on someone’s word). Nor does Holding present any evidence that the Gospels (much less Acts) were widely known at all, even by Christians, before the second century, a contingency his argument requires. Holding also presents no evidence that Luke and other authors didn’t add false, exaggerated, or unconfirmed hearsay to texts that otherwise contained well researched public facts. Yet all the actual evidence of the resurrection consists of unconfirmable hearsay alone. So even if every public, checkable claim in the New Testament were entirely true, even then it could not be concluded that the private, uncheckable claims were true as well. Therefore, we cannot conclude from any of this that evidence of Christ’s resurrection was “irrefutable.”

            (p. 209-12)

          • Carrier shows in NTIF that not only were they barely able to check facts, but that there is evidence that they simply didn’t.

            Holding claims that “you start a religion by linking to obscure and nameless people,” but it’s unclear to me why anyone would have to do that. Is Holding presuming the only alternative is that the Christians made everything up? Why? The only claim at issue is whether Jesus rose from the dead, since that’s the only claim that really distinguished Christianity from every other sect of the Jews. Even supposing the Christians fabricated everything (and I see no need to suppose that—we can reject the resurrection claim without rejecting every other claim they made), why would they make up a bunch of momentous events in a small, unknown, unnamed hovel, featuring unknown, unnamed yokels? Wouldn’t a prestigious location and cast of characters be more momentous, more awesome, more persuasive?

            All Holding has to say against this is that it would have been more risky. But that’s true only if the ‘famous’ details had anything to do with proving Jesus rose from the dead—yet none did. And even granting Holding’s ‘domino’ theory, the only ‘risk’ then would be preventing the recruitment of wealthy, highly-skilled scholars or legal magistrates who had the time and desire to check the facts in meticulous detail—yet there is no evidence any such people were recruited in that first century. Even Sergius the proconsul was converted (according to Acts) without any investigation of he facts of Christ’s resurrection (a unique case I’ll discuss Chapter 13). We also have no evidence that anyone who converted in that period did so after checking even a single historical claim made in Luke-Acts—much less all of them. We don’t even have any clear evidence they could. Moreover, even if a document or claim was refuted, Christians could simply have resorted to the excuse that it was really allegory or not representative of what “honest” Christians say. So where’s the risk? The Christians didn’t have to make up any of these ‘famous’ details, because none related to their claim that Jesus rose from the dead; and even had they made them up, there’s no evidence any actual converts ever checked to find out, or even could have. Maybe those who rejected Christianity could have—but that lends no comfort to Holding’s thesis.

            And that’s the bottom line: we can deny the resurrection without denying all these claims about famous people, since no events connected to such people have any bearing on whether the resurrection was true. Not even the darkness, earthquake, or miraculous curtain-ripping. Even if you believe those things happened—based on the unsupported assumption that (a) many converts could and did check, and then (b) they actually confirmed these events, and (c) they did so on evidence we ourselves would consider sufficiently reliable—none of these events even implies Jesus rose from the dead. So including famous people and events in the story was perfectly safe. The resurrection remained a private claim impossible for anyone to confirm or refute, no matter how capable or diligent. Even those remarkable few who could have attempted (a), (b), and (c) enough times to grow weary of Christian lies would simply join the ranks of the vast majority who rejected Christianity. And we’re only interested in those who converted.

            Of course, the first Christians could be offered as an exception, since they would have access to evidence no one else would have, but it’s notoriously difficult to identify with confidence what the first Christians really believed, or why, since we only have the testimony of later Christians. Even Paul, close as he is to the first witnesses, does little to confirm any of the most contested claims of the later Gospels, such as the empty tomb, or that Christ rose in a body of flesh, or that Christ was seen flying up into heaven—or the darkness, earthquakes, rent veil, healed ear, and so on. And even with regard to the ‘ancillary’ claims—associating the story of early Christianity with so many ‘famous’ people— we have no evidence any of those claims were circulating before the Jewish War (after which, checking such facts would have been all but impossible, or moot). Nor is there any reason to assume Christians needed to make any of these claims up—being ancillary, such claims could tell the straight truth, since they had nothing whatever to do with whether their essential claim was true (that Jesus rose from the dead); and being public, even a mediocre scholar could get such facts right, and still not get anywhere near the real truth behind the private and uncheckable evidence of the resurrection. Therefore, even if the Christians “had their ducks in a row” regarding all these famous connections, since none of those famous connections bore any relevance to the resurrection of Jesus, such a row of ducks would offer no real support to that claim. So even if potential converts could check these facts, that doesn’t even imply they could ‘confirm’, to any reliable standard, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Never mind that we have no clear evidence anyone did, or even cared to (two points I’ll examine in Chapters 13 and 17, respectively).

            Conclusion
            Holding presents no evidence that any Christian convert did any fact-checking before converting, or even would have done so. And for many of his own examples, Holding has not even made an adequate case that they could have. That there were people in antiquity who could and would is moot, since we have no evidence any such people converted. Holding also presents no evidence that any checkable’ claims involving famous people and events were employed to win converts before the end of the first century (rather than purely private claims that could only be trusted on someone’s word). Nor does Holding present any evidence that the Gospels (much less Acts) were widely known at all, even by Christians, before the second century, a contingency his argument requires. Holding also presents no evidence that Luke and other authors didn’t add false, exaggerated, or unconfirmed hearsay to texts that otherwise contained well researched public facts. Yet all the actual evidence of the resurrection consists of unconfirmable hearsay alone. So even if every public, checkable claim in the New Testament were entirely true, even then it could not be concluded that the private, uncheckable claims were true as well. Therefore, we cannot conclude from any of this that evidence of Christ’s resurrection was “irrefutable.”

            (p. 209-12)

          • FYI above @JoshuaSayre:disqus @GearHedEd:disqus

          • GearHedEd

            Got the pdf, Johno, thanks!

          • We don’t even have any clear evidence they could.

            Ignores the evidence of Christian travel I mentioned.

            And that’s the bottom line: we can deny the resurrection without denying all these claims about famous people, since no events connected to such people have any bearing on whether the resurrection was true.

            The problem is that Luke’s general accuracy does have a bearing on his accuracy regarding the resurrection.

            we have no evidence any of those claims were circulating before the Jewish War (after which, checking such facts would have been all but impossible, or moot).

            An interesting comment. On the one hand, Ed is unimpressed with John’s accuracy on pre-70 Palestine. On the other hand, Carrier says it would have been all but impossible for people (including the author of John presumably) to check such facts after 70 (let alone c. 130 if we go by Ed’s date).

            That there were people in antiquity who could and would is moot, since we have no evidence any such people converted.

            Paul converted, was in a position to check, and did check with the apostles to make sure he had not run his race in vain. Luke, who was probably not born a Christian, also indicates that he could investigate facts.

          • GearHedEd

            Paul converted, was in a position to check, and did check with the apostles to make sure he had not run his race in vain(my emphasis). Luke, who was probably not born a Christian, also indicates that he could investigate facts.

            See my comment above.

            By the time Paul wandered in, the Apostles had been telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection for so long, it’s not inconceivable that they actually believed it by then, even knowing it wasn’t true. Besides that, they had already committed themselves to the story, knowing that no one could prove them false several years on down the road.

            BTW, I’m not wedded to the “130 CE is THE date of John” (that’s your strawman…); it’s just a reasonable mid-position in the range of dates that I’ve heard. Fairly uncontroversial except to zealots.

          • Really? Carrier, again:

            not an encounter with any flesh-and-blood Jesus, nor by any other evidence at all except (perhaps) the ability of Ananias to heal Paul’s hysterical blindness. This is particularly important, because Paul must have had access to all the evidence Holding insists was “irrefutable,” and yet he didn’t convert. None of that evidence, whatever it was, persuaded Paul at all. So it could not possibly have been “irrefutable.” Paul had to see God himself to be convinced! And yet he didn’t really “see” anything objectively empirical—he did not see the body of Jesus risen from the grave, just a bright light in the sky, and a voice no one else attests to hearing. Acts gives three different accounts of this event that are hopelessly contradictory, of course. In Acts 9:7, Luke says Paul’s unnamed traveling companions heard the voice but saw nothing (mêdena), but in Acts 22:9 Paul himself says they heard nothing but saw the light. In Acts 26:13-14 Paul doesn’t say what they saw or heard, though he says they all fell down with him, but in Acts 9:7 Luke says they remained standing. Since we don’t have any of this from them (not even in Acts, which fails to name them, nor do they speak, nor are they present on either occasion when Paul himself tells the story), even Acts confirms there was no testimony to this voice but Paul’s.

            Indeed, we have the same conclusion from the other direction: for in Acts the only occasions where any kind of inquiry is conducted are the many trials, and the debates at

            Athens. And yet on none of those occasions was any convert won, except a “few” only at Athens—far, far away from Jerusalem— and we find no mention there that these converts

            conducted any sort of inquiry beyond simply interrogating Paul, who wasn’t even an eyewitness of the risen body of Jesus or the empty tomb. Nor does the account of Athens say Paul ever referred to anything we would consider empirical evidence, much less “irrefutable” evidence. So even if Holding is right that “Christian claims would have been easy to check out and verify” (though such ‘ease’ was already refuted in Chapter 7), even then his own evidence, the book of Acts exactly as written, proves quite soundly that no such checking or verifying ever took place. Maybe those who rejected Christian claims checked the facts (which would mean the facts didn’t check out). But as far as Acts reveals, converts never did. Even at our most charitable, it’s still an irrefutable fact that Acts provides no evidence whatever that such checking or verifying preceded, or even followed, any conversion. And Acts contains the only evidence to be had on this point. So Holding has no ground to stand on when he claims that converts checked and verified the facts.

          • This is particularly important, because Paul must have had access to all the evidence Holding insists was “irrefutable,” and yet he didn’t convert. None of that evidence, whatever it was, persuaded Paul at all. So it could not possibly have been “irrefutable.” Paul had to see God himself to be convinced!

            My claim is that after his Damascus road experience Paul could check claims. Carrier seems to be implying that Paul looked at all the evidence before his conversion and still rejected it but he provides no evidence for this claim.

            the book of Acts exactly as written, proves quite soundly that no such checking or verifying ever took place.

            Amazing how an argument from silence proves anything quite soundly.

          • Hang on – you’re making claims about verification from Paul and others with no evidence yourself.

          • No, I’ve noted Luke 1:1-4, John 21:24, Galatians 2:2, and the ability of Christians to travel as evidence that verification was possible.

          • GearHedEd

            On the one hand, Ed is unimpressed with John’s accuracy on pre-70 Palestine. On the other hand, Carrier says it would have been all but impossible for people (including the author of John presumably) to check such facts after 70 (let alone c. 130 if we go by Ed’s date).

            Strawman, and fallacy of composition. I certainly could be wrong about the 130 CE date, and I never said that I was “unimpressed with John’s accuracy on pre-70 Palestine” because the Gospel was written late. Besides that, I never claimed to be a “scholar”.

            I said I was a skeptic.

            And until Christians can demonstrate that their theology is more than a choice in the cafeteria of possible theological beliefs, I have warrant to thumb my nose at anyone who claims to “know” that Jesus is the “way, the truth and the life”, and that there is a real Heaven to which we can ascend after we die if we assent to a book full of unbelievable tales.

          • GearHedEd

            Humans need to transmit truth to each other. If this cannot be done in writing we will find a way to do it by speech. Oral cultures in general, not just oral Jewish culture, can transmit facts reliably. Your ignorance is not an argument.

            Except that most humans aren’t interested in truth; they want to be seen as privy to secret information. Gossip, for example. Your answer lacks force as a rebuttal to my claim.

            It is not possible that Joseph and Mary witnessed the nativity? It is not possible that someone among the chief priests, Pharisees, Pilate, or the soldiers could have witnessed the conversation in Mt 27:62-66?

            Yes, it’s possible, but those people are NOT the authors, and in any case would have had a very tough time of it getting witness statements from the actual cited players (i.e., the Pharisees, Pilate, Roman Guards, etc.), and therefore highly improbable. Your quote is a fallacious appeal.

            How about providing quote from Against Celsus where Origen calls Celsus a heretic?

            Despite Origen having ecclesiastical troubles of his own, there’s the fact that Origen is considered one of the Early Church Fathers since then. He wrote a whole book Contra Celsum. You do the math.

          • GearHedEd

            Your ignorance is not an argument (re: the idea that in no other theater of concern is it ever mentioned that Jewish oral traditions were “adept” at preserving unembellished history, except as it pertains to the Gospels).

            Then enlighten us. Assuage my ignorance. Present a case that is not connected to the scriptures in which Jewish oral traditions preserved precise knowledge of anything.

            Otherwise, your claim of Jewish oral traditions is nothing more than special pleading in attempted support of your chosen theology (another fallacy; do I need to point this out to you?).

          • The oral Torah/Mishnah.

          • GearHedEd

            The Torah is demonstrably NOT historical. As for the Mishnah:

            The Mishnah was redacted between 180 and 220 CE by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten. The majority of the Mishnah is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are Aramaic.

            Your example does not address the question adequately, as these are examples of “oral tradition” that support scripture.

          • If I supply an example that is too far in time or place from the NT you will question whether it is relevant. The examples from the time period will likely touch on the Jewish religion because that’s what most of the writings were about. I’m thinking of the preservation of rabbinic tradition within the Mishnah, not its ability to accurately pass on events from the days of Moses. I am not a rabbinic Jew so these examples do not support my theology.

          • GearHedEd

            I am not a rabbinic Jew so these examples do not support my theology.

            That’s a cheap dodge.

          • GearHedEd

            If I supply an example that is too far in time or place from the NT you will question whether it is relevant.

            No, I don’t think you can provide ANY relevant example. And I said so.

          • D Rizdek

            If Luke could fact check then why couldn’t his readers? Early Christian writings (not just the NT) indicate that Christians traveled around the Roman Empire and passed on information.

            They probably could and those who did probably didn’t become Christians, they remained Jews…or whatever That’s why there are still Jews to this day who don’t think Jesus was the son of their god. Why didn’t the Jews, whose prophecies predicted Jesus and who were there, supposedly watching him perform miracle after miracle and who must’ve known he rose from the dead, since he supposedly walked around with his disciples for anyone to see. I would think that the saints piling out of their tombs would’ve caught their attention. I would’ve thought someone rising from the dead in answer to many prophecies would’ve got their attention more than a few disciples. But it didn’t seem to. It seems Christianity was a relatively small movement and not until later, when no one could “fact check,” did it become wider spread. Certainly the various councils that picked the books to be included were not eyewitnesses.
            What do you suppose a reader who fact checked and found no corroboration for the stores of the resurrection might do beyond simply not believe it and go on their way? Since Jesus was dead (in their opinion, for who would continue to reject something so earthshakingly unique as a real resurrection) so why would they worry about what some people were writing? It is likely that within the lifetime of anyone who might’ve been there to “know” anything about it, the gospels and the writings that comprise the NT would be particularly well known or widely distributed. Do you imagine these early writings were published for all to read and question? Isn’t it more likely that initially they were shared among folks the authors/promoters kind of knew would be amenable…ie already believers since broadly disclosing them could be dangerous to their health. During the time any of these stories could be corroborated with living witnesses, the Christians were supposedly being persecuted. Their leaders were being killed. Who in their right mind would run around fact checking.
            Who would they ask? Others who were already Christians? Folks who weren’t Christians? What kind of answers would they likely get from these people. Would the “Christians” be a good objective and unbiased source? Would the non-believer who already knew of it and didn’t believe it likely corroborate it? And if they didn’t know anything about it, how could they be used for “fact-checking?” Does anyone imagine there was a whole assembly of unbiased reporters who’d been going around keeping track of every miracle worker, charlatan, itinerate preacher, and prophet so later, when stories were recounted they could be interviewed for fact checking?

            It seems there is this image that “at the time of the earliest dates they might’ve been compiled” that suddenly these manuscripts…fresh off the scribes desk…became like the Bible that was thrust under every school child’s nose, preached from to the masses, and distributed in the synagogues. But we know that can’t have been the case simply because there wouldn’t be enough copies. So again, who might’ve seen these very early manuscripts who would also think to question their trusted leaders and what might they have done if they thought them not true?
            I think the idea that someone could go around and fact check with folks who were alive when Jesus was alive is a non-starter. There was no means and no incentive to do so.

          • I might imagine that some probably could and those who did probably didn’t become Christians, they remained Jews.

            Your imagination is not evidence. I will try to show in what follows that it has led you astray.

            Why didn’t the Jews, whose prophecies predicted Jesus and who were there, supposedly watching him perform miracle after miracle and who must’ve known he rose from the dead, since he supposedly walked around with his disciples for anyone to see.

            The unbelieving Jewish responses to Jesus’s miracles are recorded in the Gospels (and elsewhere). It is noteworthy that they admitted Jesus worked miracles but denied that God was the source of the miracles. And the resurrected Jesus did not walk around for everyone to see.

            What do you suppose a reader who fact checked and found no corroboration for the stores of the resurrection might do beyond simply not believe it and go on their way? What do you suppose a reader who fact checked and found no corroboration for the stores of the resurrection might do beyond simply not believe it and go on their way?

            What do the earliest sources say? Matthew 28:15 says the unbelieving Jews circulated a story that the disciples stole Jesus’s body. Justin Marytr writes (Dialogue With Trypho 17):

            For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man,— through whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed, —when you knew that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness which you had committed, but at that time you selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all they who knew us not speak against us. So that you are the cause not only of your own unrighteousness, but in fact of that of all other men. . . . Accordingly, you displayed great zeal in publishing throughout all the land bitter and dark and unjust things against the only blameless and righteous Light sent by God.

            Since Jesus was dead why would they worry about what some people were writing?

            Christians were not just writing, they were speaking and acting. That Saul initially persecuted Christians shows that the gospel did cause “worry” among some people.

            During the time any of these stories could be corroborated with living witnesses, the Christians were supposedly being persecuted. Their leaders were being killed. Who in their right mind would run around fact checking.

            The stories could have been corroborated until at least AD 100. All of the Gospels were written by then. I’ve already noted passages, such as Luke 1:1-4, that show some Christians did “fact check.”

            Who would they ask? Others who were already Christians? Folks who weren’t Christians? The Jewish leaders in the synagogues?

            The inhabitants of Galilee and Judea.

            It seems there is this image that “at the time of the earliest dates they might’ve been compiled” that suddenly these manuscripts…fresh off the scribes desk…became like the Bible to be thrust under every school child’s nose, preached from to the masses, and distributed in the synagogues. But we know that can’t have been the case simply because there wouldn’t be enough copies. So again, who might’ve seen these very early manuscripts who would also think to question their trusted leaders and what might they have done if they thought them not true?

            Reading a written Gospel is not the first time someone heard about Jesus. You completely ignore the oral transmission of tradition.

            I think the idea that someone could go around decades later and fact check with folks who were alive when Jesus was alive is a non-starter. There was no means and no incentive to do so.

            The Roman roads provided the means and the desire for truth provided the incentive.

          • Richard Carrier does a very good job in Not The Impossible Faith of deconstructing this view of Luke, and looking critically at Hemer and people’s use of him.

            Well, well worth a read.

          • GearHedEd

            It is worth mentioning that Dan Brown still makes historical errors in The Da Vinci Code despite having access to modern transportation and communication

            You ARE aware that this degrades your claim of oral tradition being sufficient to get the whole, unexaggerated truth some 40-90 years AFTER the events?

            Talk about shooting your own argument in the foot…

          • GearHedEd

            (I said) Hundreds of details of geography and political personages, mostly.

            You didn’t answer this. Your reply is a red herring (fallacy). See this

          • I’m not going to answer a quote on Wikipedia when I can’t see the surrounding context. I agree that Luke’s accuracy on some matters does not prove the historicity of other matters if by proof one is thinking of certainty. I maintain that it is evidence of his reliability.

          • GearHedEd

            I’m not going to answer a quote on Wikipedia when I can’t see the surrounding context.

            I provided a link. Here’s a screen capture of the page from the source:

            You need more than that? I just followed the footnote at the end of the quote from the linked article in Wikipedia.

          • I stand by my comment regarding evidence versus proof. The quote from Ward Gasque is relevant: “Cadbury’s statement . . . that Greek and Latin novels are often as full of accurate local and contemporary color as are historical writings is misleading. . . . Whereas the author of Acts is carefully accurate in his representation of the time and places of which he writes, the local and contemporary color contained in the writers of fiction is that of the time and places in which they write.”

          • GearHedEd

            Right. Gasque is saying that the Gospels (and Acts) are fiction (with a contemporary historical background).

            QED.

          • I really want to get involved int his conversation more, but been back at work… grr

            You beat me to it: this is what I call the Sherlock Holmes fallacy; that mentioning real places and events does not make the claims true.

            Conan Doyle describes London and the historical events very well in his books… Sherlock Holmes is fiction though.

            Moreover, looking at Acts and then applying your findings to Luke is perhaps problematic too.

          • josh

            I mentioned earlier that John was familiar with Judea. For example, he knew about the Pool of Bethesda whose existence was once doubted by so-called skeptics. I mentioned in the other thread that Colin Hemer notes hundreds of details in Acts that are confirmed by outside sources.

            This is like claiming that the reality of the Empire State Building
            confirms the historical accuracy of King Kong.

          • This is like claiming that the reality of the Empire State Building confirms the historical accuracy of King Kong.

            In other words, when it is shown that NT claims are supported by multiple accounts and tangible evidence, as demanded by Ed, he and you will still pass off the NT as fiction. What would prevent you from passing the NT off as fiction?

          • GearHedEd

            What would prevent you from passing the NT off as fiction?

            Matt 12:39 aside, I might be convinced if Christian claims of answered prayer could be shown to actually have beneficial effects. I might be convinced if non-believers suffered actual harm from approaching so-called “holy” objects or places. I might be convinced if copies of the Bible and/or New Testament had an unexplainable sparkly nimbus around them, demonstrating their alleged divine source. I might be convinced if Christianity hadn’t been retreating into the cracks left behind in our scientific understanding of the universe for the last 500 years. I might be convinced if modern Christian churches didn’t find it necessary to evolve to attempt to remain relevant to young people. I could do this all day.

          • Except that most humans aren’t interested in truth; they want to be seen as privy to secret information. Gossip, for example. Your answer lacks force as a rebuttal to my claim.

            Your hypothesis is that the Christians wanted to seem privy to secret information? Secret information that they wrote about and told others in the hopes of converting them?

            Yes, it’s possible, but those people are NOT the authors, and in any case would have had a very tough time of it getting witness statements from the actual cited players (i.e., the Pharisees, Pilate, Roman Guards, etc.), and therefore highly improbable. Your quote is a fallacious appeal.

            In other words, your claim was wrong. There’s no reason to believe the followers of Jesus would have a hard time listening to Jesus’s family. John and Joseph of Arimathea had contacts in the figures concerning the guard at the tomb.

            You ARE aware that this degrades your claim of oral tradition being sufficient to get the whole, unexaggerated truth some 40-90 years AFTER the events?

            Dan Brown is not from an oral tradition nor was he writing history.

            I could do this all day.

            So it isn’t a matter of history at all then?

          • GearHedEd

            Your hypothesis is that the Christians wanted to seem privy to secret information? Secret information that they wrote about and told others in the hopes of converting them?

            Why do you insist on being dense, or at best clinging to the least charitable impression of what I wrote? People get their kicks by being “in on it”, i.e., they wear their ‘insider status’ as a badge of honor: “I was there, I saw it all! (Yes, you may touch the hem of my robe…)”. That sort of ‘privy to secret information’. Get it? Almost everything you’re claiming in this thread so far is right on the ragged edge of the Possibiliter ergo Probabiliter fallacy. The more you engage in slim arguments like that, the LESS likely the story becomes.

            In other words, your claim was wrong. There’s no reason to believe the followers of Jesus would have a hard time listening to Jesus’s family. John and Joseph of Arimathea had contacts in the figures concerning the guard at the tomb.

            Would the followers of Jesus have written accounts that didn’t make it into the canon? Then the canon cannot be considered “historical”, it must be seen as supporting the theological interests of Jesus’ followers. That’s a circular argument you’re using as an objection. Furthermore, the Gospel of John is widely believed (by biblical scholars!) to have been written by an anonymous evangelist, and Joseph of Arimathea comes from a city of which no one knows the location.
            I’d have more respect for your ‘arguments’ if they weren’t dripping with multiple fallacies at every turn.

          • Why do you insist on being dense, or at best clinging to the least charitable impression of what I wrote?

            Your claim still seems absurd and can’t be interpreted charitably. Who wants to be in the persecuted and executed club?

            Almost everything you’re claiming in this thread so far is right on the ragged edge of the Possibiliter ergo Probabiliter fallacy.

            On the contrary, I’m the only one who consistently points to positive evidence in favor of my positions. Why do I think Acts is reliable? Because it is reliable in hundreds of places we can check it. Why do you think Acts is not reliable? Because it’s possible the author could be wrong on other matters. Why do I think oral tradition is reliable? Because what I’ve read about memory and oral cultures supports this belief. Why do you think memory is not reliable? Because the scholar I cite is a Christian.

            Would the followers of Jesus have written accounts that didn’t make it into the canon? Then the canon cannot be considered “historical”, it must be seen as supporting the theological interests of Jesus’ followers.

            My argument does not rely on canonicity. And, in the other thread, it has already been pointed out that all writings have an agenda. This says nothing about their historical worth.

            Furthermore, the Gospel of John is widely believed (by biblical scholars!) to have been written by an anonymous evangelist

            I’m aware of that. In my opinion, these arguments rely too much on what scholars assume the apostle John could or could not do and not enough on what the external evidence says he actually did.

            Joseph of Arimathea comes from a city of which no one knows the location.

            So what? It’s not as if we have a complete map of every city, town, and village c. AD 30.

          • GearHedEd

            Your claim still seems absurd and can’t be interpreted charitably.

            Take off the Jesus-colored glasses–it’ll come to you.

          • GearHedEd

            Who wants to be in the persecuted and executed club?

            Christians do. They are all about denying the mundane in favor of the spiritual “afterlife”. Christianity is a death cult. Christians yearn to be with their “Lord” (who is dead, and has been dead since ~33 AD…), but they have this thing where they cannot actively seek death because their God allegedly considers that a sin.

          • GearHedEd

            …it has already been pointed out that all writings have an agenda. This says nothing about their historical worth.

            Yet you accept that their historicity is beyond question. Got it.

          • GearHedEd

            So it isn’t a matter of history at all then?

            It never was. Your claims are not historical, they’re evangelical, written for the express purpose of gaining converts to a new ‘mystery religion’; not written as historical justifications for the actual (alleged, supernatural) resurrection of a legendary godman whose atoning sacrifice on the cross solves an imaginary problem between himself and his “other self”.

        • GearHedEd

          This seems to be nothing more than a quibble. I can rephrase my statement to say: “That Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb or grave was empty.”

          I think you missed the point I was trying to make there. When I mentioned “character” of his burial, I was pointing to the idea that, according to the Gospels, dead Jesus was permitted to be taken down by his followers and they were allowed to give him an honorable burial, as opposed to the (alleged) practice of tossing executed criminals into Gehinnom. Since crucifixion was reserved for “slaves, pirates and enemies of the state” (Jesus’ crime was sedition under Roman law, not blasphemy, which would have required the Jewish punishment of stoning). If Jesus was tossed onto the garbage heap in Gehinnom, then the disciples fled (as it says they did in the Gospels and Acts), witnessed Jesus’ Ascension 40 days later, then proclaimed the Resurrection and Ascension on Pentecost 50 days after Passover), it seems that they’ve engineered a seven week period where no one would have any excuse to produce a body, while at the same time giving Jesus’ corpse time to decompose to the extent that it would then be unrecognizable at that point even if the Pharisees knew where it was, casting doubt upon any corpse produced thus: “That’s not Jesus; He’s sitting on the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. Prove me wrong!”

          • What is pertinent also prefigures this issue: the idea that atonement makes any sense whatsoever (further because theologians still cannot agree on the matter!).

          • GearHedEd

            It’s not even the atonement I’m getting at here; it’s my take on how Jesus actually vanished such that a resurrection story could be propagated without chance for refutation by the Jewish authorities.

    • What Paul states says nothing about the discovered empty tomb. This is the perfect opportunity to mention the people who found the tomb empty as a persuasive device. You would expect it. It is not there. Circumstantially, this is odd.

      As for Matthew’s guards, when Craig concludes this:

      “So although there are reasons to doubt the existence of the guard at the tomb, there are also weighty considerations in its favor. It seems best to leave it an open question.”

      for an evangelical, that is as good as almost conceding the point. Craig is always duty bound to defend inerrancy, even though you can tell he is not really an inerrantist, because he would lose donors and followers.

      • This is the perfect opportunity to mention the people who found the tomb empty as a persuasive device. You would expect it. It is not there. Circumstantially, this is odd.

        You ignored my point: Paul is not providing a detailed argument for Jesus’s resurrection but merely reminding the Corinthians of what he had told them at an earlier date (1 Cor. 15:1). Hence, the claim that he would have surely narrated the discovery of the empty tomb, if he had known about it, is based on a misreading of the passage. Merely quoting Komarnitsky again does not help since he misinterprets Paul’s purpose.

        Craig is always duty bound to defend inerrancy, even though you can tell he is not really an inerrantist, because he would lose donors and followers.

        Saying something may not be historical is not the same as a reconstruction of how the account came about. Regardless of whether the tomb was guarded, your reconstruction is speculation.

    • After all, what else better explains why these very first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection are not mentioned anywhere else?

      • The Gospels are the only writings in the NT that provide detailed narratives.

        • GearHedEd

          The Gospels are the only writings in the NT that provide detailed narratives.

          You don’t find that suspicious in and of itself? I do.

          Especially when one considers that only the Synoptics and the High Christology of John were accepted as ‘canon’ out of the literally dozens of candidates.

          • You don’t find that suspicious in and of itself? I do.

            No, I don’t find it suspicious that someone who writes a letter for a specific occasion does not include a biography of Jesus in said letter.

            Especially when one considers that only the Synoptics and the High Christology of John were accepted as ‘canon’ out of the literally dozens of candidates.

            It makes sense to me that the church would choose the Gospels from the apostolic age and not Gospels written by Gnostics at a later date.

          • GearHedEd

            The Christian has given the expected Christian answer.

            Care to try that again without the Christian-colored glasses?

          • Guest

            That was a cheap dodge.

  • A few comments:

    That Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb was empty. Paul is not providing a detailed argument for Jesus’s resurrection but merely reminding the Corinthians of what he had told them at an earlier date (1 Cor. 15:1). Hence, the claim that he would have surely narrated the discovery of the empty tomb, if he had known about it, is based on a misreading of the passage.

    Jesus is not buried in a tomb because Pilate thought he was worthy of honor, he is buried in a tomb because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath (Jn 19:31). It is disingenuous for someone skeptical of the canonical Gospels to appeal to a much later writing, the Secret Book of James, in an attempt to prove his point about Jesus not being buried in a tomb. Nonetheless, the citation is not even evidence that the author of the Secret Book of James thought Jesus was not buried in a tomb. In the sign of Jonah story (Mt 12:40) Jesus says he will be in the heart of the earth for three days but Matthew sees no contradiction between this and burial in a tomb. A tomb can be in the earth/sand.

    The women’s apparent silence in Mark 16:8 concerning the empty tomb is irrelevant to whether the location of the tomb would be known. The location of the tomb was known when Jesus was buried, not when he was resurrected. The women knew what tomb to go to before they found the tomb empty.

    Your attempt to reconstruct how the account of the guards at the tomb arose is pure speculation.

    • Ed

      Jayman, picking up on the claim “Paul believed Jesus was buried and raised (1 Cor. 15:4) implies that he believed the tomb was empty.” It implies the tomb or grave was empty. If it was a communal grave under the jusristriction of the Romans then there was no way of checking if the body had vanished or not, so the disciples just assumed it was gone. Johno’s work shows why a visitable rock tomb was unlikely.

      My view of why Paul (or the creed he quotes) needed to spell out ‘buried’ is that prophesy drove them to believe in a burial rather than decomposition on the cross, and as decomposition on the cross was a common fate it needed to be clearly stated as a burial.

      Regarding the belief in Secret Book of James account while rejecting the gospels, you make a good point. But a stronger issue is to question which is more likely …. the Christian rumour mill making an empty tomb into a sand grave … or vice versa? It seems that this James document is important because tells us that it has to be one or the other.

      • The use of James, as you note, Ed, is exactly as communicated. It doesn’t prove anything per se but shows an existing rumour or similar.

  • Ed

    Brilliant Johno, you collated this evidence very quickly. I have been thinking about the resurrection too much recently and have a few ideas to add. I hope they are helpful.

    One message I frequently hear from apologists and scholars like N T Wright is that in 1stC Jewish thinking resurrection implies a transformation of the actual body, so a resurrection belief implies an empty tomb. Apologists use this to ‘prove’ the empty tomb, but I would turn it around and use it to explain why the empty tomb narrative arose.

    It is like the cartoon Snowman story. It is all myth and dream, but when the boy wakes up he has the scarf that Santa gave him in his hand. The empty tomb serves the purpose of that scarf: both for the early Xtians and the apologists.

    I assume that you are familiar with the lack of rolling-stone-tombs until after AD70, if not I will explain and find the links.

    Another item of evidence to turn around is the Nazareth Inscription which apologists love as it appears to hint at the empty tomb. What it actually tells us is that tomb raiding and body snatching was sufficiently common to be a problem in 1stC Palestine. This would make sense of your guards myth reconstruction (at line 2). To me the only bit of history that may be found in the guards story is Matt’s ending “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” We find much later from Justin Martyr (I think) that the Jews liked the stolen body riposte. And the Nazareth Inscription makes it all fit in nicely. So it goes
    resurrection >> missing body belief >> tomb story >> preaching >> }
    add in well known body snatching >> }
    Result: Jewish jibe of disciples stole body

    We are so used to Matt making stuff up to fit inappropriate prophesy, the guards story feels just the same, but instead of finishing with a prophesy we get “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” It seems that was where Matt was going all along.

    Finally, there seems to be a mistake over your Raymond Brown quote, it looks like he just quotes the end of Mark’s gospel.

    • GearHedEd

      I always thought the quote

      “And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

      is rather good indication of much later story-telling.

      Not to mention the fact that the whole scene in Matthew where the Pharisees are discussing their rationale for posting a guard on the tomb is written in third-person omniscient viewpoint as if it were a novelization, and neglects the fact that Matthew (or whomever the author of Matthew really was) could not possibly have been witness to this exchange.

      • That is a really good point. @TubalCain42:disqus, it seems your accusation of mere speculation is in itself mere speculation! The irony!

        • GearHedEd

          We really should hold Christians’ feet to the fire over stuff like this more often. The argument usually begins:
          Krischin: “My stories are true, because they are found in the Gospels, and the Gospels are true because it says so in the Gospels. Now you, Mr. Atheist, must prove me wrong.”
          While it’s admirable to carry a strong stance on your own position, it is less so when the justifications are so viciously recursive. If only more Krischins were open to the idea that the Bible is not some sparkly, supernatural tome gifted to humanity from on high…

    • Cheers Ed.

      I was going to include the fact that round stones were not really used, but the original Greek in the Gospels can also mean move, move back or dislodge. And a rectangular stone would be easier for an angel to sit on…

      Can you expand on the Brown point?

    • The whole spiritual/bodily argument is a long and different post.

      Have you read The Empty Tomb (ed. Lowder)? Well worth it. Carrier has a massive chapter on this.

      • Ed

        Thanks – on this and the stones dislodge verb, which I didn’t know. I should get that Lowder book.

    • Changed it – check the proper quote – it’s important for the point. Thanks a bunch!

      • Ed

        Thanks – I get it. Another case where the apologists evidence turns back and bites them. Here the apologist claim ‘the use of women as key witnesses shows that it happened, a made-up story would have had only men as witnesses’ can be turned round to show that indeed women witnesses helped the myth-creator because ‘only women’ helps explain why this story was unknown for decades.

        In all these instances it helps to have neat responses in the debate when the apologist uses what they think are telling points or evidence.

  • GearHedEd

    Johno, I think you got Raymond Brown’s quote mixed up with Mark 16:8 (See note 2)

    • Changed it – check the quote – it’s important for the point. Thanks a bunch!

  • GearHedEd

    Johno, I think you got Raymond Brown’s quote mixed up with Mark 16:8 (See note 2)

  • Firstly, we are talking about Paul specifically, whose writings we have, not Jews, generally, who did not generally believe in the Christian myth. And Wright is hardly an impressive authority to toss at me.

    Paul is writing in a Jewish context so that context is relevant to interpreting Paul’s writings. Plus, Wright exegetes all of the Pauline passages dealing with resurrection.

    Secondly, Acts was not written by Paul, and even conflicts with Paul’s version of events in various ways.

    But it was written by a companion of Paul and so is quite relevant to your question. Conflicts between two sources (assuming there are significant conflicts) does not mean we toss them both out.

    • josh

      Paul is writing in a Jewish context so that context is relevant to interpreting Paul’s writings.

      More relevant are the actual writings of Paul and the fact that he was a schismatic zealot, not a mainstream Jew. Paul goes on and on about how we have a corruptible body which will be replaced by an incorruptible spiritual one with Jesus as the prototype. (Incidentally, I don’t think exegete is a verb.)

      The author of acts is unknown and doesn’t even claim to be a companion of Paul. But since his account conflicts with the genuine Pauline letters that isn’t a well-supported theory. Even if it were true we would still stick with what Paul wrote, rather than a different guy who would have his own agenda and theological views.

      Remember, we are talking about what the early Christian Paul actually said and thought that we can reasonably confirm. Not what non-Christian Jews might have thought. Not what his secretary wrote anonymously according to legend.

      • Paul goes on and on about how we have a corruptible body which will be replaced by an incorruptible spiritual one with Jesus as the prototype.

        I’m well aware of that but an incorruptible body is still a body (not a spirit).

        (Incidentally, I don’t think exegete is a verb.)

        A difference between American English and British English?

        The author of acts is unknown and doesn’t even claim to be a companion of Paul.

        By using the term “we” in places the author puts himself in the action. The author is only unknown if we ignore the unanimous external evidence and the fact the author seems even more knowledgeable than normal in the “we” sections.

        Even if it were true we would still stick with what Paul wrote, rather than a different guy who would have his own agenda and theological views.

        This is a false dichotomy. We can learn about Paul both by what he wrote and by what others wrote about him.

  • GearHedEd

    I see your 125 CE, and raise you a “who cares?”

    You’re splitting hairs over the difference between 95 years and 100 years after the fact, when not a single “eyewitness” can be reliably identified, no corrective eyewear existed for the estimated 70% of humanity that NEEDS corrective eyewear, and the vast majority of people cannot tell you what they had for lunch the day before yesterday, let alone remember events (without embellishment: example–when you hook a fish that later breaks free, and you tell your buddies about “the one that got away”, was the fish this big, or was the fish THIS BIG?) that happened nearly 100 years earlier.

    You’re assuming that the tellers of this tale had no reason to give anything but the unvarnished truth.

    • I see your 125 CE, and raise you a who cares? You’re splitting hairs over the difference between 95 years and 100 years after the fact…

      I don’t think a date of 125 is any more plausible than a date of 130. I’m merely noting your tendency to date John as late as possible even if it bumps up against hard evidence. I would date John to the 90s or earlier. Even in the 90s there would have been hundreds of witnesses to Jesus’s ministry still alive (see the life tables in Robert McKiver, Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels, p. 206-207).

      …when not a single “eyewitness” can be reliably identified…

      John claims to be an eyewitness and the external evidence supports this. Since I would take such facts seriously in other historical contexts I must take them seriously in this context too.

      …no corrective eyewear existed for the estimated 70% of humanity that NEEDS corrective eyewear…

      Needs corrective eyewear for what purpose? To read? To determine that a dead man has risen from the dead? Let us remember that John was young during Jesus’s ministry.

      …the vast majority of people cannot . . . remember events (without embellishment: example–when you hook a fish that later breaks free, and you tell your buddies about “the one that got away”, was the fish this big, or was the fish THIS BIG?) that happened nearly 100 years earlier?

      This is false at worse and exaggeration at best. In Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels, Robert McKiver studies human memory and how it relates to the Gospels. Regarding personal memory he concludes (p. 58):

      “Not all details are remembered, and not with 100 percent accuracy. What is retained, though, is sufficient to contain the gist of the event. Thus, one is safe in concluding that personal event memories are more long-lived than other types of memory and can be relied on to conserve the gist of the event, even if some of the details might be lost or even wrong.”

      Regarding collective memory and fabrication he writes (p. 109):

      “While it is possible to document the occasional complete fabrication in collective memories, collective memories do not usually work in this manner. To be sure, aspects of a historical figure that do not fit current ideology and interests are ignored, and those that do fit are emphasized. But in collective memory, traditions about past events and figures generally correspond in important ways to what actually happened and the personality and achievements of individuals from the past. Such a wholesale invention of tradition as proposed by Dibelius and Bultmann appears inconsistent with what else is known about collective memory.”

      Speaking of the Gospels he concludes (p. 187):

      “So it can be concluded that, like most products of human memory and despite all the frailties of such memory, the Gospels should be considered to be generally reliable. If the evidence presented thus far may be relied on, then — at least for the apophthegmata, the parables, and the aphorisms — the burden of proof should lie with those who wish to claim that a saying found in the Gospels is not from Jesus or that an incident reported about him did not happen, not with those who assume its authenticity. Human memory is a remarkable facility, and the traditions found in the Synoptic Gospels may be considered to be a product of its effectiveness.”

  • Josephus was a forgery (or he’d have been a Christian, too!)

    This was covered in the previous thread too. There is an interpolation but the text, as reconstructed by J. P. Meier, for example, supports the outline of the Gospels.

    Tacitus mentions “Chrestians” at best (and late, at that!)

    He mentions Jesus’s crucifixion by Pilate. It is funny how he is “late” when it comes to Jesus but he is an important source for Roman affairs from the same time period. This is a double standard on the part of skeptics.

    and Celsus was branded a heretic.

    I assume you mean Origen, not Celsus. For someone who falsely accused me of appealing to the canonical Gospels because of their canonicity it is hypocritical to now ignore Celsus because Origen was branded a heretic. Try to think consistently.

    Hundreds of details of geography and political personages, mostly. As I’ve said before (elsewhere), a fiction based on actual places and people is still fiction. If mentioning places and people who actually existed as backdrop for your fiction qualifies as history, then The DaVinci Code is history, too. That’s just me, being a skeptic. Sue me.

    It is worth mentioning that Dan Brown still makes historical errors in The Da Vinci Code despite having access to modern transportation and communication. Luke’s impressive accuracy given his ancient circumstances is most impressive. And historical fiction is taken as fiction by the readers. The readers of Acts took it as history.

    Note that in your earlier comment you said tangible evidence would be needed. Now, once tangible evidence is supplied, you fall back to the “historical fiction defense.” This defense proves too much. I can deny an account of the Holocaust even if it seems accurate. This is not skepticism, it is conspiracy theory talk.

    • GearHedEd

      I assume you mean Origen, not Celsus. For someone who falsely accused me of appealing to the canonical Gospels because of their canonicity it is hypocritical to now ignore Celsus because Origen was branded a heretic. Try to think consistently.

      Nope. You have it exactly backwards there. Origen is still considered an Early Church Father (although he did have a personality conflict with Bishop Demetrius of Alexandria, his ecclesiastical superior), while Celsus was branded a heretic.

      Mainly by Origen.

    • GearHedEd

      The readers of Acts took it as history.

      The readers of Acts wanted to believe it, and had absolutely no way to fact-check the stories, besides being in a pre-scientific, semi-literate culture.

    • GearHedEd

      (I said) Hundreds of details of geography and political personages, mostly.

      You didn’t answer this. Your reply is a red herring (fallacy). See this

  • GearHedEd

    Early Christian writings (not just the NT) indicate that Christians traveled around the Roman Empire and passed on information.

    Depends on the character of that “information” as to whether that was a good thing or not. Josef Goebbels spread around a lot of “information”, too.

    That they were not as literate as we are merely means they were more adept at the oral transmission of information.

    This is a non sequitur. One has little to do with the other, and I’ve never heard of another example about how adept the Jews were at oral transmission of data except as to how it relates to the alleged historicity and truth of the Gospels. Remember, there are many identifiable passages in the Gospels that cannot possibly be eyewitness accounts; i.e., they were invented (examples: the nativity accounts, the places where there were no possibility of witnesses such as the “guards on the tomb” conversation in Matt 27:62-66 I pointed out earlier, etc…). If the authors invented parts to embellish the story on mundane matters, I can have little confidence they did NOT embellish the accounts of miracles. Claiming a hyperbolic “500 witnesses” doesn’t help here.

    P.S. Admit you were wrong about Origen and Celsus, instead of ignoring it.

    • Depends on the character of that “information” as to whether that was a good thing or not. Josef Goebbels spread around a lot of “information”, too.

      The point is that they could check facts.

      This is a non sequitur. One has little to do with the other, and I’ve never heard of another example about how adept the Jews were at oral transmission of data except as to how it relates to the alleged historicity and truth of the Gospels.

      Humans need to transmit truth to each other. If this cannot be done in writing we will find a way to do it by speech. Oral cultures in general, not just oral Jewish culture, can transmit facts reliably. Your ignorance is not an argument.

      Remember, there are many identifiable passages in the Gospels that cannot possibly be eyewitness accounts; i.e., they were invented (examples: the nativity accounts, the places where there were no possibility of witnesses such as the “guards on the tomb” conversation in Matt 27:62-66 I pointed out earlier, etc…).

      You seem to have a strange definition of possible. It is not possible that Joseph and Mary witnessed the nativity? It is not possible that someone among the chief priests, Pharisees, Pilate, or the soldiers could have witnessed the conversation in Mt 27:62-66?

      P.S. Admit you were wrong about Origen and Celsus, instead of ignoring it.

      I ignored it because it’s irrelevant to my main point and because the links you provided did not seem to support your claim. How about providing quote from Against Celsus where Origen calls Celsus a heretic?

  • D Rizdek

    If Luke could fact check then why couldn’t his readers? Early Christian writings (not just the NT) indicate that Christians traveled around the Roman Empire and passed on information.

    They probably could and those who did probably didn’t become Christians, they remained Jews…or whatever That’s why there are still Jews to this day who don’t think Jesus was the son of their god. Why didn’t the Jews, whose prophecies predicted Jesus and who were there, supposedly watching him perform miracle after miracle and who must’ve known he rose from the dead, since he supposedly walked around with his disciples for anyone to see. I would think that the saints piling out of their tombs would’ve caught their attention. I would’ve thought someone rising from the dead in answer to many prophecies would’ve got their attention more than a few disciples. But it didn’t seem to. It seems Christianity was a relatively small movement and not until later, when no one could “fact check,” did it become wider spread. Certainly the various councils that picked the books to be included were not eyewitnesses.
    What do you suppose a reader who fact checked and found no corroboration for the stores of the resurrection might do beyond simply not believe it and go on their way? Since Jesus was dead (in their opinion, for who would continue to reject something so earthshakingly unique as a real resurrection) so why would they worry about what some people were writing? It is likely that within the lifetime of anyone who might’ve been there to “know” anything about it, the gospels and the writings that comprise the NT would be particularly well known or widely distributed. Do you imagine these early writings were published for all to read and question? Isn’t it more likely that initially they were shared among folks the authors/promoters kind of knew would be amenable…ie already believers since broadly disclosing them could be dangerous to their health. During the time any of these stories could be corroborated with living witnesses, the Christians were supposedly being persecuted. Their leaders were being killed. Who in their right mind would run around fact checking.
    Who would they ask? Others who were already Christians? Folks who weren’t Christians? What kind of answers would they likely get from these people. Would the “Christians” be a good objective and unbiased source? Would the non-believer who already knew of it and didn’t believe it likely corroborate it? And if they didn’t know anything about it, how could they be used for “fact-checking?” Does anyone imagine there was a whole assembly of unbiased reporters who’d been going around keeping track of every miracle worker, charlatan, itinerate preacher, and prophet so later, when stories were recounted they could be interviewed for fact checking?

    It seems there is this image that “at the time of the earliest dates they might’ve been compiled” that suddenly these manuscripts…fresh off the scribes desk…became like the Bible that was thrust under every school child’s nose, preached from to the masses, and distributed in the synagogues. But we know that can’t have been the case simply because there wouldn’t be enough copies. So again, who might’ve seen these very early manuscripts who would also think to question their trusted leaders and what might they have done if they thought them not true?
    I think the idea that someone could go around and fact check with folks who were alive when Jesus was alive is a non-starter. There was no means and no incentive to do so.

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