The PDF of his new paper is here. It was just published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. It talks about how the pre-suppositions of ancient historians can mess with their ability to investigate the past.
Here’s the abstract:
Most biblical scholars and historians hold that the investigation of a miracle report lies outside of the rights of historians acting within their professional capacity. In this essay, I challenge this position and argue to the contrary. A definition of history should not a priori exclude the possibility of investigating miracle claims, since doing so may restrict historians to an inaccurate assessment of the past. Professional historians outside of the community of biblical scholars acknowledge the frequent absence of a consensus; this largely results from conflicting horizons among historians. If this is the present state among professionals engaged in the study of non-religious history, it will be even more so with historians of Jesus. Finally, even if some historians cannot bring themselves to grant divine causation, they, in principle, can render a verdict on the event itself without rendering a verdict on its cause.
Here’s a bit that I found interesting:
It is clear that the horizon of atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann is a driving force behind his historical conclusions when he a priori rules out the historicity of the ascension of Jesus reported in Acts 1.9–11 ‘because there is no such heaven to which Jesus may have been carried’. Ontological naturalism similarly guides James Tabor.
Women do not get pregnant without a male—ever. So Jesus had a human father… Dead bodies don’t rise… So, if the tomb was empty the historical conclusion is simple—Jesus’ body was moved by someone and likely reburied in another location.
Not so obvious is Geza Vermes in his 2008 volume The Resurrection: History and Myth. With hardly a comment, Vermes simply dismisses both ‘the out-of-hand rejection of the inveterate skeptic’ and the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead since it can only be made from ‘the blind faith of the fundamentalist believer’.
I thought these were interesting because Ludemann and Vermes still agree with some of the minimal facts in a case for the resurrection case, such as Craig, Habermas or Licona might make. Ludemann gives you the post-mortem “visions” of Jesus, and Vermes gives you the empty tomb – yet both are naturalists, as you can see. They both rule out miracle as an explanation of the minimal facts a priori, but they both allow for useful minimal facts because the historical case is there to support them. Isn’t that interesting?
So what would you call a detective who ruled out some causes of death but not others, before looking at the evidence?
Second, methodological naturalism may handicap historians, preventing them in some cases from providing a fuller and more accurate account of the past. Molecular biologist Michael Behe provides a relevant challenge to this approach in his discipline. He writes:
Imagine a room in which a body lies crushed, flat as a pancake. A dozen detectives crawl around, examining the floor with magnifying glasses for any clues to the identity of the perpetrator. In the middle of the room, next to the body, stands a large, grey elephant. The detectives carefully avoid bumping into the pachyderm’s legs as they crawl, and never even glance at it. Over time the detectives get frustrated with their lack of progress but resolutely press on, looking even more closely at the floor. You see, textbooks say detectives must ‘get their man’, so they never consider elephants.
In context, Behe is contending that when scientists limit their considerations exclusively to unguided natural causes they will forever keep themselves from discovering the actual cause if a Designer of some sort was responsible. A similar admonition may be issued to historians who a priori exclude a non-human agent as the cause behind a past event. Those who do so could actually be placing themselves in a position where they cannot appraise history accurately.
The rest of the paper discusses two options for historians who want to resolve this problem.
So, I’m impressed that Mike Licona reads Mike Behe (that quote is from “Darwin’s Black Box”). Pretty cool that he reads across disciplines, and that he reads people who disagree with him. We one-dollar apologists all need to be like that.
Back to his paper. I see this presupposition of naturalism come up in debates on the historical Jesus, where the naturalist will just assume naturalism and then proceed to do history – even at a time where we have so many scientific arguments to undermine naturalism. It’s a bad philosophical view, and we shouldn’t let it influence how we do history.
If you run into these historians who are committed to naturalism, it might be worth it to make them defend it. You ask them – do you believe in naturalism? If they say yes, ask them for scientific evidence for naturalism. And when they finish not giving you any, then you can go on a long monologue on the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability (galactic and stellar), and so on. Then tell them to stop bring their blind religious faith into their historical investigations.
I was discussing a recent debate that a friend attended between an atheist musician named Dan Barker and a Christian with a doctorate in New Testament Studies named Justin Bass.
According to my friend’s report, the atheist questioned the existence of Nazareth, and then went on from there to assert that everything we know about Jesus is legendary.
This is what the atheist’s argument sounds like:
If the New Testament contains reliable history about Jesus, then Nazareth must exist.
Nazareth does not exist.
Therefore, the New Testaments does not contain reliable history about Jesus. (M.T. 1,2)
I was able to find a web site where an atheist was making the claim that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus. So this is not completely outside the realm of mainstream atheism. I doubled checked with two more people who attended the debate that Barker indeed made an argument like the one above.
Two things to say about this 3-step argument. First off, when speaking to atheists, Christians only care about making a case for the resurrection. This is for two reasons. One, our goal is to disprove atheism, and the historical argument for the resurrection is the most evidenced miracle claim in the New Testament. Nazareth is not part of that core of minimal facts about the resurrection of Jesus. Second, it’s possible to be a Christian by accepting a core of Christian dogma (e.g. – the Apostle’s Creed), while remaining agnostic or even skeptical of other things in the Bible. Nazareth is not part of that core of minimal facts that must be affirmed in order to become a Christian.
The problem I have with atheists is that they pick and choose from the Bible according to their own agenda. Every Christian has read basic books on the resurrection by people like Lee Strobel, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, J. Warner Wallace and so on. This is like table stakes for living a Christian life. We all know how to make a case based off of minimal facts for the resurrection. When Christians get into debates about Jesus, we want to make a case for the core of historical knowledge about him, minimal facts that almost no one disagrees with. But many atheists aren’t like that. They want to pick and choose a few verses out of the Old Testament and the New Testament that they personally find distasteful to them, and then deny the minimal facts about Jesus on that basis. I don’t think that it makes sense to deny evidence for widely-accepted facts by bringing up minor problems that are irrelevant to the well-attested core facts.
But it’s worse than that – we actually DO know that Nazareth existed, and we know it not from some fundamentalist preacher, but from atheist Bart Ehrman.
Ehrman writes in his book:
One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels commonly discussed by mythicists is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth did not exist but is itself a myth. The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, appears to be that if Christians made up Jesus’ hometown, they probably made him up as well. I could dispose of this argument fairly easily by pointing out that it is irrelevant. If Jesus existed, as the evidence suggests, but Nazareth did not, as this assertion claims, then he merely came from somewhere else. Whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S. or not (for what it is worth, he was) is irrelevant to the question of whether he was born.
Since, however, this argument is so widely favored among mythicists, I want to give it a further look and deeper exploration. The most recent critic to dispute the existence of Nazareth is René Salm, who has devoted an entire book to the question, called The Myth of Nazareth. Salm sees this issue as highly significant and relevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus: “Upon that determination [i.e., the existence of Nazareth] depends a great deal, perhaps even the entire edifice of Christendom.”
So that seems like a fair representation of the argument I outlined above.
Bart’s response is long, but here’s part of it:
There are numerous compelling pieces of archaeological evidence that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day, and that like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built. For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus. Salm disputes the finding of the archaeologists who did the excavation (it needs to be remembered, he himself is not an archaeologist but is simply basing his views on what the real archaeologists – all of whom disagree with him — have to say). For one thing, when archaeologist Yardena Alexandre indicated that 165 coins were found in this excavation, she specified in the report that some of them were late, from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. This suits Salm’s purposes just fine. But as it turns out, there were among the coins some that date to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus. Salm objected that this was not in Alexandre’s report, but Alexandre has verbally confirmed (to me personally) that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising.
Aalm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery. Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following: “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.” They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth.’”
I did a quick double check on the archaeologist Ehrman mentioned, and found an Associated Press story about another archaelogical discovery made by archaeologists in Nazareth. This time, it’s not the coins, but pottery fragments. The date range on the pottery is 100 before Jesus’ birth to 100 years after Jesus’ birth.
Even though Ehrman is an atheist, I think that he understands how to do history. You can’t be a credentialed historian and throw out the early proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection because of doubts about Old Testament violence. You can’t be a credentialed historian and throw out the conversions of Paul and James because you don’t know whether there was one angel or two angels at the empty tomb. Denying the core facts about Jesus by bringing up concerns about peripheral issues is not a responsible way to investigate the historical Jesus.
One final point. This happens when discussing scientific evidence with atheists, too. I was discussing the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the cosmic fine-tuning with an atheist – mentioning names, dates and places related to the discoveries – and she cut me off with “Am I going to Hell?”
Bart Ehrman is well known as a US New Testament Scholar who lost his Christian faith and now questions many core precepts of Christianity, including the Resurrection of Jesus. When Mike Licona had doubts he devoted himself to investigating the evidence and became convinced that Jesus resurrection is the only rational explanation for the facts.
They debate key historical facts about the resurrection – are the letters of Paul that report the resurrection and the Gospel accounts trustworthy or theologised and changed with time? What about apparent contradictions between the Gospels? Does the consensus of scholars count as evidence, or is there a Christian bias? Can a miracle count as an explanation for historical data?
Snarky summary of the radio debate: (items with * are my made-up paraphrases/clarifications)
– Bart’s new book is about forgeries in the ancient world
– some books were falsely attributed to prominent Christian figures
– there are mistakes in the Bible
– there are mistakes in the resurrection narratives
– the defeat of inerrancy led to his conversion to liberal Christianity
– the problem of evil and suffering caused him to become a non-Christian
– there are minimal facts that are agreed to by a broad spectrum of scholars
– the minimal facts are accepted because they pass standard historical criteria
– Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
– Fact 2: Individuals and groups had visions of Jesus after his death
– Fact 3: Paul, a skeptic and an enemy, had an appearance of Jesus that converted him
– these facts are agreed to atheist scholars, liberal scholars, etc.
– virtually 100% of scholars agree with these three facts
– there is no naturalistic explanation of these three facts
– therefore, the best explanation of these three facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
– all historians would accept these three facts, except for maybe the group appearances
– the death of Jesus is irrelevant to the resurrection
– the second and third point can be collapsed together
– so really there is only one fact
– the crucifixion is relevant because Muslims don’t admit that fact
– the crucifixion important because it establishes a resurrection, not a resuscitation
– well, if the point is that he died, then yes, this does require a resurrection
– the crucifixion refutes Muslims who deny that Jesus died
– the crucifixion refutes the apparent death theory (swoon theory)
– the death is required for a bodily resurrection
– it’s important to know what facts most scholars, regardless of worldview, agree on
– it’s important to emphasize that Licona is working from historical bedrock facts
– the resurrection is the best explanation for the historical bedrock facts
– you are trying to list 3 things, but really it is just one thing – the appearances
– and not ALL scholars agree that the group visions occurred
– name one prominent scholar who denies the group appearances
– the radically leftist atheist nutcase John Dominic Crossan denies the group appearances
* Crossan is so far on the left that I look like a nutcase for even citing him
* Crossan believes in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is a hoax – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan believes that the synoptics are LATER than gnostic forged gospels – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan presupposes atheism, so he cannot admit to miracle stories as a pre-supposition – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan pre-supposes religious pluralism, so he cannot allow any exclusive claims Christians make – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan is a good historian, it’s just that he is so far to the left that no one – NO ONE – agrees with his all of crazy theories
* I think it is a good idea to cite historians who pre-suppose atheism and political correctness before they sit down to do history
– let me explain why most scholars accept the individual and group post-mortem appearances
– the best source for the appearances is the early creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15:3-8
– Paul himself had an appearance of Jesus after Jesus’ death
– Paul received this material from a source very soon after the appearances – within 1-3 years
– we know that Paul met with Jesus disciples multiple times prior to writing
– Paul probably received it from Peter and James, who were themselves eyewitnesses
– this early dating presumably rules out legend
– well legends CAN start quickly
– it does show that Paul was an eyewitness
– it does show that Paul was in contact with reliable eyewitnesses
– 1 Corinthians is written around 55 AD, twenty-five years after Jesus died
– it is not implausible that Paul got the creed from the disciples, who were eyewitnesses
– but you don’t need a long time for legends to emerge, so that is a possibility
– only about 3% of people could read and write back them
– instead, people had enormous capacity for memorization
– the Pharisees were particularly good at memorization
– Jews were very serious about passing along traditions accurately
– Paul, a prominent Pharisee, would have been capable of passing on early creeds accurately
– Paul, in 1 Cor 7, shows that he is willing to separate his opinions from authentic tradition
– Paul had an opportunity in 1 Cor 7 to put words into Jesus’ mouth, but he wouldn’t do it
– cultural anthropologists show that things do get changed in some oral cultures
– in these oral cultures, it is assumed that the story teller will change the story
– only in written cultures are they careful to avoid changing the story
– in the New Testament, you can compare the same story in two different gospels, there are differences
– Ehrman is right that the gospel writers pick and choose things from the oral tradition that they want to include in their gospels
– different oral tradition transmission schemes have more or less embellishment
– african tribes embellish more, rabbinic teaching embellishes less
* Jesus’ followers would have viewed him as a rabbi, and been careful about adding to his teachings
– Paul, an eyewitness, probably received the creed in 1 Cor 15 from other eyewitnesses
– Paul speaks about going twice to Jerusalem in Galatians
– he is meeting with Peter and James to check his facts
– when you look at Mark and John, there are lots of differences in the narrative
– I agree that the gospels have differences, but the oral tradition is likely fixed
– but Mark and John have different sayings
– why doesn’t Mark have the same explicit high Christology that John has?
– the “apocalyptic Son of Man” isn’t in John
– what about in John 9 with the man who was born blind
– where is the apocalyptic part?
– the healed man worships Jesus because he is the Son of Man
– that links to the apocalypic passages in the Old Testament
– what about the differences between the gospels?
* well, now is the time for me to set up an inerrantist straw man and then knock it down!
* who was at the empty tomb: one angel or two angels? we don’t know, so the whole Bible is false!
* I used to be an inerrantist, so one minor difference is enough for me to dump the whole Bible
* I’ll kill you, you stupid straw man! I hate you, Moody Bible Institute! You lied to me!
– many of these problems can be solved by realizing that the gospel writers compress time
– the stories don’t have to list ALL the characters in every scene
– you don’t have to force the Bible to meet some sort of wooden chronology
– the main thing is that the events happened, not that the descriptions match word for word across sources
– you can’t infer a miracle from history, David Hume says so
* extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, David Hume says so
* no I don’t know what begging the question is, I’m not a philosopher
* no I don’t remember when Bill Craig kicked my ass on this Hume objection in our debate
– the New Testament gospels contradict each other at every point, they are not reliable at all!
* they cannot even agree what Jesus’ name is! There are 1 trillion variants of Jesus’ name!
* “one angel vs two angels” proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
* my expansive list of FOUR theologically insignificant variants proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
– um, the gospels agree on the central narrative and disagree on the peripherals
– and they agree on the minimal facts I presented, even if they disagree about the number of angels
* they have to agree on everything and be inerrant! The Moody Straw Man Bible Institute says so!
* I really really really need to have the number of angels be the same, or Jesus didn’t die on the cross
– but you don’t deny any of the three minimal facts I presented (crucifixion, appearances, Paul)
– well, I don’t know if the group appearances occurred – maybe they did
– i think Jesus died on the cross, and I think that people said they saw him alive afterward
– if you deny the minimal facts, then you are outside the majority of scholars
– the majority of scholars who agree to the minimal facts you presented are Christians
* Gerd Ludemann is an atheist Christian
* James Crossley is an atheist Christian
* Hector Avalos is an atheist Christian
* the majority of the atheist scholars are all Christians!
– VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY IN THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE IS A CHRISTIAN!!! (Yes, he said that)
– but he CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN so that means HE IS A CHRISTIAN
* all you have to do to be a Christian is claim to be one
* you can even deny the existence of God and the divinity of Christ and still be one, you bigot!
– would Jesus or the apostles recognize a Christian as being someone who doubts God’s existence
– my view is that Jesus and the apostles would not recognize evangelical Christians as Christians
* a non-theist can be a Christian just by claiming to be one, but evangelical Christians are not Christians even if they claim to be Christians
– Christians can’t record accurate history about the resurrection because they are biased
– on your view, if a person is a Christian then he can’t write about the evidence for the resurrection
– so then similarly, you would not allow Jews to write about the historicity of the Holocaust
– because you think that if people have an interest in what they are recording then they can’t be objective
– but you have to consider the evidence we have, taking the biases of the sources into account
– but the only people who believe in the resurrection are Christians!
– well, people can consider the evidence for the resurrection as non-Christians
– and then if they accept it they can become Christians
– what about your bias? you don’t believe in God – doesn’t that pre-supposition affect how you do history?
– well, I presuppose naturalism, so I can’t admit to anything in history that implicates supernatural causes
* no I have never heard of the arguments for the Big Bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, limits on mutations creating information, habitability and so on – I never heard about that stuff from my atheist university professors and even if I had I would have been expelled for talking about it because that would make people feel bad about their sinning
– so it’s not bias you are concerned about, it’s that you don’t want history to contradict your untested religion of naturalism?
– why not just do the history without pre-suppositions to gather the minimal facts and then see what the best explanation is?
* well God is out of bounds as an explanation because I could not have got my PhD if I mentioned God
* I really needed my smart atheist professors to like me and give me good grades so God is RIGHT OUT
* ideas like a real God and moral laws and Hell makes my atheist professors uncomfortable and that means low grades for me
* I’m not really interested in butting heads with professors – it’s easier to just agree with them and move on to selling books to the gullible
* My books are much more sensational than Dan Brown books, so please buy lots of them!
– what if the historical evidence is good enough to show that Jesus rose from the dead?
– well I would not call someone rising from the dead a miracle – I would call it weird
* I also think that the Big Bang is “weird” but that doesn’t prove that God created the universe out of nothing
* if it’s a miracle then I’m going to have to not sin, and maybe even go to Hell, and we can’t have that
– well, you accept the three minimal facts
– what if we try all the naturalistic explanations for those three facts and there are problems with all of them?
– what if the resurrection is the best explanation for the three minimal facts?
– but I want to arbitrarily rule God put because I want to pre-suppose naturalism
– there is not historical reason I have to rule put supernatural explanations a priori
– I think you are struggling with the theological implications of a historical conclusion
– well when you do theology, you have to avoid grounding your theology on science or history
– theology has to be completely made up or it’s not good theology
– I think you are letting your dislike of the implications of the resurrection determine your historical conclusions
– you have to use historical methods to gather the minimal facts that every scholar accepts, regardless of worldview
– then you weigh ALL the hypotheses, natural and supernatural, that could account for these minimal facts
– then you choose the hypothesis that best explains the minimal facts
There is not much snark in this summary, because Crossley is a solid scholar, and very fair with the evidence. He’s also done debates with Richard Bauckham and Michael Bird. You have to respect him for getting out there and defending his views in public.
William Lane Craig’s opening speech
There are four minimal facts that are accepted by most historians
The best explanation of the four minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
Contention 1 of 2:
Fact 1: The burial
The burial is multiply attested
The burial is based on the early source material that Mark used for his gospel
Scholars date this Markan source to within 10 years of the crucifixion
The burial is also in the early passage in 1 Cor 15:3-8
So you have 5 sources, some of which are very early
The burial is credited to a member of the Sanhedrin
the burial is probable because shows an enemy of the church doing right
this makes it unlikely to to be an invention
Fact 2: The empty tomb
The burial story supports the empty tomb
the site of Jesus’ grave was known
the disciples could not proclaim a resurrection if the body were still in it
the antagonists to the early Christians could have produced the body
The empty tomb is multiple attested
it’s mentioned explicitly in Mark
it’s in the separate sources used by Matthew and John
it’s in the early sermons documented in Acts
it’s implied by 1 Cor 15:3-8, because resurrection requires that the body is missing
The empty tomb was discovered by women
the testimony of women of women was not normally allowed in courts of law
if this story was being made up, they would have chosen male disciples
The empty tomb discover lacks legendary embellishment
there is no theological or apologetical reflection on the meaning of the tomb
The early Jewish response implies that the tomb was empty
the response was that the disciples stole the body
that requires that the tomb was found empty
Fact 3: The appearances to individuals and groups, some of the them hostile
The list of appearances is in 1 Cor 15:3-8
this material is extremely early, withing 1-3 years after the cross
James, the brother of Jesus, was not a believer when he got his appearance
Paul was hostile to the early church when he got his appearance
Specific appearances are multiply attested
Peter: attested by Luke and Paul
The twelve: attested by Luke, John and Paul
The women: attested by Matthew and John
Fact 4: The early belief in the resurrection emerged in a hostile environment
There was no background belief in a dying Messiah
There was no background belief in a single person resurrecting before the general resurrection of all of the righteous at the end of the age
The disciples were willing to die for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus
The resurrection is the best explanation for the transformation of the disciples from frightened to reckless of death
Contention 2 of 2:
The resurrection is the best explanation because it passes C.B. McCullough’s six tests for historical explanations
None of the naturalistic explanations accounts for the minimal facts as well as the resurrection
James Crossley’s opening speech
Appeals to the majority of scholars doesn’t prove anything
the majority of people in the west are Christians so of course there are a majority of scholars that support the resurrection
there are Christian schools where denial of the resurrection can result in termination
The best early sources (1 Cor 15:3-8 and Mark) are not that good
1 Cor 15:3-8 doesn’t support the empty tomb
verse 4 probably does imply a bodily resurrection
the passage does have eyewitnesses to appearances of Jesus
but there are no eyewitnesses to the empty tomb in this source
appearances occur in other cultures in different times and places
Jesus viewed himself as a martyr
his followers may have had hallucinations
Mark is dated to the late 30s and early 40s
The women who discover the tomb tell no one about the empty tomb
The gospels show signs of having things added to them
Jewish story telling practices allowed the teller to make things up to enhance their hero
one example of this would be the story of the earthquake and the people coming out of their graves
that story isn’t in Mark, nor any external sources like Josephus
if there really was a mass resurrection, where are these people today?
so this passage in Matthew clearly shows that at least some parts of the New Testament could involve
what about the contradiction between the women tell NO ONE and yet other people show up at the empty tomb
the story about Jesus commissioning the early church to evangelize Gentiles was probably added
there are also discrepancies in the timing of events and appearances
why are there explicit statements of high Christology in John, but not in the earlier sources?
William Lane Craig’s first rebuttal
Crossley’s response to the burial: he accepts it
Crossley’s response to the empty tomb: he thinks it was made up
rabbinical stories are not comparable to the gospel accounts
the rabbinical stories are just anecdotal creative story-telling
the gospels are ancient biographies – the genre is completely different
the rabbinic miracle stories are recorded much later than the gospels
the rabbi’s legal and moral ideas were written down right away
the miracle stories were written down a century or two later
in contrast, the miracle stories about Jesus are in the earliest sources, like Mark
the rabbinical stories are intended as entertainment, not history
the gospels are intended as biography
just because there are some legendary/apocalyptic elements in Matthew, it doesn’t undermine things like the crucfixion that are historically accurate
Crossley’s response to the evidence for the empty tomb:
no response to the burial
the empty tomb cannot be made up, it was implied by Paul early on
the women wouldn’t have said nothing forever – they eventually talked after they arrived to where the disciples were
no response to the lack of embellishment
no response to the early Jewish polemic
Crossley’s response to the appearances
he agrees that the first followers of Jesus had experiences where they thought Jesus was still alive
Crossley’s response to the early belief in the bodily resurrection:
no response about how this belief in a resurrection could have emerged in the absence of background belief in the death of the Messiah and the resurrection of one man before the general resurrection of all the righteous at the end of the age
What about Crossley’s hallucination theory?
Crossley says that the followers of Jesus had visions, and they interpreted these visions against the story of the Maccabean martyrs who looked forward to their own resurrections
but the hallucination hypothesis doesn’t account for the empty tomb
and the Maccabean martyrs were not expecting the resurrection of one man, and certainly not the Messiah – so that story doesn’t provide the right background belief for a hallucination of a single resurrected person prior to the end of the age
if the appearances were non-physical, the disciples would not have applied the word resurrection – it would just have been a vision
the visions could easily be reconciled with the idea that somehow God was pleased with Jesus and that he had some glorified/vindicated non-corporeal existence – but not resurrection
not only that, the hallucination hypothesis doesn’t even explain the visions, because there were visions to groups, to skeptics and to enemies in several places
What about the argument that only Christians accept the resurrection?
it’s an ad hominem attack that avoids the arguments
James Crossley’s first rebuttal
Regarding the burial:
I could be persuaded of that the burial account is accurate
Regarding the non-expectation of a suffering/dying Messiah:
Jesus thought he was going to die
this thinking he was going to die overturned all previous Messianic expectations that the Messiah wouldn’t suffer or die
the early Jews could easily reconcile the idea of a suffering, dead man killed by the Romans with the power of the all-powerful Messiah who supposed to reign forever
no actually bodily resurrection would have to happen to get them to continue to identify an executed corpse with the role of Messiah
Regarding the belief in the bodily resurrection:
it would be natural for Jews, who believed in a general resurrection of all the rigtheous dead at the end of the age, to interpret a non-physical vision of one man after he died as a bodily resurrection, even though no Jew had ever considered the resurrection of one man before the general resurrection before Jesus
Regarding the testimony of the women:
Just because women were not able to testify in courts of law (unless there were no male witnesses), the early church might still invent a story where the women are the first witnesses
first, the disciples had fled the scene, so only the women were left
and it would have been a good idea for the early church to invent women as the first witnesses – the fact that they could not testify in court makes them ideal witnesses and very persuasive
also, it’s a good idea to invent women as witnesses, because the Romans had a rule that said that they never killed women, so they wouldn’t have killed these women – Romans only ever kill men
in any case, the first witness to the empty tomb is angel, so as long as people could talk to the angel as being the first witness, that’s the best story to invent
Regarding the consensus of Christian scholars:
I am not saying that Craig’s facts are wrong, just that appealing to consensus is not legitimate
he has to appeal to the evidence, not the consensus
Regarding my naturalistic bias:
I don’t know or care if naturalism is true, let’s look at the evidence
Regarding the genre of the gospels:
the creative story-telling is common in all genres, it’s not a genre in itself
stuff about Roman emperors also has creative story-telling
Regarding the legendary nature of the empty tomb in Mark:
First, Christians interpreted the visions as a bodily resurrection
Second, they invented the story of the empty tomb to go with that interpretation
Third, they died for their invention
William Lane Craig’s second rebuttal
Bill’s case doesn’t need to know the specifics of the burial, only that the location was known
the location is important because it supports the empty tomb
to proclaim a resurrection, the tomb would have to be empty
a tomb with a known location is easier to check
The empty tomb:
creative story telling was common in Judaism: retelling OT stories (midrash), romances/novels, rabbinical anecdotes
but the gospels are none of these genres – the gospels are ancient biographies
Craig also gave five arguments as to why the tomb was empty
the burial story supports the empty tomb
there is multiple independent attestation, then it cannot be a creative fiction invented in Mark alone
the witnesses were in Jerusalem, so they were in a position to know
regarding the women, even though Jesus respected the women, their testimony would not be convincing to others, so why invent a story where they are the witnesses
the male disciples did not flee the scene, for example, Peter was there to deny Jesus three times
if the story is made up, who cares what the male disciples did, just invent them on the scene anyway
the angel is not authoritative, because the angel cannot be questioned, but the women can be questioned
there was no response on the lack of embellishment
there was no response to the earliest Jewish response implying that the tomb was empty
we agree on the appearances
The early belief in the resurrection:
he says that Jesus predicted his own death
yes, but that would only cause people to think that he was a martyr, not that he was the messiah – something else is needed for them to keep their believe that he was the Messiah even after he died, because the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die
and of course, there was no expectation of a single person rising from the dead before the general resurrection, and certainly not the Messiah
The consensus of scholars:
Jewish scholars like Geza Vermes and Pinchas Lapide accept these minimal facts like the empty tomb, it’s not just Christian scholars
Against Crossley’s hallucination hypothesis:
it doesn’t explain the empty the tomb
it doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection
hallucinations would only lead to the idea that God had exalted/glorified Jesus, not that he was bodily raised from the dead
the hallucination theory cannot accommodate all of the different kinds of appearances; individual, group, skeptic, enemy, etc.
The pre-supposition of naturalism:
if Crossley is not committed to naturalism, then he should be open to the minimal facts and to the best explanation of those facts
the hallucination hypothesis has too many problems
the resurrection hypothesis explains everything, and well
James Crossley’s second rebuttal
well, there are lots of other religious books
those other religious books have late sources, and are filled with legends and myths, and no eyewitness testimony
so why should we trust 1 Cor 15 and the early source for Mark and the other early eyewitness testimony in the New Testament?
if other religious books can be rejected for historical reasons, then surely the New Testament can be rejected for historical reasons
the genre of ancient biography can incorporate and commonly incorporates invented legendaryt story-telling
this is common in Roman, Greek and Jewish literature and everyone accepts that
Empty tomb: multiple attestation
ok, so maybe the empty tomb is multiply attested, but that just gets back to a belief, not to a fact
multiple attestation is not the only criteria, and Craig needs to use the other criteria to make his case stronger
Empty tomb: invented
if there is a belief in the resurrection caused by the visions, then the empty tomb would have to be invented
why aren’t there more reliable stories of people visiting the empty tomb in more sources?
Empty tomb: role of the women
there are women who have an important role in the Bible, like Judith and Esther
Mark’s passage may have used women who then kept silent in order to explain why no one knew where the empty tomb was
if the fleeing of the men is plausible to explain the women, then why not use that? why appeal to the supernatural?
we should prefer any explanation that is naturalistic even if it is not as good as the supernatural explanation at explaining everything
Empty tomb: embellishment
well there is an angel there, that’s an embellishment
anyway, when you say there is no embellishment, what are you comparing it to that makes you say that?
I’ve read anthropology literature that has some cases where people have hallucinations as groups
the hallucinations would not be interpreted against the background theological beliefs that ruled out the resurrection of one man before then general resurrection of all the righteous dead
these hallucinations could have been so compelling that they made the earliest Christians, and skeptics like James, and enemies like the Pharisee Paul abandon all of their previous background beliefs, proclaim the new doctrine of a crucified and resurrected Messiah which no one had ever expected, and then gone on to die for that belief
the hallucinations could have changed all of their theology and reversed all of their beliefs about the what the word resurrection meant
William Lane Craig’s conclusion
None of the four facts are supernatural, they are natural, and ascertained by historians using normal historical methods
the supernatural part only comes in after we decide on the facts when we are deciding which explanation is the best
a tomb being found empty is not a miraculous fact
the gospels are not analagous to these rabbinical stories, the purpose and dating is different
what multiple attestation shows is that it was not made-up by Mark
and the argument was augmented with other criteria, like the criterion of embarrassment and the criterion of dissimilarity
Judith and Esther are very rare exceptions, normally women were not viewed as reliable witnesses
if the story was invented, whatever purpose the inventors had would have been better served by inventing male witnesses
Craig grants that the angel may be an embellishment for the sake of argument, but there are no other embellishments
the real embellishments occur in forged gnostic gospels in the second and third centuries, where there are theological motifs added to the bare fact of the empty tomb (e.g. – the talking cross in the Gospel of Peter)
he had no response to the earliest jewish response which implied an empty tomb
Belief in the resurrection:
there was no way for Jewish people to interpret an appearance as a bodily resurrection before the end of the world, they did not expect that
they could have imagined exaltation, but not a bodily resurrection
James Crossley’s conclusion
as long as there is any other other possible naturalistic explanation, we should prefer that, no matter how unlikely
some of these creative stories appear within the lifetimes of the people connected to the events (none mentioned)
you should compare to earlier stories when looking for embellishments, not later
and we don’t have any earlier sources, so we just don’t know the extent of the embellishment
they probably just heard about the empty tomb, and didn’t check on it, then invented the stole-the-body explanation without ever checking to see if the tomb was empty or not
I have always wondered about your claim that Christianity is the only true religion (based on historical evidence as you say). But how can you be so sure when Islamic and Jewish scholars claim the same claim?
As a former atheist and now an agnostic, the question of which religion to choose is essential. I’m very well acquainted with Islamic Theology and unlike your claim. Islam affirms that Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same god (“Allah” is not a special god for Muslims rather it’s the term for god in Arabic).
So what is your position on Islam? (And I would really like to know from who do you get your information on Islamic theology).
I also would to invest some time in Christian theology, would kindly recommend some introductory books?
I think we are going to have to work from the historical Jesus to answer this one, and we won’t be able to use the New Testament as if it is the inspired Word of God. We’ll have to use it like a history book, and see what we can get from it using the ordinary rules for doing history on ancient documents.
Here’s the best part of Dr. Craig’s answer for Islam:
The short answer to your question of why Christianity rather than Islam or Judaism, Sultan, is Jesus of Nazareth. While Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the world’s three great monotheistic faiths, genetically related and so having much in common, what divides them is their account of Jesus. I think that neither Judaism nor Islam gives a satisfactory historical account of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
[…]It is ironic that the Qur’an chooses to deny the best established fact about Jesus, namely, his crucifixion (IV.157). Not only is there not a single shred of evidence in favor of this remarkable hypothesis, but the evidence supporting Jesus’ crucifixion is, as Emory University New Testament scholar L. T. Johnson puts it, “overwhelming” (The Real Jesus [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996], p. 125). Paula Frederickson, whose book From Jesus to Christ inspired the PBS special by the same name, declares, “The crucifixion is the strongest single fact we have about Jesus” (Society of Biblical Literature meeting, November 22, 1999). The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the sceptical critics in the Jesus Seminar as–to quote Robert Funk–”one indisputable fact” (Jesus Seminar video).
When we think that the Qur’an was written by a man living in Arabia 600 years after Jesus with no independent source of information about him, it really isn’t so surprising that his view of Jesus was distorted. Whatever else one might say about Islam, its view of Jesus is erroneous, and so this religion cannot be true.
And the best part of Dr. Craig’s answer for Judaism:
As for Judaism, again I should say that the decisive consideration is Jesus’ claims to be the Jewish Messiah and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. Jewish scholars are coming to recognize the historical facts undergirding Jesus’ resurrection and are hard-pressed to explain those facts apart from the resurrection. Indeed, one of their number, the late Pinchas Lapide, whom I heard lecture at the University of Munich, declared himself convinced that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. He also thought that Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah.
The striking thing about this is that I know a Jewish guy who will debate historical Jesus with me, and he LOVES The Teaching Company (now called “The Great Courses”). I tell him that even the atheist Bart Ehrman is willing to give me the burial, the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances of Jesus in his course on the historical Jesus for The Teaching Company. So if we are going to do some history, it’s going to be pretty awkward for the Jewish guy to come up with a hypothesis that can explain those 3 facts, not to mention the early proclamation of the first Christians that Jesus was the Messiah, even after he was executed in a shameful way. Even non-Christian sources report that. And their proclamation of the resurrection that didn’t win them any friends, let me tell you.
In the post, Dr. Craig recommended a book where he debates a Jewish New Testament scholar, edited by Paul Copan and Craig Evans. I asked my friend Eric Chabot about the book, and he said he had read it and it was “great”. So I bought it. I love debate books. I try to buy them all right away and then read them, since I like to read a fight. Somehow, this one had escaped my notice until now. If you’re interested in these issues, I recommend getting that book as well.