03 January 2011

The Great Resurrection Debate

Over on my Facebook page, GV, IOA and I are having an interesting spat about the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene. Needless to say (I suppose), I regard the supposed historicity of this event as almost laughably inadequate, and I think that many historians have been scared off the topic by the somewhat crazy reaction. The bottom line, I feel, is that there are plenty of perfectly adequate explanations for the resurrection stories (plural) in the gospels that do not need to invoke an actual resurrection. Furthermore, the actual stories as we have them contain evidence for the development of the tale as a set of myths and rumours that subsequently became fixed into a dogmatic belief shibboleth for entry into Christianity.

Naturally, I contest that - you don't need to believe in God or Jesus's resurrection to be a Christian, as the Church of Jesus Christ Atheist tries to show. Anyway, here is some of our discussion thus far. Feel free to continue the debate in the comments thread. Enjoy!

SMcK: And as for the resurrection of Jesus, that is for theists to prove as a historical event. The actual evidence is very very strongly against Jesus having risen, and very very strongly in favour of this being simply a story that accreted over time. But we've been there before!

IOA: GV and Shane, this all comes down to what we mean by 'science.' Science is a way of studying the events, processes and phenomena of nature through the analysis of data. As the US National Academy of Sciences puts it, anything for which ...it is not possible to obtain empirical data is outside the realm of science. This puts most of the 'origins' outside of science, as it is not possible to obtain any data about these things. It also puts most of history outside the field of science.

I do not wish to argue that there were just two members of Homo sapiens when the species emerged, but how does anyone know that that that was not the case?

There is no real conflict whatsoever between science and religion, as these two relate to different aspects of the life of our universe. Science is about things regarding which we can obtain empirical data. Religion is about things - the existence and activity of supernatural beings - regarding which we cannot obtain any empirical data. The mistake that many people make is to say that because we cannot obtain empirical data about supernatural beings that means that such beings do not exist.

There is so much upon which we rely in our everyday lives regarding which we cannot obtain any data at all. And even in our clinical practice, we face the same situation: for example, no one doubts the existence of general anaesthesia, but we have no data whatsoever about how it is produced.See more

IOA: Shane, what is the evidence that Jesus did not resurrect?

GV: Well, I agree that I need to lie down! Sunday afternoon nap, and all that. You're probably right about the asylum as well. There's only so much "puppet ministry" that a grown man can take.

As for Adam and Eve, if you rule out the possibilit...y of revelation, then you've no reason to believe in them. I can't see how science could say anything about the possibility of revelation, one way or the other. But it does seem to challenge one doctrine about original sin. Christian apologists use Fine Tuning and Big bang Cosmology. So there is some interaction between Science and Christianity, sometimes, and Christians have to take the rough with the smooth.

But Science has *nothing* to say about the value of metaphors! That's crazy talk. If Paul, as Dunn thinks, just thought that this was a story that gave us insight into the human predicament, and if Paul thought (again as Dunn asserts) that there never was an Adam and there never was an Eve, then Science has nothing at all to say about Romans 5, 7 & 8.

GV: BTW my concerns about "Science says.." really stem from the way that Al Gore uses it in "An Inconvenient Truth". It's a powerful rhetorical tool. There's a difference between "Science says the Earth goes round the Sun" and "Science says the Polar Bears are drowning".

IOA: GV, I think we can agree that science - by which we mean the natural, empirical and formal sciences - is not equipped to make assertions about everything: its range is limited to matters that can be studied using data.

                  Shane: When you ...are ready, please let us have the scientific evidence that Jesus did not resurrect. [You may be tempted to say that it is up to those who say that He did to prove their statement; but try not to go there.]

SMcK: GV, there is what science says and what people say science says. As it is, we can formulate the Adam and Eve hypothesis; this is scientifically testable using genetics - and it fails miserably. Adam and Eve never existed as the human progenitors. The fact that Original Sin is an incoherent brainfart is a secondary issue.

IOA: Shane, whilst waiting for your evidence that Jesus did not resurrect, I add another question: What is the evidence that Adam and Eve did not exist as progenitors of humankind?

SMcK: IOA, scientifically we can look at the resurrection stories, and they show unmistakable evidence of embellishment, post hoc rationalisation and narrative contradiction. Scientifically we know that people resolve cognitive dissonance with confabulation. So the evidence we *do* have suggests that belief in the resurrection was not based on real appearances of the risen Jesus. You can do history scientifically, you know.

IOA: No, Shane, the only evidence for the non-resurrection of Jesus would be either His preserved body or bones clearly identified as His.

The apparent contradictions in the stories do infact provide confirmation of resurrection because of what ...we know about eyewitness accounts - they are rarely identical.

SMcK: IOA, that's cobblers. The differences are systematic and damning. They strongly indicate that the resurrection was an invention, not an event.
                  As for the science disproving the A&E hypothesis, that's genetic coalescence. Irrefutable, I fear.... Sorry!

IOA: Shane, show me ONE difference in the resurrection accounts that you find 'damning.'

Sweeping statements are not the stuff of science.

You have not answered either question, Shane, and the reason is obvious: the answers are not in science.

The basic position, I think, Shane, is that you do not believe that resurrection is possible. As it is not part of your worldview you reject its possibility.

SMcK: IAO, don't be silly - it's not that it's not possible; it's that it didn't *happen*. it's just a story. Jeez! The damning evidence is in Mark's non-mention of the resurrected Jesus, Matthew's clear hyperbole and Luke's manipulation of the source text to support his Jerusalem stanza. It's not too difficult.

Btw, not one of the resurrection stories was written by an eyewitness - IOA, you're showing ignorance and disrespect for the texts.

GV: People in glass houses should stay clear of howitzers Shane. For a start, let's take Matthew's hyperbole. Compare it to Dio Cassius' account of Claudius' death, or his account of Egypt's enslavement by Caesar. Or you could compare it to Jos...pehus' account of the Temple's Fall. Wondrous signs often accompanied historically significant events in ancient writing. Evidence from Lucian suggests that this was widely recognised as symbolic language; whatever the case, Matthew reads as positively restrained in comparison.
                  Let's also take the silly idea that Mark does not include the Resurrection. Mark 8v31, 9v31 and 10v33-34 put that notion to rest. Mark 16 v7 shows knowledge of appearance narratives - and predictions - not mentioned in the Gospels. And there is practically unanimous agreement that appearance *traditions*, as in 1 Cor 15, were part of the kerygma.
                  The hypothesis of legendary development encounters significant difficulties. The idea that a bodily resurrection developed over time suggests that the Churches traditions became more Palestinian-Jewish exactly when the Church was becoming more Hellenistic. (The idea that Paul did not preach a physical resurrection seems to have been thoroughly debunked BTW).

                  It also faces the problem of the texts themselves. There is no apologetic force in Mark 16, as this theory requires. Instead there is a note of fear, which Mark normally uses to exhort his readers. Both Mark and Matthew are forced to include embarrassing details, such as the primary witness of women, and the accusation of grave robbery (equivalent to an accusation of witchcraft!).
                  The legendary-development hypothesis depends on the argument that the narratives of empty tomb and resurrection appearances that we have in the Gospels developed out of the kergyma: first the summary, then the narratives formed to illustrate the kerygma in preaching. But there is at least one more massive problem here: Paul's list of appearances in 1 Corinthians and the resurrection narratives in the Gospels are remarkably illmatched. The wrong "legends" appear in the Gospels. We have no narrative for the appearance to Peter, or for the appearance to James. This extraordinary lack of correspondence between the kerygmatic summary that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians, and the resurrection narratives in the Gospels strongly suggests that we are dealing with two fundamentally independent forms in which the Easter events were transmitted in the first Churches.
                  As for eyewitnesses, we have statements written down by eyewitnesses for the main events of the extraordinary career of Augustus. The Gospels are literary units. But they are composed of oral traditions that circulated in the Early Church. The evidence clearly indicates that many began to circulate during Jesus' ministry.
                  The Gospels theology depends on their historicity. So they must make every effort to be faithful to the traditions. And it is impossible to explain why these traditions mention Mary of Magdala if she did not exist, and was not an eyewitness. She is associated with demon possession, so she is not the ideal witness. Clearly identifying a witness when anonymous witnesses could have been used by preachers, or when reliable male witnesses could have been invented, points to Mary's existence and role as an early eye witness. If you've a better explanation - that deals with the nature of the texts - I'm all ears!

SMcK: Er, GV, none of that remotely deals with the problem that you have here. Legendary development is clearly demonstrated in the gospels - YES, it is the development of the legend AFTER it is "established" that Jesus has risen, but we see ...both Matthew and Luke embellish a *written* source, not an oral one. What you have here is an early *belief* that Jesus rose from the dead, based on a missing corpse (from the viewpoint of the followers), and a bunch of ill-formed ghostie stories that eventually got untidily gathered up and strung together by the gospellers (and Saul Paulus, who has to get his own oar in, of course). Your appeal to Mary Magdalene is pointless - we already know that John and the Synoptics make completely different hay with her, and this notion of her not being the "ideal witness" in the minds of the followers is not tenable - after all, she is the ONLY linchpin they can hang their story on. No-one else saw Jesus, apart from visions and spookie ghostie incidents.

                  So we have the issue where an early resurrection belief has become distorted and embellished (your references to other early sources of historical events is pointless - no-one really believes the list of portents in Dio, for example, even if the event itself is accepted) specifically in order to fulfil an apologetic role (Matthew and John admit as much). Since these accounts (including Saul) only establish the parameters for what *had* to be believed by people to join the Christian sect, they provide no good evidence at all for the veracity of the core premise. You can be pretty damn maximal in what you let the gospels away with, and you still only end up with an empty tomb, a family who disagreed with Jesus's tack, and some punter at the temporary tomb/storage spot telling the women that they had taken Jesus's body back to Capernaum for definitive burial.

                  That's where the evidence points - it most certainly does not point to an actual resurrection, and silly speculation about what the followers "would" have done is not mirrored by the way humans actually behave, and especially not by the mindset we *know* was common in C1CE palestine, where every fart's turn of a preacher was some prophet or other risen from the dead. There is a crazy fallacy at work in apologetic circles that the disciples were detectives trying to figure out what happened. Not so. They were ordinary people in cognitive dissonance who got caught up in the development of a myth. The gospels are far more readily explained by this model than by an actual resurrection.

GV:                  ‎1) Name *one* other preacher who claimed to be Resurrected in 1st Century Palestine!
                  2) The point about Josephus/Dio Cassius is that symbolic embellishment need not count against the historicity of the core event.
                  3) If the Gospels were in t...he business of legendary development, Joseph of Arimethea, or the young man who followed at a distance, or another character like "the beloved disciple" would have been invented from the aether. Mary of Magdala would not have been used.
                  4) This is not a matter of "apologetics"! In mainstream research all of the relevant issues - the empty tomb, the appearances etc. are up for grabs.
                  5) The use of Mark should draw your attention to the point that the Gospel writers were careful with their sources. You can clearly see that the tendency of the Synoptic tradition is not one of legendary development! You may expect to find legendary development, but that is not what the evidence shows!
                  6) We also know from Mark and Paul that there were appearance traditions that they did not write down. So it is no surprise to find some occurring in Matthew and Luke that do not appear in Mark. Everyone agrees that they had access to oral traditions.
                  7) So then we have the conspiracy theory - which is at a polar opposite to the legendary-development theory. Conspiracy theories agree with the Gospels that the core events occurred, but argue that the disciples misinterpreted the core events.
                  In the 17th and 18th Century rationalist explanations for Jesus' miracles abounded. So Bahrdt could explain the Feeding of the 5000 as an Essene plot, with Essenes secretly located in caves to hand out loaves to Jesus' disciples. Jesus' walked on water by placing planks just below the surface (near the shore presumably!) When Jesus said "be calm" he was addressing the disciples. By chance, the storm calmed down soon after this command. And so forth.
                  Now Strauss rejected these explanations, and used the category of myth to explain the miracle stories. No one, to my knowledge, has resurrected them in mainstream scholarship. The unspoken principle seems to be that explanation by a conspiracy theory is no more plausible than an explanation by a miracle.
                  However, rationalist explanations are allowed for the Resurrection. Ehrman advances one in his debate with Craig. He is more cautious than the rationalistsm and merely insists that it is more plausible than the Resurrection, not that it is historicaly probable. Any non-miraculous explanation must be more probable than a miraculous explanation in Ehmran's view. But that seems to fly in the face of the consensus of historians from Strauss onwards. In any case, is it revealing that mainstream scholars will fly back to H.E.G Paulus to explain the Resurrection traditions, but not the feeding of the 5000 or the calming of the Storm?
                  After all, if we can allow that some conspiracy or coincidence lies behind the Resurrection traditions, then why not Jesus walking on water, or the exorcism of Legion? If we can use psychological explanations for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, why can't we use them for the nature miracles?
                  And the conspiracy theory that you have put forward relies on so many improbable events coinciding that a miracle seems much likelier.See more

‎1. JTB was Elijah; Jesus was alternately JTB or one of the prophets of old. No preacher seems to have made this claim on his own behalf (that we know of), but plenty of people appear to have been willing to attribute it to them. I think my... point is made.

2. Josephus & Dio etc: yes, it doesn't count against the core event, unless the core event itself is spectacularly incredible, and we can sketch a real temporal layering of the embellishment. Which we can, so it means a/ the gospels contain embellishments (so why is the resurrection not itself an embellishment?), and b/ they are clearly not "inerrant" in any meaningful way. See?

3. Who said anyone was invented from the aether? Use of existing personages as props is standard fare for legendary development. No-one is saying that is necessarily *conscious*! This is how stories grow and evolve.

4. Mainstream research? Yer arse! The empty tomb is part of the *same story*! But even if we concede an empty tomb, the post-resurrection stories are just that - stories. NOT "appearances". Furthermore, they are inconsistent - you might as well believe Jesus's ma really appeared at Lourdes.Some historical rigour please!

5. This is flatly contradicted by the gospels, where you do see embellishment and attempts to "fix" Mark. Matt and Luke used a documentary source(s), not an oral tradition.

6. For "oral tradition" substitute "rumours". Saul's stories do not match the gospels because these were freeform legends, not established episodes. If you actually read them, you will see very clearly that there is simply nothing there.

7. Be careful. Not all conspiracies are equal, but I would have to say that human gullibility and brainfartedness in the face of cognitive dissonance is perfectly adequate to explain what we see - no conspiracies (before Saul anyway) or miracles are required. The feeding of the 5K or the calming of the storm do not need "explained" by miracle or conspiracy. They were not witnessed by the author, and stories of famous punters doing miracles are two a penny. We expect them.

I have not advanced a conspiracy theory. There is no need for one. The evidence that we do have firmly establishes the gospels as embellished narratives that really require nothing more than a lost body as the spark that set the whole silly fiction into motion. You're hiding behind poor historical scholarship, GV. The reality is not that complicated.

Think yourself into their situation in C1CE. Pretend you're Mary of Magdala. You find the temporary tomb has been opened and the body's not there, and in your confusion you don't listen properly to the young chap who tells you that they've taken the body to Capernaum for proper burial. You already believe in resurrections and crazy shit. Suddenly the solution presents itself.

Go figure! Not only is a resurrection *improbable* given these circumstances, even if one *actually happened*, the evidence we have does not allow us to upgrade it from "astonishingly unlikely" to "just maybe".

IOA:                  The resurrection stories that were later written down were originally told by eyewitnesses. St Paul went through a long list of people to whom the Risen Christ had appeared - before he had his own experience of Christ on his way to Damasc...us to persecute Christians.

I am pleased to read that you accept the possibility of resurrection. That is a mighty step forward, Shane. I recommend this review, as it is very well researched:

SMcK: IOA, with the single exception of the R2D episode, which is inconsistent, but itself no more than a vision, there is *not one single* eyewitness account of the risen Christ. Not one. The accounts that we do have are hearsay, and of no more value than the feeble prattlings of some teenage delusionist from Lourdes or Knock.

GV: On your evidence for other "Resurrection"s -
Of course, the problem with using these texts is four fold.(a) These texts are all associated with Jesus’ ministry. So the only “Resurrected prophet” remains Jesus. There is no evidence of any ot...her “prophet” (like Theudas or the Egyptian) being associated with Resurrection (b) Matt 17 v1 – 12 makes it clear that John the Baptist takes on Elijah’s role. So he is figuratively, but not literally, Elijah (c) Elijah never died. So even if John the Baptist was meant to be literally identified with Elijah, this would not be a resurrection (d) it only makes sense to identify John as Elijah if he ushers in the age to come. The only group who claimed that John did this was the Early Church. So resurrection would be associated with Jesus ministry, but you would not have any evidence for a wide spread belief in Resurrected prophets.

Your focus on the literary history of the Jesus traditions is poorly informed. If you want evidence of oral traditions, compare Matthew 8 v 5-13 and Luke 7 v 1-10. The story does not “fit” Q’s content, and there is so little agreement in the wording that another literary source is unlikely. Evidence of a shorter oral tradition surfaces in Luke 24 v 34, which does not fit with Lukan syntax, or with the flow of the passage.

That's just two off the top of my head.

It’s simply a fact that oral traditions were used by the Gospel writers, and that these traditions should not be modelled on modern Western assumptions. In 1 Cor 9 v 14, 1 Cor 7 v 10, 1 Cor 11 v 23–25, 1 Thessalonians 5 v 2f, 1 Cor 13 v2, Rom. 13 v 8-10and Romans 12 v 14-15 we have clear evidence that Paul was aware of Jesus’ teaching on ethics and the apocalypse. And Paul is explicit in 1 Cor 15 – he is handing on oral traditions.


  1. Hi Graham, this feels a bit more spacious, yes? You have a problem with my suggestion that resurrections were two a penny back then. Yes, the wrongly-attributed resurrections in the gospels are associated with the gospels. No surprises there. But the killer point is that these were what the people - the non-followers - were saying (allegedly). So they are evidence that a/ there was widespread superstition, and b/ that there was no big theological barrier to asserting one - even if it was in the face of a Jesus who was not yet dead. This should be telling you something.

    Your focus on the literary history of the Jesus traditions is poorly informed.

    You are attacking a straw man. Of course there *were* oral traditions kicking around - after all, we have some oral traditions now (such as the bulk of the nativity stories). But the claims made for these by some Christian apologists are frankly risible. They are in-group stories with no control. Yes, these can arise rapidly and become fixed, but accuracy of transmission (and there is really no evidence to support this, despite inventive pretences to the contrary and despite clear evidence of early Christian divergence) tells you nothing about the errors that led to them arising.

    As for "Western assumptions", these are unnecessary. Yes, early Christianity was awash with traditions and documents (and the bulk of the synoptics does derive from the documentary sources of Mark and at least one other - that has not been cogently challenged), but the point is that NONE of this adds up to a hill of beans if you are looking for evidence that the resurrection is anything other than a myth.

  2. Yeah, this does feel a lot more spacious, actually. Shane, you wanted me to re-post my question, so here goes: Which elements of the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ do you accept as having actually happened - and, if I may add, why?

  3. Well, what fun! And a Happy New Year, guys.

    This certainly seems to be the 'one wot won't go away'; a bit like the original I suppose!!

  4. Hi Peter,
    Some things just keep coming back, like bad boomerangs... Happy new year to you! I've become a bit fed up with W&T lately - too much fawning over Benny - you know how that irritates me ;-)

    Ike, what's true? I think it's pretty likely that Jesus existed as a C1CE preacher from Galilee with Messianic pretentions, who got crucified by the Romans (as a lot of them did), and whose followers came up with this odd notion that he didn't *stay* dead. Do I think anything "unnatural" happened? No. Do I think there are useful points we can draw using the Jesus myth-set? Yes. That is why I am a Christian. An Atheist Christian.

  5. Pretend you're Mary of Magdala. You find the temporary tomb has been opened and the body's not there, and in your confusion you don't listen properly to the young chap who tells you that they've taken the body to Capernaum for proper burial. You already believe in resurrections

    Given that you believe that the Resurrection will only happen on the "Day of the Lord", and that the world is quite obviously not ending (stars still in the sky, moon is not bloody, etc.) you do not conclude that the Resurrection happened. (And even if you did, how do you convince the male Disciples?) You most likely conclude -"I didn't hear what that young fella said". Then you despair because your master not only has suffered the indignity of a dishonourable death. Your master does not even have an honourable grave. And the movement dies right there and right then.


  6. As for the reliability of oral traditions

    Oral History is used outside Historical Jesus research. (The history of Rwanda for example). I've already pointed to evidence that oral traditions existed, and that they were relatively stable.

    We know that memorisation was an important part of Jewish education, and especially the education of a Rabbi's disciples.
    Virtually all important knowledge was learned in the form of sayings and texts which were imprinted on the memory, so that one knew them by heart. It must also be remembered that memorization is not some sophisticated academic specialty but rather a decidedly popular means of retaining articulated knowledge.
    Knowledge thus acquired was then retained by diligent, word-for-word repetition. In the rabbinical writings we often see a picture of the ideal scholar. He never sits idle in his house, but he sits there repeating and meditating. He never goes about absentminded
    or filled with worldly thoughts. He recites and meditates while he is going.To learn Torah one must go to a teacher. Students flock around their teachers. And such a group formation— teachers and their students—becomes something of an extended family. The teacher is the spiritual father, the students his spiritual children. This is the pattern we find in Jesus' ministry. Memorisation and the passing on of tradition was essential to the identity of the Jesus movement from the very beginning. And as I have said, Paul explicitly states that he has passed traditions on to his churches, and shows knowledge of Jesus' ethical and eschatological teaching.
    Evidence of another oral tradition can be found in the vocabulary of Mark 16 1-8, Matthew 28 v 1-10 and Luke 24 1-9. Despite what you assert elsewhere, Matthew's and Luke's vocabulary diverts wildly from Mark's. There is little evidence of literary dependence.(Matthew and Luke do not copy Mark, and then add a few sentences for the sake of embellishment. Neither do they quote the OT at this point, as your theory would predict.) The evidence points to one story known to all three writers in slightly different forms. Matthew and Luke are so attached to their versions that they do not follow their normal pattern of carefully following Mark. This suggests oral tradition.
    Keep in mind, we know that traditions circulated from the evidence that I've indicated.Also keep in Mind that Mark shows knowledge of appearance traditions that he does not write down. (Mark 16 v 7)


  7. Graham

    Good job; maybe I'll get involved later - this 'blogger profile' business is keeping me happily occupied at the moment. I know, easy pleased :-)

    Shane knows we're right anyway!

  8. Jeez, Graham, where to begin?! Your insight into the utterly Orthodox mind of Mary of Magdala at the tomb is wonderful. Yes, of course she will adhere to Pharisaic understanding at this point, unless some punter tells her Jesus is risen. When I asked you to think yourself into her head, I did not ask you to think into YOUR head. As I have shown previously, resurrections back then were not that big a deal - you seem to imply that they were heretical - that is nonsense.

    As for oral history, it is irrelevant to point out that some stories *can* be passed down accurately - the point is that THESE stories, while you are of course right in that they incorporate "oral" elements (i.e. the anonymous gospellers didn't just copy Mark, they added bits from oral tradition), that is of NO use in assessing the reliability of the source - just the transmission. And even then, they DIFFER in important and systematic areas consistent with their personal themes, which supports my point.

    And as for the synoptics not making use of Mark, that is simply untenable. Both Matthew and Luke show very very clear *documentary* dependence on ur-Mark, where they have tarted up the language a bit. And frequently twisted the tales a bit to suit their personal proclivities. Little evidence of literary dependency my arse - this is one of the best established facts in all of biblical scholarship. Mark was one of >1 *documentary* sources for both the gospels of "Matthew" and Luke. Yes, some people have tried (and failed) to produce other models. But they were editors/redactors (OK, plagiarists); there are sections of all three gospels where later editors and marginalists have wrought their trade too, so we do see even some divergence of Mark from the (very similar) ur-Mark - the very last section being the classic example.

    And there is no point in using the word "traditions" for what effectively at this time point were "wee stories" or "rumours". Again we can assert this because Saul Paulus's tales don't match the gospels, and the gospels don't match each other. They are, to use a technical term, a bollocks.

    Clear inference: the resurrection didn't happen, and the tales came about later to try to shore up the belief.

    Maybe you haven't spent enough time listening to twits blethering on about UFOs or moving statues or appearances of the Blessed Virgin or feeling a chill at the moment their granny "passed over". I hear stuff like this all the time, and it's not that I "disbelieve" them - I simply recognise that the human brain has enormous capacities for coming up with false stories to explain apparently inexplicable data.

    For Mary the inexplicable thing wasn't that Jesus could rise from the dead - it was that the Messiah could *die* in the first place. She chose (and others followed) to resolve that cognitive dissonance by fantasising a resurrection.

  9. A few brief comments here Shane -

    1) Er, Mary of Magdala was part of the Jesus Movement, which clearly had continuities with Pharisaism. And Jesus sided with the Pharisees on the nature of resurrections; and we only have *clear* evidence of belief in a general resurrection at the end of time in any case. (This is not a controversial point. NT Wright's argument, to this extent, was accepted by reviewers.)

    2) I'm probably not being clear on Mark. It's a case of literary dependence + dependence on oral traditions IMHO. I'd have a few quibbles about the way that texts were used in oral cultures, but I basically agree that copying occurred. But the Gospel writers also used oral traditions (this isn't controversial. How reliable the oral traditions were is more controversial. But who, exactly, puts all them on a par with "rumours"?)

    3) Yes, I'm familiar with a lot of stories regarding visions, UFOs etc. I can't say that I find the evidence very impressive, even when viewed with a very open mind.

    Tragically, I lost my belief in Nessie in my early twenties. I'm not sure that I'll ever forgive Arthur C Clarke!

  10. Hi Graham,
    OK, so you haven't really said anything there that I have disagreed with. The classification of "rumours" for the post-resurrection appearances is based on the facts that a/ they take a rather ethereal form, b/ they are all over the shop - there is no common theme, they contradict, there is very little if any structure, c/ their chief role is to validate (badly) the resurrection belief itself, not to impart anything particularly useful, d/ Saul equates his vision with the other "appearances", and e/ there is not a shred of evidence for *any* of them.

    But again, to stress, I am not saying that "oral tradition" (i.e. stories the gospellers were *told* rather than received in written format) were not used, but you simply cannot use arguments about transmission of "oral tradition" to make a call as to the accuracy of the *source* of the tradition. Especially since the foregoing shows that these stories (apart from the single theme of a resurrected messiah) show no signs of the supposed oral discipline that your argument would require. It's just special pleading, and even a bit lame for that :-)

    Also, I am not arguing that Mary and the other followers never met a Pharisee, nor even that they were not within that broad grouping. But there was a spectacular degree of diversity of belief in Judea in C1CE, and it would be silly to think they were like today's Haredim, for instance.

  11. OK, but there's no evidence of diversity on what "resurrection" meant in Judaism as a whole. It's just that some Jews didn't believe that there would be one.
    And there's no evidence of diversity of the meaning of "resurrection" in the Earliest Churches. Mary of Magdala wasn't a random Jewish woman wandering in off the street. She was a member of a movement centred on a Rabbi and his teachings.
    (We can also use Jewish burial practices etc. to infer that the "Jew on the Street" looked forward to a physical Resurrection.


  12. "OK, but there's no evidence of diversity on what "resurrection" meant in Judaism as a whole."

    This is, I think, a difficult thing to hang an argument on.

    Firstly, so what? People come up with wacky ideas all the time. Particularly highly uneducated people completely misunderstanding some technical doctrine of a scholarly elite.

    Secondly, there is almost no evidence that there is consistency in the idea of what resurrection means. There is certainly a tradition of Pharisaic/Rabbinic interpretation of early sources, but the sources themselves are rather terse.

    Thirdly, this is an argument from ignorance, which is always weak. There are plenty of ancient ideas that we only know about from a single piece of writing (even some in the bible, how about the Witch of Endor, for example). Lacking that one manuscript where someone discussed god raising Bob from the dead hardly tells us much. All it does tell us is that it wasn't the prevailing idea.

    It is definitely evidence, but it is pretty flimsy evidence.

  13. The discussion is extremely interesting but there is,unfortunately, something very important missing from it. This is all about a totally intellectual approach to the life and work of Jesus Christ. This type of approach inevitably places a huge barrier between the individual and the possibility of his experience of Jesus Christ. There are questions that cannot be answered by reasoning alone: only by the Spirit are such matters satisfied.

  14. Ian

    Yes, but on the scenario that we're evaluating Mary of Magdala has to convince an entire movement that her misunderstanding of a common Jewish doctrine explains why she cannot find a dead body. As historical explanations go - rather thin.

    "there is almost no evidence that there is consistency in the idea of what resurrection means."

    That's a heck of a statement! Of course we could quibble over how the various texts see the resurrection "panning out". But it always involves the revivification of dead bodies, and it's always and 'end of the world' event. As well as the evidence of the New Testament, we have Daniel 12, 2 Maccabees 7:11, 2 Baruch 49-51 Josephus and the Wisdom of Solomon. And that's without opening a text book!


  15. The sources here are wide ranging, and arguably supported by the archaeological data. Of course, theoretically, the discovery of one document could overturn nearly any historical finding. (say, Luther's secret journal containing his notes on atheism; Churchill's unrequited love letters to Hitler. You name it, we can imagine it!)I can't see what that tells us. Historical findings are provisional and probabilistic.


  16. Graham, your hypothesis is writing cheques that your evidence just cannot cash. Mary had to convince "the movement"?! What, sceptical rationalists, or people who were going through the same cognitive dissonance and confusion that she was? Or maybe people who wanted to believe but don't want to seem mad, so they pin the story on the insane lady. Or, as happens with the UFOs and Yetis and Elvis, the story emerges from the mix with no single confabulator, and becomes self-reinforcing. So you come uP with rationalisations and post hoc scaffolding for this rickety fiction, supposition and scholarly-y sounding fluff, and above all blind denial that the core premise is batshit crazy and not fit for purpose!

    By that I mean that even if a resurrection happened, it cannot *work*, and god's change control process is totally slack in preventing real evidence being left.

  17. Actually, the idea that Mary would come up with a new theology to account for an empty tomb seems a bit like Mohammed Fayed's account of how the Royal Family works!
    Mary, like everyone else, interpreted the world through her expectations. If she came back with a story about Jesus "angel", or a story about a mystical vision of Jesus on God's chariot, a la Merkaba mysticism, then she might get a hearing. Talk of a "resurrection" would just sound silly to men (and some women!) who had been schooled by a rabbi for several years. So you have a major problem.
    An empty tomb should have been the final nail in the coffin. A dishonourable death is bad enough (in an honour and shame culture). But now Mary is faced with the fact that she cannot even honour her master's body. At this stage everyone is agreed that the movement should have died - as every other messianic movement did when the Romans publicly crushed the leader.
    At a push, Mary might suppose that Jesus' body had been translated into heaven, as in The Testament of Job There you have a missing body, and a vision of a missing person. And not a whit about a resurrection.
    Suppose Mary knew that the body had received an honourable burial back in Capernaum. Well, that's good news! Maybe cognitive dissonance could go to work. Maybe you get a vision or two.
    The outcome being that the disciples would believe that Jesus was in heaven awaiting final vindication at the Resurrection. Not that he was wandering around Palestine in a resurrected body! And that's a message that would have been less controversial among the Jews - and definitely less controversial among the Gentiles! Making up stuff about a resurrection ahead of time just gets you into trouble. So "cognitive dissonance" doesn't predict the outcome that we actually have. It doesn't fit with the evidence.
    Another problem. Historians might wonder why Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. They could look at Nazi economic policy, and conclude that the amount of borrowing in the 1930's demanded that the German nation conquer other nations to pay for spending. They could look at the election of Chancellor Bruning, and note that from that point on the conservatives were in power, and some confrontation with the powers behind Versailles was inevitable. They could look at Hitler's relationship with the military and his assessment of Chamberlain and Daladier (Hitler thought that they would not go to war over Poland).
    What I didn't know that historians could do is say "Nuts to all that! Hitler was a loon! Loons do crazy things! Maybe his dog told him to do it!"

    It would have the virtue of saving everyone a lot of time. But I'm not sure that it's the best way to assess evidence.


  18. Ikechukwu

    I've sympathy with what you're saying. Obviously there's a subjective element to faith. But I think this discussion shows that objective facts are important also.


  19. Graham, you're a *teacher* for dear sake - you'd need to be wil' naive if you thought *that* held water. Yes, all these little rationalisations and posthoceries about what people would and wouldn't have thought or done are very fascinating I'm sure, but in the real world (and remember, this is where were are talking about), people come up with the weirdest shit *all the fracking time*!

    There is nothing about Mary and the Core Disciples (a good name for a band, I think) that makes them different from some crowd of rednecks abducted by Betelgeusians in the Appalachians, subsequently written up by Charles Fort or whomever.

    Let me be quite explicit - given the slightly unorthodox messianic expectations of this group, their presumed devotion to their departed leader, the confusion and doctrinal laxity of the time (schooled by rabbis for several years, my arse!), I find it *utterly* unsurprising that a few of them wondered whether Jesus might not have had something else in mind all along; as they voice it tentatively to their huddled buddies it picks up pace, and before long, belief in the resurrection becomes a shibboleth. The crazier you are, the more "rad" you are in the community. Heck, we see this happening now with Ken Ham and the various sycophantic idiots falling over themselves to endorse the dragons 'n' unicorns section of the Cretination Museum.

    Maybe I'm just too slack, but I really see no problem *whatsoever* with MaryMag and the others coming up with a resurrection story, and the notion that an actual "resurrection" fits the historical data is, I'm afraid, just wishful thinking. Delusional, indeed. Not because a resurrection is necessarily impossible, but because the data we *do* have are insufficient to support the hypothesis, and instead point clearly towards this being an emergent myth.

  20. Shane

    A question.

    When you say, "but I really see no problem *whatsoever* with MaryMag and the others coming up with a resurrection story", what do you mean by resurrection?

    What was it they made up? What was important (for them) about Jesus being resurrected?

  21. So we can go with "maybe Hitler heard his dog tell him to invade Poland"?

    If I'm naive I'm in remarkably good company. Scholars of every perspective look for better explanations than "some hick made up a story" - basically because it doesn't fit the evidence. It might fit a moderns preconceptions of what life was like way back then. But that's all it has going for it. The disciples weren't "hicks". That's just bad history.

    They drew on a rich theology/mythology that set boundaries on the sort of story they could make up. It's a little like asking me to believe that the disciples believed that they'd seen, or made up a story about a banshee or a UFO.
    We can create any fantasy we like, but the point of history is to understand the past on it's own terms. Judaism just didn't allow for Resurrections in history. It did allow for all sorts of other stories that the disciples would have drawn on if they were interpreting visions, or missing bodies.
    And once again, yes, I have compared this to appearances of Mary, Sabbatai Sevi, etc.


  22. Peter, you will accept the proviso that we know virtually nothing about these people, and the events the gospels purport to describe are decades in the past by the time they get written down.

    I said "come up with", not "made up". Stories like these are emergent, they *evolve*. Small features become amplified and trigger the amplification and suppression of other aspects. We see this happening all the time. Empirically. It is not rare as a principle, and if you're saying that these factors cannot apply to the oh-so-rigorous and rabbinical fishermen of Galilee, then I beg to differ. It happens all the time, and there are few things more entertaining than fantasies, and people actively *want* to believe them.

    You probably think people who claim to have seen Elvis or the Loch Ness Monster or aliens in UFOs are crazy. But they are not - their stories have the exact same psychological underpinnings as the myth of the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene.

    It didn't happen, guys. Go to Jerusalem.

  23. Graham, the gospels do not remotely bear up to historical scholarship, other than the shoddy apologetics that have been thrown at it by people who engage in purely post hoc reasoning.

    The barriers of which you speak - you need to show that they were indeed in place in those individuals at that time - you cannot do that. We already know that in C1CE there was a pretty wide range of practice going on, and Jesus himself was not averse to chucking in a few novel concepts. You are treating the disciples like mindless ultra-orthodox automata, and stripping them of their humanity.

    Objectively you know that I am right - stories like these can emerge in pretty much any milieu. What really surprises me is how surprising you seem to find what I find entirely unsurprising, while proposing something batshit insane (i.e. a resurrection that is supposed to be god's great plan, but is historically *woefully* supported by rubbish gospels).

    Elvis, UFOs, Jesus - what is the difference?

  24. Shane

    You keep talking about this diversity, but say very little about its nature, or the evidence for this diversity. As in any religion or culture there were legitimate disagreements and certain non-negotiables. Beginning with Daniel 12 “Resurrection” was a stable, popular belief in a conservative culture. The alternatives were Platonism (as evidenced by Philo) and rejection of any afterlife (The Sadducees, Ben Sirach) I’ve provided evidence to that effect. I’ve provided evidence of the various concepts that disciples would use to describe a vision of the Messiah. Any good explanation asks “why x and not y”? In this case we have to ask – “why did the disciples use “resurrection” and not “translation” or “Jesus angel”?

    Rather than “knowing” you are right, I think you are just making assertions and lazy connections between Elvis sightings and the appearances of Jesus. The “delusions” that you allude to are misidentifications. So if someone sees a light moving rather oddly in the sky they might identify it as a UFO. If a person seen the same phenomenon in the C16th they might identify it as a “witch” or an “angel”. Their expectations shape what they see. And there is no evidence that anyone expected a “resurrection” before the end of time. But there is ample evidence that they expected “ghosts”, “angels”, “merkabah visions” and translations”. This is how, in all probability, an hallucination would have been experienced. It is also the form that any legend would have taken. I have also pointed to numerous ways in which the traditions do not fit the expectations of the “legendary development” hypothesis.

    I’ve emphasised that Historical Jesus research falls within the parameters of god historical methodology. Rather than stripping the disciples of their humanity, I’m just following the methods used by all historians of the period, as I have outlined above. I am trying to understand their world in their own terms, and not make patronising assumptions about their mental states or beliefs.
    However I am not suggesting that any historical method renders every event in the Gospels as “very probable” or “probable”. I’m quite happy to admit that some come out as “improbable” or “very improbable”. (That's not to say that I don't believe these sections of the Gospels. Some things I accept for theological reasons.) For example, much of the Lukan annunciations – or "Messiah the Musical”. It's worth comparing these to the Lukan resurrection appearances.


  25. OK

    Short Version

    Insane lady, cognitive dissonance, visions, appearances and emerging stories.

    If they had seen a vision, ghost, spook or Jesus shaped cloud (or thought they had) they wouldn’t have said, resurrection.

    If it was a cultural story which ‘took off’, they wouldn’t have included, resurrection, in the storyline.

    If they had been trying to retain hope in the face of death, they wouldn’t have said, Messiah.

    If they had been trying to suppress grief, they wouldn't have said, Messiah or resurrection. (Which, BTW, explains the 'Thomas' account - it's a poor preacher who castigates him for being a doubter. If the Messiah was dead, there was no Kingdom. If Jesus was an apparition or vision, there was no Kingdom. Thomas was being realistic. He had to put his fingers in the hands of Jesus because the Kingdom of God had to come in flesh and blood on earth. He'd been told, resurrection, so he knew, ghost, wouldn't do.)

    “Of all the ‘cotton-picking’ stories you had to go for, Mary, you went for resurrection, scheesh! How are we going to make that one stick.”!!

  26. Boys boys boys - you accuse me of laziness - perhaps that is because I dismiss your voluminous chaff as pretend-scholarly nonsense. I make no apology for regarding these guffcakes as nonsense, because we know *empirically* that stories like these arise *all the time* in real human groups. Cultural expectations only take you so far, but the *evidence* suggests that you are wrongo on issues like whether the core disciples *could* have come up with a "he is risen" explanation for their initial cognitive dissonance. Such a thing is completely possible, and I have shown that *according to the gospels* the return of dead prophets was NOT an alien concept to the populace. Yes, these tales are concerned with Jesus, but that is only cos they're in the gospels ffs!

    But if you were right about cultural expectations (and as I have said, the *evidence* is that you are wrong; you can stop the argument right at that point - your hypothesis fails), then religions would remain static - the reverse is the case - they fire off weird execrescences and diversions very rapidly. Remember Jesuszilla and the talking cross in the Gospel of Peter? Where the feck did *that* come out of cultural expectations?!

    But your naivete is astonishing, given that we *know* that rising from the dead was common currency in other religious ideas at the time - ideas that were certainly known in Palestine. Osiris is probably the best one, but the Greek myths are also full of the dead coming back to life. It's a *great* way for a dead Messiah to be vindicated despite being killed.

    Chappies, your diversions into minutiae are monstrously entertaining - don't get me wrong - but I rather think we should cut the garbage and head straight for the paydirt. You *know* that these resurrection stories could have easily arisen in the early Christian community without an actual resurrection having taken place.

    I accept that it is the main plank of your argument that there is no way these stories could have arisen, but that remains a stupid argument, given everything we know about humans and their capacity for telling stories.

    That's the barrier you need to get past, and you really need to deal with that core fact, rather than diving off after convoluted arguments that are demonstrably false. You can put the balsa wood lumps over your ears, build the bamboo control towers, light torches on the beach, but the Cargo won't come from John Frum.

  27. Jesus was able to restore dead people to life.

    What is so incomprehensible about God doing for Jesus what Jesus did for so many?

    In fact have you considered that Jesus, in His spiritual form following the death of His body, restored His own body to life?

  28. Ike, there is no evidence that any of those "revivals" happened either, so your point dies right there.

    Incidentally, Ian picks up some of these points here: http://irrco.org/2011/01/did-the-resurrection-happen/

    Of course he reckons it didn't happen either, but then neither do most historians.

  29. Shane

    Hold on; I should ask again, now that you mention Osiris and myths about the dead living, what do you mean by resurrection?

    That some might have thought Elijah (who according to the story hadn't died) might return points to a Jewish context not a pagan one. That Herod (a sure plumb-line for theological understanding, I'd say!), should think that John the Baptist might live again points, again, to a Jewish expectation that the 'Righteous' would live again. But no one was calling Elijah the Messiah, no one was calling JB the Messiah and no one was saying that the Kingdom had arrived. No one except Jesus and the first Jewish Christians. As I said the story which arose was a particular one, a Messiah/Resurrection one, one which meant something to the wider theological and national community, but one they went right ahead and said anyway.

  30. But Peter, all of that is irrelevant. Jesus was the Messiah long before he ever had to rise from the dead. The fact that he was killed was a problem for that concept, neatly resolved by allowing him to rise from the dead.

    Like I said to Graham, none of this is that difficult - people come up with bollocks like this all the time. You can't with any integrity claim that the emergence of a story like this was beyond the capabilities of the early Jewish Christians. Actually, your position is even further undermined by the wild excesses of the early "church" with bonkers sects spinning off it like crazy, and loopy weirdos like Irenaeus and Origen hopping around on the scene. If anything, the resurrection story seems a little *staid* in comparison to the wild fantasies of those gentlemen.

  31. I am very impressed by the erudition shown by all participants in this debate. But, wait: is DEBATE the way to find out what happened, whether Jesus did resurrect or not? This debate will accomplish one thing: an exhibition of how well read you are. Period. Shane's mind is made up that there was no truth to any of the Gospel accounts of events. I am very surprised that he even admits to the likelihood of Jesus having existed as a real person on this planet.

  32. Shane

    I do not for one moment expect that any of what Graham or I say establishes that a resurrection took place. Graham or I cannot establish that.

    What, however, has been said, is that talk of resurrection limits the potency of other explanations for the rise of Christianity. Talk of resurrection, whatever we might think about whether it happened or not, nudges us in another direction. It means that we have to rethink the explanations related to pagan myths, ghostly visions, missing bodies, or individual and group hallucination; these would not have led to resurrection talk. And even if they had, it is more likely that the story which developed would have included references to the Righteous shining like stars (Daniel), but they didn’t go down this route either.

    The problem of a dead Messiah is only resolved if the dead Messiah is *resurrected*. Rising from the dead in any other way, won’t do. A Messiah can’t be an apparition, can’t be a shining star, can’t have gone to a better life in the after world, can’t live in your heart and can’t be a spiritual experience. So even if we dismiss the resurrection (because resurrections don’t happen :-) it seems that the early Christians really did think that they were dealing with a Jesus who had been dead, who was now bodily alive again and who signified that God’s Kingdom had come.

    Oh, and this, it seems, is what they meant by ‘the gospel’. They weren’t going round telling people to ‘ask Jesus into their hearts’, they weren’t telling people to make a ‘commitment of faith’, and they weren’t encouraging people to have a ‘personal relation with Jesus’; they were forever opposing gnosticism. What they did say was, ‘Jesus, the Messiah, is alive and is king of all the earth. God’s new creation of justice and mercy and peace has already begun.’

    That’s what really cheesed Herod and Caesar off!

  33. Ikechukwu
    Of course history cannot tell us whether the idea of an atonement makes any sense, or if we need to be forgiven by God. Those questions can be addressed, in part, by rational reflection and debate. But subjective, personal grounds are necessary to reach a conclusion (for or against).
    However, I think that debate is a good way of reaching sound conclusions, especially in History. We use it in courts of law to decide on matters of guilt and innocence. And as Shane has pointed out, Christians cannot insulate themselves from history. Christianity is a historical religion.
    The first Christians were not afraid to engage in debate on numerous topics. We can see this at work in Acts and in Paul's letters, and in the Gospels themselves. Of course the first Christians did not confront modern secular rationalists, but Jews and Gentiles of different schools of thought. So when modern Christians read the Bible, and don't see arguments directed to Hindus, Muslims or New Atheists, they assume that the New Testament writers would not approve of arguing for their faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NT writers seemed to be involved in continual debate. They simply faced a different set of opponents. (Most of whom were fiercely opposed to the idea of a Crucified and Resurrected Messiah. The more things change, and all that!)


  34. I've only just found this post; 33 comments in I'm not sure i'll have the will to live by the end of it.

    If I die reading, i'll catch up with you all at the eschaton.

    I've plugged it before over at W&T but Mike Licona's new book on the resurrection is just out, reading through it at the minute. As is the nature of things it doesn't cover everything but it will, I think, become the standard book affirming the resurrection.

  35. Andrew
    To show that I can be even-handed in my criticisms of the arguments:

    I'd read many positive reviews of Licona's book, so I set aside £15 and one week to read it. I've been a bit underwhelmed. I'll run through what I think are the positives and negatives.

    1) It shows that there is no set of rules that all historians must follow; that there is not one historical method that rules out inferences to the miraculous.
    2) It deals effectively with Ehrman's objections to inferring a miracle (and with other popular and philosophical objections to inferring a miracle.)
    3) It shows that Paul believed that Jesus physically rose from the dead; and argues persuasively that this was the view of the first Christians.
    4) It deals with Goulder and Ludemann's psychological explanations of the Resurrection appearances, and persuasively argues against these.

  36. Negative
    1) It relies too heavily on the appearance to Paul, which was late, unusual, and never described in detail by Paul. Furthermore Paul's interpretation of his experience would have been shaped by the message of the Christians he was persecuting. So it is not difficult to explain why Paul believed in a physical Resurrection. He took that belief from the Early Church.
    2) The appearances to Paul as narrated by Luke make it clear that the Early Church considered Paul's experience to be atypical. Licona glosses over these differences. He never resolves the tension between the appearances in Luke, Matthew and John and the the appearance to Paul in Acts.
    3) It is very difficult to explain why the first Christians believed in Jesus' physical Resurrection. But Licona skips past this piece of evidence.
    4) Licona glosses over the excellent evidence for the Empty Tomb. he claims that this is not part of the "Historical Bedrock" because a significant minority of scholars dispute that the Tomb was empty, and because those who argue that it was empty are mostly Christians - and this may be a sign of biased scholarship. It is not excluded from the bedrock on the basis of the evidence.
    5) Claims about the beliefs of the "majority" of scholars are based on Gary Habermas' database of 3400 articles. We are totally reliant on Habemas' interpretation of this database. We are told nothing about Habermas' methodology. So to establish the "Historical Bedrock" - crucial to Licona's argument- we use one database that has been compiled by one scholar and has only been interpreted by the same scholar! This is a crucial weakness if Licona is seeking to avoid bias - he has made himself hostage to Habemas' bias.
    6) Technical points a- his use of Inference to the Best Explanation assumes that this concept is clear and not controversial. This is not the case. Popular works can give a detailed and informed discussion of these issues.
    b - he treats Geza Vermes belief that we do not know what happened on Easter Sunday as an explanation. This is not the case. Vermes is arguing that no explanation is good enough to warrant an inference.
    c - this is another crucial flaw. Licona's case is that the Resurrection is the best explanation. He reaches that conclusion, acknowledging that Vermes comes in second according to Licona's methodology. So he clearly sees merit in Vermes arguments.
    He then rejects Vermes as Vermes explanation is weaker than his. But Vermes is not offering an explanation! Licona, at this stage of the argument, needs to spend more time considering the "plausibility" of the Resurrection.
    7) Because he does not consider the Empty Tomb and the surprising nature of Resurrection belief, and because he builds so much on Paul's testimony, Licona ends up concluding that a physical resurrection only narrowly beats a "non-physical" resurrection, in which God gave the disciples "objective" visions of a risen Jesus while Jesus body lay rotting in the grave. (However Licona believes in a physical resurrection.)
    8) The case against psychological explanations of Resurrection belief -potentially one of the books strengths - is crippled as it focuses too heavily on the lack of psychological evidence available to the "psycho-historian" of the Early Church. It is hardly the sceptics fault that we lack such information! If they can produce conceivable scenarios, they might consider that their work is done. Again, the best response to psychological explanations is that hallucinations do not produce empty tombs. But Licona paints himself into a corner. He cannot use the Empty Tomb because it is not part of the historical consensus.

    Licona's book is a helpful supplement to NT Wright's. But I would suggest that he relies far too heavily on Habermas!


  37. Good work Graham. I would suggest that it is *Paul* who glosses over the differences between his appearance (which is actually much *better* described than the other appearances, because at least we are getting it from a closer source) and the others. Paul's "appearance" is quite obviously a vision - a ghostie story - but when you go back, all the others have the standard characteristics of ghostie stories that we see cross-culturally. The post-resurrection appearances are just fluff. They are stories with very likely no basis in fact whatsoever - there is no evidence that "sightings" of the risen Jesus actually occurred, any more than my neighbour's friend saw the ghost of his granny under the Christmas tree.

    And whatever way Licona or Habermas or Wright want to twist it, that leaves us with the empty tomb. But, even if there was an empty tomb, and the laydeez found the right tomb, and the (contradictory) stories in the gospels are not just legendary, there are plenty of reasons why the tomb might have been empty that don't involve inference to the worst explanation. The hook is absolutely not strong enough hang a "resurrection" on. And this is not just a matter of historical debate - it is a straightforward objective fact that the evidence we have is insufficient to make a resurrection remotely likely.

    And then we're left with the Christian resurrectionist belief. We know from Paul's efforts (see, I'm being nice to the bugger - I'm calling him "Paul" instead of "Saul" ;-) that *Christians* were saying the resurrection was a/ unnecessary and b/ hadn't occurred. So at the very least there was diversity of belief here, and we know that Paul eventually won not on the basis of evidence or rational argument (he has none), but on polemic (polemic that never mentions the empty tomb, funny enough).

    So even assuming that we know what the belief was when Jesus died, and pretending we know what the belief meant to (say) Paul, who we know was not necessarily representative of the Jewish Christian movement, we know practically NOTHING of what the belief was just after Jesus died, through to maybe 15-20 years later!

    So what were the dynamics here? Were the disciples really preaching a resurrection from day one (OK, day 3)? We don't know, but the evidence that we have is entirely consistent with such a belief accreting over time.

    As I said before, we KNOW that stories like this - novel beliefs, crazy tales etc - can arise in pretty much any cultural background - we see it all the time. It's empirically verified - no need to scrape over the details of second temple Jewish understandings. If a belief can spread, it can arise. And hey, it's psychologically attractive. Hard to resist for the ordinary punter. Which is why people like Licona or Habermas or Craig can't let it go.

    But as for the rest of us - historians - there is no way to elevate a resurrection above "really unlikely", and it can only be understood as a legend.

  38. Hi Graham

    Thanks for points - i'll keep these in mind while I'm reading.

  39. May I take this back to Level One?

    We are grappling here with the most fundamental problem of History, that is how to bridge the gap between "what actually happened in the (human) past (whether or not historians have written about it)", and history, "the accounts of the past provided by historians." [Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History, 1970] The ultimate bugbear of History is how to determine whether what people say happened actually did happen.

    'What people say' has always been open to doubt and dispute. As the Igbos would say, "A snake that only one person saw is invariably a python."

    Historians therefore do not consider what people say to be sufficient evidence of the occurrence of events. Hence the need for other evidence.

    Written records come to mind. But even contemporaneous records are often disputed, because of the now notorious saying that 'History is written by the victors.' We have a real-life example: we would be very unlikely ever to know Saddam Hussein's version of events, because the winners killed him before he was able to say anything and have written memoirs setting out their versions of events.

    While 'what people say' is not sufficient evidence of the occurrence of events, 'what people write' can be much stronger evidence of what happened.

    Unfortunately, we cannot do science with history because it is not possible to replicate historical occurrences: What would have happened if Nelson had not been killed in battle, Alexander the Great had not fallen off his horse, Adolf Hitler had not killed himself, Osiris had not been crucified in Caiphul, or Moses had been killed in his fight with the Egyptian slave-driver? We have no way of knowing, because we cannot put to experimental testing any predictions we might come up with.

    We are left no option but to rely, ultimately, upon the 'physical' evidence of artefacts, and this is why History is hand-in-glove with Archaeology. As Marwick wrote, "The only way we can have knowledge of the past is through studying the relics and traces left by past societies."

    At the end of the day, we may find that even the combination of what people say, what people write and artefacts relating to an occurrence might still fail to give us the full picture of 'what happened.' This is why 'historical imagination' is the best resource of the historian, as Marwick would say.

    In the absence of still or video pictures of Jesus Christ lying dead in the tomb as at a Friday evening and getting up and walking out of the tomb on the Sunday morning, no amount of reasoning, analysis or argument will tell you whether Jesus Christ resurrected or not.

    But if you allow yourself to be in and of the Spirit, you will know that Jesus Christ did resurrect on that first Easter Sunday morning, and that He remains active in the life of our world to this day.

  40. We are grappling here with the most fundamental problem of History, that is how to bridge the gap between "what actually happened in the (human) past (whether or not historians have written about it)", and history, "the accounts of the past provided by historians." [Arthur Marwick, The Nature of History, 1970].

    'What people say' has always been open to doubt and dispute. As the Igbos would say, "A snake that only one person saw is invariably a python." Historians therefore do not consider what people say to be sufficient evidence of the occurrence of events.

    Written records come to mind. But even contemporaneous records are often disputed, because of the now notorious saying that 'History is written by the victors.'

    Unfortunately, we cannot do science with history because it is not possible to replicate historical occurrences: What would have happened if Osiris had not been crucified in Caiphul, or Moses had been killed in his fight with the Egyptian slave-driver? We have no way of knowing, because we cannot put to experimental testing any predictions we might come up with.

    We are left no option but to rely, ultimately, upon the 'physical' evidence of artefacts. As Marwick wrote, "The only way we can have knowledge of the past is through studying the relics and traces left by past societies."

    At the end of the day, we may find that even the combination of what people say, what people write and artefacts relating to an occurrence might still fail to give us the full picture of 'what happened.' This is why 'historical imagination' is the best resource of the historian, as Marwick would say.

    In the absence of still or video pictures of Jesus Christ lying dead in the tomb as at a Friday evening and getting up and walking out of the tomb on the Sunday morning, no amount of reasoning, analysis or argument will tell you whether Jesus Christ resurrected or not.

    But if you allow yourself to be in and of the Spirit, you will know that Jesus Christ did resurrect on that first Easter Sunday morning, and that He remains active in the life of our world to this day.

  41. Shane
    I suppose a lot depends on the plausibility of a miracle. Even if you find a miracle very implausible the evidence can, in principle, be good enough to change your mind. To my mind, the coincidence of appearances and empty tomb would be sufficient. And I think that we need to be wary of continually revising our estimation of a miracle's improbability to defeat the evidence.
    A few minor quibbles. Paul and one faction in the Corinthian Church disagreed over the the general resurrection. They didn't disagree over its nature. This faction said that there wouldn't be one. Paul's argument is that their belief in Jesus Resurrection committed them to belief in a general Resurrection.


  42. Paul's beliefs on the nature of the Resurrection agree those of the Jerusalem Church. He cites the tradition that it "passed on" to him as a decisive authority that both he and the Corinthians accepted. We have no evidence of a disagreement on this issue; as we do for Paul and James/Peter on circumcision.

    Luke seems to think that the Ascension made a difference to Jesus; this fits with some Jewish conceptions of the Resurrection which viewed it as a resuscitation of a corpse, followed by judgement, then a transformation of the resuscitated body. And I think this is a Pauline way of construing the Resurrection.

    However, Paul doesn't describe the appearance of Jesus in his letters. Here we have to rely on Luke's description in Acts. Now Luke obviously believed in a physical Resurrection. Luke 24, written before Acts, makes this very clear. And if we are to take Luke's description of the appearance to Paul at face value, we need to take the appearances in Luke 24 at face value.

    Perhaps my objection to relying too much on Paul could be simply stated. Suppose you could interrogate one purported eyewitness, and be guaranteed the truth. Would you choose Paul, or Peter, or Mary of Magdala?

    I don't think that the sceptic or the apologist would choose Paul. His testimony makes part of a cumulative case, but not much more than that.


  43. Ike, I think I have pointed out that your view of science is mistaken. When a scientist talks of a theory predicting such-and-such, she is not talking about predicting *events* into the future. Rather, she is talking about the theory successfully predicting the *data*. These data may be for events that have already occurred in the past, but a good theory will be able to be testable by its ability to make predictions about the character of the data we may find if we look at the event in another way. Indeed, a good theory will suggest different angles to look at the problem.

    Don't worry too much about this mistake - it is a common enough one, and even the great Karl Popper tripped over it once or twice.

    Other than that, you are perilously close to the truth - the resurrection is not *scientifically* credible, and this pitches you back to reliance on the Warm Fuzzies as you imply. Much as I would like to think that the influence of Jesus the Nazarene was alive and well in the world, there is no doubt that some people's interpretation of that is pretty revolting (e.g. the Roman Church's view on contraception, or pretty much anything put forth by the nasty whingemongers in groups like "Christian Voice", or "intelligent design").

    Yes, you could say that Jesus is alive - as an Atheistic Christian, many aspects of the message attributed to him are alive in me too, so maybe in a sense he is "resurrected". But if the question is to the historicity of an *actual* resurrection, despite Graham's brave efforts, the evidence is not only not there; the evidence that we *do* have suggests very strongly that it *didn't* happen, but the stories instead reflect beliefs that grew up around Jesus, and not actual events in many cases.

  44. And Graham, we don't have ONE single eyewitness *at all*. And what was written down were just stories.

    As I mentioned before, if *this* was "god's great plan" to save mankind, then it totally *sucked* in terms of the evidence supplied, and this should be sufficient reason to regard it as just a tall tale. The bottom line is that we *know* objectively and empirically that stories of this type do arise and do take hold (e.g. Ike's crucifiction of Osiris in Caiphul - total bollocks) in fertile, if uncritical, brains, and they can be hard to shift. Ask Mohammed - he's as bad.

    Did you have a look at that web page for Arthur Broadhurst? (Christian Humanism: http://christianhumanist.net/default.aspx )

  45. Shane
    I think we agree on the sciencey bit.
    I've took a look at Broadhurst's site. It will come in very handy in School when students ask "what do Christians believe about..."

    You try to train them to see that Christian can mean so many things to so many people that they need to be more specific in their question. So thanks for the pointer.


  46. Shane, you have misunderstood what I posted about history and science. You cannot do science with history because the methods of scientific enquiry cannot be applied to history. This, of course, is not to say that things did not happen because they could not be studied scientifically. I would like us all, now, to get past the idea that science is the only way to demonstrate and confirm reality.

  47. In the absence of contemporaneous photographic evidence of the Resurrection and of Jesus physically interacting with various people after his death and burial, this all comes down to one question: do you believe the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ? You could argue about this until dogs started to grow horns but you could never resolve this issue by argument.

    Religion is a relationship. If you had that relationship you would know what happened.

  48. Sorry, Ike, I'm not misunderstanding you - I am pointing out that you are mistaken. I have also shown *how* you are mistaken. It is silly to suggest that history is beyond science - indeed, one branch, forensic science, is very much about applying the scientific method to finding out about what happened in the past. Ditto for archaeology. Analysis of source materials, indeed, *has* to be done in a scientific manner. If you think science is about saying what WILL happen given a certain set of starting assumptions in a massively complex system, then you are very very very much mistaken.

    As for that relationship mumbo - that is the Warm Fuzzies as I have pointed out before. What happens when your warm fuzzy experience with Jesus, Osiris & the ten-foot lemurs from the Planet Zog run up against Graham's far more prosaic Jesus who just turns on the miracles when he's trying to spook the locals.

    So let's have no more of this pablum about what science can and cannot investigate.

  49. As the great St. Paul wrote, milk is for kids and meat is for adults.

    Now, let us leave behind us the milk we have been drinking for a while and try and chew some meat.

    Question: [Assumming the accuracy of the reporting] What do you think happened at the Transfiguration of Christ?

  50. Meanwhile, why don't you come over to my blog - drazuonyesblog.blogspot.com - and let us talk there about The Nature of Science. I would not like this riveting discussion of the Resurrection to be distracted by a discussion of the character of the scientific enterprise. Thx, and see you there.]

  51. Now that we have more or less exhausted the obvious reasoning part of this debate, let us ratchet things up a little bit.

    I have already posted a question for your consideration. When you think you know what happened at the reported Transfiguration of Christ, place it here and let us talk about it. Thank you.

  52. Ike, I am never one to disappoint :-) I would suggest, however, that the Impostle Paul should have chosen his metaphors more carefully!

  53. Is Bigfoot Genuine or bogus? For more than 400 a long time, there have already been reporting’s of a guy like monster that is totally covered in hair.
    [url=http://www.is-bigfoot-real.com/]bigfoot sightings[/url]

  54. Is he accusing Bigfoot of fraud?

  55. Maybe Bigfoot evades detection by prowling around dressed like a human! And that's why the videos look so fake!

  56. It makes no difference how much fake evidence the Christians have for their Resurrection bullshit. Even if they said they had tons of real scientific evidence for the stinking Jeebus corpse becoming a zombie, it would still be a bullshit myth. Dead animals stay dead. Period. There is nothing more to say about it.


  57. HA, yes, it's a fiction, but I find it an interesting one nonetheless, because so many people believe it, and because the real evidence is actually very strongly in favour of it being a legendary accretion - that's evidence in the *bible*.

  58. Mckee, you poor deluded, benighted chap, how long will you go on with your vitriol, polemical written nonsense? The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. Ps 14:1. Your problem is hardly intelluctal, it is moral ie the heart of your problem is the problem of your heart. Get right with the Saviour who died for your sins mate, you will be a happy man then.

  59. Thanks, Mom! You'll need to do a lot better than that :-) Keep taking the tablets.

  60. As an aside, it is astonishing how many Christians seem to think that Psalm 14:1 constitutes an argument. Get a brain, people! You'll be happy then...

  61. How do you ratify your conclusions in comparison to the Bible which has stood the test of time? You are positing a figment of your imagination when you foolishly try to disclaim the resurrection or even the transfiguration. Your abject disregard for the Truth has me genuinely worried Mckee. If you claim to be right in your deductions then we both haven't lost anything. But when you will in a coming day when you will have to bend your knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords, it will be but too late for your soul will burn in hell for eternity. Repent for the time is at hand. Don't waste time even answering this with your patronizing nonsense. Seek the Lord while He may be found. The Bible has stood the test of time....you my friend havent (yet)!

    1. "... you will in a coming day when you will have to bend your knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords .."

      I'll do to him what his followers have done to me - I'll piss on his leg and tell him it's raining.

  62. Goodness me - someone needs to have a wee lie down! Furthermore, it would seem that someone hasn't read the post, because the evidence that the resurrection is a myth is contained in the bible itself. Tsk. Still, what can one expect from someone who isn't even brave enough to use a *pseudonym*?

    I have no worries about the hereafter, but thanks for popping by my humble blog and unloading some of your hang-ups :-)

  63. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

  64. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

  65. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Joh 3:36

  66. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul. Mark 8:36,37

  67. Yes, quoting the bible in support of the bible is not exactly a clever move - even if the quotes were in context, and even if you had a clue what you were talking about. Tsk! There is no helping some people...

  68. Shakespeare has stood the test of time, too. Lucky for us, none of HIS characters threaten us with obedience and subservience in the present. Though who's to say what duress future people might imagine upon themselves from his texts.

  69. Sheesh, talk about not seeing the forest for the trees! Bible Jesus never existed, never walked the earth, never preached a word, never died because he never lived.


    He certainly could never have been a Jewish messiah had he lived - Jews have no tradition of dying and resurrecting god men. That's a Greek idea.


    Surviving a crucifixion isn't totally impossible - humans have survived some shocking injuries. But worrying about whether an impossible Jew could have survived an impossibly unlikely event is like arguing the flight characteristics of Harry Potter's broomstick - but much less interesting!

    Philo of Alexandria never said it, I believe it, that settles it.