« Tactical Evangelism | Main | Our Substitute, Our Reconciler »

March 31, 2009

Comments

Most arguments on this topic aren't new. Most arguments have been engaged by the opponents. Whether or not this indicates a problem kind of is in the eye of the beholder.

The apologist continues to argue that people won't die for a lie, that women were the first at the tomb and this makes the claim reliable, that it is inconceivable that a 1st century Jew could believe that a singular resurrection occurred prior to the general resurrection. In my view these have all been conclusively refuted by skeptics, but I expect Christians will still offer it. Possibly because they don't regard the skeptical objections as weighty enough. I see the objections as weighty, but as I said it's in the eye of the beholder.

I completely agree with Jon above. The discrepancies found by scholars in the bible really have not changed since the 19th century. And I agree that the weight that one gives to these discrepancies has more to do with one's psychological makeup and style of education than the weight of the evidence.

Bock is wrong to single out the problem simply as Ehrman's "historical critical" approach. This is the method taught in conservative seminaries and championed by STR itself: we take the text in of Scripture in the historical context in which it was written. He should have been more careful, perhaps saying "higher critical" method.


Melinda>> As Bock identifies here, Ehrman has a modus operandi that, once you recognize it, basically deciphers the flaws in his books.

Oh, the irony is quite thick here. I believe the same exact thing can be said about every single apologetics book ever published.

Jon, I understood the argument to be that people won't willingly die for what they know full well to be a lie. Isn't that a little different from how the skeptics have been treating it?

That is the argument, Jesse, and I believe it has been "engaged" by skeptics as Bock would say. One good example is here:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/05/die-for-lie-wont-fly.html

So, we know that the resurrection occurred, because people died for having claimed the event occurred, and people wouldn't sacrifice themselves if they knew that their claims were false.

So, does that mean that anytime someone dies for having claimed that an event occurred, we know that they are speaking the truth and that the event in question occurred?

Here's your basic problem. We have two hypotheses. (1) Jesus rose from the dead and (2) Jesus did not rise from the dead. The data available to test the hypothesis are scarce, given that we are being asked to assess an extraordinary claim. In addition, the data may be unreliable and possibly contradictory. As a result, people have been able to make extensive arguments for centuries for both positions with no resolution in sight.

Now, if this was a problem in science, the solution would be obvious. Run more experiments, gather more data, make predictions about what the new observations will show, develop tests by which inaccurate hypotheses can be discarded.

But in the case of Jesus, there are no new data. There haven't been any new data for almost two thousand years. We can't run experiments, we can't test the supernatural, we can't add to the observations. We're stuck with a few ancient texts that people have been arguing about for centuries. Without new data, these arguments are not going to change. A thousands years from now, the arguments will be the same. No resolution, no answers. Such is theology.

Joe, thanks for the link; I'll have to spend some time reading through it.

I don't think the claim is that you know the event is true if someone who claims it's true died for the claim. All it really tells us is the person who died was thoroughly convinced it happened. And it's not just martyrdom, but suffering persecutions, hardship, and alienation from friends, family, and your own religious group; all these a person is very unlikely to endure if he knows his claim is a lie.

Minor correction, the link was from Jon. Similar name, different posters.

Actually, I think that many are indeed claiming that we know that the event in question occurred because people who claimed that it occurred ultimately died for the claim. This is considered one of the strongest arguments in all of apologetics. The resurrection occurred because people died for their belief that it occurred.

If you change this to just "people don't die for a cause if they know it's a lie", then it becomes a much weaker argument. Think of all the people who have died for delusional ideas. These people thought that they were dying for a given truth, but their truth wasn't true (see Joseph Smith).

Oops... sorry to have mixed up your names.

Well many may be claiming that people won't die for a lie, but that's simply false.

Joseph Smith's followers are a good example (I don't know of any who died for Mormonism, but I'm sure there were at least a few). However I'd be willing to bet that if Joseph Smith were threatened with death unless he recanted the belief he received a revelation from an angel, he would have confessed that he made the whole thing up.

Well, I do wonder how far Joe Smith would have gone if he'd been given ample time to recant before he was killed by the mob. Perhaps a fortnight would have concentrated his mind, as they say. But all we have to go by is the reality that he did die as a result of founding and promoting Mormonism. When things got tough, he did stick with his story about the golden plates, etc.

Joe
"The apologist continues to argue that people won't die for a lie, that women were the first at the tomb and this makes the claim reliable"

People won't die for what they KNOW to be a lie. Many of the earliest disciples died for their claim, and they knew if it was true or not. As for the women as first at the tomb, this adds plausibility, but no one says it somehow makes the claim reliable. It's just not what you would see if the story were made up.

As for the skeptics who 'refute' this what first century evidence do they have? What naturalistic explanation do they offer and what is their evidence?

"So, we know that the resurrection occurred, because people died for having claimed the event occurred, and people wouldn't sacrifice themselves if they knew that their claims were false.

So, does that mean that anytime someone dies for having claimed that an event occurred, we know that they are speaking the truth and that the event in question occurred"

One does not follow from the other. It would mean that if someone dies for having claimed an event occurred AND they would KNOW if it was false, it would add credibility to the claim.

"the data may be unreliable and possibly contradictory."
What data is contradictory?

"But in the case of Jesus, there are no new data. There haven't been any new data for almost two thousand years."

What new data would you expect to find? Only remains if the account was false. What would you accept as further evidence?

We can't run experiments, we can't test the supernatural, we can't add to the observations. We're stuck with a few ancient texts that people have been arguing about for centuries."

I guess we can only accept what we all agree on?

"Without new data, these arguments are not going to change. A thousands years from now, the arguments will be the same. No resolution, no answers. Such is theology."

No, such is ancient history.

"Actually, I think that many are indeed claiming that we know that the event in question occurred because people who claimed that it occurred ultimately died for the claim. This is considered one of the strongest arguments in all of apologetics. The resurrection occurred because people died for their belief that it occurred."

This is at best a mischaracterization, and at worst, a blatant straw man. The argument that liars don't make martyrs is just one part of the case for the historicity of the resurrection. Others include the empty tomb, the sudden change in his followers from cowards to those willing to endure persecution, the reported resurrection appearances, (btw, the only explanation for the fact that they thought they saw him risen from the dead that makes any sense of the date, and given the failure of all other theories to explain it away), the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who was a vehement opponent to Christianity, the conversion of James, the half-brother of Jesus, etc.

"These people thought that they were dying for a given truth, but their truth wasn't true (see Joseph Smith)."

How did Smith's death relate to his religious claims? Even if he did, some of the arguments used unsuccessfully against the claims of Jesus' contemporary followers (hallucinations, delusions) because of the unlikelihood of these happening the same way to many, could be applied to one individual.


If Smith recants and disbands his religious movement, Smith lives. Smith's death is related to his religious claims.

Paul never saw the resurrected Jesus, yet he died for his belief in a physical resurrection. Makes you wonder if the other martyrs actually saw a resurrected Jesus since Paul proves that people will die for something they did not see. People may not be willing to die for what they know is false, but what an individual thinks is true may not be true.

If "many" (i.e., 400 individuals) see a man come back from the dead after being executed by the Romans in the middle of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover, then Jerusalem explodes in revolt. But this didn't happen.

The difference between ancient history and theology is that the historian does not make the claim that an historical figure is God. The bar is set much higher when one is making extraordinary claims.

We have a few texts that make untestable claims about supernatural events. Believe the claims if you wish. But there are no new data and will be no new data, there is no way to confirm or test the vast, vast majority of the claims of the NT, no way to resolve the issue because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the burden of proof on those making extraordinary claims. And, obviously, there will be no end to the arguments, because God apparently failed to leave the extraordinary evidence behind.

"What new data would you expect to find?"

I don't expect to find any more data. That's the key to the problem.

"If Smith recants and disbands his religious movement, Smith lives. Smith's death is related to his religious claims. "

You mean the mob that killed him gave him that choice?

"Paul never saw the resurrected Jesus, yet he died for his belief in a physical resurrection. Makes you wonder if the other martyrs actually saw a resurrected Jesus since Paul proves that people will die for something they did not see. People may not be willing to die for what they know is false, but what an individual thinks is true may not be true."

Even if your claim about what Paul saw or didn't see was true, his willingness says NOTHING about the veracity of the claims of those who are acknowledged eyewitnesses claims.

"If "many" (i.e., 400 individuals) see a man come back from the dead after being executed by the Romans in the middle of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover, then Jerusalem explodes in revolt. But this didn't happen."

What makes you think this is the case? If those 400 were his followers, why would a revolt happen?

The difference between ancient history and theology is that the historian does not make the claim that an historical figure is God. The bar is set much higher when one is making extraordinary claims.

Doesn't this just beg the question by saying the claim itself disqualifies Luke, for example as an historian? Also, if the writers of the Gospels accurately quote Jesus' claims, and if they accurately record his resurrection, then it seems to me that Jesus' claims to be God are validated. To argue that 'historians don't claim historical figures are God' and then dismiss the Gospel and Pauline accounts because they make such a claim begs the question.

"...extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the burden of proof on those making extraordinary claims."

So, how many other ancient historians do you demand proof of their claims? It seems to me that the writers report what they saw. If you assert what they say is false, you have some burden, and 'no new data' is pretty weak.

" And, obviously, there will be no end to the arguments, because God apparently failed to leave the extraordinary evidence behind. "

I think the accounts show that no matter how much evidence you put in front of some people, they will always say it's 'not enough.

"I don't expect to find any more data. That's the key to the problem."

I think we agree on this, but the point of my question was, what kind of 'new data' would satisfy your demand?

>>>"Paul never saw the resurrected Jesus, yet he died for his belief in a physical resurrection."

Paul did see Jesus (Acts 9), though not in the same way the apostles did, so I'll assume when you say Paul didn't "see" Jesus, you mean in the sense recorded in the Gospels. But I'm not sure why this would matter....did Paul not die for what he saw and heard on the road to Damascus, even if he didn't see and hear in the same way the apostles did?


>>>"If "many" (i.e., 400 individuals) see a man come back from the dead after being executed by the Romans in the middle of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover, then Jerusalem explodes in revolt. But this didn't happen."

Not sure where you're going with this. Jesus was executed by the Roman government via the decree of Pilate, but Pilate did everything he could NOT to kill Jesus. The Romans weren't chomping at the bit to execute him, it was the Jews. And the Jews knew it. Are the Jews going to revolt against the Romans for carrying out exactly what the Jews themselves were clamoring to have done? Probably not. Not to mention the fact that Jesus was killed, but he came back from the dead, so why revolt? After all, he's alive again, so no harm/no foul, right?

Smith faced danger as a result of his beliefs long before the final act of the play. He understood that his life was in danger. He didn't recant despite the obvious danger. Do you really think that you can disconnect Smith's religious beliefs from his death?

You're the one who brought up Paul as evidence in support of the historicity of the resurrection. I just thought it odd that you would bring in a documented non-eyewitness to make your case for the physical resurrection. And yes, it does suggest that possibility that other "eyewitnesses" may not have been eyewitnesses.

What does "acknowledged eyewitness" mean? You mean the people who the Bible says were eyewitnesses? Can you see the problem with this? Any independent evidence that a given individual was an actual eyewitness? Any Roman accounts of who was present for the execution? Any independent record to show that those martyred were the same as those who were present at the execution? Where's the independent test of the claim? Here's one example where the absence of data becomes critical.

As far as historians go, when you read an historical account of a supernatural event, do you believe all of these accounts? Or would you expect that the readers of these histories would demand more than just the word of the historian? Wouldn't you demand "proof of their claims"? And one can get much of the non-supernatural history right and still blow it when it comes to the supernatural stuff. I'm not sure I understand why you can't see the difference between ordinary history and histories that are loaded with supernatural claims that an historical figure is God.

What "new data"? How about a single contemporaneous Roman report of a single miracle performed by Jesus? How about a single contemporaneous Roman report that this guy that they executed has popped back to life? How often did that occur in Roman history? Don't you think that such an event would have attracted a little attention? But apparently, the greatest event in the history of humanity went unnoticed at the time by the ruling power of the region.

And yes, given the political and relgious climate of Palestine in AD 30, I really would expect that a physical resurrection of an executed Jewish religious leader in the middle of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover would have led to a massive revolt by a people desparate for a messiah. This is a very reasonable test of the hypothesis. At the very least, it should have left a contemporaneous mark on Roman history, but...there is nothing of the sort.

..."if they accurately record his resurrection"...

Yes, if.

And if they didn't accurately record events surrounding the execution of Jesus, what evidence would YOU accept that the resurrection didn't happen?

I, too, can say...

"I think the accounts show that no matter how much evidence you put in front of some people, they will always say it's 'not enough."

BC,

Again, I focused on Paul, because he was offered in support of the physical resurrection...an event that he did not witness, an event for which he died even though he did not witness it.

The only suggestion we have that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus comes from the writers of documents with a desire to blame the religious establishment for the death of Jesus. Based on other descriptions of Pilate (I believe that Josephus has an account), there is little reason to conclude that he would have hestitated for one second to execute a political agitator.

Jesus is alive again, so no harm/no foul? Seriously? An executed messiah returns from the dead, and the population just shrugs? Are you serious? How many executed messiahs ever returned from the dead?

"And yes, it does suggest that possibility that other "eyewitnesses" may not have been eyewitnesses. "

You're gonna have to do better than that. How does it follow?

"What does "acknowledged eyewitness" mean? You mean the people who the Bible says were eyewitnesses? Can you see the problem with this? Any independent evidence that a given individual was an actual eyewitness?"

You mean independent like you? What would count? You have four authors, two eyewitnesses, and two associates of eyewitnesses writing accounts of what they saw. If you think they were frauds, the burden is on you to show it, and not just arbitrarily raising the bar.

" Any Roman accounts of who was present for the execution?"

Do you have any Roman accounts for who was present at ANY execution?

"...martyred were the same as those who were present at the execution?"

Actually, and ironically, the only one of the original 12 who was present at the execution was the only one NOT martyred, though he was persecuted.

Do you mean to say that you even question the execution? Even the Talmud acknowledges that, and that was hardly written by Christians.

"As far as historians go, when you read an historical account of a supernatural event, do you believe all of these accounts? Or would you expect that the readers of these histories would demand more than just the word of the historian? "

I haven't read one yet, outside of the bible and some church histories that got past the coherence test.

"And one can get much of the non-supernatural history right and still blow it when it comes to the supernatural stuff."

Can you give some examples?

"I'm not sure I understand why you can't see the difference between ordinary history and histories that are loaded with supernatural claims that an historical figure is God. "

You've read a lot of these? Can you give an example or two of other such 'histories' that don't drip with mythological language?

"What "new data"? How about a single contemporaneous Roman report of a single miracle performed by Jesus?"

You do know, don't you that Paul was a Roman citizen, don't you? I suppose, from the way you are arguing, that if such a report was found, you would dismiss it as not 'independent.'

"How often did that occur in Roman history? Don't you think that such an event would have attracted a little attention? But apparently, the greatest event in the history of humanity went unnoticed at the time by the ruling power of the region. "

Yeah, you'd think with the internet and 24 hour news cylce... wait...they didn't have that yet, did they? Do you fing a lot of 'contemporaneous Roman reports' that detail the religious goings on in the outlying colonies if they were not causing serious trouble?

"And yes, given the political and relgious climate of Palestine in AD 30, I really would expect that a physical resurrection of an executed Jewish religious leader in the middle of Jerusalem in the middle of Passover would have led to a massive revolt by a people desparate for a messiah. "

This would seem to beg the question in favor of a different kind of Messiah than Jesus was, as if he was who he claimed to be, and he did in fact raise from the dead, and if in fact it was not his purpose to set up a political kingdom, then it would not be strange that he would not choose timing and locations of his appearances so as to incite such a rebellion.

"And if they didn't accurately record events surrounding the execution of Jesus, what evidence would YOU accept that the resurrection didn't happen?"

Oh, I don't know. Maybe at least ONE of his immediate disciples recanting their claim, at least ONE 'independent contemporaneous report' of someone hostile to the church coming forward and producing a body.

As for the 'few ancient documents' the New Testament is the most well attested body of documents in all of classical antiquity, with greater numbers of extant manuscripts, and many of them dating to less than 100 years of the originals. The nearest competitors have far fewer manuscripts with the oldest being close to 1000 years removed from the originals. I suppose if you saw such 'contemporaneous ' reports, if they were like any others, you would suggest they had been altered.

BTW, one of the historians you so quickly dismiss records that at one time, Peter preached and 3000 people converted. Hardly a shrug. But, then, I'm done here, unless I can find independent evidence for you existence. :P

^^^ I gotta learn to preview if I'm gonna try to use tags.

Joe, the argument that men do not die for something they know to be a lie is not effected one way or the other if Joseph Smith died for a religion that isn't true. The point is that it wouldn't have been only one man who died for something he knew to be a lie, it was all of the apostles except 1, James, Paul and many others. The argument is not that one man died for a falsehood that he thought was true, after all he could be insane or having hallucinations, the argument is that many men died for something that they saw first hand and could not deny. By the way Paul claims to have seen Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:8.

As many apologists have said, some of the witnesses were hostile (Paul, James) and had no reason to change their views toward followers of Christ unless something supernatural had in fact taken place. Yet you dismiss Paul's testimony and the historical accounts of the gospels. These ARE historical evidence. They were written by different men at different times. The was no "new testament" when these were written. You are smuggling in a bias against the gospel accounts reliability simply because they have been included in the canon, despite the fact that we have thousands more ancient manuscripts of these documents than any other ancient historical document, and they also date closer to the actual events than any other ancient manuscripts. Why is a Roman account any more reliable than a gospel account? Especially given the early dating we have of Mark, and the earlier dating of many oral traditions (I Cor. 15.3-5)and lost manuscripts that most textual critics agree existed before the gospels were written(documents Q, M, L etc.) The only reason a Roman account would be more reliable is because you dismiss the early historical manuscripts that were later included in the canon.

Your thought that the Jews would have risen up to fight the romans is completely ad hoc, especially given the fact that Jesus did not call for an armed revolt against the Romans. There is also no reason why Jesus' SUPPOSED resurrection would have been a big issue to the Romans. Had Christ called for violent revolt, then we would likely see someting in Roman history, but he didn't. Most Romans didn't believe that he had been resurrected, to them it was likely little more than a bunch of Jewish religious hype. At least at the beginning of the movement it seems reasonable that Christianity was no more than a blip on the radar screen of the Romans.

You said "The only suggestion we have that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus comes from the writers of documents with a desire to blame the religious establishment for the death of Jesus" Why would observant Jews want to blame other Jews for the death of Jesus? This makes no sense. Again you show your bias against the primary source documents by being more accepting or Josephus' writing as reliable (although they were written much later) but not accepting the reliability of the primary source documents.

My point is that arguments for the truth Christianity do not hang on one piece of evidence, but on the sum of many pieces of evidence. Even if you could find someone who was tortured and killed for what they knew to be a lie, that is only one small argument that supports the Christians claims. Early historical documentation, conversion of hostile witnesses, embarrassing facts in the gospels, the rapid spread of the faith, these and many other evidences all make a cumulative argument for the truth of the claims of Christianity.


Sorry, much of my post was reduntant given Daniel's post. Guess I should have updated and read his post before posting mine.

>>>"Again, I focused on Paul, because he was offered in support of the physical resurrection...an event that he did not witness, an event for which he died even though he did not witness it."

Just so we're not equivocating on what it meant to "witness" the resurrection of Christ, only one or two of the disciples were present for the execution, and no one was there to see him roll away the stone and walk out of the grave. So the disciples didn't witness the resurrection in that sense and neither did Paul, but all operated on the knowledge that he was executed and yet they saw what they knew to be Christ and interacted with his person. Now where is the big difference?

>>>"The only suggestion we have that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus comes from the writers of documents with a desire to blame the religious establishment for the death of Jesus."

Even if the authors did have a motive to blame the religous establishment, is that really enough to say that's what happened here? Everyone has their biases, even historians, but that doesn't render them incapable of reporting accurate history. If your going to assert this, you need to argue for it.

>>>"Based on other descriptions of Pilate (I believe that Josephus has an account), there is little reason to conclude that he would have hestitated for one second to execute a political agitator. "

Point me to the Josephus account or any other description of Pilate you have that lends us this insight into his character.

>>>"Jesus is alive again, so no harm/no foul? Seriously? An executed messiah returns from the dead, and the population just shrugs? Are you serious? How many executed messiahs ever returned from the dead? "

No, not seriously. Just trying to inject a little levity into the conversation. I still don't see why we should expect a revolt though. You haven't given any historically grounded reason to accept such an argument from silence, an argument you would likely scold anyone here for if they were to say something like, "If Jesus were a fraud we should expect to see an account from someone saying we found his body, but no such account exists, therefore he was raised."

Daniel,

"As far as historians go, when you read an historical account of a supernatural event, do you believe all of these accounts? Or would you expect that the readers of these histories would demand more than just the word of the historian? "….“I haven't read one yet, outside of the bible and some church histories that got past the coherence test. Can you give some examples?”

Roman histories written by Roman historians record the boring stuff about the Caesars, but also note that some rulers became gods. Medieval chroniclers recorded the battles of kings, but also include accounts numerous supernatural events, and these histories do not question the veracity of the supernatural events. Japanese historians wrote of the rulers of Japan, but also claimed that a supernatural divine wind destroyed an invading Chinese fleet. Do you believe that God destroyed the Chinese fleet? In fact, until fairly recently, I think it’s fair to say that most histories included supernatural events that go recorded but unquestioned. Chroniclers chronicled, but rarely questioned.

“Do you have any Roman accounts for who was present at ANY execution?”

“Yeah, you'd think with the internet and 24 hour news cylce... wait...they didn't have that yet, did they? Do you find a lot of 'contemporaneous Roman reports' that detail the religious goings on in the outlying colonies if they were not causing serious trouble?”

Thank you. That’s precisely my point. There is a paucity of data. That’s just the realities of first century history. There is essentially no way to independently confirm the vast majority of the claims of the NT using pagan Roman or governmental Roman sources. Ironically, after pointing this out yourself, you continue to talk about how well this supernatural resurrection is documented. But given that this is the single greatest event in the entire history of the world, the documentation seems a bit spotty to me. Again, how many executed traitors returned from the dead in the entire history of the Roman Empire?

“This would seem to beg the question in favor of a different kind of Messiah than Jesus was.”

The prophesies can easily be interpreted as referring to an earthly king. In fact, it’s usually claimed that the Jews missed the significance of Jesus because they expected an earthly king. Now, an earthly individual returns to life after being executed for the threat he posed to the Roman Empire, and you don’t think this would have gotten some attention from those waiting for an earthly messiah? Jesus is executed in Jerusalem in the middle of Passover, he returns from the dead, and…the Jews don’t take notice?

“Maybe at least ONE of his immediate disciples recanting their claim, at least ONE 'independent contemporaneous report' of someone hostile to the church coming forward and producing a body.”

So, you are arguing that you won’t reject the resurrection unless there is independent contemporaneous evidence? Do you think that the Bible would include accounts of recanting apostles? Really? So, you are relying heavily on the paucity of data? Welcome to my world. Why do you get to use this argument, but I don’t?

CB,

Joseph Smith was not the only one to die for Mormonism, far from it. Fortunately for the Mormon, they did have some protection from the First Amendment. I find it interesting that always Christians extol the Christian martyrs, but always denigrate the sacrifices made by those of other faiths. Did Joe Smith know that his faith was a lie? How do you know this? What about the other Mormon martyrs?

There is one difference between Joe Smith and the early Christian martyrs. We do indeed have independent confirmation that it was Joe Smith who witnessed the golden plates and it was Joe Smith who died for his faith. As already stated, we don’t have independent evidence concerning the names of those who witnessed the resurrection and who later died as martyrs. (And apparently, we’re now down to just two possible eyewitnesses for the execution itself.)

Is Paul the only example of someone who was once hostile to a given faith and who later converted to that faith? I don’t think so. So, is this really significant? And my “bias” has to do with the nature of the claims. I’m going to be more skeptical of any history that makes supernatural claims, regardless of what those claims or which religion is involved. Also, your “thousands of copies” do not include a single first century document. And do you think that citing hypothetical documents like Q, M and L is helping your case? This is just another example of a lack of data. It’s also interesting that the oldest gospel is the one with the fewest words concerning or describing a clearly physical resurrection as opposed to a resurrection “in spirit”.

My revolt argument is not ad hoc. It’s based on the specific conditions that existed at that time and on what history tells us about human nature. Jesus wouldn’t have needed to call for a revolt. The Jews would have revolted for him upon confirmation of an invincible messiah. Thousands and thousands of Jews are ready for the signal from God, and here it is. Jesus can not be killed. Do you have any idea how that would have gone over in Palestine in AD 30? Kaboom!

As for the degree of unrest in the state of Palestine, consider the fact that Jesus quickly gained a following; that suggests widespread unhappiness with the status quo. Josephus records several acts of Pilate that inflamed the Jews, and on at least one occasion, Pilate suppressed a riot with much loss of Jewish life. (If you’d like to confirm the reliability of Josephus, google “Masada”.) And note that the region exploded into the greatest internal rebellion in Roman history just 30 years after the death of Jesus. No denying that. Clearly, the land was a powder keg.

And let me repeat, in the history of the Roman Empire, how many executed traitors popped up from the grave, walked around a major provincial city for 40 days, was seen by hundreds of people…and yet, the man in charge of maintaining order, the man charged with seeing to it that executed traitors stayed executed…did nothing? Nothing. Can you think of another example? This is not just another execution, little noted and long forgotten. I repeat, this is the greatest event in the history of the earth, it occurs in the middle of politically volatile region ruled by an occupying force, and none of the occupiers notices a thing. The Jewish revolt will not occur for another 30 years. It has no recorded contemporaneous impact. This is an ad hoc argument?

"My point is that arguments for the truth Christianity do not hang on one piece of evidence, but on the sum of many pieces of evidence."

Ah, but most of those pieces are not independent of each other. So, together, they are less than the sum of the parts.

Believe what you want. I’ve said what I want to say. This is currently consuming too much of my time.

Jon
"The apologist continues to argue that people won't die for a lie,"

This is a misrepresentation of what apologists argue for. People may die for a lie if they believe it to be a truth. However, when speaking of the apostles, they were eye-witnesses to the event of the first century and if they fully knew them to be lies and did not believe them to be the truth, then they would be disinclined to die in defense of them and were more than likely to recant to save their lives.
The real position of the apologists is that no one would be willing to die for what THEY KNEW TO BE A LIE. That is what is compelling to many of us.

So, Jon, if this is what is offered as a refutation for this part of apologetic position, then it is a refutation of a position not being held. It is the taking of a hill that is not being defended and that is an easy military objective to achieve and little cause for celebration of victory as it does nothing to help win the war.

"But, then, I'm done here, unless I can find independent evidence for you existence. :P"

First, I repent of my skepticism. I have decided, even in the absence of independent contemporaneous reports, to give the document (this blog) the benefit of the doubt as to your existence, Joe. You might even say I'm 'taking it on 'faith' (sic).

"... but also note that some rulers became gods." Ok, but how does one falsify such a claim? At least it was POSSIBLE to falsify the claims the apostles made if, in fact, Jesus was not raised. As for the typhoon that destroyed the Mongol fleet, I don't have any idea if that was God's doing. It's possible that it was, and it is possible that it was just bad timing on the part of the Mongol navy. I have no evidence one way or the other. What I can say is that if the God of the bible exists, then the 'god' of Japan, which is credited with the storm, does not and as such the 'god' the Japanese credit with the storm could not have caused it.

"That’s just the realities of first century history. There is essentially no way to independently confirm the vast majority of the claims of the NT using pagan Roman or governmental Roman sources."

How many other works of antiquity do you demand 'independent confirmation' of?

"Again, how many executed traitors returned from the dead in the entire history of the Roman Empire?"

Just one, that's all we're claiming.I guess in an empire as big as theirs, in 500 years of history, they can be forgiven for missing it.

"Now, an earthly individual returns to life after being executed for the threat he posed to the Roman Empire,..."

Actually, he was turned over for execution out of unbelief/ blasphemy, and Pilate executed him for the threat to his job that the Jewish leaders posed to him if he refused.

"...you don’t think this would have gotten some attention from those waiting for an earthly messiah?"

Those who had also heard him for three years tell them he wasn't there to set up an earthly kingdom.

"Jesus is executed in Jerusalem in the middle of Passover, he returns from the dead, and…the Jews don’t take notice?"

I suppose they would have if by "returning" you mean he just walked into town, and roamed around much like he did before his death. The accounts seem to indicate that he only when, and where he chose to.

"Do you think that the Bible would include accounts of recanting apostles? Really?"

Given that the bible includes many other embarrassing details of the actions of many of the disciples, including Peter being unwilling to stand up to a slave girl and admit he knew Jesus, the statement of Thomas that he would not believe without empirical evidence, etc, yeah I do.

"Did Joe Smith know that his faith was a lie?"

If it was a lie on his part, he would know AND he would be the only one to know, as he was the one who claimed to have had the direct revelation. Anyone else who died for Mormonism would not have such first hand knowledge.
Also, since Smith made a unique claim to this 'revelation' with NO witnesses, one can say it is possible that if he was not lying that he could have been hallucinating. This doesn't work for the resurrection because you have multiple witnesses.

"We do indeed have independent confirmation that it was Joe Smith who witnessed the golden plates..." Really? Who was that? They saw him witness the golden plates?

"The only suggestion we have that Pilate was reluctant to execute Jesus comes from the writers of documents with a desire to blame the religious establishment for the death of Jesus."

Joe, suppose I was to suggest that you are only suggesting the NT accounts are unreliable because of a desire to avoid the logical consequences of their veracity, that you recognize that if the NT is true, then Jesus did rise from the dead, and if he did rise, then his claims to deity were vindicated and so was everything else he said and taught, and so was everything the followers he trained wrote, and therefore you are a rotten sinner (just like me and the rest of us) and your only hope of escape from a well deserved one-way trip to hell was to place your trust in his atoning death to cover your sin, but this would mean you would then be obliged to adjust your lifestyle to conform with what he would want for you. How would you respond to such a claim? I don't mean how would you respond to the details, but to the whole idea that I could possibly know your internal mental state. Is this reasonable? No matter how much I might believe it, it would be speculative at best, and not especially intellectually honest on my part to dismiss your arguments based on it. I submit to you that you also do not have any such access to the mental state of the NT writers, and therefore you are NOT justified in dismissing the NT documents based on this speculation as to the motives of the authors.

Joseph Smith had numerous death threats throughout his life, escaped from murder attempts on more than one occasion, was tarred and feathered (and nearly castrated), one of his children died because of exposure from that night, he was jailed, was reviled, was forced to move the Saints due to a government sanctioned extermination order (Missouri Executive Order 44, that was finally rescinded in 1976), was fiercely (and sometimes maliciously) rejected, betrayed, and opposed by some of his previously beloved associates, etc., etc., etc.

Joseph suffered greatly from his religious claims, as well as experiencing the sufferings of those he loved by the hands of other oppressors. In fact, there were many cases where LDS rights as found in the Constitution were explicitly violated. So don't think for a second that Joseph did not suffer (sometimes extensively) because of his religious claims, yet he never faltered. Now, as has been said, this doesn't require that we accept his claims as true, but it is unequivocally true that he (and many of his followers) did suffer from his continued fidelity to his religious claims.

Daniel,

"If it was a lie on his part, he would know AND he would be the only one to know, as he was the one who claimed to have had the direct revelation."

Not true: there were a few cases of co-received revelations and we also have the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses, none of whom ever denied their testimony, even though a handful ended up leaving the Church.

I see we've reached the obligatory threat of eternal torture for skepticism part of the program. The true core of Christianty rears its ugly head.

I've got to stop spending time on this, but I can't resist seeing if I have this one thing straight. Let's see if I have the logical construct correct.

Person X witnesses Event A. Person X knows Event A happened, because he/she saw it happen. Later, Person X is told that he/she will die unless they deny Event A. Person X knows that Event A is Truth because he/she witnessed it, and so Person X dies for Event A. Person X would not die for Event A if it did not happen, Person X would not die for a known lie, therefore Event A happened.

How do we know Event A happened? Out witness Person X died for it. The death of Person X confirms the Truth of Event A.

Is this the hill that is being defended?

(Kevin, thanks for pointing out that the golden plates were indeed witnessed by others.)

Joe, unless I read Daniel wrong, he was not threatening you with hellfire, but pointing out that he's not going to dismiss your arguments based on a speculation about your motives.

Joe,

We could have also added that there would have been great fame and fortune for those who exposed Joseph Smith as a fraud and there was plenty of motivation in terms of the presence of very hard feelings against Joseph for a few of them, yet they never denied their testimony. In fact, I would say that they pass the same argument made for the veracity of the New Testament witnesses with flying colors. Yet again, that doesn't mean that what they were saying is true, but, for the person who would deny their witnesses and yet affirm the NT witnesses, the strength of their own claim in relation to the resurrection would be seriously weakened.

Well, I may have been mistaken, since Daniel wrote the mother of all run-on sentences. But...

"Suppose I was to suggest that you are only suggesting the NT accounts are unreliable because of a desire to avoid the logical consequences of their veracity...

...(that I am) a rotten sinner and (my) only hope of escape from a well deserved one-way trip to hell was to place (my) trust in his atoning death to cover your sin."

I don't know, that sounds like a threat of hellfire as a consequence of skepticism to me.

For the record, I've always thought that eternal damnation was an obscenely absurd punishment for doubt.

By the way, if I accepted the statement that Jesus rose from the dead, the impact on my lifestyle would be minimal. I lead a remarkably dull and boring life.

Daniel,

"you are NOT justified in dismissing the NT documents based on this speculation as to the motives of the authors."

Then are you justified in accepting the NT documents based on the speculation as to the noble motives of the authors? Are their motives any more undoubtable because they say their motives are noble?

Kevin
I know Smith suffered for his religion. On the plates, I stand corrected.

Joe, Jesse got it right, except he left out that therefore you ought not dismiss the NT documents based on your speculation of their motives.

BTW "Person X would not die for a known lie, therefore Event A happened"

Once again, no, it means that therefore this is a reason to think it is more plausible that Event A happened than that Person X invented Event A.

Ahh....so now it's only "plausible" that Event A happened. Interesting.

"Ahh....so now it's only "plausible" that Event A happened. Interesting."

You do like to pick and choose what you read, don't you? I said "more plausible that Event A happened than that Person X invented Event A" and I said all along this was part of a cumulative case. Also, person A's written account would be more plausibly true than any speculation about person A's motives for writing it.

Joe,

If you haven't yet, you will find that the 'cumulative case' argument is central to the Evangelical apologetic approach: that while any given evidence is on itself weak, when added together it provides for a strong case (or, for some, it at least provides a stronger case than the alternative). So the stated strength of the case will vary depending on who one is talking to: to the believers a 'very strong case' can be made; to the non-believers, a 'very plausible case' can be made.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it will undoubtedly show up.

"Plausible" is nice, but it's weak evidence when one is making an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and as I've said many times, there is a paucity of data, and the evidence that we need does not exist. Certainly, so far, I haven't seen any new data introduced in this comment thread.

If I made a "plausible" claim for any other religion, I'm guessing that these would be quickly rejected by the Christian believers. See how fast my plausible claim that the Jews would have revolted in the event of a physical resurrection was rejected? See how the divine wind of the Japanese gods was rejected? "Plausible" just isn't good enough if you disagree with the NT accounts. However, it you want to believe the NT, "plausible" is apparently all that you need.

The problem with the "cumulative case" is that it's based almost entirely on the words of the NT itself and not on independent lines of evidence or on independent events. The supernatural history given in the NT is taken as Truth, but there is very little in the way of independent confirmation other than a few non-Christian texts that simply say that Christians existed in the first century. There are obvious problem with relying on the NT to test the NT, after all, most religious documents have an "internal logical consistency". Doesn't make them right.

Louis, I didn't intend my one sentence description to be an exhaustive description of the apologetic argument.

The link I provided above has a more detailed examination of the claim. But let me just point out one major weakness.

We don't know that the disciples believed Jesus was raised physically. They may have never actually claimed to have encountered a physically resurrected Jesus. How do you know that Peter did? Paul never tells us that he experienced Jesus physically. He says Jesus "appeared" to him, but he doesn't tell us the form Jesus took. Our earliest gospel narrative records no physical appearances whatsoever. It's only the later gospels that record physical appearances from Jesus, and they show markers of attempting to improve on the previous story.

So do you know what beliefs the disciples died for if we want to assume they did die for their beliefs? You do not. That's just one problem.

Now why don't the independent gospel accounts in the NT count as independent lines of evidence?

Joe, you left out a critical statement of Daniel's:
"No matter how much I might believe it, it would be speculative at best, and not especially intellectually honest on my part to dismiss your arguments based on it."

Yeah, I saw the "crucial statement" of Daniel's. Doesn't change the fact that he slipped in the old "hell for skeptics" line though, does it?. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, right?

As I understand it, it is the consensus view that the gospel writers did at least some borrowing from each other, or at least, later writers used some of the information provided by early writers, so these are not really independent accounts. Also, these are all accounts from those in the same "in-group" of believers, so of course they are going to basically agree with each other. And if they didn't agree, later meddlers could make them agree. In addition, accounts that presented a different view of the resurrection could jave been disposed of. We'll never know.

If four different early Mormon writers wrote biographies of Smith, would this be a good test of the veracity of the golden plates story? Is anything added by the fact that there are four writers instead of one or two?

By the way, why did God make everything simple and write his own biography? Jesus had hands, right? Why rely on humans? Why not right your own gospel? Just something that has always seemed odd to me.

Sorry, should have read...

"Why *didn't* God write.."

Joe,
why should he?

To get it right.

He did

So you think that humans are as good as God?

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and as I've said many times, there is a paucity of data, and the evidence that we need does not exist. Certainly, so far, I haven't seen any new data introduced in this comment thread. "

You have asserted this several times. How do you come to this? You not only demand 'extraordinary' evidence, but you dismiss what you see as 'ordinary' evidence.

"there is very little in the way of independent confirmation other than a few non-Christian texts that simply say that Christians existed in the first century."

What is interesting is that this part of history has better documentary evidence than any of the secular sources you cite, and I suspect that had any of these 'independent' sources actually attested to the data in question, you would probably be quick to point out how few manuscripts are extant of these secular documents and how far they are removed from their originals. You also try to stack the deck by saying you want 'independent' secular sources, but what evidence do you have that these are independent? Even you have pointed out that some of these historical records include claims that the emperors became gods. This doesn't show any kind of religious commitment that makes their claims in any way suspect to you?

"There are obvious problem with relying on the NT to test the NT, after all, most religious documents have an "internal logical consistency". Doesn't make them right. "

You seem to want to treat the NT as a single document, but it is actually 27, with at least 8 authors.

Jon

"We don't know that the disciples believed Jesus was raised physically. They may have never actually claimed to have encountered a physically resurrected Jesus. How do you know that Peter did? Paul never tells us that he experienced Jesus physically. He says Jesus "appeared" to him, but he doesn't tell us the form Jesus took. Our earliest gospel narrative records no physical appearances whatsoever. It's only the later gospels that record physical appearances from Jesus, and they show markers of attempting to improve on the previous story."

Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth says the following:

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

This letter predates the Gospels, and it is clear that not only did they believe in a physical resurrection, but that such a belief was central to Christianity.

Joe

"Yeah, I saw the "crucial statement" of Daniel's. Doesn't change the fact that he slipped in the old "hell for skeptics" line though, does it?. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, right?"

For someone who claims to value evidence, you sure do make a lot of claims of that which you could have no access to. I chose that scenario intentionally to have an impact to illustrate how absurd it would be to claim knowledge of YOUR motives on my part. Your willingness to claim knowledge of mine does not speak well of your intellectual honesty.

"If four different early Mormon writers wrote biographies of Smith, would this be a good test of the veracity of the golden plates story? Is anything added by the fact that there are four writers instead of one or two?"

If there were hostile witnesses present who could have refuted them but remained silent, it would lend credibility to it.

"By the way, why did God make everything simple and write his own biography? Jesus had hands, right? Why rely on humans? Why not right your own gospel? Just something that has always seemed odd to me. "

And what evidence would you have accepted that it actually WAS written by him, especially if there were no great libraries of pagan records attesting to it?


The comments to this entry are closed.