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.
November 2016 - I and my pals cycled in The Galilee, Northern Israel, to raise money for Nazareth Hospital Paediatric Department. We raised over £50,000 but we could use more! Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel; the people are lovely, and the kids are awesome. Nazareth also treats kids in the West Bank of Palestine who have very limited access to healthcare. They need your help! Go to my sponsorship page to find out more and see what you can do! Maybe even join us in 2017..?