Printed from http://tektonics.org/bidstrup02.php
Because I believe that Lee Strobel's Case books deserve their place as the leading "gateway" apologetics books for popular audiences, I intend to take some time to address critiques I find of Strobel's material. One of these is a commentary/review by cowboy-scholar Scott Bidstrup.
It is far from being as detailed as Earl Doherty's critique, and consists in the main of Bidstrup uncritically repeating his favorite lines from his own sources.
Since much of Bidstrup's critiques are "old hat", in many cases I'll just have links. Note: He is apparently unaware that Strobel was not, at the time of writing this book, an atheist. He therefore hypothesizes that the book was ghostwritten.
Page 21-24 - Authorship of the Gospels -- Bidstrup deals with none of the highly relevant issues of determination of authorship. See here. Bidstrup resorts to a fallacious appeal to authority: His assertion is contraindicated by many other scholars, both apologetic and secular. He claims:
The claim that "Papias, writing in 125 AD" verifies the authorship of Mark, and that Mark recorded events accurately, is fundamentally without merit. It's as meaningful and as useful as my personally telling you, more than a century after the time of Joseph Smith, that "yeah, the guy really did dig up some golden plates, and yeah, the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation of them." Papias is as distant from the events he's verifying as I am from the events of Joseph Smith's time. So why should we believe him?
If Bidstrup is right, then professional historians who accept much later-dated evidence for authorship of other ancient documents are wasting their time. The works of Tacitus come down to us from copies found no earlier than the 11th century, with nothing but a superscription, and the testimony of other writers just as late if not later, to back it up.
The Gospels are in far better shape than any ancient document in this regard, with superscriptions found in every copy that has a full first page (with copies from the 2nd and 3rd century) except one of Matthew, and testimony from within a much, much smaller space of time.
Beyond that, the comparison to Smith is apples and oranges. A closer parallel would be a son of Oliver Cowdrey or one of the witnesses saying that Smith wrote the Mormon works. (Bidstrup apparently thinks that Smith's witnesses saw the plates dug up; at most they only claimed to see the plates, and whether Smith did have some sort of plate before him -- not necessarily a genuine artifact -- can be debated.)
The digging up of the plates themselves was never claimed to be a public act; the results -- transcribing them -- was. The work of the evangelists was widely distributed and as shown in the linked essay, the evidence is firmly against their work running around uncredited.
Page 26 - The Gospel 'Q' -- see here. Bidstrup has clearly taken the line from the likes of Mack that Q has some kind of certitude behind it. One wonders, given his skepticism over Gospel authorship, how he can place so much faith in the existence of a document there is no "hard copy" of.
Page 29 - Reliability of the ancient Greek -- Bidstrup places a translation done by Lattimore against Blomberg. I do not doubt Lattimore's competence, but the fact is that Blomberg is right -- the passage in Matthew, according to interlinear Bibles, does have Jesus saying ego eimi, "I am," just as in John's Gospel.
Page 33 - Chronology of the gospel writings -- see link on Gospel authorship above. Also:
While pointing out that the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the warrior's death, are considered quite accurate, there is no reason to believe that they were written with propagandistic purposes in mind - hence there would have been no motive for the authors to write propaganda. In the case of the gospels, however, we know without question that they were, because all the elements of propaganda are there. Indeed, one of the gospel writers ("John" in John 20:31) even admits that he's writing propaganda - for the purpose of "building faith" as he puts it.
We point the reader to Glenn Miller's essay here. Like James Still, Bidstrup has effectively "boxed in" the Gospel writers -- if indeed the events described in the Gospels happened, how could they be reported, by Bidstrup's accounting, and not be construed as propaganda? This needs to be answered; merely throwing out the top-heavy, emotional word "propaganda" isn't going to do the job.
Finally, several of Alexander's biographers, and other biography writers even today, did have their own agenda: To make their subject look good. See here.
For matters of contradiction between the gospels, see here and here. Bidstrup claims that the biographies of Alexander are consistent, but makes no comparison of them at all; I think he is merely assuming that they are all consistent without doing the needed legwork. But in the link above, the Lincoln bios are no more "consistent" than the Gospels.
Page 40 - Accuracy of gospel histories -- Bidstrup's comment, Blomberg is saying that the gospels are an accurate record because, in essence, their authors say they are, is a rather oversimplified view of the matter. Don't take this summary statement as accurate; read C4C on your own.
Blomberg's comment that you don't see the "outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in other ancient writings" is quite clearly without merit. Virgin birth? Ressurection? Miracle working? Son of God? These are all myths with antecedents in other writings of the period. By act of the Roman Senate, for example, Julius Caesar was declared to have been born of a virgin and to have been resurrected. The very coinage of the realm says he was the "Son of God" right there on it. How could a 'divine' Jesus have been any less? That's why those myths are in the gospels - to make him at least as divine as Julius Caesar.
- In line with the vague generalization, Bidstrup's comment about "outlandish flourishes" lacks scale. He offers no specifics regarding "antecedents in other writings" other than the one, and no source at all for his claims that Julius Caesar was born of a virgin and resurrected. Where is this found?
Indeed, does Bidstrup even know what a "resurrection" is? Not likely; see here for a description.
- The title "Son of God" was indeed widely used, though the god in question was not always the same, and the title used for Jesus has connotations with Jewish Wisdom theology (with reference to Wisdom as God's "firstborn", etc.) that contain nuances unknown in the Roman and pagan parallels. Bidstrup sees a superficial resemblance involving common terminology.
- Then there's the whole problem of Jesus ben Pantera. A known historical figure, known from secular historical records, who was an illigitimate son of a woman called Mary, who was a social reformer who caused quite a stir. He was declared a heretic and was stoned to death by temple decree, and his body was hung from a tree on the eve of passover in the year 88 BCE. Do those events sound vaguely familiar?
Not really. It's not clear here what exactly he refers to, but it looks like the Toledeth Yeshu -- if this document is one Bidstrup thinks is worthwhile, while the better-attested Gospels aren't, he has work to do.
Page 45 - the Consistency Test. -- again see our links above re differences in the Gospels. Again Bidstrup provides absolutely no details regarding the bios of Alexander. In the meantime, how about those "inconsistent" Lincoln biographies?
For the genealogies of Jesus, look here.
Page 49 - The Cover Up Test -- This has to do with the Gospel writers including difficult or potentially embarrassing material, and this being evidence of their forthrightness. Bidstrup offers the reply that successful propaganda "has to include some embarrassing or difficult material so as to look objective".
In other words, he merely further begs the question of conspiracy by interpreting all evidence in light of the assumption of conspiracy. Where has there been an example of other propagandists doing this? This must be answered before Bidstrup can be given credence here. Even Biblical scholars who regard the Gospels as being ahistorical as a whole use the "criterion of difficulty/embarrassment" as a test for genuine historicity.
Page 50 - The Corroboration Test -- Here Blomberg concedes that the Gospels, if accurate, would be corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence. He says that there is some, but doesn't say what it is. I am left to wonder why.
Probably because The Case for Christ is meant for a broad reading audience. I am left to wonder why Bidstrup doesn't provide examples of contrary evidence.
Page 51 - The Adverse Witness Test Blomberg says here that if the gospels were wrong, why don't we see contemporary witnesses coming forward to contradict the gospel accounts?
Bidstrup explains this away with reference to dating the Gospels late; see link above. In terms of other Gospels, Bidstrup names none of them, but apparently alludes to the Thomas Gospel, which we show in the linked article to be of no historical worths. Indeed again, the evidence for GThom is far, far less than for the canonical set.
Page 58 - Copies of Copies of Copies and page 60 - A Mountain of Manuscripts -- Bidstrup admits that the gospels as we have them are likely to be overall accurately transmitted, but confidently refers the reader back to his points about bias. He also argues again for the Gospel of Thomas (see link above, where his contentions are refuted soundly).
Yamauchi interview -- all that Bidstrup writes on the secular references is debunked in the set of essays related here. He is clearly not relying on professional historians for his arguments.
The Fourth Interview - John McRay, Ph.D. -- I found quite interesting Bidstrup's comments that the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem "kept the Dead Sea Scrolls locked away from serious secular scholarship" -- his source is "Baighent [sic] and Leigh". These are sensationalists, not scholars whose work deserves serious attention. For a treatment by a serious and relevant source, see here.
Luke's accuracy as a historian -- Bidstrup dismisses the places where Luke and others got things right as "trivial" -- I doubt if historians who use such markers as indications of overall reliability would agree. More significant is this:
In one case [McRay] misuses archaeology to resolve a contradiction between Mark's and Luke's accounts of the healing of Bartimaeus in Jericho. Mark says Jesus was coming out of Jericho when he met Bartimaeus, and Luke says he was entering Jericho. McRay tries to resolve this by saying that because Jericho is an extremely ancient city and was built on several different sites that were all within a mile of each other, it would have been quite possible for Jesus to be leaving a presently constructed Jericho while at the same time entering an ancient site for Jericho! Such tortured logic, while technically correct, certainly flies in the face of logic. Why would one author refer to a contemporary construction while another author refer to an ancient one, and ignore the contemporary one?
"Why would" any historian report one thing differently than another? Every historian, despite Bidstrup, has biases and motives. If one Gospel writer thought his audience was more informed of a particular Jericho site, that is his own view, and who are we to say it is "wrong"?
Bidstrup's not being able to discern motives for differences in approach is not sufficient to warrant a charge of illogic; at best he can only offer a suspended judgment and admit that the statements are logically consistent (which he does admit, even grudgingly).
However, for my part I find the explanation of Rene Latourelle in The Miracles of Jesus  most coherent: Luke phrases matters as he does because he wants to follow with the episode of Zaccheus in Jericho. The difference in geographical location may be explained either by archaeology as above, or by compositional requirements per Latourelle.
The Rylands papyrus -- McRay claims that a papyrus fragment of John 18 has been found in Egypt and been dated to AD 125, but doesn't say how the dating was done except it was done by "leading papyrologists." This evidence is simply no stronger than the methods used by the "papyrologists," whatever those methods were.
When a critic can do no more than assert vague doubts based in their own lack of knowledge, they are clearly entering a counsel of despair. Moreover, how hard would it have been for Bidstrup to do some research into the Rylands papyrus? It isn't hard. It is referred to in dozens of works and there is no dispute about its dating (range 100-150 AD, usually split the difference at 125).
Bidstrup also again offers back to a late (120) date for John.
Page 101 - Puzzle 1: the Census -- see Glenn Miller's essay.
Page 102 - Puzzle 2: The Existence of Nazareth -- On the existence of Nazareth, Bidstrup says he doesn't regard the question as important. See my material here. We would agree that "it certainly was a very small and inconspicuous settlement" -- no one would ever argue otherwise (the site took up 60 acres, and had a likely population of 480), and nothing in the NT suggests otherwise.
Page 117 - Critiquing the Criteria -- Boyd's critique begins in a quote making an astonishing statement: "Historians usually operate with the burden of proof on the historian to prove falsity or unreliability, since people are generally not compulsive liars. Without that assumption, we would know very little about ancient history." This statement flies directly in the face of the scientific method. In true science, the scientist proceeds from the evidence to the conclusion - and the evidence may include, but certainly is not limited to, the testimony of the ancients.
The "scientific method" isn't applied to historical study -- it can't be. Nearly all of the evidence is long gone, either to time or decay. (More on the "ressurection" shortly. Bidstrup has a very positive view of the Jesus Seminar, but defends none of their principles, though he admits that "some" of Boyd's critiques are valid. See link on Harmonization above for more.)
Page 118 - Jesus the Wonder Worker -- Boyd implies the absurd claim that Jesus' miracles must have been real because they were radical. Unlike the other miracle workers of Jewish history, he says that "the radical nature of his miracles distinguished him." This implies that because he supposedly multiplied fish, raised sons and daughters from the dead, cured blindness, deafness, and leprosy, that he was different. What he fails to acknowledge is that many other "miracle workers" both of that time and now are able to carry off convincing illusions of a similarly "radical" nature.
This is vague generalization -- in order to have any meaning Bidstrup must integrate the miracle reports with theological orientations and social/political data. These elements are what make Jesus' miracles radical in their context.
He also says that because he did it in the name of a deity, that also made him unique. Didn't he read Exodus, and read about Pharoah's sorcerers matching Moses' deeds in the name of Egyptian religion? They were equally "radical." Such a statement is meaningless.
There is nothing in Exodus that says that the sorcerers acted "in the name of Egyptian religion" or in the name of an Egyptian god. Perhaps Bidstrup needs to read Exodus himself.
Page 119 - Jesus and the Amazing Apollonius -- see here. Bidstrup says "the gospel writers were also living in a 'magical' era. There were lots of magicians, illusionists, miracle workers and religious reformers working the crowds in the time of Christ. He's hardly unique. Josephus describes lots of them in his Antiquities."
What is "lots"? What are the names of these people? How do their records, histories and actions compare to Jesus? Other than Hanina ben Dosa and Honi the Circle Drawer, no such historical figures as he describes even come close to this description -- much less are there "lots" of them. If there are, let's have him name them and provide detailed accounts and comparisons, then show how their accounts influenced those of Jesus (but all the data is much later).
See also here for a corrective: the Gospel writers emerged in a very SKEPTICAL age.
On borrowing from mystery religions -- Bidstrup offers the previous and unsubstantiated reference to Caesar and also to Osiris (see Glenn Miller's item here and my item here). If he chooses to pick a figure, he needs to check our list. Here's another note:
He tries to dismiss the borrowing of baptism from other religions by comparing it to the ritual slaughter of the bull by the Mithrans, who stood under the bull to be bathed in it's blood and guts as it was slaughtered. He says this couldn't be the source of the baptism ritual. And of course, he's right. But what he doesn't tell you is that the Essenes practiced baptism for at least a century and a half before the common era, and John the Baptist is believed to have been an Essene by some scholars. In addition, the Essenes were right there - they weren't in far off Rome.
Bidstrup clearly doesn't know that we would have no problem with the Essenes practicing baptism -- it all derives from the same Jewish imagery of water as a purifier (see here for some background). We really wouldn't have a problem if Christian baptismal practice in some sense was influenced by the Essenes -- though from the looks of it, the purposes and practices were in some ways significantly different; the Essenes for example baptized regularly, not just once and for all.
Page 122 - Secret Gospels and Talking Crosses -- Bidstrup describes this section as being much "fair, if polemical, until he gets to the Gospel of Thomas." See the link above for refutation. We'll address the claim of "Jesus movements" here.
Page 124 - History Versus Faith -- Here Boyd is making a case for faith based on a mere presumption of history. He takes up the case of the Nicean Creed, saying without any support whatever that "theologicial faith is based on historical truth." Couldn't a Buddhist make a similar claim? Or a Confuscianist?
Not at all. Buddha and Confucius offer strictly moral and philosophical teachings that could come out of anyone's mouth. No action they performed was wrapped up in their identity. Christian faith is wrapped up in the historical proposition that Jesus is the unique Son of the Jewish God and at a given space-time moment was resurrected (spelled right). There is no comparison in any other faith or creed.
What makes Christianity unique in that regard? As for the Nicean Creed, he conveniently forgets the history that brought it about - a Roman emporer, Constantine, getting tired of listening to his bishops squabbling about history and doctrine, and ordering them to Nicea to hash out a consistent doctrine and history. History and doctrine by committee. Sounds like a great way to arrive at the divine revealed truth!
Nevertheless, the Nicean Creed merely codified what emerged much earlier, via the Jewish Wisdom tradition that existed prior to the NT. The Council did its work accurately, and Bidstrup makes no effort to shoe otherwise.
Much of the critique of Witherington is based on the assumption that Bidstrup has already proven the gospels to be unreliable and biased: If Witherington were the scholar he is portrayed as being, he'd understand that simple fact and realize that to understand the historical context of the gospels, he'll eventually have to go outside the gospels themselves to whatever other historical evidence is available.
That is exactly what Witherington has done very well in his examination of Wisdom theology (see link above). At any event Bidstrup goes quote far out in left field as he seriously suggests the "meme" explanation for the success of Christianity. (If you haven't seen this, you aren't missing much. It's essentially an idea that Christianity is spread more or less like a mental germ.)
Page 147 - Raving Mad -- Collins makes the claim that people in Jesus' time thought him mad (John 10:20) because he went around doing miracles. What an astonishing claim! If an individual could go around doing miracles and claimed that he did so because he was the son of God, wouldn't his supernatural powers be evidence of his assertion? This flies in the face of logic.
Well, who said that Jesus' opponents were logical? Bidstrup fails to note that in the very next verse (John 10:21) supporters of Jesus make this very point.
Page 161 - Creator or Created? -- Bidstrup comments on "Collossians 1:15" and the use of "firstborn" -- relying on Lattimore again. Lattimore is undoubtedly good at Greek, but probably knows nothing about (or isn't concerned with) Jewish Wisdom theology which provides the context for the term "firstborn". "Supreme heir" is indeed more appropriate for the meaning-context.
Page 166 - Jesus and slavery through page 167 - Overthrowing Oppression -- see here on slavery.
Regarding the Christian use of the OT, see here.
Page 194 - The Torture Before the Cross through page 203 - A Question for the Heart In all these sections, Dr. Metherell discusses in great detail his speculations about the methods of torture and crucifixion used by the Romans, without any scriptural or documentary support.
If Bidstrup wants support on this and other matters related to crucifixion, he can read Hengel's monograph on crucifixion or Brown's Death of the Messiah. These are not matters in the least in question.
We have already provided a link re differences in Gospel accounts and the alleged use of Mark by Matthew and Luke, and bias in the Gospels.
Page 229 - Convince Me It's a Creed -- This rather remarkable little section is an attempt by Habermas to prove that the portion of the Nicean Creed quoted from I Corinthians is in fact a creed of the early church. He relies on primarily linguistic evidence to claim that I Corinthians 15:3-8, drawing on the use of an Aramaic word, and the use of technical rabbinic terms indicating a holy tradition being passed on, etc. Yet nowhere does he bring up the possibility that this section of Corinthians is a later interpolation, nor attempt to disprove such a possibility.
If Bidstrup here alludes to Robert Price's theory, he needs to look here. There is no possibility of this being an interpolation.
The fact that the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the crowd of 500 is not mentioned anywhere in secular historical records, nor even in the gospels themselves, does not bother Habermas. He simply dismisses the problem, and the doubt it casts on Paul as "plain silliness," claiming that it's the "earliest and most authenticated passage of all" without saying how it is authenticated or what evidence there is for it being early.
This is indeed "silliness", unless Bidstrup explains what secular history should have mentioned this, that remains to us; of course one must assume that the historian in question would not have merely dismissed such reports in the first place, just as Bidstrup does -- hard to do, since all the secular historians left to us wrote later than the 500 would have been alive to interview or confirm satisfactorily, and since they were likely all Jews, would have been regarded as superstitious and untrustworthy by Roman historians (now that is "bias").
Vaguely referring to "secular historical records" sounds impressive to the ear, but is overall meaningless. In terms of date and authenticity, only Robert Price and a few others of his school say that the passage is late and not genuine -- let Bidstrup engage specifics if he can.
Habermas underestimates the difficulty of travel and research in the ancient world.
It wasn't difficult at all; it was slower of course, but for those with the resources (as Paul had -- does Bidstrup want to argue this?) it was not.
We have already linked above re the order of the Gospels.
In the section on hallucinations, Habermas quotes Gary Collins as saying that hallucinations are, by their nature, never a mass phenomena. Yet confusing or misunderstood phenomena often are misunderstood by masses of people. Take, for example, the "UFO" seen by hundreds of people in Phoenix on an August night in 1997. The five lights over the city were sworn by many who saw them to be attached to a huge wing-shaped object. Yet it was later proven by photographic analysis of the videos and still photographs shot that night that they were simply illumination flares lit off over the Goldwater Gunnery Range in southwestern Arizona by the Maryland Air National Guard on maneuvers. There's no question of what they were. But that doesn't stop the hundreds of people in Phoenix from believing that they saw a huge UFO that night.
The Phoenix incident involved distant observations in the dead of night, and the difficulties involved were compounded by military secrecy issues. This is not comparable to the sighting of a resurrected person, which was openly and obviously proclaimed in a hostile environment -- and the Phoenix incident was not a hallucination. This doesn't even relate to Habermas' point.
Page 246 - Exhibit One - The Disciples Died For Their Beliefs. -- Mr. Moreland makes the rather remarkable assertion here that the martyrdom of the disciples of Jesus is fundamentally different from the martyrdom of the early Mormons and Muslims, in that they died for something they actually saw and witnessed first-hand. Well, there are two problems with that. First, if someone died for something they did not see first hand, does it show any less commitment to the facts perceived by the mere believer who also died for his beliefs? Hardly!
This is true but beside the point. What is the point, indeed?
And second, the assertion that the early Mormon martyrs died for something they didn't actually see would certainly be disputed strongly by the Mormon church. It's early history is replete with examples of first-hand witnesses who died for what they believed in. Including the founder of the faith, Joseph Smith himself. He responds that martyrs wouldn't have submitted to such torture as they did had they not been first-hand witnesses. Well, tell that to the Mormon pioneers, who submitted to many years of incredible hardship, starvation, privation of all kinds, in simple response to their faith.
With due respect to my Mormon acquaintances, this is again apples and oranges. These Mormon martyrs did not have an experience equal to seeing the resurrected Jesus -- they were all what Bidstrup would call "second" or "third hand" witnesses. Smith is the only example that fits to any extent, and it is questionable whether he was dying for "what he believed in" or because of political issues. Either way Bidstrup is oversimplifying again.
Again, see links above re bias and the Gospels and other topics.