Ehrman vs. Logic, History, and the Law

 

Logical Fallacy

History Ė historical precedent

The Law Ė legal precedent

 

Answers to specific claims

 

http://www.holycross.edu/departments/crec/website/resurrection-debate-transcript.pdf

 

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

A Debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman

College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts

March 28, 2006

Copyright 2006 William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Ehrman:

 

What kinds of evidence do scholars look for when trying to establish probabilities in the past?

Well, the best kind of evidence, of course, consists of contemporary accounts; people who were

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close to the time of the events themselves. Ultimately, if you donít have a source that goes back

to the time period itself, then you donít have a reliable source. There are only two sources of

information for past events: either stories that actually happened based on, ultimately, eyewitness

accounts or stories that have been made up. Those are the only two kinds of stories you have

from the past Ė either things that happened or things that were made up. To determine which

things are the things that happened, you want contemporary accounts, things that are close to the

time of the events themselves, and it helps if you have a lot of these accounts. The more the

merrier! You want lots of contemporary accounts, and you want these accounts to be

independent of one another. You donít want different accounts to have collaborated with one

another; you want accounts that are independently attesting the results. Moreover, even though

you want accounts that are independent of one another, that are not collaborated, you want

accounts that corroborate one another; accounts that are consistent in what they have to say about

the subject.

 

Testimony is not valid if it is written decades after the event.

 

What do we have with the Gospels of the New Testament? Well, unfortunately weíre not as well

off as we would like to be. Weíd like to be extremely well off because the Gospels tell us about

Jesus, and they are our best sources for Jesus. But how good are they as historical sources? ... Unfortunately, theyíre not as good as

we would like. The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesusí deathó35 or 65 years after

his death,

... Theyíre not written by Jesusí Aramaic-speaking followers. Theyíre written by people living 30,

40, 50, 60 years later.

Theyíre written many decades

after the fact by people who were not there to see these things happen,

 

Bill quotes the apostle Paul, just to pick an

example, to indicate that already, just five years after Jesusí death, Joseph of Arimathea buried

Jesus. Paul wasnít writing five years after the burial; he was writing 25 years later, and he never

mentions Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea is not mentioned until you get to the Gospel

of Mark, 35 or 40 years after the fact.

 

Testimony cannot be biased

††††††††††† Genetic fallacy

††††††††††† Argument by popularity

††††††††††† Appeal to authority

††††††††††† Double standard

Moreover, finally, you want sources that are not biased toward the subject matter.

You want accounts that are disinterested. You want lots of them, you want them independent

from one another, yet you want them to be consistent with one another.

 

First, Bill makes dubious use of modern authorities. Bill constantly quotes modern scholars as if

somehow that constitutes evidence for his point of view. As Bill himself knows, the fact that the

majority of New Testament scholars would agree with his four points is not proof that they are

right. For one thing, the majority of New Testament scholars are believers in the New Testament,

that is, theyíre theologically committed to the text, so of course they agree on these points. I

should note that the majority of historians do not agree with Billís conclusion. Does that make

those conclusions wrong? No. It simply means that his conclusions are not persuasive to most

historians. Having said that, Iím surprised by some of his so-called authorities that Bill cites, for

the reality is that the majority of critical scholars studying the historical Jesus today disagree

with his conclusion that a historian can show that the body of Jesus emerged physically from the

tomb. Bill might find that surprising, but that would be because of the context he works in Ė a

conservative, evangelical seminary. In that environment, what heís propounding is what

everyone believes. And itís striking that even some of his own key authorities donít agree. He

10 N. T Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2003),

p. 710.

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quotes a number of scholars, whom I consider to be friends and acquaintances, and I can tell you,

they donít agree with his views. Does that make him wrong? No, it simply means that his

impressive recounting of scholarly opinion is slanted, lopsided, and fails to tell the real story,

which is that he represents a minority opinion.

 

Third, and finally, if the only miracles that Bill allows of having happened all belong to the

Judaeo-Christian tradition that he himself personally affirms, Iíd like him to address the question

of how that can be historically. How is it that the faith that he adopted as a teenager happens to

be the only one that is historically credible? Is it just circumstance that he was born into a

religious family or a religious culture that can historically be shown to be the only true religion?

 

 

 

Eyewitness claims are necessary but if they oppose oneís worldview, they can be ignored

 

The Gospels were

written by highly literate, trained, Greek-speaking Christians of the second and third generation.

Theyíre not written by Jesusí Aramaic-speaking followers. Theyíre written by people living 30,

40, 50, 60 years later. Where did these people get their information from?

 

...These are not eyewitness accounts. So where did they get their stories from?

 

...The authors were not eye witnesses; theyíre Greek-speaking Christians living 35 to 65 years after the events they narrate.

 

The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof.

 

Anyone whoís intimate with Markís Gospel would have no

difficulty at all seeing why, 35 years after the event, he or someone in his community might have

invented the story.

 

We donít know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

 

We donít know if his tomb was

empty three days later. We donít know if he was physically seen by his followers afterwards.

 

Hume was talking about the

possibility of whether miracle happens. Iím not talking about whether miracle can happen. I

donít accept Humeís argument that miracles canít happen. Iím asking, suppose miracles do

happen, can historians demonstrate it? No, they canít demonstrate it.

 

My final point is a very simple one. Even if we want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that

belief is a theological belief. You canít prove the resurrection. Itís not susceptible to historical

evidence. Itís faith. Believers believe it and take it on faith, and history cannot prove it.

 

Dr. Ehrman, can historians verify a miracle if there were eyewitnesses

of evidence that a miracle took place? Given your historical method, has any miracle ever

occurred, and if so, which ones? And if not, might it be that you willfully refuse to believe in

miracles?

Answer from Dr. Ehrman: Good, good question! Thank you! Let me try it again. ďEven if you

have eyewitnessesĒ. Suppose from the 1850s, we have an account of a pastor of a church in

Kansas who walked across this pond during the fourth of July on a celebration, and there were

twelve people who saw him do it. The historian will have to evaluate this testimony and have to

ask, did he probably do it or not? Now these eyewitnesses might have said that he did it. But

there are other possibilities that one could imagine. There might be stones in the pond, for

example. He might have been at a distance, and they didnít see him. There were other things

that you could think of. If you were trying to ask for probabilities, what is the probability that a

human being can walk on a pond of water unless itís frozen? The probability is virtually zero

because in fact humans canít do that. And if you think humans can do that, then give me one

instance where I can see. None of us can do it. No one on the face of this planet can do it.

Billions of people who have lived cannot do it. And so is the historian going to conclude that

probably Joe Smith, the pastor of this church probably did it? I donít think so. Historians arenít

going to conclude that because the miracle simply is a violation of the way nature typically

works. And so you canít ever verify the miracle on the basis of eyewitnesses. Let me say,

secondly, though, weíre not talking about somebody in 1850s. Weíre talking about somebody

who lived 2000 years ago, and we donít have eyewitness reports at all. And the reports we have

are from people who believed in him. Theyíre not disinterested accounts. Theyíre contradictory

accounts, and theyíre accounts written 30, 50, 60 years later.

 

Noneyewitness accounts take precedence over eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence

 

The noncanonical pagan sources in fact never refer to the resurrection of Jesus until centuries later. Jesus actually never appears any non-canonical pagan source until 80 years after his death. So clearly he didnít make a big impact on the pagan world. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus but didnít believe in his resurrection. There are non-canonical Christian sources that talk about the resurrection, but unfortunately virtually all of them that narrate the event, although they are non-canonical Gospels, narrate the event in a way that disagrees with Billís reconstruction. They donít believe that Jesus was physically, bodily raised from the dead. For evidence of that simply read the account of the Second Treatise of the Great Seth or read the account the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter; just go down the line.

 

Theory takes precedence over eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence

 

The resurrection has to be taken on faith, not on the basis of proof.

 

Let me illustrate by giving you an alternative scenario of what happened to explain the empty

tomb. I donít believe this. I donít think it happened this way, but itís more probable than a

miracle happening because a miracle by definition is the least probable occurrence. So let me

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give you a theory, just one I dreamt up. I could dream up twenty of these that are implausible

but are still more plausible than the resurrection.

 

Historians, Iím sorry to say, have no access to God.

The cannons of historical research are by their very nature restricted to what happens here on this

earthly plane. They do not and cannot presuppose any set beliefs about the natural realm. Iím not

saying this is good or bad. Itís simply the way historical research works.

Let me give you an analogy. Itís not bad that there can be no mathematical proof for the

existence of an anti-Semitic polemic in The Merchant of Venice. Mathematics is simply

irrelevant to purely literary questions. So too, historical research cannot lead to theological

claims about what God has done.

 

But thereís the problem with miracle. Itís not the philosophical

problem with miracle discussed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Itís a historianís

problem with miracle. Historians cannot establish miracle as the most probable occurrence

because miracles, by their very nature are the least probable occurrence.

 

When Paul indicates that Jesus was buried, he may just as

well have meant that he was buried in a communal grave, which is what far more frequently

happened with crucified criminals. Paul said he got buried; he may simply have been tossed into

a communal grave.

 

Anyone whoís intimate with Markís Gospel would have no

difficulty at all seeing why, 35 years after the event, he or someone in his community might have

invented the story. Markís Gospel is filled with theological reflections on the meaning of the life

of Jesus; this is Markís Gospel. Itís not a datasheet; itís a Gospel. Itís a proclamation of the good

news, as Mark saw it, of Christís death and resurrection. One of Markís overarching themes is

that virtually no one during the ministry of Jesus could understand who he was. His family didnít

understand. His townspeople didnít understand. The leaders of his own people didnít understand.

Not even the disciples understood in Markóespecially not the disciples! For Mark, only

outsiders have an inkling of who Jesus was: the unnamed woman who anointed him, the

centurion at the cross. Who understands at the end? Not the family of Jesus! Not the disciples!

Itís a group of previously unknown women. The women at the tomb fit in perfectly with Markís

literary purposes otherwise. So they canít simply be taken as some kind of objective historical

statement of fact. They too neatly fit the literary agenda of the Gospel.

 

The same can be said of

Joseph of Arimathea. Anyone who cannot think why Christians might invent the idea that Jesus

had a secret follower among the Jewish leaders is simply lacking in historical imagination.

 

 

Bill infers that Paul must have believed in

the empty tomb, because he talked about Christís appearances. Christ appeared, so the tomb

must be empty! This is a highly problematic view. For ancient people, as opposed to post21

Enlightenment thinkers like Bill, an appearance does not need to mean reanimation of the

physical body. According to the Gospels, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, James, and John.

Are we to believe that these men, Moses and Elijah, came back to life? That Mosesí body was

reconstituted and raised from the dead and that they appeared from heaven? Or was this a vision?

Surely it was a vision; they disappear immediately. Ancient people had no trouble believing that

bodies can be phantasmal, not physical. Evidence for this is found abundantly throughout all of

our ancient sources Ė Jewish, pagan, and Christian. Pagan sources from the 8th century Homer to

the 2nd century Homeric hymns; from pagan myths to pagan novels to pagan poets to pagan

philosophers, theyíre all replete with accounts of God appearing to humans in human form. But

these are appearances, visions; theyíre not real human bodies. The pagan holy man, Apollonius

of Tyana, appears to his followers after his death, but itís an appearance, a vision, not the

reanimation of his body. Jewish texts are the same. For angels and archangels and demons and

devils appear to people bodily, but they arenít real bodies.

In short, Bill makes the mistake by assuming that if the disciples claimed to see Jesus alive

afterwards, they necessarily believed or knew that this was his actual physical body. Thatís a

modern assumption, not an ancient one. The texts weíre dealing with are ancient texts, not

modern ones. Ancient people have no difficulty at all thinking that a divine appearance was not

an actual physical appearance. A body could be buried and the person could appear alive

afterwards without the body leaving the tomb.

 

Moreover, Jesusí body after the resurrection does things that bodies canít do. It walks into rooms

that are behind locked doors. It ascends to heaven. Is Bill seriously going to argue on historical

grounds that Jesusí resurrected body could do this? This is a theological claim about Jesus, not a

historianís claim. Historians are unable to establish what God does. Thatís the work of the

historian. So, too, with his concluding inference that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is a

theological conclusion. Itís not a historical one. Itís a statement about God. If he wants to mount

mathematical evidence for what God probably did in the world, I have to say itís not going to be

convincing to most mathematicians and certainly to most historians. Historians have no access to

God. The historian can say that Jesus died on the cross, but he cannot say that God accepted his

death as an atonement. The historian can say that the apostle Paul claimed to have a vision of

Jesus after his death; he cannot tell you that God raised him from the dead.

 

I think Iím most struck by Billís refusal to deal with the historical alternative that Iíve given to

his claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

other historical optionsófor

example, the one that Iíve already laid out that heís ignored, that possibly two of Jesusí family

members stole the body and that they were killed and thrown into a common tomb. It probably

didnít happen, but itís more plausible than the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Let me give you another explanation, just off the top of my head from last night, sitting around

thinking about it. You know we have traditions from Syriac Christianity that Jesusí brothers,

who are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, one of whom was named Jude, was particularly close

to Jesus and that one of these brothers, Jude, otherwise known as Judas Thomas, was Jesusí twin

brother. Now Iím not saying this is right, but that is what Syrian Christians thought in the second

and third centuries, that Jesus had a twin brother. How could he have had a twin brother? Well, I

donít know how he could have a twin brother, but thatís what the Syrian Christians said. In fact,

we have interesting stories about Jesus and his twin brother in a book called the Acts of Thomas,

in which Jesus and his twin brother are identical twins. They look just alike, and every now and

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then Jesus comes down from heaven and confuses people: when theyíve just seen Thomas leave

the room, there he is again, and they donít understand. Well, itís because itís his twin brother

showing up. Suppose Jesus had a twin brotherónothing implausible! People have twins. After

Jesusí death, Judas Thomas and all others connected with Jesus went into hiding, and he escaped

from Judea. Some years later one of Jesusí followers saw Judas Thomas at a distance, and they

thought it was Jesus. Others reported similar sightings. Word spread that Jesus was no longer

dead. The body in the tomb by that time had decomposed beyond recognition. The story became

more widely accepted that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and in the oral traditions more

stories started up and told about the event, including stories about them discovering an empty

tomb. Thatís an alternative explanation. Itís highly unlikely. I donít buy it for a second, but itís

more likely than the idea that God raised Jesus from the dead because it doesnít appeal to the

supernatural, which historians have no access to.

 

Yes, Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, but his own argument was that

nobody would invent the women because they were marginalized, because men didnít think

highly of women. My response is, thatís precisely why Mark would invent the tradition, because

in Markís Gospel, itís the marginalized who understand who Jesus is, itís not the male disciples.

Thatís why you have the story of the women discovering the tomb.

 

I think the theological modes of knowledge are perfectly acceptable

and legitimate as theological modes of knowledge. But I think theological claims have to be

evaluated on a theological basis. For example, you know the idea that these four facts that Bill

keeps referring to showed that God raised Jesus from the dead. You could come up with a

different theological view of it. Suppose, for example, to explain those four facts that the God

Zulu sent Jesus into the 12th dimension, and in that 12th dimension he was periodically released

for return to Earth for a brief respite from his eternal tormentors. But he canít tell his followers

about this because Zulu told him that if he does, heíll increase his eternal agonies. So thatís

another theological explanation for what happened. It would explain the empty tomb, it would

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explain Jesus appearances. Is it as likely as God raised Jesus from the dead and made him sit at

his right hand; that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has interceded in history and

vindicated his name by raising his Messiah? Well, you might think no, that in fact the first

explanation of the God Zulu is crazy. Well, yeah, O.K., itís crazy; but itís theologically crazy.

Itís not historically crazy. Itís no less likely as an explanation for what happened than the

explanation that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob raised Jesus from the dead because

theyíre both theological explanations; theyíre not historical explanations. So within the realm of

theology, I certainly think that theology is a legitimate mode of knowledge. But the criteria for

evaluating theological knowledge are theological; they are not historical.

 

 

The Ancient Documents Rule can be ignored

I should point out that

the Gospels say theyíre written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But thatís just in your

English Bible. Thatís the title of these Gospels, but whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew didnít

call it the Gospel of Matthew. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew simply wrote his Gospel,

and somebody later said itís the Gospel according to Matthew. Somebody later is telling you

who wrote it. The titles are later additions. These are not eyewitness accounts. So where did they

get their stories from?

 

[See Francis J. Lamb, Greenleaf]

 

Misrepresenting testimony is allowable

††††††††††† See also Theory takes precedence over eyewitness and circumstantial evidence

 

How do you convert somebody to stop

worshipping their God and to start worshipping Jesus?

... The authors were not eye witnesses; theyíre Greek-speaking

Christians living 35 to 65 years after the events they narrate.

 

 

The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus but didnít believe in his resurrection.

Yes, Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, but his own argument was that

nobody would invent the women because they were marginalized, because men didnít think

highly of women. My response is, thatís precisely why Mark would invent the tradition, because

in Markís Gospel, itís the marginalized who understand who Jesus is, itís not the male disciples.

Thatís why you have the story of the women discovering the tomb.

 

Let me conclude by telling you what I really do think about Jesusí resurrection. The one thing we

know about the Christians after the death of Jesus is that they turned to their scriptures to try and

make sense of it. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, but then he got crucified, and so he

couldnít be the Messiah. No Jew, prior to Christianity, thought that the Messiah was to be

crucified. The Messiah was to be a great warrior or a great king or a great judge. He was to be a

figure of grandeur and power, not somebody whoís squashed by the enemy like a mosquito. How

could Jesus, the Messiah, have been killed as a common criminal? Christians turned to their

scriptures to try and understand it, and they found passages that refer to the Righteous One of

Godís suffering death. But in these passages, such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and Psalm 61, the

one who is punished or who is killed is also vindicated by God. Christians came to believe their

scriptures that Jesus was the Righteous One and that God must have vindicated him. And so

Christians came to think of Jesus as one who, even though he had been crucified, came to be

exalted to heaven, much as Elijah and Enoch had in the Hebrew scriptures. How can he be Jesus

the Messiah though, if heís been exalted to heaven? Well, Jesus must be coming back soon to

establish the kingdom. He wasnít an earthly Messiah; heís a spiritual Messiah. Thatís why the

early Christians thought the end was coming right away in their own lifetime. Thatís why Paul

taught that Christ was the first fruit of the resurrection. But if Jesus is exalted, he is no longer

dead, and so Christians started circulating the story of his resurrection. It wasnít three days later

they started circulating the story; it might have been a year later, maybe two years. Five years

later they didnít know when the stories had started. Nobody could go to the tomb to check; the

body had decomposed. Believers who knew he had been raised from the dead started having

visions of him. Others told stories about these visions of him, including Paul. Stories of these

visions circulated. Some of them were actual visions like Paul, others of them were stories of

visions like the five hundred group of people who saw him. On the basis of these stories,

narratives were constructed and circulated and eventually we got the Gospels of the New

Testament written 30, 40, 50, 60 years later.

 

 

Oral tradition is not reliable and can be ignored

 

You have to tell stories about Jesus. So

you convert somebody on the basis of the stories you tell. That person converts somebody who

converts somebody who converts somebody, and all along the line people are telling stories.

The way it works is this: Iím a businessman in Ephesus, and somebody comes to town and tells

me stories about Jesus, and on the basis of these stories I hear, I convert. I tell my wife these

stories. She converts. She tells the next-door neighbor the stories. She converts. She tells her

husband the stories. He converts. He goes on a business trip to Rome, and he tells people there

the stories. They convert. Those people whoíve heard the stories in Rome, where did they hear

them from? They heard them from the guy who lived next door to me. Well, was he there to see

these things happen? No. Whereíd he hear them from? He heard them from his wife. Where did

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his wife hear them from? Was she there? No. She heard them from my wife. Where did my wife

hear them from? She heard them from me. Well, where did I hear them from? I wasnít there

either.

Stories are in circulation year after year after year, and as a result of that, the stories get changed.

How do we know that the stories got changed in the process of transmission?

 

... The accounts that they narrate are based on oral traditions that have been in circulation for decades. Year after year Christians trying to convert others told them stories to convince them that Jesus was raised from the dead.These writers are telling stories, then, that Christians have been telling all these years. Many stories were invented, and most of the stories were changed. For that reason, these accounts are not as useful as we would like them to be for historical purposes. Theyíre not contemporary, theyíre not disinterested, and theyíre not consistent.

 

What we have

are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and itís

not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story.

 

Solutions to allegedly conflicting testimony can be ignored

 

How do we know that the stories got changed in the process of transmission? We know the

stories got changed because there are numerous differences in our accounts that cannot be

reconciled with one another. You donít need to take my word for this; simply look yourself. I tell

my students that the reason we donít notice thereís so many differences in the Gospels is because

we read the Gospels vertically, from top to bottom. You start at the top of Mark, you read

through to the bottom, you start at the top of Matthew, read it through the bottom, sounds a lot

like Mark, then you read Luke top to bottom, sounds a lot like Matthew and Mark, read John, a

little bit different, sounds about the same. The reason is because weíre reading them vertically.

The way to see differences in the Gospels is to read them horizontally. Read one story in

Matthew, then the same story in Mark, and compare your two stories and see what you come up

with. You come up with major differences. Just take the death of Jesus. What day did Jesus die

on and what time of day? Did he die on the day before the Passover meal was eaten, as John

explicitly says, or did he die after it was eaten, as Mark explicitly says? Did he die at noon, as in

John, or at 9 a.m., as in Mark? Did Jesus carry his cross the entire way himself or did Simon of

Cyrene carry his cross? It depends which Gospel you read. Did both robbers mock Jesus on the

cross or did only one of them mock him and the other come to his defense? It depends which

Gospel you read. Did the curtain in the temple rip in half before Jesus died or after he died? It

depends which Gospel you read.

 

Or take the accounts of the resurrection. Who went to the tomb on the third day? Was it Mary

alone or was it Mary with other women? If it was Mary with other women, how many other

women were there, which ones were they, and what were their names? Was the stone rolled

away before they got there or not? What did they see in the tomb? Did they see a man, did they

see two men, or did they see an angel? It depends which account you read. What were they told

to tell the disciples? Were the disciples supposed to stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there or were

they to go to Galilee and see Jesus there? Did the women tell anyone or not? It depends which

Gospel you read. Did the disciples never leave Jerusalem or did they immediately leave

Jerusalem and go to Galilee? All of these depend on which account you read.

You have the same problems for all of the sources and all of our Gospels.

 

Bill asserts that the story of the

women going to the tomb would never have been invented by the early Christians. I should point

out, Paul never mentions the women at the tomb, only the later Gospels, Mark and following.

 

 

Below from The Trial of Jesus from a Lawyerís Standpoint, Vol. 1 by Walter M. Chandler.New York: 1925, pp. 29-33.

 

††††††††††† In considering the subject of discrepancies it should be constantly kept in mind that contradictions in testimony do not necessarily mean that there has been falsehood or by faith on the part of the witnesses.Every lawyer of experience and every adult citizen of average intelligence knows that this is true.Men of unquestioned veracity and incorruptible integrity are frequently arrayed against each other in both civil and criminal trials, and the record reveals irreconcilable contradictions in their testimony.Not only do prosecutions for perjury not follow, but, in many instances, the witnesses are not even suspected of bad faith or an intention to falsify.Defects in sight, hearing, or memory; superior advantage in the matter of observation; or a sudden change in the position of one or both the parties, causing distraction of attention, at the time of the occurrence of the events involved in litigation Ė all or any of these conditions, as well as many others, may create discrepancies and contradictions where there is a total absence of any intention to misrepresent.A thorough appreciation of this fact will greatly aid in a clear understanding of this phase of the discussion.

 

††††††††††† Again, an investigation of the charge of discrepancy against the Gospel writers shows that the critics and skeptics have classified mere omissions as contradictions.Noting could be more absurd than to consider an omission a contradiction, unless the requirements of the case show that the facts and circumstances omitted were essential to be stated, or that the omission was evidently intended to mislead or deceive.Any other contention would turn historical literature topsy-turvy and load it down with contradictions. Dion Cassius, Tacitus, and Suetonius have all written elaborately of the reign of Tiberius.Many things are mentioned by each that are not recorded by the other two.Are we to reject all three as unreliable historians because of this fact?Abbott, Hazlitt, Bourrienne, and Walter Scott have written biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte.No one of them has recited all the facts recorded by the others.Are these omissions to destroy the merits of all these writers and cause them to be suspected and rejected?Graftonís Chronicles rank high in English historical literature.They comprise the reign of King John; and yet make no mention of the granting of Magna Charta.This is as if the life of Jefferson had been written without mention of the Declaration of Independence; or a biography of Lincoln without calling attention to the Emancipation Proclamation.Notwithstanding this strange omission, Englishmen still preserve Graftonís Chronicles as valuable records among their archives.And the same spirit of generous criticism is everywhere displayed in matters of profane literature. The opponents of Christianity are never embarrassed in excusing or explaining away omissions or contradictions, provided the writer is a layman and his subject secular.But let the theme be a sacred one, and the author an ecclesiastic Ė preacher, priest, or prophet Ė and immediately incredulity rises to high tide, engulfs the reason, and destroys all dispassionate criticism.Could it be forgotten for a moment that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were biographers of the Christ, a sacred person, no difficulties would arise in the matter of inconsistencies, no objections would be made to their credibility.The slight discrepancies that undoubtedly exist would pass unnoticed, or be forever buried under the weight of an overwhelming conviction that they are, in the main, accurate and truthful.

††††††††††† But the Evangelists were guided by inspiration, the skeptics say; and discrepancies are inconsistent with the theory of inspiration.God would not have inspired them to write contradictory stories.But the assumption is false that they claimed to be guided by inspiration; for, as Marcus Dods truthfully says, ďnone of our Gospels pretends to be infallible or even inspired.Only one of them tells us how its writer obtained his information, and that was by careful inquiry at the proper sources.Ē*

 

*An opposite doctrine seems to be taught in Luke 12:11-12; 24:48-49.

 

††††††††††† A more pertinent observation upon the Gospel discrepancies has not been made than that by Paley in his ďEvidences of Christianity,Ē where he says:

 

I know not a more rash or unphilosophical conduct of the understanding, than to reject the substance of a story by reason of some diversity in the circumstances with which it is related. The usual character of human testimony is substantial truth under circumstantial variety. This is what the daily experience of courts of justice teaches. When accounts of a transaction come from the mouths of different witnesses, it is seldom that it is not possible to pick out apparent or real inconsistencies between them. These inconsistencies are studiously displayed by an adverse pleader, but oftentimes with little impression upon the minds of the judges. On the contrary, a close and minute agreement induces the suspicion of confederacy and fraud. When written histories touch upon the same scenes of action; the comparison almost always affords ground for a like reflection. Numerous, and sometimes important, variations present themselves; not seldom, also, absolute and final contradictions; yet neither one nor the other are deemed sufficient to shake the credibility of the main fact. The embassy of the Jews to deprecate the execution of Claudian's order to place his statute, in their temple, Philo places in harvest, Josephus in seed time; both contemporary writers. No reader is led by this inconsistency to doubt whether such an embassy was sent, or whether such an order was given. Our own history supplies examples of the same kind. In the account of the Marquis of Argyle's death, in the reign of Charles the Second, we have a very remarkable contradiction. Lord Clarendon relates that he was condemned to be hanged, which was performed the same day; on the contrary, Burnet, Woodrew, Heath, Echard, concur in stating that he was beheaded; and that he was condemned upon the Saturday, and executed upon the Monday. Was any reader of English history ever skeptic enough to raise from hence a question whether the Marquis of Argyle was executed or not? Yet this ought to be left in uncertainty, according to the principles upon which the Christian history has sometimes been attacked.*

 

* Evidences of Christianity, p. 319.(Presented here in Appendix Two.)

 

††††††††††† The reader should most carefully consider the useful as well as the damaging effect of Gospel inconsistencies in the matter of the credibility of the Evangelists.A certain class of persons have imagined the Gospel writers to be common conspirators who met together at the same time and place to devise ways and means of publishing a false report to the world.This is a silly supposition, since it is positively known that the authors of the Evangelical narratives wrote and published them at different times and places.Moreover, the style and contents of the books themselves negative the idea of a concerted purpose to deceive.And, besides, the very inconsistencies themselves show that there was no ďconfederacy and fraudĒ; since intelligent conspirators would have fabricated exactly the same story in substantially the same language.

 

 

A priori reasoning is allowed

These are not

historically reliable accounts.

 

... But even if these stories were the best sources in the world, there would still be a major obstacle

that we simply cannot overcome if we want to approach the question of the resurrection

12

historically rather than theologically. Iím fine if Bill wants to argue that theologically God raised

Jesus from the dead or even if he wants to argue theologically that Jesus was raised from the

dead. But this cannot be a historical claim, and not for the reason that he imputed to me as being

an old, warmed over 18th century view that has been refuted ever since. Historians can only

establish what probably happened in the past.

 

Historians cannot establish miracle as the most probable occurrence

because miracles, by their very nature are the least probable occurrence.

 

God

does things all the time, and so thereís nothing implausible at all about God raising Jesus from

the dead.

Well, that presupposes a belief in God. Historians canít presuppose belief in God. Historians can

only work with what weíve got here among us. People who are historians can be of any

theological persuasion. They can be Buddhists, they can be Hindus, they can be Muslims, they

can be Christians, they can be Jews, they can be agnostics, they can be atheists, and the theory

behind the canons in historical research is that people of every persuasion can look at the

evidence and draw the same conclusions. But Billís hypothesis requires a person to believe in

God. I donít object to that as a way of thinking. I object to that as a way of historical thinking,

because itís not history, itís theology.

 

does the report of

occurrence of miracles over time increase the probability? Iíd say the answer is probably ďnoĒ

because in every single instance you have to evaluate whether itís a probable event or not. And

it never can be a probable event. So that, if one thinks so, that it is a probable event, what I

would like Bill to do is to tell us why he doesnít think that Muhammad did miracles because we

certainly have reports of that. Why doesnít he think Apollonius of Tyana did miracles? He

quoted Larry Yarbrough, who, in fact, probably has never read the Life of Apollonius. I know

this because I had an argument with Larry Yarbrough about it. He has never read the texts. I

donít know if Bill has read the texts. Theyíre very interesting; they are Greek texts; they are

widely available. They report Apollonius of Tyana did many of things that Jesus did; he could

cast out demons, he could heal the sick, he could raise the dead, at the end of his life he ascended

to heaven. And Apollonius of Tyana was just one of the hundreds of people about such things

were said in the ancient world. So if we allow for the possibility of Jesus, how about allowing

the possibility for Apollonius? Or Honi the Circle-Drawer or Hanina ben Dosa or the Emperor

Vespasian? Or you could name the list as long as your arm of people. Now the reason we donít

know about these people is because, of course, the only miracle-working Son of God we know

about is Jesus. But in fact in the ancient world there are hundreds of people like this, with

hundreds of stories told about them. We discount them because theyíre not within our tradition.

 

 

My final point is a very simple one. Even if we want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that

belief is a theological belief. You canít prove the resurrection. Itís not susceptible to historical

evidence. Itís faith. Believers believe it and take it on faith, and history cannot prove it.

 

I donít believe that history is an

objective discipline to start with. It sounded from your question that you agree with this, but we

need to talk more about your take on postmodern theory. My view is that the historian does have

to back up any presuppositions that he or she has. But my point is that for the historian to do his

or her work, requires that thereíd be certain shared assumptions. And itís fine to say what those

assumptions are, but there are some assumptions that have to be agreed on by people of various

theological persuasions. And they have to be assumptions that are rooted in things that can be

observed. God canít be observed. So we might very well disagree on important historical events.

There are people who, for example, in our world deny the holocaust, who say the holocaust

never happened. Well, how does one demonstrate that the holocaust happened? Well, one gets

together materials of eyewitness reports and photographs and movies, and you get information

that historians agree is valid information, and you try to make a case. But it has to be the kind of

information that historians of every stripe agree is valid information, such as eyewitness

testimony. And appeals to the supernatural are not accepted in the historical community as being

valid criteria on which to evaluate a past event.

 

My final point is a very simple one. Even if we want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, that

belief is a theological belief. You canít prove the resurrection. Itís not susceptible to historical

evidence. Itís faith. Believers believe it and take it on faith, and history cannot prove it.

 

 

Non-eyewitness testimony is as valid as eyewitness testimony

 

Ancient people have no difficulty at all thinking that a divine appearance was not

an actual physical appearance. A body could be buried and the person could appear alive

afterwards without the body leaving the tomb. If Bill doubts this, then I suggest he read some

more ancient texts to see how they talk about the matter. He might start with the Christian texts

of the second century, such as the Acts of John or the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter or the Second

Treatise of the Great Seth, or he might consider the arguments used by Basilides, who was the

disciple of the follower of Peter. For ancient people, post-death appearance was not the same as

the reanimation of the body.

 

Circumstantial evidence can be ignored

 

Yes, Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus, but his own argument was that

nobody would invent the women because they were marginalized, because men didnít think

highly of women. My response is, thatís precisely why Mark would invent the tradition, because

in Markís Gospel, itís the marginalized who understand who Jesus is, itís not the male disciples.

Thatís why you have the story of the women discovering the tomb.

 

Presumption of innocence can be ignored

††††††††††† See also Theory takes precedence over eyewitness and circumstantial evidence

 

Year after year Christians

trying to convert others told them stories to convince them that Jesus was raised from the dead.

These writers are telling stories, then, that Christians have been telling all these years. Many

stories were invented, and most of the stories were changed. For that reason, these accounts are

not as useful as we would like them to be for historical purposes. Theyíre not contemporary,

theyíre not disinterested, and theyíre not consistent.

 

What we have

are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and itís

not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story.

 

Third, and finally, if the only miracles that Bill allows of having happened all belong to the

Judaeo-Christian tradition that he himself personally affirms, Iíd like him to address the question

of how that can be historically. How is it that the faith that he adopted as a teenager happens to

be the only one that is historically credible? Is it just circumstance that he was born into a

religious family or a religious culture that can historically be shown to be the only true religion?

 

 

Mythological claims have equal validity to historical claims

 

For ancient people, as opposed to post21

Enlightenment thinkers like Bill, an appearance does not need to mean reanimation of the

physical body. According to the Gospels, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, James, and John.

Are we to believe that these men, Moses and Elijah, came back to life? That Mosesí body was

reconstituted and raised from the dead and that they appeared from heaven? Or was this a vision?

Surely it was a vision; they disappear immediately. Ancient people had no trouble believing that

bodies can be phantasmal, not physical. Evidence for this is found abundantly throughout all of

our ancient sources Ė Jewish, pagan, and Christian. Pagan sources from the 8th century Homer to

the 2nd century Homeric hymns; from pagan myths to pagan novels to pagan poets to pagan

philosophers, theyíre all replete with accounts of God appearing to humans in human form. But

these are appearances, visions; theyíre not real human bodies. The pagan holy man, Apollonius

of Tyana, appears to his followers after his death, but itís an appearance, a vision, not the

reanimation of his body. Jewish texts are the same. For angels and archangels and demons and

devils appear to people bodily, but they arenít real bodies.

 

Iíd like him to

discuss the evidence of other miracle workers from Jesusí day outside the Christian tradition. Is

he willing to admit on the same historical grounds that these other people also did miracles? Iím

referring to the tradition of miracles done by Apollonius of Tyana, Hanina ben Dosa, Honi the

Circle-Drawer, Vespasian. Is Bill willing to acknowledge that Apollonius appeared to his

followers after his death or that Octavian ascended to heaven? Or he can pick any other miracle

worker form the pagan tradition he chooses.

 

does the report of

occurrence of miracles over time increase the probability? Iíd say the answer is probably ďnoĒ

because in every single instance you have to evaluate whether itís a probable event or not. And

it never can be a probable event. So that, if one thinks so, that it is a probable event, what I

would like Bill to do is to tell us why he doesnít think that Muhammad did miracles because we

certainly have reports of that. Why doesnít he think Apollonius of Tyana did miracles? Theyíre very interesting; they are Greek texts; they are

widely available. They report Apollonius of Tyana did many of things that Jesus did; he could

cast out demons, he could heal the sick, he could raise the dead, at the end of his life he ascended

to heaven. And Apollonius of Tyana was just one of the hundreds of people about such things

were said in the ancient world. So if we allow for the possibility of Jesus, how about allowing

the possibility for Apollonius? Or Honi the Circle-Drawer or Hanina ben Dosa or the Emperor

Vespasian? Or you could name the list as long as your arm of people. Now the reason we donít

know about these people is because, of course, the only miracle-working Son of God we know

about is Jesus. But in fact in the ancient world there are hundreds of people like this, with

hundreds of stories told about them. We discount them because theyíre not within our tradition.

 

Thatís why my alternative explanation of Zulu sounded implausible to Bill because in his

tradition itís the God of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who must be involved in

the world. And, of course, people from other religious traditions say other Gods are involved. So

this isnít just a question about whether God is involved. Which God is involved? And as I

pointed out earlier, itís just a very happy circumstance that it happens to be the God, the God that

Bill can historically demonstrate its existence, who happens to be the God that he converted to

when he was 16.

 

Visions can be shared

 

For ancient people, as opposed to post-Enlightenment thinkers like Bill, an appearance does not need to mean reanimation of the

physical body. According to the Gospels, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, James, and John.

Are we to believe that these men, Moses and Elijah, came back to life? That Mosesí body was

reconstituted and raised from the dead and that they appeared from heaven? Or was this a vision?

Surely it was a vision; they disappear immediately.

 

Ancient people had no trouble believing that bodies can be phantasmal, not physical. Evidence for this is found abundantly throughout all of our ancient sources Ė Jewish, pagan, and Christian. Pagan sources from the 8th century Homer to the 2nd century Homeric hymns; from pagan myths to pagan novels to pagan poets to pagan philosophers, theyíre all replete with accounts of God appearing to humans in human form. But these are appearances, visions; theyíre not real human bodies. The pagan holy man, Apollonius of Tyana, appears to his followers after his death, but itís an appearance, a vision, not the reanimation of his body. Jewish texts are the same. For angels and archangels and demons and devils appear to people bodily, but they arenít real bodies.

 

 

The existence of hostile eyewitnesses as a corrective can be ignored

 

Double standards in the evaluation of historical documents is allowed

 

To sum up, the sources we have are not as good as we would like.

 

First, Bill makes dubious use of modern authorities. Bill constantly quotes modern scholars as if

somehow that constitutes evidence for his point of view. As Bill himself knows, the fact that the

majority of New Testament scholars would agree with his four points is not proof that they are

right. For one thing, the majority of New Testament scholars are believers in the New Testament,

that is, theyíre theologically committed to the text, so of course they agree on these points. I

should note that the majority of historians do not agree with Billís conclusion. Does that make

those conclusions wrong? No. It simply means that his conclusions are not persuasive to most

historians. Having said that, Iím surprised by some of his so-called authorities that Bill cites, for

the reality is that the majority of critical scholars studying the historical Jesus today disagree

with his conclusion that a historian can show that the body of Jesus emerged physically from the

tomb.

 

Burden of proof standard is ignored