Robert Price on the Resurrection
[Introduction: Price vs. Craig] [The Empty Tomb] [Alternate Burial Traditions] [Crossan and Joseph of Arimathea] [Exhuming the Body of Jesus] [The Resurrection Body] [The "Lincoln Challenge"]

Price's effort against Craig here is by volume nearly one half a personal attack on Craig's motivations and (presumed) individual belief system (as it turns out, obviously misconstrued to a certain extent anyway); about one-quarter an address of the problems of the resurrection, and about another one-quarter regarding issues pertaining to the post-resurrection body. We will spend as little time as possible on the former areas as they are manifestly without argumentative substance.

It is only the pious arrogance of Craig's evangelicalism (which denies the name "Christian" to anyone without a personal tete-a-tete with Jesus) that allows him to implicitly depict New Testament scholars as a bunch of newly-chastened skeptics with their tails between their legs. Even Bultmann, a devout Lutheran, was much less skeptical than Baur and Strauss.

About "denying" the name "Christian" - it isn't an expandable definition. C. S Lewis once pointed out that the word "gentleman," originally restricted to a very select group of people that met certain conditions of the word, became such a desirable title that others lacking it required it to be applied more broadly, with the result that it now means almost nothing and can be equally applied to the capitalist in the silk hat and the proletarian with the beer can and the lined undershirt.

Likewise did "Christian" mean a very specific thing, until it was so molded that it now refers to anyone who goes to church on Sunday or puts a dollar in the offering plate or has a pew named after their family.

The word, however, had specific origins and has a specific meaning, one which no amount of sharing or denial will change. This is not "pious arrogance," but linguo-historical actuality. (Of course, Price DOES maintain that words are inadequate to reflect reality [see here], so perhaps this is not so strange coming from him at all/)

Here is a paragraph that represents well Price's misplaced faith in idealistic sources:

But is this trend to neo-conservatism an enlightenment? Rather, I regard it as a prime example of what H.P. Lovecraft bemoaned as the modern failure of nerve in the face of scientific discovery: "someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

I daresay based on the above that Lovecraft, author of such eminent philosophical and scientific (?) works as Bloodthirsty Tales of Horror and the Macabre, is hardly an authority on such matters. There are few terrors in knowledge and information - mostly, contrarily, there are surprised people who should have known better and have so little imagination that anything newly discovered frightens them. The computer of today is naught but the abacus of yesterday writ large.

As for the concept behind the quote: It remains to be seen whether what is at work is a failure of nerve or a failure (on the part of Price's side) to accept the natural consequences of having to dispose of theories that no longer work.

As an aside, for a Biblical scholar, it appears that Price wastes an extraordinary amount of time in pursuit of this "horror hobby" of his. He also uses it as a vehicle for Biblical criticism. In a book passed to me by a reader, The Book of Eibon, Price offers the theory of three Isaiahs [see response here] as a comparison to how three authors helped compose a piece for the book, and remarkably claims that Mark used Aramaic words of Jesus [Ephphatha and Talitha cumi] as a way of helping readers use them as magic words in their healing practices. Presumably this is for readers who only want to heal stopped ears [forget eyes and other stuff] and dead little girls [forget boys]. Presumably also "Corba" [Mark 7:11] was a magic spell to empty the treasury; "Eloi Eloi..." was an incanation, taken from Psalms, to get God's attention, and "Golgotha" was some sort of real estate sales incantation.

William Lane Craig is an employee of Campus Crusade for Christ. Thus it is no surprise that his is what is today euphemistically called "engaged scholarship." Dropping the euphemism, one might call him a PR man for Bill Bright and his various agendas. One thing one cannot expect from party hacks and spin doctors is that they should in any whit vary from their party line. When is the last time you heard a pitchman for some product admit that it might not be the best on the market? When have you heard a spokesman for a political candidate admit that his man might be in the wrong, might have wandered from the truth on this or that point? Do you ever expect to hear a Trekkie admit that the episode about the Galileo 7 was a stinker? Heaven and earth might pass away more easily.

A break in this paragraph, for the following observations:

On the Tomb

That vented, let's turn to the empty tomb story. As elsewhere, the apologist's task is one of harmonization of "apparent contradictions," this time between the empty tomb stories of the gospels on the one hand and the list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 on the other. What's the problem? By the reckoning of most New Testament scholars 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 preserves a list of appearances decades earlier than the writing of Mark's gospel. And it has nothing to say of the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning by Mary Magdalene and her sisters. From this some draw the inference that the story of the empty tomb is a later addition and thus an unhistorical embellishment. Naturally Craig cannot have this, so he tries to coax from the text of 1 Corinthians what is not there: a Pauline citation of the empty tomb tradition. Before he is done he will be telling us how Paul must have gotten his information about the empty tomb from a visit he himself made there on a visit to Jerusalem! Presumably Craig derived this privileged information the same way Matthew got his "tradition" that the risen Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb, simply by reading it between the lines (in Matthew's case, the lines of Mark). In the end we actually find Craig saying, "Thus Paul's acceptance of the empty tomb is strong evidence in favor of its historicity"!

We have already commented on matters of harmonization elsewhere, and I fail to see why Price does not address the standard reason given why the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary and her cohorts is not used by Paul (i.e., the uniform prejudice against the testimony of women in Jewish society, noted by Craig in several places).

All Craig can actually show, and this much is certainly a point well taken, is that, since 1 Corinthians 15:4 does mention Jesus' burial as the darkness before the dawn of his resurrection, the notion of a vacant tomb would hardly have been alien to the writer's conception. It would be no surprise to find a mention of an empty tomb in this list, and its lack may simply be because the formulator of the list thought it too obvious to mention. True enough. Where I perceive Craig to be fudging the issue is in his assumption that the only alternative is to envision the formulator of the list believing, as modern liberal theologians do, in a resurrection of a type compatible with an occupied tomb. And if this be ruled out as anachronistic (I agree, it seems far-fetched), then, according to Craig, we are back to the gospel's empty tomb scenario. But are we?

We agree, of course, that it may have been too obvious to require mentioning that a resurrected body means an empty tomb - just as simply saying, "A zombie rose from the dead!" would today imply an empty grave left behind.

On the other hand, Paul does show implicit awareness of the empty tomb elsewhere - for example, where he compares the resurrection to baptism (Rom. 6:4, 8:29; Col. 2:12). Body in, body out - whether water, or earth, the comparison makes the implication of an empty tomb (along with the Jewish concept of bodily resurrection that MUST be applied here, and which we will discuss shortly) inescapable; and the other type of "resurrection" becomes, as Price admits, rather far-fetched.

Finally, we may add that Paul's formula is an accounting of things DONE or experienced by Jesus: died, buried, rose, appeared. A citation of the empty tomb would not fit very well within the rhythm and structure of the formula. [Craig.ANTE, 93n]

Craig realizes that he needs to circumscribe the alternatives if he is to make it appear a simple either/or proposition. So he says there are no competing burial traditions. But there is at least one, namely the statement in Acts 13:28-29 that Jesus was buried by the same people who crucified him. In a case like this, one can easily imagine Jesus' disciples knowing (or surmising) that he had been buried, but not knowing where, or knowing it to be a common grave, e.g., the Valley of Hinnom where Jesus himself had warned habitual adulterers and thieves not to end up, since only those not deemed fit for a decent burial were disposed of there (Mark 9:43-48). If the disciples then beheld him resurrected (or thought they did), there would have been no question of finding "his" tomb, whether empty or occupied. The same would be true if, as implied in John 19:42; 20:15 and the anti-resurrection polemic mentioned by Tertullian (De Spectaculis 30), some held that Jesus had been but temporarily interred in Joseph's mausoleum for reburial elsewhere after the sabbath was past. "They have taken away my lord, and I know not where they have laid him." So it's not as if to assume an empty tomb is to presuppose the empty tomb story of the gospels, i.e., that of a known and vacated tomb one could point to, as Craig wants to do, as an item of evidence.

Let's start with a cite of Acts 13:28-29 - WITH surrounding verses (16-41) for all-important context. Paul has just been asked to say a few words in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. Verses 28-29 are highlighted:

Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years. "After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' So it is stated elsewhere: "'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: "'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"

From this, Price amazingly discerns an "alternate tradition" that Jesus was buried by his enemies! But let's look at this more closely:

  1. In context, Paul is making a kerygmatic proclamation, not doing a narrative; he is summarizing salient points of OT history and of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hence, he has skipped over almost ALL of the details, and this passage cannot provide evidence of an alternate tradition of Jesus' burial - for it is clearly not intended to be the complete story. As Craig notes: " is a remark made in a sermon and is not intended to be treated like a police report." [Craig.KTR, 56]

    And, Campenhausen [VonCamp.TLC, 57n] agrees that this verse is "not enough to warrant a search for historical 'traditions' behind the preacher's turn of phrase used by Luke." Indeed, one might as well suggest that Paul is providing evidence of an alternate tradition that the Jews were never in slavery in Egypt, but rather only prospered while there.

  2. Even then, Paul is technically not at odds with the Gospels in his summary. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the leadership group that condemned Jesus - even though he did not agree with their condemnation. The only difficulty is that Joseph is identified as a disciple of Jesus by Matthew 27:57 and John 19:38, which would seem to exclude him from being part of the "enemy" group. However, keep in mind again that Paul's sermon is of a summary nature - there would be time to make distinctions AFTER the basic kerygmatic proclamation. (For more on this, see my upcoming book Defending the Resurrection, due out in 2010.)
  3. Some have noted, too, that the passive construction of the verse indicates a very broad definition for the "they" who took Jesus off the cross and buried Him - so it could reference the Romans, the Jews, or even the disciples.
  4. Furthermore, Luke himself is reporting this supposed "alternate tradition," and he has already (in his Gospel) given a detailed account of how Joseph put Jesus in his tomb. The word "tomb" in 28-29, we should note, is the SAME WORD used by Luke to describe Joe's tomb. There is NO HINT of disposal in the Valley of Hinnom.
  5. A further point related to the above: Most scholars of Price's persuasion are convinced that the speech is entirely Luke's creation anyway - which makes it even more difficult to account for why he would write something else that is allegedly so diametrically incompatible.
  6. Also incidentally, an empty tomb is even presupposed elsewhere in Acts, as shown in this selection from the preaching of Peter:
    Acts 2:29-31 "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay."

    Pointing out that David's tomb is still around, and occupied, acts in juxtaposition to the resurrection reference - i.e., David's tomb is occupied; Jesus' tomb is empty.

  7. Finally, even if this WERE an alternate tradition, it does not help Price's cause a great deal. If Jesus HAD been laid to rest somewhere by His enemies, then they would have known where the body was, and could easily have pointed out where it went, or at the most desperate and despite Jewish compunctions (how about getting a Gentile to do the job?) even dragged it out and disproved the resurrection. (We will get to THAT issue, and Price's objections in that matter, shortly.) It would also have been very effective to publicly embarrass the apostles in the middle of one of their sermons by quizzing them about the burial place (which indeed would have been done in a collectivist society that controlled the behavior of deviant groups so closely).

By now we need to refer back to what Price has said again, so let's do so:

The same would be true if, as implied in John 19:42; 20:15 and the anti-resurrection polemic mentioned by Tertullian (De Spectaculis 30), some held that Jesus had been but temporarily interred in Joseph's mausoleum for reburial elsewhere after the sabbath was past. "They have taken away my lord, and I know not where they have laid him." So it's not as if to assume an empty tomb is to presuppose the empty tomb story of the gospels, i.e., that of a known and vacated tomb one could point to, as Craig wants to do, as an item of evidence.

To start, let's look at the verses in John:

19:42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

I do not see here where Price gets the idea of a "temporary" interrment, other than by imagination. Presumably he thinks that the "nearby" means that they planned to take the body somewhere else farther away later on (for a similar idea refuted see here), but this is more plausibly taken to mean that they chose it as a FINAL resting place only because the tomb was nearby and they were in a hurry to get things done before the Sabbath. Joseph would not likely have volunteered his tomb had he lived back in Galilee, and we may add that Joseph would NOT be at liberty to lay a body in a tomb not his own, so that his ownership of the tomb is directly indicated here.

20:15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

This verse reflects nothing more than confusion by Mary Magdalene. She has yet to comprehend the event of the resurrection - but does so within the next few moments. Presumably, Price thinks there is some latent tradition here that a gardener took Jesus' body. This is supported, allegedly, by the a counter-polemic in Tertullian. De Spectaculis, however, was written some 175 years AFTER the Gospels and, though it may reflect anti-resurrection polemic in Tertullian's time well enough, it tells us NOTHING about such polemic in the first century.

But now we diverge from Price for a moment to consider an idea from John Dominic Crossan, related to our current topic. It is interesting that Price himself does not fight much of a battle against the traditional view that Jesus was laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, in a tomb owned by him. This is one of the most audacious non-miraculous claims in the Gospels: Joseph is described as wealthy, well-connected (a member of the Sanhedrin, no less), and of enough nerve to approach Pilate for the body of Jesus. How likely is it that the evangelists could INVENT someone like this, who would be so well-known? It is not likely at all - and therefore, the burial by Joseph is one of the best-attested facts of the entire scenario.

Crossan, however, thinks otherwise. In his view, the body of Jesus was disposed of in a common manner (perhaps in the Valley of Hinnom, referred to earlier) and eaten by wild dogs.

But what of the Joseph claim, we may ask? Crossan posits that it would not be difficult to invent such a claim at all. [Cross.WKJ, 176]. He cites as a counter an incident involving a short story by modern author Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph." The subject of the story is a mysterious artifact that somehow contains all places on earth simultaneously. Borges for his story located this object in "a house on Garay Street in Buenos Aires." Garay Street was itself a creation of Borges.

The story related by Borges, via Crossan: "Once, in Madrid, a journalist asked me whether Buenos Aires actually possessed an Aleph." Borges paused, tempted to say yes, until a friend reminded him that such an object would be known worldwide. Borges therefore replied that there was no such thing. "Ah," said the journalist, "so the entire thing is your invention. I thought it was true because you gave the name of the street." To this, Crossan echoes Borges: "The naming of streets is not much of a feat..." And he adds: "...if you create the events, why not create names as well?" Conclusion: The apostles could have, rather easily, invented a Joseph of Arimathea and gotten away with it.

This is flawed for several reasons.

  • We are dealing in the Borges situation with only ONE journalist, evidently one who could not discern fiction from reality. On the other hand, the apostles made the claim of the resurrection, and it was accepted by THOUSANDS of people, of varying intelligences and backgrounds, and was rejected by many enemies - the large majority of whom knew very well that bodies do not normally just rise from the dead.

  • In terms of genre, the Aleph story was encased in a book of short stories, all designated fictional, which again the journalist was unable to discern. The resurrection claims are encased in the format of ancient biography, where the truth was expected to be told. (See here.)

  • The apostles went out preaching the resurrection all over Eurasia. Borges sold his books around the world, but "The Aleph" was not a unique, singular, and heavily evangelistic claim made in public squares. There is a big difference here in the way that the "news" was spread.

  • The journalist in question was in MADRID, an ocean away from Buenos Aires. The apostles made their claims in the very backyard of the events they described. It's harder to make up something like this when people who could know better are right at hand. Certainly no journalists in Buenos Aires would have composed such a question as the Madrid journalist did.

  • The apostles had enemies (the Jewish leadership) who would have the means, and most definitely the motive, to question their account. Borges, as far as we know, has no enemies of this sort, and the journalist was not an enemy. There was no reason for anyone to actively seek to discredit Borges' story.

    The net of this is: There is an ENORMOUS difference between making a claim about a single street in a large metropolitan city and making a claim about the existence and doings of a major (and wealthy) political figure. Crossan's parallel is irrelevant.

    Now, we turn to a usual key argument of "our" side: If there were no resurrection, all the Jewish authorities had to do was produce the body. Or, as Price puts it (along with his answer):

    Here we reach two related issues of interest to Craig. First, trading on the idea of a known tomb that should have been occupied was wasn't, Craig hauls out the old argument that if the tomb had not been demonstrably empty the authorities could have silenced the apostles' preaching by the simple expedient of producing the body. "Here's your resurrected savior! Take a whiff!" But this is absurd: the only estimate the New Testament gives as to how long after Jesus' death the disciples went public with their preaching is a full fifty days later on Pentecost! After seven weeks, I submit, it would have been moot to produce the remains of Jesus. Does Craig picture the Sanhedrin using modern forensics? Identifying the rotting carcass of Jesus by dental records? In fact, one might even take the seven-week gap to denote that the disciples were shrewd enough to wait till such disconfirmation had become impossible.

    This is all rather overstated, of course. As Craig points out, all the authorities really had to do was point to the tomb - "There it is; it is still closed up!" - and that would have been a significant deterrent to Christian belief, even a clinching one.

    Beyond that, if they really needed it: Since the burial place was known, all that was needed was a public demonstration where the tomb was opened, and the body, such as it was, would be taken out or even pointed out; and this could be done in spite of any legal prohibitions, because we know well enough that the Sanhedrin wasn't one to care about the law when their personal interests were at stake.

    Or, should the Sanhedrin choose to be law-abiding, Wright notes in The Resurrection of the Son of God [707] that Joseph's tomb would not lay unused after this; as a family tomb, it would be expected to be used again and again, and all the Sanhedrin had to do was arrange to have authoritative witnesses present the next time the tomb was opened, or at a period six months to two years later when the bones would be removed for secondary burial in an ossuary.

    And what of identification problems? 50 days, or even two thousand years later (as we know from finding the remains of another crucifixion victim from the same era - Haber.VH, 153-4), there were plenty of ways to identify the remains with those of Jesus. If the skeleton taken out of Joseph's tomb showed evidence of crucifixion that even an amateur could discern (i.e., nails still in their places; scratched and scraped bones, or bones stretched out of their sockets - but NO breaking of the legs), and was also about the right size and had no contrasting features (i.e., a larger brow, missing teeth), that, along with the vested authority of the Sanhedrin saying that it was indeed Jesus' body, would have been completely sufficient to destroy Christianity - or at the very least, cause it to have to alter its tactics considerably (a la Sabbateanism) in order to survive. In addition, why not suppose that there were other ways used (e.g., tags?) to indetify the dead?

    Moreover - and this is a point that Price fails to address, even though Craig does [Craig.ET, 193-4] - the earliest Jewish polemic, and Christian counter-apologetic, assumes the empty tomb. The argument was that the disciples stole the body - so that apparently, there was a known resting place, a knowledge that the body was there - and then, was not. If there had even been an unopened tomb, or even a hint of a body in the form of a skeleton, that would have produced a radically different polemic and counter-apologetic; i.e., "The body is still there!" "No, that's not Jesus' body, it's someone else's!"

    But this is not what we have; rather, we have polemics and counters that assume that the body is not where it was known to be after being laid to rest. (For those who would argue that the report in Matthew is a late one, post-70 - let me note here that: 1) there is no reason to date Matthew so late - see here) if it IS late, the polemic and the counterpoint is senseless. A late polemic, beyond the time when disconfirmation was possible - and this applies just as well to Price's argument, above - would begin with the Jews denouncing the proclamation; i.e., "That was never said of Jesus!" - notT agreeing with the fact of the empty tomb and then trying to explain it. - Craig.ANTE, 371)

    Craig notes that in Jesus' time, the Jews "had an extraordinary interest in preserving the tombs of Jewish martyrs, prophets, and other saints by honoring them as shrines." [Craig.KTR, 57]. Thus, we would expect to find the tomb of Jesus venerated, if indeed He had not risen. Price responds:

    Good point. But on the other hand, a moment's thought will reveal that once the empty tomb story eventually gained acceptance, the visitation of an occupied tomb would have been suppressed by Christian authorities, much as King Josiah shut down local shrines that functioned as rivals to Solomon's Temple. (Here and everywhere Craig simply presupposes a naive picture of the gospels as straightforward records of reporting, without tendential bias.)

    Really? Who are these "Christian authorities" that Price supposes suppressed visits to the tomb of Jesus in the first century? Josiah had the might of the army and his kingship to enforce his will; the first-century Christians had --- ? What? As we have noted elsewhere, there was a "feedback loop" that the apostolic circle used to counter heresy, but it was hardly a police force armed with spears and truncheons, and I daresay if there HAD been any veneration at the tomb of Jesus, it would have been stopped in the usual way that wrong ideas were stopped: instruction. "Brothers, know ye not that the body of Christ is no longer in the tomb? Desist, then, from your visits to it. - Paul."

    But we have no evidence for such counter-instruction, no evidence of a visit-preventing squad (though I am sure that Price rejects easily enough Matthew's account of the guard at the tomb - another factor he fails to consider), and no indication that the location of the tomb of Jesus was remembered. Even today, we are not 100% certain that the designated site is truly "it" - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine based on investigations done in HIS time.

    Keep in mind, also, that many early Christians tended to react to persecution by re-asserting themselves and what they believed in even more strongly. Trying to stop visits to the tomb would actually serve, especially in a controlling collectivist society, to INCREASE interest in visiting it, by both Christians AND non-Christians. ("Hmmm, what are they hiding? Let's go have a look!") It was after all, quite near Jerusalem; and if a few interested parties got together enough people, I doubt that anyone could stop them - at least, not without causing a ruckus that would have left literary footprints throughout the NT apologetics, on into the Talmudic polemical literature, and into our own time.

    Furthermore, if Price wishes to hypothesize a mysterious tomb patrol, I may just as easily suggest that the Jewish authorities, who had an interest in strangling Christianity, and had their OWN well-trained Temple Police force, would be more than happy to dispose of that group and ENCOURAGE belief that the body was still buried safely away.

    ...from Deuteronomy's statement that no one knew Moses' burial place, something scarcely conceivable to the Moses-worshipping Torah reader, ancient scribes inferred that no tomb was known and visited because none existed! Moses must have been assumed bodily into heaven without dying like Elijah and Enoch! Craig is drawing the same midrashic inference in the case of Jesus: no known tomb veneration --> no corpse!

    As noted here, this interpretation of events is recorded some 1500 years after the death of Moses - not exactly an eyewitness claim. Not to mention that it contradicts the OT testimony that Moses was indeed buried, so that the ancient scribes [hardly "Moses-worshippers," by the way] were simply ignoring what was plainly stated in the text in support of their own theories.

    Craig tries to make the Markan empty tomb tale a piece of sober, contemporary history. It is harder to say which part of his attempt is the farther fetched. We are told that the story is unvarnished history since it betrays no signs of theological Tendenz. No theological coloring? In a story told to attest the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead? What else is it? Isn't it all varnish? Formica, instead of wood? Charles Talbert has no trouble adducing abundant parallels from Hellenistic hero biographies in which the assumptions into heaven of Romulus, Hercules, Empedocles, Apollonius (and let's not forget Elijah and Enoch) are inferred from the utter failure of searchers to find any vestige of their bones, bodies, or clothing. Talbert concludes that a resurrection appearance, though not incompatible with such an "empty tomb" type episode, would by no means be needful. The ancient reader would know what Mark was driving at: God had raised the vanished Jesus from the dead. This is a prime bit of form-criticism on the part of Talbert (no God-hating atheist, by the way, but a Southern Baptist, if it makes any difference): it shows precisely that the form of the story is dictated by the theological function of the story. Contra Craig, it is theological through and through. Can anyone miss the irony that Craig, who values the story as nothing but a piece of apologetical fodder, can profess to see it as a bit of neutral history?

    Several points here:

  • Re "tendenz" - here, Price has effectively "boxed in" the possibility of reporting a resurrection. If such a thing happened, of course it would have SOME "theological" coloring; that is the nature of the event. How, then, would Price EXPECT such an event to be reported? Is there a neutral way that he thinks it could be reported?

    Craig's point, in any event, is that the story does not show the EXAGGERATED "tendenz" that would be expected if it were reported late, falsely, etc. - which would include features like, say, special kerygmatic coloration, long-winded speeches by the angels, accounts of the Resurrection as it takes place, or the Gospel of Peter's public exit from the tomb by Jesus, followed by the a giant talking cross. As Craig points out, the presentation in Mark is rather restrained, and does not overplay the theological/kerygmatic motifs to make a point. This is the "tendenz" that the Gospels are lacking. [Craig.ET, 183]

  • Re Talbert: We have noted the significant differences in the stories of Apollonius and Empledocles in articles linked above. The story of Romulus reports the Roman co-founder disappearing during a sudden darkening of the sky - as reported by Plutarch, some 900 years after the lifetime of Romulus. I don't think we need to comment on Hercules.

    The point, however, as we have noted in elsewhere, is that a "genre envelope" is only a formational structure. It tells us NOTHING about the truth of what is inside, which should be verified by other means, although if written in a style and genre presupposing honest reportage (as is the case with the Gospels), we will at least have some idea what we are supposed to be looking for - and as always, other factors (such as closeness to events reported) need to be taken into consideration.

    At any rate, though Talbert does gather this data thusly, he does NOT reach the conclusion that Price apparently does - that the story of Jesus is fictional in the same vein as that of Hercules. :

    Craig thinks the story not only objective reporting but even headline news. He borrows from Rudolf Pesch the absurd notion that the very vagueness of the story lends it specificity! The pre-Markan passion story (assuming, as apologists like to do, that there was one) does not mention the name of "the high priest" as Caiaphas, and "This implies (nearly necessitates, according to Pesch) that Caiaphas was still the high priest when the pre-Markan passion story was being told, since then there would have been no need to mention his name." The idea is that a historical reference to the past would have named the priest, just as a historian will refer to "King Henry VIII," not just to "the king." A check of any history book will make it clear what any reader knows already. Sometimes it's one way, sometimes another. It means nothing. Besides, Caiaphas' name may just as well be missing because the story-teller had only the vaguest idea of the circumstances and didn't know who was the high priest at the time.

    Here Price has rather obscured the point. Pesch is saying, in effect: Speaking today, in 2009 when this is being edited, when we say, "The President sat on a tack," we know that the person being referred to is Barack Obama - not Ronald Reagan, or George Bush, Sr., or Teddy Roosevelt. Hence, when Mark's pre-passion source referred to only "the high priest," he was writing at a time when Caiaphas was still in charge, and of course, he had been in charge by that time for quite a while, becoming something of a fixture - there was no need to name him, because everyone knew, at the time the narrative was formulated, who the high priest was.

    This, I daresay, is not a convincing argument, but nor is it an "empty argument," Price's vague objection about it "meaning nothing" to the contrary. Also, I fail to see WHERE, or HOW, it is "sometimes one way, sometimes another" - if this is so, may we have some contrary examples?

    Note, however, the weakness of Price's alternate explanation for this vagueness. One might as well suggest that members of MY generation would not know who was President when the space shuttle blew up, or that members of the previous generation would not know who was President when Kennedy was shot. Caiaphas was not the sort to be forgotten; he held his post for eighteen years, almost twice as long as the next-nearest officeholder and six to nine times longer than most of the priests lasted; furthermore, his family (Annas and his offspring) held the post as late as 68 AD, when Annas' grandchild Matthias got himself deposed, and the entire Annas line was being memorialized for its excesses as late as Talmudic times. Certainly a memorable fellow in a long line of memorable fellows -- it is EXTREMELY unlikely that the pre-passion source, or Mark, forgot or did not know who the high priest was.

    The most astonishing assertion Craig makes regarding the empty tomb story of Mark is that concerning the silence of the women in Mark 16:8. "The silence of the women was surely meant to be just temporary, otherwise the account itself could not be part of the pre-Markan passion story." Up to this point Craig has argued that the empty tomb story must have been a continuation of the pre-Markan passion, not a separate pericope, because it has so much thematic continuity with the preceding. And yet here a gross discontinuity is smoothed over in the name of the assumption that the tomb tale formed part of the pre-Markan passion.

    The article cited, from Gospel Perspectives Volume 1, does have Craig (in agreement with Pesch) saying that the empty tomb story is not an independent pericope, but is bound up with the passion story. Craig then points out that it is "unthinkable" that a passion story could end with no mention of the empty tomb or the resurrection, and this is confirmed by the died/buried/rose/appeared formula in 1 Corinthians. [Craig.ET, 183] The "silence of the women" comment comes some four pages and several subjects later, and is supplemental to the point previously made: Obviously the women did not REMAIN silent; otherwise, they would not have told the story, and Mark (or his source) would not be writing the story down.

    And Craig's original point is well taken: For how else could a passion story be useful for preaching, unless it ended with at least an implication of victory? (Craig also notes that the empty tomb story is connected to the passion narrative in other ways: By contextual, verbal, and syntactical similarities - but of this, we hear nothing from Price. - Craig.ANTE, 198-9)

    But what of this alleged "gross discontinuity"?

    Craig the apologist calls on his midrashic skills again, just as Matthew, Luke, and the author of the Markan Appendix (really, Appendices) did when they came to the same dead end, as it seemed to them. All alike simply ignored Mark's statement that the women disobeyed the young man's charge and had them inform the disciples, just as they were bidden. Craig ignores it, too. He is a harmonizer. He cannot bring himself to entertain the thought that Mark might have wanted to say something quite different from his redactors. Before silencing Mark by making his silent women speak, we might ask after the implications of the strange and abrupt ending, and it is not far to seek. Isn't it obvious that the claim that the women "said nothing to anyone for they were afraid" functions to explain to the reader why nothing of this had been heard of before? In other words, it is a late tradition after all, and not just because 1 Corinthians 15 lacks it. No, read in its own right, it just sounds like a rationalization, cut from the same cloth as Mark 9:9, where we read that, what do you know, Elijah did come just as the scribes say he must have if Jesus is to be accepted as the messiah. So why didn't anyone know it? Uh... because he told them to keep quiet about it till later; yeah, that's the ticket.

    There are several problems with this paragraph - much of which is that it is not entirely clear what Price means by "this" in "nothing of this" and "it" in "1 Corinthians 15 lacks it." But we will try to analyze anyway, assuming that it merely means the visit of the women to the tomb.

  • First, what Price calls "midrashic" skills are hardly any different from methods of reconstruction used by many historians when they attempt to resolve discontinuities in their own sources. Applying colorful labels to the technique does not change what they actually are, nor does it affect their validity.
  • Second, we may ask, what is it that was "different" that Price supposes Mark wanted to say? That there were no post-resurrection appearances? That the women never said anything to anyone, ever, and that Mark has leached this information from them via telepathy or simply made up the story? Would this be something that Mark would "want" his readers to know?

    Craig, I may add, does NOT ignore the issue - he suggests, in the SAME PARAGRAPH as the one that Price quoted, that Mark 16:8 is in line with that Gospel's tendency to report reactions of fear and awe in the presence of the divine (cf. Mk. 4:41, 5:15, 5:33, 9:6, 9:32, 10:32, 11:18). This, and/or the likelihood that the original ending of this Gospel is lost past 16:8, offers sufficient explanation for the anomaly; also a good possibility is the apologetic motive ascribed by Campenhausen [VonCamp.TLC, 61, 71]: Mark wished to show by the women's silence that the disciples themselves had nothing to do with the tomb being empty. This would then be an "anti-theft" apologetic in line with Matthew's account of the guards.

    Finally, there is the suggestion of Vernon Robbins that the anamolous ending is a form of missionary call: "Now it is up to you to spread the Good News of the Resurrection. Don't remain silent!"

  • Re Price's own suggestion, that this is some sort of rationalization by Mark: Does he suppose that this would be sufficient, and that such rationalization would be blindly and uncritically accepted by all concerned without objection, and that Christianity would continue to grow in spite of it? As noted above, there are much better explanations for this peculiar ending. Campenhausen [ibid.] puts it this way, in agreement with Craig:

    One can hardly take the text as meaning to the simple reader, and therefore to the author, anything but that the women first kept silent, so that the events which followed took place without any help from them and without any regard to the empty tomb.

    And Fuller [Full.FRN, 53] says that Price's sort of explanation: altogether too modern and rationalistic...and assumes that the early church was concerned, like their modern historical critics, with conflicting historical evidence. The early church expounded its traditions anew in new situations: it did not investigate them historically in order to discover their origins and Sitz im Leben.

    The "rationalization" idea, then, this supposition of a crude covering technique, is outside of normal church praxis, and in any event, would be so crude as to serve to fool almost no one. If this was truly the reason behind the ending of Mark's Gospel, then rest assured that more rationalization would have been required, and even more after that (as lies always tend to build up upon themselves), until finally, Christianity would have ended up like Sabbateanism: A nearly-dead faith, mutated out of all semblance to its original form, with less than a thousand followers by the mid-5th century.

  • Finally, if this IS a rationalization, it was a pretty poorly designed one. As we have noted, in the chauvinistic context of first-century society, having women discover the empty tomb would have been a detriment to the apologetic - indeed, it would have been counterproductive. [Craig.ANTE, 52, 366-8; see also Jans.RJC, 43] If this were merely a late rationalization, we would have expected the tomb to be first found empty by Joseph, or by one of the Apostles, or by a lesser MALE member of the apostolic band, like Cleopas. But this is not what we have: Instead, we have the "worst" possible scenario that could not possibly work as a rationalization - it could ONLY work if it reflected what actually happened.

    We have seen that the resurrection of Jesus and His lordship was proclaimed VERY early (see above, re Paul, 1 Corinthians, and here) - and there is no reason to suppose, in accord with the evidence of the Jewish concept of resurrection, that the empty tomb was some sort of late invention. A vacated burial spot HAD to be part of the mix - or else, it would not pass muster as a raising from the dead.

  • Finally, re Mark 9:9 - Price has confused something here. The scene is just after the Transfiguration; Mark writes (9:9-13):

    As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant. And they asked him, "Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him."

    It seems here that what the disciples were told to be quiet about the whole transfiguration episode - not about Elijah particularly; and the coming of Elijah is related to John the Baptist - not to Elijah's cameo appearance during the transfiguration. Somehow Price has come up with something that is found nowhere in this passage.

    We close this section with Price's statement of faith - and with the majority of Craig's material left ignored, may we add:

    Before leaving the empty tomb story, I cannot resist a comparison suggested by the story and the apologists' handling of it. In Matthew's highly embroidered version of Mark, he has the enemies of Jesus warn Pilate that, if given the chance, those tricky disciples of Jesus would steal his body and then claim he rose from the dead. Whether or not they did, and it is not impossible, I cannot help seeing an analogy to the self-styled disciples of Jesus like William Lane Craig whose tortuous attempts to establish an empty tomb and a risen Jesus do seem to smack of priestcraft and subterfuge.

    And so it is: The idea of a stolen body (never mind that the theory is so problematic that no one ELSE will touch it - Schweitzer listed no known proponents of the theory since 1778 - Haber.VH, 118n); the accusations of propaganda and priestcraft where actual arguments fail, and so on. The disciples, it seems, were so shrewd, so clever, and of such demented genius that they pulled off this theft of the (first) century, and turned the known world upside down doing so; meanwhile, the Jewish leadership, the Romans, the rest of the Empire, got caught napping, and some of them even converted to this audacious faith; it is only we, in the 20th century, who have finally acquired the ability to see through these transparent fabrications. Such is the faith of the Robert Price: In imaginative parallels; in phantom police forces stopping visits to a tomb, in unevidenced interpolations, and in conspirators so smart that they managed to steal a body from a tomb and get away with it, and yet, they were too lacking intellectually to remember the name of a famous high priest; and at the same time, the world was filled with the same kind of people for them to convert, who never asked questions, never checked things out, never called their bluff; or if they did, it so happens that everyone ignored them, and/or their writings have been completely lost to us.

    Tangible Tidings

    Our final section deals with the nature of the resurrection body as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. We have now moved much of this material to our essay on the resurrection body.

    It seemingly does not occur to Craig to take seriously history-of-religions parallels (since, I'm sure, he would tell us that everyone in his circles finds them passe) such as Richard Reitzenstein adduced to paint a very plausible backdrop of Mystery Religion mysticism according to which initiation/baptism begins the formation of an inner dwxa body or pneuma body which will finally supplant the outworn physical/natural body in the hour of eschatological salvation. It's not like this is the only place where the conceptuality or the terminology occurs, and elsewhere it does seem to imply some kind of angelic body (reminiscent of the adamantine vajra body of Buddhist mysticism).

    Actually, such views became passe' around the turn of the century (Richard Reitzenstein: b. 1831, d. 1931), and for good reasons: The parallels made were too obscure (like the one above, which as Price describes it, appears to be an "inside to outside" transformation that starts at initiation and continues - whereas the Pauline resurrection body is given all at once, at a specific given moment far in the future); no geneaological link could be established between the other concepts and Christianity (that's the MAIN problem with such parallels!); and finally, there is no trace of such myths in first-century Palestine. [Craig.KTR, 117]

    Only Persian/Zoroastrian conceptions come close. However, here again, Price is going far out of his way to find parallels in other belief systems - when the parallel is almost totally irrelevant, and what he really needs is found against the far more plausible Judaistic backdrop of the OT. Why do we need to dig up these part-parallels when the fullest ones are found in Judaism?

    And re the adamantine vajra body: a Buddhist informer tells me that there are many, many possible conceptions of this in Buddhism, other than the "angelic body" one - and as for terminology, is that any surprise? How many different words and descriptions can there possibly be for such a concept? Do not similar situations require at least SOME similar terminology? Should we be surprised to find similar terms used to describe the assassinations of Lincoln, the Archduke Ferdinand, and John F. Kenendy? The key is what DIFFERENCES there are in terminology and concept - not what similarities there are.

    Was Craig absent on the day they explained what synecdoche is? If you use a part to stand for the whole, then what's true of the whole must be true of the part...In other words, why would anyone ever use "flesh and blood" to stand for "mortality" in the first place unless he had in mind the obvious connection that flesh is always corruptible? We die because we are flesh, and flesh wears out, gets sick and dies, as Prince Siddhartha learned the hard way! "All flesh is grass," says Isaiah 40:6. Craig seems to think that since a metonym means more than the literal referent, it can as easily mean the very opposite of the literal referent. Or that the literal referent can be exempt from the very implication being drawn from it and for the sake of which it was invoked! It is simply absurd for Craig to suggest that one might say "flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God" meanwhile supposing that someone who had in fact inherited that kingdom did so while wearing a body of flesh!

    This complaint is so utterly mixed up that I simply cannot answer it properly. Generally speaking, though, the point made by Paul is that "flesh and blood" (see essay linked above) - equalling frailty, mortality - cannot inherit the kingdom; conversely, the resurrection body, being NOT frail, not mortal, not perishable, CAN inherit the kingdom - whether it is "flesh" or not being secondary to the issue; that it is no longer MERELY flesh is of primary importance. "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." - Phil. 3:20-1. Paul taught a transformed body - not an immaterial one.

    Admittedly, the notion of a "spiritual body" is a tough nut to crack. I judge it a member of the same species of theological equivocation that includes the trinity and the hypostatic union of natures. It is an oxymoron, oil and water held together by fiat, a pair of cheeks so that the enterprising theologian may turn the other whenever the one is smitten. It is Paul's all-purpose answer both to the Gnostics who scoff at a fleshly resurrection and to the literalists who dislike equally the prospect of disembodied "nakedness" (2 Corinthians 5:4) and that of entering into life maimed (Mark 9:43). But that is ever the way with apologetics. It is the art and science of covering one's butt, or one's doctrine's butt. For one does not want to be found naked (2 Corinthians 5:4).

    The reason this is a "tough nut" is NOT because of ambiguity in the NT over whether or not a body was involved. The "nut" comes from the problem of what the resurrected body was made of. Or, as Brown [Brow.VirgRes, 70n] puts it:

    It is not really accurate to claim that the New Testament references to the resurrection of Jesus are ambiguous as to whether they mean bodily resurrection - there was no other kind of resurrection (in Jewish thought). Ambiguity arises only about the kind of body involved (earthly, celestial, etc.).

    And why should this surprise us? No scientist or lab technician was able to get to the resurrected Jesus for a skin sample; Paul had no "Spiritual Table of the Elements" to decide what the body was made of - he only knew of its origin, and of it being a transformed body that made use of what was left of the original copy; and therefore, he said that the substance of the body was appropriate to the origin point, heaven.

    And this was the point of the Pauline comparisons in 1 Cor. 15:35-41 - "God has shown the ability to give each type of being the appropriate soma. God will do no less in the resurrection." [Perk.Rz, 304] Like your favorite swanky restautrant that requires a suit and tie, life in the life after will be granted with the appropriate "clothing" to wear.

    Although he has not stated it clearly, Price's arguments lean in the direction of saying that the original kerygma proclaimed no empty tomb, and that the resurrection appearances involved nothing material, but rather an immaterial Jesus of ghost-like quality or some kind of "heavenly radiance" vision. Presumably (though this point is not made here) this would enable him to lead into the idea of the resurrection appearances as subjective visions or delusions.

    But we have seen that the empty tomb, in light of both NT evidence and Jewish views of resurrection, was indeed essential to the kerygma, and was proclaimed very early, indeed from the very beginning. It was not directly appealed to as evidence, since it could be explained in a variety of ways (as we have seen in the NT, only John came to faith based on the empty tomb; the others reacted with fear, confusion and disbelief - until Jesus Himself made an appearance and straightened them out), but it is directly carried by implication in the buried/raised formulation.

    So it is:

    Empty Tomb -------> Possible Resurrection

    Full Tomb ----------->No Resurrection Possible

    To this end, Price has also wished to divest Paul's description of the resurrection body of any semblance of materiality. But this, he does not do; rather, he must divorce the description from its sociological-theological context, even to the point of seeking unrealistic parallels in paganism. Paul clearly believed in a bodily resurrection; this is stated throughout his letters, even in the one generally regarded as the earliest (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-16).

    The Lincoln Challenge

    It is at this point that I issue a challenge.

    Dan Barker has his "Easter challenge" - where he challenges Christians to harmonize the resurrection narratives successfully. I now offer, in turn, "The Lincoln Challenge." Basically, I want Skeptics to harmonize the discrepancies in the Lincoln biographies listed in my essay called "Harmonization" - without resorting to anything that resembles the harmonizations used by our side to reconcile the Gospel accounts, and explaining why whatever techniques you use cannot also be applied to the Gospels in terms of defending their historicity (but not necessarily their inerrancy).

    I issued this challenge a long time of this editing, it is 2009....and I have heard nothing from anyone about it,


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