Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, refuted

Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave edited by Robert Price and Jeff Lowder is currently the most significant attempt to refute the Resurrection around. But it's not as imposing you may think, because a good chunk of it is old news -- including some we have done before -- and as a whole, the old news hasn't changed much or at all in the way of content.

Some may say that some of these replies are very short. Yes, they are -- because in a couple of cases, the arguments were so outrageous that no more was needed than a short response; but also in a couple of cases, I do agree that the arguments being answered were not good enough to defend. But some were short enough to just put here.

As of June 2009, also, I have elected to remove some of these critiques because I plan to include updated versions in my upcoming book Defending the Resurrection, which I plan to complete by the middle of 2010.

Introduction by Robert Price -- comments

Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?, Robert Greg Cavin -- this essay originally appeared in the academic periodical, Faith and Philosophy. Our reply is short enough to put here on this summary page.

Long before Empty Tomb had been conceived or at least largely heard of, Cavin was otherwise known well for a dissertation in which he proposed an idea (also used in a debate with William Lane Craig) that:

To be fair, though, Cavin is more reasonable -- by a hair -- in this essay. But not by much. Cavin's argument can be summed up with a few points:

  1. It is claimed by apologists that Jesus came back to life in a supernatural, immortal body which never aged, could never be hurt, and could do all sorts of neat stuff.
  2. But no one was able to try to test this proposition by throwing Jesus off a cliff, or making sure he didn't age after a few years, or setting him on fire, or dropping a nuke on him.
  3. To use Cavin's own words: "Thus we have no evidence that Jesus didn't catch a bad cold in 43 C.E. or that he didn't cut himself on a rock one hundred years later. We have no evidence that he didn't succumb to gangrene or a blow to the head in 503 C.E. or that he wasn't shriveled with old age in the year 1200 C.E." Why, we can't even assume, if we grant that he was able to materialize in and out of rooms at will, that this meant he was otherwise resurrected as defined.
  4. So, how do we know that Jesus was not raised from the dead by, say, "one of the Watchers of the pseudepigraphic book of Enoch" or a member of a group of "technologically advanced but unscrupulous aliens (e.g., the Talosians of Star Trek)" who then forced him to say or tricked him into thinking he was who he was. This can't be denied because it is "conceptually possible".

All of this one might think deserves an answer. And I have one:

  1. "Robert Greg Cavin" is a malicious time travelling atheist from the year 2300 AD, named Gorby Glorp, who saw the final resurrection at hand and used his time machine to come here so he could evade it, and he used genetic technology to change himself into, and replace, the real "Robert Greg Cavin" at age 4, and being such a malicious person decided to compose this essay (and the "twin theory") as a way of trying to keep people from becoming Christians, because he decided he doesn't want to go to hell alone but take as many of those "d*** Christians" with him as he can.
  2. Also, he's secretly married to, and lives with, Acharya S.

Why do I need to say more? It's "conceptually possible," after all.

The Resurrection As Initially Improbable, Michael Martin -- this essay is a compiliation of material from several articles in the journal Philo. My answer is short enough to put here.

From the beginning of analysis, I find Michael Martin's attempts to assess the probability of the Resurrection to be thoroughly misinformed. Admittedly, it is no surprise that someone who thought that Jesus' injunctions against "swearing" were prohibitions of profanity (! -- as Martin thought in his book The Case Against Christianity) would make a number of serious mistakes assessing the resurrection's probability where the factors involve social and contextual matters relevant to Biblical culture.

In any event, I find most or all of Martin's analysis to be misdirected, and so irrelevant to any argument I would make. To sum it up in points:

Why Resurrect Jesus?, Theodore Drange -- I am removing this reply for presentation in my book Defending the Resurrection.

Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation, Robert M. Price -- yes, it's what we already refuted here

The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb, Richard Carrier -- I am removing these for presentation in Defending the Resurrection. Exception: Here are a few points that are not directly related to my book, but which do show how little Carrier knows about the ancient world, despite his degree in history.

Carrier demonstrates his lack of knowledge of the collectivist anthropology of the period by reading into Paul's words about being "in Christ" an idea that this means that in the intermediate state we will be part of some Borglike "collective essence" [145]. In other words, he reads Paul's words like a true individualist. The phrase rather speaks to the sharing of virtual identity, or group embeddedness in which a common perspective is shared.

Colossians 1:22-24 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Carrier's lack of knowledge of the principles of group embeddedness and identity is further shown in that he wonders of the above, "When did that happen?" [147] Put simply, Carrier cannot make sense of the church being Jesus' body if he "rose with the same body he died in, and still has." It makes "no sense" to offer such a fundamentalist-style ultraliteralist reading if Christ got a new body, either; the solution is not to contrive some grotesque idea of Christ as some spiritual octopus with "tendrils" [148] that inhabit every Christian, but to read these passages in terms of group embeddedness. Once again Carrier's readings are those of a modern individualist lost in a collectivist maze.

Carrier's closing section on Paul's encounter with Christ consists in part in his assuming to have proven that Paul describes 2BH and that Paul's spiritual experiences may be safely dismissed within his materialist paradigm. We may note in close an irony: Carrier conveniently accepts as reliable the single point from Acts that all Paul experienced at conversion was light and a voice -- while saying that "in every other respect" he regards Acts as "worthless as a source"! [154] Would that we could employ such a methodology of convenience and get away with it! In addition, Mike Licona had this comment:

If one goes to Acts 13 where Paul is speaking, he is clear that a bodily resurrection, i.e., a transformation of the same body, is what is being claimed, since he speaks of the body of Jesus not decaying. You cannot get any clearer than that. Moreover, most scholars on Acts regard Acts 2, 10, and 13 as earlier Church tradition, which the author included in his text. So, Richard is here uncritically accepting Acts 9, 22, 26 to support his view while rejecting Acts 13, which is held by most critics to reflect early Church tradition. If he accepts Acts 9, 22, and 26 as authentic reports of Paul, then a fortiori he must regard Acts 2 and 13 as authentic, since they weigh more heavily. However, if goes there, his two-body hypothesis is dead on arrival. Richard cannot reply by claiming that he is using 9, 22, and 26 because evangelicals accept it and, thus, he is merely saying that the evangelical view of resurrection is incorrect on an evangelical's view of Acts. The evangelical takes Acts in its entirety, since it was written by the same author. The author is clear in 2 and 13 that the body of Jesus did not decay. The appearance to Paul came after Jesus' ascension, and, thus, the appearance to Paul in a glorious light from which Paul hears Jesus is not required to be the same as the pre-ascension appearances. Whatever the nature of the appearance to Paul, it was of such nature that he had no problem thinking that he saw the same Jesus who had appeared to his disciples a few years earlier, a Jesus whose corpse had been raised.

FAQ answer: Aside from resorting to the contrived begged question that Acts misreports Paul's actual beliefs, and backpedalling on his clear, and obviously now embarrassing, statement that he regards all of Acts but one bit as ("in every other respect") a worthless source, Carrier tries to fudge by saying that Paul isn't specifically referring to the body of Jesus, and doesn't mention the empty tomb (though one is clearly implied in 13:37). It is at this point that Carrier is clearly scraping barrel-bottom when it comes to his desperation to evade an obvious problem with his thesis.

The Case Against the Empty Tomb, Peter Kirby II -- this has appeared on the Secular Web, though I have not answered it until now.

The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law, Richard Carrier -- because Glenn Miller previously answered an earlier version of this here I will give some time for Miller to take it up if he so desires, but will do a chapter in Defending the Resurrection either way.

Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story: A Reply to William Lane Craig, Jeffery Jay Lowder II -- I find in this chapter nothing not found in Kirby's or in other materials in this book, so it will receive no specific reply

Taming the Tehom: The Sign of Jonah in Matthew, Evan Fales -- a version of this appeared in the Journal of Higher Criticism in 2001. Comments are short enough to put here.

2000 years from now, Evan Fales VII will use the same criteria as the present Evan Fales to decide that Abraham Lincoln never existed because he fits a mythic hero archaetype. In the same way, Fales' chapter claims that we ought to read the Gospels (and particularly for the essay, Matthew 12:39-40) as some sort of myth, not in terms of history.

Since Fales' argument is refuted by a few points reaffirming intent of historicity in Matthew, that's all we'll need to do.

In place of a straightforward reading that respects the clear genre of Matthew, Fales offers an eisegetical tour de force in which Matt. 12:39-40 is a myth-form transmitting a message about order and chaos, which he also sees as interconnected with Matt. 26. It is odd that Fales rejects the above understanding as "arcane" while also requiring a dozen pages or more to explain why we ought to read Matt. 12:39-40 the way he does instead. Is Fales seriously arguing that our reading would be more "arcane" and "obscure" to Matthew's readers than his would be?

Little more needs to be said. Fales' familiarity with the relevant Biblical scholarship is dismal; his lack of knowledge of Burridge's study of the bioi genre (and his false claim that Talbert said that the Gospels were in the genre of myth (336); his acceptance of the "rulers of the age" in 1 Cor. 2:6-8 as heavenly beings (refuteed here; his acceptance of standard arguments about the trial of Jesus (refuted here) make it clear that Fales' level of familiarity with the literature is selective at best.

The Plausibility of Theft, Richard Carrier -- this appeared in the Journal of Higher Criticism in Fall 2001. Removed for my book Defending the Resurrection.

Financial Aspects of the Resurrection, J. Duncan M. Derrett -- originally appeared in The Journal of Higher Criticism, Spring 2003. Reply short enough to put here.

Derrett once wrote a book titled Anastasis in which he suggested that Jesus survived the crucifixion but was later dead, "and was creamted while the remains of Passover lambs were being burnt." The idea that Jesus had survived the crucifixion is one we have refuted before. It speaks for itself that Derrett's reply to criticism on such points is: "No matter how far-fecthed my story may be, my friends, it is nowhere near as far-fetched as a resurrection."

Derrett maintains this view as well in this chapter. Apart from that, his thesis amounts to an idea that Christianity emerged as a product to be sold in order to keep the Apostles in the money, as it were. In between some rather astonishing anti-Semitic turns of phrase (e.g., "the classic fetishes of Jewry" and some comments to the effect that Jews have a special gift for handling money!) Derrett appeals specifically to only one example of someone who allegedly died and came back to life, from Plutarch's Moralia 7. However, this is a story of a man who fell on his neck and resuscitated at his funeral three days later. Plutrach even says the man had no wound on him. This cannot be compared to a crucifixion.

Im terms of how that money was made, Derrett supposes that Joseph of Arimathea may have beem hoping that by having a holy man in his own tomb, he would thereafter have a commodity that "would be valuable as a magnet for speculators who auctioned scarce grave-plots" and also as a "place to work necromantic spells" or as a place for pilgrimage and also provide a trade in relics.

These ideas are countered by the simple fact that as one crucified, Jesus would no longer be regarded as a "holy man". After this Derrett once again offers a catch-all retort: "Money is a powerful motivator."

One may ask if there is any reply one can make to Derrett's thesis that he will not answer by either saying, "Money is a powerful motivator" or "Anything is more likely than a resurrection". In other words, Derrett has made his thesis falsifiable, so that if a resurrection actually did occur, we would never be able to argue for it -- and that makes his entire thesis epistemically of no worth.

By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus, Robert M. Price -- same we already refuted here

Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli on the Hallucination Theory, Keith Parsons -- some material taken from Parsons' prior work in Why I Am Not a Christian. Will reappear in Defending the Resurrection.

Swinburne on the Resurrection, Michael Martin -- this is an expansion of a book review that appeared in the periodical Religious Studies. We have a reply that includes comments from Dr. Swinburne plus my own reflections.

Reformed Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics, Evan Fales -- this appeared in the journal Philo in 2001. Because it is addressed to a position I do not hold, I will not be offering a reply.