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Some will recall that Peter Kirby offered the "right answers" to my parodic quiz for Skeptics. I am grateful because no Skeptic has deigned to reply with "stupid" answers since, and I'm betting Kirby's intelligent replies had a lot to do with that.
But now it's time to have a look at one of his projects which was once on Infidels.org, but is now part of Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. It is offered in sections which we will comment on to the level of detail needed; some issues we will have links for. Kirby has made some changes from the Secular Web incarnation, but for the sake of full coverage we will note any differences found (I believe I have found them all) and also address some points from the original incarnation. Sections not found in the book are noted, "Not used in ETJBG".
Argument from Silence
Not used in ETJBG, except for a version of the argument about veneration of the tomb, which is removed in the book to a final section, "One Last Argument".
The concern here is whether lack of mention of the empty tomb in certain documents represents a significant "argument from silence." While Kirby lays out some wise criteria for determining when or if an "argument from silence" carries any strength, I believe he has not considered a critical point of application with respect to social differences between our world and that of the New Testament: That is, the matter of high versus low context. As I have written, against Doherty's Christ-myth theory based on the "silence" of Paul and the epistles:
Malina and Rohrbaugh note in their Social-Science Commentary on John [16ff] that the NT was written in what anthropologists call a "high-context" society. In such societies people "presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or 'high' knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing." Readers were required and expected to "fill in the gap" because their background knowledge was a given. Extended explanations were unnecessary.
In contrast, we in the modern US are a "low-context" society. We assume little or no knowledge of he context of a communication. This is in part because we have so many specialized fields requiring specialized knowledge. Thus we expect background to be given when communication is given between fields. This is in contrast to the ancient world where there was little specialized knowledge.
Malina and Rohrbaugh set forth in summary what we now use as a stinging indictment of Doherty's methodology and as confirmation of what we have noted in this essay from the very beginning: "The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents.
In this light I will obviously ask whether Kirby's assumptions and criteria can withstand the "high context" test. Let's have a look:
- The first criterion is the presumption of knowledge. This criterion asks, how likely is it that a particular writer knew of an event if it had happened?
In terms of our key issue, the empty tomb, we of course are constrained to say that all of the writers Kirby appeals to would have to know of it.
- The second criterion is the presumption of relevance. This criterion asks, how likely is it that the writer would mention this event in this document?
This criteria is where the "high context" issue comes to the fore. In our low-context social world, "how likely" becomes a different question than it would be for a "high context" setting.
- The third criterion is applied after we have a number of different writers and documents that have been evaluated through the first two. The third one asks, how likely is it that all these documents fail to mention this event?
Obviously, this also is affected by the same issue; it becomes perhaps, as I say to Doherty, a matter of "200 times zero" still equalling zero.
Kirby lays Paul aside for a separate section and proceeds at once to the letter of 1 Clement. He notes that Clement:
...fails to appeal to the historical knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus (such as the discovery of the empty tomb would provide) and prefers instead to provide assurance of the resurrection on the basis of nature, scripture, and the legend of the phoenix.
There is little doubt that Kirby's criteria (1) would have to be fulfilled, but what of (2)? Here I must take issue, and it lies in part with high context. Please note what Clement says:
Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit.
Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] saith in a certain place, "Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee; " and again, "I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me;" and again, Job says, "Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."
Is the empty tomb "relevant" here? Kirby apparently believes that it is; I do not. The main issue here is the future resurrection. Clement however is surely aware that not all persons who die will be entombed as Jesus was; there will be other methods of burial, as well as persons not buried (lost at sea, cremated, etc.).
What would the empty tomb prove here? Nothing at all. The resurrection of Jesus proves our future resurrection; but the empty tomb proves the (possible) resurrection of Jesus, not our future resurrection. Kirby is asking Clement to talk about step 1 to prove step 3 when step 2 is specific to the issue and step 1 is not. The tomb itself, lying empty, does not prove anything about the resurrection of all others; whereas Christ's resurrection as the head of the Body of Christ does make it one explanation (but not the only one).
I would add that "high context" allows "raising him from the dead" to carry all the weight of content of the empty tomb.
Kirby appeals to another part of the letter:
The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ. In both ways, then, they were in accordance with the appointed order of God's will. Having therefore received their commands, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with faith confirmed by the Word of God, they went forth in the assurance of the Holy Spirit preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming.
But the answer is the same: "the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ" carries with it, in "high context", the freight of the empty tomb -- as well as all else that went with the procedure. It is just as well to say that here Clement does not mention that Jesus died.
I therefore do not see, as Kirby does, any "occasion for the writer to mention the discovery of the empty tomb" -- other than by low-context assumptions of how a conversation "ought to" proceed.
From here Kirby lists documents that also do not mention the empty tomb -- most from the NT, but others later. In each case he does not provide any specific analysis to show that any particular writer "ought to" have mentioned the empty tomb -- he acknowledges that there "may have been no particular reason for any one of these writers to mention the story" but also offers no specific reason for any of them to have mentioned it.
In light of this, and the very important consideration of "high context" we agree with Kirby that this argument from silence "does fall short of proof," but further disagree that it "this should be given consideration as admissable historical evidence."
Finally for this section, Kirby briefly considers an "argument from silence" from the other side, as Dunn puts it:
Christians today of course regard the site of Jesus' tomb with similar veneration, and that practice goes back at least to the fourth century. But for the period covered by the New Testament and other earliest Christian writings there is no evidence whatsoever for Christians regarding the place where Jesus had been buried as having any special significance. No practice of tomb veneration, or even of meeting for worship at Jesus' tomb is attested for the first Christians. Had such been the practice of the first Christians, with all the significance which the very practice itself presupposes, it is hard to believe that our records of Jerusalem Christianity and of Christian visits thereto would not have mentioned or alluded to it in some way or at some point.
This strange silence, exceptional in view of the religious practice of the time [of meeting at the tomb of a dead prophet], has only one obvious explanation. The first Christians did not regard the place where Jesus had been laid as having any special significance because no grave was thought to contain Jesus' earthly remains. The tomb was not venerated, it did not become a place of pilgrimage, because the tomb was empty!
Kirby regards Dunn's conclusion as "highly illogical" because Dunn did not consider the "obvious explanation....that early Christians had no idea where Jesus was buried." Of course this idea requires an abrupt dismissal of the Gospel evidence, and the matter of associating the tomb with the highly famous personage of Joseph, which Kirby does not deal with in this section; he deals with it in another we will come to later.
He also cites another author as saying "pious interest in the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre in our own day seems to render such an argument completely impotent." But this imposes a set of improper values on the ancients, as I have noted here. Thus neither of Kirby's alternatives appear satisfactory.
I myself find no significance to the lack of tomb veneration, since I happen to think Jesus' burial was, despite best efforts by Joseph and others, shameful.
A final appeal is made to Raymond Brown's comment that, "A particular reason for remembering the tomb of Jesus would lie in the Christian faith that the tomb had been evacuated by his resurrection from the dead." I believe that Brown here may likewise submit to what I would call the "Disneyland Palestine" fallacy; but at the same time, one must draw a distinction between remembering where the tomb was and conducting venerations at it. We would expect Christians to recall the location whether the tomb was empty or not; but we would not expect veneration unless something were there to venerate -- and in that regard, a tomb is not a thing to be venerated.
Testimony of Paul
Not used in ETJBG, though the main argument is alluded to briefly.
As noted, Kirby puts Paul in his own section; but our answer will be the same. We would add as well comments we offered in reply to Kirby's editor, Price, some time ago, also in reply to 1 Cor. 15:
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...) 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.
Some of this comes from Craig, and Kirby will have an answer to Craig shortly. In the meantime he says that he considers Paul's silence "by no means a conclusive consideration, but it should certainly not be thrown out of consideration simply because it is inconclusive."
Once again I simply disagree, because "high context" changes the rules, from our world to theirs, in terms of what is necessary to be mentioned.
The quote from Uta Ranke-Heinemann (herself from a low-context, Western society) only magnifies this point. In addition, she wrongly believes, and Kirby follows her into saying, that the purpose of the 1 Cor. 15 creed was to cite evidence for Jesus' resurrection; but a creedal statement, by its nature, cannot be pressed into being a full-scale apologetic, any more than Phil. 2:6-11 or Col. 1:15-18 make for an apologetic for the deity of Christ. It is a statement of summary for those who already believe, a recognition and not a defense -- and it is also used, for Paul's purposes, as part of an apologetic for the nature of the resurrection body versus Corinthian errors on the subject. (However, Kirby does say that he "would not go so far as Ranke-Heinemann in declaring this one consideration to settle the matter decisively," only as raising a "probability that Paul didn't know of an empty tomb story.")
Kirby briefly alludes to the idea of a spiritual resurrection. Our own take on this matter has been here and I do not find that Kirby's counters about the meanings of the words "spiritual" and "flesh and blood" are successful, though to be fair, he also admits that again he does "not consider the evidence to be completely decisive" and so says that for the rest of his commentary, "the assumption will be granted that Paul believed in a physical type of resurrection."
Dependence on Mark
Kirby's aim here is to show that Matthew, Luke and John are dependent on Mark, and so do not constitute an independent witness to the empty tomb. His reasoning is (online version quoted):
We have seen that there is no mention of the empty tomb story in early Christian writings outside of the four gospels. This situation is made worse if the evangelists do not demonstrate any independence in reporting this story. This would be somewhat strange because, were the story historical, it would be reasonable to expect that the author of Matthew, for example, could supplement his story with independent traditions instead of depending solely on Mark.
Kirby has, however, not considered two critical aspects of ancient reportage that come into play here. The first is that the similarities between accounts are just as likely to be attributed -- if not more likely, in a world where 95% of people were illiterate -- to oral tradition carried alike by independent witnesses. The second is that in ancient literary tradition, imitation was a value and thus to report an event much like another did -- albeit with minor, creative variations -- was considered a worthy practice.
Thus I do not find this a "reasonable" expectation at all. I would also add, in this light, that literary dependence does not in any sense equate with proof of knowledge dependence. Merely because Luke used Mark's or Matthew's literary form does not mean that he arrived at the scene with no knowledge of his own, and derived the whole of what knowledge he had from his sources. Indeed, that Luke provides many new and different accounts would clearly suggest otherwise.
Obviously we do not expect Kirby to "re-invent the wheel" and offer a full-scale defense of his view of literary dependence. Our own full-scale analysis is found here. I will therefore decline to offer specific comment on the material on this subject that Kirby cites from his sources, as I believe that the principles that they use are adequately addressed in my series.
Kirby rounds off with the comment (online, and in ETJBG, 236):
My theory is that the evangelists freely shaped their resurrection narratives with theological concerns, not on the basis of historical knowledge, and that their few agreements derive from dependence, particularly dependence on the account in the Gospel of Mark for the empty tomb story.
Our point once again, however, is that the shaping of knowledge with theological concerns does not in any sense show a lack of indepdendent historical knowledge, for reasons we have outlined above. That is, we believe, a false and unsubstantiated step. The apologetic that sees the Gospels as four independent witnesses to the empty tomb is therefore undisturbed.
Kirby also concedes the possibility that an historical account could be supplemented with more historical detail by Matthew, Luke, or John or at least with traditions that can be seen to antedate Mark. He believes, however, that because it was not done, this adds to the argument from silence previously made that the discovery of the empty tomb does not seem to have impressed itself upon early Christian consciousness as a historical event. I do not see this at all, because I believe that practical constraints make it clear that there are more prosaic reasons available for the "silence" that have nothing to do with "Christian consciousness."
Finally, Kirby notes that it could be stated that the tendency of the story is the tendency of a legend, to go from simple to elaborate, and thus that we might extrapolate the tendency of the tradition after Mark to suggest that the tradition disappates into nothing a short time before Mark. But he also concedes that it might be objected that this is just sloppy thinking and to this we would agree.
Fictional Characteristics in Mark
Kirby's next step is to disauthenticate Mark. An enormous quote is offered (in the online version) from Randel Helms, which contains in sum the principles of his thesis, which we have already addressed in detail here, and so we believe further comment is unnecessary.
Kirby does say that "not all the parallels adduced by Helms should be attributed to borrowing from the book of Daniel," but does think the evidence is strong enough to conclude that "the account of the discovery of the empty tomb was to some degree modeled after the story in Daniel." The book version notes ideas like those used by Helms, but does not quote Helms.
Kirby then turns to a comment by Leipoldt (online only), which refers to the story of the novelist Chariton. This comparison too we have previously adderessed, and so no further comment is needed.
Much of the section online hereafter simply follows upon Helms' principles that imitation or pattern-making somehow proves or indicates fiction. We say rather that it is an example of how ancient writers carefully used history to craft their accounts artistically, selecting from an authentic corpus of stories and facts that which would fit their pattern. Indeed, this in itself provides a needed answer to Kirby's prior argument concerning "silence" concerning certain events in different Gospels.
We pick up where Kirby responds to the following note from Craig about why Mark's reported silence of the women was "surely meant to be just temporary" -- this quote is from the online version, but some of the same material is in the book version as well:
See the helpful discussion of the women's silence in Bode, Easter, 39-44. He distinguishes five possible interpretations: (1) The silence explains why the legend of the empty tomb remained so long unknown. (2) The silence is an instance of Mark's Messianic secret motif. (3) The silence was temporary. (4) The silence served the apologetic purpose of separating the apostles from the empty tomb. (5) The silence is the paradoxical human reaction to divine commands as understood by Mark. But (1) is now widely rejected as implausible, since the empty tomb story is a pre-Markan tradition. (2) is inappropriate in the post-resurrection period when Jesus may be proclaimed as the Messiah. As for (4), there is no evidence that the silence was designed to separate the apostles from the tomb. Mark does not hold that the disciples had fled back to Galilee independently of the women. So there is no implication that the disciples saw Jesus without having heard of the empty tomb. It is pointless to speak of 'apologetics' when Mark does not even imply that the disciples went to Galilee and saw Jesus without hearing the women's message, much less draw some triumphant apologetic conclusion as a result of this. In fact there were also traditions that the disciples did visit the tomb, after the women told them of their discovery, but Mark breaks off his story before that point. As for (5) this solution is entirely too subtle, drawing the conclusion that because people talked when Jesus told them not to, therefore, the women, having been told to talk, did not. Therefore (3) is most probable. The fear and silence are Markan motifs of divine encounter and were not meant to imply an enduring silence.
Kirby analyzes the 5 options, and rejects Craig's answer to (1) based on his proof of problematic silence in other sources, which we have addressed above. Hence his retort to Craig on (1) we do not consider effective. He agrees with Craig in rejecting (2), as would I, though for other reasons.
Kirby does not accept Craig's answer to (4); and as a matter of fact, I would not so easily dismiss it as an answer either. But the idea itself requires certain assumptions about what was happening in the background of Mark's audience. For this reason I would regard both Craig's option as well as Kirby's reply (that perhaps "Mark and his audience held as a matter of course that the disciples returned to Galilee without any knowledge of an empty tomb") as too speculative to endorse, though the use of (3) would perhaps undermine Kirby's view of (4).
(5) Kirby says he does not hold to though he believes it is "possible." He adds another reason, "(6) that Mark's ending may be the final note on his theme of the failure of the disciples who knew Jesus. With their failure, the reader is challenged to do what was left undone by these disciples and preach the gospel."
This is one that I do substantially agree with, though not as something mutually exclusive of (3) in terms of what happened in history.
As for (3), Kirby rejects this as "improbable for two reasons":
- ...[I]t does injustice to the fact that the author of Mark ends the gospel on this note.
Of course there is some issue here of whether indeed Mark WAS intended to have ended where it does. For reasons I outline here I do not believe this to be the case; but since Kirby does not address any arguments for a lost original ending for Mark, we will merely proceed with his answer on this point. As I have noted, I do not think that Mark's potential literary purpose in ending the Gospel with the women's silence precludes the historical inevitability that the women would indeed not hold their silence. The dramatic effect (which Kirby seems to appreciate) would have done well to affect an audience of Christians who would regard the silence as tragic, and thus provide a jumping-off point for an oral performer to encourage them, in turn, NOT to be silent about the Gospel message.
- Thus as well, we answer Kirby's second point: ...[I]t is inconceivable for the author of Mark to have believed the silence to be "temporary" and not to continue the narrative.
Aside from the assumption that we do indeed have the full and genuine ending of Mark, and once again a reliance on Markan priority to make a case, the ending being made here is quite conceivable, for reasons we have laid out above (and others that are possible, but which we find less likely, at the link).
In all of this it is well to remember that Mark was written not as an apologetic to non-believers, but as a laudatory biography for the edification of those already believers. Kirby's point that it is inconceivable that Mark would end on this note (assuming that it did end there, again), because he had so much more he could have offered as proof, fails if the audience was composed of persons to whom proof had already been provided. In this respect it would be like saying that Mel Gibson does not believe in the resurrection appearances because The Passion ended with a mere cameo in the tomb of Jesus getting up.
Improbabilities in Mark
This section constitutes what we would call "beef", issues of actual or possible historical inaccuracy in Mark. Kirby offers these on a scale from what he considers of little merit to the most merit, though he also cautions that he is "not declaring any of these to be insuperable" (online, and book, 241) even as he argues that they "provide a degree of evidence against the story." We will skip over those of lesser merit and move to those that Kirby does consider problematic.
The first of these (online, but not in the book) that Kirby actually states "lower the likelihood of the story" runs as follows:
Somewhat more troublesome is the statement that the women observed the tomb being covered by a stone yet that they seem to realize that nobody would be there to move the stone only while on the way there. Craig states in his essay, "This same devotion could have induced them to go together to open the tomb, despite the stone. (That Mark only mentions the stone here does not mean they had not thought of it before; it serves a literary purpose here to prepare for v. 4). The opening of tombs to allow late visitors to view the body or to check against apparent death was Jewish practice, so the women's intention was not extraordinary." Craig does not succeed in emptying this objection of all force. Certainly, nobody would state that tombs were never opened for visitors. Yet in allowing the likelihood that the women would have thought about the opening of the tomb before, Craig does not address the problem, if they had thought of this, why did they go to the tomb alone? It would seem more likely that they would have inquired at the house of Joseph for permission or assistance, or at least that they would have brought someone who would be able to help, rather than acting like the fools that Mark depicts them as. This tends to lower the likelihood of the story.
I myself would not take Craig's tack, but rather respond with the idea that in times of exceptional grief, people like the women would hardly be in such a rational state that the practical concern of "Who will move the stone?" simply may not have occurred to them at once, but rather -- as depicted -- occured to them on the way. Perhaps Kirby would say that his reply of inquiring at Joseph's house would then kick in, but in addition to the point that emotion would have clouded their judgment, I suspect that it would have first occurred to the women to find out if someone was at or near the tomb first who could provide assistance; or perhaps they may have expected, upon reflection, Joseph and/or a party to already be there. This is also assuming that they knew at the time that Joseph was a secret disciple, which I happen to doubt.
Perhaps others were scared to be suspected of ritually mourning a condemned and dishonorably buried criminal. Perhaps most of the men who would’ve had any interest still just wanted to lay low out of fear, or were simply nowhere to be found at the time. Maybe factors related to Passover week and contracting ritual impurity from contact with the dead came into play in their attempt to recruit other men to aid them. Perhaps the women were doing something that simply wasn’t customary in going to anoint the body – so that asking Joseph to collaborate wouldn’t have been appropriate (especially given that he had already done so much to prepare the body).
Thus there are too many alternatives to argue that the story's likelihood is lowered by this point. Indeed, it is quite possible that Mark's line for the women is merely a "setup" of the narrative reflecting one of many concerns or points discussed, rather than reflecting an isolated and singular ipissima verba by the women.
The next issue Kirby appeals to is one that also appears in the book version (online quote):
Concerning the statement that the women "brought spices" on Sunday morning after observing the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Hendrickx states that, "the embalming of a body was apparently not in accordance with contemporary custom, since there is not a single example available." If what the women were understood to be doing was not embalming, what was it? There was no such thing as a second anointing. The body was washed and anointed before the body was placed in the tomb or grave. Not only is this Jewish custom for burial, but it is also common sense that a body would be cleansed of sweat or blood before being wrapped in the cloth (usually white). Again, there is no example available for people going to a corpse after it was buried, removing the shroud, and anointing the corpse for a second time (since it would have been already washed/anointed before). This would make absolutely no sense; it would not occur to anyone, especially not in a Jewish culture, to anoint the body after it had been buried properly (and Craig does agree that there is no indication of improper burial). Craig states in his essay, "what the women were probably doing is precisely that described in the Mishnah, namely the use of aromatic oils and perfumes that could be rubbed on or simply poured over the body." However, this obscures the fact that this was done prior to burial. Hans van Campenhausen writes, "The desire to anoint, 'on the third day', a dead body already buried and wrapped in linen cloths, is, however it be explained, not in accordance with any custom known to us..." It comes as little surprise then that Matthew and John, who are usually thought to have more knowledge of things Jewish, do not state that the women came to anoint the body on Sunday morning.
I believe that this matter is severely overstated. I see no more irregularity in the idea of coming to "anoint" an already-prepared corpse than in the idea of placing flowers on the headstone of an already-buried person today. Given what McCane shows to be a "shameful" burial of Jesus, further anointing of the body with spices and oils, which would mask the odor of decay, would provide an easy and accessible way, in the eyes of the women, to negate (even if in a very small way) the shame attached to Jesus' death and burial. It would perhaps not be "customary" but then again, the death of Jesus and hus burial were hardly "customary" either.
Roman Crucifixion and Jewish Burial
This is actually another section of "improbabilities" that Kirby set apart online; but in the book version it is combined with the prior section. Following background on the nature of crucifixion, Kirby engages an extended discussion of the burial of crucified criminals.
However, Kirby wrote his essay prior to the critical study of McCane (see here) showing exactly how and why Jesus would be buried in the tomb of someone like Joseph of Arimathea. While we would have some disagreement with points of McCane's presentation, it does substantially provide the course between "the Scylla of the Roman charge of sedition and the Charbydis of the Jewish accusation of blasphemy" that Kirby seeks.
As a bonus, it also provides an additional answer to the point about why the tomb was never venerated: It was a place of shame for Christians. We may also add the point that because the tomb would continue to be used by the family of Joseph -- and would contain dead bodies -- it would hardly be suitable as a site for veneration.
My biggest surprise is that Kirby does not even show awareness of McCane in the book version.
Having by his reckoning disposed of the Gospel traditions, Kirby next moves to apocryphal documents seeing independent information that may support an alternate theory of burial. Since we believe we have vindicated the Gospel traditions, we would consider it superfluous to comment on these points in detail.
However, we would suggest that critical study might not back up the contentions Kirby offers that certain of these documents are as early as he (or his source?) believe; for example, while Cameron may date The Secret Book of James (the only one Kirby looked at to make it into the book version) to the early second century, Philip Jenkins in Hidden Gospels [98-99] sees no viable reason to assign it such an early date. In addition, it is curious that Kirby is willing to allow for a second-century document to provide an "independent witness" yet rejects the idea that (say) Luke may be one in quality, merely because of literary likenesses.
This section is primarily a discussion of data offered by the NT text, and as such, requires only some comment, whch may be reduced to points:
- Some arguments are made about the "Resurrection 500" which mirror those we answered here
- It is argued that Mark puts the first resurrection appearance to the disciples in Galilee, based on Mark 16:7, which again assumes that Mark 16:8 is the original end. However, we would not reject the idea (as apparently Kirby allows for Luke) of some literary device in which a Galileean appearance was selected for reportage for a specific purpose.
- The use of artificial literary techniques as well answers such hypotheses as offered by van Daalen: "If [John 21], before it was added to the Fourth Gospel, circulated as an independent part of the tradition, and was told as a first appearance of the risen Lord, we have an answer to some awkward questions. The most obvious is, what were the disciples doing fishing in Galilee, if the Lord had already appeared to them in Jerusalem and sent them to proclaim the Gospel (John 20:21-23)? The answer now becomes obvious: in the story as it was originally told they had not seen the risen Lord in Jerusalem."
But the answer offered is unnecessary: Any Gospel passage taken to indicate an immediate trip to Galilee, with no time in Jerusalem (like Matt. 28:16-20) is immensely understandable as representing the voice, not the verbiage, of what actually transpired, with history selected from (not invented) to create a theme or emphasize a point.
- Furthermore, it must be emphasized again that the Gospels are biographical, not kerygmatic, documents. To wonder why Mark (perhaps) or Matthew did not mention, as Luke does, that male disciples confirmed the empty tomb, is to ascribe to Mark and Matthew a purpose that they did not have.
- Finally, Kirby offers a "vague sense of implausiblity...which the reader may accept or reject for what it is worth, against the idea that the eternal Creator of the universe would suggest a temporary rendezvous in Galilee."
I do not have this sense myself, given that Jesus already had headquartered himself in Galilee, and that this was where the disciples had family, friends, and property that had to be dealt with before, or at the same time as, they conducted their evangelistic mission.
- Finally, a note to Guignebert's idea that the disciples returned to Jerusalem because of "the conviction that the imminent manifestation of the Kingdom would take place in Jerusalem and that the Messiah would come forward there."
As an eschatological preterist I would regard Guignebert's explanation as forced in any event. I would add however that I find it no more odd for the disciples to want to preach in Jerusalem than I would find it odd that some company would want to headquarter or market products first in New York City.
Rebuttal to Tomb Burial by Joseph of Arimathea
Not found in ETJBG
Kirby now turns his attention to positive arguments and a reply to them. In this section we find that Kirby applies his prior arguments (which we have addressed) in a refutational pattern against positive arguments (represented by material from William Lane Craig). As such there is much here that is, at this stage, repetitive; there are also some arguments Carig uses that I am personally indifferent to defending (ie, Mark's burial story is part of a pre-Markan passion narrative [though I would say it was derived from an earlier oral tradition]; the simplicity of the narrative points to it being early, and others); some points on which Kirby does not disagree with Craig, for whatever reason; and some points rely on an assumption that Mark is to be dated to 70 AD or later (which we discuss here). We will therefore again limnit ourselves to concise and select comments.
- Craig argues against the improbability if inventing both Joseph of Arimathea and his role. Kirbys' reply in part assumes a late date for Mark, as well as a distant provenance (with which I do agree). Neither of these is any real difficulty, given the ease with which one could ascertain that a Joseph sat on the Sanhedrin; and that -- for a early date for Mark -- Jews came and went to Jerusalem for festivals from all over the Empire.
For a late date, I must disagree with Kirby that "it is difficult to suppose that their memory would be so strong that they would be able to remember the names of those on the Sanhedrin so as to be able to argue for the exclusion of any fictional name." Certainly those in the region of Arimathea would be able to remember; and if indeed Joseph was connected with the death of this cult leader in Jerusalem, any lack of preservation of his name would at once cause a problem, from which we would expect to emerge some evidence of attempt at resolution (ie, removal of Joseph from the tradition). It would be too much of a convenience to then respond with arguments like, "Well, the problems did not arise until after all the Gospels were written" and so on. This would be explaining away the data rather than accepting it as it stands.
The comparison of "expecting the average American to be able to recall the names of the senators in 1960" fails on the points that 1) Judaea was a much, much smaller place than America, and the place of lawmaking, far less remote from all citizens concerned; 2) ancient memories were, by all accounts, superior to our own; 3) the most critical point, that because of the distinct challenge Christianity made in its social world, there was distinct motive to check behind its claims, and thus the matter is as if the average American were challenged to, "Get the name of the Senator for Oregon in 1960 and I'll give you $500."
- Craig's appeal to the use of woman as witnesses, Kirby first answers with ideas that the women were simply inserted into the late record, based on traditions that there were women at the crucifixion. Obviously this sort of "reasoning" may be speciously applied to any historical record with just as much evidence, to get rid of any claim that we do not favor, so I am not inclined to take this argument seriously.
Indeed, it is curious that Kirby argues this, and then also appeals to Carnley's idea that "the male disciples may not have been available to Mark for use in the burial and empty tomb narrative." But if the women can be invented, why not the men?
Kirby also appeals to the argument by that "Mark's audience may be understood as consisting of Hellenistic Jews and converted Gentiles" who would not share the Jewish prejudice against women's testimony, but as we have shown and defended here the problem does extend into the Gentile realm as well. It is not a simple matter of a "negative view of women."
I am surprised thar Kirby did not see the example of the Sibyllines are irrelevant, since the Sibyls were regarded as speaking not for themselves, but for God.
At the same time, it is also odd that Kirby argues from the basis that Mark was not written for apologetic purposes (where before, his arguments implied as much). However, it remains that the use of the women must have derived from some idea to account for how the tomb was discovered empty, and this indicates, even if the Gospels are not apologetic, that there was some derivation from an explanation -- and all explanations of course are "apologetic" to some extent.
- Appeal is made to the meaning of "Arimathea" in an argument we have answered here.
The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus
Not found in ETJBG
This is a second positive argument set Kirby deals with, and our procedure shall be the same as in the last section; but this will leave us again with little we think necessary to address.
- Noteworthy is Kirby's appeal to the idea that Christians simply searched the OT and found Hosea 6:2, and from this decided that Jesus was raised "on the third day." As noted in our reply to Helms, this is the opposite from the actual praxis of Jewish use of Scripture. It is more likely that Jesus' actual rising/appearing on "the third day" brought out the memory of Hos. 6:2 -- or a Christian may even argue, that God chose the third day to resurrect Jesus in order to repeat the pattern Hos. 6:2 establishes and which is repeated in other texts Craig cites.
For the Christian, why is it not feasible that God made use of "scriptural precedent and Jewish tradition" to order history (especially since He is seen as author of that precedent) as opposed to the disciples inventing history based on it?
- Craig maintains that Mark's use of "the first day of the week" as opposed to the "on the third day" phrase, "points to the primitiveness of the tradition" for it suggests that it must have been used before "on the third day" became a standard creedal expression. Kirby regards that argument as "specious" and asks why it should "not provide the opposite conclusion". Yet Kirby also noted (in an argument we did not disagree with) the many prominent uses of a "third day" motif in the OT and rabbinic literature.
It is therefore hard to accept his argument that Mark uses "the first day of the week" because he is writing in a period after "on the third day" has become less popular. His appeal to the point that ideas evolve and expressions change is too vague, we believe, to support the case: At what date does he believe "on the third day" was no longer popular?
Of less credibility is the argument that "first day of the week" refers to "the day of the visitation to the tomb" and not the resurrection. It is incredible to suggest that the two were not intimately associated, especially given the Jonah prophecy of Jesus. The argument that Mark is alluding to the practice of worship on the first day of the week only raises the question of why this day was chosen for worship in the first place, and that it was considered the day of the resurrection, the new "sabbath" as it were, is the only answer with any strength.
- I find exceptionally contrived Carrier's idea that "first day" (not, "first day of the week") is to be linked to Ps. 24, and that with Ps. 22 and 23, to create a "three-day liturgy". This is merely a creative reading; there is no evidence for any such liturgy in practice, and Carrier strains ("Saturday corresponds to the Last Day of Creation, and thus the death of the old world; as a funeral liturgy, it also fits Jesus's day of rest in the tomb") to create the parallels.
- Kirby's dismissal of Witherington's point that Mary Magdalene would not be chosen by John for a witness, based on Luke 8:2, is based on the argument that Luke's words "may not have been known to the author of John...."
This sort of argument begs an immense question of the corporate ekklesia as a highly-fragmented and disconnected set of persons and groups that created traditions willy-nilly about persons of the same name, even as they apparently had little or no real historical information about them. It is far too convenient to be able to select times when this or that author "did know" or "did not know" X about Y.
Kirby further states that "it is not explained why the author of John should not have written the story the way he did on the assumption that it is fiction."
It seems clear what the explanation is: Mary is not the sort of person to whom Jesus ought to put in an appearance, by the social order of the day. An appearance like this -- an exclusive one, indeed -- accords Mary a status of honor that would not be granted to a) a woman (here, it is not her internal role among Christians that is the point, but what her role would look like to prospective converts when the story was told), who was b) apparently not married (the Da Vinci Code notwithstanding) and c) had been infested with demons, thus ritually impure.
We are also told that, "the suggestion that Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener is a literary device, not necessarily historical reminiscence. It creates suspense in the narrative." I am glad Kirby said, "not necessarily" -- real life indeed has quite a bit of "suspense" so that mere resemblance to suspense is no argument at all for non-historicity.
- I believe that when Kirby argues that the "stolen body" polemic Matthew reports could have arisen in the 70s or later, aside from being based on a late date for Matthew, it fails to appreciate the necessity that honor would place on the officials to account for the missing body. They would not sit idly by and let the Christian mission spread the word of the reversal of their shame-judgment.
I belive Kirby is also too hasty to suppose that Jews would respond "not by disputing the existence of the guard but by charging him with being asleep." If the guard were not there, in this paradigm, denial would have far greater force.
The parallels to the virgin birth and the miracles of Jesus do cohere, but in a way that is detrimental to Kirby's point: The give-and-take is up to the point of admitting an unknown explanation. The Jews certainly had no evidence that Jesus' father was a solider named Panthera, or that he had learned magic in Egypt. So likewise they had no evidence of theft.
As noted also, I do not find the idea that the location of Jesus' tomb was forgotten, or never known by Jewish authorities, to be credible, resting as it does on the premisses of a late date for Matthew, a complete disapperarance of data, and an unlikely disinterest by authorities in putting a halt to, or at least cause problems for, Christian claims.
Also, despite Carnley, Kirby's source, in such a situation that is described, it is unreasonable to suppose that polemicists would "concede the possibility of the bare fact of the grave's emptiness" as opposed to starting with a much firmer polemic rooted in history. Indeed, the concession Carnley supposes presupposes that other people know the location of the tomb; otherwise, the answer, "there is no grave for this person at all" would be sufficient response, since no one else would know of one either.
Assessment of the Evidence
In conclusion, Kirby "scores" arguments for and against the empty tomb (online version). Based on our understanding, here is how we would redo the scores (0 is lowest value, 3 the highest):
Arguments Against the Empty Tomb
- 0 The Silence of Early Christians
- 0 No Early, Known Interest in the Tomb
- 0 Testimony of Paul
- 0 Dependence/Expansion on Mark
- 0 Parallels to Lion's Den
- 0 Pre-Christian Empty Tomb Stories
- 0 Theme of Discipleship
- 0 The Ending of Mark in 16:8
- 0 Anointing Possible on Sabbath
- 0 Decomposition in Eastern Climate
- 0 Only Men Prepare Bodies of Men
- 0 Can't Buy Cloth on a Holiday
- 0 Not Enough Time for Burial
- 0 The Women and the Stone
- 0 Anachronism of the Round Stone
- 1 No Second/Late Anointings
- 0 Crucifiers Wouldn't Allow Honorable Burial
1 The Enigma of the Pious Jew/Secret Admirer
- 0 Alternative Burial Traditions
- 0 Primacy of Galilean Appearances
- 0 Arimathea = Best Disciple Town
Arguments For the Empty Tomb
- 2 Paul's Testimony
- 0 Part of Pre-Markan Passion Story
- 2 Relatively Theologically Unadorned Story
- 2 Story Relatively Nonapologetic
- 3 Unlikely to Pin False Story on Famous Sanhedrenist
- 1 Unlikely to Pin Nice Story on Despised Sanhedrenist
- 2 Details About Tomb Confirmed Archaeologically
- 1 Incidental Details Dovetail One Another
- 0 Burial Had to Happen before Sundown
- 3 Only Women Named As Witnesses in Mark
- 0 Almost Contradictory Intention of Anointing
- 0 Present at Crucifixion, Present at Burial
- 0 Unlikely to Pin False Story on Well-known Women
- 1 No Traces of Conflicting Burial Traditions
- 2 Graves of Holy Men Preserved
- 2 Primitiveness of "The First Day of the Week"
- 0 The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple
- 1 Men Would Check Out the Empty Tomb Too
- 3 Body Would Be Known/Produced by Authorities
- 3 The Jewish Polemic Presupposes the Empty Tomb
Sum of Points Against the Empty Tomb: 2 Points
Sum of Points For the Empty Tomb: 28 Points
Kirby himself concludes on the equivocal side: "There is no conclusive historical argument that will prove or disprove the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus." We dispute this conclusion, and believe that the balance of the evidence is indeed "overwhelming" in favor.