After years of study as an historian, I now believe that Jesus simply died, and that the rest was invented, consciously or not, by his disciples...
And so it begins, and so, we have a question: If Carrier thinks Jesus “simply died”, why does he construct two entire sections that do not deal with this possibility? If you think Jesus survived crucifixion, or that a lesser deity, or an amazing natural event was the cause of it all, pray tell what the point is of bringing them up?
I think it’s appropriate to start with differentiating between what constitutes a miracle, and what constitutes an amazing natural event…overly general, Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions, notwithstanding. Here’s where Carrier fails to recognize the qualitative difference between a miracle and merely an extraordinary, but still natural, event; specifically, the fact that the former will have no ready explanations available to account for it, while the latter, no matter how rare, will always have either observable causes/laws or will have the opportunity for presenting hypothetical causes/laws. I offer two examples:
- I decide to flip a quarter 50,000 times in a row, and every time I do so, it comes up heads.
Could this be considered a miracle? In passing, one could perhaps claim so, but technically, it isn’t, for it has an available explanation - I flipped the quarter, and George Washington happened to come up 50,000 consecutive times. It is unbelievably rare, yes, probably unprecedented to be sure, and highly unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Here is an example where we can appeal to a known cause.
- A person is reported missing from their home. Now, let us say that the case is never solved. Well, we can’t present a known cause to account for the missing person, but is the event a miracle?
Not yet. We can offer reasonable hypotheses to account for what occurred like: the person was kidnapped; the person became disoriented, or confused, or whatever, and got lost; or the person intentionally ran away from home. No need to appeal to the miraculous when these alternatives are available.
Now, what if we had to eliminate such possibilities, and yet still had to account for the missing person? Can the event be defined as a miracle? If only common, everyday people are coming up with the explanations, not necessarily, because we can always appeal to professionals whose special province is accounting for missing persons (e.g., detectives). If they can’t propose anything even remotely satisfactory, then the situation does become a miracle, because we now have an instance where there is no known cause to explain the event, either by laypersons or by the professionals, and even more so, we have no hypothetical advances either party can make.
Let’s apply this to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do we have a known law or cause that could explain Jesus not only coming back from the dead, but also having an indestructible and immortal body? As far as I know, we currently do not…but perhaps Carrier can offer up some of those logical inductions about the progress of science and technology.
Do we have any hypothetical explanations we can employ? Here, too, I know of none we can conjure up.
Thus, then, if we grant that the Resurrection did in fact happen, if we choose Option A (that a higher power was behind it), we are forced by logic to grant that it was an All-Everything Cosmological God that did it. If we choose Option B, we are left to explain away an event with natural explanations, real or hypothetical, that simply do not satisfy what happened. So, based on current knowledge, can the Resurrection be defined as a miracle, if it happened?
Yes, absolutely. If we ever came upon a heretofore-unknown law or cause in nature that would account for Jesus’s Resurrection, and His immortal body, without appealing to a Christian explanation, then we could downgrade what happened to Jesus to an amazing natural event.
However, within the context that the Resurrection occured, if this is the line of appeal Carrier wishes to run to, then he has far, far more faith than I could ever have.
In his next sector, Carrier attempts to put forth the hypothesis that Jesus may not have been dead on the cross:
Above all, what evidence do we have that Jesus was dead? We are not told of doctors. Only one centurion gives his assessment. But officers in the Roman army have no training in diagnostics. They are among the least knowledgeable in medical theory, and they never seem to even touch him to examine him, except, by one account, at spear's length (John 19:34; and this probably did not happen...). In fact, in the one account that gives any detail, the centurion who answers that he is dead when asked (Mark 15:44) actually seems to have arrived at that conclusion in a very unreliable way: "when the centurion standing just opposite him saw that he breathed out [his life] in such a way, he said 'Truly this was the son of God'" (Mark 15:39; note that some manuscripts have it "that by crying out in such a way he breathed out [his life]"). The past tense in the centurion's remark makes it clear that, as the story is told, the centurion already concluded Jesus was dead, having made no other observation than that he appeared to breathe his last, and when Pilate later raises a question about it, he does not go back to make sure or apply any other tests, but immediately affirms that Jesus is dead.
Did a centurion (and any other attending Romans) need training in diagnostics to know that Jesus was dead? Would those who subsequently took charge of Jesus' body [Joseph of Arimathea and whatever retinue he may have had (incidentally, Carrier elsewhere describes this man as "probably-fictional" but nowhere explains how it would be possible to manage to invent such a prominent person and get away with it)] need such training?
No, they didn't. There was no need for medical theory, or a doctor, or an EMT or an embalmer to certify that Jesus was dead. A pair of good eyes and experience would have been enough. Let's flesh this out a bit more herein below.
Death today is a "clean" process -- our doctors certify the dead, and their bodies are whisked away before we have time for more than a glance, and barring unusual circumstances (such as an auto accident in which we are also part) we see them next in the funeral home "looking natural". Not so among the ancients, among whom, except for the very rich, death was an in-your-face experience. Roman soldiers worked the battlefields and enforced the judgments of death (and let us note in passing that crucifixion victims were nailed/tied and undone not with machines or with robots, but by hand). Everyday persons watched as relatives and neighbors (and animals) lived -- and died -- and took care of the body when the time came. A third of live births were dead by age 6; 60% of all people died by their mid-teens, and only 3% survived to their sixties.
The Romans performed crucifixions regularly, sometimes hundreds or thousands at a time. So, could the centurion have made a "qualified" pronouncement? Could he indeed have had enough "experience" to know when a body was dead? You don't think that he and the other soldiers exchanged "war stories" and notes about how they made sure or knew their victims, on the field and off, were dead?
Let us frame the matter by bringing to the readers' recollection some points made against a previous Skeptic, concerning the "signs of death" in a human body. We can also add a couple of these in from our previous list.
- Algor mortis (absence of body heat) -- the info for this and the next two items comes from an item by a forensic pathologist (now offline), and from a site formerly maintained by the Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois and their forensics department (now also offline).
"Algor mortis refers to change in body temperature after the heart stops pumping and cellular oxidation, which keeps our body temperatures at 98.6¡ F, stops; the body temperature falls to room temperature (about 70¡ F) at about 1.5¡ F per hour."
- Rigor mortis -- "Rigor mortis refers to the hardening of muscle cells that begins shortly after death and causes board-like stiffness in about 12 hours, lasts about 12 hours and then disappears in about 12 hours."
Our college site adds, "Rigor mortis is a rigidity of the body caused by muscles contracting after death from chemical changes within muscle tissue. It starts in all muscles at the same time. But it is first noticed in the small muscles of the face, neck, lower jaw, hands, and feet. Its time of onset and completion depends on environmental conditions and the onset of decomposition. The rigor can be broken. For example, a leg may be straightened out, but it takes a lot of effort. If the rigor is broken after it has fully set, it will not return."
Also included here is carphalogia (the purposeless hand movements of the dead as rigor mortis sets in).
"Any violent muscular exertion prior to death will produce a decrease in ATP and speed up the onset of rigor mortis, since no ATP is produced after death. Some factors that cause a marked decrease in ATP prior to death are violent or heavy exercise, severe convulsions, and high body temperatures. All of these factors may cause rapid onset of rigor mortis, with onset appearing within minutes in some cases, and, in rare instances, instantaneously. The instantaneous appearance of rigor mortis is known as cadaveric spasm.
In one instance, a man was chasing his wife with a straight razor when she turned and fired one shot, striking and killing him instantly. The deceased collapsed to his knees, holding the razor in his right hand in an upward position. At the scene, he was found dead, kneeling, with his right arm extended upward with the razor clasped in the hand. In cadaveric spasm, the object will be firmly clenched in the hand..."
"Rigor mortis disappears with decomposition. Cold or freezing will delay the onset of rigor mortis as well as prolong its presence. Rigor mortis can be 'broken' by passive stretching of muscles. After rigor mortis is broken, it will not return.
If only partial rigor mortis has set in prior to stretching, then the residual unbroken rigor mortis can still set in.
"Rigor mortis usually appears 2-4 h after death, and fully develops in 6-12 h. This can vary greatly. In one case seen by the author, a young woman died following an overdose of aspirin. An EMS unit was summoned while she was in an agonal state. On arrival, she was still breathing and had a heart rate. Almost immediately, she suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest. Attempts at resuscitation were made and continued for approximately 15-20 min.
"Following this, she was pronounced dead. The body was then made ready to be transported to the medical examiner's office. At this time, it was realized that she was in full rigor mortis, only minutes after being pronounced dead. Two hours later, at the morgue, she had a rectal temperature of 106 F."
DiMaio, Vincent J., DiMaio, Dominick. "Forensic Pathology". 2nd ed. 2001. Ibid 26-27
- Livor mortis (discoloration due to blood settling) -- "Livor mortis refers to the maroon color that develops after the heart stops and no longer churns the blood; heavier red blood cells settle downward from the serum by gravity as occurs in the plastic container when giving blood."
Our college site adds, "It is often seen within one-half to two hours after death. The hue of the liver mortis may give some sign of the cause of death. For example, a bright cherry-red hue may suggest carbon monoxide or cyanide poisoning. Inconsistent distribution of the liver mortis may suggest that the body has been disturbed. For four to six hours after death, slight pressure to the skin stops the flow of blood settling in nearby vessels."
"Livor mortis is usually evident within 30 min to 2 h after death. In individuals dying a slow lingering death with terminal cardiac failure, livor mortis may actually appear antemortem. Livor mortis develops gradually, usually reaching its maximum coloration at 8-12 h. At about this time, it is said to be 'fixed.' Prior to becoming fixed, livor mortis will shift as the body is moved. Thus, if an individual dies lying on his back, livor mortis develops posteriorly, i.e., on the back. If one turns the body on its face, blood will drain to the anterior surface of the body, now the dependent aspect. Livor mortis becomes 'fixed' when shifting or drainage of blood no longer occurs, or when blood leaks out of the vessels into the surrounding soft tissue due to hemolysis and breakdown of the vessels.
"Fixation can occur before 8-12 h if decomposition is accelerated, or at 24-36 h if delayed by cool temperatures. Thus, the statement that livor mortis becomes fixed at 8-12 h is really just a vague generalization. That livor mortis is not fixed can be demonstrated by applying pressure to a dependent discolored area and noting the subsequent blanching at the point of pressure." -- DiMaio, Vincent J., DiMaio, Dominick. "Forensic Pathology". 2nd ed. 2001. pp. 23-24 "Livor mortis is not very important in determining the time of death. It is important, however, in determining whether the body has been moved." ibid p. 25
- Putrefaction -- "One of the first signs of putrefaction is a greenish staining in the lower abdomen. The change slowly spreads and takes on a brownish look. Sometimes the skin gets so dark, it may be hard to determine race. The condition called marbling comes from bacterial action on blood in the veins. They become dark red or purple and stand out lightly on the skin. And as bacteria acts on inner organs, gases form. They bloat the body, and facial features become vague.
Putrefaction goes on until the body is consumed, unless adipocere or mummification begins." This process begins at death.
- Dessication -- moist areas like the eyes became dried out and moist membranes took on a "burnt" look.
- Jaw drops as the muscles relax
- "Death rattle" -- This point fits in with Mark 15:39. A physician with 21 years of experience in emergency care has given us this summary: "As the brain ceases to control the body, the air in the lungs is expelled. The force for it is passive recoil of the chest wall and lungs. All neuromuscular control of the upper airway would also cease. The laxity of the pharynx creates partial obstruction of the airway. As the air passes out, the observer hears what is in effect a reverse snore. The tongue and other pharyngeal tissues flap as the air is expelled. The fluid dynamics of this are the same as an inflated balloon released to fly around the room, but at lower frequency."
"A person who has a significant 'death-rattle' (it's not universal) would have had a significant tidal volume of air in order to have enough in the lungs to create the movement and sound of the rattle. This fits with Jesus' condition, where the agony of the situation would have led to very labored breathing. The transition from this to a flaccid state when 'he breathed his last' would be quite dramatic. It is also utterly inconsistent with any drug-induced state. Those are gradual in onset while this is a sudden 'phase-change'..."
In addition a page by Merck (now offline) adds:
Secretions in the throat or the relaxing of the throat muscles can lead to noisy breathing, sometimes called the death rattle. Repositioning the patient or using drugs to dry secretions can minimize the noise. Such treatment is aimed at the comfort of the family or caregivers, because noisy breathing occurs at a time when the patient is unaware of it. This breathing can continue for hours.
At the time of death, a few muscle contractions may occur and the chest may heave as if to breathe. The heart may beat a few minutes after breathing stops, and a brief seizure may occur.
As can be seen, none of these conditions requires any training in diagnostics to observe. Moreover, they would have been familiar sights and conditions to soldiers and "men on the street" alike in the ancient world (though, note, not necessarily to the upper class).
Let us stress again that death for the ancients was not a sanitized process in which the body was whisked away before the "post-death" portion of these signs could be seen, or covered with a sheet until the "whiskers" could get to the body. These signs provide ample, reliable ways of checking for life in a person who appeared to be dead -- and to plea further that there is no report of a detailed examination is to once again impose unreasonable demands of anticipation upon the text and upon the ancient world context.
There is also every reason to expect that the ancients as a whole would have had numerous experiences with death and the dying and recognize it, with clarity, when it happened. The average lifespan of the time has been estimated to range from 20 to 35, and only 50 percent of children may have made it to their tenth birthday. Death was, afterall, not something the Romans experienced on a TV set.
And yet, Carrier would have us believe that such mistakes were and still are possible. It is written:
Being mistaken for dead is not impossible. Ancient accounts of misdiagnosed deaths exist. Pliny the Elder, writing in the 60's and 70's AD, collects several of them in his Natural History (7.176-179): people who were deemed dead, observed as dead all through their funeral, and on the pyre, ready to be set aflame, but who walked away nonetheless (and since all Romans served in the army, one can see from this fact that arguments about the special skills of soldiers are moot). One account includes a wound that would seem almost certainly fatal (a cut throat, 7.176).
It is at this point that I am constrained to deliver one of my harshest claims against Carrier. Let it first be kept in mind that earlier, we were told that the apocryphal Acts of Peter could not be counted reliable because, among other reasons, it reported such events as the resurrection of a tunafish.
Well and well. But it seems peculiar that Carrier, one who holds credentials in the field of history and surely knows the full content of Pliny's work, neglects to mention in this context some of Pliny's other interesting reports in the same work, to wit, races of people who:
- are cyclops who are plagued by griffins
- have their feet on backwards and run very fast
- can cure snake bites by touch
- are androgynous, having thus a woman's breast on one side and a male breast on the other
- have a double pupil in one eye and a likeness of a horse in the other; they are also incapable of drowning
- have but one leg, and a large foot usable as an umbrella
- have the heads of dogs and communicate by barking
- have no mouth, and hair all over
Et cetera, et cetera. We could also mention the reports of a snake so deadly it can kill a man on a horse if the man touches it with his lance (and it kills the horse, too). But I think the point has been made. Now, one would suspect that if Acts of Peter is to be discounted on the basis of resurrected fish, Pliny himself should lose his credibility on account of some of these reported oddities. But Carrier apparently does not feel that we need this information.
Of course there are certain options. We could choose to believe Pliny about the dead people, and about the rest as well, but somehow I don't see Carrier taking that route, which would also open the door to giving us no reason to doubt a resurrection.
We could choose to believe only the parts of Pliny we like, and I can hear Carrier's echo stating that the "mistaken dead people" scenario is reasonable where the dog-headed men are not. But that argument is shattered on the points we have made above. There were ample signs of death that even the least-educated ancient (though perhaps not the insulated rich like Pliny) could and would have observed on a rather regular basis. By itself this renders Pliny's "mistaken dead people" story into the category of the barking men.
Indeed, the shame of this, above all, is that Carrier later tells us "...Pliny the Elder reports a lot of marvels as facts, and he was one of the most learned men in antiquity", doing so in a discussion meant to prove that learned men could be superstitious and gullible. So why aren't these stories also "marvels reported as facts", other than that it is found convenient to classify them otherwise?
We are also told, "Alexander the Great himself was impaled by a spear, which punctured one of his lungs, yet he recovered." This is interesting, but it has nothing to do with diagnosis of death. Then we have this:
Even modern accounts of misdiagnosed deaths exist, proving that even medical experts can be in error: as recently as 1989 in Springfield, Ohio (cf. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 17, pg. 2A) and 1994 in San Leandro, California (Orlando Sentinel, Jan. 29, pg. A20). Indeed, before the 20th century this was more common than we would imagine, sometimes causing widespread hysteria (see Jan Bondeson's Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, 2001).
Carrier would perhaps like for us to think that the specific cases cited are somehow comparable to that of Jesus, but once again his lack of specifics covers up a multitude of sins. Let's first look at the specifics of that item from the St. Louis paper.
The subject was a blind woman, aged 87, who was mistaken for dead at a nursing home and brought to be embalmed. Note again that in modern times, in which death is a sanitized process, there is no reason to think that a nursing home worker would have been informed enough to detect the signs of death and likely would not know liver mortis from liver and onions. They would probably call a doctor, but would hardly be expected to know or connect any particular sign with death.
Not surprisingly, legal action was brought against the nursing home. We are told further of the subject, Carrie Stringfellow:
A mortician said he had been called to pick up Stringfellow at the home. She appeared to be dead, he said. Stringfellow was taken to the hospital after her murmurings startled the mortician, who had been preparing to embalm her at the funeral home. Dr. Sajjad Siddiqi of Mercy Medical Center said Stringfellow was stable and fully alert when she was brought to the hospital...Siddiqi said medical tests had failed to pinpoint what led to the condition that made her appear to be dead. He said he believed she might have suffered a temporary heart blockage that caused her to lose consciousness for several minutes.
So what do we have? We have no more than a nursing home worker, apprently incompetent. The mortician was still preparing for the embalming process when the truth was revealed and had not yet the opportunity to check things out.
Is this to be compared to soliders and persons who lived with death on a daily basis, who had a job to make sure a person was dead? No -- it is what we would expect when death has become sanitized, in a society where Wile E. Coyote can get up with no more than stars around his head after dozens of deathly stunts.
We do not know death today -- even if we sit in hospice with our dying, we seldom or never see rigor mortis develop or the skin discolor. The experts take the body away and "pretty it up" so that our beloved look lifelike in their coffins at the closing funeral ceremonies. Little wonder death was misdiagnosed here -- and no certification at all for a readily certifiable death of Jesus by those far more experienced in such realities.
The cite from my hometown newspaper is much shorter, but no more helpful for Carrier:
An 82-year-old man was found stiff and cold on his bedroom floor and authorities thought he was dead - until he gasped faintly at the flash of a coroner's camera...Officers found Green on the floor Wednesday evening. He did not appear to be breathing, and his flesh felt hard and chilled. The coroner was called, and "as the technician's camera flashed, there was a very soft gasp or other slight sign of life," Lt. Dennis Glover said.
Once again, it's the same process -- but with an added twist. Police officers apparently did make an examination, and found what appeared to be rigor and/or algor mortis, but nothing else.
A match for Jesus? Not without a lot more information. Police officers should have some experience with death, but in a smaller community like San Leandro, maybe not -- and detailed examination is left to experts, whereas police will tend to keep "hands off" until potential crime scene evidence can be evaluated. We do not know how many dead persons the officers had encountered in their careers -- versus ancient persons who knew the subject very well. There is far from enough data here to make a comparison to the fatal (deadly) torment suffered by Jesus and also eye witnessed by many with somewhat routine, firsthand experience, with death.
A further word is in order here. Carrier apparently wishes to argue that Jesus may have been in a state comparable to these persons. Yet, the Stringfellow woman was awakened, apparently on her own but perhaps because of her surroundings. Our second man was wakened by the flash of a coroner's camera. Jesus was surrounded by stimulus of equal or greater magnitude during and after being taken down from the cross. The pain of having nails pulled from his arms and legs; being carried down from the cross; being carried around in the elements, at the very least, and probably more. If his condition was not that serious (unlikely), then why would he not have awakened or shown some sign as these people did? If his condition was more serious, then he would have died within moments or hours anyway, or remained in a comatose state…and yet, Carrier has no counsel for us.
We will see that Carrier goes on to hypothesize that Jesus could have escaped from the tomb and perhaps made it around to do "resurrection" appearances. There will be more on that later, but does it not seem odd that Carrier must posit a state of health just bad enough not to be woken up by surrounding stimulus, but just good enough to be able to perform these appearance activities -- all within a period of less than 40 hours? Is there any medical case on record that is this strange? None of Carrier's samples of "mistaken dead" fit the paradigm. It is merely a hypothesis seeking a pigeonhole between ranges of "just enough" to do the job.
An appeal is also made (in spite of points made elsewhere by Carrier to the effect, "What good are anonymous eyewitnesses?") to an anonymous account of a drunken man taken for dead by his servants, who came alive at the end of his funeral rites. The writer himself regards it as legendary, but we are told that this story and that of other stories shows that "this was a common theme throughout the known world at the time..."
No doubt it was, just as alligators in New York sewers is a common theme today, right up there with the vanishing hitchhiker. These, and accounts of near-death experiences, prove nothing and have no relation to the question of whether the ancients actually could or did mistake people for dead.
The Romans also delayed funerals for the very same reason (reported by Ps.-Quintilian, as discussed by D.R. Shackleton Bailey in Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 88 (1984), pp. 113-37).
It would be nice to be able to address this point, but the cite as it stands is bogus. The periodical referenced has never seen 88 volumes (in 1984, it was only up to volume 15) and the volume corresponding to the page numbers given for 1984 (and I checked 1988 as well) contain articles on things like the emigration of mathematicians from the UK to the US. No Shackleton-Bailey writing anything, no Roman funerals.
Moreover, Celsus, a medical encyclopedist of the 1st century, estimated that even the best doctors erred in misdiagnosing death roughly 1 in 1000 times (De Medicina 1.109-17), a sentiment corroborated by Pliny (NH 2.619-31).
I find no match in Pliny for this, as the cite stands. As for Celsus, while he does report "rumour" that "some have revived while being carried out to burial" (with no specifics as to conditions, names, or dates, other than an anecdote attributed to Asclepiades), what he says of "misdiagnosing death" has to do with signs during an illness that leads to death -- not signs of someone that has already died.
Moreover, his exact quote is: "A sign therefore is not to be rejected if it is deceptive in scarcely one out of a thousand cases, since it holds good in countless patients." Celsus speaks here of one sign at a time after it has given numerous others as a possibility; his "1 in 1000" is clearly a metaphor (viz. "countless patients"), not a mathematical estimate; and again, this has only to do with places where death is on the way, not already done.
Did Carrier read these cites? I don't think he did -- I think he copied them from Bondesen's Buried Alive, where they are also reported together.
And, speaking of Bondesen's Buried Alive -- this is a quite fascinating tome that focuses especially upon a controversy only a century or so ago in which a great fear of being buried alive resulted in all manner of political action and Goldbergesque inventions (for example, caskets with connections to a bell or flag outside). The work is indeed fascinating, but far from supportive of Carrier's efforts. Here are some salient points:
- Bondesen writes that in the ancient world, "absence of a heartbeat was the accepted sign of death."  One may of course suggest that this was applied to Jesus, and it may be countered by the idea that heartbeats are not always easy to detect. Further discussion might ensue, but one may make the point that "no heartbeat" while an initial sign of death is not the only one the ancients had available, especially as the body continued to sit there.
- Bondesen relates further that "[r]elatively little is known about what criteria of death were actually used in classical antiquity," but he does assume that taking the pulse was part of the process, and suggests, as we have, that "immobility, coldness, and incipient putrefaction probably also played a role." 
Most "signs of death" discussed in the literature were signs that death was inevitable, however, as with Celsus above -- not that it had happened. (Hippocrates said at such signs, the doctor should stop work, collect his fee, and leave!)
Diagnosis of actual death was left to family and relations (who as noted, would have plenty of experience).
- But beyond ancient anecdotes reminiscent of alligators in the sewer, Bondesen asks the question, "Was anyone actually buried alive?" In the end Bondesen decides that the number of verified cases of this can be counted on a pair of hands -- and in many cases a premature burial was stopped by an outward sign from the supposedly deceased and such cases were within the context of more modern times when death became more “sanitary”. Carrier's odds of Jesus' undetected survival ought proportionately be reduced to, for all practical purposes, nil.
As an aside, the trauma doctor in our consult has noted that Carrier's use of odds to determine survival is inadequate; this is because the effect of injuries is cumulative, so that it is improper to say that a 75% chance of survival of A, plus a 50% chance of survival of B, still makes for a 50% survival chance. Actually, the cumulative nature of injuries would require that the odds be much, much lower, even zero depending on what is under consideration.
Adding to the above the further counsel of a “drugged sponge”, Carrier permits a 3.4% chance that Jesus was misdiagnosed as dead. This is overgenerous by an amount of 3.5%. A physician in our consult has stated:
As an anesthesiologist, I can speak with some authority regarding the possibility of this thesis. There are modern drugs which, when touched briefly to a mucous membrane will cause death. Other drugs will cause an anesthetic state by a similar action. But none of them existed in Jesus' day, and it is not possible for them to cause the immediate expiration recorded in scripture...Further, John's account notes that "a jar full of sour wine was standing there" (John 19:29). This was not a jar brought by the friends of Jesus, but by the Romans, further reducing the already impossible chance of drugging Jesus to simulate his death. Only an a priori assumption of the fictionality of the account can surmount this difficulty.
There is thus not even a need to address further comments about a surviving terrorist fanatic or of the cold of the tomb. We are told, "As for the burial, being carefully swaddled and lain on a slab in an open, roomy tomb is never going to present a survival problem." But of course, Carrier is unconcerned with the fact that the temperature in the tomb was probably about 56-58 degrees Fahrenheit, which would cause death by exposure on its own after 36 hours (note that linen is not much of a protector in this context).
However, it is worthwhile to address other of Carrier's statements, to wit, concering John's account:
It is also unlikely spices were even present. Their quantity is ridiculously exaggerated in John, the only one to mention them (19:38-40). In contrast, Mark, the earliest and least fantastic source, leaves no one time to anoint the body (15:42, 16:1), Luke concurs with this, saying that the spices had to be prepared later for application Sunday (23:53-6), and Matthew, like all of them, mentions only a cloth. So John's lie is exposed by the universal disagreement of his colleagues.
The game of "only one author mentions it, so it must be untrue" is common in Skeptical circles, but it hardly bears out in reality. One wonders, if we had only John, whether this argument would be missed. At the same time -- for both this and the matter of the spear wound, or the guards at the tomb, as below -- are there absolutely no plausible reasons why only one writer may mention something where others may not? Unless such reasons are exhausted, the "only one mentions it" argument is merely a begged question.
Are there other grounds for dismissal? We are told the "quantity of spices is ridiculous," and this is a common point, but it hardly bears the weight of scrutiny: It was 75 pounds, indeed, we are often told, a large and excessive amount by typical standards of burial in this time, but one may ask why this was so. Was it because most people could not afford such an amount? Is the temptation to excess even so simply non-existent? Who has not known someone who, out of grief and agony, expended more than they should have for their loved one's last rites?
Such an objection simply lacks dimension. It is amazing that Carrier later credits "fanaticism" for the extent of the disciples fantasizing about a resurrection, yet cannot here credit the possibility of a more limited, practical and reserved sort of "fanaticism" by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (wealthy persons who could certainly manage the expense).
Given that Jesus' death and burial was reckoned as dishonorable, we can see why some writers may have minimized the detail they offered. Yet we can also see why John -- the beloved disciple and perhaps related to Jesus by blood -- would look beyond the dishonor. Did he just make up the amount of spices to make Jesus look good?
While admitting this as theoretically possible, we may note that any motive imputed to John for inventing the spices on theological grounds can just as well, and more reasonably based on the given data, be imputed to Joseph and/or Nicodemus on personal grounds as followers of Jesus who wished to offset, however they could, the dishonor of a burial in a non-family tomb. Mark's passages, despite the cite, give no indication that there was not time to do the job; the body was usually only packed in or laid upon spices, and given enough servants (not many) or contract burial tradesmen, this is no more a difficult or time-consuming job than arranging flower-pots.
Luke's account only refers to the women preparing spices and ointments and says nothing about those who did the burial and their means and methods. There is no plausible argument against the amount of spices other than personal incredulity.
We are told: "Indeed, packing bodies in spices was not a Jewish practice, contrary to John's assertion that it was--instead, it was Egyptian, and the mention of spices here may be an invention meant to link the burial of Jesus with that of Israel (Jacob) and Joseph (Genesis 50:2, 50:26)."
Perhaps Carrier can inform Ben Witherington on this matter, for he notes: "Jewish burial practice did not involve embalming, which was an Egyptian art, but rather the placing of spices in the winding sheet or burial shround of the corpse to retard odor during the week or more when the gravesite would be visited by mourners." [Witherington, commentary on John, 3:12 -- perhaps this is why no odor is noted about Lazarus]
The amount could easily have been afforded by a wealthy Sanhedrin member (or two) and could hardly have not fit in the tomb when a 150-lb body could; there would also hardly be any worry about smothering the corpse (which at any rate assumes that all 75 pounds purchased were used and left in the tomb, rather than any excess being taken back, or used for burning).
In any event, we hardly see reason for Matthew or Luke to anticipate Carrier's objections and mention such things merely for his own satisfaction. As they were following custom for burial, there would be no more need to mention such things than there would be for us to reflect on the color of the deceased's coffin, or, that they were in a coffin at all.
It is concluded that "the odds are effectively 100%, if he survived, that [Jesus] could move a tombstone given a day of trying..."
Given the probable size of the stone (probably no more than 4 feet in height) and what it was likely made of (limestone), Carrier acknowledges that it would weigh about a ton. It is insisted that while this would be "too heavy to lift," it would not be "too heavy to push over (for comparison, consider how easy it is for one person to rock a car--the average automobile weighs at least a ton). It was easy to open a tomb from the inside: all one had to do was shove, and the stone would fall away under its own weight."
An oddity indeed. A car is easy to rock because it has accessories called shock absorbers. Was the tomb rock equipped with shock absorbers or wheels?
No, and nor was it as easy as Carrier may suppose. Let us keep in mind who, if he survived, is in this tomb. Someone who was crucified? Yes, and more. Someone who had had nothing to eat for at least 20-40 hours (fasting that long may not have been unusual, but it would be a problem for someone undergoing the rest of this); nothing to drink other than a bit of sour vinegar (it is impossible for someone to go this long with this little water and still have strength, especially after loss of substantial blood from flogging, nailing, roping and hanging; and yet as well this man needed help to carry his own cross); lain out shivering and losing energy in a tomb with a temperature as low as 56 degrees; after hanging for hours on a cross (how do those dislocated shoulders and/or strained muscles feel about pushing anything?), and perhaps, if we are to believe Carrier, drugged (just enough to simulate death, but enough to recover at the right time as well).
Our physician consultant adds: "Most drugs have half lives of less than 8 hours. A drug to simulate death, however, would be a toxin. There are a number of naturally occuring toxins: tetrodotoxin, tetanus, botulinum, and curare. Unfortunately, a dose large enough to create the illusion of death is fatal. The mechanisms are different, but there is no question, they all kill...[and there is the] impossibility of him getting enough drug. He identified the taste and refused. Only the toxins can be effective after that small a dose, and they contradict the thesis by killing Jesus."
Add this together, and will they push over a stone? Will they even get up? The only "rolling" we might have is a roll of the body onto the floor, where it can die just as well.
Carrier tries to reduce that stone to a pebble: "The Gospels of Mark and Matthew even describe a single elderly man rolling the stone into place (Mk. 15:46, Mt. 27:60), so if we believe them, the stone in question could not have been too hard to manage..."
Certainly. And the Gospel of John has Pilate scourging Jesus (19:1). Has Carrier never learned of the language of representation? A man of Joseph's stature had servants (or paid burial tradesmen); no one would suppose that Mark and Matthew have him doing the actual dirty work.
"...[B]ased on the use of the word 'roll' throughout the narratives, the actual stone that the Gospel writers had in mind was the thin, round type which fell into use after the Jewish War, long after the time of Jesus. This was lighter and very easy for one person to move by rolling it on its edge."
This becomes rather interesting as here and elsewhere, Carrier appeals to the study of Amos Kloner showing that at the time of Jesus, 98% of the tombs (the other 2% belonging to the very rich) the stone used would have been a sort of "plug" or "cork" that, viewed from above, had the shape of a T with a thick stem. Carrier makes capital of the "rolled" language, supposing further that it is evidence that the Gospels were written late, having had no knowledge of the real tomb, and anachronistically assumed that the post-70 type of tomb, which was predominantly of the "rolling disc" variety, was what was used.
But there is a problem. Barring an incomparable flurry of tomb-building or perhaps (if I may just suggest) renovation, if 98% of tombs prior to AD 70 were not of this type, then it would still take a significant time for the "rolling disc" sort to become the type that made the higher percentage, and the older ones would still be there and set the main example. I would legitimately assume then that this would take longer than anyone would suppose the Gospels were written at latest.
Second, it is noted that Kloner prefers to read "rolled" as "dislodged" in line with the idea of a squared stone. Carrier dismisses this thesis, saying there is no proof anywhere else of the word "rolled" being used this way, and re-asserting the premise of a disc-like stone.
This is misguided. If something must be round to be rolled, then why can automobiles "roll over" and why can planes do a "roll" manuever? In modern times at least, shape is not the determining factor for what defines a "roll": what defines a "roll" is the consecutive movement of an object so that it presents successive surfaces upward. Carrier needs to show that this does not obtain in Greek, but he fails to do so. Thus, the Synoptics tell us (John merely says "taken away") that the squared stone was not merely moved away, but was in such a state that it had clearly been flipped over on at least two surfaces.
As a side note, one may see in Mark and Luke's "rolled away" an allusion to Josh. 5:9, "And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." I suppose reproach was round in those days. And, for what it is worth, Matthew hints at a non-disc sort of stone when he says that an angel sat on it; there would not be much room for an angel to take a seat on a disc that most likely went back into a recess.
Note: A reader recently queried Glenn Miller about this and Miller's answer has confirmed the above. Miller offered several passages that referred to non-rounded objects "rolling":
From the LXX (NRSV):
Meanwhile, these five kings fled and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told Joshua, "The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkedah." 18 Joshua said, "Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them; 19 but do not stay there yourselves; pursue your enemies, and attack them from the rear. Do not let them enter their towns, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand." [Josh 10.16 (no hint that they were disc's; any rock could be thus 'rolled', square or not)]
When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, "I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed." [Judg 7.13; also in Josephus version of this: "The dream was this: - He thought he saw a barley-cake, such a one as could hardly be eaten by men, it was so vile, rolling through the camp, and overthrowing the royal tent, and the tents of all the soldiers" (note: tumbling applies to no-disc objects too)]
He said, "Throw her down." So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. [2 Kngs 9.33 (note: here the word simply means 'throw down'--nothing about 'rolling down the wall'--chuckle)]
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. [Amos 5.24 (note: the rolling of water is just 'fluid movement', not actual 'rotation of a circular object')]
From Classical Literature (using both kuliw and kulindo - words):
"The king first thought to force his way through and advanced to the pass through narrow defiles in rough country, but without opposition. The Persians allowed him to proceed along the pass for some distance, but when he was about half-way through the hard part, they suddenly attacked him and rolled down from above huge boulders, which falling suddenly upon the massed ranks of the Macedonians killed many of them. [Diodorus Sic. 17.68.2 (note: square boulders were fine for this too--it was more tumbling than a smooth rolling)]
"And Sisyphus, son of Aeolus, founded Ephyra, which is now called Corinth, 1 and married Merope, daughter of Atlas. They had a son Glaucus, who had by Eurymede a son Bellerophon, who slew the fire breathing Chimera.2 But Sisyphus is punished in Hades by rolling a stone with his hands and head in the effort to heave it over the top; but push it as he will, it rebounds backward.3
This punishment he endures for the sake of Aegina, daughter of Asopus; for when Zeus had secretly carried her off, Sisyphus is said to have betrayed the secret to Asopus, who was looking for her. [Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, 1.9.3 (note: this is clearly a boulder that is being rolled--NOT a disc-shaped slab)]
"…and also owing to their loitering about the market-place and the city almost all people of this class find it easy to attend the assembly [Aristotle, Politics, 1319a (note: here it is translated by 'loitering'--simple jolty-like motion, irregular, bursty activity)]
"When he had said this, and had spread out his shield over his head with his left hand, and hill, with his right hand, drawn his sword, he marched up to the wall, just about the sixth hour of the day. There followed him eleven others, and no more, that resolved to imitate his bravery; but still this was the principal person of them all, and went first, as excited by a divine fury.
Now those that guarded the wall shot at them from thence, and cast innumerable darts upon them from every side; they also rolled very large stones upon them, which overthrew some of those eleven that were with him. [Josephus, War, 6.60 (notice, this is simply 'tipping a stone over, off the wall, into a free fall'-- very similar to how we would move a rectangular slab of rock)]
"Other Tyrians cast fishing nets over those Macedonians who were fighting their way across the bridges and, making their hands helpless, pulled them off and tumbled them down from bridge to earth. [Diod. Sic. Library, 17.43.10 (again, just a tumbling type of motion, not requiring anything circular per se)]
"When, therefore, they had slain many ten thousands of the Philistines, they fell upon spoiling the camp of the Philistines, but not till late in the evening. They also took a great deal of prey and cattle, and killed them, and ate them with their blood. This was told to the king by the scribes, that the multitude were sinning against God as they sacrificed, and were eating before the blood was well washed away, and the flesh was made clean. Then did Saul give order that a great stone should be rolled into the midst of them, and he made proclamation that they should kill their sacrifices upon it, and not feed upon the flesh with the blood, for that was not acceptable to God. And when all the people did as the king commanded them, Saul erected an altar there, and offered burnt-offerings upon it to God 4 This was the first altar that Saul built. [Josephus, Antq, 6.121 (notice that this is clearly a boulder, and not something disc-shaped. It is flat-enough and tall-enough to function as an altar. Yet they 'roll' this boulder to this place)]
"Mnesilochus: Aye, wretch indeed, what troubles have I not got into now! [Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae line 651 (note: here it is simply translated into something like "fallen into"--like a cube-like boulder would look like, while being 'rolled')]
"Tell them, and affirm it with your oath, that Orestes has perished by a fatal chance, hurled at the Pythian games  from his speeding chariot. [Sophocles, Electra, line 47 (note--a simple tossing/tumbling motion and no 'roundness' implied - smile)]"Strepsiades: Tell me, though, who makes the thunder: that's what makes me shake and quake.
"Socrates: Clouds do, when they roll around.
"Strepsiades: You'll stop at nothing! But tell me, how?
"Socrates: Clouds fill up with lots of water, then they're forced to move about, sagging soddenly with rain, then getting heavier perforce, collide with one another, breaking up and making crashing sounds. [Aristophanes, Clouds, line 375 (note: the 'rolling' around is described as 'moving about, sagging'--its just jerky movement, not geometrical 'rolling' per se)]
"…but the other kind because of their experience in the rough and tumble of arguments [Plato, Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophist, Statesman div1 Soph., section 268a (note that its simply used to refer metaphorically to 'tumbling')]
" Then they took counsel together, and when Xenophon asked what it was that prevented their effecting an entrance, Cheirisophus replied: "There is this one way of approach which you see, but when one tries to go along by this way, they roll down stones from this overhanging rock; and whoever gets caught, is served in this fashion"-- and with the words he pointed out men with their legs and ribs crushed. [Xenophon, Anabasis book 4, chapter 7, section 4 (again, this is not disc-requiring, but boulder-type rocks required!)]
"You vote yourselves salaries out of the public funds and care only for your own personal interests; hence the state limps along like Aesimus. [Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae , line 206 (note--the motion is 'jerky' or 'tumble' or 'halting')]
"He whose fault it is, he who hurried me into this trouble [Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, line 766 (again, you can see the notion of the motion is NOT 'smooth' or 'even' necessarily)]
"So she spoke, and my spirit was broken within me, and I wept as I sat on the bed, nor had my heart any longer desire to live and behold the light of the sun. But when I had my fill of weeping and writhing" [Homer, Odyssey book 10, line 499 (note the jerky, "non-linear", motion here)]
"There came to him an omen as well, in the temple of Apollo, namely an eagle which, after flying over the temple of the god and swooping down to earth, preyed upon the pigeons which were maintained in the temple precincts, some of which it snatched away from the very altars. [Diodorus Siculus, I book 16, chapter 27, section 2 (note the 'lurch' or 'jerky' motion again)]
" And journeying by way of Troezen, he lodged with Pittheus, son of Pelops, who, understanding the oracle, made him drunk and caused him to lie with his daughter Aethra. But in the same night Poseidon also had connexion with her. Now Aegeus charged Aethra that, if she gave birth to a male child, she should rear it, without telling whose it was; and he left a sword and sandals under a certain rock, saying that when the boy could roll away the rock and take them up, she was then to send him away with them. [Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, book 3, chapter 15, section 7 (notice that this rock was NOT a vertical disc-shaped object, but something a sword could be hidden under--flatter than tall. Bulky)]
"But when the Siceli came up in a body, the troops of Dionysius were thrust out and Dionysius himself was struck on the corslet in the flight, sent scrambling, and barely escaped being taken alive. [Diodorus Siculus, Library book 14, chapter 88, section 3 (note again just the 'tumbling' notion)]
" Blest are those whose days have not tasted of evil. For when a house has once been shaken by the gods,  no form of ruin is lacking, but it spreads over the bulk of the race, just as, when the surge is driven over the darkness of the deep by the fierce breath of Thracian sea-winds,  it rolls up the black sand from the depths, and the wind-beaten headlands that front the blows of the storm give out a mournful roar. [Sophocles, Antigone , line 586 (here the motion of the sand is a swirling, upward motion, and filled with discontinuities inherent in 'moving sand')]
"As when rocks leap forth from the high peak of a great mountain,  and fall on one another, and many towering oaks and pines and long-rooted poplars are broken by them as they whirl swiftly down until they reach the plain; so did they fall on one another with a great shout. [Hesiod, Shield of Heracles line 374 (again, tumbling boulders)]
"But men's expectations are often tossed up and then back down, as they cleave the waves of vain falsehood. [Pindar, Odes O. 12.5 (just tossing/tumbling again)]
"Most true," he said. "We would seem to have found, then, that the many conventions of the many about the fair and honorable and other things are tumbled about in the mid-region between that which is not and that which is in the true and absolute sense." [Plato Rep. 479d (the metaphorical use preserves the general notion of 'tumbling' here)]
And what of the spear wound? Here again the, "only one mentions it" argument is invoked, though why it is not plausible to suppose that only John was close enough, or hung around long enough to actually observe this action, is not explained by Carrier. Matthew, Mark and Luke's sources, perhaps not as brilliant in their theological creativity, probably would see no more than a bored, cruel soldier, inflicting another dishonor and indignity of the sort that had been heaped on Jesus all day long -- if they saw it at all.
It is added:
Of course, this is probably an invention -- there was a belief that the messiah came "with water and blood" (1 John 5:6-8), meaning baptism and death. Consequently, several church fathers (Ambrose, Augustin, and Chrysostom in particular) understood this spearing passage symbolically, not literally: the blood represented the eucharist; the water, baptism.
That's very interesting, of course, as is the note of the Cana water-to-wine transformation, but this is a Skeptical argument of "copycat" at work -- if it serves a purpose, it must have been invented (as opposed to, "it was reported, selected from actual events, to serve a purpose").
Not that it matters: An actual sacramental allusion is unlikely. John shows no interest in the baptism of Jesus, and does not detail the elements of the Last Supper; blood by itself is also never a symbol of the Eucharist. Carrier is simply guilty of a far too creative exegesis, just like Ambrose and his friends.
If any symbolism is inherent, it is indeed that blood represents life poured out by death, and water the new life of baptism. However, that is probably an exegetical stretch as well, and there is more to the issue; that in a moment.
It is added then:
Perhaps also this referred to the Jewish tradition of the time that the rock in the wilderness that Moses smote twice "poured out blood at the first stroke, and water at the second" (Shemoth Rabba, folio 122), the sign of God's grace and the gift of life (Christ was understood by Paul as representing this rock: 1 Cor. 10:4).
Not, in Paul's case, in a narrative context; but we wonder as well why Carrier sees fit to report the text of the Shemoth Rabba yet fails to advise that this document dates from the 11th-12th century AD. Perhaps he did not feel that we needed this information.
John himself already reports a scriptural reason to invent the spearing (19:37), and makes suspiciously excessive assertions of its truth (19:35).
To invent, or to report? It's the same presumption at work, and there is nothing excessive in John's pronouncement once one considers that a) what he had to fight in his time was a docetic heresy that doubted such things; b) such affirmatory oaths were "par for the course" in Greco-Roman rhetoric.
Suspicion here is the subjective, anachronistic product of the reader's mind and is not a valid criteria for evaluation, any more than it is automatically suspicious when a defendant raises new evidence in response to new charges.
For our next section Carrier turns to the medical matters. It is written:
But even supposing this wound to be genuine, anyone who knows anything about anatomy will agree that the only place in the body where a noticeable amount of water or any clear liquid would ever be visible, along with blood, to a medically ignorant soldier a spear's length away, is the large intestine (and even then only abnormally, e.g. diarrhea), suggesting a wound that is unlikely to be fatal until many days later...Moreover, the effect of a flow of distinctly separated serum and clotted blood, visible to a distant layman, is exceedingly unlikely. Unabsorbed water from the large intestine is far more likely in such a case, and even that would only occur if Jesus were suffering from some sort of medical condition that would cause an abnormal accumulation of water there.
In response I would present the words, again, of our own doctor, trained in critical care:
...as a physician, I will state that any physician who made such a statement should lose his license to practice medicine, since this statement is blatantly false.
Anatomically, there can be large amounts of clear liquid in the bladder. But this would not happen in a severely dehydrated patient such as Christ. If there was any urine in his bladder at all (he had nothing to drink for 18 hours plus, and major blood loss from his flogging, etc.) it would have been dark yellow. The stomach can have clear acid in it, but not in the circumstances of the crucifixion story.
This leaves NO normal accumulation of clear liquid anywhere in the body. The colon can have watery diarrhea fluid, but that includes much brownish material which would never be mistaken for blood. And this would require an illness not included in the story.
There is only one circumstance which fits both the story as given and medical science. That is the one where a patient has died and the blood in his heart has pooled long enough to fractionate into packed cells and serum. A spear thrust into the heart would allow these fluids to pour out with exactly the appearance recorded. We should note that such a patient would be DEAD.
One alternate has been proposed with some plausibility. That one states that Jesus' trials led to the accumulation of a pleural effusion. The spear then allowed that water to flow out.
But such a circumstance would not lead to blood flowing out as described. That would require the spear to penetrate the heart. Again, the patient would be DEAD. Even this very unlikely scenario requires the patient to be dead, and the rest of [the] arguments are therefore nonsense.
And of course, none of this would be invisible to a witness like John who was permitted to close in on the cross to obtain a final testimony. The only real question is: Is there anything implausible about the account? Carrier must resort to a plethora of unlikely objections:
But the account of his being speared is illogical and late. It appears only in John, the last of the gospels to be written (after 90 AD). There, soldiers decide not to break his legs because he is dead, and then spear him to make sure he is dead. This is contradictory and inexplicable behavior. The spear wound later comes up in the context of the doubting Thomas story, which only appears in John. As a late insertion in the story, it looks an awful lot like a rhetorical "vicarious conversion" aimed at answering arguments of skeptics, and being late this is to be expected: such doubts had certainly been voiced by then, and John would have liked to answer them...Thus John has as much a motive to invent the spear wound as he has to invent the entire Thomas story, which, after all, is found in no other account, not even in the writings of Paul.
Illogical? As if men were never illogical in ordinary life, and as if soldiers were naturally inclined to be logicians?
And yet, if one of the soldiers had seen Jesus give up the death rattle or show other typically accepted and reliable signs of death, and if you had been on duty for several hours in the hot sun, wearing armor, surrounded by hostiles at a most emotional season, who would as soon slit your throat as look at you, wouldn't you make life as easy as possible? There is nothing "inexplicable" about a poke with a spear in a vulnerable place, one perhaps that would ensure death on the battlefield, when it serves to verify (or ensure) death and saves having to lift a heavy bludgeon and swing it against a high target -- especially if you have already "done" two of them (the other two thieves).
As far as "invention" and "not mentioned elsewhere" goes, we have already noted that such motives work just as well for John to report from actual events, and that the "not mentioned by anyone else" argument is presumptive.
The only true refutation is implausibility, and on that account Carrier fails, and indeed is in opposition to what data we have: Raymond Brown reports in Death of the Messiah, (1177) evidence that piercing the crucified was a method of assuring their death: Quintilian in Declamationes (6.9) writes, "As for those who die on the cross, the executioner does not forbid the burying of those who have been pierced."
Similar treatment is given to the report that Jesus' legs were not broken. There are no new arguments here, though of the question of whether it was "a common practice to break the legs," misses the point; it would not be common practice anyway, only a practice when there was a need to hasten death (as in, "an impending Passover"), and it makes sense medically, which Carrier does not deny.
The reference that "John alone has Jesus buried in the same place he is crucified" doesn't bare out, since there was no "house" that the bones were in from the first -- this is again merely over-creative exegesis, and it is odd that Carrier reads this out of the text while denying John the reasonable ability to do less creative description from actual history.
On John's selective use of Zech. 12, see here -- Carrier is simply uninformed on the matter of Jewish exegetical/interpretive methods.
"Only one author mentions it, and he had a reason to make it up." By the same means is the story of Matthew's tomb guards disposed of, though with some supplementation, to wit:
- "...by inventing guards on the tomb the authors create a rhetorical means of putting the theft story into question, especially for the majority of converts who did not live in Palestine."
Matthew's Gospel was written for Jews who regularly travelled to Palestine for Jewish feasts. Skeptics regularly like to invoke distance to make arguments, but it is high time this was laid to rest.
- "And it is most suspicious that the other gospel accounts omit any mention of a guard, even when Mary visits the tomb (compare Matthew 28:1-15 with Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-9), and also do not mention the theft story--this claim is not even reported in Acts, where a lot of hostile Jewish attacks on the church are recorded, yet somehow this one fails to be mentioned. Neither Peter nor Paul mention either fact, either, even though their letters predate the gospels by decades."
Why should Peter and Paul mention such things? Like Earl Doherty, Carrier fails to explain in what context, and why, an epistle should mention what he seems to think ought to be there.
As for Mark, Luke and John, once again, there isn't a plausible reason for this? Perhaps Matthew alone was privy to this information among the evangelists? By any accouting no one knew of the guards other than the priests and Pilate, and perhaps any persons in their service.
Did the women see the watch? Why think so? They may have been stationed in any part of the surrounding area, out of view; they may not have been dressed in standard Roman gear.
How many were there -- two? Five? Does Matthew of necessity imply in his telescoped account that they were still present when the women arrived? The only real factor is again implausibility, and the best Carrier can offer, "...Matthew's account involves reporting privileged conversations between priests and Pilate, and then secret ones between priests and guards that no Christian could have known about (27.62-65, 28.11-15)."
None? We know from Acts that many priests converted to Christianity. It is no stretch to believe that the conversations were heard by these converts and reported to Matthew. Any suggested motive for "making it up" is just as much a motive for reporting it, if not more so.
In what follows Carrier invents a "just so" scenario of layered rumor (and if this is credible, why not a "just so" in a positive argument?) to explain how such a story of guards could have developed, adding the "guilt by association" and begged question argument that Matthew reports other strange things (not all actually strange). Not all earthquakes from the ancient world have been reported -- see here for an example of an earthquake reported by only one person); the Slaughter of the Innocents Carrier here repeats the standard arguments we have refuted, and the charge that Matthew mimics Daniel in the lion's den with his story.
But in imitation by fictionalizing, or by selection? As in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, fictionalizing is always assumed, which is a hazardous.
Also added is:
An additional reason to reject Matthew's story is that it contradicts all other accounts and is illogical: if the tomb was sealed until the angel came and moved the stone before the women and the guards, how did Jesus leave the tomb undetected? Did he teleport? For he wasn't in the tomb: it was already empty.
A resurrected and glorified body can't get out? The power of God cannot effect, indeed, what amounts to teleportation? Carrier has missed a point indeed: In all the Gospels, the stone is removed, but it isn't to let Jesus out, it is to let witnesses in, and testify to the operation of divinity.
Then it is added:
...the guard-placing account involves the Sanhedrin both holding a meeting and placing a seal on a tombstone on the Sabbath, which is strictly prohibited by Jewish law. Thus, Matthew shows them violating the Sabbath to work against the good, after having shown them attacking Jesus for violating the Sabbath to do good (12:1-14). Matthew is deliberately crafting a story to create a symbolic contrast, another reason we cannot be sure it is true.
None of this is relevant, for the seal-placing is just as well done by Romans with no care for the Sabbath, and there is no reason to regard the meeting with Pilate as some official meeting forbidden by the Sabbath restrictions which may not have even been in effect at this time.
And, beyond that, this is no more than an "if there's a law against it, it could not happen" argument that, if valid, would require us to empty our prisons and assume that high-level corruption and disregard for the law is impossible.
The final problem Carrier must overcome is: How could this wounded Jesus have been mistaken for one resurrected? We are offered the "just so" insurance policy:
"Although this is more likely if the survival was an accident, it is less so if it was by some design, and if it was design, we will never know it, for any definite proof of fraud would have been covered up at once, and it is only when keen skeptics were on hand that ancient fraudulent miracles were uncovered...We have no writings from any such person who is even aware of Christianity in the first century, thus no keen skeptic checked the facts when they were still able to be checked."
Or, no keen skeptic was able to refute the contention? This is nothing but arrogant supposition. The claims made in this context were not inaccessible and did not require a Skeptic -- keen or otherwise -- to evaluate. The "only someone as smart as me could figure this out" response is an appeal to the pride of reading skeptics, but it is not, even remotely, a rational or intelligent argument.
Jesus may have, as he is portrayed to have, preached that he would be resurrected, and may have even believed it himself, such that his accidental survival would be readily interpreted in light of this expectation, even by himself.
That, indeed, would be a trick. How did one come to be fooled that one had a glorified, resurrected body, when it was all too obvious that this was not the case, as the pain of the stripes and the wounded issued throbbing reminders every moment?
No "self-delusion of immortality, or other religious passions" could lead to such a conclusion, other than by one mentally deranged, who would be too far gone to deliver a coherent message or commission -- and then, how did others come to this conclusion? Were they likewise deranged? Did the derangement spread as convenient for this thesis?
Perhaps so: Carrier concludes that this may be so, "based on what even I have seen of the behavior of fanatics." Yet, again, this is no more than ideological bigotry, suitable for appeal to Skeptics convinced of their own intellectual superiority and the knowledge that what they argue against must certainly be false. May we be allowed to argue from this perspective that Carrier takes this stance because he is convicted of his sin and is hiding from God? It is no more valid to say so than for Carrier to appeal to the unspecified doings of "fanatics."
And why, at last, would a message be spread of Jesus' resurrection? We will look at much of this more in our next section, but we are presented with the just-so speculation:
First of all, [Jesus'] message may have been seen as too important, or his followers may have seen their position as too precarious, to let the truth escape.
I ask in reply, "What message?" Jesus' moral teachings were not unique in the least; his eschatological teachings were within the standard; only his personal authority and identity claims were anything extraordinary. In other words, only the resurrection/identity message and its accompaniments were unique, and this is the very thing Carrier accuses the disciples of making up.
And how could they have seen their "position as too precarious"? In what way? This is not an argument, it is, once more, mere suggestion and speculation.
Finally, we are offered this judgment: "It would be natural to deny the reality, in order to restore their faith in his divinity and power, and justify all the time and credulous faith that they placed in him and his message, as well as to convince themsleves that they, too, will be chosen and resurrected, and thus escape death, the hope of all hopes."
As Jews, the disciples already had this hope; they did not need Jesus' resurrection to certify this reality. The parallel to Jonestown is the expected, but it also reveals the inherent weakness in such a parallel. As with Sabbatai Sevi's movement, the Christian movement should have been limited, under these constraints, and never expanded beyond those few fanatics.
Is anyone now converting to Jimjonesism? It is not enough to plead (incorrectly, actually) that "Christianity was mainly initially successful outside of Palestine, and then eventually had to expand to Gentiles, failing to increase its success among Jews." Distance would not benefit such exorbiant claims in the least, especially not in a tightly-controlled collectivist society, no more so than such claims would benefit Jim Jones today.
We have a few further points to add based on other material by Carrier, a critique of William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, and some points on Jewish burial. Many of the points in this critique have already been covered, or are covered in our next linked essay on the physical resurrection. Here are some unusual ones:
Likewise, Craig's argument that Mark's omission of the name of the high priest (14:53-4, 14:60-3) implies that the tomb story was written while Caiaphas was still in that office (hence before 37 A.D.) is not really as secure as he would like, for if Mark was (as is most likely) written down in the 60's or later, then any details like the tomb could still have been added to an inherited story which did not mention the name. Moreover, Mark is uniquely short and brief and lacking in historical details of all kinds.
The latter point is exceptionally vague and does not address the primary point -- see our response to Robert Price on this subject. Price makes some of the same objections Carrier does.
It is interesting that Carrier remarks that the "later Gospels show historical details that could have been added after historical research, or by more knowledgeable authors (as lists of priests, for example, would have been publicly inscribed or accessible in records or histories)." Yet, Carrier seems to think it would have been easy to manufacture a Joseph of Arimathea, or that it would not have been an option to check out the empty tomb story within 30-40 years.
On the remark: "It is also silly to suppose that Paul read Mark or any gospel, considering that he never mentions them, much less quotes them..."
Actually, Paul in fact does quote at least two traditions from Luke's gospel.
On the remark that: "...Christianity was unpopular in Jerusalem and only succeeded in distant locations..."
Carrier of course dismisses conversion records in Acts, but he has no evidence that Christianity was unpopular in Jerusalem. The "Gentile mission" aspect was unpopular at the time of Jewish nationalism in the 50s, but we have no indication that the movement itself was any more or less "popular" than the Qumranites.
Remarks on embellishment in oral tradition are off the mark and misinformed; see here.
We are told: "...Habermas also omits to mention the fact that Paul was converted by direct revelation three years before he even spoke to an eye-witness (Galatians 1:11-12, 1:16-18), thus his belief was already assured when he eventually met them -- this means that he would not likely have been critical, but would have accepted their claims as the Gospel truth...".
Here, and later, Carrier omits to mention that these passages have to do with Paul's Gentile mission and not the Resurrection, which is why he does not appeal to any of the related proofs. The Resurrection is not what is at issue here.
The comment is made, "Historians always look for a critical mind as a crucial element in a reliable witness -- Tacitus and Polybius and Thucydides are trusted in part because they demonstrate a critical mindset, and thus we can be assured that they are less likely to have been duped or led by prior expectations than other witnesses. No New Testament author displays any such mindset."
This is merely begging of the question: a "critical mindset" is defined as that which rejects what Carrier decides a priori is uncritically arrived at.
We are told of Galatians: "For instance, the letter begins with a peculiar emphasis on the fact that he is sent by god and not men (1:1, 1:10), he is trying to bring doubters back into the flock (1:6) and thus has a strong motivation to exaggerate or invent or at least color the truth in his favor, he is worried about people changing his system into something new (1:7), he curses twice (another peculiar emphasis) those who interpret things differently than him (1:8-9), and he goes out of his way to swear he is not lying (1:20), and anyone knows that this is often a red flag for deceit--it at least proves that he is worried people are questioning his authority."
Not at all. Galatians follows the pattern of deliberative rhetoric and Paul's oath in v. 20 is no more than what was customary in the Greco-Roman world "to warn the other party that one was prepared to stand trial on the veracity of one's claims." [Witherington, Galatians commentary, 122] Carrier is, once again, imposing his modern values and resultant suspicions on the text.
On the remark: "Moreover, even if the Greek text 'could' have originated in an Aramaic original, the fact is that we have no Aramaic sources of any kind to corroborate this, and that is most peculiar. Why should all the earliest Christian literature appear only in Greek?"
This is also an odd objection from one who certainly knows that we have retained only the most minute portion of all ancient literature and that there is therefore nothing at all suspicious unusual, or problematic about not having the Aramaic sources.
On the "technical terms delivered and received": Carrier says he does not see why the use of these terms "should increase the reliability of Paul's letter" because the words used are common in Greek and not technical.
They are indeed, but not in Greek: they are the "techincal language of Judaism for the passing on of sacred tradition", [Witherington, Corinthians commentary, 249] which the community held as a whole to be true (i.e., as also indication by the position of the creed in the rhetorical structure of 1 Cor. 15). Of course, Carrier short-shrifts the matter anyway, simply accusing Paul of making up that it was a long tradition -- but to do so only deepens the need to propose conspiracy, thus adding a need for more such explanations.
On the matter of hallucination: Quoting Steven Carr, comparing "500 people witnessed a resurrected body" to "500 people at Mass received the real body and blood of Christ." Behind the latter lies a known theological tradition; what is it Carr proposes lies behind the other? No answer is given.
Carrier offers "suggestion, indoctrination, desire, trust in authority, persuasion, even loyalty to a connected ideal, such as belief that the new creed will be a necessary good for the Jews or for all mankind," but develops none of these suggestions at all, much less explains how they would apply to the context at hand. The matter of "strong enough motive" is refuted by considerations we have outlined here.
It is said: "...that Jesus appeared to groups of people in the least well-attested fact in the tradition, and is a likely thing to invent for its rhetorical power..."
One wonders how, then, one is able to distinguish when something is invented merely for rhetorical power, versus when it is reported for such purposes because it actually happened. The only defining criteria seems to be Carrier's subjective views on the matter.
Carrier criticizes Habermas for using a source from the 70s, and then proceeds to do the same. The hallucination theory is definitively undermined by the point that the disciples did not expect a and indeed were not expecting to see Jesus at all -- they only expected a vanished body and at best a spirit. Therefore, the "cultural or social expectations and experiential background of [the] group" of disciples was precisely wrong for hallucinating a resurrected Jesus. (For more on the issue of memory as related to this, see here Carrier is not informed on the quite reasonable reasons for such differences and again merely ascribes as "legendary" anything he subjectively considers unlikely. He is also unaware that Mark’s describing the angel as a "young man" corresponds with a Jewish description of angels (cf. 2 Macc. 3:23, 26 ): "Moreover two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength, excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side; and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes." [Witherington, Mark commentary, 414]
A final note is needed on a claim in a supplemental article:
"[Joseph] needed, therefore, to place the body in holding somewhere to ride out the Sabbath, and then he would be obligated to bury Jesus at the soonest opportunity, which meant Saturday night, when the Sabbath ended at sundown."
Carrier writes of temporary burial, and says, "...the body could not have been in Joseph’s tomb Sunday morning when all four Gospels claim the women visited it. Though they find it empty, by then his body would have to be, by law, in the graveyard of the stoned and burned." The tomb then is seen as a sort of morgue, while the actual burial was secondary and later.
Carrier quotes portions of the Mishnah Sanhedrin 6, including the part of it which states, as Keener reports, [Matthew commentary, 693n] that "...Jewish courts granted criminals obscure burials in a common place, but then expected the gathering of the bones to the place of one's ancestors a year later...".
However, Keener makes an important point that Carrier misses: The rule has the meaning that "the bones were kept track of even in the common place, not scattered."
Even if Joseph was not an ally of Christianity, and did remove the body and put it in a common grave at some point, this means nothing -- the corpse would still have been tracked, and Joseph would still have the polemical card in hand which could have destroyed Christianity or at least caused the evolution of a massive polemic we do not see any evidence of at all. Carrier’s point does not provide any solution for critics -- it merely moves the problem.
Glenn Miller has now added his own take on this matter here, which agrees in concept with our own arguments.
On to section 3.