What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

(Guest Post) Was there a guard at Jesus’ tomb?

A guest post by Timothy McGrew

… ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή
Hippocrates, Aphorisms

Skeptical objections to the historicity of the Gospel narratives are numerous. They are also, for the most part, old news. When so many people have gone over the same ground so often, we should not expect much in the way of novelty. Still, every so often someone manages to state some objections so forcefully, or at least with so much bravado and so many footnotes, that they appear to be a new and devastating challenge to the basic factual accuracy of the Gospels.

Michael Alter’s book The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry (2015) is certainly long enough to seem imposing, and somewhat to my surprise it has thrown my acquaintance V. J. Torley into a bit of a tailspin. Torley has written a very long, detailed, glowing review of Alter’s book -- a review that is practically a monograph in its own right -- in which he claims that the book is a “bombshell” that “demolishes Christian apologists’ case for the resurrection.”

Since I am unimpressed by Alter’s arguments, I asked Torley to pick three particular arguments as test cases. He readily obliged, and in this series of guest posts I will evaluate the arguments that seem to Alter and Torley so powerful and convincing. Torley chose the three following points for this test:

1. Was there a guard at Jesus’ tomb?
2. Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the cross?
3. Was Jesus buried in a new rock tomb? (specifically, a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea)

In each case, he believes, Alter has mounted a powerful argument that the Gospels get the answers to these questions wrong, and he has recapitulated those arguments that he finds convincing in the linked blog post. I think there is far less to this case than meets the eye.

Here is Torley’s summary of the argument that there was not a guard at Jesus’ tomb.

This story, which is found only in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 27:62-66), is a transparent invention, and a very silly one at that. In Matthew’s account, the chief priests and elders go to Pilate on Saturday and ask for a guard to secure Jesus’ tomb, in order to prevent Jesus’ followers from stealing Jesus’ body and proclaiming that he had risen from the dead. Pilate accedes to their request. But this story fails to explain why the body could not have been stolen on Friday night, before the guard was posted over the tomb. Nor are we told why Pilate would have agreed to the Jewish leaders’ request, which concerned a purely religious issue that was of no concern to a Roman prefect. And how likely is it that Pilate, whom the Gospels depict as being pressured against his will by the chief priests into ordering Jesus’ crucifixion, would have turned around the following day and granted their request for a guard? Finally, the story is at odds with Jewish law, as it involves the chief priests and Pharisees ordering people to work on the Sabbath, which was forbidden in the Ten Commandments given to Moses: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:9-10). Even Gentiles employed by Jews were not allowed to work.


Torley rejects the story that there was a guard at the tomb for the following four reasons:

A. It is mentioned only in Matthew’s Gospel, not in the other three.

B. This account fails to explain why the body could not have been stolen on Friday night.

C. We are not told why Pilate would agree to the Jewish leaders’ request. In particular:

1. The request concerned a purely religious matter, and we would not expect Pilate to care much about such things
2. Pilate had just been pressured into ordering Jesus’ crucifixion, and therefore any further request would be unlikely to meet with a favorable reception

D. The Jewish rulers would not have made such a request of Pilate, since a gentile employed by a Jew would not be allowed to work on the Sabbath.

Let us consider these reasons in turn.

First, only Matthew’s Gospel mentions the setting of a guard at Jesus’ tomb. It is not clear how much weight Torley intends this fact to bear by itself. But as the argument from silence in such cases is generally terribly weak, it is hard to see why it should be significant just here. Many of the events of antiquity crop up in only one source. The conditions that have to be met for an argument from silence to be strong are rather stringent and are rarely met in historical work. (For details, see my paper “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica 29 (2014), 215-28.) As Torley has not attempted to argue that the silence of the other evangelists meets the probabilistic challenge laid out there, I will not belabor the point.

Second, Torley objects that the account does not explain why the body could not have been stolen on Friday night. In making this objection, he assumes that the request was made on Saturday morning. For the moment, suppose it was; even so, the objection has little force. There are simply too many plausible ways for the rulers to fail to make the request on Friday. Pilate might have left pointed instructions that he wasn’t to be bothered further that evening. The Jewish leaders might have left someone of their own to keep an eye on the tomb overnight. Failing that, they might still have thought that it would be better than nothing to have a guard set for the remainder of the time period specified.

But it is not even clear from the text that the request was made on Saturday. The Jews reckoned the beginning of the Sabbath with sundown on Friday, so for all the text says, they may have made the request on Friday evening as soon as they ascertained the location of Jesus’ body. In his work The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, According to the Four Evangelists (London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1827), Johann David Michaelis argues that the language of Matthew, with its peculiar turn of phrase (ἥτις ἐστὶν μετὰ τὴν Παρασκευήν, hardly necessary after Τῇ δὲ ἐπαύριον unless something more specific than the generic succession of days is intended) actually indicates that the request was made just past sundown on Friday:

Literally translated, on the following day, which is after Friday. As it is self-evident that one day must follow another, and it requires no author to tell us this, the meaning is, “on the following day, immediately after the end of Friday,” or in other words, immediately after sunset, with which, according to the custom of the Jews, the day ends, and the sabbath begins. This mode of speaking seems singular in Greek, but in Hebrew, from the same word [ערב] signifying “evening,” “holy evening,” or, as we should say, “vespers,” it becomes more intelligible. The meaning is, that from an apprehension the body might be stolen in the night, they did not wait until the following morning, they went immediately to Pilate that same evening, which now no longer belonged to Friday, but formed part of the sabbath, and requested a guard. [100; cf. the German edition, 83]


Various other New Testament scholars, not all of them conservative (Doddridge, Paulus, Kuinoel, Thorburn) concur in Michaelis’s analysis. Meyer dissents, but without adducing any reasons other than his disagreement with these authorities regarding the meaning of the expression τῇ ἐπαύριον. He does not engage with Michaelis’s point regarding the parallel Hebrew expression [ממחרת ערב השבת] at all.

The second objection, then, is either very weak (if Michaelis is wrong) or completely misguided (if he is right). This is hardly the sort of reasoning that should lead us to discard a contemporaneous narrative account of a public event.

The third objection is that Matthew’s narrative does not tell us why Pilate would acquiesce in the request of the Jewish leaders. On the face of it, this is a very odd way to object to historical evidence. Many narratives recount events without affording us an explanation for them, and sometimes we are left to guess what that explanation might be. So what?

But perhaps this problem is just a matter of wording; perhaps the real objection is that the two considerations Torley mention are supposed to make it unlikely that Pilate would grant a guard at the tomb. Is it so?

The first consideration is that Pilate, as a secular authority dealing exclusively with non-religious matters, would have had no reason to grant a request of this sort -- perhaps also that the Jewish leaders would not have had the temerity to put it to him. But this consideration misses the mark entirely. The matter of Jesus’ death, though of religious importance to the Jewish rulers, had far wider ramifications. An imposture might well raise civil trouble in Jerusalem, particularly as it was swollen at this time with hundreds of thousands (Josephus, Jewish War 2.14.3 (Loeb #280), estimates three million) of Passover pilgrims. Jesus’ popularity with the crowds was well known. Unrest at Passover had led to disastrous results within living memory, notably on the death of Herod the Great, as Josephus describes in his Antiquities 17.9.3 (Loeb #213-18). Preventing civil unrest lay squarely within Pilate’s sphere of responsibility. On this count, the matter is exactly the sort of thing we would expect the Jewish rulers to request of Pilate. It is a mark of authenticity rather than of inauthenticity.

The second consideration is that Pilate, whom the Jewish leadership had (according to the Gospels) maneuvered into having Jesus crucified against his own better judgment, would have been unlikely to grant them a further request. This point deserves close consideration, because it has a significance that has escaped Torley and Alter. According to the Gospel narratives, Pilate did not believe Jesus had done anything worthy of death. He allowed the Jews to have their way on this matter only because he feared that they would send a twisted version of events to Rome, destabilizing his governorship and perhaps leading to his being recalled in disgrace. For the sake of their argument, Alter and Torley need to grant at least this much authenticity to the Gospel narratives. In a subsequent post, I will return to this point, as it substantially undermines a claim that Torley and others have made in support of the second and third objections.

But the consideration is relevant here only if there is no other reason that Pilate might have felt moved to grant such a request. And even assuming that Pilate was thoroughly unhappy with the Jewish leaders by this time, such a reason lies ready to hand. The theft of a body and proclamation that the individual in question was alive was the sort of scenario a Roman governor under Tiberius could not safely ignore. Some sixteen years earlier, one Clemens, a slave of Caesar Augustus’s grandson Agrippa Postumus, stole the ashes and bones of his murdered master and spread the rumor that Agrippa had in fact escaped the attempt on his life. As he resembled his dead master in age and physique, he went so far as to impersonate him in some of the towns at twilight. Tiberius, who had become sole emperor after the death of his adopted father Augustus in that very year, feared a conspiracy and had Clemens apprehended, interrogated, and slain in a private part of his palace. (See Tacitus, Annals 2.39-40.)

So this second consideration, as well, turns out not only to pose no problem for the authenticity of the narrative but actually to be a point in its favor. These are the sorts of details that modern critics, even those professing to examine historical matters very minutely, are apt to overlook because they are not intimately familiar with the historical context.

The fourth objection is that the Jewish leaders would not have asked Pilate to set a guard at the tomb, since it was the Sabbath day, and Jewish law would have forbidden them to hire a gentile to do such work on the Sabbath. Yet again, the objection seems to me to be fundamentally misguided, and in two ways. First, even supposing the objection to be fairly stated, there is no guarantee that the Jewish authorities would be particularly scrupulous in the matter of hiring a Roman guard to do their work, as they had already shown their willingness to hold a trial by night in prima facie violation of their own rules.

But as it happens, the text does not bear out the idea that they were hiring anyone. Rather, they were making a request to Pilate, as the civil governor, that he would secure the tomb with a guard. Nothing in Jewish law as interpreted at the time would prevent them from making such a request.

I conclude that on the first point, Alter’s argument, as summarized by Torley, completely fails to undermine the credibility Matthew’s account of the setting of a guard at the tomb where Jesus had just been buried. Indeed, some of the particular considerations raised against that account are actually points that count on the other side, showing a minute consistency with the historical context and recent historical events that have escaped the notice of these critics.

In my subsequent posts, I will examine Torley’s two remaining challenges.

[UPDATE: See the comments thread below for an argument of Torley's on a related point.]

Comments (64)

Dr. McGrew,

Do you (or anyone else of note) attribute any credence to the idea that Pilate’s “you have a guard. Secure it the best you can.” Was a refusal after all. In other words Pilate was sarcastically reminding the Jews that they should use the Temple guard, which Roman oversight had allowed them to maintain. This is after Morris, I believe.

I’ve always been a fan of the “use your own guard and stop bothering me” hypothesis, if only for it’s fun contrarian elan. Is it completely unsupportable in your view?

Kevin,

I'm ambivalent about that point. It could be correct. But later, the guards seem to be in particular danger from the Roman authorities, and the Jewish leaders offer to run interference from them. That fact isn't decisive, but it does seem to point in the direction of their being a Roman guard.

A reader has pointed out that Torley has an additional argument, not against the setting of a guard at the tomb but to the story of what happened to the guards in the aftermath of the resurrection. Here is Torley's discussion, appearing after he has quoted John Wenham, in The Easter Enigma, as saying that the account "bristles with improbabilities":

The aftermath is even more absurd: despite the fact that the penalty for guards falling asleep was crucifixion upside down, the guards agree to spread the totally implausible story that they all fell asleep on Sunday morning, and that none of them woke up while the disciples broke the seal of the tomb, rolled back the stone, and removed the body of Jesus!

Nevertheless, Wenham is inclined to credit the story of the guard, precisely because it’s so full of obvious holes that he thinks no-one would have made it up in the first place. In reply, Alter suggests (2015, pp. 340-342) that the story was originally created in order to forestall an anti-Christian explanation for the empty tomb: maybe the reason why it was found empty is that Jesus’ body was stolen. To forestall that possibility, someone concocted a fictitious account of the Jewish priests going to Pilate and requesting a guard, in order to quell popular rumors that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. But that created a problem: if there were a guard at the tomb, then the women wouldn’t have been able to enter and find it empty. So in the story, the guard had to be gotten out of the way. This was done by inserting a terrifying apparition of an angel just before the women arrived at the tomb, causing the guards to fall into a dead faint, and conveniently providing the women with the opportunity to enter the tomb. And in order to explain why there was no public record of the guard seeing the angel remove the stone, the story of the guards being bribed into silence by the Jewish chief priests was invented. In short: the lameness of the guard story cannot be used to establish its authenticity. The story is an ad hoc creation, designed to forestall a common objection to the empty tomb accounts.


There is certainly something ad hoc going on in Alter's treatment of the matter, but the problem lies in the methodology Alter employs here rather than in the story as told in Matthew's Gospel. Start with a surmise -- "Maybe it didn't really happen." Faced with the fact that there isn't much reason to doubt it, make up a purely hypothetical motivation that someone might have had for inventing such a story: "Maybe Jesus' body really was stolen, and they had to create a cover story for that fact." Faced with the further problem that this particular cover story is hardly what one would invent to answer to that hypothetical state of affairs and could easily be contradicted by people on the ground in Jerusalem who knew the guards, ignore the problem and instead double down on creating hypothetical rationales for other parts of the story. "The guards have to be gotten out of the way so the women can enter ..." Okay, why not just have Jesus' resurrection itself knock them out instead of resorting to the awkward fabrication of their falling asleep? Simple questions like this suffice to show how specious such reasoning is. What historical narrative, however faithful, could not be dissolved (at least in the imagination of the critic) by the application of such methods?

Torley expresses incredulity that Wenham argues from the improbabilities in the story (conceived as a story) that the best explanation for why it is told is that it was notoriously true. But in fact, this is a well-known pattern of argument that Aristotle discusses in his Rhetoric 2.23.21 (1400a):

Another line of argument refers to things which are supposed to happen and yet seem incredible. We may argue that people could not have believed them, if they had not been true or nearly true: even that they are the more likely to be true because they are incredible. For the things which men believe are either facts or probabilities: if, therefore, a thing that is believed is improbable and even incredible, it must be true, since it is certainly not believed because it is at all probable or credible.

The argument is an inference to the best explanation, so we may properly demur at Aristotle's saying that it must be true. Nevertheless, it is not an unreasonable method of argumentation. Compared to the tissue of utterly ungrounded hypotheses that Alter fabricates as an alternative, it seems by far the more sober choice.

Drive-by comments on four reasons cited by McGrew why Torley rejects the account of there being a guard at Jesus' tomb

A. It is mentioned only in Matthew’s Gospel, not in the other three.

B. This account fails to explain why the body could not have been stolen on Friday night.

C. We are not told why Pilate would agree to the Jewish leaders’ request. In particular:

1. The request concerned a purely religious matter, and we would not expect Pilate to care much about such things

2. Pilate had just been pressured into ordering Jesus’ crucifixion, and therefore any further request would be unlikely to meet with a favorable reception

D. The Jewish rulers would not have made such a request of Pilate, since a gentile employed by a Jew would not be allowed to work on the Sabbath.

My brief comments (inferior to McGrew's) are as follows. Any cheekiness in tone is unintentional, just my quick reactions.

A: so what?

B: it would be nice to have everything explained, but we don't get that in ancient documents. How is the fact that not everything the critic wants explained gets explained an argument against an account. Seems that the critic would have to argue that the lack of explanation on this point is such that it makes the account unlikely. But where's the argument.

C: same sort of reply as for B.

D: can't do any better and pithier than requoting Tim "First, even supposing the objection to be fairly stated, there is no guarantee that the Jewish authorities would be particularly scrupulous in the matter of hiring a Roman guard to do their work, as they had already shown their willingness to hold a trial by night in prima facie violation of their own rules."

The arguments seem really like fluff. In fact, they seem more like just musings of the critic (who has every right to muse) rather than actual substantial criticisms or points that make one's belief in the trustworthiness account drop.

There are good and fair questions to raise regarding difficulties in the gospels and various NT documents, and there are a few instances where my answer after studying things is simply "I don't know". But, if I haven't misread things badly, it seems shocking to me that A+B+C+D is even entertained as some sort of argument. Not that an argument is made but it falls short, but that it really isn't even an argument to begin with.

Am I missing something due to having been assimilated in the McGrew Evidentialist Borg Collective? Am I a frothing reactionary on these points? Or is this another example of gospel criticism run amok? (Seriously) Seems like "there's no there there."

Without fail, the one element everybody arguing against the guard at the tomb overlooks is that the tomb was sealed. There is no way in the world a Roman centurion would have assumed the responsibility for that seal without knowing the body of Jesus was in the tomb. The temple authorities would have known this, and they knew what the Romans would do. They knew the Romans would have to open and enter the tomb, something Jews couldn't do on the Sabbath. That explains why they went to Pilate. They wanted that tomb sealed because they didn't know if the body was in there, either. All they knew was that it had been turned over to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both of whom they likely regarded as political enemies, and these two had allegedly interred it. They had to know the body of Jesus was in there prior to the third day in order to prevent a fake resurrection, and this was the only way they could find out.

Simply put,the guard at the tomb had to be Roman, or the tomb could not have been sealed. A Jewish guard could not do that. It's questionable if the Jews could have even posted a guard without violating the Sabbath rules, but it is for certain they could not have moved the stone. But the Romans could, and they would have had to in order to document the tomb's contents. Furthermore, the soldiers who made up this guard probably had no idea who Jesus was, let alone what He looked like. That explains why the temple authorities tagged along. They would be needed to provide the witnesses who could identify the body. Again, we know this had to be done because the tomb was sealed. The centurion in charge would not have assumed responsibility for the seal unless he had eyewitness identification of a body he had seen with his own eyes. Seals are nothing to trifle with, even today, but in those days Roman discipline was severe, and no soldier was going to half do his job, and leave himself open to that. In addition, this explains two other questions that arise from Matthew's account, one of which came up here.

When the tomb was entered by followers of Jesus following the resurrection, the napkin covering the face of Jesus was lying folded by itself, separated from the other grave clothes. We know that the Jewish burial custom of that time was to wrap the head with a cloth, thus covering the face. That would have to be removed in order to identify the body. The point that it was folded, at least to me, implies a military presence. One of the first things a soldier learns is how to handle personal items. Everything must be folded and stored precisely. The Roman soldier was the best trained the world had ever seen up to that time, and the centurion was the best of the best. A duty of this sort wouldn't be handed out lightly, and a guard detail of this importance would have required a centurion. That alone would explain why the face covering was found folded. A well-trained soldier, in my opinion, would not have simply flung the cloth aside. And, being unfamiliar with Jewish burial practices, he would not have bothered rewrapping the head of Jesus, either. His work was done when the identification was made. Thus it would have made no difference when the guard was posted. The body was there or the Romans would not have affixed the seal of the empire, whether on Friday night or Saturday morning.

This would also explain why the account appears only in Matthew's gospel. Matthew had been a tax collector. In order to carry out those duties, he had to know how to use seals. He had to transport the monies he collected from Capernaum, where his booth was, probably to Caesarea, where Pilate - the ultimate recipient of Matthew's liabilities - had his headquarters. The only way to do this securely would be by armed guard, with the money properly documented and sealed. So, once Matthew knew the tomb was sealed, he also knew it had been examined and its contents documented. Alone among the apostles, Matthew knew exactly what that seal meant.

Once the tomb was closed and sealed, the guard could be posted. Accounts I've read put the number of soldiers at about 16 for this kind of duty, so that they could be stationed in a fan-shaped formation, with at least four at a time awake while the others slept. There was simply no way anybody could have slipped up on the guard and carried off the body. Yet, the empty tomb was never contested. To the contrary, it was confirmed by the enemies of Jesus, ironically through their very efforts to explain it away.

Seals are very simple and very old devices. We can find them in museums today, and depending on who dated them, some are claimed to pre-date the Roman Empire by over 2,000 years. By the time of Rome, and even up to modern times, they were known to be the most effective way to secure the contents of a container. All of Mr. Alter's objections to the story of the guard at the tomb are easily explained.

Alter's general approach is that any natural explanation is more likely than a miraculous one. From this you get 'well maybe this happened . . . .' Regardless of how weak the explanation is. As long as it's natural, right?

Once the tomb was closed and sealed, the guard could be posted. Accounts I've read put the number of soldiers at about 16 for this kind of duty, so that they could be stationed in a fan-shaped formation, with at least four at a time awake while the others slept.

This is a good point, often overlooked: the guard unit must have had provision for replacements as the period of time wore on. One set of guards could not be on duty for 24 hours straight.

A duty of this sort wouldn't be handed out lightly, and a guard detail of this importance would have required a centurion... The centurion in charge would not have assumed responsibility for the seal unless he had eyewitness identification of a body he had seen with his own eyes.

I disagree with the notion that a centurion would have been personally present. A centurion generally had command of 80 to 200 men (it varied considerably). While a centurion would have been responsible for assigning a guard unit out of his century, he would not have used his entire century nor the bulk of it, and he would have been responsible for continued command of the rest of those men, who would have been in camp / fort / palace. He would have assigned to the guard detail a junior rank of leader (approximately equivalent to today's sergeant), either an optio or tesserarius. But it does make sense that this man would have take over personally in ensuring that the body was actually present at the start of his assignment.

Furthermore, the soldiers who made up this guard probably had no idea who Jesus was, let alone what He looked like. That explains why the temple authorities tagged along.

On the contrary, the centurion who was responsible almost certainly would have chosen to include in the guard detail at least some of the soldiers who had been present for Jesus execution, and thus knew what he looked like.

The body was there or the Romans would not have affixed the seal of the empire, whether on Friday night or Saturday morning.

What kind of seal are you imagining? In virtually every other discussion I have ever seen, the "seal" referred to simply WAS the large stone blocking the entrance. Once you have the tomb closed up with the stone, the guards themselves constitute the guarantee of security, not another physical barrier in addition.

It's questionable if the Jews could have even posted a guard without violating the Sabbath rules, but it is for certain they could not have moved the stone. It's questionable if the Jews could have even posted a guard without violating the Sabbath rules, but it is for certain they could not have moved the stone.

I wonder about this: I have this feeling that the Jewish leaders did not have temple guards active for 6 days, and then have them off without duties on the seventh. It seems implausible, to say the least, especially in a city with a significant presence of Greeks, other eastern peoples (Babylonians, Egyptians, etc) and some Romans, that there was no NEED for guarding to happen on the sabbath. Furthermore, it was already clear that the Jewish authorities were not above bending (or breaking) the rules when it suited their "needs", and this could be another instance. They could well have rationalized their actions as necessary due to the emergency situation.

Have you noticed that Matthew’s description of the women reaching the tomb and encountering the angel looks almost exactly like Mark’s account (Mk 16. 5-8) except for the pericope of the guards (Mt 28.2-3) and some other minor changes? If the guard pericope is excised from the text, both sound almost the same and the angel is encountered in both cases only within the tomb. It looks like Matthew simply inserted the guard account to most of Mark’s account. If the guard story here and later in Matthew 28.11-15 came from a minor oral history (Mark’s was from Peter and thus the major oral history Peter largely established), we can see how Matthew may have gotten hold of it while Mark and Luke left it out. It seems very understandable how the guard story could be such a minor oral history which was not widely circulated. If this guard encounter with the angel really happened, the guards (or some of them) may have become secret followers of Jesus at first. I’m pretty sure I would have had I actually seen what Matthew said they saw. Once enough time passed they may have secretly tried to contact and fellowship with the local Jewish Christians and it was then that they told their story. So long as they were still in Roman military service, the story would have to be something of a secret passed on only among the believers and very discretely.

Dennis, you present an interesting idea. However, how do you propose to resolve the difficulty that Alter and Torley indicate: that the guards would have been on the hook for NOT having secured the tomb? As the objection goes: either the guards fell asleep (contrary to military discipline) and they cannot give the guarantee (requested by the Jewish authorities) that the tomb was left alone and intact (i.e. that the body could not have been stolen); or they themselves must have given testimony (to Pilate and the Jewish authorities) that an angel came and overwhelmed them; or they should have been able to declare the tomb intact and produce the body. The problem for the guards is that they could not take a non-committal position regarding what happened at the tomb, and they could not act like uninvolved bystanders. Did the guards desert from the army so they didn't have to answer to Pilate? How did they squirm out of the appearance of having failed their duty?

Matthew answers this: Publicly they told a lie, and the Jewish authorities told Pilate, "It's okay, don't get them in trouble."

Now, if some became Christians, presumably those guards, would have stopped telling that lie. But by that time nobody was trying to get them in trouble.

If the guard story here and later in Matthew 28.11-15 came from a minor oral history (Mark’s was from Peter and thus the major oral history Peter largely established), we can see how Matthew may have gotten hold of it while Mark and Luke left it out. It seems very understandable how the guard story could be such a minor oral history which was not widely circulated.

To be honest, I don't think we need reach for anything so definite as a "minor oral history" not widely disseminated among the disciples. If there is anything we can say with confidence about the 4 gospels, it is that they DID NOT all agree on what must be reported and what should be passed over in silence. No more needed to happen that that the other writers decided that they didn't want to include the detail about the guards. As with the argument from silence in histories, the argument from lack of perfect parallel is extremely weak in general, and here is no stronger. All you can say about Mark and Luke not including it, is that Mark and Luke didn't include it. Whether that was because they didn't know about the event, or didn't feel it important enough to add to their account, or wanted to leave some details vague and ambiguous, we can't discover from inside the texts.

Or the Jewish authorities told Pilate nothing and no word ever reached him that the body was missing. The early squabbles we find in Acts between the first Christians and Jewish authorities may have never reached Pilate’s ear. The guards were aware that the Jewish leaders had more authority than they had in the past. They had little fear of Pilate hearing about this because they knew the Jewish authorities could get them out of trouble if it was found out that the body was missing. The Synoptics and I think Josephus and possibly one other secular source mentioned that Pilate was very anti-Semitic (e.g., he mixed the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices; he had civilian dressed soldiers mix in a mob when a riot was brewing and he had them begin clubbing the agitators at his signal; etc.). But at the trial Pilate was very fearful of the power of the Jewish authorities. The change is best explained if the crucifixion occurred in 33 as Harold Hoehner argues (Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ). Only then was the political situation so changed that the guards took the Jewish authorities’ offer. Besides, did they really have much choice? Wouldn’t a story about a glowing angel coming from heaven and moving the stone sound like a pretty childish and unbelievable excuse when it’s more likely they just fell asleep?

Sorry, I didn’t make it clear that my last post was in response to Lydia’s comment:

"Matthew answers this: Publicly they told a lie, and the Jewish authorities told Pilate, ‘It's okay, don't get them in trouble.”

As for Tony’s claim that the other Synoptic writers may have just chosen to leave out this account, this is certainly true. I offer the idea of minor oral histories as a possible additional explanation though I think this possibility does add credence to our claim. In any case, it seems clear that it is very dubious that the common claim is true that just because only one of the Gospels mention something, it didn’t likely happen.

Alter is deluding himself if he thinks that his job is done once he has raised doubts about the story of the guard. Firstly, he needs to say whether he thinks the tomb really was empty. If it wasn’t empty then why was there a debate about the reason for the empty tomb? Perhaps Alter thinks that there was no such debate and that Matthew invented the story of the guard in order to refute an accusation of theft which Matthew himself had invented. Does Alter think that is plausible?

Perhaps there really was a debate but both sides were mistaken in thinking the tomb was empty. Does Alter think that is plausible? Or perhaps the tomb really was empty. In that case Alter needs to explain why it was empty. Then he needs to explain the rest of the evidence.

All of those issues will need to be addressed even if the story of the guard is discounted. But it still hasn’t been established that the story should be discounted. All that we have seen so far is a weak attempt to cast doubt on the story.

"Alter's general approach is that any natural explanation is more likely than a miraculous one. From this you get 'well maybe this happened . . . .' Regardless of how weak the explanation is."

That's one of the things that makes this form of argumentation frustrating. Among those predisposed to doubt the supernatural it all looks very cut-and-dried. But its proponents tend not to see its question-begging aspects because of their prior commitments. It's something like fundamentalism in reverse, and it appears in "liberal" historiography quite often.

But its proponents tend not to see its question-begging aspects because of their prior commitments.

That's quite true, NM.

In order for them to avoid question-begging, they would have to modify the premise to something along the lines of "all other things being equal, any natural explanation is more likely than a miraculous one". But of course, this is history, not math or physics, and "all other things being equal" doesn't ever happen: real facts on the ground are always different in some respect. It all then comes down to whether the real and different facts are pertinent to the issue, and of course presuming that facts that tend to point in the direction of the miraculous are themselves to be set at naught (or nearly so) is part of the question-begging.

This story, which is found only in...

That's usually my cue to stop reading.

Thanks for this article. I had taken it that they requested the guard on the Saturday and that this was an indication of the authenticity of the account, because if Matthew was making up the story he would have ensured the guard was on site right from the moment of burial.

Regarding my post of 2/24/2019 on the posting of the guard, most disagreements with it are of the type we cannot know for sure, and I'm fine with that. One point, though, needs to be clarified. The comment reads, " What kind of seal are you imagining? In virtually every other discussion I have ever seen, the "seal" referred to simply WAS the large stone blocking the entrance. Once you have the tomb closed up with the stone, the guards themselves constitute the guarantee of security, not another physical barrier in addition." This confuses two completely different issues.

Once the guard is set, the tomb is guarded - yes. But it is not SECURED. The only way to secure it is with a seal, which would require an exhaustive inventory of the tomb's contents. The temple authorities knew this, and that is why they specifically asked Pilate to secure it, not just to guard it. Keep in mind that these same men ran Jerusalem, albeit at Rome's pleasure, and through executing their duties, both civic and religious, had to know what seals were and how they were handled. They needed to know the body of Jesus was in the tomb, and the only way they could know that, before the third day, would be for the Romans to enter the tomb and inventory its contents.

Nor was it necessary to imagine a seal of the type that would be required, as that is already known. In his book 'A Ready Defense,' Josh McDowell deals with this point (pg. 230). He quotes bible scholar A.T. Robertson on it, along with an ancient source, Vestigius, and writes that it would have to be affixed in the presence of the Romans. McDowell writes, "After the guard inspected the tomb and rolled the stone in place, a cord was stretched across the rock.This was fastened at either end with sealing clay. Finally, the clay packs were stamped with the official signet of the Roman governor." Thus, nobody could have rolled the stone away without breaking the seal. In addition to that, McDowell includes biblical evidence of this same process. He quotes Daniel 6:17, "And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel." This took place hundreds of years before the crucifixion and resurrection, so as noted, seals were old news by the time the Romans used this one.

It's important to note that a seal had a dual purpose for the Romans: authentication of the tomb's contents, and to provide external evidence of tampering had someone tried to remove the body. Thus, when they sealed the tomb, the Roman authorities bore testimony that the body of Jesus was in the tomb. And it's equally important to note that a seal is not a barrier to entry, as suggested in the comment. That is not its purpose. That is why they had guards on duty. The seal was there to authenticate the contents of the tomb, and to publicly state that the tomb was under the authority of the Romans, with all the consequences that would befall anyone who tried to enter it.

Joe, thank you very much. I have read any number of references to the tomb in which the stone blocking the entrance is treated as if it were "the seal". I am glad to have it clarified that no, the seal is a separate matter.

Actually, the omission of the guard story from every NT gospel other than Matthew seems improbable on the assumption that it occurred, because the other gospels are narrating precisely that story where they are most vulnerable to the widespread accusation Matthew claims existed and which Matthew's conspiracy theory (which is exactly what Matthew is offering) is supposed to counteract. For example, although it's the official story of the Jewish leaders, they appear to immediately forget their conspiracy in Acts when confronting the apostles precisely on the matter of the resurrection.

Further, independent of Matthew and later Christian texts influenced by Matthew (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 108; Tertullian, Spectacles 30; Ascension of Isaiah 3.14) we find no evidence from Jewish sources about any polemics taking this shape. We have only Celsus's Jewish informant (ca. 180ce), who argued against the resurrection by saying there were many Greek mythological tales about heroes hiding themselves and reappearing later to pretend they had died and resurrected (Origen, Contra Celsum ii.56). Right at a point where a Jew isn't used as a mouthpiece for a Christian writer, the sources fail to corroborate Matthew's conspiracy theory.

Matthew's conspiracy theory is also implausible on its face for multiple reasons. The guards (mostly likely imagined to be Roman) conspire to lie on an issue that would get them in trouble (even after what they witnessed at the tomb!), and the Jewish priests conspire to lie despite knowing the truth of what happened. The latter must have believed the truth of the guards' report, because they seek to protect them instead of ensuring they were punished for failing to do the one job they were stationed to do (contrast the much more realistic reaction of Herod Agrippa II when Peter miraculously escapes prison in Acts 12.18f.). Additionally, the Jewish authorities have just witnessed various divine portents including a supernatural darkness, earthquakes, the temple veil magically ripping in two, and the infamous 'zombie invasion'.

Moreover, how was Matthew privy to these conspiracies? Ingenius excuses could be proffered: Joseph of Arimathea, or whatever (interestingly, Matthew omits from Mark his membership in the Sanhedrin, plausibly because that would embroil him in the conspiracy at his own tomb). But they all seem contrived when we notice just how frequently Matthew (apparently a master reconnoiterer) reports private events: Herod the Great conspiring with the magi in the infancy narrative, where Matthew reports the dreams and thoughts of people long dead and only ever cites the Old Testament as a source; a story borrowed from Mark where Herod Antipas conspires at a private elite banquet to have John the Baptizer executed, lifting story elements directly from the book of Esther (cf. Mk 6.23 with Est 5.3); the report of Pilate's wife having a dream about Jesus and then rather unceremoniously interrupting Jesus's trial to tell Pilate about it, etc.

McGrew defends the strategy of claiming the story is so ridiculous that it's improbable anyone would make it up. He even thinks this is a 'sober' thing to think as opposed to the obvious alternative of skepticism of such a ridiculous narrative. But this rather seems to reflect more of McGrew's gullibility (when it comes to the Bible; it is doubtful he regularly applies this strategy elsewhere) rather than the story's authenticity. McGrew gives too much credit to Matthew's in failing to contemplate whether Matthew seriously considered how ridiculous his story might actually be when historically evaluated.

His story is obviously at best psychologically implausible polemical caricature. The Jewish leaders and everyone opposed to Jesus are just liars; they're the evil bad guys in the story with pathetically typecast and simplistic motivations. Anyone who would just take Matthew's word at face value like this without even at least pretending to be open to seriously questioning the veracity of Matthew's narrative is plainly not interested in history. They are only interested in defending a sacred narrative. I can't think of a genuine historian who wouldn't have a principled skepticism of such a straightforwardly and pathetically biased story filled with such tall tales. Only an apologist could defend the story this way with a straight face.

Other considerations could be added, but I might reserve them for any future interaction here.

This is a quite complicated issue. We know the following things:

1. The story Matthew narrates. If we trust Matthew, we can conclude that:
a. There was a Roman guard in front of the tomb. (Multiple lines of evidence show it was a Roman - not a Jewish - guard.)
b. The guard went to the chief priests and received money to tell that the disciples had stolen the body while they were asleep.
c. The theft-story was spread among the Jews in Matthew’s day.
2. The theft-explanation seems to have been offered by Jews in the centuries after Matthew (see Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, etc.).
3. The story of the guard is corroborated - though probably not independently - by the Gospels of Peter and Nicodemus and the Ascension of Isaiah.
4. The story is not told by the other evangalists, although there accounts are in many ways similar.
5. Falling asleep as a guard was something a soldier could receive severe punishment for.

Let's try to account for these facts.
After having witnessed Jesus rising from the dead, the soldiers went to the chief priests. This seems logical, for three reasons:

1. They seem to have been instructed by the chief priests.
2. They probably thought that the chief priests could explain the remarkable event they had witnessed, since they [the chief priests] seemed to have forseen the event (because they wanted to secure the tomb).
3. The guards feared for Pilate because of the likely punishment, so they went to the chief priests for "advice".

So far, we can understand the described actions of the soldiers. However, their agreement with the priests seems less plausible, since falling asleep could be punished by death. To this, I offer two objections:

1. Although Pilate was their master, the chief priests were the instructors of the soldiers. Therefore, it is likely that Pilate cared less about the negligence of the soldiers, and especially if the priests pleaded for the soldiers.
2. If the soldiers hadn't accepted the deal with the chief priests, what would have been their alternative? Would Pilate have believed them if they told him that Jesus rose from the dead. Certainly, that would have sounded like a lie to cover up their negligence. As for the deal with the chief priests, they at least had earned some money.

Another objection is that the guard story isn't mentioned by the others evangelists. However, I don't think that is very surprising.

1. If the theft-explanation was especially put forward by Jews (in Palestine), it was less important for the evangelists who wrote for a not-so-Jewish audience outside Palestine.
2. The story Matthew narrates might have been quite unknown. The soldiers came to the tomb after Joseph of Arimathea and the women went away. And they had fled before the women came to the tomb again. The soldiers will have justified their deeds before Pilate, but will have kept silent about it to others. The guard story must have been announced by the Jewish authorities or Matthew had some secret source. In any way, it is not strange that the other evangelists didn't pick up these events. (On the other hand, I think that the Gospel of Matthew was known to all three other evangelists. But nevertheless, it the events weren't part of the major tradition as preached by the apostles.)
3. Luke doesn't outline the discussions between Christians and Jews in great detail in Acts. Therefore, it doesn't say much that the theft-story isn't narrated by Luke.

I don't think there are any good reasons to doubt Matthew on this point. Furthermore, if - as I believe - Matthew wrote his Gospel before 70 AD in Palestine or even in Jerusalem, it is very unlikely that he made up this story.

He would have assigned to the guard detail a junior rank of leader (approximately equivalent to today's sergeant), either an optio or tesserarius.

From Lydia's recent post about the saints rising:
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:51-54)

So the centurian saw an earthquake and miraculous, unprecedented events which moved him to proclaim this was the Son of God and then said, "Let the sergeant handle this unimportant guard duty." I don't think so. And to repeat myself from many months ago, I believe this was likely the same centurion who had a previous encounter with Jesus.

As usual, Eric and I disagree about pretty much everything.

Actually, the omission of the guard story from every NT gospel other than Matthew seems improbable on the assumption that it occurred, …

It is generally a bad sign to lead with an argument from silence in historical reasoning, for reasons I have covered in my published work. But let’s see the rationale on offer here:

… because the other gospels are narrating precisely that story where they are most vulnerable to the widespread accusation Matthew claims existed and which Matthew’s conspiracy theory (which is exactly what Matthew is offering) is supposed to counteract.

If they considered what they were narrating to be matter of notorious fact and were not writing for polemical purposes, it is not clear that they would have felt any vulnerability at all. The story appears in the Gospel most evidently written for Jews, among whom, according to Matthew, the rumor of theft of the body was being spread.

For example, although it’s the official story of the Jewish leaders, they appear to immediately forget their conspiracy in Acts when confronting the apostles precisely on the matter of the resurrection.

I missed the bit in Acts where the Jewish rulers say that the body is still in the tomb. Failing that, there really is no argument here. It’s not at all clear that they believed the body had been stolen; what purpose, then, would it have served to say that it had in their interactions with Christians?

Further, independent of Matthew and later Christian texts influenced by Matthew (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 108; Tertullian, Spectacles 30; Ascension of Isaiah 3.14) …

That is to say, independent of the extra-Biblical evidence we do have …

… we find no evidence from Jewish sources about any polemics taking this shape. We have only Celsus’s Jewish informant (ca. 180ce), who argued against the resurrection by saying there were many Greek mythological tales about heroes hiding themselves and reappearing later to pretend they had died and resurrected (Origen, Contra Celsum ii.56).

… we don’t have any (other) evidence. It is bad enough to argue from silence, but to dismiss multiple extant sources on the ground that they are all books by Christians or by people “influenced” by Christians is to go down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole.

Right at a point where a Jew isn’t used as a mouthpiece for a Christian writer, the sources fail to corroborate Matthew’s conspiracy theory.

This argument would be worse than useless even if we took the “mouthpiece” description at face value. But in fact, scholars are divided on the question of whether Justin is reconstructing an actual debate or whether Trypho is just a literary creation. In any event, the work is clearly intended to be of use to Christians who themselves engage with Jewish critics of their faith, so if the story had no currency among the Jews at the time, Justin’s observation that the Jews were still sending people from city to city spreading this tale would be quite the dialectical misfire.

Matthew’s conspiracy theory is also implausible on its face for multiple reasons.

Let’s break this down into the constituent reasons.

The guards (mostly likely imagined to be Roman) conspire to lie on an issue that would get them in trouble (even after what they witnessed at the tomb!), …

The body was gone. They were already in trouble.

… and the Jewish priests conspire to lie despite knowing the truth of what happened.

What were they supposed to do – tell the truth, but not join with the Christians? As Rabbi Peter Levinson snapped when someone mentioned Pinchas Lapide to him, “If I thought Jesus had risen from the dead, I’d be baptized tomorrow!”

The latter must have believed the truth of the guards’ report, because they seek to protect them instead of ensuring they were punished for failing to do the one job they were stationed to do …

What is clear is that they knew the body was gone and the guards had been unable to prevent it. It is plausible that some of them believed more than this. And some of the leaders of the Jews, we are told, became followers of Jesus. For all we can tell, this very incident may have been one of the causes for some of them.

"… (contrast the much more realistic reaction of Herod Agrippa II when Peter miraculously escapes prison in Acts 12.18f.).

All this shows is that someone who has nothing religious to lose from the story of the prisoner’s escape and who actually has the power of life and death over the guards did not hesitate to take their lives for losing a prisoner like this. That is hardly prescriptive for the behavior of the Jewish leaders who did not have the power of life and death over Roman soldiers and who, for very different reasons than would have occurred to Herod Agrippa II, wanted the story to just go away.

Additionally, the Jewish authorities have just witnessed various divine portents including a supernatural darkness, earthquakes, the temple veil magically ripping in two, and the infamous ‘zombie invasion’.

The darkness, yes – though whether it was supernatural in kind or just suspiciously timed is never stated in the text.

The earthquake, yes – in a geologically volatile region where an earthquake did, it appears, happen in the early to mid 30s.

The veil – what devout Jew, disinclined to believe in Christianity, would not dismiss this damage as a most unfortunate accident?

The risen saints – who would know, unless they recognized these particular people? A stray rumor they might easily dismiss. Some of them believed on Jesus, while others did not.

If the suppressed premise here is that whenever there are multiple pieces of evidence pointing in the same direction, people will change their religious convictions to follow that evidence, then it is belied by the common experience of mankind.

Moreover, how was Matthew privy to these conspiracies?

If we didn’t know how he came by his information, that would hardly be a problem.

Ingenius excuses could be proffered:

Do they really merit this description, or is this just a bit of terminological grandstanding?

Joseph of Arimathea, or whatever (interestingly, Matthew omits from Mark his membership in the Sanhedrin, plausibly because that would embroil him in the conspiracy at his own tomb).

Um, yes. That’s a plausible source right there.

But they all seem contrived when we notice just how frequently Matthew (apparently a master reconnoiterer) reports private events:

Again: if we didn’t know his sources, we’d be in the position we face again and again in ancient history. This is not an argument. But let's look at the examples anyway:

Herod the Great conspiring with the magi in the infancy narrative, …

The magi. Who spoke with Joseph.

where Matthew reports the dreams and thoughts of people long dead …

Joseph, from whose vantage nearly the entire story is told. And he had been dead for how long?

… and only ever cites the Old Testament as a source; …

I’ll go one better on you here: Matthew never cites the Old Testament as a source for these events. Not even once.

… a story borrowed from Mark where Herod Antipas conspires at a private elite banquet to have John the Baptizer executed, …

Where the undesigned coincidence points to the truth of Matthew’s account, and does so by means of a feature of his account that is not found in Mark’s narrative. Not really “conspires,” either, while we’re at it.

… lifting story elements directly from the book of Esther (cf. Mk 6.23 with Est 5.3); …

A few points of commonality do not constitute an argument that one author has framed his story on another. This sort of parallelomania takes us down the rabbit hole yet again.

… the report of Pilate’s wife having a dream about Jesus and then rather unceremoniously interrupting Jesus’s trial to tell Pilate about it, etc.

There is nothing unusual in a wife’s interrupting her husband. Someone carried the message to Pilate and apparently delivered it in public. Why it should be difficult for Matthew to have heard about the event is the real mystery.

McGrew defends the strategy of claiming the story is so ridiculous that it’s improbable anyone would make it up. He even thinks this is a ‘sober’ thing to think as opposed to the obvious alternative of skepticism of such a ridiculous narrative.

It is a matter of balancing probabilities and inclining to the most likely. There are three independent variables here: the prior probability that a guard was set, P(G), the probability of our having the Matthean account, given that a guard was set, P(M|G), and the probability of our having that account, given that a guard was not set, P(M|~G). I contend that, on the basis of such information as we actually possess, P(G) is not particularly low, and therefore the ratio P(G)/P(~G) is not significantly less than 1. I have disposed of Alter’s attempt to argue to the contrary. P(M|G) is not itself wildly low; if that is what happened, this is more or less the sort of account we might hope to have of it. P(M|~G), however, is very low; I cannot see why anyone would think it is even on the same order of magnitude as P(M|G). Therefore, P(G)/P(~G) ≈ 1, and P(M|G)/P(M|~G) >> 1; therefore, P(G|M)/P(~G|M) >> 1; therefore, P(G|M) is easily more likely than not.

That’s all.

But this rather seems to reflect more of McGrew’s gullibility (when it comes to the Bible; it is doubtful he regularly applies this strategy elsewhere) rather than the story’s authenticity. McGrew gives too much credit to Matthew’s in failing to contemplate whether Matthew seriously considered how ridiculous his story might actually be when historically evaluated.

Since it isn’t ridiculous at all, the only people who look gullible here are those trying to do a priori history in order to explain away the primary sources.

His story is obviously at best psychologically implausible polemical caricature.

This assertion does not appear to be the outcome of any significant line of reasoning.

The Jewish leaders and everyone opposed to Jesus are just liars; …

Not all of them (Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, etc.) As for those who take the leadership in this story, they’re willing to tell some lies to get the job done. No one should infer that they espoused mendacity as a way of life. Many people will – and do – tell lies for causes they think important. Just look at Congress.

… they’re the evil bad guys in the story …

Some of them deliberately procure the gruesome execution of a man they know to be innocent of civil crimes. That is, to say no more, pretty bad.

… with pathetically typecast and simplistic motivations.

Actually, their motives according to the New Testament as a whole are to be rather complex. Some of them appear to think that a movement growing up around Jesus will bring the heel of Rome down on the Jewish people. The catastrophic Jewish revolt of AD 66-70 showed that the concern of armed conflict with Rome was not idle.

Anyone who would just take Matthew’s word at face value like this without even at least pretending to be open to seriously questioning the veracity of Matthew’s narrative is plainly not interested in history. They are only interested in defending a sacred narrative.

I might, with a great deal more justice, say that anyone who thinks such considerations as Alter and Best have offered carry weight in a historical argument is more concerned to reject the Gospel narratives than to follow the evidence wherever it leads. But who needs such rhetorical flourishes when we can just evaluate the arguments without doing psychoanalysis?

I can’t think of a genuine historian who wouldn’t have a principled skepticism of such a straightforwardly and pathetically biased story filled with such tall tales. Only an apologist could defend the story this way with a straight face.

I could name plenty of ancient historians, New Testament scholars, and classicists who do in fact take the Gospel narratives in general and Matthew’s account in particular very seriously. But I much fear that Eric would dismiss them all on the same ground that he uses to dismiss the extrabiblical writers who speak of the Jewish story that the disciples stole Jesus’s body – that they are Christians, or influenced by Christianity, and they are therefore not to be taken seriously. Those who appreciate circular reasoning in defense of a preestablished conclusion are welcome to derive whatever satisfaction they can from such a strategy.

Eric doesn’t like what he sees as Matthew’s conspiracy theory. Instead he prefers to believe in a far more ingenious conspiracy. When Matthew’s Gospel first started to circulate, everyone said the same thing: “This is great stuff but there is one thing I don’t understand. I have never heard our opponents say that the disciples stole the body.”

To which the reply was: “I’m glad you mentioned that. I know people keep saying that Jesus’ body is still in the tomb, but we have a cunning plan. Let’s pretend that our opponents have accused the disciples of theft. If we can keep up that pretence for, say, a hundred years, while ignoring the claim that Jesus’ body is still in the tomb, eventually people will forget what really happened. They will read Matthew’s Gospel and believe that the empty tomb was a fact which was accepted by both sides. We need to think about future historians.”

Actually, David, a far more believable hypothesis is that of Richard Miller where the accusation of theft is merely a 'dubious alternative account' motif, which is common in disappearing body fables. It need not to have originated in any place other than Matthew's head.

Excluding that (you really can't though), many scholars believe it might be responding to a real charge of theft, but a charge that isn't based on historical knowledge of an empty tomb; it was just made in response to the story in Mark. Just like the responses of Celsus take the gospels at face value when rebutting them...Celsus hardly independently confirmed anything the gospels had written in them. To discredit the charge, Matthew simply invented an ignominious etiology for it. It ultimately derives, he claims, from lies and intrigue propounded by the Jewish leaders.

The irony is that your completely made-up ideas about what I must be forced to think are not unlike the inventions of Matthew in question.

P(M|G) is not itself wildly low; if that is what happened, this is more or less the sort of account we might hope to have of it. P(M|~G), however, is very low;

Tim, I think that the nay-sayers assert that P(M|G) is indeed very low. They argue that it is very unlikely that anyone could think they could get away with the mutual conspiracy between the guards and the Jewish leaders to lie about what happened and instead say that Christ's followers came and stole the body after the soldiers fell asleep.

I have to agree with at least one level of doubt about the conspiracy between the soldiers and the Jewish leaders: if Pilate ever did come to hear the lie that the soldiers had fallen asleep, as an authority over the legion it is at least debatable that he would easily listen to the Jewish leaders and "hush up" the issue and let the soldiers live. On a matter of internal discipline within the legion, he would not easily submit to influence from the Jewish leaders, and (literally) would have their heads regardless of the fact that the Jews wanted everyone else to believe that the soldiers had fallen asleep and a theft had taken place....

Except for the political angle, the worry about insurrection: Pilate was clearly very concerned with anything that could contribute to more unrest. So if the Jews came to him and said "a story that Christ's followers stole his body will help quell his faction, and a story that some supernatural power overwhelmed the soldiers will foment unrest, so it is in your interest as well as ours to back the version we put out." In other words, the priest and leaders were not committing themselves to lying to Pilate in order to cover the pretense of the soldiers' falling asleep, but rather committing to convincing Pilate to go along with the false story for public consumption, not for Pilate's own false belief. (One need not delve into whether the priests asked themselves what Pilate would ACTUALLY think of the real story that something supernatural had happened - the priests seemed to have been able to wall off allowing the import of their actual knowledge of the event from influencing their attitudes, so one could assume that they would project the same as Pilate's internal condition, and indeed they might have been right. )

So we are not asking for the probability that the priests and elders thought they could fool Pilate into believing the false story of the body stolen in the night and still convince Pilate not to punish them, nor the probability that Pilate could be convinced not to punish the soldiers when the soldiers told him the false story and the priests asked him politely 'please don't kill them on our account', but the probability that given an empty tomb fact, they could convince Pilate to allow the theft account to go out for public consumption. Given his explicit statements during the trial of Jesus, and on which we have agreement from other sources, the probability of the latter is indeed quite reasonable.

Eric,
Your alternative scenario is only plausible (if it is at all) if the Gospel of Matthew was (a) written late (post 70 AD) and (b) far from the place where the described events happened.

Eric, I am afraid that I can't see the relevance of disappearing body fables, unless you assume that Christianity began with a completely fictional story. If it began with people who genuinely believed that Jesus had risen from the dead and those people were engaged in debates with opponents then your analogy is irrelevant.

As far as I'm aware, there was no movement which began at the time when Callirhoe (Chariton’s heroine) supposedly lived. Since there was no movement, there was, of course, no opposition to the movement. There was no equivalent of Paul, who was beaten with rod and lash. If there had been, then it might have been difficult to make false claims about what happened to Callirhoe after she had been placed in the tomb.

I suppose one might try to argue that the belief in the Resurrection (along with the opposition to those proclaiming it) was genuine even though the story of the empty tomb was fable. But the burden of proof would surely rest on anyone making that claim. Furthermore, one would need to clarify whether Matthew was simply elaborating on the fable or misinterpreting it as fact. If it is the former then the accusation of theft would just be part of the entertainment, as would the story of the guard. If it is the latter then one would need to explain how such a misunderstanding could have arisen.

Tony,

We are not told whether the move to shield the soldiers worked; we are told only that this is how they were induced to acquiesce in the tale.

Many real events seem far less probable on their face than this. The career of Julius Caesar is an instance -- or far more incredibly, that of Napoleon Bonaparte. If we were allowed to use uncalibrated personal incredulity as a principle of inference, it would send a wrecking ball through the discipline of history, ancient and modern. Donald Trump, anyone?

Donald Trump, anyone?

Who still has very high approval ratings among evangelicals, despite a nearly constant barrage of deceptions, falsehoods, and "alternative facts". But let's not assume the same blatant disregard for truth among the early evangelicals (or their writers and/or editors) because it would disturb my personal sense of the discipline of history.

My point, it should be obvious, is that it was wildly improbable that a reality TV star of notorious moral laxity would become the Republican nominee, much less win the presidency.

But to wander down Step2's bypath for a moment:

https://religionnews.com/2019/01/18/trumps-evangelical-base-has-shrunk/

With that, we'll return to the actual subject that Step is artfully avoiding.

It might be worthwhile to address the suggestion which is sometimes made that neither Matthew nor his opponents had any knowledge of what really happened and that any debate about the reason for the empty tomb between the two sides is therefore insignificant. This idea follows naturally from the doubters’ favourite belief about the Gospels, which is that Mark may or may not have had some knowledge about Jesus but Matthew, Luke and John didn't have a clue and where they add details not found in Mark it is from their imaginations.

Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter Williams is particularly useful on this. The book has (amongst other things) a table of place names in the Gospels. There are 17 place names in Mark, most of which appear in the other three Gospels. There are another 22 place names in Matthew, Luke and John which are not in Mark. It seems that the other three writers all had knowledge of the setting which was independent of Mark.

It might be objected that a knowledge of place names proves nothing. But as far as I'm aware, there is not a single place name in any of the apocryphal gospels which cannot be found in the canonical Gospels. In fact, place names and other background details are largely absent from the apocryphal gospels.

We are not told whether the move to shield the soldiers worked; we are told only that this is how they were induced to acquiesce in the tale.

That's quite true, Tim. Still, the soldiers had to believe the priests and leaders when they said they would handle Pilate, or at least believe that they could convinced Pilate. If even soldiers had no reason to think the priests/leaders could convince Pilate, they would not have willingly gone along with it. (On the other hand, their other alternatives were not a heck of a lot better: either explain that they were overwhelmed by angels, or produce the body. The latter would have been easy, if they had the body in the tomb as proof, but obviously not so easy if they did not - which is why they were willing to consider the priests/leaders' proposal.)

Tony,

Did the soldiers need to believe it, or did they just have to believe that trusting the priests was the least bad of their options at that point? The body was already gone. They were in deep trouble no matter what. Under those circumstances, it would be better to have the priests as allies than to have no allies at all.

That's what I meant by pointing out that their alternatives were pretty poor. When they agreed to go along with the priests, they weren't so much agreeing that the priests were sure to convince Pilate to brush the whole thing under the rug, as that they had even less chance of convincing Pilate (against the priests' attempts) that angels or "gods" came and intervened.

There seem to be two issues concerning the behaviour of the authorities in the aftermath of the resurrection. The first is that the priests would hear what the guards had to say and immediately be convinced that Jesus was what he said he was. The second is that Pilate would never allow the guards to go unpunished. So it seems that the authorities must react in one of two ways: Either they take a hard line or they become believers. Real life is not so black and white. The priests and Pilate might continue to believe that Jesus was a fraud but still have niggling doubts. They might think that the guards’ story sounds crazy but not be able to dismiss it completely.

We should also remember that the priests asked the guards to lie but we are not told that the guards lie to Pilate. The priests say that they will smooth things over with the governor. Perhaps they told Pilate what the guards had really said but then informed him of their plan. Would Pilate have assumed that the guards really had fallen asleep and punished them accordingly? Not if recent events had made Pilate suspect that something out of the ordinary was going on.

David, as I implicitly suggested above, we need to keep in mind the distinction between what Pilate actually would believe, and

what he would choose to act upon.

If the priests and soldiers tried to say to Pilate "Nothing happened, the body is still there", Pilate could just ask for the proof - the body. So that's not available.

If the soldiers said "some supernatural force came over us and took the body", while the priests said "they just fell asleep", Pilate would believe the priests and punish the soldiers - both for falling asleep and for lying about it. Very severely punished them. Not an acceptable outcome for the soldiers.

If the soldiers said "we fell asleep, and Christ's followers must have taken the body" and the priests agreed, it is hardly more likely that Pilate would not punish them, though perhaps not quite so severely if the priests said "but we really don't want you to punish the soldiers, even though they screwed up badly". But Pilate would have to wonder (a) how in the world the disciples managed to remove the seal and get the stone plug out of the tomb without waking ANY of the soldiers, and also (b) why in the world would the priests NOT want the soldiers punished, since punishing the soldiers would SUPPORT their claims that the disciples stole the body while the soldiers were asleep? If Pilate bought the story - not a given - he MIGHT have been soft on the soldiers, but they were taking a pretty big risk.

However, if the soldiers basically deferred to the priests' account, and the priests said "we don't know what the heck happened, because the soldiers were bemused and bewildered and not exactly asleep, more like they had almost been knocked out: something odd happened, that we cannot account for. But when that happened, we think the disciples must have taken advantage and stolen the body. We want you to publicly go along with the story that the disciples stole the body when the soldiers fell asleep, because (i) that is more plausible than anything else, and (ii) that's what is most likely to quell any uprising from Christ's faction." In that case Pilate would have only a minor motivation to punish the soldiers, and could publicly accept the priest's account for political reasons while privately he retained some doubts about it.

Tony, the problem which you are trying to ward off is that Pilate’s natural reaction would be to punish the soldiers. But what if the real problem is that Pilate would most likely have become a believer in Christ? Pilate was told about a strange dream his wife had of Jesus. Then there was the darkness at the crucifixion. Then he hears about Jesus’ body disappearing. Perhaps he questioned the guards and they told him what really happened. There is an interesting scene in the movie Risen in which one of the guards is questioned about that very thing. It gives you idea of what could have happened. If you were Pilate I don't think you could easily dismiss what the guard said.

At the end of this Pilate himself becomes a believer. On the other hand, Pilate was responsible for executing Jesus and he would not want to admit that he had made a terrible mistake. So he would be conflicted. In those circumstances can we really predict what Pilate would do? I don't think so. But that isn't our problem. The problem lies with the critics. They need to be confident about their ability to make a prediction which is at odds with an account from the time which tells us what actually happened. I can see no basis for that confidence.

Just to clarify, Pilate does not become a believer in the movie, although the official who questioned the guard does become a believer. What I meant was that Pilate becomes a believer in my hypothetical scenario.

On reflection I think that a lot of things fall into place if we suppose that Pilate was sympathetic to Jesus. Firstly, all the Gospels say that Pilate was reluctant to have Jesus crucified. Secondly, the best explanation for a lot of the detail we have in the Passion narratives is that Pilate himself was the source. That is especially true of the dream of Pilate’s wife. Of course, Pilate could never publicly endorse Jesus: that would be political suicide. And we can't say that Pilate believed Jesus had risen from the dead. But it does look as if he may have been open to believing that.

So I think that Pilate met the disciples at some later point and discussed what had happened. The plan to say that the disciples stole the body was thought up by the priests and they suggested it to Pilate. His response to this was like his response to the demand to have Jesus crucified. He allowed it to happen without personally endorsing it. Since the Jewish opponents of Jesus were portraying him as an enemy of Rome, Pilate was compelled to go along with their wishes. But Pilate himself never regarded Jesus or his followers as a threat. If he had done then he would have taken action not just against his own guards for their alleged dereliction of duty but against the disciples as well, since the crime of stealing the body would be a serious one.

I think the only objection to this is that Pilate just couldn't have been sympathetic to Jesus. Well, who says? And if he was sympathetic then everything else follows quite naturally. If he was sympathetic then it is plausible that he would speak to the disciples after the crucifixion. It is plausible that he wouldn't punish the guard. It is plausible that the disciples would not be punished for allegedly stealing the body.

Hello Tim and Lydia:

Recently, Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass kindly sent me an e-mail providing information that Dr. Tim McGrew had published a guest post response to Vincent Torley’s review of my text, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry (2015) in Lydia’s group blog: What’s Wrong With the World. First, I am honored that a respected, knowledgeable, and published authority has taken time out of his busy schedule to respond to Vincent Torley’s review of my text. Tim’s time is respected.

Approximately, a week ago, I partially responded to Tim’s review at the Skeptical Zone, and, also to Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass (Peaceful Science). However, I never directly responded to Tim at What’s Wrong With the World. It is now time for me to correct that deficiency. So please forgive me. Below, is a detailed response that I culled from two drafts. Now then, let me respond to several points addressed by Tim:

1. Tim wrote: Since I am unimpressed by Alter’s arguments…
RESPONSE:
Tim is unimpressed with Vincent’s review / summary of my text. His opinion is absolutely respected. However, it is significant that presumably, Tim has not examined my text. At least this is my gut feeling after having read his introduction. In my opinion, if Tim has read my text, he should have made this point clear to his readership. If I am in error, please correct me and excuse me. Therefore, it must be repeated for emphasis that Tim is only responding to Vincent’s review of my text.

Perhaps, it might be harsh, but image a movie critic critiqued a movie without seeing it… Instead, the review was based on the account of eyewitnesses. Or, imagine that a music critic published a review of the Cleveland Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony without having heard and seen the actual performance. Here too, the review was based on information from those who actually attended the performance. Finally, imagine that a chess expert published the accounts of a chess match without having witnessed or even seen the chess notations of that match. The report, here too, was based on second hand information. In the three examples just described, the evaluations were merely based on.... Question: Do you think that those evaluations are fair?

2. Tim Wrote:
First, only Matthew’s Gospel mentions the setting of a guard at Jesus’ tomb. It is not clear how much weight Torley intends this fact to bear by itself. But as the argument from silence in such cases is generally terribly weak, it is hard to see why it should be significant just here. Many of the events of antiquity crop up in only one source. The conditions that have to be met for an argument from silence to be strong are rather stringent and are rarely met in historical work. (For details, see my paper “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica 29 (2014), 215-28.) As Torley has not attempted to argue that the silence of the other evangelists meets the probabilistic challenge laid out there, I will not belabor the point.

RESPONSE A:
Respectfully, Tim is in error. Several times throughout my text, I discussed the topic of "Silence." I will assume that Tim did not read TOPIC 7: Omissions and Contradictions (page 26) or pages 289-290. So, to the contrary, I actually belabored the point.
RESPONSE B:
To the contrary, numerous bible commentators (on both sides of the religious aisle) doubt or question the historicity of Matthew’s account of the guard at the tomb (Dale Allison, C H Dodd, Raymond Brown, R H Gundry, The New Catholic Encyclopedia, etc. On pages 297-299, I offer several “SPECULATIONS” for Matthew’s rationale for inventing the Guard episode. Although various explanations are possible, I elected to focus on, and explore the rationale discussed by Elaine Pagels. Unfortunately, in my opinion, you did not evaluate my comment about her writing.

Most significant, the historicity / veracity of the tomb itself is a point of contention and discussion. Obviously, if there was no tomb, there could not be a guard. Returning to the sentinels, on pages 337-339, I identified at least fifteen scholars (virtually ALL Christians), theologians, and historians that question / doubt that there was a guard stationed at tomb. Numerous times, I include their commentary. Yet, you chose not to belabor the point. Your decision is respected, however, it is NOT fair to my text.

3. Tim wrote:
Torley objects that the account does not explain why the body could not have been stolen on Friday night.
RESPONSE:
On pages 340-343, I specifically presented William Lane Craig’s discussion on this specific topic. After presenting his apologetic, I offer my rebuttal. Your essay responds to Vincent’s rationale, it does NOT respond to my rationale. Once again, this is not fair, and disingenuous to your readers.

4. Tim wrote:
But it is not even clear from the text that the request was made on Saturday. The Jews reckoned the beginning of the Sabbath with sundown on Friday, so for all the text says, they may have made the request on Friday evening as soon as they ascertained the location of Jesus’ body.
RESPONSE:
In Speculation 80 (page 292), this topic is tersely discussed.

5. Tim wrote:
“The third objection is that Matthew’s narrative does not tell us why Pilate would acquiesce in the request of the Jewish leaders.”
RESPONSE:
Pilate’s rationale is subject only to scholarly speculation. And yes, you offer several thoughtful ideas on this topic. Thank you! But, these too, are just scholarly speculations. However, here too, these speculations are depended upon the historicity / veracity of a tomb burial. Furthermore, there is scholarly speculation as to the meaning of Pilate’s words: “Take a guard,” or “You have a guard.” That topic, too, is discussed on page 294.

6. Tim wrote:
The first consideration is that Pilate, as a secular authority dealing exclusively with non-religious matters, would have had no reason to grant a request of this sort

RESPONSE:
I tersely discuss this topic by citing Hall Caine. Please see page 295.

7. Tim wrote:
The second consideration is that Pilate, whom the Jewish leadership had (according to the Gospels) maneuvered into having Jesus crucified against his own better judgment, would have been unlikely to grant them a further request. This point deserves close consideration, because it has a significance that has escaped Torley and Alter. According to the Gospel narratives, Pilate did not believe Jesus had done anything worthy of death. He allowed the Jews to have their way on this matter only because he feared that they would send a twisted version of events to Rome, destabilizing his governorship and perhaps leading to his being recalled in disgrace. For the sake of their argument, Alter and Torley need to grant at least this much authenticity to the Gospel narratives. In a subsequent post, I will return to this point, as it substantially undermines a claim that Torley and others have made in support of the second and third objections.

RESPONSE:
In actually, I briefly discussed this specific topic. Please examine Speculation 83; pages 294-295.

8. Tim wrote:
But the consideration is relevant here only if there is no other reason that Pilate might have felt moved to grant such a request. And even assuming that Pilate was thoroughly unhappy with the Jewish leaders by this time, such a reason lies ready to hand. The theft of a body and proclamation that the individual in question was alive was the sort of scenario a Roman governor under Tiberius could not safely ignore.

RESPONSE:
This topic is actually discussed in my Volume II, tentatively entitled, The Resurrection & Christian Apologetics (ISSUE 31). So then, I guess that Tim was reading my mind. Tim, being a master chess player knows the importance of anticipation, or reading the mind of a fellow chess player. This critical skill is an absolute must to win a match. (I like the Ruy Lopez opening, but then, you might respond with a Sicilian Defense….)

9. Tim earlier wrote:
The fourth objection is that the Jewish leaders would not have asked Pilate to set a guard at the tomb, since it was the Sabbath day, and Jewish law would have forbidden them to hire a gentile to do such work on the Sabbath.
RESPONSE:
Then you [Tim] added: “First, even supposing the objection to be fairly stated, there is no guarantee that the Jewish authorities would be particularly scrupulous in the matter of hiring a Roman guard to do their work, as they had already shown their willingness to hold a trial by night in prima facie violation of their own rules.” To be one hundred percent honest, this statement makes me cringe. I must ask: Is it possible that this (Matthew’s account) is an invented episode (along with the two trials) is/are, in fact, an argumentum ad hominem against the Jewish leadership (Jewish people)? If you excuse me, unwittingly, you continue the myth of the degradation of the Jewish leadership. I will be the first to admit that not everyone is “wonderful”… And, the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] is extremely clear that numerous times the Jewish people have fallen short of the mark / they have not been Torah faithful. However, many commentators, on both sides of the religious aisle frankly discuss plentiful examples of anti-Semitism recorded in Matthew, and elsewhere in the Christian Bible. Unfortunately, since you presumably (again, I could be in error) have not read my text, you did not comment on pages 343-344. Not to hit a dead horse, but this failure on your part is not fair and it is disingenuous to your readers.

In closing you write: “I conclude that on the first point, Alter’s argument, as summarized by Torley”… This reminds me of a famous quote by the Jewish poet Haim Nachman Bialik. Hopefully, the analogy will be self-evident. “ Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.” Those who understand, will understand…

Take care and have a good and safe weekend.

Mike

It should be obvious that I am responding to V. J. Torley's extensive summary essay, not to Michael Alter's book per se. I am sorry indeed if anyone read this post as a direct engagement with Alter's 1000+ page book. I am not even interested in engaging with all of Torley's summary, just the three points he specifically selected as test cases.

I do assume here -- Alter is free to contest the assumption, and perhaps his closing remarks suggest that he would -- that Torley's summary is an accurate presentation of Alter's arguments as far as it goes. Certainly it presents arguments that Torley himself finds compelling.

That's all.

Hello Tim:

First, once again, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to write your response to Vincent Torley’s initial post at The Skeptical Zone. In addition, thank you for writing: “ I am sorry indeed if anyone read this post as a direct engagement with Alter's 1000+ page book.” My concern was that it was possible that “some” of the readership at Lydia’s blog, What’s Wrong with the World, could, perhaps misinterpret your essay.

Since Vincent’s essay was lengthy, it is definitely understandable that you wrote: “I am not even interested in engaging with all of Torley's summary, just the three points he specifically selected as test cases.” Perhaps, after completing your evaluation on the two remaining topics, you would graciously consider directly examining and critiquing my text: The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, or portions of it. Yes, my text is lengthy… Of course, it would be preferable if I could select the portions for you to examine. Just a wish…

A review would be appropriate and insightful for Lydia’s blog’s readership with Easter around the corner. In advance, I would definitely be pleased to personally send you several of the errata that I located. Fortunately, nothing earth shattering, although one error is somewhat mindboggling (and, perhaps funny/pathetic). To paraphrase a well-known quote: To error is human, to forgive is to be divine like… So here is an opportunity for some to be divine like.

Last, I believe that it would be advantageous for Lydia’s blog’s readership to examine Vincent’s response to your noteworthy evaluation at the Skeptical Zone: “Why there probably wasn’t a guard at Jesus’ tomb.” I have the link below. If, the link is inappropriate (blog policy, etc.), please feel free to delete it.

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/why-there-probably-wasnt-a-guard-at-jesus-tomb/#more-63174

I look forward to reading your remaining evaluation of Vincent’s review.

Once again, thank you and Lydia.

Take care.

Mike

In response to Tim's point that goes like this,

First, even supposing the objection to be fairly stated, there is no guarantee that the Jewish authorities would be particularly scrupulous in the matter of hiring a Roman guard to do their work, as they had already shown their willingness to hold a trial by night in prima facie violation of their own rules.

we get this,

To be one hundred percent honest, this statement makes me cringe. I must ask: Is it possible that this (Matthew’s account) is an invented episode (along with the two trials) is/are, in fact, an argumentum ad hominem against the Jewish leadership (Jewish people)? If you excuse me, unwittingly, you continue the myth of the degradation of the Jewish leadership.

If that is an example of what is regarded as engaging with argument, then it doesn't speak terribly well of the quality of the historical approach in Alter's book. These purport to be concrete instances of specific, concrete people behaving badly. People of all races, ethnicities, and creeds behave badly throughout history. Whether some particular set of people did or didn't behave badly in a particular way is a matter for the concrete documents to determine. It cannot be determined by someone's saying 2,000 years later that it makes him cringe to hear someone say that a group of people who belong to such-and-such a group may well have behaved badly 2,000 years ago. By that measure, someone could say that hearing about the Holocaust "makes him cringe" because it perpetuates a "myth" that German people at some time did something really horrible. Or talk of the Armenian genocide could be turned away by someone who said that it makes him cringe because it could create anti-Turkish feeling. Or whatever. No group of people is immune from having its bad actors, and real history cannot be decided in such a fashion.

If a particular group of Jewish leaders--a certain relatively small set of men, some of whose names we actually know--twisted their own laws in order to get Jesus crucified, partly out of envy and partly out of a fear that he would start a revolution and bring down the Romans on them, then as historical inquirers we need to be able to know that that happened. And human nature being what it is, there is no a priori reason to regard this as highly improbable, much less impossible, much less a myth.

It's *possible* in the purely logical sense that *anything* could *possibly* be an invented episode. But Matthew himself was a Jew, as were all of the original disciples. The fact that the Jewish leadership appears in a bad light at times, despite Matthew's desire to appeal to a Jewish audience, is if anything an argument for the authenticity of the episode. I would say that the myth is the idea that the Gospels are anti-semitic. A myth that conveniently allows one to dismiss historical statements in the documents without any evidence against them.

(I would also mention the question of whether the guards WOULD have been doing something forbidden to Jews because of Sabbath rules. I am not conversant with the particular rules, beyond the basic one of "not working". I can well imagine a modern lawyer arguing that the soldiers spent the entire day "standing around talking, dicing, and so on", nothing they actually did during that day constituted "work" so to speak. But this sounds less than highly plausible to me, and I would not strongly urge this answer to the objection. Setting it aside, then...)

In addition to what Lydia said, the notion underlying the objection requires a presumption whose validity is debatable.

The underlying fact is that Jews were forbidden to work on the Sabbath. The extended rule is that they are not even allowed to make their slaves and servants work on the Sabbath. I would presume that this also extends to hirelings who are hired to work on their property or business. So far so good.

In the old days of the height of the kings, say under Solomon at the top of his reign, this rule would have impacted foreigners in Jerusalem severely: they would have been precluded from conducting business on the Sabbath, because everyone around them would NOT be conducting business, but also because they (the foreigners) would incur severe social pressure against it had they tried. But by the time the Jews had been conquered by Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and finally Romans, and were no longer in control of their city, there were certainly present enough non-Jews in Jerusalem to attenuate the social pressure of the Jewish law. And of course, they were under Roman law in general. As a result, the non-Jews would have been able to conduct business _with other non-Jews_ without great difficulty. Certainly the Romans could work on the Sabbath without any difficulty, and the Greeks and others present would have followed in their footsteps. (I strongly suspect this would also extend to what we would call "contractors" today: if a Jew leased a plot of land to a tenant for him to farm, and the tenant was a Greek rather than a Jew, the Jew would not consider himself to be violating the Jewish law if the Greek tenant worked on the Sabbath: the tenant is NOT a hireling.)

In that context, then, we have to consider whether the Jewish priests, pharisees and scribes could have soldiers guard the tomb. If, on the one hand, the soldiers were in the pay of the the priests and scribes, then the same "hireling" rule above would apply. But on the other hand, if the soldiers were sent at the orders of a foreigner and being paid by the foreigner, the priests and scribes would have no legal involvement as employers. Sure, they were the instigators of the activity, but the argument they used was at least partly a political one, and presented a potential motivation to Pilate that he could have acted on without regard to their pleasure. Hence there is no clear basis for saying that the Roman soldiers detailed by Pilate to guard the tomb would (in the eyes of the Jews) be considered to fall under the category of Jewish hirelings: Pilate and the occupying Romans were the ones disregarding the Sabbath, not the Jews. I strongly doubt that the soldiers would consider themselves "hired out" to the priests. Saying they were would be, at best a contentious and problematic conclusion, and (of course) the pharisees and scribes were exactly the people who would be heading up the effort to form a determination about how The Law applies in such a situation.

Secondly, I harbor some suspicions about the notion that the Jews wouldn't have guards at all on the Sabbath. Apparently both Herod ,and the priests and Temple had guards, locals (not Romans). It makes sense that the priests and Temple needed them: Jerusalem was at that time a cosmopolitan city of hundreds of thousands, with people from all over the east and from the west as far as Rome. There would be a constant clash of foreign customs and behavior, and there would have been constant need for guards to protect goods and people. I find it very difficult indeed to believe that the Temple had guards on duty 6 days a week, and nobody on duty on the Sabbath. The same with Herod. It strains credulity to insist that they could not come up with a rationale that allowed them to keep the guards on duty to the extend needed even on the Sabbath. I would ask for empirical evidence that they did not allow guards on duty at that point in time.

I'm highly doubtful that there would have been the slightest Jewish legal problem with their asking Pilate to have a Roman guard set. As Tim points out, they would not even be hiring the person.

Also, for what it's worth, modern Jews, even those who are very Orthodox, *do indeed* ask Gentiles to do things on the Sabbath that they are not allowed to do. This can even be humorous. An ultraorthodox blog I used to read talked about having a "synagogue Gentile" who would come to your house and close your refrigerator if it accidentally got opened. In the days of elevator operators, there were Orthodox Jews who had a ruling that they could use the elevator on the Sabbath as long as a Gentile operated the buttons for them. And so forth. This is partly because working on the Sabbath is not regarded as intrinsically wrong. It is a commandment that Jews are to obey because it has been given to them by God, but Gentiles are not actually doing wrong by working on the Sabbath themselves. My impression is that a problem could arise if one made a *profit* by work done on the Sabbath on one's behalf--e.g., by employees of a regular business. But that does not prohibit inducing a Gentile to do *anything* on one's behalf on the Sabbath.

Hello Lydia;

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to reply to my response.

You wrote: “If that is an example of what is regarded as engaging with argument, then it doesn't speak terribly well of the quality of the historical approach in Alter's book.”

RESPONSE: My response was 100 percent honest. I hope that you appreciate my frank and honest reply [EMET].

You correctly stated: “People of all races, ethnicities, and creeds behave badly throughout history… Or whatever. No group of people is immune from having its bad actors, and real history cannot be decided in such a fashion.”

RESPONSE: AGREED! However, too repeat, numerous theologians, scholars, historians (from both sides of the religious aisle) have discussed the topic of anti-Semitism found in portions of Matthew, and elsewhere. And, yes, there are those who refute that claim… argumentum ab auctoritate (at least so says Wikipedia).

YOU wrote: “These purport to be concrete instances of specific, concrete people behaving badly.”

RESPONSE: You are assuming the historical accuracy of the Jewish leadership and people behaving badly. I do not share your enthusiasm. A bit further below, a counter proposal is presented.

You wrote (in the last paragraph): “But Matthew himself was a Jew, as were all of the original disciples.”

RESPONSE: I assume, although I could be in error, that you have not read my text. Topic 3 Who Wrote the Gospels and their claimed Inerrancy can be examined on pages 5-12. Significantly, I identified and directly quoted numerous publications in the category of “Introduction to the New Testament” and the “Origin of the New Testament Manuscripts” that challenges the position that the names penned to the four gospels are authentic… Matthew did not write Matthew:

Donald Hagner: The New Testament: A Historical and Theological Introduction 2012. p. 194
Russell Pregeant: Encounters with the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Approach. 2009, p. 128
Boring and Craddock: The people’s New Testament Commentary. 2009, p. 105
D.C Parker: An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscript and Their Texts. 2008, 313
Larry Hurtado. The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collection and Canon” in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies. 2006. p. 27
DeSilva. Introduction to the New Testament Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. 2004. p.194
C. K. Barkett. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. 2002. p. 121
Perrin and Dulling. New Testament: An Introduction Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. 2nd ed. 1982. p.42

So then, there exists definite doubt as to the author of Matthew. The relevance and significance of this point will be addressed below. Did a Matthew (a disciple) exist? To be 100 percent honest, I do not know.

Please note that the name Matthew/Levi occurs only five times in a total of two settings. Four times his name is mentioned in the list of the Twelve. In addition, Matthew 9:9 reports his selection, and Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus. That is ALL of the information that the Christian Bible provides about Matthew! Do these five appearances lend credence to the existence of a Matthew? Let the reader decide.

However, assuming that he did exist does not mean that this disciple penned a gospel bearing the name Matthew. If the author of Matthew is anonymous (in my opinion and shared by many scholars), it is, indeed possible / probable that he had an anti-Jewish aim, even “if” he was Jewish. Elaine Pagels (1995, 75-76, 81) lends credence to this view. She is of the opinion that the Pharisees become adversaries of the Christian communities only in the time of Matthew. Therefore, the “negative” words are inserted in this gospel because they are the chief opponents of Matthew’s church and surely skeptical about the claims of Jesus’s resurrection. Given that Matthew was authored approximately between the years 80 and 90 CE, the Temple had already been destroyed about a decade earlier. Therefore, too repeat, the author of Matthew is now in direct competition with the new Jewish leadership (the Pharisees). It is no wonder that his writing includes anti-Jewish material.

Furthermore, it is instructive to note that the anonymous author of Matthew employs the word Pharisee(s) thirty times. However, significantly, its anonymous author mentions the word Pharisees only in Matthew 27:62 and nowhere else in the entire passion or post-passion accounts. If my reading (and the reading of others) is correct, the text has a definite anti-Jewish leadership flavor and objective.

In addition, for example, does one truly believe that the anonymous author of Matthew does NOT have a theological or political agenda to make the Jewish leadership AND the Jewish people appear particularly heinous? Shades of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”… Does one sincerely [EMET] believe that Matt 27:25 is historically accurate when he wrote:

All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (NIV)

Again, Tim’s words makes me cringe. And, I bear these words with pride!

Returning to your initial words: “If that is an example of what is regarded as engaging with argument, then it doesn't speak terribly well of the quality of the historical approach in Alter's book.”

RESPONSE: Too repeat, your words strongly suggest that you (and I also assume that your soul mate, Tim) have not read The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. One of my goals was to present an intellectually honest analysis of the NT accounts. Throughout The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, I bring forth the opinions from both sides of the religious aisle. Extensively, I engage William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, and others. Just examine the eighty (80) page bibliography…After presenting their position, I offer a contrasting point of view. Please examine my text! See for yourself… And, once again, please forgive me for being 100 percent honest in my rejoinder.

You closed your thoughtful reply writing: “I would say that the myth is the idea that the Gospels are anti-semitic. A myth that conveniently allows one to dismiss historical statements in the documents without any evidence against them.”

RESPONSE: I do not deny that there exist (possible) kernels of historicity found in the gospel narrative. However, a substantial obstacle, in reference to the passion and resurrection narratives, is separating the kernels of historicity from the respective anonymous authors’ political and theological agendas, their numerous embellishments, and the accompanying development of “myths” or “alternative facts” to the narratives. These issues are discussed throughout The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, and in Volume 2, that is currently being edited. Yes, the Gospels contain some material that is anti-Semitic.

Once again, thank you for expressing honestly and forcefully your views, and adding to the conversation about an important topic. You opinion is definitely respected.

Take care.

Mike

You know, it doesn't actually create doubt about the accuracy of some historical document that various people have said it's unhistorical. And the sheer fact that people contest Matthean authorship (for example) doesn't mean that there isn't good evidence for Matthean authorship.

Just listing a bunch of people who think this or that isn't dispositive.

And by the way, I'm not an inerrantist.

The probative weight of any one passage of a Gospel can't be looked at independently for an historical analysis all on its own, it has to be taken together with all of the evidence for the rest of the Gospel together. And the evidence about the Gospel is that while it is in fact an instance of a report about historically real facts, it is also the religiously-inspired product of of a religiously assertive person in a community of newly minted religious devotees who were also undergoing extremes of persecution. And it was accepted by that community, by people who had the capacity and the motivation to assess the accuracy of a great many of the details reported. That same community evidenced an extreme disapproval for both made-up or inaccurate assertions about the events. And that community bore persecution for making claims about Christ. So on the one hand, the author would have been putting his in-house reputation at great risk by making up stories that his brethren could determine were not real, and he would be putting himself at risk from the authorities by reporting what they did not want bandied about: caught between Scylla and Charybdis, (and no absolute necessity to write anything at all), the plausible motivation for writing what he wrote is that he believed with religious conviction in the factual reality of what he wrote. To put it in the negative: if he achieved through some pattern of facts and teaching enough religious conviction to leave the comfort of his old religion and convert to this new religion, enough to put his life or well-being at risk from the authorities, then he believed enough to not risk either his immortal soul or his standing in his community to try to unnecessarily invent made-up stories to account for that self-same religious conviction by which he came to believe WITHOUT made-up stories.

I also agree with Lydia about the authorship of Matthew. There are fads in literary and historical fields, one very simplistic example is the fad that was pressed with idiotic vigor for half a century (and is still inordinately urged) against the use of the passive voice in writing. Another fad is the imaginative complex of "conclusions" drawn from the so-called "literary analysis" of Gospels that enable the scholar to declaim with idiotic certainty on particular phrases or passages that "must" have originated from a different source than other passages. The thing about fads is that (by definition) they are popular, i.e. they have many followers, but the wideness of their following has very little to do with the underlying merit of the issue the fad is about. That there is a long list of people who doubt the Matthean authorship of Matthew is interesting but what is determinative is the quality of the arguments by which they arrive at their conclusions, not the length of the list.

It is really undeniable based on the evidence that Matthew is attempting to appeal to a Jewish audience. Probably not exclusively, but certainly as an emphasis. The frequent quotation of the Old Testament, the emphasis upon Jesus' status as the Son of David (seen in the genealogy) and upon the fulfillment of prophecy, and the rabbinic style of Matthew's OT interpretation are just a few indicators. Indeed, the Jewishness of the Gospel has been used *against* its historicity by, e.g., Robert Gundry. Gundry's "midrash" theories are nonsense, but that Matthew is a very Jewish Gospel is not only true but obvious. With that background in place, to imply that Matthew is also an anti-semitic Gospel whose author makes things up out of his head to make the Jews look bad is highly implausible.

"the plausible motivation for writing what he wrote is that he believed with religious conviction in the factual reality of what he wrote."

Clement of Rome (c. 95 A.D.): “The apostles, having received their orders and filled with certainty through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted with the Word of God, went forth with the certainty of the Holy Spirit , preaching the good news that God’s Kingdom was to come” (Ad Corinthios 42.3).

Fr. Patrick Reardon comments on this verse:

"Before going on to look at the treatment of this theme in St. John, we may take note of another early use of the word plerophoria, the certainty given by the Holy Spirit, in a disciple of St. Paul, St. Clement of Rome. I cite this text as a very early exegesis of Pauline theology. About the year 95, Clement, writing to the church at Corinth, used both the pertinent noun and the passive participle of its cognate verb in a single sentence: 'The apostles, having received their orders and filled with certainty (plerophorethentes) through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted with the Word of God, went forth with the certainty of the Holy Spirit (meta plerophorias pneumatos hagiou), preaching the good news that God’s Kingdom was to come' (Ad Corinthios 42.3). What is perhaps most striking about this text is that the 'certainty' of the apostles is described as being conferred both outwardly and inwardly. That is to say, this plerophoria is related to two orders of knowledge, to both the categorical, empirical order — in the historical event of the resurrection of Christ — and the internal order of immediate perception — the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are the two dimensions of the knowledge of God with which we are concerned. These are the two inseparable aspects of the gospel, the sending of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit."

In short, the apostles not only knew what had happened, they knew what it meant. Any separation of these two aspects of knowledge with the intent of diminishing the importance of one or the other would thus seem to begin one down a road which leads to a truncated or warped presentation of the Gospel.

https://pemptousia.com/2016/10/communion-division-the-structure-of-knowledge-god-sent-forth-the-spirit/

(Excerpt from a longer essay, "Communion and Division: The Structure of Knowledge," behind the paywall at Touchstone.)


Great quote, NM, thanks. I appreciate Fr. Reardon's ability to pull out explicitly what Clement was saying implicitly.

I suspect that skeptics would retort that this perspective on what the Gospel writer were doing is a religious one, and therefore not something that a pure historian can take into account: the historian, qua historian, cannot verify that the Gospel writer was "filled with certainty" by the Holy Spirit.

But what the historian CAN do is verify that in numerous ways, the immediate communities of Christians took those writings as coming from men they considered to be filled with certainty by what they witnessed, and considered the writers inspired (including preserved from error) in so writing, and that they (the Christians) could not have considered the authors inspired so if they saw errors and untruths in the work. And historians can verify that even if the Gospel writer himself was not directly attacked in the persecutions, he had to be very concerned with the possibility, and that in writing what he did, he had to have a strong motivation to overcome the drawback of painting cross-hairs on his own back. Without either money or public glory as motivation, nor family to hand down goods or a fine reputation, the truth (as they apprehended it) is the motivation that best explains what they wrote.

Yes -- the primary aspect of that "certainty" was the Apostles' knowledge that the Resurrection really occurred. They knew this because they had witnessed it "in the categorical, empirical order," as Reardon says. So in that sense the complementary internal witness of the Spirit wasn't needed to provide the content of what they believed, so much as to confirm the meaning of it.

Alter:

"Please note that the name Matthew/Levi occurs only five times in a total of two settings. Four times his name is mentioned in the list of the Twelve. In addition, Matthew 9:9 reports his selection, and Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus. That is ALL of the information that the Christian Bible provides about Matthew! Do these five appearances lend credence to the existence of a Matthew? Let the reader decide."

The relative obscurity of Matthew in the gospels and early Christianity would seem to be an argument in favor of authorship. If the early Christians wanted to make up a story and give it credence why wouldn't they give us another name besides Matthew? Maybe one of the Lord's brothers! James would have been a great pseudonym to write under. The fact that Matthew was little known besides the ascription of his gospel (and our earliest traditions are universal in ascribing a gospel to Matthew) would make it seem that you are barking up the wrong tree here. I don't really find arguments like this very convincing from either side. Just pointing out that the gospels were anonymous (assuming there weren't scroll tags a la Hengel) doesnt mean the early Christians didn't know who wrote the gospels delivered to them.

"However, assuming that he did exist does not mean that this disciple penned a gospel bearing the name Matthew. If the author of Matthew is anonymous (in my opinion and shared by many scholars), it is, indeed possible / probable that he had an anti-Jewish aim, even “if” he was Jewish. Elaine Pagels (1995, 75-76, 81) lends credence to this view. She is of the opinion that the Pharisees become adversaries of the Christian communities only in the time of Matthew. Therefore, the “negative” words are inserted in this gospel because they are the chief opponents of Matthew’s church and surely skeptical about the claims of Jesus’s resurrection. Given that Matthew was authored approximately between the years 80 and 90 CE, the Temple had already been destroyed about a decade earlier. Therefore, too repeat, the author of Matthew is now in direct competition with the new Jewish leadership (the Pharisees). It is no wonder that his writing includes anti-Jewish material."

I love the way hyperskepticism always adds that infamous "if" x existed. It works as a mechanism to try and sow doubt in the mind at no cost. Pagel certainly has an active imagination! I find it more realistic to posit that Matthew had a low opinion of the pharisees because they agitated to have his Lord killed. The gospels view Judaism as obsolete with the coming of Christ. That's not antisemitism, at least not in any post-holocaust sense. It is about as anti-Semitic as me being anti-materialists. I loath materialism as a worldview, and the early Christians probably had some good reasons to reject Judaism (Jesus' Resurrection, atonement, destruction of the temple as foretold by Christ etc.). So, positing the bogey man of antisemitism is just an attempt to manufacture a reason for rejecting gospel testimony. I have always thought it was funny that biblical scholars pontificate about eisegeting things into the text, but they do it everywhere when it comes to "antisemitism". Truly, bizarre.

"Furthermore, it is instructive to note that the anonymous author of Matthew employs the word Pharisee(s) thirty times. However, significantly, its anonymous author mentions the word Pharisees only in Matthew 27:62 and nowhere else in the entire passion or post-passion accounts. If my reading (and the reading of others) is correct, the text has a definite anti-Jewish leadership flavor and objective."

So, your assumption is that if someone opposes a leadership group, then their accusations cannot be correct? Maybe we should approach your book with skepticism because it comes from an orthodox Jew with an axe to grind? Maybe? By your logic we should, since you are anti-Christian in your beliefs etc. See how dumb this reasoning is? Sorry for being honest, but its terrible reasoning.

Hello Lydia, Tony, Nice Marot, and Blake:

Thank you for continuing the discussion about this vital topic! Now, let me respond to several comments.

Lydia wrote: “You know, it doesn't actually create doubt about the accuracy of some historical document that various people have said it's unhistorical. And the sheer fact that people contest Matthean authorship (for example) doesn't mean that there isn't good evidence for Matthean authorship.”
Just listing a bunch of people who think this or that isn't dispositive.
RESPONSE: The sheer fact that people contest Matthean authorship (for example) doesn't mean that there isn't good evidence for Matthean authorship, NOR does the sheer fact that people believe Matthean authorship mean that there good evidence for that Matthean authorship. Proponents and detractors can only provide a list of “experts” support their respective view.
Lydia wrote: And by the way, I'm not an inerrantist.

RESPONSE: I was aware of that fact. But, thank you for informing those readers not aware of that fact.

Tony wrote: That there is a long list of people who doubt the Matthean authorship of Matthew is interesting but what is determinative is the quality of the arguments by which they arrive at their conclusions, not the length of the list.

RESPONSE: Tony, what a great comment! I absolutely agree with your evaluation. Readers are strongly encouraged to examine the rationales offered by Hagner, Hurtado, Parker, etc.

Blake wrote: The relative obscurity of Matthew in the gospels and early Christianity would seem to be an argument in favor of authorship. If the early Christians wanted to make up a story and give it credence why wouldn't they give us another name besides Matthew? Maybe one of the Lord's brothers! James would have been a great pseudonym to write under.

RESPONSE: Respectful, I disagree (But of course, this is just my humble opinion). This reminds me of a common apologetic: that the differences found in the Resurrection accounts actually substantiate their trustworthiness. This argument runs something like “people who conspire to testify a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions.” (see The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. p. 27)

You say: If the early Christians wanted to make up a story and give it credence why wouldn't they give us another name besides Matthew? Perhaps, Mark invented the name for reasons unknown to us and that name was later continued by Matthew, Luke, and John. In addition, the same argument can be employed for Nicodemius. However, there is substantially more discussion on that topic (see. The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, p. 237-240) or the name/place Arimathea.

You wrote: “I don't really find arguments like this very convincing from either side. Just pointing out that the gospels were anonymous (assuming there weren't scroll tags a la Hengel) doesnt mean the early Christians didn't know who wrote the gospels delivered to them.”

RESPONSE: An argument based on silence. However, I too, plead guilty of this offense.

You wrote: “That's not antisemitism, at least not in any post-holocaust sense. It is about as anti-Semitic as me being anti-materialists.”

RESPONSE: The modern term (anti-Semitism) was coined by William Marr (1870). Definitely, the term anti-Semitism is a loaded word, and it is often misconstrued. For example, calling Arab-Muslims anti-Semitic means that they literally hate themselves since Arabs are also Semitic people. I was employing the term as referred to being anti-Jewish. Below, are numerous sources from BOTH sides of the religious aisle that discuss this voluminous topic. They can be found at the end of this post:


Blake wrote: “Maybe we should approach your book with skepticism because it comes from an orthodox Jew with an axe to grind? Maybe? By your logic we should, since you are anti-Christian in your beliefs etc. See how dumb this reasoning is? Sorry for being honest, but its terrible reasoning.”

RESPONSE:
First, I am NOT an orthodox Jew (I am not frum).
Second, I do not have an axe to grind. Presumable, you never read the first two paragraphs of the Preface (xli). I was DIRECTLY challenged by a believer in Jesus! I would also humbly request that you read the bullets (p. xlv) that discuss two significant challenges. Fortunately, the preface can be examined on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Critical-MICHAEL-J-ALTER/dp/149905405X/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?crid=MPAP2784I1X6&keywords=the+resurrection+a+critical+inquiry&qid=1552841806&s=gateway&sprefix=The+resurrection+a+%2Caps%2C170&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
You wrote: By your logic we should, since you are anti-Christian in your beliefs etc.

RESPONSE: Wow, where did that come from? I am not anti-Christian. However, I want to be up front: I do not believe that God exists as a trinity, Jesus is fully God, the incarnation, Jesus’s vicarious atonement for mankind’s sins, or his physical, bodily resurrection. I definitely respect your right to your beliefs, and those of Lydia, Tim, and all other believers... I have not intention or objective to have Christians “convert” to Judaism. I have no goal in “evangelizing” non-Jews. This text required approximately thirteen years to research and write was a direct response to a believer!!! Respectfully, I am innocent of your charge…

You wrote: “See how dumb this reasoning is? Sorry for being honest, but its terrible reasoning.”

RESPONSE: Blake, I respect your “honest” response.

Take care and be safe.

Mike


Abel, Ernest L., The Roots of Anti-Semitism, Cranbury, N.J.: University Press, Inc., 1975

Bossman, David M. Christians and Jews Read the Gospel of Matthew Today
Biblical Theology Bulletin: Journal of Bible and Culture
First Published May 1, 1997

Bruce, F. F. “Are The Gospels Anti-Semitic?” Eternity 24 (November 1973): 16-18.
http://www.alliancenet.org/eternitymagazine/are-the-gospels-anti-semitic

Cook, Michael J. Modern Jews Engage the New Testament. Jewish Lights.2008

Crossan, Dominic M., O.S.M., "Anti-Semitism and the Gospel," Theological Studies 26, 1956, pp.189-214

Glock, Charles Y & Rodney Stark. Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism. Harper & Row 1966.

Graham M. Stanton. The Gospel of Matthew and Judaism. https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:1m1680&datastreamId=POST-PEER-REVIEW-PUBLISHERS-DOLinda Joanne Lubin

Hakola , R T 2013 , Anti-Judaism, Anti-Semitism in the New Testament and its Interpretation . in S L McKenzie (ed.) , The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation. vol. 1 , Oxford University Press , Oxford , pp. 27-35.https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/217499/Hakola_Anti_Judaism.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Hare, Douglas R.A., "Reviews of Works on Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism," Religious Studies Review 2/3, 19 76, pp.15-22

Lee, Dorothy A. “Matthew’s Gospel and Judaism.” Jewish-Christian Relations. http://www.jcrelations.net/Matthew%27s+Gospel+and+Judaism.2201.0.html?L=3
[She concludes: “in the final analysis Matthew"s Gospel is not antisemitic - certainly not as we would understand that term today.”

Leventhal, Barry. Is Christianity Anti-Semitic?
https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v01-n05/is-christianity-anti-semitic/

Lewis, David. JEWS AND THE DEATH OF JESUS: READING MATTHEW 27:25
Posted March 9, 2011 by David Lewis in Blog
https://concordiatheology.org/2011/03/jews-and-the-death-of-jesus-reading-matthew-2725-by-david-lewis/

Lubin, Linda Joanne, "Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of St. Matthew" (1981). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1537. http://scholars.wlu.ca/etd/1537

Miller, Glenn. Is the New Testament anti-Semitic? https://www.rationalchristianity.net/anti-semitism.html

O'Collins, Gerald, S.J., "Anti-Semitism in the Gospel," Theological Studies 26, 1965, pp.663-666

Picker, Chaim. Make Us a God: A Jewish Response to Hebrew Christianity. IUniverse. 2005 [Ch 17]

https://www.rationalchristianity.net/anti-semitism.html
Is the New Testament anti-Semitic?
Sandmel, Samuel, Anti-Semitism in; the New Testament, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.
Sigal, Gerald. Anti-Judaism in the New Testament. Xlibris. 2004

Tabor, James. The Top Seven Fateful Verses from the New Testament (1) “Jewish Bloodguilt.” MAY 13, 2017 https://jamestabor.com/the-top-seven-fateful-verses-from-the-new-testament-1-jewish-bloodguilt/

Viljoem, F.P. Matthew, the church and anti-Semitism
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 28, No 2 | a128 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v28i2.128 | © 2007 FP Viljoen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 September 2007 | Published: 21 September 2007

Furthermore, it is instructive to note that the anonymous author of Matthew employs the word Pharisee(s) thirty times. However, significantly, its anonymous author mentions the word Pharisees only in Matthew 27:62 and nowhere else in the entire passion or post-passion accounts. If my reading (and the reading of others) is correct, the text has a definite anti-Jewish leadership flavor and objective.

That is an argument? From the number of times a word is used in the book as a whole and in the passion and resurrection stories? Dear me. I don't even want to ask to have that one laid out in premise-conclusion form. That's just...dreadful.

Hello Lydia, Tony, Nice Marot, and Blake:

Thank you for continuing the discussion about this vital topic! Now, let me respond to several comments.

Lydia wrote: “You know, it doesn't actually create doubt about the accuracy of some historical document that various people have said it's unhistorical. And the sheer fact that people contest Matthean authorship (for example) doesn't mean that there isn't good evidence for Matthean authorship.”
Just listing a bunch of people who think this or that isn't dispositive.
RESPONSE: The sheer fact that people contest Matthean authorship (for example) doesn't mean that there isn't good evidence for Matthean authorship, NOR does the sheer fact that people believe Matthean authorship mean that there good evidence for that Matthean authorship. Proponents and detractors can only provide a list of “experts” support their respective view.
Lydia wrote: And by the way, I'm not an inerrantist.

RESPONSE: I was aware of that fact. But, thank you for informing those readers not aware of that fact.

Tony wrote: That there is a long list of people who doubt the Matthean authorship of Matthew is interesting but what is determinative is the quality of the arguments by which they arrive at their conclusions, not the length of the list.

RESPONSE: Tony, what a great comment! I absolutely agree with your evaluation. Readers are strongly encouraged to examine the rationales offered by Hagner, Hurtado, Parker, etc.

Blake wrote: The relative obscurity of Matthew in the gospels and early Christianity would seem to be an argument in favor of authorship. If the early Christians wanted to make up a story and give it credence why wouldn't they give us another name besides Matthew? Maybe one of the Lord's brothers! James would have been a great pseudonym to write under.

RESPONSE: Respectful, I disagree (But of course, this is just my humble opinion). This reminds me of a common apologetic: that the differences found in the Resurrection accounts actually substantiate their trustworthiness. This argument runs something like “people who conspire to testify a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions.” (see The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. p. 27)

You say: If the early Christians wanted to make up a story and give it credence why wouldn't they give us another name besides Matthew? Perhaps, Mark invented the name for reasons unknown to us and that name was later continued by Matthew, Luke, and John. In addition, the same argument can be employed for Nicodemius. However, there is substantially more discussion on that topic (see. The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, p. 237-240) or the name/place Arimathea.

You wrote: “I don't really find arguments like this very convincing from either side. Just pointing out that the gospels were anonymous (assuming there weren't scroll tags a la Hengel) doesnt mean the early Christians didn't know who wrote the gospels delivered to them.”

RESPONSE: An argument based on silence. However, I too, plead guilty of this offense.

You wrote: “That's not antisemitism, at least not in any post-holocaust sense. It is about as anti-Semitic as me being anti-materialists.”

RESPONSE: The modern term (anti-Semitism) was coined by William Marr (1870). Definitely, the term anti-Semitism is a loaded word, and it is often misconstrued. For example, calling Arab-Muslims anti-Semitic means that they literally hate themselves since Arabs are also Semitic people. I was employing the term as referred to being anti-Jewish. Below, are numerous sources from BOTH sides of the religious aisle that discuss this voluminous topic. They can be found at the end of this post:


Blake wrote: “Maybe we should approach your book with skepticism because it comes from an orthodox Jew with an axe to grind? Maybe? By your logic we should, since you are anti-Christian in your beliefs etc. See how dumb this reasoning is? Sorry for being honest, but its terrible reasoning.”

RESPONSE:
First, I am NOT an orthodox Jew (I am not frum).
Second, I do not have an axe to grind. Presumable, you never read the first two paragraphs of the Preface (xli). I was DIRECTLY challenged by a believer in Jesus! I would also humbly request that you read the bullets (p. xlv) that discuss two significant challenges. Fortunately, the preface can be examined on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Critical-MICHAEL-J-ALTER/dp/149905405X/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?crid=MPAP2784I1X6&keywords=the+resurrection+a+critical+inquiry&qid=1552841806&s=gateway&sprefix=The+resurrection+a+%2Caps%2C170&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
You wrote: By your logic we should, since you are anti-Christian in your beliefs etc.

RESPONSE: Wow, where did that come from? I am not anti-Christian. However, I want to be up front: I do not believe that God exists as a trinity, Jesus is fully God, the incarnation, Jesus’s vicarious atonement for mankind’s sins, or his physical, bodily resurrection. I definitely respect your right to your beliefs, and those of Lydia, Tim, and all other believers... I have not intention or objective to have Christians “convert” to Judaism. I have no goal in “evangelizing” non-Jews. This text required approximately thirteen years to research and write was a direct response to a believer!!! Respectfully, I am innocent of your charge…

You wrote: “See how dumb this reasoning is? Sorry for being honest, but its terrible reasoning.”

RESPONSE: Blake, I respect your “honest” response.

Take care and be safe.

Mike

PS Second attempt to post. Perhaps, I made an error.

Mr. Alter: “Respectful, I disagree (But of course, this is just my humble opinion). This reminds me of a common apologetic: that the differences found in the Resurrection accounts actually substantiate their trustworthiness. This argument runs something like “people who conspire to testify a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions.”

My point was simply that there were better candidates for pseudonymous authorship than Matthew. Arguably, the existence of a follower of Jesus penning the gospel explains the evidence better than claiming that all the Christian churches across a vast empire were deceived into think Matthew penned the gospel. It’s logically possible, but I find it historically suspect when there are no otter candidates for the author ship of the Synoptics. GJohn has one other authorship tradition that was a late claim that a gnostic wrote it, but that’s it. We have real examples of pseudonymous gospels, and they look nothing like the canonical four.

I also did not make an argument from silence, that I remember. I noted that it was custom in the ancient world to tag scrolls, and that the early universal tradition of the early church about the gospel authorship would seem to be explanatorily consistent with that’s practice. As the gospels circulated people knew who they were attributed to early on, which is why we don’t have conflicting traditions. You can go all Alex Jones conspiracy theory if you want about some ploy by the Christians to make up authors, but I find that unconvincing.

Since I didn’t make the claim about contradictions above, I’m not sure why it was included. I don’t know of any gospel “contradictions” that aren’t suspect from a logical point of view. Maybe you have hit upon one that cannot be reconciled, but usually I find the attempts at finding contradictions fail.

Best,
Blake

PS: I apologize for maybe being a little rough in my first response. The antisemitism charge gets on my nerves. I’ll re read the portions of your book on it. I read portions of your book a year and a half ago.

I am having trouble coming up with anything remotely plausible if we try the route of the gospel being truly anonymous. Let's take the first person who got it from the (anonymous) writer: does he ask "who wrote this"? Why not? This is a lengthy piece of writing, not a 2 page letter, it represents a pretty stiff amount of labor. Someone had to be responsible for it, and had to have had a reason. Knowing who is IMPORTANT. Nobody would receive a writing like this and not be led to ask "where did this come from?" What does the writer tell him: something like "I dunno, I picked it up in a gutter somewhere"? Why would he not admit he was the author? For that matter, the people he lived with would see him writing it and see parts of it as he finished. They would know he wrote it, and expect to see it when he was done.

Let's take the first Christian who received it who wasn't living with the writer and didn't have an inside source on the authorship: does he ask "who wrote this?" Why not? He would surely want to know.

Let's take the first Christian in a position of authority to spread it around and even read it aloud in the assembly, when he received it. Does he ask "who wrote this?" Why not? Does he find bits and pieces that he knows are glaringly contradictory to the words he has heard from other Apostles? If so, why does he accept this anonymous piece and praise it? If not, WHY are there no contradictions? Does he decide to attribute it to the Apostle Matthew just because he feels like it?

Nothing we know of the first generations of Christians (i.e. the generation while the Apostles were still alive, and the generation immediately following who received their instruction from the Apostles directly) is consistent with scenarios like the above. They certainly would not give that kind of honor to an account that had no bona fides, that was just sprung on them from a rabbit hole. And if they were the sort of people to just accept stories made up out of the blue without any attribution: do you know people who will accept torture and death for what they themselves believe are made-up stories about things that never really happened? I don't.

Such scenarios don't work.

Hello Blake and Tony:

Thank you for continuing the conversation!

Blake wrote: “My point was simply that there were better candidates for pseudonymous authorship than Matthew. Arguably, the existence of a follower of Jesus penning the gospel explains the evidence better than claiming that all the Christian churches across a vast empire were deceived into think Matthew penned the gospel.”

RESPONSE: The bottom line is that either Matthew wrote Matthew, or an anonymous author penned that gospel. I cited at least eight (hopefully) recognized scholars/theologians …in the category of “Introduction to the New Testament” and the “Origin of the New Testament.” (e.g. Donald Hagner, Larry Hurtado, C.K. Burkett, etc.) These “non-liberal” writers offer their opinion that the text is anonymous. Theories can be offered for its (Matthew’s) candidate. But, all we are left with are scholarly beliefs, guesses/hunches, and opinions.

You wrote: “I noted that it was custom in the ancient world to tag scrolls, and that the early universal tradition of the early church about the gospel authorship would seem to be explanatorily consistent with that’s practice.”

RESPONSE: A great point! Thank you… Hurtado, and Perrin and Dulling (New Testament: An Introduction and Proclamation… 1982, p. 42) supports your view (quoted in The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, p. 8)

PS: I apologize for maybe being a little rough in my first response. The antisemitism charge gets on my nerves. I’ll re read the portions of your book on it. I read portions of your book a year and a half ago.

RESPONSE: Thank you for your PS! And, thank you for actually having previously read portions of my text. (It is frustrating to hear or read comments by those who have not examined my text.) Of course, I would prefer that you kindly examine my entire text. But, at least, if possible, please read:


Topic 2 pp. 4-5
Topic 3 pp. 5-12
Contradiction #19 pp. 160-164
Speculation #35 pp. 181-182
Contradiction #26 pp. 185-186
Speculations #125-126 pp. 397-401***
Speculations #175-176 pp. 590-596
Speculations #201-204 pp. 667-674
Chapter 10 [Judas – long (sorry), but relevant] pp. 442-528

If you exclude Chapter 10, your homework assignment totals approximately 40 pages. And, please note that a speculation is a nothing more than speculation.

Tony wrote: “And if they were the sort of people to just accept stories made up out of the blue without any attribution: do you know people who will accept torture and death for what they themselves believe are made-up stories about things that never really happened? I don't.’

RESPONSE: In Volume 2, tentatively named The Resurrection and Christian Apologetics: A Critical Inquiry, an entire unit (pp. 245-311) is devoted to this important topic. For my foil, I am using Sean McDowell’s text, The Fate of the Apostles Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, and his doctoral dissertation. Hopefully, when my editors complete their homework assignment, and the manuscript is published, the rebuttal to your statement will be evident… Yes, most of the stories (not all) are made-up.

Take care and thank you for writing

Mike

And, please note that a speculation is a nothing more than speculation.

There is a different weight on some speculations compared to others.

For example, if we had a situation where one historical source Author 1 says "Paul did X, Y, and then Z" with respect to a specific unique event E, and another historical source said "Paul did X, then did Z, and did not do Y in between", referring to the very same moment in Event E, then they would be in contradiction. But if a third source Author 3 instead says "Paul did X, W, and then Z", it is speculative to assert that the accounts are "in contradiction." It is speculative to assert that, because by asserting it you are speculatively asserting that either Author 1 meant "Paul did X, Y, and Z and did not do W between X and Z", or that Author 3 meant "Paul did X, W, and then Z and did not do Y between X and Z". As long as A1 said nothing about W he did not ACTUALLY assert that Paul did not do W, and long as A3 said nothing about Y he did not ACTUALLY assert that Paul did not do Y. It is speculation to assert of this that one of the authors A1 or A3 meant more than he said about it.

On the other hand, while it is also speculation of a sort to assert that A1 meant "Paul did X, then Y, might have done other acts like W, and then did Z", it is not putting words in his mouth in the same way: Leaving out parts of what did happen in an account is something we do all the time, because none of us bother to report EVERYTHING we saw and heard in a situation ("he took a slightly deeper breath this time, twitched his neck about 6 degrees, moved his finger 2 millimeters upwards, ...") because tons of it is irrelevant to what we WANT to convey about the event. Therefore, there is a non-equivalence in the two sorts of speculation: one claiming that an author intended to EXCLUDE from the event details that he did not mention, the other merely claiming the author did not intend to include details that he did not mention. These clearly have different epistemic weight in considering the coherence of the accounts together, given that we always do not include some details that we do not intend to exclude from having been part of the event.

It seems to me quite obvious that even if only one Apostle died for their faith, then this would still be a valid "point" for Tony's side.

Post a comment


Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.