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Was Jesus Buried in Joseph of Arimathea's New Tomb?

A Guest Post by Timothy McGrew

In this post, I conclude my critical examination of three points in V. J. Torley’s lengthy review essay, wherein Torley summarizes Michael Alter’s even more lengthy book on the resurrection. The previous two posts are here and here.

Torley’s third selected claim, taken from Michael Alter, is that the story of Jesus’ burial is improbable at multiple points, which therefore provides evidence that the Gospels have been substantially factually changed and are not historically reliable.

Here, as in the two previous points, Torley’s method (and presumably Alter’s) is that of a priori history. The idea is to say, at our distance of time, what would not have been done, to infer that therefore it was not done, and to conclude that an account that says that it was done must be false.

This is a terrible way to do history.

Prima facie, the Gospels are early documents that have some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time. To decide on the basis of highly indirect inference (often amounting to nothing more than bare assertion) that some practice related in the Gospels “would not” have happened, even in an entirely non-miraculous portion of the account, is to attempt to do history from one’s armchair. But history is intrinsically empirical. We would have to reject a great many things that did undoubtedly happen in secular history if we were to apply such a method consistently.

Torley begins by denying that Jesus’ body would have been buried properly except (at most) in a common grave.

The major support for this denial comes from further assertions by Bart Ehrman, who suggests that there was a hard and fast rule that those convicted of “high treason” were not allowed to be properly buried.

To begin with, the only thing that this assertion seems to have going for it is the mention in Ulpian (cited here by Craig Evans in support of Jesus’ burial) of a possible exception to the allowance of burial in the case of those convicted of high treason:

At present, the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason.

There is also the fact that, in times of total war (such as at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70), the Romans apparently did not permit burial of those crucified. That is all. But on this slender basis Ehrman (followed by Alter and Torley) manufactures a hard and fast rule that no one convicted of a crime against the Roman state, even in a time of peace, would ever have been permitted decent burial. He then argues further that Pilate would have extended this prohibition to Jesus.

The evidence for such a rule is nonexistent; and as I have argued in my previous post, the idea that Jesus was convicted of high treason is nonsense. The record of Jesus’ trial indicates that Pilate himself did not believe that Jesus was a threat to the state and that he merely gave in to pressure to crucify him. According to the Gospels he actually told the crowd that he found no guilt in Jesus on that score, and his references to Jesus as the king have more than a touch of sarcasm in them. As Torley himself says, what Pilate thought is what is important. It was up to Pilate whether to allow Jesus’ body to be properly buried. We have no reason to believe that he was bound by some definite rule requiring him to go one way or another. And, as Craig Evans points out, Josephus makes it clear that it was a fairly frequent practice for the Romans to allow people to bury the bodies of those crucified.

It requires a great deal of cherry picking to manufacture these kinds of difficulties in the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ trial. On the one hand, Ehrman & co. need to use the Gospel accounts to make their argument that Jesus was “convicted of high treason.” This comes from, e.g., the leaders’ accusation of sedition and their statement that if Pilate lets Jesus go he is not a friend of Caesar. They then want to lean on their inference that Jesus was “convicted of high treason” to argue against a different part of the documents, just as soberly stated -- namely, that Jesus was buried in a tomb. This is not a principled use of historical data.

Torley’s next objection to the burial narrative is that, if the Romans had allowed anyone to take Jesus’ body for burial, it would have been the Jewish leaders rather than a friend of Jesus. He then further reasons that, on the assumption that the Jewish leaders had custody of Jesus’ body, they would have accorded it a dishonorable burial rather than an honorable burial.

This, again, is the purest a priori history. The claim that Pilate would not have given the body to a private individual but rather to the chief priests is unfounded. Pilate was under no illusions; he knew that they were procuring the death of an innocent man. There is not the slightest reason to think that the governor who had just denied their request for a rewording of the placard over Jesus’ head would deliberately reserve the body for their disposal. In carrying out the execution, he had taken out of their hands the only weapon they could have wielded against him with Caesar. The Jews were not going to send a delegation to Rome to complain to Tiberius that Pilate had crucified a self-appointed “king” but hadn’t been mean enough about his dead body afterward.

Torley implies that the reference in Mark to Joseph of Arimathea as a respected member of the council means that “even if Joseph of Arimathea played a role in Jesus’ burial, as the Gospels narrate, he would have been carrying out the chief priests’ wishes.” This inference is bizarre. Joseph of Arimathea was an individual acting on his own. He could perfectly well choose to do something the chief priest would not have wanted him to do -- allowing for the sake of argument that the chief priest really would have had an objection to Jesus’ burial. There is no reason to assume that Mark’s mention of his being a member of the council means that he was carrying out the council’s wishes about the body. In fact, Mark expressly says (15:42) that he “took up courage” to ask for the body, a point that fits very nicely with John’s statement that he had previously been fearful to admit that he was sympathetic to Jesus (John 19:38). Mark’s own narrative thus implies that Joseph was doing something that he realized could be risky in some way.

Once again, we see here the strange attempt to pit one part of the narrative speculatively against the other even though the narrative itself is quite coherent. Torley is rejecting Mark’s own account of what Joseph did with the body -- wrapping it in linen and burying it in a rock-cut tomb. But he (apparently following Alter) arbitrarily selects a different bit of Mark’s narrative (that Joseph was a member of the council), speculates without justification, and in direct contradiction to the narrative we have, that perhaps this means that Joseph was acting on behalf of the council, and then uses this speculation as a further way to reject the story of the burial, on the grounds that Joseph “would have” been carrying out the wishes of the council. Once again, this manner of handling of Mark’s information is historically irresponsible.

For all we know, Pilate might have delivered the body of Jesus to the chief priests had they asked. But our only historical sources, the Gospels, say that Joseph of Arimathea went in himself (“boldly”) and asked permission to bury the body. The suggestion that certain passages of the New Testament “reflect an older tradition that the Jewish leaders were granted custody of Jesus’ body, after he had been taken down from the Cross” is without foundation. The specious pretense to the contrary arises from an overreading of the implicit pronouns in the Greek verbs in Acts 13:29, which hardly require that all and only the same individuals be in view as those who condemned Jesus a few verses earlier. The actions were done by Jews, and Paul would not be expected to stop to expound on the differences among the members of the Sanhedrin for the purposes of giving a quick verbal outline of the story of the resurrection to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia.

Torley next rejects the idea that Jesus was buried in a tomb, but his reasons appear to turn merely on the question-begging assumption that the Gospels’ story of Joseph of Arimathea’s personal intervention is false. He quotes Jodi Magness to the effect that there is no evidence that the Sanhedrin or Romans maintained rock-cut tombs for executed criminals. But who ever said that they did? The whole point of the story in the Gospels is that this was an individual act by an individual man (Joseph of Arimathea) who had become sympathetic to Jesus or who, at a minimum, felt that the crucifixion was sufficiently unjust that he wanted to provide honorable burial for Jesus.

Torley relies on Matthew Ferguson to cast doubt on Joseph’s intervention on the basis of a pure and extremely weak argument from silence -- the absence of any specific mention of Joseph of Arimathea in the creed in 1 Cor. 15. But the absence of Joseph from the creed says nothing about Paul’s own knowledge. By Paul’s own description the creed was delivered to him (15:3) and was therefore not a statement of his own crafting. And in any event, a creed is a brief summary. That is the point of our calling it a creed. In such a summary of course there would be no reason to include such specific details as precisely how Jesus was buried, by whom, or in whose tomb. On the contrary, there would be reason to omit them. This argument is a peculiar sort of sleight of hand, in which one distracts attention from the explicit statement that Jesus was buried by noting that this brief summary does not repeat some other specific details of the Gospel accounts.

Here it is worth noting another implied argument from silence -- namely, the statement that “even” Jodi Magness “freely acknowledges” that archeology does not prove the existence of Joseph of Arimathea! This is simply not worth mentioning as an argument. It has no probative force. If we had only one of Plutarch’s Lives, much less four, that mentioned a given Roman senator, it would be no argument at all to say that we have not also found archeological remains of that particular senator. That is simply not how history works. Millions of people lived and died in the ancient world leaving, 2,000 years later, no record of their existence, much less archeological evidence. We have four different records that describe Joseph of Arimathea in varied but mutually consistent terms. Even one sober record of his doings would be sufficient to give us grounds to believe that he existed.

Torley next borrows from Raymond Brown the claim that the location specified for Joseph’s tomb as near Golgotha would have been undesirable or unsuitable. But this is the merest assertion. What insight does Brown have about what were considered desirable neighborhoods for burial and precisely how far away (in a radius, perhaps?) a desirable burial location was supposed to be from a place sometimes used for execution? There is no reason, for example, to think that a garden could not have been located relatively near to Golgotha and hence have provided a pleasant burial spot. It is not as though we have documents specifying a number of miles, feet, or yards that a desirable burial place had to be from a place of execution, together with a sufficient notion of the “nearness” of Joseph’s tomb to make its location unlikely. The claim that there is something improbable about the statement (John 19:42) that Joseph’s tomb was relevantly near to the place of execution is sheer hand waving. Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.

Torley also uncritically accepts Brown’s assertion that the Gospel authors or their sources invented the claim that Jesus was buried in a new tomb for apologetic purposes. It should be obvious that the mere fact that Brown says this does not have any argumentative cogency, but Torley’s (and Alter’s?) method apparently is to treat any such assertion from any scholar as if it automatically shifts the burden of proof. At that point all that they ask is whether the account “could have some historical basis.” Again, this is poor methodology.

Torley rejects the claim that Jesus was buried behind a rolling stone on the ground that we have found only a small number of rock tombs with such a stone. But this is a very weak argument. Indeed, it can be turned on its head. We do have evidence that there were rock tombs with rolling stones at Jesus’ time, precisely as recounted in the Gospels. One cannot reasonably reject testimony on the basis of these statistics. Even if we could accurately and confidently infer the approximate percentage of tombs that had this feature and the wealth of their owners from our archeological discoveries (a fallible inference at best), we could easily think of parallel cases in our own time where a single sober attestation would overcome the minor burden of proof. My elderly neighbor, a decade or so ago, owned a red Cadillac and kept it in lovely condition. Should readers discount my testimony to this fact because the vast majority of Americans do not own Cadillacs, and most Cadillacs are not red?

The Gospel authors had nothing to gain by inventing a round stone for Jesus’ tomb. A rectangular stone would, if anything, be even more difficult to move than a stone that could be rolled. In light of the way that these critics are handling the narratives, I have to wonder whether, had the Gospels specified a stone that could not be rolled, we would be told that this was an apologetic invention to magnify the power of God, or of Jesus, or of the angel who shifted the stone.

Torley considers Jodi Magness’s claim that Jesus was buried in a single niche in Joseph’s family tomb, presumably with other bodies, and he rejects it. Here I agree with him. The theory that Jesus was buried only in a niche with other bodies in the same tomb is bald conjecture in any event, and there is no need for any such concession. Why not take at face value the claim that Jesus was buried in a new tomb? After all, Joseph of Arimathea himself was still alive, so if he had had the tomb made for himself, it likely wouldn’t have been needed yet.

Here again, Torley throws in a forceless argument from silence -- that Mark doesn’t mention that the tomb was new. But so what? By this sort of argument, we would have to say that any tiny detail not found in Mark is automatically suspect, which begs the question against the possible historicity of other Gospels and makes it impossible for an investigator to gain additional knowledge from sources other than the one designated the earliest. But unless we assume that any Gospel later than Mark is adding its information without historical warrant (which, again, would be question begging against the other documents), the mere fact that Mark may have been the earliest Gospel written does not create any presumption against small details added elsewhere. Indeed, as Lydia has argued in Hidden in Plain View, later Gospels sometimes interact with earlier Gospels in explanatory relationships, in both directions. This is the mark of historicity in multiple narratives of the same event.

Torley asserts without argument that surrounding a body with spices was not a Jewish practice, that it was an Egyptian practice instead. Embalming may well not have been a common Jewish practice, but of course the Gospels do not say that Jesus was embalmed, nor would there have been time for embalming on the Gospels’ own accounts. Simply wrapping the body in spices (it is not completely clear whether they were dry spices or ointments) in between the windings of the burial cloth would have been relatively quick, and Torley gives no argument against John’s explicit assertion (John 19:40) that burying a body with spices was customary for Jews. Interestingly, both the Jewish Virtual Library and the Jewish Encyclopedia, sources that presumably have no Christian axe to grind, treat John’s narrative as a source of information about the use of spices in Jewish burial practices, and neither cites any evidence indicating that burial with spices was contrary to Jewish custom. In fact, the Jewish Encyclopedia cites a specific Talmudic reference to the use of spices in burial:

A BENEDICTION MAY NOT BE SAID OVER THE LIGHTS OR THE SPICES OF THE DEAD. What is the reason? — The light is kindled only in honour of the dead, the spices are to remove the bad smell. Berakoth 53.a

Torley quotes and accepts uncritically Byron McCane’s claim that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial are progressively elaborated, which Torley follows up with the comment, “So much for the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts, then.” But McCane’s claim, like other developmental theses concerning the Gospels (see here and here), is supported by cherry-picked details written up with a seasoning of rhetoric. Here is McCane:

Virtually all studies agree that as the tradition develops, every detail in the story is enhanced and improved upon. Mark begins the written tradition by saying that on Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, requested the body of Jesus from Pilate, wrapped it in linen and sealed it in a rock-cut tomb. Never again would the story be told so simply. Joseph of Arimathea becomes a “good and righteous man” who did not consent to the action against Jesus (Luke 23:51), and then evolves into a secret disciple of Jesus (Matt 27:57; John 19:38). The “rock-cut” tomb in Mark becomes a “new” tomb (Matt 27:60), “where no one had yet been laid” (Luke 23:53). John not only combines those descriptions – the tomb is both “new” and “where no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41) – but also adds that the tomb was located in a garden. In Mark Joseph wraps the body in linen — nothing more – but subsequent Gospels describe the linen as “clean” (Matt 27:59) and claim that the body was bathed in vast quantities of perfume (John 19:39). By the time of the Gospel of Peter, during the mid-second century CE, Christians were going so far as to assert that Jesus had been sumptuously buried in the family tomb of one of Jerusalem’s most powerful and wealthy families. [Emphasis added]

This paragraph is wildly misleading. It is not that Mark’s story of the burial is “told so simply” while the later versions are progressively more “evolved.” What we actually find in the Gospel stories of Jesus’ burial is the kind of non-systematic, non-contradictory variation of detail that characterizes independent, truthful testimonies. For example, only Mark 15:44-45 mentions that Pilate was surprised to learn that Jesus was already dead and that he called the centurion to confirm that this was so. This detail is not found in any of the later accounts, even in the other Synoptic Gospels. Only Mark mentions that Joseph of Arimathea purchased the linen cloth. Mark 15:47 mentions, but John (the later Gospel) does not, the important fact that there were women who saw where Jesus was laid, and the names of some of those women, as does Matthew. These do not constitute contradictions (see below). They do, by their variation, constitute counterexamples to the claim of gradual evolution and elaboration.

Luke mentions the women but omits their names. John does not name any women or mention their involvement at the time of the burial, though he mentions Nicodemus, who is not named in the Synoptics. Mark says that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the council, but John doesn’t. On McCane’s spun account, this was apparently because John was “improving upon” his being a member of the council by causing him to “evolve” into a secret disciple of Jesus. But this is misleading. If anything, John’s account might reasonably be regarded as more disapproving, since John expressly says that Joseph had previously been afraid to admit that he was a disciple of Jesus, as had said of Nicodemus earlier in his Gospel. Mark says that Joseph went “boldly” to Pilate (“took up courage” is a more literal rendering), but none of the other Gospels refer to boldness. Luke calls him a righteous man and is careful to state that he did not consent to the actions of the council, but John does not bother to get into his relationship with the council at all. Matthew alone mentions that the tomb was Joseph of Arimathea’s own tomb; neither Luke nor John does so, though they both (obviously) assume that he had access to it. The Synoptics state expressly that the tomb was “cut out of the rock,” but John does not, though he mentions the stone at the door in Chapter 20, which assumes that it was a rock tomb. It is false that subsequent Gospels, plural, state that the linen cloth was clean. In fact, only Matthew does so, though he does not include the mention of Joseph’s purchasing it. And so forth. This is not development or evolution. It is independent variation with different details mentioned in different accounts.

Notice that two facts that are arguably more important from an apologetic perspective appear in Mark but not in John, while the statements in the burial account that McCane uses to claim that John’s account is “improved” are of less apologetic value. Mark says both that Pilate confirmed that Jesus was dead by calling the centurion and also that specific, named women knew where Jesus was buried. John doesn’t have either of these but says that the tomb was in a garden and that Jesus was buried with large amounts of spices. The former are more relevant to the justification for the resurrection. We can be quite sure that, if John included while Mark did not mention the claims about the women and Pilate, we would hear that these were later apologetic additions to the burial account.

As for the amount of spices with which Jesus was buried according to John (about 100 Roman pounds), apparently we are to take the sheer quantity to mean that the account is “probably fictional” at this point. But why think a thing like that? For example, why deny that, at a minimum, the author believed that Jesus was buried with such a large quantity of spices? Apparently only because Michael Alter can invent the theory that John was trying to make Jesus’ burial sound more imposing than that of Gamaliel. But this is unsupported conjecture. (In passing -- if burial customs involving spices were Egyptian rather than Jewish, how can John be competing with the burial of Gamaliel in relating Jesus’ burial with a large quantity of myrrh and aloes?) Incredulity about the proposition that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus with such a large quantity of spices is no argument in itself. In fact, the combined details that Matthew says that Joseph was rich (Matt. 27:57) and that John, who does not mention Joseph’s wealth, mentions a large quantity of spices fit together quite well.

Torley takes McCane’s account of how Jesus “would have been buried” as the way he was buried (if he was buried at all) and makes this rather striking statement:

When we read the Gospels, however, we find that these unpleasant details are progressively airbrushed with the passage of time...

What unpleasant details? The unpleasant details that McCane has simply made up, with no support whatsoever for the claim that this is how Jesus was buried -- things like his being placed within a cave reserved for condemned criminals. To say that the Gospel authors have “airbrushed” something that we have no historical reason to think happened at all is quite astonishing. Simply because someone has baldly claimed that Jesus “would have” been given a dishonorable burial, the Gospel authors (even Mark) now all stand accused of having “airbrushed” out the details of a dishonorable burial as envisaged by McCane in their accounts of how Jesus actually was buried. This is no way to do history.

Torley lists several alleged contradictions among the Gospel burial accounts, but all of these are manufactured; they are not contradictions in the texts at all.

The first contradiction is allegedly about who took Jesus down from the cross. I have already addressed the claim that Paul says that the Jewish leaders personally took Jesus down from the cross in Acts 13:29, but Torley alleges further a contradiction between the claim in Mark and Luke that Joseph took Jesus down and the claim in John that Joseph and Nicodemus did so. But there is obviously no contradiction between saying that Joseph did so and saying that Joseph did so with Nicodemus.

Similarly, Torley alleges a contradiction from the fact that John does not mention the women as present at the burial and that the Synoptics do not mention Nicodemus. To say that non-contradictory variations are contradictions is simply a failure to understand how witness testimony works and how reliable history works. It is normal for one account to mention things that another account does not mention. For John not to mention the women is not for John to say that the women were absent at the burial. Indeed, the account in John 20 implies that Mary Magdalene (named in the Synoptic accounts of the burial) did know where the tomb was. But it shows this in an indirect fashion by describing her coming to the tomb on Sunday morning. Variation is a virtue in the accounts. It shows their independence without contradiction and allows us to gain additional information. It would not be a better indication of historicity if all of the accounts named precisely the same people at each step.

Torley claims that there is a contradiction concerning whether Jesus was buried with a linen shroud, mentioned in the Synoptics, or with linen cloths, mentioned in John. But this is a trivial difference, not a contradiction; the shroud may well have been the principal burial garment with other smaller cloths involved as well.

Torley alleges a contradiction between John’s account of the large amount of spices used by Joseph and Nicodemus and the statements in Mark and Luke that the women came on Sunday morning bringing spices. But this is not a contradiction about “whether Jesus was buried with spices.” The women may well have wanted to contribute their own spices and perfumes (Luke 24:56) to honor Jesus’ body, bringing them several days later. To give a modern example, if we heard that there were many flowers at a funeral this would not create a contradiction with our hearing that someone brought flowers to the grave at a later time. (This is not, of course, to say that the function of flowers at a funeral is identical to the function of spices and perfumes in Jewish burial. I am merely pointing out that multiple people may wish to contribute to a practice honoring the dead.)

Torley also alleges a contradiction between Luke 23:56, which says that the women prepared spices prior to the Sabbath and Mark 16:1, which says that the women bought spices when the Sabbath was ended. (This was probably not early Sunday morning but rather after sundown on Saturday, based on Mark’s wording.) But Mark names three specific women who bought spices when the Sabbath was ended, while Luke does not name the women who prepared spices before the Sabbath. Later, when listing the women who came to the tomb on Easter, Luke 24:10 not only names Joanna, not named in Mark, but also says that there were “other women with them.” There is no contradiction between saying that “the women” prepared spices that they already had on Friday night and saying that some specific women purchased spices later. It is important in investigating historical matters to use a modicum of real-world imagination. Some of the women could have already had some spices on hand while others had to buy them. Or some of the women may have decided that they wanted more. This is just the normal way that human life works. Members of groups do not all do exactly the same things at the same time.

Finally, Torley claims that the Gospel authors must be altering the facts because their details contravene Jewish law. Here he cites Leviticus 23:6-7, which forbids “regular work” on 15 Nisan, and Nehemiah 10:31, in which those rebuilding Jerusalem after the captivity (in the 400s B.C.) promise as part of a reform not to purchase from neighboring peoples if they bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath or on a holy day. The inference is that at the time of Jesus’ death four and a half centuries later, there would have been a universally recognized prohibition against any buying or selling on 15 Nisan. On the assumption that Jesus died on 15 Nisan, this supposedly means that the references or implications in both John and Mark to purchasing things for Jesus’ burial must be fictitious. John mentions that Nicodemus brought spices and Mark says that Joseph purchased the linen cloth. One infers (though John does not expressly say so) that Nicodemus bought the myrrh and aloes at that time. The same verses in Leviticus are supposed to have prohibited the women from “preparing spices” on Friday afternoon per Luke 23:56, as this would (on Torley’s and presumably Alter’s reading) have constituted work.

While I think it is correct (in both the Synoptics and John, for that matter) that Jesus died on 15 Nisan, the claim that all purchases would have been forbidden in that place and time on that day is overly rigid. Jewish interpretations regarding what constituted work and what was permitted on which days are remarkably diverse. These interpretations even varied geographically. Here is a sample from the tractate Pesachim:

[In] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed to do work on the eve of Pesach until noon, we may do [so]; [in] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed not to do [so], we may not do [so]. One who goes from a place where they do [work], to a place where they do not do [work], or from a place where they do not do [work] to a place where they do [work], we place upon him the stringencies of the place he came from, [or] the stringencies of the place that he went to. And a man should not deviate [from the established customs of a place], on account of [the] disagreement [to which such conduct may lead].... [In] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed to sell small domesticated animals [sheep, goats, etc.] to gentiles, we may sell [them to gentiles]; [in] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed not to sell [these animals to gentiles], we may not sell [them to gentiles]. In all places, we may not sell [gentiles] large domesticated animals, calves or foals of donkeys, [whether they are] intact or broken [injured]; Rabbi Yehuda permits [the sale of] a broken [one]. Ben Betera permits [the sale of] a horse.... [In] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed to do work on Tisha Be'Av, we may do [work; in] a place where [the inhabitants] were accustomed not to do work, we may not do [work]. And in all places, Torah scholars must abstain [from work thereon]; Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, says, "Truly, every one should make himself [in this respect] a Torah scholar." And the Sages say, "In Yehuda, they would do work on the eve of Pesach until noon; and in the Galilee they did not work at all [on that day]." And [with respect to] the evening [of the fourteenth of Nissan in places like the Galilee], Beit Shammai forbids [work], but Beit Hillel permits [it] until the sunrise.

This passage does not directly address the questions of whether buying and selling were permitted in Judea on the afternoon of 15 Nisan at the time of Christ or whether preparing spices counted as “regular labor.” But it does illustrate fact that what precisely constituted “work” and when it was permitted varied tremendously and were subject to rabbinic dispute and differing rulings. In view of this diversity, merely citing Leviticus provides virtually no evidence that a prohibition against “ordinary labor” (מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה) would debar the women from preparing spices. “Preparing” might be an extremely light activity taking place within their own homes.

Luke 23:56 even emphasizes that they did rest on the Sabbath “according to the commandment.” There is something highly misguided about taking a verse that shows an explicit awareness of Jewish laws and customs, explicitly stating that the women observed Jewish law, to be describing an activity that broke Jewish law. Luke did not need to go out of his way to mention that the women prepared spices on Friday before the Sabbath. If he were depending upon Mark only for his account, he would have had no reason at all to invent and insert this detail. The insertion of the detail (that they prepared spices on Friday) serves no literary or theological purpose. That Luke does add that detail and simultaneously says explicitly that the women did not break Jewish law provides reason to believe that he had what he took to be factual information about what the women did, when they did it, and why.

As for purchases on 15 Nisan, we are, again, in a worse position than the Gospel authors were to know whether purchases would have been considered (in that specific place and time) to be contrary to the Jewish law by the prohibition on “regular work” on that day. Interestingly, even on the Sabbath itself it was (according to some rabbinic rulings) possible to “purchase” (in a sense) necessary items by leaving something in trust rather than paying cash. Thus, from the tractate Shabbat:

MISHNA: A man may borrow of an acquaintance jugs of wine or oil (on Sabbath), provided he does not say to him: “Lend (them to) me.” A woman may also borrow bread from her acquaintance. If the man is refused (by his acquaintance), he may leave his upper garment (as a pledge) with the lender, and settle his account after Sabbath. Thus, also, in Jerusalem, the custom was, if the eve of Passover fell on a Sabbath, a man might leave his upper garment with the vender, take his paschal lamb, and settle his account after the holiday.

All four of the Gospels show a keen awareness of the fact that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath and of the need to observe the Sabbath. If these early accounts indicate that purchases were possible on a Friday, 15 Nisan, but that the body had to be buried before the Sabbath began at sundown, then it is not justified for us to insist that purchases of all kinds were forbidden on 15 Nisan and to infer that the mention of purchases must be invented.

Mark had no need to refer to a purchase on the day of Jesus’ death anyway. He could have said that Joseph brought a linen cloth rather than that he bought it. If he wanted to emphasize that the cloth was not dirty, he could have said (like Matthew) that it was clean, but he did not need to mention specifically that Joseph purchased it. Mark’s own account shows an awareness of Jewish law concerning observing the Sabbath, and specifically its relation to burial and mourning for Jesus (Mark 15:42, 16:1). It thus constitutes evidence that such a purchase was possible on that Friday before sundown.

John actually does not say explicitly that Nicodemus bought the myrrh and aloes at that time, though it is not an unreasonable inference that he did so. John 19:39 literally says only that Nicodemus came “bearing” a large amount of a mixture of aloes and myrrh. If we infer that Nicodemus procured the mixture at that time, then this is yet further evidence, complementary to Mark, that it was not impossible to purchase things in the ordinary way on 15 Nisan. It is even possible, though not the most probable theory, that Joseph of Arimathea and/or Nicodemus, whose age we do not know, had on hand large amounts of these spices for later burial of themselves or family members and decided to use them at this time, as Mary of Bethany in John 12 apparently decided to use a valuable box of ointment to honor Jesus. Or it is possible that Nicodemus, perhaps working together with Joseph, left something valuable as collateral for the large amount of myrrh and aloes, as in the reference to leaving one’s garment as a pledge on the Sabbath. Given that Mark apparently independently refers to purchasing a different item (the linen cloth) on that day, the most likely conclusion is simply that, in Jerusalem at that time and place, purchasing at least some goods was not impossible on 15 Nisan, just prior to the Sabbath, in order to complete a burial before the Sabbath.

All of these issues -- what counts as work, when and whether purchases are allowed, what counts as buying and selling -- were open to minute variations of interpretation of religious law and were discussed extensively in oral rulings outside of the text of the Torah itself. Under the circumstances, it is historical arrogance to allege that authors far closer to the facts made up details for no particular reason on the basis of our own interpretation of Jewish law.

I have now reviewed Torley’s three test cases, using his summary of Alter as a foil. All of the arguments Torley offers dissolve under examination. To the extent that his summary affords us an accurate representation of the arguments in Alter’s work -- and I leave that question aside here as something that is between the two of them -- I think it is fair to say that they are grasping at straws. But they have raked together a great number of them, and the sheer quantity of their objections may leave some people with the misimpression that they have amassed a case of real weight and solidity. It is a most unfortunate illusion.

Comments (79)

Brilliant, Tim. Thanks for this series.

Reading this, I have this semi-comic vision of, one thousand years hence, some academic faction of Zombie Lost Cause enthusiasts, concocting a theory according to which, since Lincoln "would not have" been left with a bare minimum of security, he was not, in fact, assassinated at all. Instead, that awful murder was invented in order to lend emotional force to the ruthless subjugation of the South that the Machiavellian general Grant was preparing. Likewise, since the headliner speaker at Gettysburg "would not have" confined himself to such terse remarks, the Gettysburg Address was probably invented, so that later schoolchildren would have an easy time at memorization under the tutelage of Northern indoctrinators.

Paul,

In case you're not familiar with it, let me share the "Alincolnism" movement with you:
https://www.facebook.com/alincolnism/

You will find it replete with a priori judgments on history, arguments from silence, and other parodies of bad historical reasoning.

Here's an interesting one. I've been recently getting (belatedly) into watching the TV series Monk on DVDs. (We don't generally watch TV or indeed have any channels.) I enjoyed the episode that introduces Monk's brother, Ambrose. John Turturro, who played Ambrose, has a real-life brother who is severely mentally ill. He has a heart-wrenching video out there where he talks about it. His brother's name is Ralph. Turturro also has a cousin named Ralph. I have heard that the cousin has had to come into some thread somewhere and correct the impression that he is the mentally ill brother! I can just imagine some a priori historian: "What are the odds that John Turturro really has two different relatives named Ralph Turturro? Clearly there was only one person by that name who later got redacted into two."

It galls me to find people giving such attention and even respect to all these reams and reams and forests worth of foolishness. Not every single argument in the forest is drivel, but so much of it is unworthy of the least attention, that one comes away inevitably thinking that perhaps the purveyors of all the trash actually intend to persuade the unwary mainly by the sheer volume of claims made: "where there's THIS much smoke...", presumably, there must be SOME kind of fire. But when you sift out the question-begging, the mere assertions without any evidence, their own self-contradictions, the pure speculations that are even less plausible than what they claim is unlikely, we are left with precious little. So little, in my opinion at least, it's not worth the price of the book nor the time to locate the few tiny nuggets of real difficulties. Sunk beneath sight by the weight of their own excesses, I guess I would say.

I suspect that Alter himself is persuaded by sheer volume. I notice that in his "responses" in previous threads. Here are such-and-such many people who doubt this, so... Or, You haven't read and responded to my book. I say something-or-other about this there, so...

If someone is really impressed by that sort of sheer volume (either of objections or of objectors) and declares that he is a mere layman and who is he to say, etc., I fear there isn't much that can be done. One can respond as Tim has done here, point-by-point, to some of them,showing that these representative objections are frivolous. And one can encourage, even beg, people to investigate the positive evidence for the reliability of the Gospels. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

It galls me to find people giving such attention and even respect to all these reams and reams and forests worth of foolishness. Not every single argument in the forest is drivel, but so much of it is unworthy of the least attention, that one comes away inevitably thinking that perhaps the purveyors of all the trash actually intend to persuade the unwary mainly by the sheer volume of claims made: "where there's THIS much smoke...", presumably, there must be SOME kind of fire. But when you sift out the question-begging, the mere assertions without any evidence, their own self-contradictions, the pure speculations that are even less plausible than what they claim is unlikely, we are left with precious little. So little, in my opinion at least, it's not worth the price of the book nor the time to locate the few tiny nuggets of real difficulties. Sunk beneath sight by the weight of their own excesses, I guess I would say.


I remember the first few times I saw those "478 Bible Contradictions!" sorts of posts on various skeptical sites. (The number 478 is made up, but in place would be some other sort of large clickbait-y sort of number.) As a new Christian those sorts of sites rattled me before I even studied them because, even if most of the 478 contradictions weren't legit, there had to be a few that would be true. But I started studying the purported contradictions, and found out that almost all could be parried in a minute or two each. That left a subset of purported contradictions, and in this subset most of those could be parried with just a little bit more thought. That left an even smaller subset of purported contradictions that took a respectable amount of thought. But after a respectable amount of thought, and perhaps a trip to the campus library and such, most of those could be parried. That left just a few issues that really weren't formal contradictions, but were simply problems that as of yet were unsolved. These problems had speculative solutions that seemed plausible and non-desperate.

At this point, the skeptical tack was to say that even if so, would God have made it so that not everything was unclear? It was at this point that I realized I never really needed to take aggressive skepticism seriously on an intellectual scale.

There are some hard problems related to the gospels (hours in John vs hours in synoptics, the infamous census, and perhaps some of the details about the resurrection account) to which one must be humble since we don't know all the facts, but to the best of my knowledge, there are reasonable non-desperate solutions. If the skeptic wants to point these questions out, it is fair game to do so; but to conclude that these imply some sort of lack of reliability is really question-begging.

But you'd never know that when dealing with your village internet skeptic, who seems to think that adding up a bunch of nothings results in something other than a nothing.

Much of this discussion reminds me of what Richard Whately called the "Fallacy of Objections." Some people reason generally that since a number of objections have been raised about X, it must follow that X is false. I sometimes see this from the village internet skeptic types, who seem to think that if they can simply list objections, then they have succeeded in marshaling a strong case. These types of people seem content to copy and paste lists of their favorite objections and then to have no stomach for meaningful engagement with any of them.

Tim, thank you for taking on the task of responding to V. Torley's unnecessary fears and tribulations. If these are the best of the 1000 pages of Alter's exhaustive listings, then we can leave the rest unanswered because there's not enough meat there to bother about. I know I wouldn't have thought of all the points you made, not without a huge amount of investment in time, which I don't have at this point - and maybe not even then.

Hello Tim:

Tim wrote: “Prima facie, the Gospels are early documents that have some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time. To decide on the basis of highly indirect inference (often amounting to nothing more than bare assertion) that some practice related in the Gospels “would not” have happened, even in an entirely non-miraculous portion of the account, is to attempt to do history from one’s armchair. But history is intrinsically empirical. We would have to reject a great many things that did undoubtedly happen in secular history if we were to apply such a method consistently.”

RESPONSE:

Tim states: “that have some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time.” REALLY? Who says so? Believers will believe and detractors will reject the belief of believers. And, both sides of the religious aisle can and will quote “experts and pundits” that support the respective view of their side.

Tim talks about documents: One definition of a document is:
A piece of written, printed, or electronic matter that provides information or evidence or that serves as an official record. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/document

Question: Is the document evidence reported in the NT factual? IS THE MATERIAL ACTUALLY REPORTED IN THE NT A FACT? If Tim is referring to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, this work is an unsubstantiated creed, from speculated sources open to scholarly debate (see. Trail, Ronald - "An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10-16", 2001), that represents a belief: (1) Cephas/Peter being the first to witness the risen Jesus, (2) that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brethren at the same time, (3) that he appeared to James, and (4) that he appeared to all the disciples. Extensively, "The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry", and other works refute the notion that these reported declarations are facts. These four statements are UNSUBSTANTIATED claims. Christian apologists often employ the art of highly skilled contortionists from Cirque du Soleil to rationale this inconvenient truth. That Jesus appeared to Paul as a physical, bodily person (v. 9) is also refuted by his own personal testimony in Acts 9, 22, and 26. William Lane Craig (1993, 30, cf. James D G Dunn (1975, 115) writes: Since Paul had apparently never known the earthly Jesus, it is not clear that he could be expected to recognize him (as opposed to say, an angel), even if he saw him in the light.” Remember, Paul ONLY saw a bright light and heard a voice claiming to be Jesus. Nothing physical is reported in the three accounts found in Acts…

Mark, the oldest gospel has no appearance in its original text (16:1-9)!

Matthew is rejected because it copies Mark and… For example, Robert Stein (1987, 52) includes the following information in his "Studying the Synoptic Gospels":

“Of the 11,025 words found in Mark, only 304 have no parallel in Matthew and 1,282 have no parallel in Luke. This means that 97.2 percent of the words in Mark have a parallel in Matthew and 88.4 percent have a parallel in Luke.”

Similarly, William Barclay (2008, 2), writing in his "Barclay’s Guide to the New Testament", writes about the same subject:

Mark has 661 verses; Matthew has 1,068 verses; Luke has 1,149 verses. Matthew reproduces no fewer than 606 of Mark’s verses, and Luke reproduces 320. Of the 55 verses of Mark which Matthew does not reproduce, Luke reproduces 31; so there are only 24 verses in the whole of Mark which are not reproduced somewhere in Matthew or Luke.

Why then, it must be asked, would Matthew, an alleged eyewitness and “presumably” an independent writer, need to borrow as much as 80% of Mark’s material, a non-eyewitness? How can Matthew attest to Mark if he copied Mark? It is absurd to think that Matthew, writing independently some years after Mark and employing only purported eyewitnesses, would be able to pen almost word-for-word 11,025 words found in Mark, with only 304 having no parallel in Matthew. In addition, how can it be claimed that Luke is independent of Mark and Matthew if he also penned almost word-for-word identical text? This reality can only exist if he is copying and reediting their works. In effect, there is only one source: the anonymous author of Mark, and his sources of information (not necessarily facts) are unknown.

Here, we do not have facts… We have repeated and edited hearsay, and embellished “documents.” Furthermore, all we have is stories about how the disciples behaved before, during and after Jesus's crucifixion, but stories are not evidence, unless corroborated by independent sources. And, we know that independent sources can be contradictory (e.g. the JFK assassination, the 9-11 attack, etc.).

Oxford Dictionaries defines a “fact”:
1. A thing that is known or proved to be true
2. Information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article.
3. The truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

Given the definition of "fact," as described above (e.g., A thing that is known or proved to be true), can the NT resurrection narratives be considered FACTS? For a proposition to be listed as a "fact," one would expect, something like, 99.99 percent acceptance, before one declares it is a "fact." To assert otherwise is, at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, downright deceitful. Tim, Lydia, and others are entitled to their beliefs! Your beliefs are absolutely respected. However, do not confuse “beliefs” or creeds, or edited stories, with facts.

Tim wrote: “But history is intrinsically empirical. We would have to reject a great many things that did undoubtedly happen in secular history if we were to apply such a method consistently.”

RESPONSE: ABSOLUTELY CORRRECT! The foremost reason asserted by many/most missionaries, evangelicals, and theologians to convert to Christianity is Jesus’s resurrection. Of course, many might say that they also desire a personal relationship with Jesus/God and be guaranteed a future afterlife (Jesus died on the cross for mankind’s sins.). However, before one is willing to replace his or her faith with Christianity (and all of its ramifications: rejection of his or her religion, culture, traditions; and possible loss of family, friends, acquaintances, etc.), the proof had better be more than EXTRAORDINARY.

According to the Bible (Exodus; and note Lydia, that I too, am not an inerrantist or fundamentalist or orthodox), the entire nation of Israel (estimated to be more than one million people) witnessed its salvation from slavery in Egypt (“the tight place”) and the entire nation received God’s revelation at Mount Sinai. To the contrary, Christians want Jewish people AND OTHERS to accept Jesus as their savior, Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh, Jesus suffered and died on the cross for mankind’s sins, the Trinity, etc. based on the purported testimony of several hundred people penned by anonymous authors thirty to seventy years after the events supposedly occurred. And, that narrative, recorded in the NT is in the eyes of some, contradictory; repeated and edited hearsay information, and embellished “documents that is often not factual. Although the NT may contain kernels of historicity; it is impossible to determine where one starts, and embellishments/legends/myths continue. Christians are welcomed to maintain and celebrate their cherished and deeply held beliefs! We are not ISIS or the Taliban! But, it is another thing to use NT “documents” to convince others to convert to Christianity.

"who seem to think that if they can simply list objections, then they have succeeded in marshaling a strong case."

There is something related to this in which facts are presumed to always "speak for themselves," especially upon accumulation. It's as if once something is deemed a "fact," it no longer requires interpretation. There are, of course, some cases where "the facts speak for themselves," but it's extremely wrongheaded to believe that this is always and everywhere true.

TONY wrote: “If these are the best of the 1000 pages of Alter's exhaustive listings”

RESPONSE: To Tony’s defense, I assume that he is referring to an erroneous statement made by Tim (March 8): ‘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.”

Let’s clear up one MINIMAL, nick picking, inaccuracy/misrepresentation of The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. The actual details of my text as reported by Amazon (or my publisher, or probably any book seller = Barnes & Noble, etc.) are:


Product details
• Paperback: 912 pages
• Publisher: Xlibris (February 21, 2015)

So the text is 912 pages, not 1000+. Why Tim never to the time to checkout his misleading information is unknown. It certainly would be very easy to obtain the real “facts,” and not very time consuming (probably less time than to execute a four move checkmate in chess and possibly a two move “Fool’s Mate”). The front matter totals 55 pages (contents, preface, etc). The back matter (105 pages) consists of:
Bibliography 749-830
Index of Subjects 831-841
Index of Names in References 843-854

Therefore, the actual reading is 752 pages. Each of the 113 issues opens with a chart of the parallel NT texts/verses in the historical and chronological sequences in which they were actually written. The 113 charts approximate 50 pages. Thus, we are left with an actual reading of approximately 700 pages. Again, this may seem like nick picking, but it is disingenuous to make the text appear overly burdensome to read.

John DePoe wrote: “Some people reason generally that since a number of objections have been raised about X, it must follow that X is false. I sometimes see this from the village internet skeptic types, who seem to think that if they can simply list objections, then they have succeeded in marshaling a strong case. These types of people seem content to copy and paste lists of their favorite objections and then to have no stomach for meaningful engagement with any of them.”

RESPONSE: Unfortunately, I assume that John, too, has not examined my text. My goal was NOT to marshal a large number of objections of the Resurrection. My plan was, in fact, very simple (p. xliii, Part II)

“Part II, the main text, EXPLORES (NB. All caps not in the original) 113 issues that are examined in three formats. Each issue begins with a plain-and-simple description of the text. Here the concern is what the text means to the average person on the street two thousand years ago or today. This description is followed by a section of contradictions and speculations. Altogether 120 contradictions and 217 speculations are examined.

The sequential analysis starts from approximately the time of Jesus’s death and avoids most of his trial. It continues with the accounts detailing Jesus’s (1) burial, (2) post-resurrection appearances, and (3) ascension.”

Therefore, I am going verse by verse in chronological order, asking real and sincere questions. Unlike many Christian apologetic texts, throughout the text, I present BOTH sides of the religious aisle. Please, just examine the text, and its healthy bibliography. Therefore, I am do NOT “simply list objections” as you mischaracterize my text.

You added: “These types of people seem content to copy and paste lists of their favorite objections and then to have no stomach for meaningful engagement with any of them.” To the contrary, I do engage numerous Christian apologists. But, since you have not examined my text, you are unaware of that “fact.” And, in volume 2, my text extensively engages those apologists (Craig, Habermas, Licona, McDowell) and their foremost defenses (e.g. the Minimal Facts approach)


Nice Marmot wrote: There are, of course, some cases where "the facts speak for themselves," but it's extremely wrongheaded to believe that this is always and everywhere true.

RESPONSE:
ABSOLUTELY AGREED, for BOTH sides of the religious aisle. Suggestion: obtain an interlibrary loan from Moody Bible, Southwestern Theological Seminary, Emory Pitts Theological, Catholic Theological, etc. and examine my text.

Take care.

Mike

It's rather interesting that Alter should choose to object to the extremely modest statement that the Gospels have "some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time." This is not just some kind of religious presupposition. The objection itself relies upon the Gospels as historical sources for the claim that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate on a charge of sedition. As pointed out in the main post, the objector then, in an unprincipled fashion, claims for no reason that the documents are *making up* a different fact--that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This is arbitrary. As far as "practices of the time," also as pointed out in the main post, Jewish dictionaries treat John's Gospel as providing info. about burial with spices, and that practice also coincides (as it happens) with a Talmudic reference. There is nothing per se Christian about reading the Gospels and using them as some evidence about what purchase practices were permitted on 15 Nisan in Judea in A.D. 30. Indeed, that question isn't even in any sense a primary focus of the texts. An answer to it is something one infers from their incidental implications. They weren't written for the purpose of answering that question or the question of whether it was Jewish custom to bury with spices. If there is reason to believe that they are historical in nature at all (which the objector's own method assumes), it is arbitrary to take those casual side implications to be invented, at least to do so on the basis of the extremely flimsy, "just because I can object," sort of approach rebutted in the main post.

Beyond that, of course not only Tim and I but many others have produced reams of interesting, useful material showing the historical reliability of the Gospels from such things as incidental external confirmations, undesigned coincidences, realistic details, and more. This produces more than a mere prima facie case that, especially on so mundane a question as whether or not Jesus was buried in a tomb, they can be taken to be reliable. This material is out there in lectures for free, webinars, books, etc. Hidden in Plain View is $9.99 on Kindle now.

Alter talks as if the Synoptic problem literally means that Mark is our only source document as among the Synoptics. This is frankly ridiculous. Even far more liberal scholars than I am don't think *that*.

Luke's own reliability as an historian is attested by enormous amounts of independent material in Acts. We cannot lightly assume that anything found in Luke that isn't in Mark was made up by Luke without sources. In fact, there's a very strong case that that proposition is *false*.

As I point out in Hidden in Plain View, there are various places in both Luke and Matthew where they are telling the same story as in Mark, sometimes in similar terms, but contain extra details that indicate their independence. And there are places where these details are even confirmed by undesigned coincidences or other information.

Skeptics of course want to have their cake and eat it. They want to argue (as rebutted in the main post) for contradictions among the Synoptics while simultaneously arguing that Matthew and Luke are entirely dependent upon Mark for their similar material. But the very fact of varying details (which they use to produce their "contradictions") is evidence for independence.

It certainly is not the case that either Matthew and Luke must be *entirely* independent of Mark or else they are entirely dependent on Mark as a source and merely redacting and embellishing Mark without factual warrant wherever they differ from him. If anything is a false dichotomy, that is.

In any event, of course Mark's Gospel itself records the burial of Jesus, and the claim that it is an especially "simple" version that is "embellished" in later versions of the burial is refuted in the original post. The Gospel accounts of the burial combine very well the qualities of non-contradictory variation with mutual confirmation.

TONY wrote: “If these are the best of the 1000 pages of Alter's exhaustive listings”

RESPONSE: To Tony’s defense, I assume that he is referring to an erroneous statement made by Tim (March 8): ‘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.”

Let’s clear up one MINIMAL, nick picking, inaccuracy/misrepresentation of The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. The actual details of my text as reported by Amazon (or my publisher, or probably any book seller = Barnes & Noble, etc.) are:


Product details
• Paperback: 912 pages
• Publisher: Xlibris (February 21, 2015)

Mr. Alter,

I apologize for not being more precise in my reference. While I had read Tim's comment (which you quote above), I had also looked up your book online earlier and had seen the number of pages in the paperback version, 912. I also had forgotten the exact number, and never knew whether there was any other version with a different paging arrangement. Hence I merely went with what my memory served up as "one of the high numbers referenced" and I did not bother to check what was correct.

Nor would it have mattered. Even if I had known that your book entailed only 700 pages of reading material, I still would have made the same comment: I have looked at some 20 to 30 pages of it, and on that basis I would not spend the money to buy the whole thing. Sorry, it did not impress. Yes, you have an enormous amount of detail in it. But no, the arguments presented are not worth the effort. Not on the basis of the pages I did peruse. Let me offer you an editing suggestion: sift out the material, and while you may note something like 15 arguments against X position, take the time to GROUP those into: (a) strong arguments, (b) medium strong arguments (c) so-so arguments, (d) poor arguments, and (e) truly awful ones. It's not enough to list out 15 propositions without effort to distinguish them if 14 of them are answered trivially or are even ridiculous.

Dear Mr. Alter,
.
Let me response to some of your claims in turn (and for my past history, see the last post, where I articulate the fact that I have some practical experience (as a former detective, etc.) in the issues of testimony, statements, etc.).
.
Tim states: “[Prima facie, the Gospels are early documents] that have some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time.” REALLY? Who says so?
.
Says the way you normally deal with testimonial or documentary evidence. When you have testimony from someone for some event, or a statement claiming to be testimony for some event, you initially treat the testimony as reliable until and unless you have a reason to doubt it. Otherwise, no one would take testimony seriously. Remember, Tim said that ‘prima facie’—meaning at first glance—the Gospels are early documents that have some claim to be historical sources concerning the practices of the time. And he is right. Why? Because at first glance, some of the Gospels present themselves as testimony, they all show the hallmarks of being based on testimony (extraneous details, checkable names, vivid descriptions, etc.) and they list times, places, events, etc. in a manner consistent with what real events would be. The only potentially objectionable issue would be the claim of supernatural events, but so long as one is not an atheistic-naturalist, this is not a significant concern. So yes, prima facie, the Gospels do look like documents that are historical sources for their time. Of course, that does not mean that this prima facie assessment cannot be overturned by other information, but it does mean that, at first glance, the Gospels are prima facie historical sources concerning the practices of their time.
.
This is no different than a woman who walks into a police station and reports, in detail, that she was sexually assault at a specific time and place. Prima facie, her statement is a historical source to the event in question. Of course, her claim could be overturned by other information (a contradictory statement, signs of deception in her longer statement, etc.), but initially, her statement is a prima facie historical source of the event in question. Or, to use a closer analogy, if I, as a cold case detective, review a written witness statement or a police investigative report from fifty years ago that has similar traits to the Gospels (it presents itself as testimony or investigative hearsay, it shows hallmarks of testimony (extraneous details, checkable names, vivid descriptions, etc.) and it lists times, places, events in a manner consistent with what real events would be), then I would be rational to prima facie accept those things as historical sources for the events in question. Again, such an initial determination could be overturned, but that does not mean that it should not be prima facie accepted as a historical source.
.
That is the way that it works.
.
Continued…

Continued…

That Jesus appeared to Paul as a physical, bodily person (v. 9) is also refuted by his own personal testimony in Acts 9, 22, and 26. William Lane Craig (1993, 30, cf. James D G Dunn (1975, 115) writes: Since Paul had apparently never known the earthly Jesus, it is not clear that he could be expected to recognize him (as opposed to say, an angel), even if he saw him in the light.” Remember, Paul ONLY saw a bright light and heard a voice claiming to be Jesus. Nothing physical is reported in the three accounts found in Acts…,

Actually, this is not nearly as clear cut as you claim. For instance, in Acts 9:7 (ESV), it mentions that the men with Paul heard the voice but saw “no one”, implying that Paul saw someone, not just a light. This is further supported by fact that Acts 22:9 notes that Paul’s companions saw the light. Thus, if they saw the light, as Paul had, and yet saw no one, while it is implied that Paul saw something that they did not, then the best explanation is that Paul saw a person who the others did not, even though they all saw the light and all heard the voice. Furthermore, in Acts 9:17 (ESV), Ananias says to Paul: “the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road…” Again, this is at least suggestive of an appearance of a person, not just a light. Acts 26:16 also has Paul stating that Jesus said to him (Paul): “…for I have appeared to you…” Again, this implies the appearance by a person. And in Acts 22:9 (ESV), Paul notes that the those with him did not understand the voice of “the one who was speaking to me.” Furthermore, in Act 22:14-15, Ananias tells Paul that “The God of our fathers appointed you…to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.” Again, this is entirely consistent, if not suggestive, of Paul seeing a person with a mouth, not just a bright light. So I would actually claim that in light of all these points, it is more rational to believe that a person, Jesus, did appear to Paul rather than just a bright light.

And concerning the issue of Paul not being able to recognize Jesus, let me ask you a question: when someone who you don’t know tells you their name, what do you do? You believe them, unless you have a reason not to. And when you are blinded, and then a stranger heals you while saying that the Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to you, sent him to heal you, you can have confidence that the person who called himself Jesus actually was Jesus. Not to mention that you can then compare what the person who appeared to you looked like with people who say Jesus, thereby coming to a rational belief that the Jesus you saw was the Jesus of the witnesses saw.

Finally, when all of the above is combined with Paul’s clear statement in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that Christ appeared to him, then it is entirely rational to believe that Christ appeared to Paul in a bodily form.

More to follow later..

Rad Miksa

Hello Tim:

Below is my lengthy response to your lengthy response:

You wrote: “I have argued in my previous post, the idea that Jesus was convicted of high treason is nonsense…”… “This is not a principled use of historical data.”


RESPONSE: You are expressing your opinion. Others scholars reject your opinion. For example:

John Granger Cook. See. 2.2 Jesus’ Crucifixion as a Political Execution pp. 198-203. In: Crucifixion and burial [NTS] 2011

Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn. Die Kreuzesstrafe…, ANRW II.25.1 (1982), 706-18, 733 [cited by Cook)

E. P. Sanders 1985: 317
“it was highly probable that he was executed for sedition or treason, as would-be king.”

A.N. Sherwin-White thinks that Pilate executed Jesus on the charge of sedition.
Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 1963, 24-47, esp. 46


Furthermore, it is possible that that Jesus was convicted for conjoined reasons:

One online source adapted material from Mark L. Strauss (https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-killed-jesus-the-historical-context-of-jesus-crucifixion/)

The motivations of Pilate and the Romans

The evidence points to the conclusion that Jesus was executed by the Romans for sedition—rebellion against the government.
1. First, he was crucified as “king of the Jews.” As noted in the last unit, the titulus on the cross announcing this is almost certainly historical.
2. Second, he was crucified between two “robbers” or “criminals”—Roman terms used of insurrectionists (Mark 15:27; Matt. 27:38; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). Another insurrectionist, Barabbas, was released in his place (Mark 15:7; Matt. 27:16; Luke 23:19; John 18:40).
3. Finally, the account of charges brought to Pilate by the Sanhedrin in Luke’s Gospel are related to sedition: “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king. . . . He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here’ ” (Luke 23:2, 5).


Most likely, Pilate ordered Jesus’ execution for three reasons:

1. It placated the Jewish leaders and so headed off accusations against him to Rome.
2. It preemptively eliminated any threat Jesus might pose if the people actually tried to make him a king.
3. It ruthlessly warned other would-be prophets and messiahs that Rome would stand for no dissent.

Tim wrote: “Torley’s next objection to the burial narrative is that, if the Romans had allowed anyone to take Jesus’ body for burial, it would have been the Jewish leaders rather than a friend of Jesus… This, again, is the purest a priori history.”

RESPONSE: Being a believer, you believe in the reliability of the NT. Detractors do, not share your beliefs, and those of others. There exist several possibilities that raise doubts to its (the burial narratives) reliability: (1) The Logistics and Timing of Joseph’s Audience with Pilate is ahistorical (pp. 207-210); (2) the burial account is ahistorical (pp. 233-238, 240-249, 265-280; (3) Joseph of Arimathea is ahistorical (pp. 213-214); and (4) Nicodemus is ahistorical (pp. 227-230). Both sides can march forth their pundits and present their respective arguments. [NB. I offered six arguments supporting your = Tim’s position, see p. 227)

According to Mark 15:43 Joseph was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. This identification is problematic because the council had handed Jesus over to Pilate for crucifixion and the council’s verdict was unanimous (14:64). However, Luke explicitly contradicts this presumed “fact” in Luke 23:51.

Tim wrote: “In fact, Mark expressly says (15:42) that he “took up courage” to ask for the body, a point that fits very nicely with John’s statement that he had previously been fearful to admit that he was sympathetic to Jesus (John 19:38). Mark’s own narrative thus implies that Joseph was doing something that he realized could be risky in some way.”

RESPONSE: Various guesses and hunches are possible: In order to make Joseph’s action more believable, Mark spoke of the courage he showed when he “boldly” went to Pilate to request Jesus’s body. Significantly, Matthew and Luke omit this detail. So how did Mark makes Joseph’s action more believable? Raymond Brown (Death of the Messiah 2:1217, 1994) offers that Joseph “might be mistaken as a sympathizer in the cause of ‘the King of the Jews’ and thus be tainted by maiestas, in Roman eyes a crime taken very seriously?” Alternatively, Theodor Keim (6: 1883, 260) suggests it was a bold maneuver because (1) Pilate’s mood could be unpredictable or (2) this action could anger the Jews.

Tim wrote: “Once again, we see here the strange attempt to pit one part of the narrative speculatively against the other even though the narrative itself is quite coherent.”

RESPONSE: This is just your subjective opinion. One recent detractor (and others do exist) published an interesting read: Joseph Codsi (a former Jesuit): The Two Burial Stories in the Gospel of John. The Fourth R, 31(6) Nov-Dec 2018, 17-19, 24

Tim wrote: “The whole point of the story in the Gospels is that this was an individual act by an individual man (Joseph of Arimathea) who had become sympathetic to Jesus or who, at a minimum, felt that the crucifixion was sufficiently unjust that he wanted to provide honorable burial for Jesus.”

RESPONSE: Yes, you are correct: “STORY”… Joseph of Arimathea is ahistorical (pp. 213-214). In my future volume 2, the topic of Joseph of Arimathea is explored in greater depth.

Tim wrote: “But the absence of Joseph from the creed says nothing about Paul’s own knowledge.”

RESPONSE: Both sides can play this “game.” IF the tomb burial narratives were developed/invented AFTER Paul reported the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15, it would have been impossible for him to know about Joseph, Nicodemus, a tomb, its visitors, angels, etc. As often stated in the literature, Paul use of the word “burial” is neutral. Paul's epistles just say "Jesus was buried," which is a neutral statement, and does not, necessarily, indicate an entombment. A rational [some believers would characterize a hyper-naturalistic] explanation is that the "Empty Tomb" narrative was probably a later development, either by Mark, or his sources, to emphasize that the resurrection was physical, and not spiritual, as the body of Jesus could then be discovered missing from the tomb.

Some detractors and opponents of the resurrection assert that the neutral term “burial” cannot confirm that Jesus was buried in a tomb. Instead they believe that Jesus was most probably buried in a criminals’ pit…I am positive that you are familiar with this argument from BOTH sides of the aisle.

Tim wrote: “By Paul’s own description the creed was delivered to him (15:3) and was therefore not a statement of his own crafting. And in any event, a creed is a brief summary.”

RESPONSE: see. Ronald Trail, An Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10-16, 2001. p. 278 From whom had Paul received this teaching? Answers offered: Jesus Christ (7 supporters) and the Lord and others (3 sources). Therefore, we do not know when (perhaps other than early), where (open to pure speculation), or from whom the creed was received/passed on. Significantly, a creed is also a statement of beliefs. Beliefs are not always factual. Beliefs are beliefs. So too, creeds are not always factual.

Tim wrote: “Here it is worth noting another implied argument from silence -- namely, the statement that “even” Jodi Magness “freely acknowledges” that archeology does not prove the existence of Joseph of Arimathea! This is simply not worth mentioning as an argument. It has no probative force.”

RESPONSE: This is just your opinion. And, If there was no “Arimathea,” presumably there was no Joseph of Arimathea. In my future volume 2, the topic of Joseph of Arimathea is explored in greater depth.

Tim wrote: “Torley next borrows from Raymond Brown the claim that the location specified for Joseph’s tomb as near Golgotha would have been undesirable or unsuitable. But this is the merest assertion… The claim that there is something improbable about the statement (John 19:42) that Joseph’s tomb was relevantly near to the place of execution is sheer hand waving. Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.”

RESPONSE: This is your opinion. Vincent’s argument, in combination with others adds to his case (point of view, reason). A presentation should be based on a total (if possible) review of the evidence. Some arguments will be strong, and others will be weak. Like drops of water, they can smooth out a rough stone.

However, let’s add an important detail: Do you really think that this burial site was located in a garden that was situated near a place of execution? And, does it really seem probable that Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, the L source, the M source, and the Q source, would have all omitted this detail? And, yes, we can remind yje blog’s readership of your previously mentioned article: “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica, 29.2 (2013) 215-228.

Archaeological research challenges the notion that Jesus was buried in the area of a garden tomb. Gabriel Barkay (1986, 40-53, 56-57), writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, pointed out several factors that challenge the traditional view. Also, see Benedict Viviano (1990, 673) in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary and Alter (2015, 266-269)

Tim writes: “It should be obvious that the mere fact that Brown says this does not have any argumentative cogency, but Torley’s (and Alter’s?) method apparently is to treat any such assertion from any scholar as if it automatically shifts the burden of proof.”

RESPONSE: The same for both sides… However, an intellectually honest approach is to present BOTH sides of the argument. That approach was honestly attempted in my text, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. However, I am reminded that you, and other critics have not examined my text. Instead, you are critiquing a critique. So please remember the previous quote that I mentioned by the Jewish poet, Haim Nachman Bialik…

Tim wrote: “Torley rejects the claim that Jesus was buried behind a rolling stone on the ground that we have found only a small number of rock tombs with such a stone.”

RESPONSE: This is merely your opinion. Vincent’s argument, in combination with others adds to his case (point of view, reason). A presentation should be based on a total (if possible) review of the evidence and literature. Some arguments will be strong, and others will be weak. Like drops of water, they (the weak ones) can smooth a rough stone.

Now, let’s look at the data that you conveniently omitted: The inconvenient fact is that, of the more than 900 Second Temple-period burial caves around Jerusalem examined by archaeologist Amos Kloner, only four have been discovered with disk-shaped blocking stones. Not a home run with the bases loaded, but I will give it at least a double with two runners on base.

Tim wrote: “Here again, Torley throws in a forceless argument from silence -- that Mark doesn’t mention that the tomb was new. But so what?”

RESPONSE: Another drip of water… And yes, your readers should not forget to read: “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica, 29.2 (2013) 215-228.

Tim wrote: “Interestingly, both the Jewish Virtual Library and the Jewish Encyclopedia, sources that presumably have no Christian axe to grind, treat John’s narrative as a source of information about the use of spices in Jewish burial practices, and neither cites any evidence indicating that burial with spices was contrary to Jewish custom.”

RESPONSE: The real issue is the historicity, or not, of John’s narrative. This topic is extensively detailed in pp. 240-248. Issues to consider include: (1) a historical Nicodemus, (2) the weight and volume of the spices, (3) the monetary considerations, (4) the historical precedent = copycat Gamaliel, (5) literary device Matt 2:11 and Exod 30:23, 26; and (6) the omission by Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, L, M, Q Gospel. And please, do not forget to read: “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica, 29.2 (2013) 215-228.

Tim wrote: “What we actually find in the Gospel stories of Jesus’ burial is the kind of non-systematic, non-contradictory variation of detail that characterizes independent, truthful testimonies.”

RESPONSE: Really? If the authors are anonymous, there is no means for you to state that they are “truthful testimonies.” Mindboggling! You and others may believe what you wish, but you cannot unequivocally state as a fact that the authors, and their sources are truthful. We only have snapshots of the disciples, and these descriptions were penned by biased authors (and yes, it is possible that biased authors can report factual information).


Tim wrote: “It is independent variation with different details mentioned in different accounts.”

RESPONSE: Really? This is your opinion. Can you 100 percent refute with evidentiary proof that the details were not developed or invented by the anonymous authors for multiple reasons that we do not have access to since their authors and redactors are long dead?

Tim wrote: “As for the amount of spices with which Jesus was buried according to John (about 100 Roman pounds), apparently we are to take the sheer quantity to mean that the account is “probably fictional” at this point. But why think a thing like that? For example, why deny that, at a minimum, the author believed that Jesus was buried with such a large quantity of spices? Apparently only because Michael Alter can invent the theory that John was trying to make Jesus’ burial sound more imposing than that of Gamaliel. But this is unsupported conjecture.”

RESPONSE: WRONG, but thanks for the compliment! I am not that creative. I just did a Google search and guess what I found:

Messiah: Hidden in the Ancient Feasts! By Dr. Sylvia Held discusses this very topic. Since it is an e-book without pagination, just search: …If one uses one’s weight to determine their value, Yeshua Jesus would have outweighed Rabbi Gamaliel by forty pound. https://books.google.com/books?id=kiJiDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT109&lpg=PT109&dq=Gamaliel+buried+spices+Jesus+myrrh&source=bl&ots=4hPg076xdW&sig=ACfU3U3DFImddDEzfXReymOIVMED3M8q8A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjN3tO2_6fhAhWB4FQKHb8dDbY4ChDoATAAegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=Gamaliel%20buried%20spices%20Jesus%20myrrh&f=false

Or see
George R. Beasley-Murray – 2018 John, Volume 36
Richard Booker - Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts: Discovering Their Biblical Feasts
Frederic William Farrar – 1894 (an oldie) The Life of Christ

Tim writes: “What unpleasant details? The unpleasant details that McCane has simply made up, with no support…”

RESPONSE: Really? Nothing in Paul! Mark simply makes it up (i.e. the burial account with no resurrection); Matthew quotes Mark almost verbatim and rehashes his work; Luke substantial rehashes Mark and Matthew. Your “making up” or literary creativity works on both sides of the aisle: Yes, there is some historicity; but nobody knows what are the precise kernels of historicity. You have belief and faith; as do your detractors.

Tim wrote: “Torley lists several alleged contradictions among the Gospel burial accounts, but all of these are manufactured; they are not contradictions in the texts at all.”

RESPONSE: In the last section of Tim’s lengthy blog, he discusses the topic of CONTRADICTIONS. An important requisite in order to identify a contradiction is to have a working definition of that term. Another relevant term is: DIFFERENCE. (And, another concern is: can an OMISSION be considered a contradiction?) For the past forty minutes I explored on the internet working definitions of “CONTRADICTION” and “DIFFERENCE”: dictionaries, encyclopedias, fields of philosophy, logic, and mathematics. To be one percent honest, I was not satisfied with my scavenger hunt. As a matter of fact, I was frustrated. For example, Daniel Tutt, [PhD https://danieltutt.com/2012/01/19/what-is-a-contradiction-badious-theory-of-the-subject/] wrote:

What is a contradiction?
1. First and foremost, it is a difference. Weak differences are that of places – and strong differences happen when one true discourse destroys another false discourse.
2. Difference is implicated qua correlation, the two are differentiated via this is the unity of the opposites that posits the one of the movement of the two, and the one of their effective divergence. Struggle then is defined as a correlation that ruins the One. The current class struggle (post May 68) is a weak struggle/contradiction, and is therefore not deducible from the weak correlation.
3. A contradiction is not the equilibrium of the two but is the law of their inequality. One term fixes the place, and one term is subjugated. The essence-in-becoming of the asymmetry is the inversion, not the invariance, of position. It is the advent, centered on the outplace, of a space overthrown.

There are three components to a contradiction: difference, correlation, and position. We can inscribe in a dialectical bipolarity whether the contradiction is weak (structural), or strong (historical). As Badiou says, “every real dialectical process entangles a structural contradiction and a historical contradiction, affecting the same terms” (Pg, 25). The anchor point of the historical is the structural, which is the nodal point for the question of the subject.

Now then, carefully read #1 and think! Again, I read that definition and I was left completely unsatisfied.

Another interesting article was: MIKE LICONA ADMITS CONTRADICTION IN THE GOSPELS
http://normangeisler.com/mike-licona-admits-contradictions/


Tim, you have a PhD in Philosophy, so this topic is definitely your forte. And, I am positive that your soul mate can definitely add to the discussion. We need a clear working definition (without excessive mathematics – K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple Stupid) with these two or three terms. So here, I defer to your input, and those of your readers (hopefully, those with an expertise in philosophy, logic, mathematics, linguistics, criminology, cognitive psychology, etc.)

Take care and have a good and safe weekend.

Mike


Thanks, Rad. I was beginning to get worried that some people hadn't understood the meaning of the expression prima facie.

I agree with everything you've said above so far.

Quote from the o.p. "What we actually find in the Gospel stories of Jesus’ burial is the kind of non-systematic, non-contradictory variation of detail that characterizes independent, truthful testimonies.”

Alter response:

Really? If the authors are anonymous, there is no means for you to state that they are “truthful testimonies.” Mindboggling! You and others may believe what you wish, but you cannot unequivocally state as a fact that the authors, and their sources are truthful.

What's truly mind boggling here is the apparent inability to understand the structure of the argument in the quotation from the o.p. The quotation from the o.p. is presenting *evidence* that the sources are truthful, not a question-begging assertion. The claim is that they have a property--non-systematic, non-contradictory variation of detail with partial overlap--that characterizes truthful, independent testimonies. And it characterizes such testimonies more than it characterizes false testimonies or dependent testimonies. This is therefore a probabilistic argument that they are such testimonies. Simply getting upset because the conclusion being argued for is something that one disagrees with does not constitute a critique or response.

By the way, the statement that the "contradictions" are manufactured is argued for in the main post. A jargony quotation about terms being subjugated, much less the class struggle (!!) just wastes pixels and does nothing to refute the careful, easily understood discussion in the main post showing that the alleged contradictions are no such thing.

If a mere difference constituted a contradiction, we could never learn anything additional from varying accounts. If account A says that Mr. Jones had eggs for breakfast on May 2 and account B says that Mr. Jones had toast for breakfast on May 2, we would be obliged to regard this as a contradiction and to conclude that he had either toast or eggs but could not have had both and that one account must be mistaken and hence to that extent unreliable. Which is absurd. So much for defining a mere difference as a contradiction. Oh noes, somebody with a PhD wrote a blog post in which it seems that he may be defining a mere difference as a contradiction. What shall we do? I guess Mr. Jones couldn't have had eggs and toast for breakfast on the same occasion!

I am persuaded that nobody ever parted with anything but his faith upon such flimsy grounds.

Wait: what about second breakfast? Mr. Jones could have had eggs for his first breakfast, and later in the morning had toast for his second breakfast!

These people must never have heard of hobbits, for cryin' out loud! What kind of education did they have, anyway?


Hello Tim:

Mishnah and Talmud is not my strong suite, and I do not have any collections or commentaries at my home. Remember, I am NOT Orthodox or frum. However, even my limited reading of your response makes me shake my head. I respect your effort to scavenger hunt the Oral tradition to support your opinion, but… Just examine the Mishnah on its plain reading (peshat). Tim, you are doing the work of a contortionist with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (I am humor challenged.). Below, is one reading (actually there are two below) that I found online. Carefully, read explanations 3 and 4. Next, ask yourself the following question: Would the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the religious center of the nation of Israel be generally lenient or strict? Furthermore, the examples that you quote and discuss have nothing to do with buying spices or preparing them.

RABIN MISHNAH STUDY GROUP
Mishnah study in the religious climate of Masorti (Conservative) Judaism by Rabbi Simchah Roth
Originally published between January 16th 2001 / Shevat 3rd 5762 and February 13th 2002 / Adar 1st 5762

http://www.bmv.org.il/shiurim/pesachim/pes04.html

TRACTATE PESAĤIM, CHAPTER FOUR

Where it is customary to work until noon on the day before Passover people may work; where it is not customary to do so people may not. When someone goes from a place where they do work to a place where they do not (or from a place where they do not to a place where they do) we apply the more severe restrictions of both the place where he comes from and the place he is going to. However, a person should not act differently [from others] because of arguments.

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
When we started our study of this tractate I mentioned that it seems to modern scholarship that the Written Torah refers to two festivals: the festival of the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread - the festival of the Passover being on the day that the paschal lamb was slaughtered, Nisan 14th, and the festival of Unleavened bread was celebrated during the seven days that start on Nisan 15th. I also mentioned that this had echoes in Jewish tradition which persisted until the destruction of the Bet Mikdash (and possibly even after that). This is the subject of our present mishnah.
2:
I also mentioned at the very start of our study that Tractate Pesaĥim seems to be arranged chronologically: firstly we learned about the search for ĥametz which takes place on the night which follows Nisan 13th; then we learned about the elimination of ĥametz which takes place before noon on Nisan 14th. The next item on the agenda should obviously be the slaughter of the paschal lambs which took place from noon onwards during the afternoon of Nisan 14th. However, chapter four interpolates here a discussion about the halakhic standing of Nisan 14th, before continuing its chronological treatment of its subject.
Discussion:
As far as Jim's second comment is concerned. While it is true that the Mishnah was not edited and published until the start of the 3rd century CE - about 150 years after the destruction of the Bet Mikdash - we have noted not a few times that many of the individual mishnayot that it comprises are much older.

EXPLANATIONS (continued):

3:
Obviously, there were different customs in different places concerning the way to observe Nisan 14th. In some places it was still observed as a semi-sacred day on which secular work was not done. In other places secular work was the custom for part of the day. The purpose of our mishnah is to prevent squabbling. Where it is the custom not to perform mundane tasks on Nisan 14th the individual may not exercise personal judgement: for example, if all shops are closed on the morning of Nisan 14th you may not decide to open yours. But the same also applies in reverse: you may not refrain from opening your shop in a place where everyone else is doing so.
4:
The Seifa of our mishnah alters the judgement of the Reisha slightly. When a person goes from one place of residence to another he must observe the more stringent of the customs. But if this observance will be the cause of squabbling and discord he must observe the customs of his present place of residence.

Where it is accepted practice to sell flock animals to non-Jews one may do so, but where this is not accepted practice one may not do so. In no place may one sell them herd animals, calves or donkeys, be they physically sound or injured. Rabbi Yehudah permits [the sale of] an injured animal; ben-Beteyrah permits [the sale of] a horse.


MISHNAH THREE:

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
Our present mishnah, too, is concerned with rules and regulations that may have a different application in different places (and, as explained in the previous mishnah, this has nothing to do with Pesaĥ in particular).
2:
Rabbinic tradition distinguishes mainly between two kinds of domestic animal: what is termed in Hebrew behemah dakkah and what is termed behemah gassah. The former term means literally 'small animals' and the latter 'large animals', but the terms are not really general, but more restricted in their application: the former refers to animals of the flock - sheep, goats etc - while the latter refers to animals of the herd - cows, bulls, oxen etc.
3:
Our mishnah is concerned with the sale of animals to a non-Jew. Although it is not stated expressly in our mishnah, the reason for the hesitation in selling animals to non-Jews is both religious and humanitarian - and for exactly the same reason. One verse in the Torah is known to and quoted by almost everyone in some context or another, but few think about its implications as the sages did. In connection with Shabbat observance the Torah states [Deuteronomy 5:12-14]:

MISHNAH FIVE:
Where it is accepted practice to work on Tish'ah b-Av one may do so, but where this is not accepted practice one may not do so. Students of the sages refrain from work in all places. Rabban Shim'on ben- Gamli'el says that a person should always act as if he were a student of the sages. The sages say that in Judah they would work on the day before Pesaĥ until noon whereas in the Galilee they did not work at all. As far as the [previous] night is concerned: Bet Shammai prohibit whereas Bet Hillel permit until sunrise.

EXPLANATIONS:

1:
Tish'ah b-Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, is observed as the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples, the first in 587 BCE and the second in 70 CE. This is a day spent as a 25-hour fast (just like Yom Kippur), but it is not a festival and therefore the biblical restrictions on work being done on festivals do not apply. Tanna Kamma in our mishnah states that whether or not one could permit oneself to perform secular tasks on Tish'ah b-Av is not a matter for personal decision, but that in this matter one's conduct should always conform to prevailing local custom. In those places where secular tasks were not permitted on Tish'ah b-Av it was because of the mood prevailing on that day of national historical mourning: just as the person observing the seven days [shiv'ah] of personal mourning upon the death of a close relative is not permitted to go about his regular business, so should everyone on this day appear as if in mourning.
2:
Tanna Kamma also states that a student of the sages [Talmid Chakham] should refrain from secular activity regardless of local custom - presumably because such a person should feel the acute sadness of the day as an overwhelming emotion. (The term "student of a sage" is a synonym for a fully- fledged sage, since every sage was the student of another sage, and it is thus an expression of modesty.)
3:
Rabban Shim'on ben-Gamli'el adds to the statement of Tanna Kamma the recommendation that everyone behave like the sages and demonstratively abstain from secular activity on this day. While his statement at first blush seems admirably charged with both religious and patriotic fervour, it nevertheless raises a quasi- ethical problem: to what extent can one legitimately be observed by others to be engaging in acts of supererogation (demanding of oneself more than the law explicitly requires)? Might this not be interpreted by others as the demonstration of a kind of superiority complex - if others do engage in secular activities and I am observed to be refraining from doing so? In his commentary on our mishnah Rabbi Ovadyah of Bertinoro suggests that this need not necessarily be interpreted as an expression of superiority, since the people working could quite easily assume that the person not working simply had nothing to do!

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Pesachim
Commentary [Drisha Instiyute]
Structure and Order in Mishna Pesahim
A.
At first glance, it seems clear that Pesahim should be included amongst those tractates that are arranged chronologically. This group includes Shevi’it, Chapters 1-6 of Shabbat, Yoma, and others. The tractate begins with “One the eve of the fourteenth [of Nisan] and ends with “After midnight, the Paschal offering renders the hands unclean.” Between these terminal points, the Mishna traverses the following units: the morning of the fourteenth (Chapters 1 and 2), the afternoon of the fourteenth (Chapter 4 ff.)1, a chronological description of the Paschal offering – its slaughter (Chapter 5), roasting, and eating (Chapter 7) – and a description of the Seder night (Chapter 10).
• 1 The beginning of Chapter 4, which forbids working on the afternoon of the fourteenth everywhere, also alludes to this time.
https://drisha.org/pesachim/

Tim wrote:
This passage does not directly address the questions of whether buying and selling were permitted in Judea on the afternoon of 15 Nisan at the time of Christ or whether preparing spices counted as “regular labor.” But it does illustrate fact that what precisely constituted “work” and when it was permitted varied tremendously and were subject to rabbinic dispute and differing rulings. In view of this diversity, merely citing Leviticus provides virtually no evidence that a prohibition against “ordinary labor” (מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה) would debar the women from preparing spices. “Preparing” might be an extremely light activity taking place within their own homes.

RESPONSE: According to tradition, there exist 39 categories of work. Perhaps, Tim is misconstruing the terms “labor” and “work.” Furthermore, you never read p. 225 of my text. What did the women need to do to prepare the spices? Scroggie (1948, 572), a Christian scholar clarifies the point that preparing the spices specifically entailed grinding and cooking them. So let’s understand clearly, there is purchasing, grinding, cooking (possibly lighting a fire, etc.), all of which are categories of labor/work.

Tim wrote: “Luke 23:56 even emphasizes that they did rest on the Sabbath “according to the commandment.” There is something highly misguided about taking a verse that shows an explicit awareness of Jewish laws and customs, explicitly stating that the women observed Jewish law, to be describing an activity that broke Jewish law.”

RESPONSE: Luke is NOT Jewish and he is writing approximately 85 CE, or 15 years after the destruction of the Temple. Luke’s knowledge of Jewish law is pure speculation. Luke’s sources of information are unknown. All that we have is the text that is in our possession.

Tim wrote: The insertion of the detail (that they prepared spices on Friday) serves no literary or theological purpose.

RESPONSE: UTTERLY wrong! As a matter of fact, I am surprised that you would make such an incredibly feeble claim (just being honest). You are merely expressing your personal opinion and grasping for straws. Perhaps, the author of Luke is attempting to make the women appear more observant and righteous than the Jewish leadership that partook in Jesus’s trial and eventual execution. If this thesis is correct, there exists a definite literary purpose.

However, on page 286 in my text, I address this specific apologetic. Unfortunately, you, and others have not, nor will not take the time to read my text. Luke contradicts Mark because he knew and instinctually understood that purchasing goods on Saturday evening or Sunday morning before sunrise was not probable. Therefore, Luke has just the good common sense of a talented author to write that the women prepared the spices after they returned from the tomb.

Tim wrote: “All four of the Gospels show a keen awareness of the fact that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath and of the need to observe the Sabbath.”

RESPONSE: False! Numerous scholars and theologians refute the notion that Jesus died on Friday, Nisan 15. If they are correct, Tim’s assertion is in error. Please note, I do not have any idea when the purported events occurred: W, Th, F; or Nisan 14 or 15; or even the year. What I present to my readers is arguments from BOTH sides of the aisle and let them, the readers decide. Tim, if my reading is correct, you believe in the traditional Nisan 15 date.

Tim wrote: "All of these issues -- what counts as work, when and whether purchases are allowed, what counts as buying and selling -- were open to minute variations of interpretation of religious law and were discussed extensively in oral rulings outside of the text of the Torah itself. Under the circumstances, it is historical arrogance to allege that authors far closer to the facts made up details for no particular reason on the basis of our own interpretation of Jewish law.”

RESPONSE: False! I have heard this phony Christian apologetic before… First, you believe that the NT records are historically accurate. You must provide unequivocal evidentiary proof that supports your belief. Second, you expect others to accept the NT writers did not have a political or theological agenda. Totally false as declared by several of its anonymous writers:

First, the Gospels, and most of Paul’s writings, are evangelistic in genre. That is, they call people to have faith in Jesus.
Second, they are exhortatory, written to encourage and assure believers in their faith.
Third, and directly tied to the former, these works have explicit theological purposes.

A. Mark wants to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God (e.g., Mk 1:1).
B. Matthew’s goal is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah and to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In addition, he wants his eleven disciples to teach new disciples to obey everything that Jesus commanded (e.g., Mt 1:1, 18; 28:19–20).
C. Luke writes his gospel to provide an orderly account that makes it possible to know the truth concerning the events that occurred (e.g. Lk 1:1–4).
D. John writes his gospel so one would come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing one could have life through his name (e.g., Jn 20:31).

Fourth, to achieve these ends, the primary means of these writers is to provide proofs in the forms of deeds, miracles, signs, and wonders assigned to Jesus. The foremost sign was Jesus’s resurrection.
Fifth, these works were written approximately thirty to seventy years after Jesus’s death, and many of the witnesses were dying off or dead. Therefore, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus for a generation who did not know any eyewitnesses or have access to firsthand accounts of the Jesus tradition.

Yet, you want those on the other side of the religious aisle to accept the reliability of the NT over its detractors just because its (anonymous) authors are far closer to the presumed facts. You are a PhD, a professor of Philosophy: does the defense that you offer make any sense? Really? The closeness to an event often has little, if any correlation to the events witnesses observe and report: the JFK assassination, the 9-11 attack, eyewitness testimony in a court of law = the Innocence Project (p. 678-680) etc.

You state: “Under the circumstances, it is historical arrogance to allege that authors far closer to the facts.” Really? What “CLOSER” are you referring to?
TIME: Mark (70), Matthew (80-85), Luke (85-90), and John (95-100)? And, for your information, in my text I ALSO discuss earlier dates.
GEOGRAPHY: Mark (Rome?), Matthew (Palestine?, Antioch of Syria?), Luke (outside of Palestine), John (Syria, Asia Minor)
ARE THESE TIMES and PLACES CLOSE TO THE EVENTS THEY DISCUSS? REALLY??? Your apologetic is completely false!

To repeat, you must provide unequivocable evidentary proof that the NT accounts are factual, reliable, and trustworthy. To repeat:

Here, (with the NT) we do not have facts… We have repeated and edited hearsay, and embellished “documents.” Furthermore, all that we have is stories about how the disciples behaved before, during and after Jesus's crucifixion, but stories are not evidence, unless corroborated by independent sources.

Oxford Dictionaries defines a “fact”:
1. A thing that is known or proved to be true
2. Information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article.
3. The truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

Given the definition of "fact," as described above (e.g., A thing that is known or proved to be true), can the NT resurrection narratives be considered FACTS? For a proposition to be listed as a "fact," one would expect, something like, 99.99 percent acceptance, before one declares it is a "fact." To assert otherwise is, at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, downright deceitful. Tim, Lydia, and others are entitled to their beliefs! Your beliefs are absolutely respected. However, do not confuse “beliefs” or creeds, or edited stories supposedly "close to the events that they report," with facts. Here, you have wishful thinking...

Take care

Mike

P.S. Please tell Lydia that I also watch the re-runs of Monk. However, I also really like Barney Miller, the original Super Man (George Reeves), the Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore), The Honeymooners, and Mork & Mindy. They exude with goodness.

Hello Everyone,

Just a few random comments to Mr. Alter’s replies:

RESPONSE: Really? If the authors are anonymous, there is no means for you to state that they are “truthful testimonies.” Mindboggling! You and others may believe what you wish, but you cannot unequivocally state as a fact that the authors, and their sources are truthful.

This statement, ultimately, is incorrect. But before I explain why, let me just say that, in my opinion, this is the sort of statement provided by someone who has never dealt in real testimony (although it may just be due to the fact that this is a blog post comment, and so was written in haste). Now, why do I say this? Because, when dealing with testimony, it is essentially impossible to ever “unequivocally state as a fact that the authors, and their sources are truthful.” This is why police officers, who take testimony as evidence, deal in reasonable grounds to believe. It is also why the legal profession deals with standards like a ‘preponderance of evidence’ or ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (where reasonable is defined in a legal manner). This is also why other organizations that deal in testimony assess the strength of the testimony on its reliability and credibility. Ultimately, when evaluating testimony—at least in a profession that actually deals with testimony concerning the most critical issues of life—the point (as strange as it may sound) is not to determine unequivocally if the testimony is truthful or a fact (which is impossible), but rather the point is to determine whether a reasonable person (again, in the legal sense) would be rational in accepting the testimony as truthful in light of all the evidence (this is a subtle distinction, but it is an important one). That is why, when we assess testimony on its own, we look for signs of truthfulness and signs of deception. If there are signs of truthfulness and no deception, we can come to hold that it is rational to believe the testimony. This also ties into to the fact that we generally accept testimony unless there is a reason to doubt it.

Now, with the above distinction in mind, we can see why the idea that anonymous sources cannot give rationally believable testimony is wrong. An anonymous source can provide testimony that gives all the signs of truthfulness and no deception. Of course, the fact that the person is anonymous is a concern reference their believability, but that concern can be mitigated if there is a good reason for why the person is anonymous. Let me give you an example. In a place I patrolled, I remember a crime that occurred in the more run-down/sketchy part of town. As I was trying to canvass witnesses, a man approached me and freely told me the whole situation and also told me who committed the crime. When I asked the man’s name, he laughed and said there was no way he was going to become a formal witness in this case. After all, he had to still live in that neighbourhood, and I didn’t, so there was no way he was giving me his name. As such, the man was anonymous, but the information he provided me showed numerous signs of truthfulness and no deception. Thus, his statement was rationally believable. Additionally, the concern about his anonymity was mitigated by the fact that he had an entirely reasonable reason to desire anonymity: namely, his own safety. Furthermore, the rational believability of his anonymous statement was further supported when other witnesses were eventually interviewed, etc., and those pieces of evidence supported the man’s statement. (In the same vein, note that detailed anonymous statements to Crime Stoppers work precisely because they too can show signs of truthfulness.)

So, in the same way, even if the Gospel authors were anonymous—which I am not conceding—the fact is that their testimony could still be rationally believed, both because it displays signs of truthfulness and because there would be a rational reason for the Gospel writers’ anonymity: namely, avoiding persecution of various sorts. Additionally, further evidence, such as archaeological confirmation of the Gospels, could increase the rational believability of their accounts, even if they were anonymous.

Remember, believing testimony is always an assessment, and there is no reason why anonymous testimony cannot be assessed as rationally believable. So, long story short, it is not necessarily irrational or impossible to rationally believe the testimony of anonymous sources. It may be harder to do, and more doubt can creep in, but it is not impossible by any means.

Cont’d…

Cont’d…

Next:

Really? This is your opinion. Can you 100 percent refute with evidentiary proof that the details were not developed or invented by the anonymous authors for multiple reasons that we do not have access to since their authors and redactors are long dead?

Analogy:

Defense Lawyer to Police Officer: Really? This is your opinion. Can you 100 percent refute with evidentiary proof that the details of the woman’s historic sexual assault were not developed or invented by her and her friends for multiple reasons that we do not have access to since her friends are gone and can no longer be located?

Answer: Of course I can’t 100% refute such a claim. But that is irrelevant. And it is irrelevant because I also can’t 100% refute the claim that an accused person’s crime wasn’t committed by aliens, secret assassins, or a government conspiracy. Instead, I look at the testimony as given to me, and then determine whether or not it is rational to believe it and act on it. This is why, on the basis of testimony, such things as historic sex crimes still are taken to court, because testimony can still be rationally believed even if objections like yours can be raised against it.

So, even if, for the sake of argument, the Gospels could be reasonably doubted, that would not mean that they could not be rationally believed given that the preponderance of evidence could still be in their favor. Thus, the fact that some claim against the Gospels cannot be 100% refuted is essentially irrelevant to their rational believability. Furthermore, as argued earlier, the Gospels are prima facie testimonial evidence, so if you want to claim that they are not, the burden is on you to show it, not just to raise some possibility and then claim that it cannot be 100% refuted (with the understanding, of course, that you did write a book concerning this matter).


Next:

Tim wrote: “Torley rejects the claim that Jesus was buried behind a rolling stone on the ground that we have found only a small number of rock tombs with such a stone.”

Now, let’s look at the data that you conveniently omitted: The inconvenient fact is that, of the more than 900 Second Temple-period burial caves around Jerusalem examined by archaeologist Amos Kloner, only four have been discovered with disk-shaped blocking stones. Not a home run with the bases loaded, but I will give it at least a double with two runners on base.

First, the Gospels are not clear about whether it necessarily was a round stone. But regardless, even if it was, the above point does not actually work in your favor. Why? Consider this analogy: A witness tells you he was assaulted by a man with a peg leg. But the amount of people with peg legs is tiny, especially compared to the amount of people without peg legs. However, the witness is adamant and other aspects of his story show signs of truthfulness. Consequently, the mere fact that a peg-legged attacker is statistically improbable can be offset by the fact that it is doubtful that such a detail would be made up if false, precisely because a liar would not make up such a strange detail to draw attention to himself (barring mental health issues) or make the detail easily checkable, which it would be (after all, an unknown peg-legged man is much easier to pinpoint than an unknown man with two legs). Even worse, this detail makes the witness look bad and weakens other parts of his story, because we could wonder how a man like him could be beaten up by a man with a peg leg. However, if the witness stays adamant in his testimony, that itself is a sign of reliability because it is unlikely that a person would lie about such a detail.

In the same way, if people at the time of the Gospels knew that most tombs were sealed without rolling stones, this would call the Gospel authors’ story into question. If they were lying, or making things up, it would have been easier, and more expected, to just include a square stone rather than a round one. Additionally, a round stone harms their case further, because it could then be more easily claimed that Jesus’ followers just rolled away the round stone (like the Gospels claim Joseph did) in order to steal Jesus’ body. After all, rolling away a round stone would be easier than trying to move one of the cork-shaped stones used to plug the entrances to common tombs. And yet, the authors still wrote the Gospels in a way that implied that the stone was round. Furthermore, if round stones really were so rare, then this means that the Gospel writers were providing a detail that could be easily checked. After all, if there were only a few such round-stoned tombs, then it would be much easier to check where Jesus was buried. Yet this is the opposite of what liars do, which is to try to make their claims sufficiently vague to be uncheckable or else to make their claims detailed, but of such a common thing that it would also be impossible to check. So, again, all these details are not the things that you would add to your narrative if you were lying and wanting to make your story more believable but harder to verify. However, they are the things that you would add if you were just telling the truth, even if that truth made it harder for people to initially believe you and much easier to verify what you were saying. Thus, at the very least, the rolling stone at the tomb is neutral in terms of its evidentiary value, and, at best, a case can be made that it supports the authenticity of the Gospels rather than detracting from it.


Finally, I just want to add a point about contradictions. One thing that is often overlooked when dealing with testimony and contradictions is that even outright contradictory statements are not necessarily contradictory. Let me explain what I mean. I arrive at a hit-and-run—which I have many times before. One witness tells me the car that fled the scene was red. Another witness tells me the car was a totally different color. Oh my, an outright contradiction, right? Well, except for the fact that the second person was red-green color blind, a fact that was only known upon investigation. My point is that sometimes even apparently outright contradictions aren’t real contradictions, and so a charitable interpretation of the testimony should be used until and unless doing so is simply impossible.


I wish I could reply to other points, but time is short today and I have my own things to write.

All the best,

Rad

Another note: Mr. Alter says

According to Mark 15:43 Joseph was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. This identification is problematic because the council had handed Jesus over to Pilate for crucifixion and the council’s verdict was unanimous (14:64). However, Luke explicitly contradicts this presumed “fact” in Luke 23:51.

No, once again Mr. Alter mistakes the meaning of "explicitly contradicts". In order for Luke and Mark to be in EXPLICIT contradiction, it would have to be the case that one explicitly says that Joseph voted for Jesus' condemnation, and the other explicitly say he did not vote for his condemnation. Where is the gap here? The council had many members. In any gathering of such a council, it is quite normal for not all to be present at a given vote. This is why we have rules for a "quorum". It is easily possible that Joseph was not present when the council condemned Jesus.

All the more, in that Joseph was probably shaking in his boots over what to do: if he opposed the leaders of the council directly in debate, he probably would do no good and might quite plausibly would come under some kind of censure himself. Since (in his almost certainly correct estimate) his speaking out against the leaders and for Jesus was not going to protect Jesus from condemnation, merely being present would subject him to the pressure of either (a) voting against the rest of the council, to no benefit, or (b) condemning an innocent man (and the Son of God to boot, as he had come to believe). He would take the course that others have taken in councils all over the world when presented with similarly unpalatable alternatives: absent himself from the vote. Note that Luke did not say that Joseph "voted against the condemnation", Luke says Joseph "had not consented" which would be the case either if he had voted against or if he had not voted, the expression does not specify.

While it is understandable for a reader to leap to the notion that Mk and Lk contradict each other here, it must be admitted that such a leap is sloppy logic alone, and the problem is not in the TEXT, it is in the reader. It is not squirming out of a contradiction by speculating that (maybe) Luke meant Joseph did not vote, we are simply noting that Luke's language does not imply that Joseph voted.

Alter's references to other verses in the Bible that mention spices (e.g., the spices specified in Exodus for scenting the Tabernacle) to support the claim that John's mention of a large amount of spices at Jesus' burial is a "literary device" illustrate one of many severe problems of methodology in his approach. Spices were important in the ancient world, and were used in burials. (As the burial of Gamaliel itself shows.) This is independently attested. They were used for honoring people, honoring places, etc. They were both practically important and used for cultural reasons. Merely to find other places where spices are mentioned as being used to honor someone (the wise men, the tabernacle) does precisely *nothing* to call into question the historicity of John's mention of burial spices.

By such a method, any historical account could be called into question if it mentions a culturally important custom or usage, merely by pointing to other places where that usage is mentioned. Edward VII's dog Caesar is said to have walked in his funeral procession in 1910. But dogs were sometimes carved on tombs. Therefore, any account that says that Caesar was present in the king's funeral procession may be merely using a "literary device" of connecting a dog with the death of his master. If I say that I attended a wedding at which "The Lord's Prayer" was sung by a local voice teacher, perhaps I am just using a "literary device" to express my desire that the happy couple would have their daily bread and be delivered from temptation. This might be supported by other references to the use of The Lord's Prayer in liturgy and Christian practice.

And so forth. There is very little history involving culturally important customs that can survive such a method, which shows that it is a poor method.

Hello Rad:

Thank you for contributing your real life expertise as a former detective. Your insights are definitely a contribution to the discussion. Now, let me respond to several points that you detailed:

You wrote: This is no different than a woman who walks into a police station and reports, in detail, that she was sexually assault at a specific time and place. Prima facie, her statement is a historical source to the event in question. Of course, her claim could be overturned by other information (a contradictory statement, signs of deception in her longer statement, etc.), but initially, her statement is a prima facie historical source of the event in question. Or, to use a closer analogy, if I, as a cold case detective, review a written witness statement or a police investigative report from fifty years ago that has similar traits to the Gospels (it presents itself as testimony or investigative hearsay, it shows hallmarks of testimony (extraneous details, checkable names, vivid descriptions, etc.) and it lists times, places, events in a manner consistent with what real events would be), then I would be rational to prima facie accept those things as historical sources for the events in question. Again, such an initial determination could be overturned, but that does not mean that it should not be prima facie accepted as a historical source.

RESPONSE: It must be asked, as a cold case investigator, would you accept at face value, a testimony from an anonymous person who was not a direct eyewitness to the events he reported? Furthermore, this anonymous source (let’s say Mr. Mark) never provided information about how, when, or where his purported eyewitnesses were questioned. In addition, Mr. Mark never explained how he determined which of the many possible purported contradictory/different sources were evaluated to be factual, or dismissed to be inaccurate. And, Mr. Mark is writing his account approximately forty years after it occurred (here we have the issue of memory) and possible 4085 km (Jerusalem to Rome) from where it took place. Furthermore, it is possible that Mr. Mark created his writing as a literary work.

Later, let’s say Mr. Matthew, is writing 10-15 years (and hundred of miles away) after Mr. Mark. Yet, Mr. Matthew copies Mr. Mark’s written testimony almost verbatim. In effect, we do not have two written testimonies; we have one testimony, Mr. Mark. Again, the previous questions could be asked. Furthermore, we have several unique/supernatural accounts (not multi attested) in Mr. Matthew’s written testimony that cannot be confirmed. Please understand, that we will assume that God exists and supernatural events do occur. This means that the supernatural events in Mr. Matthew’s testimony are, in fact, ahistorical. Therefore, it would NOT be rational to accept those things as historical sources for the events in question.

Ten years, Mr. Luke has also copied Mr. Mark and Mr. Matthew’s written testimony. Here too, he has added several unique/supernatural accounts (not multi attested) not found in the written testimonies of Mr. Mark and Mr. Matthew, that cannot be confirmed. Again, the previous questions could be asked.

Added to these concerns we have the reality that: (1) oral tradition is unreliable, (2) eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, (3) memories can be distorted over time, especially in groups, and (4) cognitive dissonance/irrational belief persistence.

As a cold case investigator, would you really accept at face value, these testimonies? Question: Would you equally accept the testimonies reported about Muhammad or Joseph Smith? If not, why?

You wrote: You believe them, unless you have a reason not to. And when you are blinded, and then a stranger heals you while saying that the Lord Jesus Christ, who appeared to you, sent him to heal you, you can have confidence that the person who called himself Jesus actually was Jesus.

RESPONSE: You are assuming that Saul’s/Paul’s accounts in Acts 9, 22 and 26 are factual. I, and others do not share your enthusiasm. This topic is discussed in my text (pp. 712-722; 730-734) and extensively in my (hopeful) volume two, and texts by other writers. Significantly, these accounts “differ” and they not multi attested. Adding to the problems, Jesus is speaking to Paul in the Hebrew tongue a well-known Greek proverb of its days. This topic, and more, is discussed in the literature, from both sides of the religious aisle.

You wrote: Christ appeared to him, then it is entirely rational to believe that Christ appeared to Paul in a bodily form

RESPONSE: Paul ONLY reported that he head a voice and saw a bright light. The word opathe (i.e. appeared) is extensively discussed in the literature. Even Christian writers candidly acknowledge that this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense (Ceroke 2003, 149; Milligan 1997, 455; N T Wright 2003, 323) [see. pp. 734-742 in my text] We live in a free country! If you wish to believe that Paul saw Jesus in a bodily form, that is your belief. Your belief MUST be respected. But, it is only a belief. And, so too, it is my belief, and the belief of others, that Paul did NOT see Jesus in a bodily form.

Tomorrow, I will attempt to respond to several remaining posts (Lydia, Tony, etc).

Everyone, take care and get a good night sleep.

Mike

Hello Lydia:

You wrote: If a mere difference constituted a contradiction, we could never learn anything additional from varying accounts. If account A says that Mr. Jones had eggs for breakfast on May 2 and account B says that Mr. Jones had toast for breakfast on May 2, we would be obliged to regard this as a contradiction and to conclude that he had either toast or eggs but could not have had both and that one account must be mistaken and hence to that extent unreliable. Which is absurd. So much for defining a mere difference as a contradiction. Oh noes, somebody with a PhD wrote a blog post in which it seems that he may be defining a mere difference as a contradiction. What shall we do? I guess Mr. Jones couldn't have had eggs and toast for breakfast on the same occasion!
I am persuaded that nobody ever parted with anything but his faith upon such flimsy grounds.
RESPONSE: According to many Christian apologists and theologians, Jesus’s resurrection is far more than the final episode in the gospel story. For these and many others, it is the momentous miracle in history, proof of Jesus’s divinity, and divine confirmation of the truth of his teaching. If Jesus were divine, that would lend credence to belief in the Trinity. These givens would also provide a partial explanation why Christians pray to him. Many of these beliefs are considered idolatry to some of other faiths, and a direct affront, in the highest sense to God.

For the evidentiary proof that these beliefs are true (e.g. Jesus being divine, belief in the Trinity, Jesus died for the sins of mankind, from the son to the Father, etc.) the standard most be extraordinarily high. Differences and errors (toast and eggs) must be carefully scrutinized (some may call this being hypercritical or hyper rational), but, then there is a good reason. In this situation, people are being evangelized and witnessed to change their faith. Given the gravity of this decision, the cumulative primary proof, the NT (especially the gospel narratives) must be critically investigated: (1) are the accounts reliable/trustworthy? (2) are the direct eyewitnesses to these accounts known? (3) were the sources to the authors and redactors of the resurrection narratives known? (4) were the second hand sources themselves (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) open to cross examination? (5) do the testimonies, in the form of the narratives (or a creed) provide evidence demonstrating the reported eyewitness accounts are highly reliable? (6) does the NT better support a rational explanation that irrational beliefs persisted after Jesus’s followers were disappointed after his crucifixion (Cognitive dissonance)? (7) does it make rational sense to believe conversion experiences may be unusual but not unknown? (8) does research demonstrate Oral tradition is, in fact, often unreliable? (9) does the fact that the resurrection narratives were written approximately 30-65 after the events occurred and when Jerusalem was destroyed lend credence to doubt the narratives? (10) do there exist natural, conjoined reasons that might better explain the stories that we have (reburial, cognitive dissonance/psychology, rules of evidence)? (11) does the written testimony exemplify embellishments (often on a supernatural level) and serve a theological agenda? (12) does the evidences (eggs, toasts, etc. reflect discrepancies/differences? and (13) often, in significant details does the evidence lack multiple attestation?

Yes, eggs, toast, and even a second or third breakfast do make a difference (when deciding to change one’s faith)… not because the differences found in the resurrection narratives actually substantiate their trustworthiness: people who conspire to testify to a falsehood rehearse carefully to avoid contradictions. Yes, there exist contradictions and differences and stories…

So then, does it make a difference if the evidence cannot determine (1) if the events occurred on a W, TH, or F?, (2) the date was the 14th or 15th? (3) the year was 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35/36? (4) the Last Meal was a Pesach Seder? (5) The Temple’s veil was torn? (6) the veil tore before or after Jesus died? (7) The earth (partial or entire) turned dark at noon for several hours? (8) an earthquake occurred when Jesus died? (9) there was the appearance of many resurrected saints to many people in Jerusalem? (10) the Centurion actually saw the Temple curtain while standing on Golgotha (the wrong side)? (11) a bone of Jesus was not broken (how was that known?)? (12) water exited Jesus’s body (how was that known)? (13) Nicodemus actually existed? (15) he literally purchased about 100 pounds (AV) of spices (16) Jesus was literally buried in a garden? (17) Jesus was buried in Joseph’s family tomb located in Jerusalem? (16) spices were obtained and prepared by the women before or after the Sabbath (maybe both)? (17) the Jewish leadership actually visited Pilate on the Sabbath? (18) a guard was stationed at the tomb? (19) what, who were, how many, when, why the women went to the tomb? I will stop here. You may compare these questions to eggs and toast, but that comparison is disingenuous when measured to its momentous ramifications… Collectively, these different accounts of toast and eggs will determine if one commits idolatry and performs a direct affront, in the highest sense to God.

Yes, eggs (I like my eggs scrambled and well done) and toast (I am gluten free) do really matter.

Perhaps, that is why the Bible (Exodus) reports that there was a national revelation to the more than one million Children of Israel… Not merely a revelation to a few obscure fishermen (and others) primarily from Galilee. This national revelation along with the experienced liberation from Egypt avoided any possible dispute about the eggs (hard boiled, soft boiled, hard scrambled, soft scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, over medium, over hard, omelet, poached, fried, microwave) or toast (rye, sourdough, pumpernickel, white bread, whole grain).

Take care and have a safe weekend.

Mike

"does research demonstrate Oral tradition is, in fact, often unreliable?"

You mean oral history. Oral tradition doesn't kick in for a few generations after the events happen. They must be distinguished.

I suspect you would have a more fruitful discussion by first putting the direct historical details from the NT aside and focus on how to evaluate evidence. That was the core of Lydia's point. I suspect Hume is lingering somewhere in your approach to evaluating the evidence. Or maybe you want to channel Carl sagan and look for an extraordinary *piece* of evidence.

(2) are the direct eyewitnesses to these accounts known? (3) were the sources to the authors and redactors of the resurrection narratives known? (4) were the second hand sources themselves (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) open to cross examination?

None of the NT writings were available during the first 2 decades of the spread of Christianity - it happened with oral testimony alone. But spread it did. The writings were not the foundational feature of (successful) evangelization.

While there is some doubt about the exact timing of the NT documents, there is ample evidence that the earliest ones were written not later than the early 60's AD. There is no firm reason to think otherwise than that the early NT documents were written during the lives of the first men and women who evangelized without those documents. Those disciples of the new religion would not have countenanced documents that overturned what they had already successfully preached for 20+ years - why would they? They would have no motive to latch onto new documents that said things that they didn't recognize and that contradicted what they had been teaching all along. And if the original evangelizers repudiated the documents, how would the writings have received a unanimous acceptance only a few decades later?

Perhaps, that is why the Bible (Exodus) reports that there was a national revelation to the more than one million Children of Israel…

And yet: that nation of a million plus people had, on the basis of private revelation to Abraham, gone on to (a) remain apart from the Egyptians, and (b) to keep on practicing the minimal observances that Abraham had handed down. All due to private conversations between God and Abraham, for which there was no manifest proof.

In addition, while the Law and the outflowing from that time that constituted the books of the Torah were, perhaps, well attested by the public miracles, (though many of the questions Mr. Alter asks above apply just as well to the sourcing and authenticity / accuracy of those books too), many other books of the OT have no better (and often much less) supporting evidence for their authenticity and soundness than the NT gospels do. Where is the proof that Ezekiel was written by an eyewitness, and handed on faithfully? Yet the Jews accept these other books without a qualm. Indeed, we would be forced to ask: before, say, the year AD 1800, was there ANY non-biased evidence for modernity that the Exodus actually happened with the claimed miracles? After all, the books were written down long after the events. Where are the two tablets? The Ark? The rod? If we were to subject the accounts of the Exodus to the same critical analysis as the NT resurrection account, how would it survive? No better, I think - not with an extra 2000 years of time diminishing access to non-biblical sources of evidence.

Hello Callum and Tony:

Callum wrote: "You mean oral history. Oral tradition doesn't kick in for a few generations after the events happen. They must be distinguished.

RESPONSE: You are correct! Thank you.

Tony wrote: None of the NT writings were available during the first 2 decades of the spread of Christianity - it happened with oral testimony alone. But spread it did. The writings were not the foundational feature of (successful) evangelization.
While there is some doubt about the exact timing of the NT documents, there is ample evidence that the earliest ones were written not later than the early 60's AD. There is no firm reason to think otherwise than that the early NT documents were written during the lives of the first men and women who evangelized without those documents. Those disciples of the new religion would not have countenanced documents that overturned what they had already successfully preached for 20+ years - why would they? They would have no motive to latch onto new documents that said things that they didn't recognize and that contradicted what they had been teaching all along. And if the original evangelizers repudiated the documents, how would the writings have received a unanimous acceptance only a few decades later?

RESPONSE: I agree that, “The writings were not the foundational feature of (successful) evangelization.”

Next, you wrote: “While there is some doubt about the exact timing of the NT documents, there is ample evidence that the earliest ones were written not later than the early 60's AD.” I agree if you are referring to Paul’s epistles. Insofar as the gospel narratives, their dates are subject to scholarly debate. Timothy Luke Johnson (1996, 90) observed: “The date of the four canonical Gospels is entirely a matter of scholarly deductions, based on arguments concerning literary dependence.” And, D.A. Carson (2007, 40) elaborates: “Both books [i.e. those of Norman Perrin and Dennis C. Duling = late dates in comparison to John A. T. Robinson = early dates] deserve careful reading by the serious student, if only to discover how data can be made to fit such wildly different schemes.” In my text, this topic is discussed on pages 12-13.

Insofar as its success (expansion/growth of the Christian movement), an important variable is how to measure the successful spread of early Christianity. David C. Sim [HTS (1/2), 2005 estimates there were no more than 1,000 believers by the end of the first century. And, that growth has also been examined by Rodney Stark (1996: 5-7). He estimated its expansion was similar to that of the Mormon Church. Sims, summarizing K. Hopkins (1998:195-196) writes: “Yet the reality is that for all of the first century the Christians were a tiny and insignificant socio-religious movement within the Graeco-Roman world.” Another factor (unknown) is how many early believers were originally gentiles? Then too, it must be asked, what did these early believers actually believe?: Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was God, the incarnation, the Trinity, vicarious atonement, etc? They certainly (in my opinion and those of others) did not share the beliefs of today’s evangelicals.

You wrote: “… for which there was no manifest proof.”

RESPONSE: Absolutely correct.

You wrote: though many of the questions Mr. Alter asks above apply just as well to the sourcing and authenticity / accuracy of those books too), many other books of the OT have no better (and often much less) supporting evidence for their authenticity and soundness than the NT gospels do.

RESPONSE: I absolutely agree.

You wrote: If we were to subject the accounts of the Exodus to the same critical analysis as the NT resurrection account, how would it survive? No better, I think - not with an extra 2000 years of time diminishing access to non-biblical sources of evidence.

RESPONSE: What a great point! Thank you… I have frequently heard this specific apologetic. Here, you are preaching to the choir. I absolutely agree with you. Remember, I am NOT Orthodox, nor am I a fundamentalist. However, let me add one comment: Christianity is based on Judaism. Without the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), there is no Christianity to base its foundation. Therefore, Christians whom raise this point are in effect, metaphorically/symbolically shooting themselves in the foot.

GENERAL COMMENT: Easter is soon approaching. The topic of Jesus’s resurrection is compelling, relevant and current for those, on both sides of the religious aisle. In addition to Volume 2, currently being edited by several external readers, I have almost completed a third text tentatively called A Thematic Access-Oriented Bibliography of Jesus’s Resurrection. Soon, I hope to send a proposal to a publisher. The partially annotated bibliography organizes more than 7000 English sources including sources that represent a diverse range of views (no journals, only books) into twelve main categories and then thirty-four sub-categories. The objective of this bibliography is to provide convenient access to relevant sources from a variety of perspectives allowing the researcher to browse or find the one source with ease, and accurately. I would prefer that a significant Christian publishing house publish this work. REALLY! So, please let me know IF you have any suggestions or contacts.

Thank you and take care.

Mike

Perhaps, that is why the Bible (Exodus) reports that there was a national revelation to the more than one million Children of Israel… Not merely a revelation to a few obscure fishermen (and others) primarily from Galilee. This national revelation along with the experienced liberation from Egypt avoided any possible dispute about the eggs
Remember, I am NOT Orthodox, nor am I a fundamentalist.

I have no idea what sort of religious view you hold, I was going by your presentation of the first quote above: you were seeming to rely on the account Exodus as support for those who believe in the claims of Exodus on account of the miracles being witnessed by a million people. But whether they WERE witnessed by a million people, or whether there were any events at all for them to witness, is the comparable question: it was, (as of the year 1800, anyway) entirely due to the account of Exodus that we might think a million people witnessed said miracles. If the account was (as you suggest for the gospels) created later to make a theological point, and the million witnesses were either made up or exaggerated, how would we tell the difference?

Yes, I get that as a not-Orthodox-Jew, you can consider the possibility that Exodus is not reliable - at least to the extent of the million witnesses. You were arguing as if it were reliable, that particular argument falls flat without it.

However, let me add one comment: Christianity is based on Judaism. Without the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), there is no Christianity to base its foundation.

Agreed. In fact, it is so solid that I have taken the (quite rare) Christian who would dispute it to be more than a little cracked. I would, however clarify that "being based on Judaism" is capable of an ambiguity that "being based on the Hebrew Bible" is not: Judaism itself has undergone some variability in what the majority of its teachers teach, over time, and hence being based on what Judaism taught in, say, the year 500 BC is not the same as being based on what Judaism taught in the year 200 AD. There was a rupture (obviously) between Judaism and Christians in the first century, and thus "being based on Judaism" should only be taken in the sense of Judaism as it was taught before the first century AD. I feel that you probably meant just that, but I thought it bore being stated.

Therefore, Christians whom raise this point are in effect, metaphorically/symbolically shooting themselves in the foot.

Fair enough - if a Christian were raising the point to undermine a Jew's reliance on Exodus. That was not my point. Taken with my point about Abraham, my argument was that like a Christian, a Jew also needs to be able to deal with the reliability of his Scriptures, and like Christian scriptures that don't have a claimed million witnesses to support them , there are plenty of places where the Hebrew scriptures don't either (even with respect to foundational miracles) - and yet Jews have given them the complete respect of considering them "scriptural" anyway. I think that Jews are right to credit Genesis and Exodus as reliable - even accounts of miracles that don't have independent witnesses. And I think that the critical analysis that would assume that Exodus, in the parts that claim miracles witnessed by a million people, is not to be accepted because it has no independent verification from other sources, is no less troubled a model of analysis for Exodus than it is for Matthew.

Insofar as its success (expansion/growth of the Christian movement), an important variable is how to measure the successful spread of early Christianity. David C. Sim [HTS (1/2), 2005 estimates there were no more than 1,000 believers by the end of the first century. And, that growth has also been examined by Rodney Stark (1996: 5-7). He estimated its expansion was similar to that of the Mormon Church.

My point was not that the expansion of the group was in any sense amazing, it was only that it DID IN FACT expand, i.e. grow through preaching. That's all.

Nevertheless, while there is a quite wide range of estimates with plausibility, I really have to laugh at the "1000" figure as being so implausible that, for you mention it in the same breath with others, this is just the kind of foolishness that I noted elsewhere. Sure, there are people who say the STUPIDEST things, like "there were probably only 1,000 believers by the end of the first century". That somebody said it doesn't mean you have to repeat it. The evidence from Paul's epistles, along with plenty of other evidence, points to enough separate communities, that Wiki's assertion that there were "over 40" churches established by 100 is quite reasonable. It is beyond plausibility that the average size of these was only 25. Sorry, that's not believable. (And note that Wiki only says "over 40", not how many over.) I also don't put a lot of stock in highly inflated estimates that there were millions and millions, but by golly there is plenty of room for arguing that there were several thousand even without claiming miracles all over the place, and without brushing up against "millions" either.

Yet the reality is that for all of the first century the Christians were a tiny and insignificant socio-religious movement within the Graeco-Roman world.

Insignificant they may have been in terms of percentages. But Pliny (in Pontus, Turkey - which was in nobody's book a central hotbed of Christianity) in 112 found enough of them giving him headaches to write to the emperor about them. They couldn't have been completely insignificant.

A previous point stands: if you want to be taken seriously, stop citing unserious (i.e. wacko) theories of others as if they were of equal weight as truly worthwhile theories that are well-reasoned.

Hi Tony,

Just a quick point re the numbers of Christians in the first century A.D. David Sim does not claim that there were only 1,000 Christians by the end of the first century; rather, he argues that there were no more than 1,000 Jewish Christians by then, representing just 0.0166 per cent of the total Jewish population of the Roman empire. He estimates the total Christian population throughout the Roman Empire in the year 100 A.D. at somewhere between 7,500 and 15,000. Sim's paper can be accessed online. Cheers.

RESPONSE: You are expressing your opinion. Others scholars reject your opinion. For example:

John Granger Cook. See. 2.2 Jesus’ Crucifixion as a Political Execution pp. 198-203. In: Crucifixion and burial [NTS] 2011


Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn. Die Kreuzesstrafe…, ANRW II.25.1 (1982), 706-18, 733 [cited by Cook)

E. P. Sanders 1985: 317
“it was highly probable that he was executed for sedition or treason, as would-be king.”

A.N. Sherwin-White thinks that Pilate executed Jesus on the charge of sedition.
Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 1963, 24-47, esp. 46

1. Actually, Mr. McGrew did more than just express an opinion. He argued at length for his conclusion in the previous article.

2. So what? Scholarly opinion is only as good as its supporting arguments.

Furthermore, it is possible that that Jesus was convicted for conjoined reasons:

One online source adapted material from Mark L. Strauss (https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/who-killed-jesus-the-historical-context-of-jesus-crucifixion/)

The motivations of Pilate and the Romans

The evidence points to the conclusion that Jesus was executed by the Romans for sedition—rebellion against the government.
1. First, he was crucified as “king of the Jews.” As noted in the last unit, the titulus on the cross announcing this is almost certainly historical.
2. Second, he was crucified between two “robbers” or “criminals”—Roman terms used of insurrectionists (Mark 15:27; Matt. 27:38; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). Another insurrectionist, Barabbas, was released in his place (Mark 15:7; Matt. 27:16; Luke 23:19; John 18:40).
3. Finally, the account of charges brought to Pilate by the Sanhedrin in Luke’s Gospel are related to sedition: “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king. . . . He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here’ ” (Luke 23:2, 5).

To quote Mr. McGrew:
But was Jesus crucified “as an enemy of the state”? The only reason anyone might have for characterizing Jesus as an “enemy of the state” or a “political criminal” is the accusation, reported in the Gospels themselves, that Jesus made himself to be “Christ, a king.” But according to those same narratives (Luke 23, John 18), Pilate questioned Jesus particularly on this very point and decided that the charge was spurious -- so much so that he repeatedly attempted to induce the Jewish rulers to relent on their demand for crucifixion and be content with a flogging. Mark 15:10 specifically states that Pilate knew the charges were trumped up and that Jesus was being delivered to him, not because he was really a political enemy of Rome, but “out of envy” (διὰ φθόνον).

Since it is Pilate’s judgment, as provincial governor, that matters in such a case, the picture afforded by the narratives is consistent with his allowing the crucifixion to take place but not insisting on any specially harsh circumstances in its being carried out. The Jewish rulers did not really believe that Jesus was an enemy of the Roman state, and Pilate did not believe it either. That was merely the pretense by which they induced him, under threat of a complaint to Caesar, to carry out the execution. So far as our first-century sources tell us, not a single person involved believed that Jesus was guilty of majestas -- not Pilate, not the Jewish leaders, not even the thieves crucified on either side of him.

Pilate was doing a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the Jewish rulers were insistent that Jesus be crucified, and they were implicitly threatening to complain to Caesar -- something they did with regard to some of Pilate’s other actions. On the other, even a rather calloused Roman governor might naturally scruple at crucifying a man he himself believed to be innocent and harmless simply to pacify the locals. The Gospel narratives give us an account of how events unfolded that is consistent with what we know of human nature. If we start picking and choosing which bits of the narrative we will take seriously with no better ground than our desire to make the facts fit a particular theory, we have abandoned all proper historical methodology. By such means, one can “prove” virtually anything from any texts whatsoever.

Secondly, people can be executed simultaneously for the sake of convenience. Why would Pilate have Jesus crucified separately when two men were already going to be crucified? Why not kill two birds with one stone?

Most likely, Pilate ordered Jesus’ execution for three reasons:

1. It placated the Jewish leaders and so headed off accusations against him to Rome.
2. It preemptively eliminated any threat Jesus might pose if the people actually tried to make him a king.
3. It ruthlessly warned other would-be prophets and messiahs that Rome would stand for no dissent.

None of these reasons show that Jesus was an "enemy of the state."

Here's a silly little argument that Alter makes:
You state: “Under the circumstances, it is historical arrogance to allege that authors far closer to the facts.” Really? What “CLOSER” are you referring to?
TIME: Mark (70), Matthew (80-85), Luke (85-90), and John (95-100)? And, for your information, in my text I ALSO discuss earlier dates.
GEOGRAPHY: Mark (Rome?), Matthew (Palestine?, Antioch of Syria?), Luke (outside of Palestine), John (Syria, Asia Minor)
ARE THESE TIMES and PLACES CLOSE TO THE EVENTS THEY DISCUSS? REALLY??? Your apologetic is completely false!

As a matter of fact, regardless of how you choose to date the Gospels, the Gospel authors were undoubtedly quite close to the events of Jesus' life and death chronologically. Even if Mark was written circa AD 70, it's not as if he was only ten years old when he wrote his Gospel. Assuming Mark was 25, and that he wrote his Gospel around AD 70, he would still have been a contemporary to Paul and disciples of the earthly Jesus as well. He would have been roughly eighteen years old when Peter and Paul died. At the very least, Mark was most certainly written by a contemporary of the apostles, and likely highly influenced by them. And 40 years is nothing - it's not as if Nixon is ancient history. I can still visit Washington, Nixon's hometown, interview people who knew him, touch items belonging to him, etc. Mark would be in a somewhat different situation, but not far off. People who met Jesus would still have been around surely, and he could have still visited Palestine.

RESPONSE: You are assuming that Saul’s/Paul’s accounts in Acts 9, 22 and 26 are factual. I, and others do not share your enthusiasm. This topic is discussed in my text (pp. 712-722; 730-734) and extensively in my (hopeful) volume two, and texts by other writers. Significantly, these accounts “differ” and they not multi attested. Adding to the problems, Jesus is speaking to Paul in the Hebrew tongue a well-known Greek proverb of its days. This topic, and more, is discussed in the literature, from both sides of the religious aisle.

I see no reason to not accept Paul's conversion stories in Acts as being accurate.

1. Luke had Paul as a direct source.
2. Luke is generally quite the astute historian.
3. There are details in the story that make more sense if it was an actual historical story. If Luke was inventing a story, he was shooting himself in the foot by including the fact that Paul was accompanied by two other people. An easier story would have been to have Jesus appear to Paul privately with no other witnesses around. Also, the minor variations in each retelling of the story indicate historicity. In real life, when people tell the same story multiple times, there's going to be minor variations in speech and verbiage.

Also, so what? Have you ever used the sayings bon voyage or bona fide in your speech? English speakers use foreign sayings and phrases all the time - that's just what happens when two cultures mix.

Finally, here's this nugget from Alter:

RESPONSE: Paul ONLY reported that he head a voice and saw a bright light. The word opathe (i.e. appeared) is extensively discussed in the literature. Even Christian writers candidly acknowledge that this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense (Ceroke 2003, 149; Milligan 1997, 455; N T Wright 2003, 323) [see. pp. 734-742 in my text] We live in a free country! If you wish to believe that Paul saw Jesus in a bodily form, that is your belief. Your belief MUST be respected. But, it is only a belief. And, so too, it is my belief, and the belief of others, that Paul did NOT see Jesus in a bodily form.

This is blatantly contradicted by this:
14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;

Vincent and Tony,

Sim's paper is a train wreck, based on figures in his calculations that even he acknowledges are speculative. He deliberately refuses to count Jews in Jerusalem for Pentecost (p. 421), argues against the explicit testimony of Luke in Acts on the basis of really weak arguments from silence (pp. 422-23), etc.

But any excuse will do in order to get around those pesky first-century sources, I suppose.

Hello ChristSeeker:

Thank you for contributing to the discussion.

You wrote: As a matter of fact, regardless of how you choose to date the Gospels, the Gospel authors were undoubtedly quite close to the events of Jesus' life and death chronologically… And 40 years is nothing - it's not as if Nixon is ancient history. I can still visit Washington, Nixon's hometown, interview people who knew him, touch items belonging to him, etc. Mark would be in a somewhat different situation, but not far off. People who met Jesus would still have been around surely, and he could have still visited Palestine.


RESPONSE: History demonstrates that your rebuttal is erroneous. Even if we had witnesses going to the first week of an event, their accounts are often contradictory, or to use an often-referenced word, “differ.” Just look at the eyewitness accounts of the JFK assassination or the 9-11 incident. And, here, we actually have audio and film evidence.

You wrote:
3. There are details in the story that make more sense if it was an actual historical story. If Luke was inventing a story, he was shooting himself in the foot by including the fact that Paul was accompanied by two other people. An easier story would have been to have Jesus appear to Paul privately with no other witnesses around. Also, the minor variations in each retelling of the story indicate historicity. In real life, when people tell the same story multiple times, there's going to be minor variations in speech and verbiage.

RESPONSE: It is, in fact, possible that the author of Acts shot himself in the foot. Those things do happen. However, I do agree with you that, “In real life, when people tell the same story multiple times, there's going to be minor variations in speech and verbiage.” In volume 2, I extensively interact with this noteworthy episode.

The Damascus account strongly indicates that it was partially plagiarized from Euripides’ play, The Bacchae. Specific confirming details of the Damascus epiphany do not appear in the writings of Paul, and the mission approved by the high priest lacks credibility. C. H. Dodd (1957, 9–35) pointed out that it is impossible to count Jesus’s appearance to Paul as belonging to the group of the resurrection appearances. Furthermore, it seems more credible that the three accounts were written to elevate Paul and put him on the same footing/level as the Eleven Apostles. The topic of the Damascus episode is covered in pages 712-743 in The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry.

You movingly wrote: This is blatantly contradicted by this:
14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth

RESPONSE: You are quoting Acts 22:14, a statement attributed Ananias. First, you hare having the author of Acts substantiating the author of Acts. Second, miracles can occur, but Paul’s healing by Ananias (9:18) could be a literary invention. Third, the entire Damascus episode was probably a literary invention to serve both a political and theological agenda. Fourth, Ananias’s testimony is refuted by Paul: Paul only saw a light, not a physical body. Paul never saw the “Righteous One”… Last, and a bit harsh, how does Ananias know that Paul saw the Righteous One and who would care what he declared? Significantly, where is Ananias’s evidentiary proof that Paul saw the Righteous One, presumably as a physical, bodily appearance? Why should we accept Ananias’s testimony over Paul’s words?

In an hour I am off to the hospital…

Take care.

Mike

1. Stories differ. So what? That's what happens when you have different people who notice different things.

2. The matter of eyewitnesses is pretty irrelevant to the point I was trying to make. As your quote indicates, you're trying to say that the Gospels were written very far away from the events that they narrate.

RESPONSE: It is, in fact, possible that the author of Acts shot himself in the foot. Those things do happen. However, I do agree with you that, “In real life, when people tell the same story multiple times, there's going to be minor variations in speech and verbiage.” In volume 2, I extensively interact with this noteworthy episode.

1. Sure. People do occasionally act irrationally. But generally, when someone is trying to write a convincing history for probably apologetic purposes, they're not going to act so irrationally that one of their biggest "selling points" is easily debunked.

The Damascus account strongly indicates that it was partially plagiarized from Euripides’ play, The Bacchae. Specific confirming details of the Damascus epiphany do not appear in the writings of Paul, and the mission approved by the high priest lacks credibility. C. H. Dodd (1957, 9–35) pointed out that it is impossible to count Jesus’s appearance to Paul as belonging to the group of the resurrection appearances. Furthermore, it seems more credible than the three accounts were written to elevate Paul and put him on the same footing/level as the Eleven Apostles. The topic of the Damascus episode is covered in pages 712-743 in The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry.

1. Probably another case of the typical slipshod methodology amongst NT historians who see parallels among every event in the NT with some prior pagan or Jewish story.

2. Paul never talks about his mother's name either. Paul doesn't say anything about a lot of things. In all of Paul's writings, he never even talks about John the Baptist or false messiahs like Theudas.

3. I don't care what Dobb has to say about anything unless he actually backs up his opinions with facts and arguments.

4. "Seems more credible"...how? Why would Luke want to elevate Paul when he was already considered an apostle and equal to Peter and co.? And it goes back to what I said earlier, if Luke wanted to really beef up Paul's reputation, why not have it so that Jesus showed up to Paul in a private meeting where they ate fish together? Why make the alleged conversion so falsifiable and public?

The fact that the conversion accounts remain relatively consistent with minor variations is evidence that this was *the story* being passed around by Paul and the early Christian community.

Lastly, as far as Acts 22 is concerned, it's Paul quoting Ananias. He obviously approved what Anan had to say...because he quoted him!

More "literary invention" rubbish. Mr. Alter, you could argue that everything and anything is a "literary invention" for some "political and theological" reasons. Where's the actual evidence that this is so?

Also, there's nothing wrong with using a single source to discuss a historical episode, because that's often what we're left with in the historical record. How many writers wrote about Judas' Revolt in AD 6? Two writers. That's it.

That Jesus appeared to Paul as a physical, bodily person (v. 9) is also refuted by his own personal testimony in Acts 9, 22, and 26.
Paul ONLY reported that he head a voice and saw a bright light. The word opathe (i.e. appeared) is extensively discussed in the literature. Even Christian writers candidly acknowledge that this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense

Huh? That doesn't even make sense. If you want to make an argument that Paul might not have seen Christ, you can try, but at least make some sense to begin with!

Let's look at the 3 passages. In Acts 9:

3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus...

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.

In Acts 22:

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth.

In Acts 26:

I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic,[a] ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God,

Starting with the basic principle that applies both in history and in story-making: a person doesn't tell, up front, EVERYTHING that happened just as it happened. They leave out details. Or, they skip details and later circle back and insert them. This is a basic fact of human nature.

The first account, in 9, (at least up to verse 17) is more bare-bones than the others, lacking in certain details. The later versions add details. Yes, that's just what the above principle said happens. Adding details is not refuting the bare-bones version!!!!!!!!!!

But note that even in the bare bones version, Luke does not go about asserting that various things DID NOT happen, except one: "they [companions] heard the sound but did not see anyone." This asserts a negative of experience for Paul's companions, and DOES NOT express it about Paul. It is perfectly possible, and indeed quite typical of human speech and reporting, to assert that the COMPANIONS did not see anyone, because that's different from Paul. While it is possible (from this part of the account alone, that is, prior to verse 17) to suggest that perhaps neither Saul nor the companions saw anyone, but it would be an odd construction of language to convey it in that manner. But whether or not one insists on the possibility that the author was not indirectly implying Paul saw anyone, it certainly is not the case that the author is saying Paul saw nobody. And of course in verse 17 Ananias - using knowledge he has from God rather than from Paul, says he saw the Lord.

The second and third accounts expressly refer to Paul as "seeing" Jesus. Whether one infers (from the other details) that this was a vision, or Jesus actually appearing in his resurrected body, is almost a matter of semantics that is irrelevant (what is the epistemic difference between a vision before his eyes, and an actual body that can pass through walls and can change appearances at will?) and is quite beside the point: Luke has Paul using language that prima facie refers to a visual experience of Christ.

"The word opathe (i.e. appeared) is extensively discussed in the literature. Even Christian writers candidly acknowledge that this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense"

This is just the sort of silly argument that makes it so tempting to put the expression "New Testament Scholars" into scare quotes.

"this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense" DOES NOT imply that the term is never used in the visionary sense. It doesn't EXCLUDE that sense. Sheeesh!

If we had only the passage of Acts 26 to work with, and only the phrase in which "opathe" comes in ("Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant " and stop at "servant", one could say it is just plain ambiguous whether the "opathe" is meant to refer to the "non-visionary" sense. But that's NOT all we have to go by. The quote of Paul repeating Jesus' words goes on to say "as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me." "Witness" gives us more to narrow down which meaning is intended. Moreover, Acts 22 gives us still more, because Paul quotes Ananias as saying Paul saw Jesus. Here the word is "idein", to see. So while in ch 9 Luke uses "opathe", in ch 22 Paul uses "idein" (as Luke reports it, of course). So it doesn't rest on "opathe" alone without other pointers.

Whatever one wishes to assert of the possibility that Luke is not intending by his words in ch.9 to say Paul saw Jesus in a visual sense, nothing about the passages in any sense at all REFUTES the alternate possibility that Luke was intending to convey that Paul saw Jesus visually - and indeed the latter sense makes more sense of "witness" while being fully compatible with all of what is actually asserted or is inferentially clear.

One might suggest that the language Paul reports in ch. 26, "I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, as a metaphorical use expanding on Paul's being struck blind. But that's purely speculative imagination: it is certainly no LESS possible for God to actually use the blindness in Paul and give him a message of light to those in darkness, than it is for Luke to make up the metaphor and insert it. Selecting the latter (that Luke made it up) because it makes it easier to deny that Paul saw Christ, is just inserting one's own bias into interpreting the passage. ANY passage could be "made up" if you want to treat it that way, but doing so isn't wrestling with the evidence in hand. You can assert that Luke made up Ananias, or that he made up Agrippa, or that he made up half of everything in Acts, but doing so is not analysis of the data before us.

Second, miracles can occur, but Paul’s healing by Ananias (9:18) could be a literary invention. Third, the entire Damascus episode was probably a literary invention to serve both a political and theological agenda.

And there we have the refuge of desperation. Maybe Ananias is made up. Maybe Damascus is made up. Maybe the whole of Acts is made up. And who cares what Ananias says Christ told him in his vision, maybe Ananias was making it up that Jesus appeared to him! Because, you know, that would explain why he left the safety of his house to heal his most dangerous enemy! Maybe Mars is made of green cheese. Maybe leprechauns make the rainbows.

Sorry, Lydia McGrew has spent the better part of 2 years here (and with her excellent book Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences) laying low the fraudulent bugaboo of "literary devices" by two-bit scholars, and that kind of silliness won't wash here: we see through that kind of empty, bare assertion without the faintest shred of evidence behind it. There could well be literary devices in Acts and the gospels, but without substantiation all we have to say in reply is "and maybe it wasn't." That's really all the answer it deserves.

Hello ChristSeeker and Tony:

Thank you for your follow up replies. Both inputs are appreciated.

You (ChristSeeker) wrote: 1. Stories differ. So what? That's what happens when you have different people who notice different things.

RESPONSE: (1) But Matthew copies and edits Mark; and Luke copies and edits Mark and Matthew… Discussed earlier… (2) The NT records are a significant foundation employed to evangelize those of other faiths. Yet, these recorded testimonies differ. Theories exist on both sides of the religious aisle for these differences (edits, or redactions, or modifications). Therefore, if I understand your position, a person is expected to replace his or her faith with Christianity (and all of its ramifications: rejection of his or her religion, culture, traditions; and possible loss of family, friends, acquaintances, etc.), based on contrasting/differing testimonies.

You wrote: As your quote indicates, you're trying to say that the Gospels were written very far away from the events that they narrate.

RESPONSE: Yes, in terms of time and space.

You wrote: 1. Sure. People do occasionally act irrationally. But generally, when someone is trying to write a convincing history for probably apologetic purposes, they're not going to act so irrationally that one of their biggest "selling points" is easily debunked.

RESPONSE: False. Just look at the conception of Jesus and his genealogy. If Jesus was conceived without his mother (Matt 7:14; “virgin conception”) having physical relationships, he could not be from the line of David. The Torah (Num 1:1-18) is explicit; the line must be through the biological father…The Messiah must be a member of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and a direct descendant of King David & King Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-14; 1 Chronicles 22:9-10). Genealogy in the Hebrew Bible is ONLY passed down from father to son (Numbers 1:1-18). So why then, would the author of Matthew include an error in his gospel (and at the very beginning) that can be easily debunked?

You wrote: 1. Probably another case of the typical slipshod methodology amongst NT historians who see parallels among every event in the NT with some prior pagan or Jewish story.

RESPONSE: This example is beyond typical slipshod methodology. Let’s clearly understand: This quotation from ancient literature is beyond odd. The author of Acts has Jesus quoting a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic (“in the Hebrew language”). But the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same “ familiar quotation” and the same situation. In both cases we have a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. Paul even used the plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line. This topic is extensively discussed and referenced in my volume 2.

You wrote: 3. I don't care what Dobb has to say about anything unless he actually backs up his opinions with facts and arguments

RESPONSE: This is a free country. I read material from both sides of the religious aisle and present both sides of the argument. I care what both sides say… I have devoted approximately 11 years visiting Christian seminaries (Moody, Trinity International, Liberty University, SWBTS, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Criswell Theological, and many more) to specifically examine the arguments in favor of Jesus’s resurrection. At least I gave it (my research) a good faith effort: time and money. Respectfully, can you make a similar claim?

You wrote: 4. "Seems more credible"...how? Why would Luke want to elevate Paul when he was already considered an apostle and equal to Peter and co.?...

RESPONSE: The consensus (although there exist critics and doubters) is that the author of Luke is the author of Acts. And, presumably Luke was a companion of Paul. Nonetheless, there are several inconsistencies (discussed in the literature that I assume you are familiar) found in Acts and Luke. An honest appraisal is that there is much we do not know. Why do you assume that Luke was already considered an apostle and equal to Peter and co? Is this opinion based on Colossians 4:14? A comment found online, and of course there others exist):

"An apostle is sent to deliver or spread those teachings to others. The word "apostle" has two meanings, the larger meaning of a messenger and the narrow meaning to denote the twelve people directly linked to Jesus Christ. We can say that all apostles were disciples but all disciples are not apostles."

If the author of Luke/Acts never saw Jesus and never directly linked to Jesus during his 1 or 3 year ministry, he could not be co-equal to the twelve disciples.

You wrote: Lastly, as far as Acts 22 is concerned, it's Paul quoting Ananias. He obviously approved what Anan had to say...because he quoted him!

RESPONSE: This is just your opinion. Others, on both sides of the religious aisle probably disagree. You continued: “He obviously approved what Anan had to say...because he quoted him!” In actuality, the author of Acts recorded the episode.

You wrote: More "literary invention" rubbish. Mr. Alter, you could argue that everything and anything is a "literary invention" for some "political and theological" reasons. Where's the actual evidence that this is so?

RESPONSE: Please read pages 4-5. By the way, you can call me Mike. I am very down to earth.

You wrote: Also, there's nothing wrong with using a single source to discuss a historical episode, because that's often what we're left with in the historical record. How many writers wrote about Judas' Revolt in AD 6? Two writers. That's it.

RESPONSE: I partially agree. However, independent multiple attested texts (criterion of multiple attestation) would be preferable. This topic (criteria of historicity) is extensively discussed in the literature.

Also, in an earlier post you wrote: “This is blatantly contradicted by this:
14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;”

RESPONSE: There is an excellent, short 13-minute analysis of this citation (actually from Jeremiah 23) by Rabbi Tovia Singer available on YouTube. Please see: Is the Messiah called the Lord of Righteousness? And, to be intellectually honest, there are additional presentations on YouTube that present a pro-Jesus position.

Now, let me respond to Tony’s interesting comments:

Tony wrote: Starting with the basic principle that applies both in history and in story-making: a person doesn't tell, up front, EVERYTHING that happened just as it happened. They leave out details. Or, they skip details and later circle back and insert them. This is a basic fact of human nature.

Response: You are offering a speculation. You do not have the slightest way to know why the details in the three records in Acts differ. Both of us can parade proponents representing both sides of the religious aisle.

You wrote: The first account, in 9, (at least up to verse 17) is more bare-bones than the others, lacking in certain details.

RESPONSE: I absolutely agree with you.

You wrote: Luke has Paul using language that prima facie refers to a visual experience of Christ.

RESPONSE: This is just your opinion. Both of us can and parade proponents for representing one side of the religious aisle. In my text, I present arguments from BOTH sides of the argument, unlike you. You will not even acknowledge that the opposing side has any grounds to stand. At least present their strongest argument(s) and then refute it/them. Unlike you, I cite Wayne Jackson, Gleason Archer and Ben Witherington in support of your view. I also present many conservative apologists and writers who support your view! I also identified for my readers many writer’s who discuss this topic in articles (Beckwith 1990, 369-73; Stephen Davis 1985, 140-52; Geisler 1989, 148-70); books (Geisler 2007, 331-36; 1999, 658-64; Gundy 2004, 360-76); entire books (Geisler 1992; Wiebe 1997) and theses (Alfors 1953, Healey 1973, Jevne 1903) written on the controversial topic of ophthe. This may sound harsh, but where is your intellectual and scholarly honesty/integrity? I know (or understand from your writing) that you are a believing Christian. I respect that view. But, at least recognize that there exist knowledgeable theologians, college professors, and converts (EX-Christians) who do not share your enthusiasm, or opinion.

You wrote: "The word opathe (i.e. appeared) is extensively discussed in the literature. Even Christian writers candidly acknowledge that this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense"
This is just the sort of silly argument that makes it so tempting to put the expression "New Testament Scholars" into scare quotes.

RESPONSE: False. The sentence was placed in italics for emphasis – not to scare anyone. And, I certain do not expect my responses to scare any of Lydia’s readers. Many contributors to Lydia’s blog, like you, ChristSeeker, Rad Miksa appear well grounded, mature in their faith, and knowledgeable.

You wrote: "this term can/often is employed in a non-visionary sense" DOES NOT imply that the term is never used in the visionary sense. It doesn't EXCLUDE that sense. Sheeesh!

RESPONSE: Exactly as I wrote in my text! Please examine it.

You wrote: Selecting the latter (that Luke made it up) because it makes it easier to deny that Paul saw Christ, is just inserting one's own bias into interpreting the passage. ANY passage could be "made up" if you want to treat it that way, but doing so isn't wrestling with the evidence in hand. You can assert that Luke made up Ananias, or that he made up Agrippa, or that he made up half of everything in Acts, but doing so is not analysis of the data before us.

RESPONSE: That is why I present opposing views, unlike you, in my text. And, in volume 2, I intended to interact in greater depth with several apologists (page limitations, publisher requisites, time, and health permitting). Please do the same in your responses, even if you are apologist and/or believer.

You wrote: And there we have the refuge of desperation.

RESPONSE: Not desperation. Not hyper skepticism. Just intellectual honesty presenting both sides. Try it, you may find it refreshing, and actually like it.

You wrote: Because, you know, that would explain why he left the safety of his house to heal his most dangerous enemy!

RESPONSE: False. You assert this opinion (i.e., the recorded accounts in Acts and elsewhere) because you are a believer. I assume that your assertion also is directed to clerics, ministers, priests, theologians, and former Christians not sharing your beliefs. It is great that we live in a free nation!

You wrote: Sorry, Lydia McGrew has spent the better part of 2 years here (and with her excellent book Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences) laying low the fraudulent bugaboo of "literary devices" by two-bit scholars,…

RESPONSE: The number of years that one spends researching and writing; going to school; attempting to master a discipline has no relationship to its accuracy or success. Here, figuratively, I am shooting myself in the foot having devoted approximately eleven years to my project. But think about this reality: many religious leaders: imams, rabbis, clerics, ministers, priests, theologians, etc. have devoted years of their lives to learn their calling [seminary/temple/yeshivah, etc.], teaching it (what they learned and believed) for years, and then “switched sides”… There are many reasons for these changes of allegiance. However, the takeaway message is that the number of years has no correlation to … Well, you know. And, to repeat, yes, here, in part, I am shooting myself in the foot, but hopefully with a Bee-Bee gun or cotton candy.


Take care

Mike

Off topic... since many assertions are made about the "obvious" dependence on Mark... here is an interesting short book (for those who don't have heard about it) written by John Rist on the independence of Matthew and Mark:

https://guardedacumenblog.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/john-m.-rist-on-the-independence-of-matthew-and-mark-society-for-new-testament-studies-monograph-series-1978.pdf

Also, that Matthew used Mark wouldn't undermine the idea that Matthew added details he knew about that Mark didn't include.

I am not going to bother responding to Mr. Alter's complete mis-read of my comment about scare quotes for "New Testament Scholars", anybody can read the comment I made and see. The only thing worth even half bothering about is this:

I said: Because, you know, that would explain why he left the safety of his house to heal his most dangerous enemy!

Mr. Alter's Response:

False. You assert this opinion (i.e., the recorded accounts in Acts and elsewhere) because you are a believer. I assume that your assertion also is directed to clerics, ministers, priests, theologians, and former Christians not sharing your beliefs. It is great that we live in a free nation!

Mr. Alter mistakes the nature of the argument. I am not here either assuming that Ananias really said what is reported, nor that Luke correctly reports what happened. What I am doing is pointing out the nature of the story that Luke is telling. Within the framework of the story being told, such a literary "device" makes no sense: if Paul really had been blinded, and yet he manifestly was NOT blind later on (i.e. when he went to Jerusalem), then SOMETHING had to fix it. If the story has Paul GET blinded as a literary device, then OF COURSE the healing too is a literary device, but then it makes no sense to pick out the HEALING as a literary device by itself. If Paul really was blinded, then asserting that Luke went about crafting a made-up story to REPLACE whatever really did cause Paul to get his sight restored is just a silly assertion, because WHATEVER was the actual cause would be adequate for a good story.

I am willing to look at a proposal that the character Ananias was made-up: if there is evidence to support it. I am willing to look at a hypothesis that the whole Damascus account was made up, if there is a rationale to make it work with the rest of the evidenced. I am even willing to look at a suggestion that Luke made up Paul out of whole cloth - as long as the idea manages the rest of the evidence adequately. Being a believing Christian does not prevent me from hearing such hypotheses out and weighing the evidence. But it is a far cry from THAT to the practice of throwing forward every silly hypothesis anyone ever thought of, willy nilly, as if they were all worth repeating, as if each one constituted a reasonable argument.

Oh, and there's this part:

Tony wrote: Starting with the basic principle that applies both in history and in story-making: a person doesn't tell, up front, EVERYTHING that happened just as it happened. They leave out details. Or, they skip details and later circle back and insert them. This is a basic fact of human nature.

Response: You are offering a speculation. You do not have the slightest way to know why the details in the three records in Acts differ. Both of us can parade proponents representing both sides of the religious aisle.

Once again Mr. Alter shows signs that he is writing in extreme haste and is not actually letting the point sink in. I am not here claiming anything about what Luke did or did not do. I am making a GENERIC point about human nature and how we tell stories. It applies both to when we recount something that we saw happened, and to repeating an account of events that we heard second-hand from others, and to accounts we make up as a story. Any observer of humans telling stories will easily find that we don't EVER tell every single thing that we observed, (we leave out bits that we deem inconsequential at the moment we are telling the story), and that as the story gets extended we sometimes recall a datum that IS relevant that happened earlier and we insert it "out of order" as it were to make the full facts more intelligible: we are not always perfectly orderly in our accounts.

This is not a "speculation", it is sheer observation of humans in action, a generalization about how humans behave in telling stories. It asserts nothing special about telling stories that we saw happen versus stories that we make up - it applies to both. If Mr. Alter somehow imagines that this amounts to some kind of "special pleading", he needs to get out in the world and interact with people more.

What my further analysis did was NOTE that Luke's account in ch. 9 (especially before we get to verse 17) has fewer details than ch 22 or 26. The later ones have more details. This is not "speculation". What is unknown as under scientific proof is whether the details in the later parts of Acts are perfectly ordinary instances of Luke (and Paul) circling back around to include details not mentioned earlier, or instances of the also perfectly ordinary behavior of making up things. My thesis is NOT that "people sometimes circle back to include more details out of order and therefore Luke and Paul MUST have been doing that". That's a frail argument indeed and if that's what he thinks I was saying he was going through what I said much too glibly. No, my point was that it is PLAUSIBLE that Luke and Paul were circling back to mention (real) details out of order because that's the sort of thing people sometimes do, and therefore having more details in the later accounts cannot be taken as a refutation of the earlier version. That there is a notionally possible way of reading Luke so as to contradict himself is true, but insisting on taking him that way (when other readings are available) defies ordinary common sense for interpreting a writer (any writer) unless additional evidence forces you to do so - the mere possibility does not by itself overcome the principle that one should try to read a work as being internally consistent if possible. Hence you cannot simply assert the mere possibility as if doing so could outweigh the natural presumption in favor of consistency.

Mr. Alter repeatedly fails to recognize the nature of the arguments being made here.

RESPONSE: The number of years that one spends researching and writing; going to school; attempting to master a discipline has no relationship to its accuracy or success. Here, figuratively, I am shooting myself in the foot having devoted approximately eleven years to my project. But think about this reality: many religious leaders: imams, rabbis, clerics, ministers, priests, theologians, etc. have devoted years of their lives to learn their calling [seminary/temple/yeshivah, etc.], teaching it (what they learned and believed) for years, and then “switched sides”… There are many reasons for these changes of allegiance. However, the takeaway message is that the number of years has no correlation to … Well, you know. And, to repeat, yes, here, in part, I am shooting myself in the foot, but hopefully with a Bee-Bee gun or cotton candy.

To Mr. Alter: (riffing on the one thing above)

I give a giga-"YES!" or even a tera-"YES!" to this. It is the weight of evidence and the quality of argumentation that carries the day. A winning argument can be short, even pithy, with but a few points; a losing argument can have a great pedigree with many citations. (And the situations can be reversed obviously.) Life is messy.

Yes, there are many "evangelical" anti-Christians now who used to be pastors, professors, clerics, etc, and have deconverted, and now want me to join them. They've "evolved" while I am benighted with my Bronze Age believe in a sky god. (Or so I read on the internet.) I've read some of their deconversion accounts. What is the point? Is it that I'm supposed to infer that just maybe there are issues with the Christian religion on the basis of such esteemed representatives "defecting"? What precisely is the point of this? I think that the idea is that some layman such as myself (who does not have the credentials) is supposed to be worried that people with the requisite alphabet soup or where were "in deep" with Xty now left it for whatever reasons they give, and therefore we are to conclude that there is probability that something might be rotten in Denmark.

But I have read these sorts of accounts over a quarter-century, and I think I've been intellectually honest with them (i.e. there are parts of Xty that I like and parts that I don't like, and its essential truth/falsehood has pros/cons for me on both sides) and find them lacking. In other words, if Christianity is essentially false, it likely isn't because of the reasons offered in these deconversion accounts. I find them lacking because they repeat the same stock skeptic objections, objections that I have personally studied and found to be not particularly strong. What has surprised me is that some of these high-level scholars or pastors seem to act as if they're unaware of the responses to these well-roasted chestnuts, or even of the assumptions that lie right behind making the objections in the first place. Cf Tim Sledge's Goodbye Jesus, a seeming favorite of the internet atheist types. His objections are standard skeptical ones, but I get the sense from reading his book that he doesn't even seriously consider the standard replies to the standard objections. You'd think that somebody would say why a harmonization won't work, or why a hyper-skeptical position in one place is justified but not another. I was shocked at how much his philosophical points reminded me of college dorm room intellectualizing or something (imagine some Pink Floyd album playing in the background). Nothing is really original, novel, new, or hasn't been discussed/responded to before. His biographical portion of the book (which is most of the book) is very interesting, and, taking his story at face value, I'd be bitter and feeling used up too. But the quality of argumentation leaves a lot to be desired. I can't speak for Sledge here, which would be arrogant, but as I read his book, the fact that he was apparently deep into Biblical study for all those years yet found the same old skeptical chestnuts convincing makes me wonder what or how he was studying. That is what I'd ask if he and I were at at some bar chatting about this stuff.

When I gradually and unexcitedly converted from skepticism to Xty in my early 20's I was hit with all these objections and what-abouts and what-ifs and why-didn't-God-do-it-some-other-way sort of questions, this time from the other side. Fairly immediate religious buyer's remorse and all that; I was forced to really study these things. How could somebody whose stock in trade is Biblical studies and such fail to have addressed these things early on?

I have great sympathy/empathy for those who deconvert or have a dark night of the soul about skeptical issues. Sometimes they want Xty to be true but they have trouble with some of the apparent problems, and sometimes it strikes me as after-the-fact rationalization for adopting a certain lifestyle that, if Xty is true, does not look favorably upon. Or they think they were sold a bill of goods, and are disappointed that what they thought were promises were not kept. Regardless, what matters is if they make a solid case, not their motivations. (CS Lewis's "Bulverism".)

I think the proper way to value scholarship and credentials is this: I value scholarship in the sense that there is a lot of spade work, mundane drudgery, and remote corners to explore, e.g. I would take a skeptic like Ehrman's factual statements about textual criticism at face value because these are objective facts. (I wouldn't want to collate manuscripts, for example, argh. Nor would I want to compare uncials or try to figure out what letter is in that faded spot of the manuscript, etc. This sort of stuff looks like it takes real work, late nights, and a stomach for tedium.) But going from facts to conclusions, especially where those conclusions impinge on metaphysics, theology, etc, is really a matter of being careful and thinking rigorously about such things. If, say, a distinguished ER surgeon wants to talk about what's going on in the bodies of the unfortunate souls who enter his ER, then he has authority. If he wants to opine on the plausibility of theism based on all the suffering he sees, then his medical diploma and standing as a surgeon offer him no advantage or head start; he must make an actual argument just like me (who is not a distinguished ER surgeon and does not have a medical pedigree). When somebody like Ehrman leaves the mostly-objective world of textual criticism and starts rattling off machine-gun style purported errors/contradictions in the gospels, he leaves his castle (where he is king) and again, he's no farther ahead of a layman like myself who is willing to actually read/study the Biblical texts, collate the facts, and form a conclusion. Thus, while a Lydia might not have the credentials that a Licona might have, it is her argumentation that carries her (or doesn't) against Licona's theses. I surely humble myself before (say) Hawking on objective matters of astrophysics, but (again) when he turns into a metaphysician, he's off his home soil and must make actual arguments. And as a professional mathematician, you shouldn't doubt me on my integrals or statistical error bounds, but if I start opining on the philosophy of mathematics, I am to be afforded no extra points.

So yes, I like what you've said very much, and I'm doubtless riffing too much here stream-of-consciousness for anybody's good. Too lazy/sick to edit as well, so forgive the doubtless many typos and grammar errors.

Joe, this is exactly right. Thank you for a well-stated clarification of using (or not using) credentials and "time spent" on a subject.

I referred to Lydia McGrew's work on this subject not because she has spent more time doing it, but because she has been making better arguments, repeatedly, consistently, on a sustained basis, over that time. I have (mildly) criticized one or two of her minor points in that long stretch, but on 99.9% of it she has simply mopped the floor up with the other views that she has opposed.

Being a Ph.D. herself, she knows the KIND of work it takes to make a good, careful, scholarly and well-reasoned argument, and she has applied that formal training to a subject (let's call it: the way evidence bears on the reliability of NT) outside of the subject of her original expertise, English. But she has published peer-reviewed work on the general subject of knowledge theory / epistemology, and thus can be understood to be somewhat of an expert in that field. Others, who ARE acknowledged experts in the related or sub-field of the way evidence bears on the reliability of the NT, admit the quality of her work in that area, which is an application of the theory of knowledge and epistemology, so it's not reasonable to argue that in coming to the subject after she obtained an expertise in the field of English, she cannot have achieved an expertise in this distinct field. She has the chops to be taken seriously as a scholar on this topic.

But it is not in virtue of that background that I referred to her work. It is in virtue of the sustained quality of her arguments, which are comprehensively superior to those being made for the opposing views. Nor was I referring just generically to any and all of her arguments about the NT, but in particular about her treatment of certain claimed "literary device" hypotheses. Now that we have seen just how poor those hypotheses are, HERE making unsupported references to a passage by suggesting that "it might be a literary device" carries only a gram or so more weight than a cartographer saying "and some theorize that the Earth is flat".

I agree completely with Tony. (What else is new?)

Not wanting to sound iconoclastic or too idiosyncratic, but I think this stuff is all critical thinking and a willingness to track down details, really. A well-read layman ought to be able to meaningfully evaluate Licona vs McGrew. (I think that I can, at least, and I'm pretty convinced that I'm not particularly special, perhaps a bit stubborn and intellectually combative yes, but nobody ever compared me to Aquinas.) I hope this assertion that it is in the end critical thinking does not come across as arrogant, or implying that I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.


RESPONSE: (1) But Matthew copies and edits Mark; and Luke copies and edits Mark and Matthew… Discussed earlier… (2) The NT records are a significant foundation employed to evangelize those of other faiths. Yet, these recorded testimonies differ. Theories exist on both sides of the religious aisle for these differences (edits, or redactions, or modifications). Therefore, if I understand your position, a person is expected to replace his or her faith with Christianity (and all of its ramifications: rejection of his or her religion, culture, traditions; and possible loss of family, friends, acquaintances, etc.), based on contrasting/differing testimonies.

Yes, stories will naturally differ when told by different people. Why should the New Testament differ from this basic fact of reality?

RESPONSE: Yes, in terms of time and space.

Hence, my original response.

RESPONSE: False. Just look at the conception of Jesus and his genealogy. If Jesus was conceived without his mother (Matt 7:14; “virgin conception”) having physical relationships, he could not be from the line of David. The Torah (Num 1:1-18) is explicit; the line must be through the biological father…The Messiah must be a member of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and a direct descendant of King David & King Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-14; 1 Chronicles 22:9-10). Genealogy in the Hebrew Bible is ONLY passed down from father to son (Numbers 1:1-18). So why then, would the author of Matthew include an error in his gospel (and at the very beginning) that can be easily debunked?

Firstly, even assuming you're correct, the two situations aren't even remotely comparable. Jesus' birth is situated at least fifty years in the past relative to Matthew, and it was a fairly private event. Paul's conversion was a public event with three witnesses to attest to it - which happened roughly thirty years before Acts' composition.

Secondly, the fact that Jesus' virgin birth is somewhat hard to square with him being David's descendant is evidence of the virgin birth's historicity.

Thirdly, Matthew's audience would have likely understood Mary's lineage as coming from that of David's. And Joseph's lineage, being Jesus' step father, would have also been applicable to Jesus. The claim isn't easily "debunked."

Lastly, Matthew clearly had no qualms about claiming Jesus was the Messiah while also claiming he was virgin born. He obviously didn't think his own text was contradictory or easily debunked.

RESPONSE: This example is beyond typical slipshod methodology. Let’s clearly understand: This quotation from ancient literature is beyond odd. The author of Acts has Jesus quoting a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic (“in the Hebrew language”). But the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same “ familiar quotation” and the same situation. In both cases we have a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. Paul even used the plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line. This topic is extensively discussed and referenced in my volume 2.

The problem here should be obvious. You're not actually showing me where this alleged quote is. How can I respond to an invisible argument?

RESPONSE: This is a free country. I read material from both sides of the religious aisle and present both sides of the argument. I care what both sides say… I have devoted approximately 11 years visiting Christian seminaries (Moody, Trinity International, Liberty University, SWBTS, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Criswell Theological, and many more) to specifically examine the arguments in favor of Jesus’s resurrection. At least I gave it (my research) a good faith effort: time and money. Respectfully, can you make a similar claim?

The problem here is that I cannot evaluate his argument - you're only giving me his unsupported opinion. And I don't care about his opinion.


RESPONSE: The consensus (although there exist critics and doubters) is that the author of Luke is the author of Acts. And, presumably Luke was a companion of Paul. Nonetheless, there are several inconsistencies (discussed in the literature that I assume you are familiar) found in Acts and Luke. An honest appraisal is that there is much we do not know. Why do you assume that Luke was already considered an apostle and equal to Peter and co? Is this opinion based on Colossians 4:14? A comment found online, and of course there others exist):

"An apostle is sent to deliver or spread those teachings to others. The word "apostle" has two meanings, the larger meaning of a messenger and the narrow meaning to denote the twelve people directly linked to Jesus Christ. We can say that all apostles were disciples but all disciples are not apostles."

If the author of Luke/Acts never saw Jesus and never directly linked to Jesus during his 1 or 3 year ministry, he could not be co-equal to the twelve disciples.

I never claimed Luke saw Jesus...anyways, Peter and Paul were equals. Paul was an apostle. What is in dispute here?

RESPONSE: This is just your opinion. Others, on both sides of the religious aisle probably disagree. You continued: “He obviously approved what Anan had to say...because he quoted him!” In actuality, the author of Acts recorded the episode.

What? In this portion of Acts, Paul is quoting something Ananias said to him approvingly. That isn't my opinion, that's literally how the story goes.

RESPONSE: Please read pages 4-5. By the way, you can call me Mike. I am very down to earth.

Well, Mike, you've put me in a bit of a bind here. I don't have any access to your book - if you could summarize your arguments here, that would would be very helpful.

RESPONSE: I partially agree. However, independent multiple attested texts (criterion of multiple attestation) would be preferable. This topic (criteria of historicity) is extensively discussed in the literature.

As far as Paul's conversion goes, it's not as if we have much of anything outside of Acts. In fact, as far as I'm aware, we only have Acts. So while independent corroboration would be nice, it's not the end all be all to determining what is and isn't historical. For example, Josephus writes about a lot of stuff that nobody else writes about, but there's no reason we should dismiss him on these points because there's no independent corroboration. Other factors need to be taken into account.

Also, what does Tovia have to say about Acts? How are his comments relevant to the historicity of this particular incident in Acts?

Therefore, if I understand your position, a person is expected to replace his or her faith with Christianity (and all of its ramifications: rejection of his or her religion, culture, traditions; and possible loss of family, friends, acquaintances, etc.), based on contrasting/differing testimonies.

Heavens no, what a cardboard caricature of why a person would convert from paganism to Christianity! Or from Judaism to Christianity. Or, frankly, from ANY religion to another.

In the first place, particularly in the early years there were no NT documents, the evangelization would have been by word of mouth. Thus the rationale to convert would start with the person of the evangelizer, and what he says: Faith comes through hearing.

Secondly, the motive to convert would come from how the word preached satisfied the hearer's thirst for truth: if nothing St. Paul preached struck the hearer as being true in a more satisfying way than what he already held, then he would walk away. If something DID satisfy him as being more true than what he already held, or at least possibly true with determination delayed until later, then the hearer would continue to listen.

Next, the persuasion to convert would involve observing the behavior and life of the preacher, such as St. Paul: did Paul follow his own claimed rules and beliefs? Was he instead a fraud, saying "do as I say, not as I do"?

Not least, the hearer would pay attention to whether what Paul preached and what he did in action was, in itself, a better thing than what others did. One of the things we can say of varying religions - without making a specific and definitive alliance with any one of them - is that a good religion should make of man something better than a beast or a savage. A comment (by those who were not Christians) on the preaching to forgive those who do you harm might be "that sort of thing is more divine than human, you are asking too much of us - but very fine indeed if it could be so". Unbiased non-Christians would not view such a demand as making men something warped and disgusting.

Tied to the very same critical thoughts, the hearer would ask whether and how the preacher gains by preaching this new religion: does he rake in the dough, enjoy fame and glory, get lots of wine, women and song to indulge in? Does he, instead, suffer hardship, poverty, beatings, dishonor, and rejection? If the latter, it is generally held to be evidence at least of sincerity, though it does not preclude that the preacher is simply mistaken.

And finally, if the preacher claims that there are miracles in his religion, and then does miracles, this is held to be an attestation of his bona fides. Indeed, this was part of the establishment of bona fides by the prophets of the Old Teastament, as well as of the NT Christian preachers. CF. Elijah and priests of Baal.

The combination of (a) preaching a difficult way of life, (b) not being a hypocrite, but following that way of life (c) not gaining (by preaching) anything that would stand easily as an ulterior motive, (d) accepting true hardship with good will, and (e) producing miracles, is certainly a non-trivial combination of evidence in favor of the new religion being preached.

Nobody ever said that one ought to convert merely because there is a set of NT books that describes a new religion. There are few if any who could perceive in the written word alone enough evidence to lead to conversion, and it is fitting that faith come through the influence of actual real live persons.

Hello Nobody special, Callum, Tony, and ChristSeeker:

Nobody special wrote: here is an interesting short book


RESPONSE: (1) Everybody is special and (2) thank you for the suggested reading.

Callum wrote: “Also, that Matthew used Mark wouldn't undermine the idea that Matthew added details he knew about that Mark didn't include”

RESPONSE: An alterative is Mark did not include these details in his gospel because they did not exist until Matthew invented them.

Tony wrote: “What I am doing is pointing out the nature of the story that Luke is telling…makes no sense.”

Response: (1) Feel free to call me Mike. (2) Robert Price offers an opinion. Please see (Google search): The Legend of Paul's Conversion - We Have Ways of Making You Talk. Or, possibly Ananias displays his trust in the Lord by acting in obedience in contrast to Jonah, or perhaps Luke a physician reports a healing episode or perhaps Luke Timothy Johnson (on the internet) wrote, “makes a fascinating point: although Saul is cast as an oppressor in Acts 8-9, he is open to God’s call with the first revelatory experience and with another vision (Johnson, Acts, 164). Saul, it seems, simply needed direction on the straight path; he has always been open to God. The “laying on of hands” which Ananias is instructed to perform is a means of choosing someone for a divine task (as well as healing).” Or…

Tony wrote: Being a believing Christian does not prevent me from hearing such hypotheses out and weighing the evidence. But it is a far cry from THAT to the practice of throwing forward every silly hypothesis anyone ever thought of, willy nilly, as if they were all worth repeating, as if each one constituted a reasonable argument.

RESPONSE: Partially correct. However, your opinion can be applied in both directions (for detractors). There are, in fact, scholarly detractors who take the view that these episodes are not historic (embellished, legendary, mythological, etc.) when Acts is viewed as a whole: (1) Jesus’s appearance and conversation with his disciples, (2) Jesus’s ascension, (3) Judas’s demise = exploding intestines; (4) Pentecost; (5) the number of converts, (6) the Apostles heal many (7) portions of Stephen’s speech and death, (8) more healings (9) Saul’s travel to Damascus; i.e., authority] (10) conversion experience, (11) Ananias’s healing (12) Peter’s escape, etc…

Tony wrote: I am making a GENERIC point about human nature and how we tell stories…

RESPONSE: Again, I must point out that what is a GENERIC point about human nature is not the point. The point is that these accounts (generic or otherwise) are often employed as proof texts and tools to evangelize. Consequently, their historicity, reliability, and trustworthiness is a vital factor to consider when someone is being asked to change his or her faith. In the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” Luke says at the end of the movie: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Then, he get shot in the throat…

Tony wrote: The later ones have more details. This is not "speculation".

RESPONSE: Correct. But note that Luke (the presumed author) wrote these accounts. Therefore, this is not a totally valid point. In the Gospel narratives, we have embellishments spanning multiple years and by multiple authors. In addition, although the earliest chapter in Acts (#9) has more details, highly significant details appear in chapter 26: The Lord spoke the Pauline commission to Paul (vs. 16-18).

Tony wrote: Mr. Alter repeatedly fails to recognize the nature of the arguments being made here.

RESPONSE: Cool Hand Luke.

Tony wrote: Life is messy.

RESPONSE: I agree. Especially if you go to a hospital…

Tony wrote: What has surprised me is that some of these high-level scholars or pastors seem to act as if they're unaware of the responses to these well-roasted chestnuts, or even of the assumptions that lie right behind making the objections in the first place.

RESPONSE: I assume that they have similar responses about their detractors. What some of them express is that believers (especial apologists) often appear to be writing to each other, and then they nod their head in agreement… [a paraphrase] In my preface (xlvii, I quoted Gary Habermas: To date, too many evangelicals have been complacent, largely attempting to write to each other, repeating old presentations of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection without really grappling with contemporary concerns. For this we deserve critic.”

Joe Lightfoot wrote: I have great sympathy/empathy for those who deconvert or have a dark night of the soul about skeptical issues.

RESPONSE: Your humanity is greatly appreciated.

Joe wrote: So yes, I like what you've said very much, and I'm doubtless riffing too much here stream-of-consciousness for anybody's good. Too lazy/sick to edit as well, so forgive the doubtless many typos and grammar errors.

RESPONSE: What a wonderful response (and not just this paragraph). Thank you for expressing your awesome words! If everyone could just be honest, open, and respectful.

Like you, I have my limitations. Unfortunately, I type with one finger (except upper case letters – all of my ten books) and, I am not a wordsmith. Fortunately, I have a few volunteers who are offering their valuable time to look over and comment on my current draft (and assisted with my earlier works). Of course, I am responsible for any errors. And, yes, there are a few minor glitches in volume one. One is really pathetic…

Returning to your thoughtful words, “Thus, while a Lydia might not have the credentials that a Licona might have, it is her argumentation that carries her (or doesn't) against Licona's theses.” I absolutely agree. I really enjoy listening to Lydia’s podcasts that challenge Mike Licona and others. She, like her soul mate, make an awesome combination. But, then again, they are soul mates…

Previously, I mentioned: Easter is soon approaching. The topic of Jesus’s resurrection is compelling, relevant and current for those, on both sides of the religious aisle. In addition to Volume 2, currently being edited by several external readers, I have almost completed a third text tentatively called A Thematic Access-Oriented Bibliography of Jesus’s Resurrection. Soon, I hope to send a proposal to a publisher. The partially annotated bibliography organizes more than 7000 English sources including sources that represent a diverse range of views (no journals, only books) into twelve main categories and then thirty-four sub-categories. The objective of this bibliography is to provide convenient access to relevant sources from a variety of perspectives allowing the researcher to browse or find the one source with ease, and accurately. I would prefer that a significant Christian publishing house publish this work. REALLY! So, please let me know IF you have any suggestions or contacts.

My goal is to provide useful information to both sides of the religious aisle about any important topic..

Tony wrote: Joe, this is exactly right. Thank you for a well-stated clarification of using (or not using) credentials and "time spent" on a subject.

RESPONSE: We seem to be in the same choir.

ChristSeeker wrote: Firstly, even assuming you're correct, the two situations aren't even remotely comparable. Jesus' birth is situated at least fifty years in the past relative to Matthew, and it was a fairly private event. Paul's conversion was a public event with three witnesses to attest to it - which happened roughly thirty years before Acts' composition.

RESPONSE: Here, you are speculating. If you permit, you and others believe the historicity of Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2. In contrast, detractors do not share your belief. You added, “it was a fairly private event.” Question: How do you know?

Similarly, you and others believe the historicity of Paul’s travel to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26). Again, in contrast, detractors do not share your belief. This topic is discussed in Volume 1, and in greater detail in volume 2. Furthermore, others have written works that question the accounts found in Acts.

You wrote: Secondly, the fact that Jesus' virgin birth is somewhat hard to square with him being David's descendant is evidence of the virgin birth's historicity.

RESPONSE: As a believer, that is your opinion. The bottom line is that Scripture requires a biological father (Numbers 1 and elsewhere): to be a blood/seed descendant of David. Respectfully, your belief contradicts Scripture. Here, you are perhaps employing cognitive dissonance. Do you really believe that Scripture (Numbers 1: 1-18) is in error?

You wrote: Thirdly, Matthew's audience would have likely understood Mary's lineage as coming from that of David's. And Joseph's lineage, being Jesus' step father, would have also been applicable to Jesus. The claim isn't easily "debunked."

RESPONSE: False. Being a stepfather does not count. The Tanakh is clear: direct biological (seed) lineage is required, not a stepfather. Again, read Numbers 1:1-18!

You wrote: Lastly, Matthew clearly had no qualms about claiming Jesus was the Messiah while also claiming he was virgin born. He obviously didn't think his own text was contradictory or easily debunked.

RESPONSE: So, Matthew is in error! (1) Employing the Septuagint, not the Hebrew (2) misinterpreting the context = read Isaiah chapters 5-11, not just one verse (7:14) taken out of context; (3) mistranslation of almah; (4) the anonymous author of Matthew believes in Jesus. He is forwarding his theological agenda (fulfilled verses). Intellectual honesty, entire books, chapters, and journal articles have been written on this topic. If possible try to listen to the lesson by R. Ariel bar Tzadok at KosherTorah.com available free online: The Coming of the Messiah,
Prophecies of the End of Days : Jewish Insights into Christian Interpretations of Jewish Scriptures
. Then, scroll down to The Sign of the Son, Isaiah 7:14 in Judaism & Christianity

You wrote: The problem here should be obvious. You're not actually showing me where this alleged quote is. How can I respond to an invisible argument?

RESPONSE: Acts 26:14 New International Version
We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
Greek text: BibleHub [online or other sources] Acts 26:14 Parallel Greek

Euripides : "kicks against the pricks" (Euripides, Bacchae.)
Aeschylus:. "kicks against the pricks." (Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1624.)
Acts 26:13 "kicks against the pricks" (Luke quoting Paul's vision account)
Note on Euripides: The context is that Dionysus discards his divine nature and walks in the human world disguised…Dionysus, the god disguised in human form, tells him that his efforts to resist the new movement will be completely worthless; he is not contending against flesh and blood, but against a god. “You are mortal, he is a god. If I were you, I would control my rage and sacrifice to him, rather than kick against the pricks” [From Euripides, The Bacchae]. Source:

A. N. Wilson, Paul:The Mind of the Apostle (W. W. Norton & Co., N.Y., 1997), pp. 75-76.
Various translations are available online.

You wrote: I never claimed Luke saw Jesus...anyways, Peter and Paul were equals. Paul was an apostle. What is in dispute here?

RESPONSE: Sleeper (1965, 395) posited that according to 1 Corinthians 15:1–11, Paul defined his apostleship in terms of two essential criteria: a commission and a resurrection appearance. Since Paul unequivocally claims that he saw Jesus (1 Cor 15:8), by definition he fulfills the classification of an apostle. Paul’s claim that he saw Jesus had profound political implications. Significantly, Paul was putting his vision of the risen Jesus (whether real or imagined) on an equal footing with those of the other apostles. Therefore, Paul was, in effect, insisting that he was an apostle, that is, one specifically called and designated by God (and later Jesus himself) to take a leadership role in the early church. More importantly, Paul stated unequivocally that he was equal to all the apostles (Pyysiäinen 2007, 61, 67–68). The ramifications here are monumental.

You wrote: Well, Mike, you've put me in a bit of a bind here. I don't have any access to your book - if you could summarize your arguments here, that would would be very helpful.

RESPONSE: Sorry and no problem. (1) Thanks for calling me Mike (2) You can read those pages at Amazon (snip-it no pagination) or Google (easier to locate using its word search). Type: The Resurrection A Critical Inquiry. Scroll down and do a word search: TOPIC 2 REASONS WHY THE GOSPELS and OTHER PORTIONS of the CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES WERE WRITTEN.

You wrote: Also, what does Tovia have to say about Acts? How are his comments relevant to the historicity of this particular incident in Acts?

RESPONSE: You discussed the phrase The Righteous One… 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;” This verse is from Acts 22:14 where Ananias is quoted. Rabbi Singer elaborates on this verse that it is taken from Jeremiah 23.

Tony wrote: Heavens no, what a cardboard caricature…

RESPONSE: There is a difference between evangelism from the years 33-70 CE and today. In the first century, if a Jew accepted Jesus, he/she still went to Temple and offered sacrifices, believed in monotheism (no Trinity), did not believe that Jesus was God (Hos 11:9 AV), believed the Sabbath was Saturday, kept kosher, believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and there was no concept of Hebrews 8:13.

Today, there are a host of reasons why Christians seek to evangelize Jews: (1) Altruism (saving us from damnation John 14:6; Acts 4:12), (2) the Great Commission Matt 28:16-20, (3) to the Jew first (Rom 1:16), (4) Jesus went to the Jews, (5) The Second Coming (for many, the Second Coming is contingent upon the Jews accepting him as their savior, (6) Gen 12:3, (7) emotional reasons – faithful Jews remind Christians that their god and beliefs are false, (8) replacement theory, (9) Either Jesus is the Messiah for all, or He is not the Messiah at all, (10) family factors, (11) marriage, etc.

Returning to my statement: The foremost reason asserted by many/most missionaries, evangelicals, and theologians to convert to Christianity is Jesus’s resurrection. Of course, many might say that they also desire a personal relationship with Jesus/God and be guaranteed a future afterlife (Jesus died on the cross for mankind’s sins.).

[Or, the 11 reasons listed above]

So the stories recorded in the NT do matter. It is these stories (the Resurrection narratives and accounts found in Acts, that are often [I did not say always] employed to convince Jews and others to convert. Christians desire Jews to convert (and often that includes Hebrews 8:13). Now then, my previous statement is multifaceted, including preventing a buyer’s remorse. Before one is willing to replace his or her faith with Christianity (and all of its ramifications: rejection of his or her religion, culture, traditions; and possible loss of family, friends, acquaintances, etc.), the proof had better be more than EXTRAORDINARY.

You wrote: Nobody ever said that one ought to convert merely because there is a set of NT books that describes a new religion.

RESPONSE: I agree.

You wrote: There are few if any who could perceive in the written word alone enough evidence to lead to conversion,

RESPONSE: Agreed. But, please examine the numerous books or tracts in bookstores, libraries, online; explore the numerous magazines/journals; listen to the numerous sermons on radio, TV, or the internet, written or spoken to convert Jews. What strategy do they OFTEN employ? Biblical proof texts from Scriptures, Jesus’s resurrection, the numerous miracles… In my opinion, the most effective tool for any faith to employ is a personal testimony and the way one lives his or her life. Therefore, I absolutely agree with your closing words: “it is fitting that faith come through the influence of actual real live persons.”

Have a good and safe weekend.

Mike

RESPONSE: Here, you are speculating. If you permit, you and others believe the historicity of Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2. In contrast, detractors do not share your belief. You added, “it was a fairly private event.” Question: How do you know?

Similarly, you and others believe the historicity of Paul’s travel to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26). Again, in contrast, detractors do not share your belief. This topic is discussed in Volume 1, and in greater detail in volume 2. Furthermore, others have written works that question the accounts found in Acts

CS: How am I speculating? I'm literally just repeating information from the narratives themselves.

Yes, I tend to believe that Acts is recounting an actual historical event, for reasons I've gone into above. Namely, that the account describes a very public and physical event with multiple witnesses to attest to it. (Also, mind you, the fact that some people hold a differing opinion means very little. Some people think that 2+2=5, but that's hardly relevant to the actual truth of the matter.)

As for comparisons between Acts and the Bacchea, here's this link: http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/dionysus.php

RESPONSE: As a believer, that is your opinion. The bottom line is that Scripture requires a biological father (Numbers 1 and elsewhere): to be a blood/seed descendant of David. Respectfully, your belief contradicts Scripture. Here, you are perhaps employing cognitive dissonance. Do you really believe that Scripture (Numbers 1: 1-18) is in error?

CS: You're going to have to actually prove what you're saying: namely, that Numbers means what you're saying it means. And, as I said before, Jesus was biologically descended from David - through Mary.

Secondly, my argument is that Matthew would not have included the virgin birth into his Gospel if he was creating stories ex nihlio.

RESPONSE: False. Being a stepfather does not count. The Tanakh is clear: direct biological (seed) lineage is required, not a stepfather. Again, read Numbers 1:1-18!

CS: I have read this passage before, and your interpretation is not exactly self-evident.


RESPONSE: So, Matthew is in error! (1) Employing the Septuagint, not the Hebrew (2) misinterpreting the context = read Isaiah chapters 5-11, not just one verse (7:14) taken out of context; (3) mistranslation of almah; (4) the anonymous author of Matthew believes in Jesus. He is forwarding his theological agenda (fulfilled verses). Intellectual honesty, entire books, chapters, and journal articles have been written on this topic. If possible try to listen to the lesson by R. Ariel bar Tzadok at KosherTorah.com available free online: The Coming of the Messiah,
Prophecies of the End of Days : Jewish Insights into Christian Interpretations of Jewish Scriptures. Then, scroll down to The Sign of the Son, Isaiah 7:14 in Judaism & Christianity

CS: Okay, Mr. Alter, you're starting to stray into "what the heck are you talking about" territory. I'm trying to be charitable here, but this is moving goal posts.


RESPONSE: Acts 26:14 New International Version
We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
Greek text: BibleHub [online or other sources] Acts 26:14 Parallel Greek

Euripides : "kicks against the pricks" (Euripides, Bacchae.)
Aeschylus:. "kicks against the pricks." (Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1624.)
Acts 26:13 "kicks against the pricks" (Luke quoting Paul's vision account)
Note on Euripides: The context is that Dionysus discards his divine nature and walks in the human world disguised…Dionysus, the god disguised in human form, tells him that his efforts to resist the new movement will be completely worthless; he is not contending against flesh and blood, but against a god. “You are mortal, he is a god. If I were you, I would control my rage and sacrifice to him, rather than kick against the pricks” [From Euripides, The Bacchae]. Source:

A. N. Wilson, Paul:The Mind of the Apostle (W. W. Norton & Co., N.Y., 1997), pp. 75-76.
Various translations are available online.


CS: Here's this quote for context:
σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα λακτίζειν] hard for thee, to kick against goads! i.e. it is for thee a difficult undertaking, surpassing thy strength, and not to be accomplished by thee (compare Gamaliel’s saying, Acts 5:39), that thou (as my persecutor) shouldest contend against my will. Ἡ δὲ τροπὴ ἀπὸ τῶν βοῶν· τῶν γὰρ οἱ ἄτακτοι κατὰ τὴν γεωργίαν κεντριζόμενοι ὑπὸ ἀροῦντος, λακτίζουσι τὸ κέντρον καὶ μᾶλλον πλήττονται, Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. ii. 173. Comp. Aesch. Agam. 1540 (1624): πρὸς κέντρα μὴ λάκτιζε. See other examples from Greek and Roman writers in Grotius and Wetstein; also Blomfield, ad Aesch. Prom. 331; Elmsl. ad Eur. Bacch. 794.

So basically, what we have is a common Greek/Latin phrase being used in two vaguely similar stories. Also, Paul could speak Greek, and would probably be somewhat acquainted with the literature and phrases of the day.

What did I say earlier about slipshod methodology?

RESPONSE: Sorry and no problem. (1) Thanks for calling me Mike (2) You can read those pages at Amazon (snip-it no pagination) or Google (easier to locate using its word search). Type: The Resurrection A Critical Inquiry. Scroll down and do a word search: TOPIC 2 REASONS WHY THE GOSPELS and OTHER PORTIONS of the CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES WERE WRITTEN

CS: Thanks, but for the sake of the lurkers, could you post just a small summary of your arguments?

Also, I don't particularly what Tovia has to say unless he actually addresses the historicity of Paul's conversion account.

Mr. Alter's comments seem to be of diminishing value:

Tony wrote: Being a believing Christian does not prevent me from hearing such hypotheses out and weighing the evidence. But it is a far cry from THAT to the practice of throwing forward every silly hypothesis anyone ever thought of, willy nilly, as if they were all worth repeating, as if each one constituted a reasonable argument.

RESPONSE: Partially correct. However, your opinion can be applied in both directions (for detractors). There are, in fact, scholarly detractors who take the view that these episodes are not historic (embellished, legendary, mythological, etc.) when Acts is viewed as a whole:

What? The response doesn't address my point in the least. Yes, we get that some people think the accounts are not factual. Got it. I wasn't disputing that. Nothing about the response shows how something I said was partially not correct.

Tony wrote: The later ones have more details. This is not "speculation".

RESPONSE: Correct. But note that Luke (the presumed author) wrote these accounts. Therefore, this is not a totally valid point. In the Gospel narratives, we have embellishments spanning multiple years and by multiple authors. In addition, although the earliest chapter in Acts (#9) has more details, highly significant details appear in chapter 26: The Lord spoke the Pauline commission to Paul (vs. 16-18).

Again, the "response" doesn't respond to what I said. That the Gospels of Mark and Matthew may have been drafted by multiple authors (over a long time period) whereas Luke is believed to have wrote all three accounts here DOES NOT speak against the point I made, that more details show up in the later account (26). Even if it were shown that in Matthew we have "embellishments" added spanning multiple years, Acts is a different work by a different author, and it should be considered in its own right. Nothing requires that Luke add embellishments in Acts if Matthew did in the gospel.

Tony wrote: I am making a GENERIC point about human nature and how we tell stories…

RESPONSE: Again, I must point out that what is a GENERIC point about human nature is not the point. The point is that these accounts (generic or otherwise) are often employed as proof texts and tools to evangelize. Consequently, their historicity, reliability, and trustworthiness is a vital factor to consider when someone is being asked to change his or her faith. In the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” Luke says at the end of the movie: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Then, he get shot in the throat…



This is a red-herring effort. Surely you are not suggesting that the question of whether Acts has non-factual material intentionally created by the author hangs on how later evangelists have chosen to use it to persuade others to convert! Nor is it a lot better to suggest that whether the totality of the evidence we have tends more toward Acts being historically reliable or unreliable is controlled in large part by how later evangelists have used the work.

Leaving that aside, you say "gain, I must point out that what is a GENERIC point about human nature is not the point." Maybe that's not YOUR point, but it certainly was mine. You cannot seriously ask us to entertain a suggestion that the plausibility of the proposition "maybe Luke made up later details" is not even slightly affected by the reality of the common human behavior of circling back to add details. (Or if you are seriously suggesting it, you are being laughably silly.)

And when you say "The point is that these accounts (generic or otherwise)" you misconstrue the words I used: Luke's (or Paul's) ACCOUNT is not what I was calling generic, my statement of a human behavior is what I was calling generic.

Tony wrote: “What I am doing is pointing out the nature of the story that Luke is telling…makes no sense.”

Response: (1) Feel free to call me Mike. (2) Robert Price offers an opinion. Please see (Google search): The Legend of Paul's Conversion - We Have Ways of Making You Talk. Or, possibly Ananias displays his trust in the Lord by acting in obedience in contrast to Jonah, or perhaps Luke a physician reports a healing episode or perhaps Luke Timothy Johnson (on the internet) wrote, “makes a fascinating point: although Saul is cast as an oppressor in Acts 8-9, he is open to God’s call with the first revelatory experience and with another vision (Johnson, Acts, 164). Saul, it seems, simply needed direction on the straight path; he has always been open to God. The “laying on of hands” which Ananias is instructed to perform is a means of choosing someone for a divine task (as well as healing).” Or…

Robert Price's commentary has not the least bit of bearing on my point. Whether Luke was reciting (or thought he was reciting) the actual facts, or was making up things, he would want the story to make sense as a story. Story tellers don't want their audience to walk away saying "what? that made no sense, man..." Whether we credit Ananias as a real person but Luke put words in his mouth, or we claim Luke made up the character, or we suggest Luke made up the whole Damascus event, in any of these, he would have wanted Ananias' actions and words to make sense internally as a story.

Now, you can make up a story of Paul being blinded and then cured. Internally, you will want the cure to "work" with the blinding. Or, if Luke had in hand ONLY the fact of Paul being blinded, he might make up a story about his remaining blind for the rest of his life if nobody knew who Paul was or what happened with the rest of his life, but he CANNOT make up a story of his remaining blind for the rest of his life if everyone has seen him walking around with vision. So he is constrained by what stories he can craft. If Paul actually had both been blinded and healed in Damascus (just taking it hypothetically, as I did the other options), Luke cannot make up a story that Paul gets his sight years later. Similarly, if Ananias really did do the healing, but actually said nothing of having a vision from God telling him to go over and heal Paul, Luke has a story-telling problem: how to insert a believable motive into the story that gets Ananias over to Paul for the healing. Luke cannot insert a motive that makes no sense out of Ananias' actions. So: on the hypothesis that the details as reported in ch 9 up to verse 10 are factual, it makes no sense for Ananias to just pop over to heal Paul without some kind of directive, and (it being a miraculous healing) that the directive come from God is more sensible than any other source. Luke cannot plausibly make up Ananias go over to do a healing because he felt like it, for example. Other hypotheses (such as that Damascus never happened to being with) don't undermine this point.

Hello Tim, Lydia, Tony, ChristSeeker and everyone else:

This morning I just became aware of an updated (April 13), detailed response to Tim's [Tim McGrew] critique of Vincent Torley's essay. The essay is an excellent response to Tim's criticisms and the purported shortfalls found in Vincent's work. I think that Tim and Lydia's readership will benefit by examining this essay. The essay is located over at theskepticalzone. And, of course, it would be interesting to read a response by Tim.

What do we know about Jesus’ burial?

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/what-do-we-know-about-jesus-burial/

Tomorrow, I will try to respond to Tony's latest post.

Have a good and safe Sunday.

Mike

Hello Tony and ChristSeeker [CS]:

Thank you for taking time to interact with us in this important and relevant topic:

CS: How am I speculating? I'm literally just repeating information from the narratives themselves.

RESPONSE: You are speculating (and believing) by espousing a position that cannot be confirmed by evidentiary proofs and facts. What the NT provides are claims of Jesus's resurrection, NOT evidentiary proof. Numerous scholars and theologians do not accept the purported historicity of the accounts in the Gospels, Acts 1, and 1 Corinthians 15. Of course, it can be pointed out that there exist vastly more writers that advocate your view. However, that reality is due to the fact that there exist a disproportionate number of Christian journals and Christian publishing houses. In addition, the number of Christian seminaries (over 260), its instructors (est. at 5,000-10,000), and the number of graduates from these institutions are motivated to publish works that support their beliefs. Furthermore, the narratives demonstrate plagiarism (Matthew copies Mark; and Luke copies Matthew and Mark); editing, embellishing, and legendary or mythological exaggeration; “differences”; contradictions; and seeking to fulfill political/theological agendas. Just repeating unconfirmed and unsubstantiated information from the sources listed above is, in effect, offering a speculation. As Judith Redman aptly stated (2011, 197) writing in the Journal of Biblical Literature: “The continued presence in Christian communities of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry until the time when these events were recorded is a guarantee only of the community’s agreed version, not the exact details of the event itself.”

You wrote: As for comparisons between Acts and the Bacchea, here's this link [i.e. Tektonics]:

RESPONSE: For a counter, please read:
Moles, John. “Jesus and Dionysus in ‘The Acts Of The Apostles’ and early Christianity.” Hermathena No. 180 (Summer 2006), pp. 65–104.

Hackett, John. “Echoes of the Bacchae in the Acts of the Apostles.” Irish Theological Quarterly 23, (1956): 350–366.

Price, Robert M. “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash.” In Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism. Vol. 1. Edited by Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck, 534–74. Leiden: Brill, 2005

CS: You're going to have to actually prove what you're saying: namely, that Numbers means what you're saying it means. And, as I said before, Jesus was biologically descended from David - through Mary.

Response: Numbers 1:18 [NIV] and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one

For example, in Wikipedia it is stated: In the Bible, family and tribal membership appears to be transmitted through the father. For example, a person is considered to be a priest or Levite, if his father is a priest or Levite, and the members of all the twelve tribes are called Israelites because their father is Israel (Jacob). Because of this they are called the "chosen people" by virtue of being "sons of Israel"; that is, the biological male descendants of Israel, who is referred to as their "father" in the sense that he is their lineal male ancestor.

In addition: THE CLAIM THAT JESUS DESCENDS FROM DAVID VIA HIS MOTHER MARY (LUKE CHAPTER 3) is erroneous because:
a) Luke 3 doesn’t mention Mary at all; it traces only Joseph’s genealogy.
b) Even if Luke were recounting Mary’s pedigree, family genealogy only goes through the father: Numbers 1:18. Jesus couldn’t trace himself back to King David through his mother. (Whether one is Jewish or not is determined by the mother, but tribal affiliation goes through the father).
c) Even if genealogy could go through the mother, Luke’s Mary descends from David’s son Nathan, and the Messianic line only goes through David’s son Solomon (II Samuel 7:12-14, I Chronicles 17:11-14, 22:9-10, 28:4-6).
d) Mary, as well, may descend from the cursed Jeconiah via Shealtiel and Zerrubabel: Matthew 1:12, Luke 3:27.
You wrote: CS: I have read this passage before, and your interpretation is not exactly self-evident.

RESPONSE: Here is a Christian source I found online
La Vista Church of Christ [online] Question:
Regarding biblical lineage: Was there ever a time in the course of history when Hebrew lineage was recorded through the female?
Answer:
Lineage was tracked through the males throughout the Bible. The only exception is in the case of Jesus because his father was God. You can see this in all the lineages where the fathers are listed. Mothers appear only rarely in such lists.

CS wrote: CS: Okay, Mr. Alter, you're starting to stray into "what the heck are you talking about" territory. I'm trying to be charitable here, but this is moving goal posts.

RESPONSE: I too, am not sure to what you are referring. I assume that your comment is in reference to my earlier reply: “RESPONSE: False. Being a stepfather does not count. The Tanakh is clear: direct biological (seed) lineage is required, not a stepfather. Again, read Numbers 1:1-18!" If so, I am attempting to demonstrate that Isaiah 7:14 cannot be employed as a proof text of Jesus’s lineage. Rabbi Tzadok’s lecture defeats the claim that Isaiah 7:14 is applicable to Mary’s virgin conception (Matt 1:23).

You wrote: So basically, what we have is a common Greek/Latin phrase being used in two vaguely similar stories. Also, Paul could speak Greek, and would probably be somewhat acquainted with the literature and phrases of the day.
What did I say earlier about slipshod methodology?

RESPONSE: Please attempt to see Moles, Hackett, or Price. Respectfully, they and others do not share your opinion. Also note:

It’s no surprise to find a quotation from ancient literature; the only peculiar thing is that Jesus should quote a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic (“in the Hebrew language”). But the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same “familiar quotation” and the same situation. In both cases we have a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. In Euripides the persecuted god is Dionysus, and his persecutor is Pentheus, king of Thebes. Just like Jesus, Dionysus calls his persecutor to account: “You disregard my words of warning . . . and kick against necessity [literally ‘against the goads’] a man defying god.” Paul even uses the plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line.
You wrote: Thanks, but for the sake of the lurkers, could you post just a small summary of your arguments?

RESPONSE: I will try… However, I want to provide a healthy reply. [PS I am hoping that volume 2 will only be about 350 book pages, excluding the end matter]. Your constructive comment is appreciated. But, remember, a major part of my reply includes a direct quote of the topic being discussed.

Tony wrote: Again, the "response" doesn't respond to what I said.

RESPONSE: There is probably a greater likelihood that multiple authors writing over a 30-70 year period would demonstrate more embellishments than a single author writing.

You wrote: Surely you are not suggesting that the question of whether Acts has non-factual material intentionally created by the author hangs on how later evangelists have chosen to use it to persuade others to convert!

RESPONSE. No, how could they (later evangelists = the 11) use it to evangelize if it was written after many of the 11 disciples had died? Instead, Acts could be employed by others (post ca. 62) to compliment some of the material in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere to evangelize the word. In addition, the author of Acts is apparently writing primarily about Paul (chapters 8-28). Part of his agenda is to boast his [Paul’s] CV.

Tony wrote: Luke cannot plausibly make up Ananias go over to do a healing because he felt like it,

RESPONSE: Of course, he could! However, he probably had a reason. Robert Price (The Legend of Paul's Conversion [online] speculates:

As for Luke's motive for the story, it is not far to seek. As is well known, Luke in Acts parallels Paul not only with Peter, but with Jesus as well…Lest there be a missing piece, Luke felt it needful to include a scene corresponding to Jesus' baptism by John, the starting point of his ministry (Luke 3:21-22). This is the function of the Damascus Road and Ananias sequence.

Take care.

Mike

You need to pay more attention to what is actually written, Mr. Alter:

Tony wrote: Luke cannot plausibly make up Ananias go over to do a healing because he felt like it,

RESPONSE: Of course, he could! However, he probably had a reason. Robert Price (The Legend of Paul's Conversion [online] speculates:

In saying "because he felt like it" , the antecedent of "he" is not Luke, but Ananias. "Ananias" is the most proximate noun, and referencing Ananias makes the statement sensible: If Luke had Ananias say "I came over to heal Paul because I felt like it", it would not be plausible - both because he needs to have heard about Paul being there to begin with, and because "I felt like it" is effectively a non-explanation, not an explanation. It could happen, but it is not plausible.

"Furthermore, the narratives demonstrate plagiarism (Matthew copies Mark; and Luke copies Matthew and Mark); editing, embellishing, and legendary or mythological exaggeration; “differences”; contradictions; and seeking to fulfill political/theological agendas."

Demonstrate.

DEMONSTRATE.

I'll have to go back and see where you actually demonstrated legendary embellishments as opposed to that blessed word 'speculate'.

Hello Callum:

Thank you for writing.

You wrote: "Furthermore, the narratives demonstrate plagiarism (Matthew copies Mark; and Luke copies Matthew and Mark); editing, embellishing, and legendary or mythological exaggeration; “differences”; contradictions; and seeking to fulfill political/theological agendas."
Demonstrate.
DEMONSTRATE.
I'll have to go back and see where you actually demonstrated legendary embellishments as opposed to that blessed word 'speculate'.

RESPONSE: Matthew copies Mark [Essentially plagiarizes] … For example, Robert Stein (1987, 52) includes the following information in his "Studying the Synoptic Gospels":

“Of the 11,025 words found in Mark, only 304 have no parallel in Matthew and 1,282 have no parallel in Luke. This means that 97.2 percent of the words in Mark have a parallel in Matthew and 88.4 percent have a parallel in Luke.”

Similarly, William Barclay (2008, 2), writing in his "Barclay’s Guide to the New Testament", writes about the same subject:

Mark has 661 verses; Matthew has 1,068 verses; Luke has 1,149 verses. Matthew reproduces no fewer than 606 of Mark’s verses, and Luke reproduces 320. Of the 55 verses of Mark which Matthew does not reproduce, Luke reproduces 31; so there are only 24 verses in the whole of Mark which are not reproduced somewhere in Matthew or Luke.

Why then, it must be asked, would Matthew, an alleged eyewitness and “presumably” an independent writer, need to borrow as much as 80% of Mark’s material, a non-eyewitness? How can Matthew attest to Mark if he copied Mark? It is absurd to think that Matthew, writing independently some years after Mark and employing only purported eyewitnesses, would be able to pen almost word-for-word 11,025 words found in Mark, with only 304 having no parallel in Matthew. In addition, how can it be claimed that Luke is independent of Mark and Matthew if he also penned almost word-for-word identical text? This reality can only exist if he is copying and reediting their works. In effect, there is only one source: the anonymous author of Mark, and his sources of information (not necessarily facts) are unknown.

Stop and think: How could Matthew reproduce 606 verses out of 661 verses without having a copy of Mark? Do you really think that the author of Matthew is hearing the same oral stories that Mark had heard approximately ten to twenty years earlier and hundreds of miles apart virtually word for word verbatim? Really? The same for Luke…

Here, we do not have facts… We have repeated and edited hearsay, and embellished “documents.” Furthermore, all we have is stories about how the disciples behaved before, during and after Jesus's crucifixion, but stories are not evidence, unless corroborated by independent sources. And, we know that independent sources can be contradictory (e.g. the JFK assassination, the 9-11 attack, etc.).

Embellishment:
Number of words about Jesus’s resurrection: Mark 16=0, Matt 28 =80, Luke 24 = 191, John 20 & 21= 283

When was Jesus endowed with the Holy Spirit: Mark 1:19 (baptism = adult): Matt 1:20 & Luke 1:35 at Mary’s conception; John 1:1 Jesus preexisted, he is the logos of God!

Pilate: Unmistakably, in all of the Gospel narratives the Jewish culpability is amplified and Pilate’s innocence and efforts to free Jesus are enlarged, reflecting an indisputable layering effect 


Mark 15 Pilate, the Jewish leadership, and the Jewish people agree that Jesus is to be crucified. Pilate orders the deed to be carried out.
Matt 27: 1) Pilate is warned by his wife via a dream to do nothing “with that just man”(v. 19); 2) Pilate shows he wants nothing to do with Jesus’ execution by the two-fold washing his hands and declaring “I am innocent of the blood of this just person’, (v. 24); and 3) the Jewish crowd responding, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” 

Luke: 1) Pilate declares Jesus innocent three times (vs. 4, 14, and 22); and 2) he tries to have King Herod assume the responsibility, but to no avail. 

John 18 and 19: In the Gospel of John (Ch. 18 and 19) Pilate again declares Jesus innocent three times (vs. 18:38; 19:4, 6). However, here: 1) the Jews threaten Pilate with an implied charge of treason against the state and suggest they will go to Caesar if Jesus is not executed (v. 19:12) and 2) Jesus is turned over to the Jewish people to be executed –not the Roman soldiers (19:16) 


Judas’ name is mentioned 22 times in the Christian scriptures: Mark 3, Matthew 5, Luke-Acts 6, and John 8. Raymond Brown (1994, 2:1396), commenting on this data wrote, “If that listing of NT works is correct chronologically, interest in Judas was progressive." 


Judas’s death: Mark (nothing), Matthew= hanged himself, Luke/Acts= intestines explode

Judas’s betrayal: Mark = no reason, Matthew = no reason; Luke = Satan entered Judas; and John = the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot



Judas and Jesus’s arrest: Mark = Judas assists; Matthew= assists; Luke = Judas leads the arresting crowds; John: Judas brings a detachment of soldiers and band of others who are armed.

Joseph of Arimathea: Mark = honorable counselor; Matthew rich and a disciple; Luke = good man, just man, did not consent, waiting for the kingdom of God; John= a disciple of Jesus and secretly feared the Jews

The Tomb: Paul = no tomb; Mark= hewed out of rock & rolled a rock against; Matthew = Joseph’s own tomb, new, and seal by a GREAT stone; Luke = hewed of stone and no man was laid; John = new, never was laid a man, but in a GARDEN!

The Messengers: Paul = nothing; Mark = young man; Matthew= dazzling angel of the Lord and face like lightning; Luke: two men, in shining garments, stand and inside; John= two angels and they suddenly disappear

The women witnesses: names, the number, actions… You can look up in my book.

The physicality of Jesus: Paul = spiritual resurrection; Mark = no appearance; Matthew = two women grasp the feet; Luke= Emmaus episode/offers to be touched/eating fish; John = Mary Magdalene perhaps grasps Jesus, shows his hands, permits Thomas to touch him, and he possibly ate with seven disciples

General embellishment & legendary growth: Mark= nothing; Matthew: many risen dead people/saints are seen and enter Jerusalem, two earthquakes, angel descends from heaven and terrifies the guard, the soldiers at the tomb & the bribe by the Jewish leadership, no ascension; Luke: Peter investigates the tomb alone, Emmaus episode, Thomas not present, ascension; John: Peter & the disciple race to the tomb and investigate it; the Doubting Thomas episode and his declaration; the fishing episode/the 153 fish, and Jesus reinstates Peter.

No hyper skepticism: Many, many embellishments. Please, no cognitive dissonance.

And, try to examine Vincent's response to Tim's review. The essay is located over at theskepticalzone.

What do we know about Jesus’ burial?

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/what-do-we-know-about-jesus-burial/

Tomorrow, I will be in the hospital. So perhaps, it will take two days to respond to your additional concerns.

Take care

Mike

Riffing to some things above...

Judas’ name is mentioned 22 times in the Christian scriptures: Mark 3, Matthew 5, Luke-Acts 6, and John 8. Raymond Brown (1994, 2:1396), commenting on this data wrote, “If that listing of NT works is correct chronologically, interest in Judas was progressive." 


Judas’s death: Mark (nothing), Matthew= hanged himself, Luke/Acts= intestines explode

How is this an issue? There is the simple usual harmonization. A successful skeptical argument would have to argue that it is highly unlikely that the simple harmonization took place. These sorts of arguments are very difficult to make. Maybe you know of one; I don't.


Judas’s betrayal: Mark = no reason, Matthew = no reason; Luke = Satan entered Judas; and John = the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot



Implicit assumption: all four accounts have to say the same things in the same way. I reject that assumption; that's not how multiple testimony works. Again, what is the precise contradiction here?


Judas and Jesus’s arrest: Mark = Judas assists; Matthew= assists; Luke = Judas leads the arresting crowds; John: Judas brings a detachment of soldiers and band of others who are armed.

Same comment as above. Going all Wendy's c.1984 here: where's the beef?

Joseph of Arimathea: Mark = honorable counselor; Matthew rich and a disciple; Luke = good man, just man, did not consent, waiting for the kingdom of God; John= a disciple of Jesus and secretly feared the Jews

I'd hope four accounts of me would be this flattering. Again, what is the precise contradiction here? How is this a problem (i.e. taking the union of the four descriptions is not possible because....?)

The Tomb: Paul = no tomb; Mark= hewed out of rock & rolled a rock against; Matthew = Joseph’s own tomb, new, and seal by a GREAT stone; Luke = hewed of stone and no man was laid; John = new, never was laid a man, but in a GARDEN!

Same question as above. What is precisely the issue here? That different people describe different details?

The Messengers: Paul = nothing; Mark = young man; Matthew= dazzling angel of the Lord and face like lightning; Luke: two men, in shining garments, stand and inside; John= two angels and they suddenly disappear

The responses to this are obvious and plausible. First, for there to be a contradiction between accounts A and B, A would have to say "exactly one angel" and B would have to say "exactly two angels", and in addition A&B would both have to be explaining what the same eyewitness saw at the same time. Then you have a contradiction. But again, talking about "an angel" or "a man" does not preclude there being two. I don't see how these accounts are problematic. There could be multiple groups of people visiting at different times.

J. W. Wenham's Easter Enigma is a stimulating read on these sorts of things.

The women witnesses: names, the number, actions… You can look up in my book.
I'll bet a dollar it is the same sort of "contradictions" as demonstrated above.


The physicality of Jesus: Paul = spiritual resurrection; Mark = no appearance; Matthew = two women grasp the feet; Luke= Emmaus episode/offers to be touched/eating fish; John = Mary Magdalene perhaps grasps Jesus, shows his hands, permits Thomas to touch him, and he possibly ate with seven disciples

What precisely is the issue here that is supposed to lower my confidence in the general reliability of the gospels and Acts? You're using an argument from silence with Mark. If I'm reading correctly, the idea seems to be setting Paul against the gospels in terms of physical vs spiritual resurrection.

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-bodily-resurrection-of-jesus/

Where precisely would you assert that Craig goes wrong, or deep into implausibilities?

Next, turning to the larger issue, let's say there is in fact something irreconcilable in the gospels. Maybe there is a good solution, but I remember being vexed by how John keeps the hours vs the synoptics do. I think it is fair to be completely puzzled by that; I recall not being convinced about the proposed solution involving Roman hours vs Jewish hours either. (Going off memory from years ago here.) So let's say this is a real difficulty. OK, then what? What am I to conclude if there is some difference between John and the synoptics that I can't presently reconcile? Is this a fatal difference? Do I throw the baby out with the bathwater, and on the basis of a few difficulties of details declare the gospels unreliable?

Or let's just say John made a mistake --- therefore "inerrancy" is objectively false in this scenario. Where do you go with this? How does this hypothetical error on this one detail bring all the other broad brushstrokes down?

I think there are major problems with this nitpicky approach. First, I'd be applying a standard to the gospels that I don't apply to any other document, nor would I want the standard applied to myself. Second, I would be banking on the assumption that we know everything there is to know about the issue, which itself is quite questionable. Third, maybe this is derivative of the first, wouldn't we have to discard parts of ancient history on the basis of finding a single difficulty between different accounts? Since I think that how we approach the gospels should be the same as how we approach any other document, with the same standards and such applied, I find these problems interesting, but not fatal. I suppose a fourth problem would be: is it reasonable to expect documents that are almost two millenia old to not have any difficulties or things that give some pause? I think it is absurd to make that expectation, even under a classical view of inspiration or God's (somehow) guiding the documents directly or indirectly to a debatable degree.

I am not an inerrantist (don't tell my church). I've become a "general reliability" sort of guy. (This requires a new hairstyle, wardrobe, and set of friends.) A small problem here or there doesn't move my needle. A big problem would.

There is an unbridgeable gap between skeptics and (say) myself. A skeptic sees your list above, or sees Ehrman rattle off lists of "contradictions", and thinks these differences are, by themselves, prima facie evidence of unreliability. Somebody like me then says "but that is not how multiple testimony seems to work". Then I propose sensible solutions or harmonization to most the purported "contradictions", and for a very small number I admit that I don't know or am not aware of any good solutions. Then the skeptic says the harmonizations are desperate, forced, and the text doesn't directly say such things, and shouldn't the text have said something? At that point it is almost a retreat into metaphysics. I don't see myself as being the authority on what the texts "should" say, or what early Christians needed to say, in order to appease my own skeptical mind. My position is that we deal with what we actually have and make allowances for common sense and the way people speak and record things. And if we do that, the great majority of the skeptical objections lose all their force.

I think that, if I was to become an internet skeptic, my main goal would be to show that the classical positions and harmonizations take liberties and embrace increasingly implausible hotfixes to save the reliability of the gospels. I think that, if I successfully could do that, then I'd get some skeptical traction. So, while studying these things, I try to be somewhat skeptical and like the internet skeptics. Where are we conservative types taking liberties that we don't take with other documents? Where are we acting desperate and grasping for straws? I'm open to being corrected, but in my 25 years of lurking around skeptical sites, I don't really see anything that convincingly makes these points. I've read the atheist books, the deconversion books, etc; they don't move the needle. Either I'm completely deluded as to my critical faculties' power, or there's no skeptical "there" there.

As with all my own posts, I'm aware how derivative they are, and I hope I'm not coming across with any attitude that I'm original or novel or some sort of vanguard; I'm an internet rando, but I have studied these things a lot over 25 years post-conversion and somehow have enough ego to think the world needs to know my conclusions as of the present. (Usual comments about lack of editing, typos, and being a bit overly wordy.)

Wait: You can't use the thesis that Matt and Luke borrowed from Mark as a point against them, and also use their variance from Mark as a point against them.

First of all, if we accept that Mark was written first, what precisely is the objection to their borrowing from Mark? Is this somehow something only shysters and frauds do? If Mark had already laid out the skeleton of what Jesus was up to in his public ministry, such that he hit on the core and several of the non-core themes, then presumably anything Matt and Luke had to follow with would necessarily have the same skeleton: they were the same events, after all (or, at least, they would be claiming). Of course there is going to be a considerable overlap. What is not necessary is that the overlap extend even to the very same phrasings used to describe something - but NOT that they write the same words coming from Jesus (or other speakers).

But if you are going to object to Matt following Mark so much, you can't also object to Matt's departures from Mark where he gives new and interesting details. Presumably, if Mark's gospel came first and Matt knew of it, he wouldn't have bothered to produce a gospel of his own that was the very same thing as Mark's. What would be the point? No, if Matt wanted to write something after Mark's was already out there, it was because Matt wanted to add stuff that Mark didn't have. So of course there are additions. That's the nature of successive reporting: later reports won't copy earlier ones with nothing new to report.

And the same applies to Luke and John. Naturally they produced new stuff not in the prior works, because if they didn't want to bring out new stuff they wouldn't bother, and since Matt already got there (after Mark) before them, they are going to be telling stuff that isn't in Matt either.

None of this is hard to think about. Making mountains out of molehills is just stock-in-trade of NT skeptics.

Is there no fringe theory Alter will not endorse? If you said "spiritual resurrection" to a bunch of first century Jews you would be laughed at...if they could even understand what that meant.

For further information, see here: http://www.tektonics.org/lp/physrez.php

Ah, but remember: Allegedly Alter & Torley are just "following the consensus of scholarship." Right.

Hello Joe, CW, Tony, and Lydia:

Great to hear from you.

Joe wrote: “Again, what is the precise contradiction here?”

RESPONSE: My reply to ChristSeeker dealt with almost exclusively the topic of embellishing and legendary or mythological exaggeration. Insofar as your concern about “contradictions,” there are numerous chapters or articles on the internet that discusses this topic. By coincidence, even Bart Ehrman discussed this topic earlier in the week: What is a Contradiction? (April 15). Some points that he discusses:
(1) At this point “contradiction” becomes not a matter of pure semantic logic, but of sensibility.
(2) My point: there may be contradictions like that in the Gospels with one person saying, “No, it’s not actually a contradiction,” and others saying, “Of course it is.” Neither will convince the other. That means there’s not a whole lot to argue about, other than who is being sensible and who isn’t. Lots of arguments about possible contradictions end of being this sort of thing.
(3) So I completely understand that different people will have different standards of what a contradiction entails and different criteria of evaluation. You will need to decide what your own standards and criteria are.
(4) The debate may end up being over what is sensible.

Note for readers: Bart’s blog requests a donation of $24.95 per year. Every penny goes to charities that fight poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He has raised over $700,000! • The Urban Ministries of Durham, • Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, • CARE, • Doctors Without Borders.

And, yes, most blogs on the internet support your view, being written by Christian apologists. Nonetheless, it is instructive for both sides of the religious aisle to understand both sides of this topic. For example:

Sproul, RC - Difference or Contradiction? by R.C. Sproul
Shiflet, Rob - Isn’t the Bible Full of Contradictions? - Josh.org
Mike Licona Admits Contradiction in the Gospels | John Ankerberg Show - John Ankerberg Show
Law of non-contradiction | CARM.org
The Passover Contradiction [by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1980; Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, April 2005]
Bob Seidensticker: Contradictions in the Resurrection Account
John Tors: THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS: “Incompatible Contradictions” or Coherent History?

Definite contradictions:
Where was Jesus taken immediately after his arrest?
At what time was Jesus crucified? Please no contortionism and speculation about calendars…
When did Jesus die? Wednesday or Friday? This is not just a difference…
Did Jesus die on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15? Please no contortionism or speculation…
When did the Temple curtain tear?
What were Jesus’s last words? This is sometime the gospel writers had plenty of time to investigate. These are Jesus’s last words? Please read the words of Scroggie (1948:578 = in my text on page 124]
What was the day of the ascension


Joe wrote: J. W. Wenham's Easter Enigma is a stimulating read on these sorts of things.

RESPONSE: I have Wenham’s book and cite both it and a Journal of Theological Studies article (1981, 159-153) in my text. Authors should be respected for the time and effort expended to research and publish their works. Nonetheless, I see quite a bit of speculation (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) applied (bad humor).

Joe wrote: Then the skeptic says the harmonizations are desperate, forced, and the text doesn't directly say such things, and shouldn't the text have said something?

RESPONSE: I agree. Thank you for presenting an opposing idea although you may not agree with it. I respect your intellectual honesty, asking sincere questions, raising good points and the humility that have employed in this reply and others. Thank you!

Tony wrote: Wait: You can't use the thesis that Matt and Luke borrowed from Mark as a point against them, and also use their variance from Mark as a point against them.

RESPONSE: Matthew and Luke borrowed, copied, etc. from Mark. Then, they edited his work to meet the needs of the community and times he was write for. The same for Luke. These writers definitely embellish the text for theologetical, political, “apologetical,” reasons. A survey of the literature, written from BOTH sides of the religious discusses this point. However, it is recognized many/most apologists/ fundamentalists do not accept this assertion.

You add: So of course there are additions. That's the nature of successive reporting: later reports won't copy earlier ones with nothing new to report.

RESPONSE: Will you be willing to acknowledge that the gospel writers went beyond “successive reporting” and incorporated their own literary embellishments into the texts. If not, why?

You wrote: None of this is hard to think about. Making mountains out of molehills is just stock-in-trade of NT skeptics.

RESPONSE: Absolutely NO! Please understand that many evangelists and missionaries employ these texts as proof texts to evangelize and witness. Of course, many also employ their personal testimony. So then, this is NOT a matter of “Making mountains out of molehills.” Potentially, it is a matter of determining if one will change his or her faith. Therefore, you are wrong when you assert that this is “Making mountains out of molehills.” Perhaps, a traditional response would be that the issue ultimately deals with one relationship with God.

ChristSeeker wrote: Is there no fringe theory Alter will not endorse? If you said "spiritual resurrection" to a bunch of first century Jews you would be laughed at...if they could even understand what that meant.

RESPONSE: This is what Paul seems to be writing in 1 Corinthians 15, at least so say many, many theologians and scholars on both sides of the religious aisle. The later texts, Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts continually expand the physical nature of Jesus’s body. Of course, you could respond that that’s the nature of successive reporting. I, and others on both sides of the religious aisle prefer, that’s the nature of embellishing a text over time.

Lydia wrote: Ah, but remember: Allegedly Alter & Torley are just "following the consensus of scholarship." Right.

RESPONSE: Hello Lydia! No. If you and others merely obtain an interlibrary loan and examine my text, you will see that I present BOTH sides of the religious aisle with a heavy emphasis of apologists: Craig, Geisler, Habermas, Licona, Wright. And, I cite you in my second volume! And, in fact, the scholarly consensus supports the resurrection! Why? Because most of the writers on this topic are believers.

In another work that I hope to submit to a Christian publisher: A Thematic Access Oriented Bibliography of Jesus’s Resurrection, over 7,000 sources from books (no journals are identified). Gary Habermas and I have been in communication. I also visited Liberty University during a research trip and personally met him. And, he is really a great guy (and a definite Green Bay Packer fan). He too, has an extensive bibliography. In short, my research found that most of the sources (85-90 percent) are written by believers. So then, the consensus of the scholarship is, in fact, pro-resurrection.

If possible and appropriate, I would welcome your input regarding a legitimate and substantial Christian publishing house to submit my proposal before having heart surgery later this summer.

Now, I need to finish cleaning up for Pesach...

Take care

Mike

Where was Jesus taken immediately after his arrest?

To Annas, as John indicates. A brief, minor event, probably only a few houses away from the house of Kajafas. The other evangelists don't say that the soldiers led Jesus immediately to Kajafas.

At what time was Jesus crucified?

At some time in the morning. Timekeeping was very, very sloppy in those days. Half past ten is a plausible moment.

When did Jesus die? Wednesday or Friday?

Friday. All evangelists indicate this very clearly. Is there any reason to think otherwise?

Did Jesus die on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15?

The 14th of Nisan in 33 AD. The synoptic evangelists might be mistaken on this point, but maybe we don't understand the precise meaning of τῇ πρώτῃ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν ἀζύμων.

When did the Temple curtain tear?

About the time Jesus died. Is this a problem?

What were Jesus’s last words?

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

What was the day of the ascension?

Forty days after the resurrection. There is no reason to think otherwise.

Except that I opt for 15 Nisan (and I think there is no real problem between John and the Synoptics on that), I agree with all of those answers.

RESPONSE: This is what Paul seems to be writing in 1 Corinthians 15, at least so say many, many theologians and scholars on both sides of the religious aisle. The later texts, Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts continually expand the physical nature of Jesus’s body. Of course, you could respond that that’s the nature of successive reporting. I, and others on both sides of the religious aisle prefer, that’s the nature of embellishing a text over time.

As far as I'm aware, the idea that Paul believed in something other than a physical resurrection is an extreme minority position in today's scholarship. As far as embellishing is concerned, this is total nonsense. As far as any development is concerned, Matthew would have the most "developed" account of Jesus' Resurrection.

Except that I opt for 15 Nisan (and I think there is no real problem between John and the Synoptics on that), I agree with all of those answers.

I think 14 Nisan is the most plausible date for Jesus’ crucifixion, and I will explain why.

First of all, in Matthew 26:1-3 (and pars.), we read the following:

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

The day on which Jesus said “after two days the Passover is coming” must have been on Wednesday. On Thursday, he and his disciples ate the Last Supper and on Friday, he was crucified. However, what day on the Jewish calendar is meant with “Passover” (τὸ πάσχα)?

Sometimes, the word πάσχα seems to have been used as a designation of the entire period of festivals (e.g., Josephus, AJ 10.68, 14.2.1, 17.9.3, BJ 2.1.3). However, most of the time, the word is used very clearly and strictly for 14 Nisan:

1. In the Old Testament, the word “Passover” is used in this way:

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Lev. 23:5-6)

“Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.” (Num. 9:2-3)

“On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Lord's Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast.” (Num. 28:16-17)

“On the fourteenth day of the first month, the returned exiles kept the Passover.” (Ezra 6:19)

2. In the works of Josephus, the word “Passover” is used in this way:

“In the month of Xanthicus, which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year, on the fourteenth day of the lunar month (…) the law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which I before told you we slew when we came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover; and so we do celebrate this passover in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice till the day following. The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread[.]” (AJ 3.10.5)

“[A]nd they offered the sacrifice which was called the Passover, on the fourteenth day of the same month, and feasted seven days, and spared for no cost (…).” (AJ 11.4.8)

“So these high priests, upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh (…).” (BJ 6.9.3)

3. In the works of Philo, the word “Passover” is used in this way:

“Accordingly, in this month, about the fourteenth day of the month, when the orb of the moon is usually about to become full, the public universal feast of the passover is celebrated, which in the Chaldaic language is called pascha; at which festival not only do private individuals bring victims to the altar and the priests sacrifice them, but also, by a particular ordinance of this law, the whole nation is consecrated and officiates in offering sacrifice[.]” (On the Life of Moses II, 224)

“After the New Moon comes the fourth feast, called the Crossing-feast, which the Hebrews in their native tongue call Pascha. In this festival many myriads of victims from noon till eventide are offered by the whole people, old and young alike, raised for that particular day to the dignity of the priesthood. (…) With the Crossing-feast he combines (Συνάπτει) one in which the food consumed is of a different and un familiar kind, namely, unleavened bread, which also gives its name to the feast.”

As is shown, the sacrifice on 14 Nisan is called Passover, while the feast of seven days from 15 Nisan till 21 Nisan is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Combining the two points demonstrated so far, we can draw the following conclusion:

1. Jesus was crucified on the Friday that was called Passover.
2. The name Passover was assigned to 14 Nisan.
C. Therefore, Jesus was crucified on 14 Nisan.

The second reason can be found in the following verses:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Mat. 26:3-5)

What is meant by “the feast” (ἡ ἑορτή)? As mentioned above, the Passover on 14 Nisan was called a feast by Josephus and Philo. However, in the Old Testament and by Josephus as well, the seven days from 15 till 21 Nisan are especially called “feast”, in contrast to the Passover on 14 Nisan:

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Lev. 23:5-6)
“On the fourteenth day of the first month is the Lord's Passover, and on the fifteenth day of this month is a feast.” (Num. 28:16-17)
“The feast of unleavened bread succeeds that of the passover, and falls on the fifteenth day of the month, and continues seven days, wherein they feed on unleavened bread[.]” (AJ 3.10.5)

If Jesus was crucified on 15 Nisan, that would have been exactly what the chief priest didn’t want. On the contrary, 14 Nisan can be regarded as a day before “the feast”.

The third reason is the following verse in John:

They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. (John 18:28)

I know that this verse can be explained as referring to another meal, but at least, that’s not the most plausible interpretation. As shown above, the Passover most often referred to the meal on 14 Nisan.

The fourth reason is that there’s a lot of activity going on on the day of crucifixion (including Simon of Cyrene “coming from the country”), which is more plausible on 14 Nisan than on 15 Nisan.

The fifth reason is that John refers to the Last Supper as being “before the Feast of the Passover” (πρὸ δὲ τῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ πάσχα), which indicates the Last Supper cannot have taken place on 14 Nisan.

The sixth reason is that 14 Nisan was on a Friday in 33 AD. (Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/306743a0) However, this is based on an astromical calculation, and the unaided observations of the chief priests could have had miscalculated the exact day of Passover.

As far as I know, there are three reasons to think that Jesus was crucified on 15 Nisan. First, we read in Matthew 26:17:

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread… (Τῇ δὲ πρώτῃ τῶν ἀζύμων)

This was the day before the crucifixion. Josephus calls 15 Nisan “the first day of the feast [of Unleavened Bread]” (AJ 5.1.5) and 16 Nisan “the second day of unleavened bread” (AJ 3.10.5), which is the closest parallel. In AJ 2.15.1 and BJ 5.3.1, Josephus seems to include 14 Nisan as the eighth day in the days of unleavened bread, although there are other interpretations possible. In BJ 6.5.3, Josephus seems to indicate – it can be interpreted differently, I admit – that even the eighth day of the month was included in “the Feast of Unleavened Bread”:

Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour.

Maybe, 13 Nisan was called in Jesus’ days “the first day of Unleavened Bread”. If 14 Nisan is on a Friday, the Bedikat Chametz, i.e., the removal of the leaven, takes place in the evening of 13 Nisan. (Source: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/journal/erev-2.htm) Maybe, that’s why the Synoptics call the Thursday the “first day of Unleavened Bread”.

The second reason is the identification of the Last Supper with the Seder meal. This identification is likely, but there are plausible reasons why Jesus and his disciples would have held the Seder meal on the evening of 13 Nisan. As argued above, John indicates that the Last Supper was not on 14 Nisan.

The only really strong indication is the fact that Mark and Luke refer to “the first day of Unleavened Bread” as the day “when they sacrificed the Passover lamb” (Mark) / “on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed” (Luke). This is clearly a reference to 14 Nisan.

To summarize, there are six arguments in favour of 14 Nisan as the day of crucifixion:

1. The crucifixion day was called “Passover”, which is 14 Nisan (very strong).
2. The chief priests didn’t want to kill Jesus during “the feast”, so Jesus cannot have been crucified on 15 Nisan (very strong).
3. John indicates that the Jews had to eat the Passover meal on the day of crucifixion (quite strong).
4. The activity on the crucifixion day corresponds better with 14 Nisan than with 15 Nisan (quite strong).
5. John indicates that the Last Supper was before 14 Nisan (very strong).
6. Astronomically, the Friday of the crucifixion would have been 14 Nisan (quite weak).

There are three arguments in favour of 15 Nisan as the day of crucifixion:

1. The Thursday before the crucifixion is called “the first day of Unleavened Bread” (quite strong).
2. The Last Supper probably was a Seder meal (weak).
3. Mark and Luke indicate that the Thursday before the crucifixion was 14 Nisan (very strong).

I agree with Lydia and others that historical texts should be harmonized. However, I think that in this case, it is more plausible that Mark and Luke made a mistake and that Jesus died on 14 Nisan, i.e., Friday 3 April, 33 AD. Mark and Luke weren't eyewitnesses and Luke wasn't a Jew, so a mistake on the date is not very implausible.

I know that this verse can be explained as referring to another meal, but at least, that’s not the most plausible interpretation.

Just one comment quickly about John 18:28. I really have to disagree there, because they could have gotten rid of ceremonial uncleanness by washing at sundown. Therefore, it is not particularly plausible that this is referring to an evening meal. It actually makes *more* sense to interpret it as referring to a meal occurring during the day (a noon chagigah would satisfy this), which they could not have become ceremonially clean for if they'd been in Pilate's judgement hall in the morning. Again, this isn't even a matter of harmonization. It's a matter of the more probable interp. of *this* verse.

The Synoptics make such a big deal about Jesus' wanting to eat a Passover meal with his disciples and, indeed, eating it with them that I do not see how they could be mistaken on this point if they came from witness sources *at all*. But fortunately this is not a problem.

The Synoptics make such a big deal about Jesus' wanting to eat a Passover meal with his disciples and, indeed, eating it with them that I do not see how they could be mistaken on this point if they came from witness sources *at all*. But fortunately this is not a problem.

Jesus wasn't in the position to eat a Passover meal next day, right? If Jesus wanted to do it, he must have done it on Thursday, and he did. Luke wasn't a Jew and it's likely Mark wasn't neither (there's no good reason to identify him with John Mark in Acts). They could have misinterpreted the phrase "the first day of Unleavened Bread". We don't know much about the circumstances under which Luke wrote his Gospel. Mark wrote his Gospel in the absence of Peter. A mistake on this point is not too unlikely.

I'll try and keep my responses brief.

RESPONSE: You are speculating (and believing) by espousing a position that cannot be confirmed by evidentiary proofs and facts. What the NT provides are claims of Jesus's resurrection, NOT evidentiary proof. Numerous scholars and theologians do not accept the purported historicity of the accounts in the Gospels, Acts 1, and 1 Corinthians 15. Of course, it can be pointed out that there exist vastly more writers that advocate your view. However, that reality is due to the fact that there exist a disproportionate number of Christian journals and Christian publishing houses. In addition, the number of Christian seminaries (over 260), its instructors (est. at 5,000-10,000), and the number of graduates from these institutions are motivated to publish works that support their beliefs. Furthermore, the narratives demonstrate plagiarism (Matthew copies Mark; and Luke copies Matthew and Mark); editing, embellishing, and legendary or mythological exaggeration; “differences”; contradictions; and seeking to fulfill political/theological agendas. Just repeating unconfirmed and unsubstantiated information from the sources listed above is, in effect, offering a speculation. As Judith Redman aptly stated (2011, 197) writing in the Journal of Biblical Literature: “The continued presence in Christian communities of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry until the time when these events were recorded is a guarantee only of the community’s agreed version, not the exact details of the event itself.”

This is a rather strange way to frame the issue. Imagine if you said this instead: You are speculating (and believing) by espousing a position that cannot be confirmed by evidentiary proofs and facts. What Josephus provides are claims of Judas' Revolt, NOT evidentiary proof.


RESPONSE: For a counter, please read:
Moles, John. “Jesus and Dionysus in ‘The Acts Of The Apostles’ and early Christianity.” Hermathena No. 180 (Summer 2006), pp. 65–104.

Hackett, John. “Echoes of the Bacchae in the Acts of the Apostles.” Irish Theological Quarterly 23, (1956): 350–366.

Price, Robert M. “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash.” In Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism. Vol. 1. Edited by Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck, 534–74. Leiden: Brill, 2005



If you can directly rebut the link I provided, that would be great. Also it is somewhat amusing that you have to appeal to Robert Price of all people.


RESPONSE: Please attempt to see Moles, Hackett, or Price. Respectfully, they and others do not share your opinion. Also note:

It’s no surprise to find a quotation from ancient literature; the only peculiar thing is that Jesus should quote a Greek proverb to Paul while speaking Aramaic (“in the Hebrew language”). But the really strange thing is that with both Jesus and Euripides we have the same “familiar quotation” and the same situation. In both cases we have a conversation between a persecuted god and his persecutor. In Euripides the persecuted god is Dionysus, and his persecutor is Pentheus, king of Thebes. Just like Jesus, Dionysus calls his persecutor to account: “You disregard my words of warning . . . and kick against necessity [literally ‘against the goads’] a man defying god.” Paul even uses the plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line.
You wrote: Thanks, but for the sake of the lurkers, could you post just a small summary of your arguments?

Even on a naturalistic paradigm, I fail to see how Jesus quoting a common Greek and Latin phrase is implausible. Especially in a context where Jesus is supposed to be talking to a well educated Roman citizen who speaks Greek. Are you suggesting that it's unlikely someone living in the Roman Empire would quote a common phrase from that area to an actual Roman citizen? The sharing of words and phrases is a real thing that arises from the cross pollination of cultures. For examples, see here: https://www.kaplaninternational.com/blog/6-expressions-english-stole-from-other-languages

As far as the comparisons are concerned, people can see the link I provided above.

Perhaps I'll respond to the stuff about Matthew later, but that is starting to get way OFF topic. Here are some concluding remarks regarding the original post: It seems to me that the original contention that Jesus could not have been given a proper burial has been entirely debunked. As Tim McGrew has shown, only political conspirators were denied proper burials - and from the Gospel narratives themselves, it would seem that Pontius Pilate felt Jesus was guilty of nothing, and only crucified him for the sake of placating the Jewish mob. Hence, Jesus' burial falls in line with the data we have from Josephus, Philo, the Talmud, and official Roman law. A humble "I was wrong" seems to be the only reasonable response.

It's telling that Alter claims 'both sides of the religious isle' have support for the claim Paul thought there was a spiritual resurrection. First, it's a complete minority position on both sides, so it's trivially true. Second, its simply not true that this minority position just reads this into the Corinthians 15 creed, it had to supplement it with the account in Acts.

Everyone / Mr. Alter:

First, let me apologize. Earlier I wrote the following: “Or, to use a closer analogy, if I, as a cold case detective…” This obviously gives the impression that I was a cold case detective. But this is incorrect. I meant it as a hypothetical, as in: “if I, as a cold case detective (hypothetically)…” So, my apologies for that lack of clarity. However, in saying that, I was a detective who worked on a number of historical cases, so the difference is not that significant, given that a cold case detective works on a past historical case that had already been investigated (unsuccessfully), whereas a detective working on a historical case simply means that he is the initial detective working on a historical case from the past. So, while I did the latter, I never had a formal position as a cold case detective. Nevertheless, the experiences are similar.

Now, with that clear…

[Mr. Alter wrote:]: It must be asked, as a cold case investigator, would you accept at face value, a testimony from an anonymous person who was not a direct eyewitness to the events he reported? Furthermore, this anonymous source (let’s say Mr. Mark) never provided information about how, when, or where his purported eyewitnesses were questioned. In addition, Mr. Mark never explained how he determined which of the many possible purported contradictory/different sources were evaluated to be factual, or dismissed to be inaccurate. And, Mr. Mark is writing his account approximately forty years after it occurred (here we have the issue of memory) and possible 4085 km (Jerusalem to Rome) from where it took place. Furthermore, it is possible that Mr. Mark created his writing as a literary work.

Let’s take your last sentence first: namely, that it is possible that Mr. Mark created his writing as a literary work. First, realize that nearly everything is possible. When Person A accuses Person B of sexual assault, it is possible that Person A has a 1000 year dynastic feud with Person B’s family and so it making a false accusation against them in order destroy their reputation, but also covered their tracks so that there is no evidence of the feud. It is also possible that…etc, etc, etc. So, the question is not what is possible, but what is probable or reasonable. And if you wish to introduce the “literary work” hypothesis as an explanation for the Gospels, the onus would be on you to show how that hypothesis fits better with the evidence. It is not enough to merely posit it as a possibility.

Now, concerning your questions about whether I “would you accept at face value, a testimony from an anonymous person who was not a direct eyewitness to the events he reported? [etc.]”

First, I would not accept it at “face value,” if by this you mean uncritically. Rather, as I stated, I would look for signs of truthfulness in the testimony while also looking for signs of deception. If it had little/none of the latter, and lots of the former, then I could form a reasonable belief in the veracity of the testimony, even if it was anonymous. Here is an example. If a person anonymously called crime stoppers and only said that “Mike sexually assaulted Jane,” and nothing more, I would not put much stock in that testimony. But if, instead, a person anonymously called crime stoppers and then gave a 30 minute detailed statement providing numerous names, places, dates, and events about how Mike sexually assaulted Jane 20 years ago, and provided their backstory, and so on, then it would be eminently rational if I formed the reasonable belief, at “face value,” that the testimony described actual events (for example, imagine a historical case of, say, priestly sexual abuse, where such anonymous reporting could happen). Now, granted, if the testimony was anonymous, then I likely could not form that belief beyond a reasonable doubt, but I could form a reasonable belief about it, and even come to the view that a preponderance of evidence supported the veracity of the anonymous testimony (especially if the names, dates, places, etc check out). Of course, this reasonable belief could be wrong, and it could be overturned with further evidence, but that does not mean that it is not reasonable at the time that I form it.

Note as well that this situation is also similar to when a confidential informant has his own sub-informants that he used to get information for you. The information, to you, is anonymous, because it comes from the sub-informant to the informant, and yet, given the nature of the testimony (signs of truthfulness versus deception), it would still be possible to form a reasonable believe about it.

Now, since the Gospels, upon first reading, have various signs of truthfulness, then I can prima facie form the reasonable belief that they can be rationally believed as being a record of history, even if anonymous. Again, this belief could be wrong, and it could be overturned with further evidence, but that does not mean that it is unreasonable. Nor does it mean that it is not more reasonable than the opposite position.

And I do not grant, not for one second, that the Gospels are anonymous, for there are very good reasons to think that they are not. But my point is that even if they are—for the sake of argument—their veracity can still be reasonably believed in.

Of course, if you have a bias against the supernatural and miracles, then the Gospels will naturally appear unreasonable as testimony. But since it is more than rational to believe in theism and a God who can perform miracles, and since, upon reading such magisterial works as Craig Kenner’s Miracles (as well as others), it is entirely rational to believe that miracles can and have occurred, then I think such an objection is itself unreasonable.

More to follow…

Hello Willelm, Lydia, CW, Rad, and Aristotle Jedi

Thanks for your responses.

You wrote:
Where was Jesus taken immediately after his arrest? To Annas, as John indicates. A brief, minor event, probably only a few houses away from the house of Kajafas. The other evangelists don't say that the soldiers led Jesus immediately to Kajafas.

RESPONSE: Mere speculation. You have no way to know if this was a brief minor event (13 verses exclusively in John). You employ an argument based on silence. How do you know for a fact that John is literally correcting the earlier Gospels and in effect, contradicting them? Of course, everyone should read Tim’s essay. Definitely (?) an embellishment if not demonstrating literary creativity. Here, the questions that must be asked: (1) is this event historical and (2) is this narrative credible for the first century Jerusalem?

At what time was Jesus crucified?

RESPONSE: Wikipedia [just being lazy] points out:

In Mark 15:25 crucifixion takes place at the third hour (9 a.m.) and Jesus' death at the ninth hour (3 p.m.).[92] However, in John 19:14 Jesus is still before Pilate at the sixth hour.[93] Scholars have presented a number of arguments to deal with the issue, some suggesting a reconciliation, e.g., based on the use of Roman timekeeping in John but not in Mark, yet others have rejected the arguments.[93][94][95] Several scholars have argued that the modern precision of marking the time of day should not be read back into the gospel accounts, written at a time when no standardization of timepieces, or exact recording of hours and minutes was available, and time was often approximated to the closest three-hour period.[93][96]

Questions: If there were a murder investigation or a capital case trial, would it make any difference if one witness said he saw the accused and victim together at approximately the 9th hour; yet another witness claimed that he and a police officer were with the victim at the 6th hour? Would this information be a mere difference or contradiction? Who would you believe? How do we know for a fact, that John employed a different method of time reckoning [Roman time reckoning system of a civil day that started the day at midnight]? Speculation??? How do you know that KJohn is NOT directly contradicting the earlier gospels?


When did Jesus die? Wednesday or Friday?

RESPONSE: Here you are talking to the choir. Research by Christian scholars and theologians raise this issue. In my text (pp. 93-110), I provide a healthy presentation that offers its readers various explanations from those advocating a Wednesday (10 proponents), Thursday (6 proponents), or Friday (the vast majority and the scholarly and traditional consensus) crucifixion date. Again, these are Christians that claim there is a conflict, not me. And, note, I provide arguments in support and opposition to these proposed days of the crucifixion. Significantly, this issue is not just a mere difference; it is a contradiction.

QUESTION: John is about to propose to Mary. It is 11:59 pm at Times Square in NY. One minutes later, a crowd goes wild and there are incredible fireworks. John says in a court of law that he proposed on New Years day. His bride says that the proposal was on Thanksgiving day. A difference or contradiction?

RESPONSE: Please do not shoot the messenger. That is, unless you are using cotton candy.

Did Jesus die on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15?

RESPONSE: Research by Christian scholars and theologians, and yes, as well as detractors raise this issue. In my text (pp. 59-92), I provide a healthy presentation that offers its readers various explanations from those advocating a Nisan 14 versus Nisan 15 crucifixion date. Here too, the traditional consensus is Nisan 15. Again, there are Christians that acknowledge that there exists a conflict. And, note, the chronology also, in part, ties in the whether or not the Last meal was a Passover Seder. I provide arguments in support and opposition to these proposed days of the crucifixion. Please do not shoot the messenger. That is, unless you are using cotton candy.

You wrote: The 14th of Nisan in 33 AD.

RESPONSE: Nobody has the slightest idea about the year Jesus died. In my text (pp. 31-48), I present research findings by numerous theologians and scholars for the years 21, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, and 35/36. Arguments pro and con are presented for these dates. Are these dates just differences, or can they be contradictions? Question: If the pilot of the Enola Gay reported the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and the co-pilot claim that the pilot was wrong, the bomb was, in fact, dropped in 1948, would this be a difference or a contradiction? Of, course, one or both could be in error because of the usage of different calendars… Here, I am being sarcastic…

When did the Temple curtain tear? About the time Jesus died. Is this a problem?

RESPONSE: Yes. Did Jesus die before (Luke) or right after (Matthew) the curtain was torn? There are numerous apologetics for this claimed contradiction. Two simple explanations on the internet are When Was the Temple Veil Torn in Two? by Tim Chaffey on October 11, 2011 or When Did the Temple Veil Tear? By Eric Lyons, M. Min. Returning to a previous comment by Bart Ehrman:

(1) At this point “contradiction” becomes not a matter of pure semantic logic, but of sensibility.
(2) My point: there may be contradictions like that in the Gospels with one person saying, “No, it’s not actually a contradiction,” and others saying, “Of course it is.” Neither will convince the other. That means there’s not a whole lot to argue about, other than who is being sensible and who isn’t. Lots of arguments about possible contradictions end of being this sort of thing.
(3) So I completely understand that different people will have different standards of what a contradiction entails and different criteria of evaluation. You will need to decide what your own standards and criteria are.
(4) The debate may end up being over what is sensible.

In a debate 2006 between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig (transcript online) Ehrman reduced our dispute to one sentence: “Did the curtain in the temple rip in half before Jesus died or after he died? It depends which Gospel you read.”

What were Jesus’s last words? “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

RESPONSE: John 19:30 or Luke 24:36. The latter, is from Psalm 31:5. Ibid. for Ehrman. Adding to the topic is the quested historicity of the sayings. Being lazy, Wikipedia quotes:

Historicity of the sayings
James Dunn considers the seven sayings weakly rooted in tradition and sees them as a part of the elaborations in the diverse retellings of Jesus' final hours.[32] Dunn, however, argues in favour of the authenticity of the Mark/Matthew saying in that by presenting Jesus as seeing himself 'forsaken' it would have been an embarrassment to the early Church, and hence would not have been invented.[32]

The importance of these words has been elaborated by the Baptist minister and Bible expositor W. Graham Scroggie (1948, 578):

LAST words are always important and are carefully stored in the memory, especially the last words of the dying, of the martyrs, of people who have been great leaders, inventors, discoverers, writers, and of our own loved ones. But all the greatest last words which have ever been uttered throughout all time are not of comparable significance and value with the Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross, and just because no one before or since can be compared with Him, no one before or since has been at once Perfect Man and Very God. It is His Divine-Human Personality that gives all that He ever said its value.
Does one really believe that the authors of the four gospels, all of them would not know and not clearly record Jesus’s precise last words? Didn’t they have time to investigate this monumental question? Contradiction or difference: you decide.

You wrote: What was the day of the ascension? Forty days after the resurrection. There is no reason to think otherwise.

RESPONSE: You are in error. Please examine the time references in Luke 24
24:1 Now…
24:13 the same day
24:33 the same hour
24:36 And as they spoke…
24:44 And he said…

Zweip (1997, 115), a definite believer, his commentary is brutal…
Your opinion is refuted by Jeremias (1971), Heuschen (1965, 22), Jonge (2013, 151-171) Maile (1986, 49) Moule 1957, 206), Zweip (1997) and many others… In my text, I discuss the attempted harmonization offered by Christian apologists (telescoping, etc.). At least, I try to be intellectually honest with my readership… present both sides of the argument.

Willem wrote:
To summarize, there are six arguments in favour of 14 Nisan as the day of crucifixion:
There are three arguments in favour of 15 Nisan as the day of crucifixion:

RESPONSE: A super job Willem! Many of your points I discuss in my text. Here, you are speaking to the choir. Once again, a solid job…

Lydia and Willem discuss the Passover meal.

RESPONSE: Good interaction. Thank you! This topic is discussed in my text on pages 67-92. It contains a healthy list of references from both sides of the religious aisle. The bottom line: nobody knows whether or not the Last meal was a Passover Seder or some type of seder [N T Wright] In part, “it depends which Gospel you read.”

You wrote: If you can directly rebut the link I provided, that would be great. Also it is somewhat amusing that you have to appeal to Robert Price of all people.

RESPONSE: I have never met or spoken to Price (However we share the same birthday). Some information on the internet.
(1) Having developed a keen interest in apologetics (the defense of the faith on intellectual grounds), Bob went on to enroll at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he received an MTS degree in New Testament. Billy Graham was the commencement speaker.
(2) He received the Ph.D. degree in systematic theology from Drew University in 1981.
(3) After some years teaching in the religious studies department of Mount Olive College in North Carolina, Price returned to New Jersey to pastor First Baptist Church of Montclair, the first pastorate (former Baptist minister),
(4) Price soon enrolled in a second doctoral program at Drew, receiving the Ph.D. in New Testament
(5) You may disagree or disapprove of Price’s opinion, but his credentials are noteworthy. In general, I do not like ad hominems. If possible, please examine the Brill publication: Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism. Perhaps, that may change your mind.


CW wrote: I fail to see how Jesus quoting a common Greek and Latin phrase is implausible.

RESPONSE: I have already provided sufficient material. Please examine the article in Hermathena. However, in Volume 2, I will extensively discuss this topic.

Aristotle Jedi wrote: First, it's a complete minority position on both sides, so it's trivially true.

RESPONSE: Have minority or controversial opinions about the NT changed during the past centuries? What was at one time a minority or unknown position can become the accepted (scholarly) opinion.

RAD wrote: It is not enough to merely posit it as a possibility.
RESPONSE: Agreed

Rad wrote: Now, since the Gospels, upon first reading, have various signs of truthfulness

RESPONSE: I totally disagree. In whose eyes? Believers yes, skeptics and those of other faiths, many would respond no. And, even many (not all) first time readers would shake their head in utter disbelief.

Rad wrote: for the sake of argument—their veracity can still be reasonably believed in

RESPONSE: I respect your opinion and beliefs (unlike the murderers in Sri Lanka that killed innocent, sincere, and believing Christians on such an important Holy day: Easter Sunday… horrible!) How can the veracity of anonymous people be evaluated? The NT narratives do not present facts… They report what is the community’s agreed version (Judith Redman, 197, JBL]

Take care

Mike

Continued…

[Mr. Alter wrote:] Later, let’s say Mr. Matthew, is writing 10-15 years (and hundred of miles away) after Mr. Mark. Yet, Mr. Matthew copies Mr. Mark’s written testimony almost verbatim.

Well, the word “almost” is doing a lot of work here, isn’t it? After all, when I would write a police statement of a certain incident, it was not particularly shocking to find that my statement was “almost verbatim”—both in chronology and in language—with the statement of the other police officer who was at the incident with me. In many ways, that could be called “good eyewitness testimony,” for agreement would be expected. Additionally, an important question is also what was almost verbatim. Is it the sayings of Jesus, because again, if it is, then “almost verbatim” is what good eyewitness testimony would produce. Consequently, just because something is almost verbatim does not necessarily deny its independence or veracity.

But let’s take the worse case scenario, that one Gospel writer knew of the other and had the latter’s document handy when writing his own Gospel. Does this mean that Mr. Matthews Gospel is not eyewitness testimony? Absolutely not. Police officers, for example, when they write their police notes, can, in limited circumstances, confer, although they must ensure that what they write are their own recollections. And even if there is outright collaboration between them, this does not negate their notes as evidence, it simply means that their notes are not the best level of evidence that they could be. So, even if Matthew used Mark—for the sake of argument—the “almost verbatim” aspect could be that Matthew agreed with Mark in some cases, in some ways, and in some things, but not in others. Again, this would be consistent with what an eyewitness would do if he had someone else’s report to refer to. And note that your “almost verbatim” statement is consistent and supportive of this idea. After all, if Matthew simply used Mark without having knowledge of his own, then why the changes? Why phrase things differently than Mark? Why add things that Mark does not have? Why make your document “almost verbatim” instead of just verbatim? A very good and plausible reason would be because you have eyewitness knowledge that differs from Mark, and because, being an honest eyewitness, you are putting your own recollections down instead of just copying Mark. And indeed, it is interesting to note how many of the arguments for such things as Markian priority or interdependence can be answered by the idea that these were eyewitnesses (or based on eyewitness testimony) recording their own different recollections, even if they knew about the writings of others.

In effect, we do not have two written testimonies; we have one testimony, Mr. Mark.

Incorrect. Again, even if Matthew conferred with Mark’s Gospel, the fact that Matthew contains items that Mark does not, including differences from Mark, indicates that it is reasonable to believe that we are dealing with two separate accounts based on separate memories, even if Matthew was aware of, and even referred to, Mark’s Gospel.

Again, the previous questions could be asked. Furthermore, we have several unique/supernatural accounts (not multi attested) in Mr. Matthew’s written testimony that cannot be confirmed. Please understand, that we will assume that God exists and supernatural events do occur. This means that the supernatural events in Mr. Matthew’s testimony are, in fact, ahistorical. Therefore, it would NOT be rational to accept those things as historical sources for the events in question.

I am assuming that you meant to say that “…we will [NOT] assume that God exists…” and so that is why the supernatural events are ahistorical. But that is not the way this works, because I am not “assuming” anything. On the basis of arguments and evidence, I conclude that God exists and that miracles can and do occur in reality. And I do this before reading the Gospels. Thus, far from the Gospel miracles making the Gospels ahistorical, they can be read as history even if they have miracles, and it could even be argued that such miracles would be expected if a man like Jesus was around.

Furthermore, simply because an event—even a miracle—is only recorded in one source, that does not make the event ahistorical. After all, simply because a murder is only witnessed by one person and the body never found, does that make it ahistorical? Obviously not. Now, perhaps it is necessary to be less confident about the occurrence of that event given its singular reporting, but that does not make it ahistorical, nor even unreasonable to believe. Ultimately, this is just a naturalistic bias showing.

Ten years, Mr. Luke has also copied Mr. Mark and Mr. Matthew’s written testimony. Here too, he has added several unique/supernatural accounts (not multi attested) not found in the written testimonies of Mr. Mark and Mr. Matthew, that cannot be confirmed. Again, the previous questions could be asked.

Even if we accepted your claim that Luke copied from Mark and Matthew, note that that is exactly what he said he was doing when he claimed that he was recording things from different eyewitnesses. In fact, if Luke did not parallel Mark and Matthew in important ways, that would actually render Luke’s own claim suspect. But again, the fact that there are differences in Luke, as well as unique elements only found in Luke, is entirely conformable to the idea that Luke’s information is based on eyewitness testimony, and where the eyewitnesses differed with Matthew and Mark, Luke noted it down as such, which is what he said he was doing. Ergo, since Luke is a complier of this information, then significant similarities with Matthew and Mark, but also distinct differences and unique additions, would be expected if Luke’s information was based on eyewitness testimony from multiple sources. And that, I contend, is exactly what we find in Luke.

Added to these concerns we have the reality that: (1) oral tradition is unreliable, (2) eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, (3) memories can be distorted over time, especially in groups, and (4) cognitive dissonance/irrational belief persistence.
As a cold case investigator, would you really accept at face value, these testimonies?

Not to be flippant, but these are all boilerplate objections.

There is nothing about oral tradition that necessarily makes it unreliable, and, in many cases, it can be very reliable. As a personal example, a very significant event happened to me over thirty years ago that was oral tradition for three decades, and yet both I and my family can describe that event in detail because I repeat the story to them at least once a year, and have done so for decades. Similarly, I have little doubt that the apostles were repeating the teachings of Jesus over and over again from the earliest moment, thereby cemented those memories in their minds. Ergo, there is nothing about such oral testimony that makes it automatically suspect.

Second, eyewitness testimony is not highly unreliable, except in certain circumstances, and those are not the circumstances of the apostles and Jesus.

Third, there is evidence that memories can also be enhanced by group communication.

Fourth, cognitive dissonance/irrational beliefs do sometimes persist, including among skeptics who believe that the Gospels do not contain eyewitness testimony, thus, if that is the worry, then it is a worry for everyone—skeptic and unbeliever alike—dealing with the Gospels.

Question: Would you equally accept the testimonies reported about Muhammad or Joseph Smith? If not, why?

First, the Gospels, and Christianity, are not considered in isolation. I consider what Christianity teaches in light of philosophical arguments, historical facts, worldview considerations, etc. Thus, for those reasons, it is easy to find Islam and Mormonism faulty on such grounds. Furthermore, there is nothing in Christianity that requires an outright denial of the testimonies of Muhammad and Joseph Smith. After all, Christianity accepts that there are other supernatural beings are work in the world. Thus, the Christian could be willing to accept that something supernatural happened to Muhammad, but simply argue against its ultimate source being God. And when the philosophical and historical weaknesses of Islam and Mormonism are added to such considerations, it is reasonable to reject those religions.

RESPONSE: You are assuming that Saul’s/Paul’s accounts in Acts 9, 22 and 26 are factual. I, and others do not share your enthusiasm.

However, you see what you are doing here, right? On the one hand, you are saying that you reject Paul’s accounts in Acts, but then you use that to claim that Paul also saw a light. So, you are using the accounts when it suits you, but denying them when it does not. However, if you reject Paul’s account in Acts, then you cannot claim that Jesus only appeared to Paul as a light. Rather, it would be rational to then defer to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:8, which, in context, clearly implies that Christ appeared to him in bodily form. But on the other hand, if you accept Acts, then, as I argued, it is quite rational to also believe that Jesus appeared to Paul in a bodily form. So, either way, it is rational to believe that Jesus appeared to Paul in bodily form. Unless, of course, you are denying it completely, which is then just a simulacrum of a naturalistic objection.

If you wish to believe that Paul saw Jesus in a bodily form, that is your belief. Your belief MUST be respected. But, it is only a belief. And, so too, it is my belief, and the belief of others, that Paul did NOT see Jesus in a bodily form.

Except I did not just offer a belief, I offered an argument, both for the reasonableness of the Gospels and Acts, and for the reasonable inference that Paul saw more than a light. Granted, it is a short argument in a blog post, but it is an argument, not necessarily just a mere belief (as if all beliefs have the same level of reasonableness). And, ultimately, if my argument is better than yours, than at least for this particular issue, that is the more reasonable belief to hold barring any defeaters to it.

All the best everyone,

Rad

Mr. Alter:

Rad wrote: Now, since the Gospels, upon first reading, have various signs of truthfulness
RESPONSE: I totally disagree. In whose eyes?

In the eyes of people that understand these things. As I have repeatedly mentioned, signs of truthfulness are such things as including names, dates, times, places, including vivid details, adding extraneous and unnecessary details in the narrative, showing similarity to other accounts but not exactness, possessing embarrassing details, showing underdesigned coincidences, etc. Look, at most, the only prima facie point against coming to the conclusion that a reasonable belief can be formed that the Gospels deal with history comes from the miraculous element, but once that is dealt with, the problem disappears. Granted, after deeper review, it could be argued that the prima facie determination is wrong (although I would obviously argue against this), but that does not mean that the prima facie conclusion is incorrect as a prima facie conclusion.

Believers yes, skeptics and those of other faiths, many would respond no.

Yes, and so. Reading the Gospels is not like reading some report that we can be neutral and objective about. It basically tells skeptics and those of other faiths that they are wrong and sinful about the most fundamental and important element of their lives. Not exactly a message that can be approached dispassionately. Is it any surprise that some of them would response ‘no’…especially since (ironically) the very Gospels themselves warn us that that is what many people would do with the Gospel message! You want to talk about cognitive bias and dissonance, those issues would be eminently existent in modern skeptics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. reading the Gospels.

But at the same time, it needs to be considered that many skeptics and those of other faiths would respond ‘yes’, seeing as they have converted to Christianity.

And, even many (not all) first time readers would shake their head in utter disbelief.

And many people don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to evaluating testimony. Why is that a surprise?

How can the veracity of anonymous people be evaluated?

I have (briefly) explained how. Ultimately, it is because signs of truthfulness (and deception) can exist in a testimonial account in and of itself. Thus, even if the author is not known, a reasonable belief can be formed of the account’s likely veracity (or not) based on the account itself.

The NT narratives do not present facts… They report what is the community’s agreed version (Judith Redman, 197, JBL]

Of course, this is just assumed BS that can be easily reverse to claim that the community’s agreed version became the community’s agreed version because it was based on facts. So, your point is little more than special pleading.

Rad

The NT narratives do not present facts… They report what is the community’s agreed version (Judith Redman, 197, JBL]

This is the sort of statement that makes me question the basic critical thinking skills of humanities-type scholars. It sounds good (esp. when uttered with confidence before a sympathetic audience), and has that sheen of modern sophistication, but.......(drum roll, cue dramatic music) it is a false dichotomy.

(1) eyewitnesses and those around them will discuss things, comparing notes as it were

(2) streamlining/agreeing on things by itself does not positively nor negatively impact the "truthiness" of the claims; there may be some sort of consideration that, when conjoined with the streamlining/agreeing, positively or negatively impacts the truthiness of the claims, but, just sitting out there in the abstract, Redman's statement as presented is overly broad and sweeping.

(3) gratuitious swipe: given the instances of mainstream media coordinating messages, I assume that somebody like Redman will say that the mainstream media, by the same consideration, "does not present facts", but instead reports the leftist/progressive community's "agreed version".

Redman's statement as quoted seems to be part of the larger skeptical attack that having a vested interest in a proposition's being true or false makes one's testimony or arguments for/against the proposition more suspect. This is a principle that boomerangs back to skeptics. Based on what I see, (not speaking about Alter here to be clear), the majority of them absolutely, positively need Christianity to be false, since their self-worth and entire personal brand seem to be based upon the purported aire of rational superiority that they believe skepticism confers upon them. Others like Ehrman enjoy financial remuneration and academic fame/notoriety from publishing what they publish. Are they too not disqualified due to their vested interest? In the end, don't we all have varying degrees of vested interests? Is Ehrman or, say, a Crossan also excluded or treated less seriously?

All this is based on Redman's statement as presented by Alter. (I did not look up the SBL paper.) Allowing for the possibility of something in the ellipses that undoes what I wrote.

To Mr. Alter,
Before I address your specific repsonses to my answers, I want to discuss the topic of 'speculation'. You have accused multiple people above of speculating, and in most instances I disagree with you on whether or not speculation is permitted or not.

I've not read your book, because of the simple fact that I've not enough money to buy every book I want. However, as far as I'm aware, in your book, you try to show that the Passion and Resurrection Accounts in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, are not historically reliable. As far as I'm aware, your two major categories of arguments are:
1. Contradictions;
2. Historically implausible passages.
In this thread, we have discussed especially the category of contradictions. Since *you* are the one who uses contradictions as arguments for something, - i.e., the historical unreliability of the Gospels - you are also the one who bears the burden of proof. Therefore, you have to demonstrate in a certain instance that there is a contradiction beyond reasonable doubt.

In the case of a contradiction, I don't bear the burden of proof to show that there's *definitely not* a contradiction. The only thing I have to argue for, is that there is at least one plausible hypothesis that can explain the differences in two accounts without some detail(s) in the accounts being historically false. I have the privilege to speculate, since I don't have to show that there's no contradiction, but that there's not *necessarily* a contradiction.

Only if there are no plausible hypotheses - only implausible ones - that can explain the differences in two accounts without admitting that some detail(s) must be false, one can conclude there's a contradiction.

For example, you might use the following apparent contradiction to show the unreliability of Cassius Dio:

Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome. (Suetonius, Claudius, 25.4)
As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings. (Cassius Dio, Roman History, LX.6.6)

However, there are at least two plausible hypotheses that harmonize the statements of Suetonius and Cassius Dio. First, it is possible that they refer to two different events. Second, it's possible that Claudius at first ordered the expulsion of all the Jews, but later realized that this would create too many problems and changed his order to a prohibition of meetings.
It's still *possible* that there is a contradiction (i.e., Suetonius and Cassius Dio meant two different, contradictory things), but this contradiction isn't *demonstrated*, and therefore can't be used to argue against the reliability of either Suetonius or Cassius Dio.

[Sidenote: the fact that Suetonius and Cassius Dio give very different accounts of Claudius's measures against the Jews in Rome, argues for the fact that at least *some kind of* measures were taken against the Jews. It's a kind of undesigned coincidence.]

In your comment I responded to, you use the phrase "definite contradictions", so you have to defend that your examples are indeed contradictions, and any plausible hypothesis - or, speculation - will show that they are in fact indefinite and cannot be used against the reliability of the Gospels.

Let's turn to your responses.

RESPONSE: Mere speculation. You have no way to know if this was a brief minor event (13 verses exclusively in John).
Correct, but it's very plausible that it was a brief minor event. Only five verses in John 18 (18:19-23) are about the interrogation by Annas. Moreover, 18:24 *can* be interpreted in such a way that even 18:19-23 are about Kajafas, not about Annas.
You employ an argument based on silence.
In fact, your apparent "definite contradiction" is based entirely on silence.
Questions: If there were a murder investigation or a capital case trial, would it make any difference if one witness said he saw the accused and victim together at approximately the 9th hour; yet another witness claimed that he and a police officer were with the victim at the 6th hour? Would this information be a mere difference or contradiction? Who would you believe?

If there's no good reason to think that both witnesses recorded the time very accurately (with clocks, stopwatches, sundials, etc.), I wouldn't let my opinion on the trustworthiness of the witnesses be influenced by the difference in their statements on the moment on which the event happened.

In my opinion, the author of the fourth Gospel followed all the events narrated in his Gospel (and the other Gospels) concerning the trials of Jesus. So he was awake during the night of the arrest and still awake during the day of crucifixion. This means he could measure the hours from sunrise to the crucifixion, and guessed it were about six hours.

Suppose that Mark (or Peter), on the other hand, used a witness who woke up early, but was asleep at sunrise - one of the women, for example. For that witness, it was even more difficult to guess what time it was and, naturally, he would have underestimated the amount of time that had passed since sunrise. 11 A.M. seems later if you are awake since 6 A.M. than when you wake up at 10 A.M.

How do you know that John is NOT directly contradicting the earlier gospels?
As I argued above, I don't need to know this. On the contrary, you need to show that John *is* contradicting here.
And, note, I provide arguments in support and opposition to these proposed days of the crucifixion.
What arguments do you provide?
QUESTION: John is about to propose to Mary. It is 11:59 pm at Times Square in NY. One minutes later, a crowd goes wild and there are incredible fireworks. John says in a court of law that he proposed on New Years day. His bride says that the proposal was on Thanksgiving day. A difference or contradiction?
Most probably a contradiction (there's no plausible hypothesis which harmonizes the statements). What's the relationship of this example with the Gospels?
Are these dates just differences, or can they be contradictions?
There *can* be non-conclusive evidence for each date. However, only 30 AD and 33 AD are plausible dates, 33 AD being the most plausible. There's no contradiction possible, since no Gospel writer tells us the date explicitly, it's an inference to the best explanation. Only Luke 3:1 and John 2:20 are specific time indications, which rule out any date before 29 AD or so. The presence of Pilate rules out any date later than 36 AD.
RESPONSE: Yes. Did Jesus die before (Luke) or right after (Matthew) the curtain was torn?
Please, look up a map of ancient Jerusalem. The most probable location for Golgotha and the Temple are in different parts of the city. A person could not have been at the two places at the same time. Except if two people made an exact measurement of the time Jesus died and the time the curtain was torn, it was guesswork which event happened first. As I said, both events were around the same time. That's as specific as one can be.
Contradiction or difference: you decide.
Difference. Eyewitnesses sometimes leave out information which sometimes seems too important to leave out. Luke must have known Jesus' words in Mark ("Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani"), since he possessed Mark. But he chose not to include them. I believe John possessed all synoptic Gospels. But apparently, he chose not to include the words of Jesus in those accounts.
RESPONSE: You are in error. Please examine the time references in Luke 24
As you show, there are no time references after verse 36. Please notice that Luke wrote a second volume to elaborate on the subject of the ascension.
RESPONSE: A super job Willem! Many of your points I discuss in my text. Here, you are speaking to the choir. Once again, a solid job…
Thank you. I hope this will be an example for you. Please, don't discuss references, books, scholars or opinions, but arguments. I don't say you do so sometimes, but often, you don't.

Sorry to keep filling the combox, but I just wanted to respond to a few more points.

First, to be frank, the “when was the veil torn in two” contradiction/objection is so stupid as to be beyond belief.

Did people back at the time of Jesus keep time to the second for each emotionally charged event, so that the people watching Jesus’ crucifixion (obviously being concerning about keeping exact timings rather than things like, you know, Jesus’ impending death!) knew that Jesus died at 3:01:24 pm, while the people near the veil recorded that the veil was torn at precisely 3:02:35 pm? No, I don’t think so. In fact, even today, we don’t keep time like that for many events, especially not highly emotional ones.

Here is an analogy. Let’s say Bill and Jane are watching their beloved sick and elderly father/father-in-law die in the hospital. Now, the father dies at approximately 9 pm, because Bill and Jane, like most normal people, would not be watching the clock at the exact time that their parent was dying, so they know that their parent died at approximately 9 pm, but that’s it. However, unbeknownst to Bill and Jane, also at approximately 9 pm, their son, a few kilometers away, was involved in a car accident. And again, because normal people tend not to pay attention to the exact time as they are having car accidents—nor do normal witnesses—the car accident is only known to have happened at about 9 pm. Then, later on, from the police, Bill and Jane learn of their son’s car accident that happened at approximately 9 pm.

Now, did the car accident happen before the death or after it? No one, including Bill or Jane, knows for certain. But here is the other thing: that is exactly what would be expected if you were dealing with eyewitness testimony that was being relayed to you. After all, the police would not and could not call Bill and Jane immediately at the time of the accident, because that is not how life works. At the same time, there was no one at the crucifixion passing smoke signals to the people at the veil to tell them the exact time that Jesus died. Instead, people in both places would have approximated the time that the events happened, and then relayed that approximate time to others. And, in fact, Matthew even says: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice…” (Matthew 27:46, ESV). And even Luke notes that he is approximating time when he states: “It was now about the sixth hour…” (Luke 23:44, ESV).

Now, going back to the analogy, note that if Bill told his work colleagues that his father died and then his son was in a car accident, but Jane told her work peers that her son was in a car accident and then her father-in-law died, then guess what? They would both be telling the truth to the best of their ability and knowledge, especially when considered in the context of normal human speech, interaction, and the way eyewitnesses operate. Furthermore, neither one would be lying or could be considered as lying. And no one who knows how actual testimony works would consider this issue to be a contradiction.

Now, if Bill said that the father died at about 3 pm and the car accident happened at about 9 pm, whereas Jane said they both happened at about 9 pm, then that could potentially be a problem unless other circumstances were present. But that is not what is in the Gospels, and so that is why this is not a problem at all from the perspective of eyewitness testimony. In fact, and as mentioned, it is what would be expected from eyewitness testimony. And that is what is found in the Gospels, which is another sign of their truthfulness.

Additionally, note how this issue also undermines Mr. Alter’s copying narrative. If Luke was just copying Mark and Matthew, and was not basing his information on independent testimony of some type, then why the difference? Why not just copy the same order as Mark and Matthew had? Well, on the eyewitness testimony hypothesis, this makes perfect sense. Luke, going off eyewitness testimony, faithfully wrote what was told to him, even if it was different from what the others said. So, either Luke did not have access to Mark and Matthew, or if he did, he still only wrote what was told to him by witnesses and what he independently knew to be true. In the end, it’s almost as if Luke was being truthful when he wrote “…just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you

More to follow…

Rad

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