Evidences for the Empty Tomb

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I continue my survey of historical evidences for Jesus’ resurrection with an outline of evidences for the empty tomb. This is part of a continuing set of cumulative evidences, not intended to be complete in itself but to be read as part of the series on Evidences for the Resurrection. I am using William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith as my source again.

Craig lists six “lines of evidence” supporting the historicity of the empty tomb:

  1. The historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial
  2. Multiple, early, independent attestation of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb
  3. The use of the phrase “the first day of the week” in a way that reflects ancient tradition
  4. The simplicity of the way Mark presents the story: it lacks legendary or theological development
  5. The account of the tomb’s being discovered by women
  6. The earliest Jewish polemic, which suggests the empty tomb

I can’t (and shouldn’t!) re-write all of Craig’s support for each of these. I will just summarize a few significant points, beginning with this overall observation: the manner in which Craig and other current apologists approach these issues is historical, not faith-driven. There are historical reasons to consider each of these lines of evidence to be valid.

Concerning the multiple, early independent attestation of the stories of the burial of Christ, and of the empty tomb being discovered, we have already discussed the most contentious issue: the independence of the sources. In Craig there is much more by way of demonstration of the probable independence of the accounts, specifically on this issue. Whether one views the various Gospel accounts as having come from oral tradition, from other prior sources, or from the authors’ own experiences and recollections, the woven pattern of varying details indicates they did not draw all of their information from a single source, and they did not collude with each other to craft a single narrative of deceit.

The point regarding the “first day of the week” requires knowledge of the original languages. Craig points out that it is awkward Greek, but if the Greek is back-translated into Aramaic, the language used in Jerusalem at the time, the resulting phrase is perfectly natural and reflective of Jewish tradition (the term “Sabbath” is used). This suggests that the phrase was first used in Aramaic, which implies that it was used early.

Mark’s simple account of the resurrection is not what one would expect of a fable developing long after the events.

The discovery of the tomb by women is quite remarkable. The social status of women in both Judaic and Greco-Roman culture at the time was lower than most of us could even conceive (more here, mp3 file). They had the social status of children at every age. They were not allowed to give testimony in court; they had no credibility as witnesses. If the early church had been trying to create a believable story at some later date, it is highly unlikely they would have made women the discoverers of the empty tomb, or the first witnesses of the risen Jesus. The most credible explanation for their being recorded as the first witnesses is that it was true.

The Jews who wanted to deny the resurrection spread a tale that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15, especially the latter part of verse 15). How did they try to put an end to claims of the resurrection? It would have been simple to say, “These followers of Jesus are nut-cases.” If Jesus’ body were still in the tomb their rebuttals would have been easier still! Obviously there was a reason they did not use that answer: anyone could have checked and seen whether it was true or not.

******

We’re on a continuing path here. The fact of Jesus’ empty tomb does not prove the fact of his resurrection, but it contributes to a historical case that I will keep adding to as I continue this series.

Series Navigation (Evidences for the Resurrection):<<< The First Easter: Historical Consensus

155 Responses

  1. Tom:

    You make a good point that, interestingly but unnecessarily, has the potential of becoming a stumbling block for both sides of the debate over God’s existence and faith (revealed) knowledge vs. reasoned knowledge. You note quite correctly, “the manner in which Craig and other current apologists approach these issues is historical, not faith-driven.”

    For atheists, this means they’re forced to deal with historical evidence accessible to them. Unfortunately, this presents a problem to them… and they almost invariably deflect to the genetic fallacy (as Tony and David and Geoff repeatedly do) by asserting the evidence is [allegedly] biased merely by virtue of the fact that Christians (Craig, et al) pose it. Truth does not matter—origin does. This is the atheist mantra.

    But your (again, quite correct) point is sometimes met with fideist rancor on the other side of the debate: why should we rely on historical or scientific evidence when faith alone is good enough. In fact, affirming God is not essentially and exclusively a matter of faith. The somewhat simple-minded example is, of course, one can know God exists and still reject Him for what and who He is.

    [Digression: the fallacy of begging the question often rears its head from the atheist side at this point… and I reference David’s and Tony’s and Geoff’s (and earlier DL’s) assertions that “God is a myth” or “God is fictitious.” If an atheist holds (incorrectly) that God is essentially and exclusively a matter of faith, and hence God is fictitious (which echoes a bit of Gould’s erroneous NOMA) because fictions can only be adhered to by an act of faith, that’s fallacious reasoning. Why? It presumes what it intends to prove. Just look back on how many times atheists have tried that!]

    The broader issue of the knowledge that God exists (apart from the very strong historical evidence in support of the resurrection) as knowledge which we can obtain through unaided human reason is a stumbling block for atheists and fideists. The atheists (invariably reductionist in their ontological view of the world and scientistic in their epistemological) reject any evidence that supports reasoned argumentation. Fideists, on the other hand, reject reasoning to God’s existence because that somehow (never seriously explained, by the way) undermines faith. Both views are deeply erroneous.

    I offer Aquinas’ Third Way as only one of a good number of “proofs” that counter the erroneous atheistic or fideistic positions. Summarized: Aquinas’ 3rd argument regarding God as Existence itself is based on the contingency of created things. It begins with the realization (from our senses and thinking about that information) that the things of our experience are contingent, i.e., able to not be, i.e., their existence cannot be explained by themselves.

    [An important digression: There can be no such thing as a contingent being that exists forever. What’s more, this knowledge is not subject to any revision or update from any further reflection: it is an absolutely necessary truth, similar to the truth that 2 + 2 = 4.]

    So, if the sum total of all that exists were contingent, nothing would or could exist. Why? Again, because contingent beings are not self-explanatory: they require a non-contingent being to explain their existence.

    [Digression: The claim some atheists make that the existence of the universe is a “brute fact,” in order to avoid an uncomfortable truth, is an anti-intellectual, anti-scientific non-starter.]

    So, the Being that is the source of beingness for contingent beings must exist as wholly devoid of contingency, that is, as a Being whose very essence is to exist, i.e., Existence itself. This non-contingent Being must be one (i.e., necessarily so) that does not receive its beingness from another, but which has being from itself. On this point, there is a critical clarification needed for avoid falling into the typical atheist error against it: The category of beingness for the non-contingent Being cannot be realized in terms of successive periods of time—one right after the other, but can only be realized through necessity, a necessity which is present either right now or not at all.

    Punch Line: Aquinas’ Third Way does not reference revealed knowledge (Scripture) to argue to the existence of Existence itself, i.e., whose beingness is devoid of contingency by necessity. The argument is from what reason can know that there must be a necessary being—God. And this reasoning is unassailable—smashing the opinions of the atheist and fideist.

  2. SteveK says:

    I DO recall self-anointed ‘rationalists’ pitting faith against reason, and religion against science – which are forms of fideism – but I DON’T recall believers doing this. Maybe I need to get out more often ;).

  3. David Ellis says:


    Digression: the fallacy of begging the question often rears its head from the atheist side at this point… and I reference David’s and Tony’s and Geoff’s (and earlier DL’s) assertions that “God is a myth” or “God is fictitious.” If an atheist holds (incorrectly) that God is essentially and exclusively a matter of faith, and hence God is fictitious (which echoes a bit of Gould’s erroneous NOMA) because fictions can only be adhered to by an act of faith, that’s fallacious reasoning.

    Yet another example of the straw man fallacy (feel free to prove me wrong by quoting me making an argument of the sort you describe above).

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Caution to both Holopupenko and David Ellis: this is how our threads go way far afield. Last time it started (as I noted) with a clearly parenthetical post by Dave, this time it’s a well-marked digression.

    Digressions do have their dangers in discussions like this, even if they’re well marked; and following them is often a way to miss the real point. I urge you to stay on topic.

  5. David Ellis says:

    No problem, if Holo wishes to discuss the topic he brought up he can make a post at his blog and let me know. I’ll respond to it there (if I find it not a waste of time to respond any further at all).

    Regarding the things you talked about in your post I think its territory we’ve already discussed at some length. I’ve nothing further to add to the subject at the moment.

  6. I was going to endorse David Ellis’s suggestion that Holopupenko should put up (i.e. cite quotes by David or myself that support his contention) or shut up (after, perhaps, apologizing), and should do so on his own blog. But after visiting his remarkably offensive and thoroughly tasteless blog, I have no intention to returning to it. Sorry, Tom.

    As for Tom’s original post, I’m curious about how he would justify some of the claims. For example, \Mark’s simple account of the resurrection is not what one would expect of a fable developing long after the events.\ Why not? This seems to depend on the assumption that people were more gullible and artless 1900+ years ago than they are today; that someone embroidering a narrative by adding elements would be incapable of doing so in a way that would pass muster with 21st century critics. Cultural jingoism?

    One final point: none of Tom’s points are inconsistent with the hypothesis that Jesus did not in fact die on the cross, and that after he had been taken down, his closest friends discovered that he was alive and took him to a safe place, where he recovered from his injuries. If some of his followers were unaware of his recovery, and went to where they thought he had been buried, their accounts would be… well, pretty much what we read. From this perspective, the problem is not whether you have evidence for an empty tomb, but whether you can come up with evidence for a not-empty tomb the day before.

  7. Ranger says:

    I’m probably not going to follow this discussion, but I wanted to quickly comment on Geoff’s thesis. Here are a few reasons I find it implausible (I’m not going to detail them too much for lack of time…sorry).

    Here are two claims that your hypothesis requires:

    1. Jesus didn’t die on the cross
    2. Jesus’ disciples were able to steal his body

    I would begin by responding to the first point with these arguments based solely on Mark and external sources on crucifixion in antiquity:

    1. Roman soldiers knew confidently how to kill through crucifixion. There is no evidence of a person surviving a crucifixion at Roman hands. The only record of anyone partaking of a crucifixion and surviving comes in Josephus, where he cried before the authorities and they allowed three of them to come down before they died due to Josephus’ request and status. Two of them went on to die, but one survived after recovering under the physician’s hands.

    2. Before being crucified, prisoners received lashings, which would tear open their backs (see Josephus/Tacitus, as well as C. Evans work on Roman death practices)

    3. Jesus received an unprecedented pre-crucifixion beating from Roman soldiers and was already weak enough that they requested help in carrying his cross. Romans would not have requested such help without him having a physical need, as carrying the cross was the norm to further stress the back that had been torn from the lashing (see Zias’ work on crucifixion).

    4. Jesus’ death was confirmed to Pilate by the Roman soldier who would have presided over the events (Mark 15:45).

    Therefore, considering these pre-crucifixion beatings, the crucifixion itself, the post-death confirmation and everything we know about crucifixion in antiquity (a lot), it’s implausible to believe that Jesus survived the crucifixion.

    There are many other reasons your hypothesis is implausible (particularly in the events of the crucifixion itself and what we know from antiquity), and I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to detail them out right now, or any time soon!

    Now for your second point. You presuppose that a group of Jesus’ disciples are able to get to Jesus’ body, steal it and help him recover leading to others finding the empty tomb (and thus pretty much what we read, including appearances I presume). Here is a quick response:

    1. All of our evidence (including the earliest account) points to Joseph of Arimathea and the women taking down and preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Typically, crucified individuals were not allowed a proper burial due to the Romans wanting continued humiliation in death, thus Joseph was bold in requesting the body from Pilate.

    2. Joseph buried Jesus inside a tomb, after wrapping him in a linen shroud, and rolled a stone in front of the entrance.

    3. The women, who later found the tomb empty, saw the location of the tomb. There is no evidence that the other disciples were aware of the location.

    All the evidence says that Jesus was buried, that the women knew where the tomb was located and implies that they believed he was dead (otherwise they wouldn’t have wrapped him for decomposition, placed him in the tomb, etc.).

    1. Your theory needs disciples being able to tell that he was still alive. There is no evidence that anyone save Joseph and the women were involved in his burial, or the end of his crucifixion to be able to tell whether or not he was still alive. This is implausible as those who handled the body (Joseph and women), clearly thought he was dead.

    2. Your theory needs Jesus’ disciples violating all types of Jewish practices to go into the tomb on the Sabbath (two violations) and steal the body (another). This is implausible in first century Palestine, especially when we consider that these are disillusioned followers of someone who would be seen as a false Messiah.

    3. Your theory requires these disciples knowing the location of Jesus’ burial. There’s no evidence in Mark toward this end. Thus, this too is implausible.

    4. If the one known case of crucifixion survival required the crucifixion to finish early, and a physician to bring the body back, it’s rather implausible to think that a group of Galileans peasants could somehow nurse (the somehow surviving) Jesus back to health, when a Roman physician wasn’t even able to save two others in Josephus’ story that only had a partial crucifixion. This is obviously implausible as well.

    5. Jesus was able to recover enough in 48 hours following his crucifixion to be able to be seen as risen by his other disciples. They didn’t see him as a surviving Messiah, but a risen Messiah. A weak, ragged corpse of a man would not cause these disillusioned Jews to change from disillusionment to radical preaching.

    6. The disciples who brought Jesus back to health, and thus had no reason to think he was still Messiah, continued either to present him as risen to the other disciples or disappeared from history. The church obviously believed Jesus was risen from the dead from its earliest days (all evidence points that way), so where did these disciples who nursed Jesus back to health go? Did they change their tune and start living the lie, or did they go into hiding without stopping the early church from their proclamation?

    All in all, I see no reason to find your hypothesis even remotely plausible.

    Sorry I won’t be able to respond, but I hope the discussion continues.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Geoff,

    You should look at it (Mark 16:1-8; the rest of the chapter is disputed, though whether one accepts it or not makes little difference to the current issue). The point is that it has not been embroidered by adding elements. It is simple, stark. Quoting Craig:

    To appreciate how restrained Mark’s narrative is, one has only to read the account in the [apocryphal] Gospel of Peter, which describes Jesus’ triumphant egress from the tomb as a gigantic figure whose head reaches above the clouds, supported by giant angels, followed by a talking cross, heralded by a voice from heaven…. This is how real legends look: they are colored by theological and apologetical developments. By contrast, the Markan account is stark in its simplicity.

    This is not cultural jingoism. It is the way people are. It is the way legends are. (See further on the nature of legends here.)

    You say,

    none of Tom’s points are inconsistent with the hypothesis …

    Actually, that’s only true if I must deliver every point in every blog post, which I’m sure you don’t expect. You may have missed what I wrote about that kind of theory earlier in this same series (see also Parts One and Three).

    To summarize that: (1) Given the cultural realities of the day, the resurrection proclaimed by the early Christians did not (could not have) at all resemble what you have described, because that’s not what the term resurrection meant. (2) The kingdom of God they proclaimed following Jesus’ resurrection was utterly inconsistent with a Jesus secretly “recovering from his injuries” after being executed (apparently incompetently?) at the hands of the Romans. That’s not what the kingdom of God meant to anyone at the time. (3) To think they could regard Jesus as Messiah under those circumstances would be to completely wrest the meaning of the term out of its historical context.

    You rightly suppose that cultural jingoism is not something to support. It would also be a mistake to interpret these events without regard to how they would have been viewed by the culture of the time, using the terms and thought categories that applied then and there. To set all that aside as irrelevant or wrong would be cultural imperialism.

    And to suppose that some of his followers nursed him back to health, but the empty tomb story was circulated by another group of followers who didn’t know about it — well, if you can find any reputable historian who proposes that one, I’d be interested to hear about it. It’s really reaching.

    So I hope we can agree to set that theory aside as one that has no plausible connection to historical realities whatever.

    Do we have evidence for a not-empty tomb before there was an empty tomb? Certainly! It is attested very early (1 Corinthians 15:3-6, a creedal formula that was well-developed probably by 40 AD, and Mark 15:42-47, among others). Craig adds,

    The differences between Mark’s account and those of Matthew and Luke suggest that the latter had sources other than Mark alone. These differences are not plausibly explained as Matthew and Luke’s editorial changes of Mark because of their sporadic and uneven nature, the inexplicable omission of events like Pilate’s interrogation of the centurion, and the agreements in wording in Matthew and Luke in contrast to Mark…. Why would Matthew and Luke independently agree in their performances over against Mark? … Whether through independent sources or a common stable tradition, the historicity of Joseph’s burial of Jesus shines through.

    By the same source material we also see that it is multiply attested.

    The accounts speak of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the party of Jesus’ enemies, as the one who provided for his burial. This is an extremely unlikely detail to include unless it was true.

    Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.

    (As a scholar at the liberal Union Seminary, Brown was no fundamentalist apologist.)

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    Ranger, thank you for that response, and I hope you do get a chance to return.

  10. Charlie says:

    And then Jesus, who led, taught and loved this band of disciples lied to them and let them believe that He was supernaturally healed. Instead of bragging that the Romans couldn’t kill Him, instead of ruling them as a celebrity, He disappeared again. He did so in some manner that convinced them that He had been Glorified and had ascended to the right hand of the Father. He remained in hiding with noone knowing His whereabouts and with no accounts ever claiming that He had done so. Then, believing this lie, his disciples started to be punished, persecuted, jailed and martyred for believing in His deception – right there in Jerusalem. And this good man, the great teacher, the brilliant moralizer who had suffered Crucifixion (and survived!) let them. He didn’t send word that they had it wrong, that He hadn’t really died, that He had never risen, that He was just a man, that He was not worthy of worship; He just chilled out in perfect seclusion, never to be heard from again. And the grave robbers who had nursed Him to health in a matter of hours never said a thing when people started converting and then dying for their hoax.

  11. David Ellis says:

    Just my two cents, I consider the swoon theory among the least likely hypotheses concerning the events leading up to the emergence of Christianity as a religion.

    But still a few thousand times more likely than a magical resurrection (and that’s even if we assume the supernatural exists—magical resurrections are still massively rarer than survival after grave injuries).

  12. SteveK says:

    And this good man, the great teacher, the brilliant moralizer who had suffered Crucifixion (and survived!) let them. He didn’t send word that they had it wrong, that He hadn’t really died, that He had never risen, that He was just a man, that He was not worthy of worship…

    Liar, Lunatic or Lord. Pick one, Geoff.

  13. Comment deleted by siteowner: harshly critical language.

  14. Charlie says:

    But still a few thousand times more likely than a magical resurrection (and that’s even if we assume the supernatural exists—magical resurrections are still massively rarer than survival after grave injuries).

    And infinitely less likely to inspire worship and create in the witnesses a rejoicing in the hope of the Glory of God and a desire for just such a Glorified body.
    Stabbed in the heart, pierced through the hands/wrists, nails driven through His heels, beaten about the head, beard plucked from His face, back lacerated possibly to the bone and intestines, Jesus came “walking” in among the Disciples and their natural reaction is, ‘I can hardly wait for MY resurrection and to be glorified like the Lord!’
    Not likely by any factor.

  15. Charlie says:

    I love this reasoning:

    This seems to depend on the assumption that people were more gullible and artless 1900+ years ago than they are today; that someone embroidering a narrative by adding elements would be incapable of doing so in a way that would pass muster with 21st century critics. Cultural jingoism?

    One day our atheist friends claim that the gullible and naive disciples, lacking for 21st century scientific advancements, don’t know that dead people don’t rise or that virgins don’t have babies and the next they are so sophisticated that they can back-date a narrative 20, 30, 50 or, if the atheist has his druthers, even hundreds of years, removing legendary accretions and theological implications (theological implications plain to Paul before the accepted dates for the Gospels) because: 1) their audience suddenly is not that gullible (but will still buy the Resurrection and Empty Tomb) or 2) they know just how to fool readers millennia in the future even though his readers would buy just about anything.

  16. Tom Gilson says:

    David, your use of “magic” got a separate response from me in a blog post. Your use of statistical reasoning in your last clause—when you were allowing the assumption that the supernatural exists—is strange. I think with some thought you could see why statistical averages are irrelevant to the present discussion. We’re not talking about physical unlikelihoods here, but about the acts of a personal God. Nor is this act an arbitrary one. It is the climax of a narrative, a story, that began in Genesis 3 and built toward this moment for centuries. It is the story of God creating humans in love, and continuing to love them even when they rebelled against him. He continued his love toward them in spite of massive repeated rebellions. Along the way he kept dropping hints of one who would come and redeem his people, bring them back into reconciliation to himself.

    When that person came, Jesus, he brought God’s revelation to its peak, and yet he suffered the most direct and egregious rebellion against God that had ever been committed. It is the same story brought to focus. It is the story of God continuing to love. And it is the story of God continuing: that is, that the story did not end with the rebellion. It ended with God victorious. (It continues to this day. The same kind of advance revelation that was dropped about Jesus’ first coming are there for his return, though it is much stronger than hints.)

    Where does statistical reasoning apply in a drama? Where does it apply in a story, where the author can write what he wills? Where does it apply in a historic narrative, where for centuries God was preparing for an event like the life and ministry of Jesus? Where does it apply to the death of God himself among us?

    Maybe that last question does have an answer. When God himself walks among us, the odds of his being resurrected if he is killed are 100%. Because he is God.

  17. David Ellis says:


    Stabbed in the heart, pierced through the hands/wrists, nails driven through His heels, beaten about the head, beard plucked from His face, back lacerated possibly to the bone and intestines, Jesus came “walking” in among the Disciples and their natural reaction is, ‘I can hardly wait for MY resurrection and to be glorified like the Lord!’
    Not likely by any factor.

    A. Obviously, if the swoon theory is correct, he probably didn’t get stabbed in the heart.

    B. I think the scenario Geof described was “If some of his followers were unaware of his recovery, and went to where they thought he had been buried, their accounts would be… well, pretty much what we read.”

    In other words, a few of his follower hide him and nurse him to health telling no one, not even other followers for fear that it would endanger him (after all, the story says he was betrayed by a follower—so there would be good reason to fear telling anyone at all— we also do not need to necessarily assume he recovered; the efforts to save him could have failed). And we are left with an empty tomb story that quickly snowballed into a belief in his supernatural resurrection among some of the followers unaware of his being taken from the tomb barely alive and near death.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    David, see my earlier reply to Geoff. See the first three posts in this series. Geoff was not involved in the discussions on those posts, so I could see why he would not take that information into account. I can’t understand why you would do that. You were there.

    You are egregiously re-writing history, and I don’t just mean “Christian” history. I mean history.

  19. David Ellis says:


    Your use of statistical reasoning in your last clause—when you were allowing the assumption that the supernatural exists—is strange.

    Nothing strange about it. Even if the supernatural exists, supernaturally caused events of such magnitude are very rare.

    Obviously if something is equally accounted for by two hypotheses, one so rare its widely suspected of being imaginary, the other merely unusual, it would be irrational to favor the former as more plausible.


    I think with some thought you could see why statistical averages are irrelevant to the present discussion. We’re not talking about physical unlikelihoods here, but about the acts of a personal God.

    Divine intervention of this sort are a rarity. Again, why should I favor such an extremely rare explanation over a merely unusual one?


    Nor is this act an arbitrary one. It is the climax of a narrative, a story, that began in Genesis 3 and built toward this moment for centuries.

    I’m not sure how you’re regarding a story built up and added to over centuries to be evidence for the truth of your religion. Nor do I see very much reason to think the Christian story even fits very well with the story of the OT (probably no small factor in why so few Jews ever became Christian).


    Maybe that last question does have an answer. When God himself walks among us, the odds of his being resurrected if he is killed are 100%. Because he is God.

    And if you establish that he was God then I’d agree. But you’ve consistently used the resurrection and the (paltry) historical evidence for it as grounds for believing Christianity is true and Jesus is God Incarnate.

    To then turn around and say the odds of him resurrecting are 100% because he is God seems a bit circular.

    We think he’s God because the historical evidence says he resurrected…the likelihood of the resurrection is 100% because he’s God?

    Obviously, I don’t share your confidence in the former and my comment about the relative rarity of the two varieties of explanation is a criticism of your position on this point.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Quick partial reply before I run out the door: I suggest you re-think whether anything you wrote makes sense in terms of the terms you yourself set: “even granting that the supernatural exists.”

    Ask yourself this: if the supernatural exists in the form of a personal God, why would you think that God would confine himself to working in the bell curve? Do you? If you have a choice to make about how to make yourself known to a potential romantic partner, or to look for a job, do you say, “What would be the most normal thing I could do? What would keep me within one standard deviation?” Is that what persons do?

    If you’re hypothesizing (for argument’s sake) that the supernatural exists, does your hypothesis require that it work within natural averages, and stay always within three or four SD? Why would you put that restriction on it?

  21. David Ellis says:


    Ask yourself this: if the supernatural exists in the form of a personal God, why would you think that God would confine himself to working in the bell curve?

    The answer is: I don’t and nothing I said indicates that I do.

    That one grants the existence of God does not change the fact that miracles are rare and, in any given case of someone making an extraordinary claim, a very improbable explanation–at least until such a time as we have sufficient evidence to change our assessment.

    Analogously, I see no reason to believe that alien intelligences are not possible. I still regard a claim that someone was abducted by aliens as highly implausible and would need very compelling evidence before I decided the alien abduction happened rather than the person was lying, delusional, self-deceived, etc.

    This is a quite reasonable standard to apply to claims where the evidence is so paltry.


    If you have a choice to make about how to make yourself known to a potential romantic partner, or to look for a job, do you say, “What would be the most normal thing I could do? What would keep me within one standard deviation?” Is that what persons do?

    And do we have good reason to think this is how God would communicate with us?


    If you’re hypothesizing (for argument’s sake) that the supernatural exists, does your hypothesis require that it work within natural averages, and stay always within three or four SD? Why would you put that restriction on it?

    Obviously that would be an absurd claim for me to make. Equally obviously, I didn’t make that claim.

    I simply pointed out that if X is extremely rare then the likelihood of X being the correct explanation for why an event Y occurred is, in the absence of good evidence one way or the other regarding this specific case, less likely than other explanations that account for the facts equally well and which we know to be more common. My position is similar here, though of broader application, to Hume’s famous argument regarding the plausibility of miracle claims:

    It goes for X=the resurrection of Jesus and Y=the emergence of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.

    It goes just as much for X=the abduction really occurred and Y=someone makes the claim that aliens abducted them.

    And, of course, applies to rather more mundane situations as well. Its a sensible general account of how we assess the plausibility of claims before we’ve gathered evidence and in cases where its not possible to get clear evidence.

  22. Charlie says:

    Stabbed in the heart, pierced through the hands/wrists, nails driven through His heels, beaten about the head, beard plucked from His face, back lacerated possibly to the bone and intestines, Jesus came “walking” in among the Disciples and their natural reaction is, ‘I can hardly wait for MY resurrection and to be glorified like the Lord!’
    Not likely by any factor.

    A. Obviously, if the swoon theory is correct, he probably didn’t get stabbed in the heart.

    Right. The beaten, pierced, bleeding, staggering, lacerated, but unstabbed resurrection body is so much more appealing

    B. I think the scenario Geof described was “If some of his followers were unaware of his recovery, and went to where they thought he had been buried, their accounts would be… well, pretty much what we read.”

    In other words, a few of his follower hide him and nurse him to health telling no one, not even other followers for fear that it would endanger him (after all, the story says he was betrayed by a follower—so there would be good reason to fear telling anyone at all— we also do not need to necessarily assume he recovered; the efforts to save him could have failed). And we are left with an empty tomb story that quickly snowballed into a belief in his supernatural resurrection among some of the followers unaware of his being taken from the tomb barely alive and near death.

    And none of the Disciples named who never saw a ‘recovered’ Jesus, let alone a Ressurrected Jesus and living in Jerusalem at the time would say ‘you know what, we never actually saw Jesus after His Crucifixion so maybe don’t go ahead and face persecution and death on the reliability of this story. And maybe don’t kill me‘.

    That’s why we showed the implausibility of this argument and how it barely accounts for the missing body and worse, has zero explanatory power with regards to the post-Resurrection appearances, the changed lives, or the developing theology. It is implausible as an explanation for the Empty Tomb and then entails adding further implausible scenarios to cover the other evidences.
    On one thread you guys argue there was no Empty Tomb, or that nobody believed in it and that it wasn’t even necessary for the rise of Christianity. On the next you argue that an Empty Tomb is sufficient to cause shared hallucinations, change lives, create a resurrection theology and inspire a religious movement.

  23. Charlie says:

    Nor do I see very much reason to think the Christian story even fits very well with the story of the OT (probably no small factor in why so few Jews ever became Christian).

    Thousands of Jews became Christian within weeks of the Crucifixion right there in Jerusalem where it happened, including all of Jesus’ first followers.
    In fact, men like Matthew and Paul were expert in the Jewish Scriptures and saw that the Story fit very well.
    Tom said:

    Maybe that last question does have an answer. When God himself walks among us, the odds of his being resurrected if he is killed are 100%. Because he is God.

    In fact, in Was Jesus God Swinburne demonstrates that if God exists at all (or even plausibly exists) then it is probable, a priori to the facts of history that He would become Incarnate, and die and Resurrect.

    David Ellis says:

    But still a few thousand times more likely than a magical resurrection (and that’s even if we assume the supernatural exists—magical resurrections are still massively rarer than survival after grave injuries).

    Now that we know that “magical” merely is a pejorative for “supernatural” I guess we need to know what David means by “supernatural” or, conversely, by “natural”. Since, by non-materialist but naturalist David’s reckoning, even if we assume the supernatural exists a supernatural Resurrection is massively improbable. Why is that?

  24. David Ellis says:


    Thousands of Jews became Christian within weeks of the Crucifixion right there in Jerusalem where it happened, including all of Jesus’ first followers.

    What evidence do you have to support this claim?


    In fact, in Was Jesus God Swinburne demonstrates that if God exists at all (or even plausibly exists) then it is probable that He would become Incarnate, and die and Resurrect, a priori to the facts of history.

    Feel free to present and defend Swinburne’s argument.


    Since, by David’s reckoning, even if we assume the supernatural exists a supernatural Resurrection is massively improbable. Why is that?

    How many of them do you know of? Not many?

    Its rare. When two explanations fit the data equally well its reasonable to think the more common explanation more likely:

    You’re sleeping in a hotel room in a small town in Tennessee. You hear hoofbeats in the night. Among the following (nonexhaustive) possibilities which should you assess as more probable (prior to you going out and actually seeing for yourself–if the cause isn’t already gone and that’s no longer an option):

    horses

    zebras

    unicorns

    And let’s assume unicorns exist but have never been captured and are so rare and hard to find they’ve never been filmed and their existence is doubted by many.

    The principle I’ve put forward is so obviously correct you wouldn’t have considered disputing it if the matter under discussion wasn’t one of the tenets of your religion.

  25. David Ellis says:

    Regarding the swoon theory, as I said, I think it one of the least likely scenarios so I see little reason to engage in an extensive back and forth with you about it. You and Geoff can argue the matter if you like.

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    David,

    And do we have good reason to think this is how God would communicate with us?

    Wrong question. You’re trying to run a statistical argument where you don’t know that statistics apply. You have no basis for that.

    What evidence do you have to support this claim?

    There is strong evidence the Christian movement grew in the first century. There is the testimony of the book of Acts. There are the thirteen cities where there is external (archaeological) evidence of Christianity within a few decades of Christ. If the word “thousands” is in question, then settle for “hundreds” and see if it destroys Charlie’s argument.

    Since, by David’s reckoning, even if we assume the supernatural exists a supernatural Resurrection is massively improbable. Why is that?
    How many of them do you know of? Not many?
    Its rare. When two explanations fit the data equally well its reasonable to think the more common explanation more likely.

    The two explanations don’t fit the data equally well. The anti-supernaturalist argument has to defy known facts of history, literature, archaeology, and human nature.

    Further, if we assume the supernatural, then you have to forget about your statistics, because you don’t know whether they apply or not! You keep using them as if they were a matter of knowledge, but they can’t be.

    Your hoofbeats in the hotel analogy forgets that we are (for the sake of discussion) assuming the supernatural. It’s “let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the supernatural is real, but let’s also assume that it can’t do anything out of the ordinary.” That’s illegitimate and unreasoning.

    To quote you back at yourself,

    The principle I’ve put forward is so obviously correct you wouldn’t have considered disputing it if the matter under discussion wasn’t one of the tenets of your religion atheism.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    That will be up to Geoff.

    Interesting, though, that you defended it in spite of your own low view of it.

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    Perhaps this gets to the heart of David’s error as well as anything does in a short space. He wrote,

    magical resurrections are still massively rarer than survival after grave injuries)

    The error he makes is in assuming that we are asserting something like “survival after grave injuries.” That’s not it at all. Rather we are asserting that the person who experienced these grave injuries was, after that event, considered to be the basis of an entirely novel way of viewing all of reality; that he launched and was considered the sovereign ruler of a new Kingdom of God; that he was proclaimed the long-dreamed-of Messiah who would restore Israel’s rightful place in the world; that he was himself the basis of a new movement that has since then swept the world; that those who had reason to know the facts died in defense of his being exactly that person by virtue of his resurrection; that his followers acclaimed him after his death as the Lord of life and the fount of all power.

    None of this is seriously in doubt among reputable historians, except possibly the disciples dying in defense of these beliefs.

    If statistical reasoning were at all relevant here, we would have to look at just how often that has happened in history. The question is not how many people have “survived” grave injuries. It is how many people have accomplished that in the course of doing so. It takes the list down to exactly the same number as have been reported to have been resurrected from the dead.

  29. David Ellis says:


    Me: What evidence do you have to support this claim?

    Tom: There is strong evidence the Christian movement grew in the first century. There is the testimony of the book of Acts. There are the thirteen cities where there is external (archaeological) evidence of Christianity within a few decades of Christ. If the word “thousands” is in question, then settle for “hundreds” and see if it destroys Charlie’s argument.

    Recall what Charlies claim was:


    Thousands of Jews became Christian within weeks of the Crucifixion right there in Jerusalem where it happened…

    Jews. Within weeks. A claim that cannot be substantiated (you yourself pass it over and instead only refer to the numbers of christians decades later).

    And even if there are hundreds (even thousands) decades later the question is concerning the fact that the vast majority of JEWS did not convert and never have. At no point has more than a tiny fraction of Jews converted to Christianity.

    My point stands.


    Interesting, though, that you defended it in spite of your own low view of it.

    I merely think it more plausible than your hypothesis. But I’ve little reason to spend a great deal of time discussing at any length the relative merits of what I consider two of the least likely hypotheses. Its a waste of time.


    The two explanations don’t fit the data equally well. The anti-supernaturalist argument has to defy known facts of history, literature, archaeology, and human nature.

    A issue on which you and I disagree and which we’ve discussed before. I note, though, that you’re saying here that we don’t stand in the position I described of judging the plausibility of claims in the absence of clear evidence rather than criticizing the basic principle itself–which is obviously sensible.


    Further, if we assume the supernatural, then you have to forget about your statistics, because you don’t know whether they apply or not!

    It applies to your hypothesis in this issue as much as it does to the unicorns in my illustration of the principle.

    Your objection has as much substance as saying that since we don’t know how these super-intelligent unicorns would choose to reveal themselves to humanity we don’t know whether statistics apply or not. Your wasting my time with objections that don’t make any sense.


    Your hoofbeats in the hotel analogy forgets that we are (for the sake of discussion) assuming the supernatural.

    You forget that in my analogy I specifically included the idea that unicorns are real (only so rarely seen many doubt their existence).


    It’s “let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the supernatural is real, but let’s also assume that it can’t do anything out of the ordinary.” That’s illegitimate and unreasoning.

    I’m not assuming it can do nothing out of the ordinary. I’m simply including in my calculation of the most probable explanation the fact that these sorts of events are extraordinarily rare.

    My analogy tracks quite well.


    Rather we are asserting that the person who experienced these grave injuries was, after that event, considered to be the basis of an entirely novel way of viewing all of reality; that he launched and was considered the sovereign ruler of a new Kingdom of God; that he was proclaimed the long-dreamed-of Messiah who would restore Israel’s rightful place in the world; that he was himself the basis of a new movement that has since then swept the world; that those who had reason to know the facts died in defense of his being exactly that person by virtue of his resurrection; that his followers acclaimed him after his death as the Lord of life and the fount of all power.

    And if the history of our world were not replete with examples of people believing extraordinary claims on little or no evidence (and even in direct contradiction to clear evidence) that would pose a problem for my position. But such is not the world we live in.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    A issue on which you and I disagree and which we’ve discussed before

    And I supposed we’ve discussed it enough. I think the facts are clear, but we do disagree. (I can’t make heads or tails of the sentence you wrote after this one.)

    It applies to your hypothesis in this issue as much as it does to the unicorns in my illustration of the principle.

    Which hypothesis? If you mean my belief that the resurrection of Christ was the result of God’s working supernaturally, that’s not a hypothesis. That’s a conclusion I draw from the information I have at hand.

    You’re right in saying that I ought not try to apply statistics to the supernatural working of God. They don’t apply.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t use statistical reasoning for the surrounding events or their explanations. We can consider the statistical likelihood of women being named the first witnesses, if the resurrection is false. I can think of the likelihood of Jesus being considered Messiah, if the resurrection is false. I can think of the likelihood of those things if the resurrection is true. These are not ruled out by the kind of objections I have raised. Why? Because these are knowable in principle. The statistical likelihood of God raising Jesus from the dead, on the agreed assumption (for the sake of argument) that the supernatural exists, is not knowable.

    Your wasting my time with objections that don’t make any sense.

    No. David, you’re not getting it, and you’re wrong. We can use statistical reasoning for that which is knowable. We can’t use it for that which is not statistically knowable. It’s that simple.

    But if you think I’m wasting your time, your response is your own to choose.

    You forget that in my analogy I specifically included the idea that unicorns are real (only so rarely seen many doubt their existence).

    Okay, I missed that. Then in that case the immediate assumption would be a statistical one, but it would need to be checked out. Just as the resurrection needs to be checked out. And has been. You don’t lie in bed in the hotel and say, “I have absolute assurance that it was horses. I am absolutely certain it was not unicorns.” That would be stupid.

    Your analogy tracks better with reality than I realized, but it tracks with reality as Christians present it, not as you are.

    And if the history of our world were not replete with examples of people believing extraordinary claims on little or no evidence (and even in direct contradiction to clear evidence) that would pose a problem for my position. But such is not the world we live in.

    David, you’re not paying attention. These people didn’t just believe in contradiction to clear evidence, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. They believed in clear contradiction to their own beliefs, and built an incredibly successful movement on that self-contradiction. They knew Jesus was dead and proclaimed him the Lord of life. They knew Jesus was not resurrected, but believed that he was. They knew he was not the founder of a new Kingdom but believed he was. They knew there was no reason to die for him but believed they should die for him. They knew he was a failure but believed he was the greatest victor of all time.

    And they did not (like some moderns and post-moderns) begin to think that “faith equals believing what you know isn’t true.” They knew that faith was trust in what could be known. Read the documents: their faith and their knowledge were as congruent as you could ask.

    In the process they founded the most successful and stable social movement in the history of the Western world, which has become the largest social movement in the world today.

    I think your position, stated in my last quote of you here, is incredibly imaginative but as disconnected from reality as it could possibly be. Your insistence on statistical reasoning about the unknowable is disconnected from knowledge and rationality. You’re not standing on firm ground, David.

  31. First, I’m not endorsing the “swoon” argument. I simply raised it to demonstrate that your “empty tomb” stories are entirely consistent with a wholly naturalistic, non-supernatural account of events, and thus it’s hard to see how they add credibility to the supernatural alternative.

    But Tom’s tour de force deserves a riposte:

    The error he makes is in assuming that we are asserting something like “survival after grave injuries.” We are asserting that the person who experienced grave injuries was, after that event, considered to be the basis of an entirely novel way of viewing all of reality; that he launched and was considered the sovereign ruler of a new Kingdom of God; that he was proclaimed the long-dreamed-of Messiah who would restore Israel’s rightful place in the world; that he was himself the basis of a new movement that has since then swept the world; that those who had reason to know the facts died in defense of his being exactly that person by virtue of his resurrection; that his followers acclaimed him after his death as the Lord of life and the fount of all power.

    As you say, nobody would dispute that over the last 1900 years people have behaved in the way you describe: used particular forms of reference, ascribed properties, identity and powers, inferred context, and so forth. So you must be making some other argument – that perhaps these historical facts are relevant in deciding what actually happened. More specifically, you seem to be saying (and correct me if I’m wrong) that the reactions of people to the account of a purported event (about which none of them have direct evidence) should be taken into consideration when assessing the truth-value of the account.

    I’m curious why you’d think that this not simply an example of the Argumentum ad populum fallacy. Perhaps you disagree that it is a fallacy. Is your assessment of the miraculous claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints influenced by the numbers and enthusiasm of the members of the church that Smith founded? Do you compare the veracity of the miraculous claims concerning Mohammed and the Bahá’u’lláh respectively by counting up the numbers of Moslems and Baha’is over the years and how each group described their founder?

    Or are you simply begging the question? I would hope not.

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    Geoff, the argument obviously is that these historical facts are relevant. But not the “reactions” of people; the beliefs and actions of people who were in a position to judge see and to know what actually happened.

    The argumentum ad populum fallacy is not applicable every time one appeals to large numbers of witnesses’ testimony. Take the victory of Michigan State over the University of Michigan in football yesterday (go green!). Suppose there were no cameras there, only people witnessing the game, some 80,000 of them probably. Suppose we interviewed a couple hundred of them departing the stadium, and all agreed that Michigan State won. Is that an argumentum ad populum? No! It’s an investigation based on knowledge.

    Suppose we were to look at the newspapers reporting a game played 75 years ago, and they all agreed that Michigan State won a particular game. Is that an argumentum ad populum? Obviously not.

    Now, we have historical documentation of the events I named in what you called my tour de force (thank you very much). Is a historical investigation a logical fallacy?

    But does the Mormon Church serve as a counter-example? (I don’t know how many times I’ve answered this in the last month or two.) No. There is no real parity between LDS and Christianity in terms of the kinds of claims made or the historical evidence for them. If I were basing my argument solely on numbers and enthusiasm, that might make it more of a parallel case, but that wasn’t what I was doing.

    Do I compare the veracity of other religions’ claims based on numbers of people who follow them, or how they describe their founder? No. I don’t do that for Christianity, either. My “tour de force” wasn’t about numbers and “how they describe” Jesus. It was a counter to the argument David made, wherein he said Christianity was another example of

    people believing extraordinary claims on little or no evidence (and even in direct contradiction to clear evidence)

    My point was that this was not an instance of that. It was an instance (if the resurrection is false) of people believing an extraordinary claim that they knew was false. Thus my point was that his conclusion, that this kind of thing is common in history, is a false conclusion, because the kind of thing that actually took place in the first century, where people believed what they did about Jesus, is unique in history. Please, Geoff, if you haven’t done so already, read the first three posts in this series so I don’t have to explain all over again why that is true.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    I want to correct an earlier error I made with respect to the hotel unicorn analogy David made. There’s no good parallel there to the case we’re discussing. His hypothetical situation was:

    A. Given that unicorns exist but are very rare, so rare that some doubt they exist
    B. Given that horses are common, and zebras are too in some places
    C. Given that one hears hoofbeats
    D. What is the probability that the hoofbeats came from a unicorn rather than a horse or a zebra?

    The case that he wants to compare that to is this:
    A. Given (for the sake of argument) that the supernatural exists
    B. Given that there are reports that Jesus was resurrected
    C. What is the probability that Jesus was resurrected?

    In the unicorn case, it is: given the very unlikely possibility of x, was this experience an instance of x? In the other case, it is: given y which has the ability to produce z, was this experience an instance of z? The parallelism fails on its not being parallel.

    Further, in the unicorn case, though the probability of a certain hoofbeat-producer being a unicorn may not be exactly computable, it can certainly be estimated as being extremely low, for there are knowns there. In the other case, do we know the probability that the supernatural would perform a resurrection? No, except if we take the Bible’s revelation as having authority, which I’m certainly willing to do. If we take it as an authority, the parallelism obviously fails on that account. If we do not take it as having authority, the parallelism fails on account of one side having (approximately) known probabilities, and the other side having completely unknowable, inscrutable probabilities.

  34. David Ellis says:


    It was an instance (if the resurrection is false) of people believing an extraordinary claim that they knew was false.

    There are several possible naturalistic options (I’ll give just two that I consider highly plausible for brevities sake):

    –Fraud. A follower or followers of Jesus claim to have seen him arisen and thereby become a cult leader. Obviously, this doesn’t involve them believing what they know isn’t true.

    –Exaggeration. Followers see visions of Jesus (or even merely have dreams of encounters with Jesus) which lead them to believe Jesus WAS the messiah and will soon return in glory. The stories of these visions become exaggerated into actual physical encounters. Again, no one is believing something they know isn’t so.

    None of the several reasons you give for believing in the resurrection come even remotely close to making it more likely than the two options above. For example:


    The Jews who wanted to deny the resurrection spread a tale that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15, especially the latter part of verse 15).

    You give the Bible’s claim that the Jews who wanted to deny the resurrection claim the disciples stole it as evidence in support of your position.

    And why exactly should we take the author of Matthew’s word that this claim was made?

    I won’t go over all the rest since its mostly stuff we’ve been over before.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Have you ever played the video game “snake” where the thing keeps taking strange turns and looping back on itself? The quote you lifted out just now—“It was an instance (if the resurrection is false) of people believing an extraordinary claim that they knew was false”—came from somewhere, but you’re snaking it somewhere else. We dare not lose the context, or we can twist things around so we don’t know if we’re coming or going.

    That statement was a refutation of your claim that early Christianity was an instance of “people believing extraordinary claims on little or no evidence (and even in direct contradiction to clear evidence).” When you made that supposition, you made it in answer to this from me:

    Rather we are asserting that the person who experienced these grave injuries was, after that event, considered to be the basis of an entirely novel way of viewing all of reality; that he launched and was considered the sovereign ruler of a new Kingdom of God; that he was proclaimed the long-dreamed-of Messiah who would restore Israel’s rightful place in the world; that he was himself the basis of a new movement that has since then swept the world; that those who had reason to know the facts died in defense of his being exactly that person by virtue of his resurrection; that his followers acclaimed him after his death as the Lord of life and the fount of all power.

    So your supposition flows out of all that and must function as a refutation of it, or else who knows what you are trying to accomplish with it? Obviously you are refuting something, and that’s the claim that was on the table when this began.

    Now you say that these things could be explained by (1) fraud; that someone made false claims and became a cult leader. The problem with that is that the kind of cult leader that person would have become in that culture would not have been the kind that history demonstrates happened. You are trying to rewrite known history—history that doesn’t even depend on any belief in the supernatural. I refer you again to the first three posts in this series.

    Or, you now say, these things could be explained by (2) exaggeration. The problem with that is the same. Please re-read the first three posts in this series. First-century Jews didn’t do that with their failed Messiahs. They didn’t do that with people who claimed (and failed) to be kingdom-bringers. It would not have entered their heads to suppose that any person’s bodily resurrection would have preceded the end of the ages, so they would not have exaggerated their supposed experiences into actual physical encounters.

    Your disregard of history belies your claimed reliance on fact and reason.

    Why would you want to take Matthew’s word on that polemic? Because it bears the marks of realism. Why would the author have included it, if false? To show that there was a guard to prevent the theft of Jesus’ body. How would he have posed that situation if he had been making it up? He would have made it seem just a tad more effective: starting at the time of Jesus’ burial. Matthew places it the next day.

    Furthermore, Craig shows how the point of the empty tomb is demonstrated even if one is skeptical of Matthew’s purposes:

    Even if we regard the guard as a Christian apologetic creation, the fact remains that the story was aimed at a widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body—which implies the empty tomb…. Behind the story lies a developing pattern of assertion and counter-assertion:

    Christian: “The Lord is risen!”

    Jew: “No, his disciple stole away his body.”

    Christian: “The guard at the tomb would have prevented any such theft.”

    Jew: “No, the guard fell asleep.”

    Christian: “The chief priests bribed the guards to say this.”

    In response to the Christian proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, the Jewish reaction was simply to assert that the disciples had stolen the body.

    Even if the Matthean account was an invention, it was an invention occasioned out of disputes that arose out of the tomb’s being empty—which is what this post is aimed at demonstrating.

  36. SteveK says:

    The parallelism fails on its not being parallel.

    Agreed. Given that unicorns exist and are rare, what are the odds that someone trotted in a rare unicorn, rather than a common zebra or horse? Given that God exists and that supernatural events are rare, what are the odds that God raised Jesus from the dead? There is no statistical answer for either one as far as I can tell. Agency is that way.

    Maybe Charlie and DL would be willing to re-enact their discussion about the statistics of shoes on top of refrigerators. 😉

  37. David Ellis says:


    First-century Jews didn’t do that with their failed Messiahs.

    Really? All of them? And how would you know that?

    Obviously, most Jews (then and now) were unpersuaded by the claims of Christianity. But we know what ALL Jews of the first century would or wouldn’t do?

    This is the last time I will respond to obvious absurdities. I’ve neither the time nor patience to waste on nonsense of this order.

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    David,

    Really. All of them. I know that because I’ve studied the history. There were many failed Messiahs in and around the first century. They didn’t get graduated to God status. Their followers gave up, or found another one to put their hope in. The failures, well, they were failures. That’s historical fact, a reality that grew out of the beliefs that dominated the world at that time; in other words, there is a consistent cultural explanation for why that was the way failed Messiahs were consistently treated. And I have explained this all in earlier posts in this series. I commend this book excerpt to you for more background.

    These facts are not altered by the fact that many Jews did not accept Jesus’ claims. I can see a tenuous connection there, but not strong enough to change the reality of what happened to failed Messiahs.

    Respond or not, that’s your choice. What I see you doing so far is clinging to parallelisms that have been shown to be irrelevant, demonstrably false use of statistical reasoning, and a culturally unaware lack of interest in historical realities. I think if I were found to be doing that in an extended series of discussions like this one, I would have to do a lot of soul-searching. I don’t think I would just call it all “obvious absurdities.”

    You don’t have to like this either, but I rather hope that you do, because I intend it favorably: I’m praying for you.

  39. Tony Hoffman says:

    Even if we regard the guard as a Christian apologetic creation, the fact remains that the story was aimed at a widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body—which implies the empty tomb….

    I don’t believe that there’s any documentation for the “widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body” as pre-dating Mark. Actually, I don’t think there’s any documentation for the empty tomb pre Mark.

    The biggest task, I think, for the modern apologist is to stress how important the “fact” of the empty tomb is as historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and yet explain how this “fact” isn’t mentioned in any of the other early documents that all pre-date Mark.

    That the empty tomb is a later embellishment, reflecting a religion whose theology was diverse and evolving, is so much more probable than any of the other possibilities being discussed here I don’t think there’s any point in quibbling over the details of contingent, subsequent events.

    Were Joseph Smith’s golden plates pure gold, or were they 24 karat? Did the guard at the tomb fall asleep, or was he bribed? Do you see how these questions, supposedly historical, ignore the much bigger problem?

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t think the supposed lack of documentation before Mark counts for much as evidence against the empty tomb, considering all the positive evidence for it. There is a perfectly good reason the early documents omit mention of the empty tomb. The pre-Markan documents we have are not narratives in the sense that the Gospels were. The empty tomb was mentioned because it was part of the account of what the women and the other disciples experienced. Its purpose in the narrative was simply that—narrative. The other documents, letters from Paul, were not narratives. There was no reason to mention the empty tomb. (Its apologetical significance arose later.)

    But the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty, without mentioning it explicitly. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of Jesus’ death, his burial, and his resurrection. Resurrection in first-century Judaism always meant bodily resurrection. It would have been redundant to say that the tomb was empty, because any reader would have known that if Jesus was resurrected, he was resurrected bodily, and if he was resurrected bodily, then his body wasn’t in the tomb. As I’ve noted previously, any other reading of “resurrection” would be historically anachronistic and wrong.

    So the empty tomb was there in the earliest of documents, and your argument for its being a later embellishment is seriously undercut, especially in view of much current scholarship that places the origin of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 creedal statement in the range of 38 to 40 AD.

    Is there documentation for the “widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body” pre-dating Mark? No. I didn’t say there was; my case for its historicity was built on other grounds.

  41. Charlie says:

    Nor do I see very much reason to think the Christian story even fits very well with the story of the OT (probably no small factor in why so few Jews ever became Christian).

    Thousands of Jews became Christian within weeks of the Crucifixion right there in Jerusalem where it happened, including all of Jesus’ first followers.
    In fact, men like Matthew and Paul were expert in the Jewish Scriptures and saw that the Story fit very well.

    What evidence do you have to support this claim?

    Acts 2:41
    Acts 4:4
    “The first Christian (i.e. messianic Jews) communities remained basically Jewish in style and language even in the Hellenistic cities. It happened only well into the second century that some Gentile minorities started to take the Church away from heh Jews, thereby moving one step toward the creation of a provincialized Christianity.’
    http://books.google.com/books?id=wTicUmleiYcC&lpg=PA55&ots=d7MA0U3n8E&dq=first%20century%20jewish%20christian&pg=PA138#v=onepage&q=first%20century%20jewish%20christian&f=false

    “Precisely because all of the earliest followers of Jesus were Jews, including of course the members of Jesus’ own family, it needs to be kept squarely in view that these people did not view themselves as founding a new religion.”
    Ben Witherington, What Have They Done With Jesus?, page 177

    All of the early Christians were Jews. The two stories fit together so well that the Christians kept worshipping alongside their brothers in the synagogues for at least a generation.

    Jews. Within weeks. A claim that cannot be substantiated (you yourself pass it over and instead only refer to the numbers of christians decades later).

    Yes it can.

    And even if there are hundreds (even thousands) decades later the question is concerning the fact that the vast majority of JEWS did not convert and never have. At no point has more than a tiny fraction of Jews converted to Christianity.

    Thousands is “so few”? Today there are, for instance, hundreds of thousands of Messianic Jews (a fraction of Jewish Christians) who, apparently, don’t know that you have the decided the two testaments don’t fit well together.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messianic_Judaism

    Your claim was that the stories did not fit together and that this was evidenced by so few Jews coming to Christ. This claim is false from the start and would be even if your claim weren’t a a fallacious argumentum ad populum – answered, of course, on its own terms any way. It matters not how many thought the stories fit well together unless they knew both stories. Paul and Matthew, and the other experts in the Jewish tradition who wrote the NT knew both and thought they fit very well together. In fact, they showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish traditions and laws and often recounts, of interest only to Jewish believers, the history of the Jewish people, as well as Jesus’ genealogy. With the (possible) exception of Luke, all of the authors of the NT were Jews, writing in a Semitic Greek and most of the books, including James (Jacob, addressing Christians and their synagogue) were written directly to Jewish converts.
    If the first converts were not Jewish, and if there were not very many of them, why would the books be written to them, address their concerns, and why would the Jewish character of the Faith not start being lost until several generations later. Obviously, the first generation was Jewish.
    http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/10_5/newtestament

    And for two thousand years experts in both the OT and NT, as well as in the original languages have studied them in their minutia and found they fit well together (don’t bother with the genetic fallacy, experts are experts).
    And your argument fails on its face in the first place any way, as I demonstrated, thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who had had access to Jesus and were privy to the disciples converted within weeks of the Crucifixion.
    Your point does not stand, but falls flat when viewed from any angle.

  42. Charlie says:

    Tony still hasn’t addressed the fact that, by his claim, Paul didn’t either know of, believe in or teach the Empty Tomb – and yet he was a very successful evangelizer.
    Why then, as Tony asserts, would the Empty Tomb be invented sooo much later as a Christian apologetic?
    This cake can not be had and eaten, too.
    either Paul knew about it, and then it dates to months after the event, or he didn’t and, therefore, it would be unnecessary and superfluous as an invention.

  43. Charlie says:

    In fact, in Was Jesus God, Swinburne demonstrates that if God exists at all (or even plausibly exists) then it is probable that He would become Incarnate, and die and Resurrect, a priori to the facts of history.Feel free to present and defend Swinburne’s argument.

    Thanks for your permission but why would I want to do that?

    David Ellis didn’t actually answer his…

    Now that we know that “magical” merely is a pejorative for “supernatural” I guess we need to know what David means by “supernatural” or, conversely, by “natural”. Since, by non-materialist but naturalist David’s reckoning, even if we assume the supernatural exists a supernatural Resurrection is massively improbable. Why is that?

    What is “supernatural”? If the “supernatural” exists why is a supernatural Resurrection improbable? what does “supernatural”, by your naturalistic but not materialistic lights, mean?

  44. Ranger says:

    Tony said,

    Actually, I don’t think there’s any documentation for the empty tomb pre Mark.

    This argument holds certain presuppositions that need to be dealt with before it can even get off the ground:

    1. Mark is dated after other New Testament literature.
    2. The empty tomb narrative does not pre-date Mark in an oral or written form that is no longer extant.
    3. The concepts of burial and subsequent resurrection would not imply a physical resurrection in second temple Judaism (STJ)

    Let’s look at each of these presuppositions:

    1. Mark is dated after other New Testament literature

    Atheist scholars such as Maurice Casey and James Crossley (as well as others) would argue that the Aramaic phrasiology underlying Mark dates very early, probably in the late 30s or early 40s. In their scenario, this places Mark as the earliest textual evidence. If anything, even among atheist/agnostic scholars, the trend in the last thirty years has been to move Mark earlier than its more traditional date in the 50s.

    As an evangelical, I still hold to a date in the 50s, but it’s by no means a settled issue in modern New Testament scholarship.

    2. The empty tomb narrative does not pre-date Mark in an oral or written form that is no longer extant.

    Some agnostic scholars, such as J.D. Crossan, hold to other pre-Markan literature such as a “cross gospel” including the empty tomb as the earliest source. This is a common argument by those of the 1980s Jesus Seminar. Crossan, clearly rejects the empty tomb making the radical claim that Jesus was thrown into a common tomb and eaten by dogs, but believes that the Markan source for the empty tomb may be amongst the earliest Christian literature.

    Even those who don’t date Mark early, see the Aramaic underpinnings of the gospel, and argue that Mark, which is intended for Greek readers, has an underlying Aramaic core that predates the gospel itself. Archaeology has shown that the world of STJ had wax tablets where people would use a shorthand to write down notes as tools for memorizing teachings and other narratives, invalidating the need for written texts. After all, the common method for transmitting information was oral, and there’s no reason to think that this common practice wasn’t the case with the Markan sources.

    So, assuming that Mark created the empty tomb narrative ex nihilo holds little rational warrant.

    3. The concepts of burial and subsequent resurrection would not imply a physical resurrection in STJ

    Paul speaks of Jesus being buried (among the undisputed Pauline letters) in both Romans and 1 Corinthians, and deals with the resurrection all over the place.

    The only way to substantiate your presupposition would be to show that the Jews of STJ held beliefs that would support a spiritual resurrection, with a body still in the tomb. Of course, the evidence from STJ points in the exact opposite direction. 2 Maccabees, Pharisee beliefs, the Talmud, etc. show that the Jews in STJ believed in a physical resurrection and would not understand the idea of a resurrection leaving the body in the tomb.

    Thus, this final presupposition goes against what is known of the world of STJ, and would require quite an argument. I think that’s why it’s rejected by just about every modern STJ scholar.

    Just to give you some further reading on your different presuppositions, here are some books that go with each point:

    1. James Crossley “Date of Mark,” R.T. France “Gospel of Mark,” A.Y. Collins “Gospel of Mark,” Darrel Bock, “Gospel of Mark”

    2. Anything by Kenneth Bailey or Walter Ong, Richard Bauckham “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses,” Samuel Byrskorg “Story as History, History as Story”

    3. STJ literature (The Dead Sea Scrolls, 1/2 Maccabees), NT Wright “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (mainly Part I and II)

    If you read through these, I doubt you would continue to make your argument (although you may surprise me!).

  45. Dave says:

    Hello David

    I’ve been busy and am working my way through the list of posts, but I read this and I had to laugh…

    Nothing strange about it. Even if the supernatural exists, supernaturally caused events of such magnitude are very rare.

    No kidding 8^>


    Obviously if something is equally accounted for by two hypotheses, one so rare its widely suspected of being imaginary, the other merely unusual, it would be irrational to favor the former as more plausible.

    A wonderful exposition of “On Miracles” by your namesake Mr. Hume. Miracles are rare, (hence their status as “miracles” – but don’t let that little fact distract you) and we are less justified in believing in rare occurences than in common occurences, therefore we shouldn’t believe in miracles. Perhaps you should ask yourself why such an obvious non-sequitor has become the litmus test for “rationalism”?

    I am presently reading a book about Goethe and the author refers to an obscure paper by Goethe about the “four stages of civilization” the first of which he names the “age of Poetry”, the second is “age of the Holy or of Reason in the highest sense”. But, he notes, reason will reason and it will try to rationalize everything, analyzing that which defies analysis and systematizing that which cannot be systematized. When the rationalist is faced with a mystery it ultimately disposes of the problem by denying its reality.

    This age Goethe named the “age of Philosophy or age of Rationalism”, when Reason itself becomes a superstition. (It is noteworthy that Goethe wrote this before the French Revolution and the establishment of the Cult of Reason) Finally, once rationalism has stripped the world of meaning and mystery we enter the “Prosaic Age” – Poetry is gone, Theology and Reason are undone, Philosophy is reduced to obscurantist navel-gazing and the mass of people have adopt contradictory superstitions and follow the first charismatic leader that promises them stability. Prophetic, is it not?

  46. David Ellis says:


    If the “supernatural” exists why is a supernatural Resurrection improbable? what does “supernatural”, by your naturalistic but not materialistic lights, mean?

    Supernatural I simply use as a label for the wide variety of things that don’t seem to be possible based on how our universe is observed to work but might be if things like God, spirits, magic, etc are real.

    As to why its improbable any given supernatural claim is true when a naturalistic cause accounts for it equally well (even assuming the supernatural is real), I’ve already explained that: naturalistic causes are commonplace. Supernatural miracles very rare. Again, horse, zebras, unicorns.

  47. David Ellis says:


    A wonderful exposition of “On Miracles” by your namesake Mr. Hume. Miracles are rare, (hence their status as “miracles” – but don’t let that little fact distract you) and we are less justified in believing in rare occurences than in common occurences, therefore we shouldn’t believe in miracles. Perhaps you should ask yourself why such an obvious non-sequitor has become the litmus test for “rationalism”?

    You’ve mischaracterized Hume’s position. Regardless, the argument I presented is not exactly the same as the one he presented (though, as I noted, mine is of a similar variety to his).

  48. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    But the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty, without mentioning it explicitly. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of Jesus’ death, his burial, and his resurrection.

    An easier way to say this is to admit that 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention a tomb. And you continue to behave as if an audience would be indifferent to a tale told of a man who was resurrection from a mass, unmarked grave versus one who was among the very few who was entombed.

    Is there documentation for the “widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body” pre-dating Mark? No. I didn’t say there was; my case for its historicity was built on other grounds.

    Then, in a post regarding evidences for the Empty Tomb, why even bring it up?

    Charlie,

    Tony still hasn’t addressed the fact that, by his claim, Paul didn’t either know of, believe in or teach the Empty Tomb – and yet he was a very successful evangelizer.
    Why then, as Tony asserts, would the Empty Tomb be invented sooo much later as a Christian apologetic?

    For the same reason the cotton gin wasn’t invented the day cotton was discovered. Or that Thomas Jefferson didn’t pen the Declaration of Independence until 1976. Or that that there wasn’t an all-metal warship until 1862.

    Ranger,

    Atheist scholars such as Maurice Casey and James Crossley (as well as others) would argue that the Aramaic phrasiology underlying Mark dates very early, probably in the late 30s or early 40s. In their scenario, this places Mark as the earliest textual evidence. In their scenario, this places Mark as the earliest textual evidence.

    Please feel free to provide the evidence for this argument.

    So, assuming that Mark created the empty tomb narrative ex nihilo holds little rational warrant.

    Fortunately, I don’t make this assumption.

    The only way to substantiate your presupposition would be to show that the Jews of STJ held beliefs that would support a spiritual resurrection, with a body still in the tomb.

    Again, this is not my presupposition.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    There’s a snide smirk in your tone on just about every statement you made in your last comment here.

    An easier way to say this is to admit that 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention a tomb.

    Thank you for that very helpful advice. You seem not to have noticed that I did say that. It’s nice to be offered help, but when it’s that obvious, and when it’s an offer of help to do something that’s already been accomplished, it comes across as something else entirely: self-satisfied, but not terribly aware.

    Anyway, consider this statement, a parallel to 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 :

    “He went to sleep in his own bed; he got up, and went about town visiting friends.”

    Who would say, “He went to sleep in his own bed; he got up, and went about town visiting friends, during which time he was not in his bedroom.”

    Should Paul have said, “He died for our sins, he was buried, he arose and appeared to many people; and after he arose and while he was appearing to all these people, he wasn’t in his tomb”? Wouldn’t that have been rather silly?

    Would the audience be indifferent to the possibility of a mass grave, as you suggest? Note how the passage begins: “For I delivered to you what I first received…” He wasn’t giving them initial instructions, he was reminding them of what he had delivered to them previously. He wasn’t teaching them new material; he was setting up for an extended treatise on resurrection. The tomb narrative did not need to be re-told for that purpose.

    If you think that this leaves open a door for a burial in a mass grave, and that the Markan account of an empty tomb from about a decade or two later (AD 60-ish) can’t be trusted, then you’re in the minority.

    Then, in a post regarding evidences for the Empty Tomb, why even bring it up?

    Because it’s evidence for the empty tomb. (What’s hard about that?) I didn’t say it wasn’t evidence; I said it was evidence of another kind. Did you read what I wrote?

    Why then, as Tony asserts, would the Empty Tomb be invented sooo much later as a Christian apologetic?

    Another point to be made on this: if the empty tomb were a much later invention for apologetic purposes, it would probably look more like an apologetic invention, not the way it does in Mark 16:1-7.

    You said to Ranger,

    Please feel free to provide the evidence for this argument.

    Please feel free to calm down the smirk effect, and inform us why referencing atheist ANE (ancient Near East) scholars is insufficient. Do you want him to go into the original languages for you, so you can make your own independent linguistic assessment?

  50. Ranger says:

    Tony,

    Please feel free to provide the evidence for this argument.

    The argument requires a basic understanding of Aramaic, and I wouldn’t even know how to begin typing Aramaic script into a comment. Fortunately, Crossley’s Date of Mark is available on Google Books. If you have a basic understanding of Aramaic and Greek, you could follow it rather well.

    Adela Collins work also requires a little Aramaic, but the others don’t presuppose any knowledge of Aramaic, only some simple Koine. If you’re interested in the arguments, then please read their books, as summarizing the arguments into a blog comment wouldn’t do much good. France and Bock (evangelicals) both hold to the traditional date, but deal with the arguments for an earlier date than has traditionally been assumed. Collins might hold to a later date for the final edition as well, but I don’t have access to the book today and can’t check. Either way, she deals with the arguments so you can research it to find the argument.

    My point was simply to show that the date of Mark is by no means settled, and has trended earlier over the past thirty or so years. Thus, claims of no documentation predating Mark presuppose a date that follows the Pauline corpus.

    Fortunately, I don’t make this assumption.

    I’m sorry for assuming by your statement that the empty tomb was a later embellishment, and that no documentation predated Mark implied that you believed that Mark created the empty tomb story.

    If you don’t hold that Mark created the empty tomb narrative, then do you agree with us that the empty tomb narrative is pre-Markan?

    Your thesis lends itself to all types of questions and all sorts of problems unless you hold that Paul believed in an empty tomb and assumed that point in his discussion of burial and subsequent resurrection.

    For instance, If the pre-Markan narrative is early enough to interact with Pauline theology, what does that mean? I think most would agree that the narrative was clearly in circulation before Paul died in the 60s. So if this narrative was known, then does that imply that Pauline theology agreed with it (thus nullifying your argument that Paul’s speaking of resurrection doesn’t imply an empty tomb) or that it disagreed with it?

    Again, this is not my presupposition.

    Then please further explain your argument. You said that you don’t think any documentation for the empty tomb predates Mark. I believe Pauline literature, when situated in its STJ context, implies an empty tomb.

    Let me bullet point this for clarity:

    1. Paul believed Jesus rose from the dead and mentioned it in his letters.
    2. Paul’s letters predate the traditional dating for Mark (50-70 AD).
    3. Physical resurrection and appearances outside of the tomb require the tomb to be empty.
    4. Extant STJ literature implies that Jews (especially Pharisaical Jews) believed in physical resurrection.
    5. Paul was a Jew from the time period of the second temple, and was a Pharisee.
    6. Therefore, since Paul was a Pharisee in STJ and spoke of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances, its probable that he was implying an empty tomb.

    If there’s evidence to the contrary, then you are welcome to show it, but without any alternative evidence, the most realistic scenario is that Paul implied an empty tomb when he spoke of Jesus’ burial and subsequent resurrection. Since the seemingly creedal passage of 1 Cor. 15 seems to be one of the oldest texts in the New Testament, the onus is on you to show that it doesn’t imply an empty tomb in pre-Markan literature.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion. I’m not sure if I will be able to do so, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far.

  51. Ranger says:

    A final note since it plays into this discussion. A good article by Craig Evans on the topic of Jewish burial practices can be found here.

    Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus

    He concludes (read the whole thing which deals with the mass grave contention as well as much of what we’re discussing),

    It is concluded that it is very probable that Jesus was buried, in keeping with Jewish customs, and was not left hanging on his cross, nor was cast into a ditch, exposed to animals. It is further concluded that it is very probable that some of Jesus’ followers (such as the women mentioned in the Gospel accounts) knew where Jesus’ body had been placed and intended to mark the location, perfume his body, and mourn, in keeping with Jewish customs. The intention was to take possession of Jesus’ remains, at some point in the future, and transfer them to his family burial place.

    Thanks again for allowing me to join into the discussion briefly, may God bless the continuing pursuit of truth.

  52. SteveK says:

    …may God bless the continuing pursuit of truth.

    Amen to that, brother! That’s what everyone ought to be pursuing.

  53. Tony Hoffman says:

    Thank you for that very helpful advice. You seem not to have noticed that I did say that. [That 1 Corinthians 15, written by Paul, does not mention a tomb.]

    But in the link you provided where you claim that you have already said that 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention an empty tomb, you say:

    But the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty, without mentioning it explicitly. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of Jesus’ death, his burial, and his resurrection.

    This implies that Paul mentions a tomb. He does not, nor, contrary to your assertion above, do you admit here that Paul does not mention a tomb.

    In this same liked post you then go on to say:

    So the empty tomb was there in the earliest of documents, and your argument for its being a later embellishment is seriously undercut, especially in view of much current scholarship that places the origin of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 creedal statement in the range of 38 to 40 AD.

    Again you seem to be asserting here that 1 Corinthians 15 mentions a tomb. Do you understand why I am confused when it appears that you won’t accede the basic fact that Paul does not mention an empty tomb?

    The rest of your post seems to confuse evidence with inferences. The inferences appear to be circular.

    Another point to be made on this: if the empty tomb were a much later invention for apologetic purposes, it would probably look more like an apologetic invention, not the way it does in Mark 16:1-7.

    I think the tomb looks exactly like an apologetic invention. From the deus ex machina appearance of Joseph of Arimathea to the lack of witnesses who could testify and the tomb’s ability to provide the appearance of clear empirical support, it’s about as neat and tidy as it gets.

    Please feel free to calm down the smirk effect, and inform us why referencing atheist ANE (ancient Near East) scholars is insufficient. Do you want him to go into the original languages for you, so you can make your own independent linguistic assessment?

    I apologize for appearing snide.

    Referencing one or two scholars’ opinion is simply not very convincing. (I could reference others who disagree, and we’d be at an impasse.) What is interesting, and inviting of discussion, is a presentation of the arguments rather than a reference to an opinion in a field where there is such diversity of opinion.

    Ranger,

    If you’re interested in the arguments, then please read their books, as summarizing the arguments into a blog comment wouldn’t do much good.

    I don’t know why summarizing their arguments wouldn’t do much good but I’ll take your word for it.

    My point was simply to show that the date of Mark is by no means settled, and has trended earlier over the past forty or so years. Thus, claims of no documentation predating Mark presuppose a date that follows the Pauline corpus.

    Okay, but there’ still an awful lot of conjecture there. I don’t mind working through arguments and inferring things, but I’m mostly interested in the evidence and the probabilities; I am not interested enough in the field to find each new interpretation to be that compelling, as I consider NT Studies to be fairly well-developed.

    If you don’t hold that Mark created the empty tomb narrative, then do you agree with us that the empty tomb narrative is pre-Markan?

    I think that the empty tomb is a later invention, one that would have surely made it into some of the other (earlier) documents had it existed prior. Whether or not Mark invented the tomb out of whole cloth or it was added later by someone else to the oral narrative that Mark inherited makes no difference to me. In other words, no matter who originated the story, the tomb appears to be a later entry into the story told in the earlier NT documents.

    Your thesis lends itself to all types of questions and all sorts of problems unless you hold that Paul believed in an empty tomb and assumed that point in his discussion of burial and subsequent resurrection.

    My thesis is, I believe, the simplest. Paul preached either a spiritual or bodily resurrection, but he didn’t know about the empty tomb. He didn’t know about the empty tomb because it was a later (or extra-Pauline, in that he was either unaware of it or rejected it) addition to a modified version of the Jesus story that proved even more successful in gaining converts.

    For instance, If the pre-Markan narrative is early enough to interact with Pauline theology, what does that mean? I think most would agree that the narrative was clearly in circulation before Paul died in the 60s. So if this narrative was known, then does that imply that Pauline theology agreed with it (thus nullifying your argument that Paul’s speaking of resurrection doesn’t imply an empty tomb) or that it disagreed with it?

    I believe the first 400 or so years of the Christian Church saw a great diversity of (complementary and competing) Jesus stories and theologies. If you are to look at the options, a) Paul (and other early NT writers) did not know about the empty tomb, b) Paul knew about the empty tomb but rejected it, and c) Paul knew about the empty tomb but chose not to mention it, then I think that c) is the least likely.

    Please keep in mind, though, that I am no rejecting that Paul preached a message of some kind of spiritual or bodily resurrection. I am saying that the tomb does not figure into Paul’s apologetics because of a or b above.

  54. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    This is getting surreal. You accuse me of not admitting that the empty tomb is not mentioned in Corinthians. But what does “without mentioning it explicitly” mean? And can’t you just for one moment acknowledge my arguments for the implicit message that the tomb was empty? Did you see my sleep/bedroom argument?

    If you think the tomb narrative in Mark 16:1-7 looks like an apologetic invention, or that having a member of the party that were Jesus’ greatest enemies involved, were deus ex machina fabrications, then you’re welcome to your opinion. I think the inference (inferences made from evidences, by the way) make a lot more sense going the other way.

    I’ll skip most of the rest, but come to this:

    I believe the first 400 or so years of the Christian Church saw a great diversity of (complementary and competing) Jesus stories and theologies.

    Absolutely. Agreed. But what about the first 60-70 years of the church—the era when the ratio of knowledge to free speculation was the highest?

    And this:

    Please keep in mind, though, that I am no rejecting that Paul preached a message of some kind of spiritual or bodily resurrection. I am saying that the tomb does not figure into Paul’s apologetics because of a or b above.

    Paul did not preach a spiritual resurrection but a bodily resurrection. As I have said repeatedly, “resurrection” at the time always meant body, and never meant spirit. He would have had to be very explicit in changing the meaning of the term if he had meant it to be taken differently than it was understood in the only usage at the time.

    And since he meant a bodily resurrection, he also meant that wherever Jesus had been buried, the body was no longer there. The man visiting his friends about town wasn’t asleep in his bedroom, either.

  55. David Ellis says:


    Should Paul have said, “He died for our sins, he was buried, he arose and appeared to many people; and after he arose and while he was appearing to all these people, he wasn’t in his tomb”? Wouldn’t that have been rather silly?

    There are some who argue that Paul believed that Jesus took on a spiritual, incorruptible body and did not believe his old body resurrected.

    To be clear, I’m not one of those people. I’ve not studied the arguments for or against this nearly enough to take a position.

    Besides which, I consider the empty tomb question largely irrelevant to the most important question (is Christianity true) since I can easily grant an empty tomb and still have far more plausible explanations for the emergence of the Christian religion than that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

  56. SteveK says:

    David,

    Besides which, I consider the empty tomb question largely irrelevant to the most important question (is Christianity true) since I can easily grant an empty tomb and still have far more plausible explanations for the emergence of the Christian religion than that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

    Jeepers. The way you move around from one objection to the next, I find it difficult to take your objections seriously because you don’t take them seriously. First the empty tomb claim is an important one that requires evidence. Then after discussing it for days/weeks, it is suddenly irrelavant to the question of Christianity because your overactive imagination can think up alternative stories to fit the facts.

    I get the sense that your next statement will be that the question of Jesus rising from the dead is largely irrelevant. That you can easily grant it and still have a more plausible explanation in the theory that Mother Nature herself did it – somehow. After all, what is the more plausible scenario – nature doing something, or God?

    Captcha knows – ‘chutzpah’

  57. Charlie says:

    I know this question about magicks is ongoing on another thread, but I want to run the logic together a little on this thread if that’s ok.
    I admit I might have missed a nuance here or there but I know I’ll be informed right quick if what I present is not David Ellis’ argument.
    1) Magic is a pejorative.
    2) It means, basically, the supernatural.
    3) It also mean, prima facie, implausible.
    4) Meaning supernatural, it also means:

    Supernatural I simply use as a label for the wide variety of things that don’t seem to be possible based on how our universe is observed to work but might be if things like God, spirits, magic, etc are real.

    It is implausible, or doesn;t seem possible, based upon how our universe is “observed to work” (i.e., the regularity of natural laws). So, of course, if naturalism is presumed, the supernatural doesn’t exist.
    But David Ellis said we were going to assume that the supernatural does exist, we were going to assume then, that magic exists, and that the universe acts in ways contrary to the way it is normally observed to behave, that implausible and seemingly impossible things do happen.
    So now, David, upon what grounds do you say it is implausible that the Resurrection occurred?

    Sidetrack.
    By “doesn’t seem possible based upon how the observed universe works” I think I must presume you would rather say “based upon observations of the known universe”. I am sure you would grant that the observed universe is a huge, unknown and mysterious place and I would even guess that you entertain the notion of life forms somewhere else in that universe. And, not knowing their life cycles, I bet you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that resurrections can occur, even if infrequently somewhere out there.
    So what you have actually made here , if I am right, is a scientistic claim, that since Resurrections have not been observed Resurrections are implausible. In fact, you have argued the implausibility in just this manner (“how many have you seen?”)
    But when you are dealing with something which, according to your definitions, doesn’t obey the rules of your almost logical positivistic, I’m-not-quite-scientistic rules this argument carries no weight. In fact , it is nonsense even to discuss plausibility in an argument in which the definitions hinge upon assumptions of plausibility.
    Throw in the fact that we are dealing with a willful personal agent (God) and we find that one-off occurances are to be expected and we need never have seen another such event, nor we ever need to see another to accept that it is plausible. It might be made all the more plausible because that is just the thing, philosophically speaking, a God of His nature would be expected to do (i.e., any “god”) or, because He revealed to us that that was what He was doing.

    As for the “equally plausible” alternatives … when would we be made privy to one of those? You yourself don’t accept the swoon theory, you’ve seen it stabbed through the heart and have seen that it has no explanatory power re the other events of the Resurrection and have admitted that there need to be then further ad hoc explanations for those. None of those is plausible, either.

    In fact, if we don’t know if the supernatural exists or not it is more plausible that these events occurred as written and provide evidence of the supernatural. Given that you allow for the sake of argument that the supernatural exists there is not even another contender for plausibility other than that the Resurrection was a supernatural event.

  58. Charlie says:

    Hi Steve,

    That you can easily grant it and still have a more plausible explanation in the theory that Mother Nature herself did it – somehow. After all, what is the more plausible scenario – nature doing something, or God?

    That’s exactly the next step, of course, given the rules David Ellis has set up.
    Once it is granted as having occurred, once it is “observed” then it is no longer supernatural but natural. Thus, it indicates nothing about God anyway, but is just one of those improbable events that happen all the time (someone has to win the lottery).

    In fact, since Frank Tipler gives a perfectly good physical mechanism, baryon annihilation and electro-weak quantum tunneling, for the Resurrection, I’m surprised David Ellis hasn’t already granted this with his atheism intact.

  59. David Ellis says:


    So now, David, upon what grounds do you say it is implausible that the Resurrection occurred?

    How many different ways do I have to explain this?

    Because things like fraud are enormously more common and fit the available facts just fine.

    Its much the same attitude that can be taken by a person who believes psychic phenomena on rare occasions occur but thinks any given person claiming to be a psychic is more likely to be a fraud than the real deal.

    A person can believe miraculous healing sometimes occur but still think any given person claiming to be a faith healer is more likely to be self-deceived or a fraud.

    Its not a difficult concept. If all the evidence we can gather on a case in question is as consistent with fraud as with it being a real miracle, and false miracle claims outnumber real ones a thousand to one….

    Do the math.

  60. Tony Hoffman says:

    This is getting surreal. You accuse me of not admitting that the empty tomb is not mentioned in Corinthians. But what does “without mentioning it explicitly” mean?

    Once again, you wrote, “But the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty, without mentioning it explicitly.” It still appears that want to insert a tomb into Paul, when in fact Paul only says that Jesus rose.

    And can’t you just for one moment acknowledge my arguments for the implicit message that the tomb was empty?

    I have acknowledged your arguments. That’s what I am disagreeing with. Specifically, I disagree that your inference that Paul is talking about an empty tomb can be considered evidence that Paul is talking about an empty tomb. On the contrary, his failure to mention it (and that of all other writers before Mark) is evidence that the tomb story was a later invention.

    Did you see my sleep/bedroom argument?

    I found the argument around your sleep bedroom argument to be circular; Paul does not mention a tomb because it was known earlier, and we know that it is known earlier because Paul does not mention it.

    The fact is that the Paul doesn’t mention the empty tomb. And only in the world of the apologist could this be inferred to mean that Paul must have known about a tomb.

    In your sleep/bedroom story you mention that I have a bed, and a bedroom. A more accurate analogy would be that you told a story about an itinerant homeless man in which “He went to sleep; he got up, and went about town visiting friends, during which time he was not asleep.” You would like to have us infer that this man had a bed, and a bedroom, but that demands that I read more than is in your story, and ignore what I know about homeless men.

    But what about the first 60-70 years of the church—the era when the ratio of knowledge to free speculation was the highest?

    I believe that the differences in the Snyoptic Gospels, and Paul’s concern about false teachings (I think Luke as well, etc.), provide ample evidence that there was plenty of free speculation during this period.

    …I consider the empty tomb question largely irrelevant to the most important question (is Christianity true) since I can easily grant an empty tomb and still have far more plausible explanations for the emergence of the Christian religion than that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

    From a broad perspective I agree with David here, but I think that Craig et al. have focused on the tomb in a way that turns it into a lever against the study of history itself. If the tomb is admitted as historically probable, then just about anything goes when it comes to reconstructing history.

  61. Charlie says:

    So now, David, upon what grounds do you say it is implausible that the Resurrection occurred?

    How many different ways do I have to explain this?

    Just one way that makes sense of the evidence and of your claims.

    Because things like fraud are enormously more common and fit the available facts just fine.

    Lots of things are enormously more common but that doesn’t tell us anything about the plausibility/probability of their explaining the evidence. Fraud doesn’t.

    Its much the same attitude that can be taken by a person who believes psychic phenomena on rare occasions occur but thinks any given person claiming to be a psychic is more likely to be a fraud than the real deal.

    But he isn’t justified saying that it is a fraud by waving his magic wand and saying “psychic phenomena are rare”. If they can occur, they can occur, and he’ll need some evidence and some reason to dismiss them in this case.

    Its not a difficult concept. If all the evidence we can gather on a case in question is as consistent with fraud as with it being a real miracle, and false miracle claims outnumber real ones a thousand to one….

    Do the math.

    Haha, do the math! Rich. I was sooo burned! Can I ‘talk to the hand’ next?

    But fraud is not consistent with the evidence and you have nothing on the left side of the equals sign to show me how you got fraud on the other (Nor have I seen data demonstrating 1000:1 false miracles to real miracles … although our last claimant to that kind of “fact” did kindly point me to Skeptic Magazine … but that’s beside the point.).
    Show your work.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    What you were complaining about in two prior messages was that I supposedly failed to admit that the empty tomb was not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I pointed out that from the start I said, “without mentioning it explicitly.” Now in answer you say, “It still appears that want to insert a tomb into Paul, when in fact Paul only says that Jesus rose.”

    Just what is the complaint, Tony?! Which one is it?

    This just feel slippery to me, and I don’t like the way you’re handling this. I answered the complaint you raised, and you come back with a counter-objection that has nothing to do with the complaint.

    By the way, I do want to insert a tomb into Paul’s message, in the sense that he implied it. But you don’t have to say “It still appears that….” I’ve been very forthright about my intention to do that, and I have repeatedly explained my reasons for doing that. Why do you suggest that I’m trying to sneak something in there?

    Thank you for at least acknowledging my sleep/bedroom argument. You found it to be circular, you say. What do you think I was arguing from it? I was arguing that there was good reason for Paul to omit mention of the empty tomb. You see, early on in this discussion, you began by arguing that his silence on the matter was telling. My point is that his silence on the subject has at least two good explanations. One is yours: that he did not know of an empty tomb. The other is mine: that his readers already knew about the empty tomb, and that to mention it would have been a silly redundancy, as illustrated by the sleep/bedroom argument.

    You can’t ignore context and get anywhere in discussions like this. Maybe I failed by not being careful enough to make it explicit throughout. The context was: “Paul’s silence on the empty tomb counts as evidence against his knowing about it or believing in it.” The answer I gave was (in different words) “Not very much, because had Paul known about it and believed in it, it’s very likely he would have written it just as he did.” That’s not circular, my friend. It’s a rebuttal of your argument.

    Let me clarify further in case you still have questions: Your itinerant homeless man analogy would be appropriate if I were trying to prove that Paul knew about and believed in the empty tomb. In that case it would be reading too much into the story. But I wasn’t trying to prove that (if it seemed that way, then it was because I was careless in keeping the context in front of us, for which I apologize if that was the case). I was trying to show that your argument from Paul’s silence is weak, because there is a very good alternate explanation for Paul’s silence.

    Let me concede to you this much: I do still think that Paul knew of and believed in the empty tomb, but I acknowledge that it’s possible (based only on the one passage in question) that he only knew of Jesus bodily death and bodily resurrection. Maybe Paul didn’t know about Jesus where Jesus was buried or whether he shared a grave or tomb with someone else (still based on just this one passage). Still he knew that there was a bodily death and a bodily resurrection. His silence on the empty tomb doesn’t count against the empty tomb narrative in any way whatsoever. And the case for the empty tomb does not hang very much on what Paul did or did not say. There are multiple other lines of evidence supporting it.

    The free speculation that may have been going on during the first decades of the church had a crucial check on it: living people who knew whether the tomb was empty. There were people alive during those decades who were eyewitnesses. Unless they were rank liars, which I consider to be absolutely incredible in view of their moral teachings, they would have put a halt to false speculations.

    If the tomb is admitted as historically probable, then you are in agreement with three-quarters of the historians who study the period. The study of the tomb does not tell against history itself; that’s absurd. You might try to mount an argument that the inference of the resurrection tells against history itself. (Bart Ehrman and others have done that, and I’ll probably have to post a blog on why that argument fails.) But to say that one turns history on its head just by historical discussion of a tomb is just not accurate.

  63. Tom Gilson says:

    David,

    Is all the evidence as consistent with fraud as it is with a real miracle? Absolutely not. The evidence before us—the actual documents and ensuing history—almost all says that the miracle happened. Other than the fact that some people at the time disbelieved (which is consistent with the overall Christian message, by the way, for reasons I don’t have time to go into here), your evidence against the miracle consists entirely of your background assumptions and prior probabilities with respect to miracles in general.

    Do your Bayesian thinking on this. It requires separating background assumptions/knowledge and prior probabilities from the evaluation of the evidence; that is, one examines the probability of explanation X for evidence e on background assumptions Y or not-Y. You only seem willing to consider Y.

  64. SteveK says:

    Re: doing the math

    Since David is allowing at least one miracle on the left side of the equation, then the right side of at least one equation is ‘the supernatural exists’.

  65. David Ellis says:


    Nor have I seen data demonstrating 1000:1 false miracles to real miracles….

    Obviously that figure was for illustration purposes only. A fact I didn’t mention only because I assumed anyone reading it could understand that.


    But fraud is not consistent with the evidence…

    If fraud is not consistent with the evidence then my point doesn’t apply here.

    And if you care to debate whether fraud is consistent with the evidence we can do so.


    Is all the evidence as consistent with fraud as it is with a real miracle? Absolutely not. The evidence before us—the actual documents and ensuing history—almost all says that the miracle happened.

    Hypothesis: a fraud is perpetrated by one or more followers of Jesus after his death. They claim to have seen him risen and thereby become leaders of their own cult (or new religion if you don’t like the pejorative connotations of the term “cult”–we don’t need another long semantic discussion).

    What will the documents say if this is the case: they will tell the story told by the perpetrators of the fraud.

    So how is the (very meager) data not entirely consistent with fraud?

    Its exactly the data one would expect if the fraud hypothesis is true.

    What’s more common: fraud or miracles?

    Obviously, fraud.

    So, given the meagerness of the data, and that fraud is more common than miracles (surely an indisputable point) and that fraud is as consistent with this meager data as that the story is true….what’s the more probable explanation?

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    So how is the (very meager) data not entirely consistent with fraud?

    Easy: the only way you can conclude fraud from the evidence is by considering the evidence false. That’s what inconsistency is, isn’t it?

    I do grant that there is a kind of consistency to the theory, False Evidence = Fraud, and Fraud = False Evidence. But that’s not consistency with the evidence, it’s consistency with a denial of the evidence. What consistency exists, exists only with your larger set of background assumptions, not with the evidence before us.

    You would also have to grant that there is consistency to the theory, True Evidence = Resurrection, and Resurrection = True Evidence; and that the consistency applies not only to a set of background assumptions but also to the evidence itself.

    We come back to the all-important matter of background assumptions. So, what happened to my point about Bayesian thinking, David? Because (remember the importance of keeping discussions on track) this started with my objection to your assertion, “all the evidence we can gather on a case in question is as consistent with fraud as with it being a real miracle.”

    You can’t call the evidence on the case as consistent with fraud as with a real miracle, because to call the evidence false is to take a position that’s not consistent with the evidence. Not unless you’re blinded by your assumptions, which I don’t think you really want to be, do you?

  67. Dave says:

    Hello David

    What’s more common: fraud or miracles?

    Obviously, fraud.

    How do you know? In just one example, the so-called placebo effect, there is abundant evidence for some sort of healing that cannot be attributed to the therapeudic effects of treatment. The ‘Rationalist’ explanation is some form of psychosomatic effect caused by the mind, yet the mind is an unexplained “black box” whose reality (What’s in the box?) is also explained away in ‘rationalist’ theories. Face it David, you are confronted with a mystery and you will grasp any available straw to avoid it.

    Some men stumble upon the truth, but they generally pick themselves up and hurry away as if nothing happened. Winston Chuchill

  68. David Ellis says:


    Easy: the only way you can conclude fraud from the evidence is by considering the evidence false. That’s what inconsistency is, isn’t it?

    My hypothesis (fraud) is consistent with the existence of documents written by the early church making claim X.

    Your hypothesis (resurrection) is consistent with the existence of documents written by the early church making claim X.

    My hypothesis is not consistent with the claims being true.

    Evidence = documents were written by the early church making claim X

    NOT:

    Evidence = claim X is true.

    You’re confusing your preferred conclusion about the data with the data itself.

    The fact at hand (that which we are both using as premises in our respective arguments), the evidence which both our hypotheses are consistent with, is that the early church wrote documents claiming Jesus rose from the dead.

    This fact is not contradicted by my hypothesis. It is the CONCLUSION you’ve come to, that these documents are accurate historical accounts and that Jesus really rose from the dead, which is contradicted by it.

  69. David Ellis says:

    Dave, you’re saying the placebo effect is a miracle? I’m not misunderstanding you?

    Most responses that come immediately to mind are snarky in the extreme so I’ll just let your statement speak for itself and move on.

  70. Dave says:

    Hello David

    I honestly don’t know what to say to that. It boggles the mind.

    So explain the mechanics of the placebo effect to me.

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    David, you’re asking the wrong question, so you’re getting the wrong answer. In examining documentary evidence, one does not only look at the existence of documents as evidence, one looks at the content. The content is evidence. It’s not just that documents were written with a claim X. Claim X is evidence. Historians generally give the benefit of the doubt to documentary evidence (its content) unless there is reason not to trust it. It’s disingenuous to present the case as if the content were not evidence.

    So your conclusion is inconsistent with the content of the documentary evidence. I can’t imagine how you could miss that. The (may I use caps too?) CONCLUSION that you’ve come to is contradicted by the documentary evidence.

  72. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    What you were complaining about in two prior messages was that I supposedly failed to admit that the empty tomb was not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. I pointed out that from the start I said, “without mentioning it explicitly.” Now in answer you say, “It still appears that want to insert a tomb into Paul, when in fact Paul only says that Jesus rose.”
    Just what is the complaint, Tony?! Which one is it?
    This just feel slippery to me, and I don’t like the way you’re handling this.

    I don’t understand what two complaints you think I am making. I think I have been nothing but consistent and clear on the obvious claim that that there is no evidence for a tomb pre Mark. On the other hand, you are saying things like, “But the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty, without mentioning it explicitly. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of Jesus’ death, his burial, and his resurrection.”

    I will leave it to any reader to determine whose position is slippery here.

    My point is that his silence on the subject has at least two good explanations. One is yours: that he did not know of an empty tomb. The other is mine: that his readers already knew about the empty tomb, and that to mention it would have been a silly redundancy, as illustrated by the sleep/bedroom argument.

    Yes, and you’ve omitted the other option I offered, that Paul knew about a legend of an empty tomb but rejected it.

    The context was: “Paul’s silence on the empty tomb counts as evidence against his knowing about it or believing in it.” The answer I gave was (in different words) “Not very much, because had Paul known about it and believed in it, it’s very likely he would have written it just as he did.” That’s not circular, my friend. It’s a rebuttal of your argument.

    I accused you of circularity because you insist that “the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty” (even though it does not), and support this interpretation by admitting that the earliest document does not actually say the tomb was empty. And whether you made this argument in response to any context does not clear the argument from a requirement to be non-circular.

    [Paul’s] silence on the empty tomb doesn’t count against the empty tomb narrative in any way whatsoever. And the case for the empty tomb does not hang very much on what Paul did or did not say. There are multiple other lines of evidence supporting it.

    Paul’s silence matters a great deal if you care to hang your belief on historical evidence. And without Paul (and any other pre-Markan NT writer), it appears that the empty tomb entered the Christian story late, and all other citations are almost certainly derived from that one source, Mark.

    The free speculation that may have been going on during the first decades of the church had a crucial check on it: living people who knew whether the tomb was empty. There were people alive during those decades who were eyewitnesses.

    And none of this would have any effect whatsoever if, as I am contending, the tale of the empty tomb was a late addition.

    Unless they were rank liars, which I consider to be absolutely incredible in view of their moral teachings, they would have put a halt to false speculations.

    Yes. Holy men who did not live up to their moral teachings. Now that would be truly historically inconceivable.

  73. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    I realize that I have remained more consistently snide in my recent posts. I am just pressed for time, and will be out all day tomorrow as well, so I will not be able to respond for awhile. Still, I wanted to reply to your last before having to take more time away.

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, you say,

    I don’t understand what two complaints you think I am making. I think I have been nothing but consistent and clear on the obvious claim that that there is no evidence for a tomb pre Mark.

    Here is the complaint I’ve been answering. It’s one you made repeatedly, which I answered repeatedly, and which you failed to quit making. It began at 9:44 am

    An easier way to say this is to admit that 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention a tomb.

    I answered that I did admit that, and had already done so in the post you were responding to when you wrote that. Then you wrote,

    12:22 pm:

    He does not, nor, contrary to your assertion above, do you admit here that Paul does not mention a tomb.

    I answered that, telling you again that I was not contesting that point. Then you wrote,

    It still appears that want to insert a tomb into Paul, when in fact Paul only says that Jesus rose.

    So a short while later I even conceded certain details to you.

    In all of these responses to you I made it clear what I was responding to: I was answering your claim that I was failing to admit that Paul didn’t mention a tomb.

    Now, is it finally clear to you what complaint you’re making, that I have been responding to?

    Along the way we have also been discussing what conclusions should be drawn from Paul’s not explicitly mentioning the empty tomb. But my posts to you have specifically pointed to this specific issue, and I’ve been perplexed at your repeating your charge without seeing that it was answered every time; in fact, it was answered even before you made it.

    Again, just to be sure you get it this time, the charge I’m referring to is that I failed to admit that Paul did not explicitly mention the empty tomb. You made that assertion repeatedly, in spite of its being wrong from the start. That’s what got so surreal.

    Yes, and you’ve omitted the other option I offered, that Paul knew about a legend of an empty tomb but rejected it.

    I think that’s completely untenable in view of the rest of the chapter and the rest of his writings.

    And whether you made this argument in response to any context does not clear the argument from a requirement to be non-circular.

    The context is where one determines what is being argued for. If what is being argued for is not contained in the assumptions, then the argument is not circular. I have shown that to be the case.

    Paul’s silence matters a great deal if you care to hang your belief on historical evidence. And without Paul (and any other pre-Markan NT writer), it appears that the empty tomb entered the Christian story late, and all other citations are almost certainly derived from that one source, Mark.

    When did Mark write? When did Matthew and Luke? When was Q written? When were all their source materials first made? What counts as early, what counts as late, and why? You can’t call Mark “late” without being explicit on that and these other questions.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for admitting to the snideness. I ask you to drop it when you come back, please. I mean it.

  76. luke says:

    I’ve got a quick moment and just can’t resist.

    From Tony:

    Paul’s silence matters a great deal if you care to hang your belief on historical evidence.

    It’s deja vu all over again and again and again. I’m sure we went over this. Do you still not understand the concept of a high context society versus a low context society? Please respond.

    Your “mass grave” theory, whatever that actually means (again, please explain), makes NO SENSE whatsoever within the context of the time and place that the events took place. Again, what is the most plausible explanation for what happened to the body after he died?

    From Tom:

    Just what is the complaint, Tony?! Which one is it?

    His complaint is about a “tomb” (a bench or loculus tomb) versus his “mass grave” (again, not really sure what he means by that).

  77. Charlie says:

    Hi DavidEllis,
    I presented my argument in my first four comments. But I see you have much to deal with with Tom,so carry on there.


    Tony,
    re: The mass grave and bodies eaten by animals.
    I decided to find my reference in the book The Last Days Of Jesus by archaeologist Shimon Gibson and, lucky me, it opened right to page 131.

    I surmise he (Joseph of Arimathea) would have argued that respect be accorded to the executed man based upon the prevalent Jewish custon of the time that dead bodies must not be left exposed to be eaten by wild animals and buzzards. It was vital that the body of Jesus be buried before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath when burials were prohibited. Instructions are provided in Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

    The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been a normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities. The truth is that the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable. In fact, as we have seen, the only remains of a crucified man ever found in Jerusalem were not found in a pit, but inside a rock-cut family tomb at Giv’at ha-Mivtar tot he north of Jerusalem, belying the notion that crucified criminals were subsequently buried disgracefully like dogs and without the dignity of a final repose.

    In my opinion, the intention to bury Jesus n a rock-cut tomb existed all along and had Joseph of Arimathea’s burial chamber not been available, Jesus would have been buried in another cave.

    131-135

  78. David Ellis says:

    Tom, I’m not going to go back and forth with you on the meaning of the word “evidence”. The fraud hypothesis accounts for the known facts as well as the resurrection hypothesis (its a known and agreed upon fact that the early church claimed Jesus rose from the dead, it is not a known and agreed upon fact that the claim is true).

    And frauds are both commonplace and known, beyond reasonable doubt, to occur. Miracles are not.

    To conclude that a miracle is a more likely explanation than fraud is without rational foundation.

    My last word on the topic. The objections that have been raised to my argument are weak and I see little reason to discuss them further.

  79. SteveK says:

    David,

    The fraud hypothesis accounts for the known facts as well as the resurrection hypothesis (its a known and agreed upon fact that the early church claimed Jesus rose from the dead, it is not a known and agreed upon fact that the claim is true).

    Imagine yourself in a court of law examining the known, and agreed upon, facts. Can those facts – not opinions, speculations or presuppositions – point to BOTH fraud and legitimacy at the same time? No, because they are mutually exclusive conclusions. A fact in the fraud column means that legitimacy is no longer an viable option, and vice versa.

    It’s only possible to do this if one side accepts facts that the other side does not, or if one side has different presuppostions, speculations, knowledge or experience than the other. [Edited out this last part]

  80. SteveK says:

    To conclude that a miracle is a more likely explanation than fraud is without rational foundation.

    Sure it is. A miracle is the more likely explanation when fraud is not known to be the more likely explanation. If you don’t find good evidence for fraud, then legitimacy is the better explanation. Looking at previous frauds doesn’t tell you if the current situation is fraudulent or not. It only tells you how frauds played out in the past. Now your job is to find evidence that it indeed played out like that in the current situation. Speculating that fraud must have taken place doesn’t water down the positive evidence for legitimacy.

  81. David Ellis says:


    Imagine yourself in a court of law examining the known, and agreed upon, facts. Can those facts – not opinions, speculations or presuppositions – point to BOTH fraud and legitimacy at the same time?

    To stick with your analogy, suppose we have a defendant who signed a confession admitting that he killed his neighbor’s dog using a magic spell.

    We have three possible explanations for this:

    –he killed his neighbors dog with a magic spell

    –he did not kill the dog with a spell and is lying.

    –he did not kill the dog with a spell (but he performed the magic ritual and honestly but mistakenly believes the dog died because of it).

    The confession is consistent with all three explanations. But, in addition to the confession itself, we have certain background facts that aren’t reasonably disputable:

    Even if magic is real and spells can work this is not a demonstrated fact and seems to occur only rarely, if at all. Lies and delusion, on the other hand, are far more commonplace and indisputably happen.

    So should we favor the first explanation over the other two?

    Is it reasonable to say that the evidence points to the first explanation (given that we know its an explanation in terms of something not even demonstrably possible and the other two explanations are in terms of events known to occur and to occur with frequency)?

    No, the total evidence includes both the confession and the background knowledge stated above. With these taken together the second two explanations are, by far, more plausible than the first explanation.

    Granted, earlier I should have pointed out more explicitly the point that the total relevant evidence includes both the document and the background facts. Thanks for asking a question that brought me to state that more clearly.

  82. David Ellis says:

    Would you deny that the existence of fraud and delusion is more demonstrably true than miracles?

    Would you deny that fraud and delusion happen with far greater frequency than than anything that could reasonably be called miraculous?

    If so (and I don’t see how even a religious person can reasonably deny this), then how is my argument not sound?

  83. Charlie says:

    Hi David Ellis,
    You have made a useful comment here but you are still asking the wrong questions if you want to make the analogy applicable.
    You don’t just enter the court and decide between the three answers you’ve given based upon gut feeling.
    First, do the facts fit the case?
    Is the dog dead? If not, we ask no questions.
    Second, we can reasonably determine whether or not he is lying, so #2 doesn’t gain prima facie acceptance just because people are known to lie. Why would he lie? Are his actions consistent with this being a lie? Did he stand to gain from a lie?
    If there is no evidence of lying we don’t say it is the likely answer just because we don’t like the alternatives or we admit that lying is more common than hexes or being convinced of hexes.

    Next, how do you determine between 1 and 3? The evidence can point equally to the two different answers. If he did the ritual, and the dog died and he thinks he killed the dog with the ritual then 1 or 3 could be the case.
    Do you have a plausible explanation for the dog’s death without the efficacy of the ritual? Was the dog 19 years old and given to seizures? Did it have a heart attack? Was it run over?

    Obviously, without any known natural cause, and no plausible one, then you have no way of deciding and would only choose number three based upon a world view commitment, i.e. there is no explanation other than the efficacy of magic but it is more likely that there is some naturalistic cause any way because there is no such thing as magic.

    So how does this help your hoax case? Of course, it doesn’t.
    There is no evidence that the disciples were lying, either in their lives or their deaths.
    At this point we have basically accepted the entire minimalist historical case for the Resurrection and are just searching for a more plausible explanation for those historical events (Crucifixion, Empty Tomb discovered by women, Disciples thought they had experiences with the risen Lord, the Church taught His Resurrection early) than the Resurrection itself.
    So, for the disciples, we have to choose between 1 and 3 as well.

    So how do we naturalistically account for the evidence in a way that would account for their belief as in option 3 where the evidence is much more involved than merely having a coincidentally dead dog?
    How does your hoaxer change their world view so that they think they have seen and interacted personally with the risen Lord many times? How does the hoaxer make them think they had spoken with Him, touched Him, and dined with Him?

  84. Charlie says:

    Your argument is not supported by the evidence. It is demanded by a worldview.
    That doesn’t make it irrational, just unable to adequately account for the evidence and not compelling to those not shackled by your world view.

  85. SteveK says:

    Hi Charlie,

    At this point we have basically accepted the entire minimalist historical case for the Resurrection and are just searching for a more plausible explanation for those historical events

    This is Habermas’ point as well. The minimal facts do the job of dismissing 2 and put some burden of proof on the naysayer, rather than it being completely on the apologist.

    The reasonable conclusion is this: given the facts known to apply directly to the resurrection event and the events that followed, apparently Jesus actually died and rose again.

    All the counter arguments go something like this: given some OTHER set of facts that may, or may not, apply to the resurrection event or the events that followed, apparently Jesus didn’t actually rise again.

    The naysayers job is to show that these other set of facts (lying, hallucination, mistake, rewriting history, etc) do indeed apply to the resurrection event. If they apply to the events in question, then there must be evidence that they apply. Saying ‘people believe things that are false all the time, therefore they have a false belief’ is not an argument. So far they have not produced the necessary evidence.

  86. David Ellis says:

    I feel that I’ve more than adequately stated my position. Unless I see some objection posted that doesn’t seem obviously without merit I’ll consider my last post my final word on the topic.

  87. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    The context is where one determines what is being argued for. If what is being argued for is not contained in the assumptions, then the argument is not circular. I have shown that to be the case.

    It appears to me that from this series, and this post in particular, you want to prove that there was an empty tomb. As evidence, it appears that you would like to admit Paul, chiefly Corinthinans 15:3. But Paul does not mention an empty tomb. And for the reason Paul does not mention an empty tomb, you say “[Paul] wasn’t teaching them new material; he was setting up for an extended treatise on resurrection. The tomb narrative did not need to be re-told for that purpose.” So the reason that Paul does not mention the empty tomb is because he, and his listeners, already knew about the empty tomb.

    A circular argument assumes that which it sets out to prove. Your argument, regarding Paul as evidence for the empty tomb, fits the definition of a circular argument.

    Luke,

    It’s deja vu all over again and again and again. I’m sure we went over this. Do you still not understand the concept of a high context society versus a low context society? Please respond.

    I am actually waiting for your reply to my last comment on your previous questions to me. But no, I am not familiar with the term “high context society.”

    Again, what is the most plausible explanation for what happened to the body after he died?

    I’ve stated this several times here, and I believe you responded to it directly before. If you’re not interested in referring back to it then I’m not interested in retyping it.

    Luke, citing Tom: Just what is the complaint, Tony?! Which one is it?
    His complaint is about a “tomb” (a bench or loculus tomb) versus his “mass grave” (again, not really sure what he means by that).

    Is there something wrong with finding more than one fault with an argument, and raising any of them in a blog discussion?

    A mass grave, though I don’t think I’ve use the term more than a couple of times, is meant to mean an unmarked burial place. It is where a society or individuals would put bodies whose memories they do not care to commemorate individually.

  88. Charlie says:

    I feel that I’ve more than adequately stated my position.

    Cool.
    Us too.

  89. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, here is how you stated your circularity argument most recently (prior to last night’s comment):

    I accused you of circularity because you insist that “the earliest document actually does say the tomb was empty” (even though it does not), and support this interpretation by admitting that the earliest document does not actually say the tomb was empty.

    You twist things to make your opponent look stupid, thank you very much, but I did not support the former by admitting the latter.

    First, I said from the start that the document does not actually mention the tomb, and then for three rounds of discussions (as replayed here) you accused me of failing to admit the tomb is not mentioned there. Now you still use the term “admit,” as if it was something you had to wrangle out of me. I’m really getting tired of that.

    Second, yes, I made an argument that Paul thought the tomb was empty, but I did not make that argument “by admitting [he] does not actually say the tomb was empty.” (If I had, by the way, my fallacy would not have been circularity, it would have been non sequitur of the most egregious sort). I made the argument on the basis of
    a) Paul certainly believed that Jesus had arisen bodily, and
    b) Paul’s silence on the tomb provides no basis for an argument (such as you had made earlier) that he didn’t believe in it, because his silence is obviously, easily explained in other ways.

    Third, I conceded that I was wrong in one way, that my argument (a) does not proceed to the conclusion that Paul believed in an empty tomb. Your failure to notice that strikes me as singularly uncharitable.

  90. Tom Gilson says:

    Continuing: As noted in the prior comment, Tony, you have given us examples of two very unhelpful practices for dialogue:

    1. You charged me with an error I never made (and very obviously never made), and kept repeating the charge in spite of my continuing to point out I never made that error (the supposed error of not admitting that Paul doesn’t mention the tomb).

    2. You charged me with another error, one that I actually did make, and I conceded to you I was wrong—and you ignored that answer, too.

    Now, can you tell me what kind of productive result (see #9 here) can come from that kind of discussion?

    Others here say they are done with this discussion because they’ve said all they have to say. I’m done discussing these matters with you, Tony, because you’re not acting as if you’re in a discussion. People who are in a discussion actually notice and respond to what the other person says. And they don’t twist things to make their opponent look stupid (see my prior comment).

    This, plus the snideness you have admitted to (above), brings you very close to being banned from commenting here. I don’t do that lightly or quickly with long-term participants, so I’m not quite there yet.

    For now, though, next time you raise a point or a question on another blog entry, Tony, don’t be surprised if I link to this comment and say I don’t know what purpose would be served by responding to you.

  91. luke says:

    I am actually waiting for your reply to my last comment on your previous questions to me. But no, I am not familiar with the term “high context society.”

    That’s great because I did talk about them in a previous post. But maybe I didn’t explain it well enough. As for a reply, see the previous link… though I have been busy as of late and may have missed it if you actually responded with anything.

    I’ve stated this several times here, and I believe you responded to it directly before. If you’re not interested in referring back to it then I’m not interested in retyping it.

    No, I’m interested assuming you actually want to defend your position of what is the most plausible explanation. So let’s refer back to your complaint.

    I’ll ask you this, though — if you think that there’s no remarkable difference between Jesus’s rising from a mass grave versus a tomb (why Paul didn’t bother to refer to it), then why is the supposed “fact” of the empty tomb the virtual cornerstone of modern apologetics?

    Here is where you set up what you claim is a struggle between a tomb versus a “mass grave” — and why Paul would never mention it… etc. So I, and I assume everyone else, takes “tomb” to mean either a bench or loculus style tomb used in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. I therefore have to assume that you’re saying that Jesus was not placed in some tomb but had a different burial that would be out of the norm of the current practice taking place during that time.

    But now you present your definition of what a “mass grave” is.

    A mass grave, though I don’t think I’ve use the term more than a couple of times, is meant to mean an unmarked burial place.

    Now I’m really confused as to what the difference is between a “mass grave” and a tomb, are you saying that a mass grave is a tomb that’s just unmarked? If so then what’s your grief with Paul not mentioning a tomb when a mass grave is a tomb?

    It is where a society or individuals would put bodies whose memories they do not care to commemorate individually.

    Nothing in the Christian tradition stands or falls on whether Jesus was buried honorably or in shame (in all likelihood it was shame). But regardless of the initial burial the place would still be remembered so that the bones could be collected in a years time and put in an ossuary inside the family tomb, hence why the women wanted to note where he was entombed at so that the reburial of the bones could be completed per custom and tradition.

    I am truly at a loss of what your complaint is with the Christian burial tradition.

  92. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    There were two issues raised in our discussion in the last post. One dealt with Paul’s support as evidence for the empty tomb, and the other was directed at my tone.

    You first referred to my tone as snide. Although I admitted later to being more snide than usual, I have re-read my comments leading up to and following your observation and I don’t think they could just as fairly be characterized as “short.” The truth is that I had less time to re-write and soften my comments, something I usually try to do here.

    I think you should take the time to wonder how much of my tone is reproachable as a result of my arguing against your position, as opposed to its being penned by the regular apologist contributors here. (Charlie just wrote, “Cool. Us too.” in the comment directly above and six hours before yours, and I believe this neatly fits the description of the word “snide.” You and others have regularly voiced a concern that those such as myself are victims of a disordered mind, irrational, or deliberately obtuse, etc. In the light of this regular stream of commentary I don’t think that any of my writing on this post strays from that mean.) And say what you like about my tone, I don’t think any of what I wrote did not directly address an issue or question raised in response to other commenters here.

    As for a lack of charity toward your concessions, I simply don’t think that charity is required to admit whatever valid points are made against anyone’s arguments, starting with our own. If, as you say above, the truth holds us, then whatever feelings we have about having the holes in our own arguments exposed to us should be more than compensated for by our learning more of the truth.

  93. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    The contributor here who has used terms like “disordered mind” has received a response, and has responded in turn. I will continue to monitor.

    I think Charlie’s “Cool. Us too” is as easily viewed as being a nod of friendly agreement. That’s how I read it this morning.

    As for “uncharitable,” I find your response puzzling. You seem to be telling me how I should feel about having my errors corrected. I think your opinion on that is exactly right; but I don’t know why you should bring that up here. You seem to be telling me how I should feel or behave, and making that your answer for your own behavior in not acknowledging what I had written. Strange.

    But it was not only that you failed to acknowledge it. In your last comment you continued to assail my position, as if I had not changed it, displaying an apparent complete lack of awareness of what I had said.

    Here’s the short version:

    1. Tony: You’re wrong on a: you want to prove that Paul was preaching an empty tomb.
    2. Tom: I accept that; I was wrong on a, I accept that no actual mention of a tomb can be found in Paul.
    3. Tony: Why do you persist in being so wrong on a?!

    I stand with what I wrote to you in my previous two comments.

  94. Tony Hoffman says:

    Luke,

    I think you are right in that I did not reply to your last comment to me. My apologies.

    Now I’m really confused as to what the difference is between a “mass grave” and a tomb, are you saying that a mass grave is a tomb that’s just unmarked? If so then what’s your grief with Paul not mentioning a tomb when a mass grave is a tomb?

    I believe I have explained what I mean by a mass grave as well as I can. Are you under the impression that Jews of the 1st Century were always entombed in discrete fashion, and that none were ever buried in the earth or allowed to have their bodies perish in the open?

    But regardless of the initial burial the place would still be remembered so that the bones could be collected in a years time and put in an ossuary inside the family tomb, hence why the women wanted to note where he was entombed at so that the reburial of the bones could be completed per custom and tradition.

    I don’t know why you would assume this. Josephus writes of Jewish custom regarding one who has blasphemed as, “6. He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner.” (Antiquities, IV, 8.6) There are other examples of Jews who violated religious law being given less than honorable burials. (I’ve always thought it a little odd that the Jews would demand one of their own face crucifixion but suddenly draw the line at the corpse being left out in the open.) And, of course, various Roman governers et al. were not above setting an example of someone they thought a genuine state threat, political consequences be damned.

    I am truly at a loss of what your complaint is with the Christian burial tradition.

    I understand that you may disagree with my assessments, but I don’t think they’re preposterous beyond the point of comprehension.

    I think it is unlikely that Jesus would have been buried in a place that could be remembered, and much more likely that he would have been given an obscure burial per the circumstances of his conviction. The legend of the tomb appears to be best explained as a later story-telling device that supports Mark’s narrative, as well as for other reasons I have already explained.

  95. luke says:

    I believe I have explained what I mean by a mass grave as well as I can. Are you under the impression that Jews of the 1st Century were always entombed in discrete fashion, and that none were ever buried in the earth or allowed to have their bodies perish in the open?

    Ok, well your explanation of an unmarked grave leaves well open the standard practice of burial. As for ALL burials being in rock tombs, no I am under no illusion that everyone was buried in one, there are a number of earthen tombs but the majority are carved into the stone. As for bodies left out to rot… it is not likely given Jewish concern for defilement of the land.

    But regardless of the initial burial the place would still be remembered so that the bones could be collected in a years time and put in an ossuary inside the family tomb, hence why the women wanted to note where he was entombed at so that the reburial of the bones could be completed per custom and tradition.

    I don’t know why you would assume this. Josephus writes of Jewish custom regarding one who has blasphemed as, “6. He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned; and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner.” (Antiquities, IV, 8.6) There are other examples of Jews who violated religious law being given less than honorable burials.

    WOW, if you’re going to quote me and then say that law required “less than honorable burials” you better quote the whole thing:

    What I said:

    Nothing in the Christian tradition stands or falls on whether Jesus was buried honorably or in shame (in all likelihood it was shame).

    Did you miss the part where I said that in all likelihood it was a shameful burial? In fact the two items that mark a burial as shameful versus honorable are the family tomb and public mourning (shameful would have been away from the family tomb and without the normal rites of mourning).

    To answer your question the reason that the spot would be noted (as I previously said) is so that the bones could be reburied in the family tomb. Executed criminals were allowed to have their bones put in their family tomb, see the crucified Yehohanan at Giv’at ha-Mivtar and two other exectued people (beheaded) who found their way back to the family tombs.

    So again, a shameful burial does not in anyway preclude that the Jews were not interested in where they were buried.

    Tractate Sanhedrin

    Criminals were not buried in their fathers’ burying places… When the flesh had been consumed, the bones were gathered and buried in their proper place.

    And from Semahot 13.7

    Neither a corpse nor the bones of a corpse may be transferred from a wretched place to an honored place, nor, needless to say from an honored place to a wretched place; but if to a family tomb, even from an honored place to a wretched place, it is permitted

    They would expect to have the bones transfered to the family tomb.

    I understand that you may disagree with my assessments, but I don’t think they’re preposterous beyond the point of comprehension.

    No, but they’re beyond the point of what is plausible given the actual evidence.

  96. Tony Hoffman says:

    Luke,

    Did you miss the part where I said that in all likelihood it was a shameful burial? In fact the two items that mark a burial as shameful versus honorable are the family tomb and public mourning (shameful would have been away from the family tomb and without the normal rites of mourning)

    My position in regard to Jewish burial is that Jesus was not a common criminal who would suffer only a shameful burial. He was a blasphemer. As the Josephus quote implies, he would have been given an obscure burial, not the less severe “shameful” one in which the burial place is well established for later transportation of the bones. And that’s only if he was actually handed back over to the Jews, whereas I find it more probable that he was left on the cross for days as bird carrion, as was the custom in crucifixion. (I know that there were exceptions to this, but there were also rules, and the Jews did not have a universal pass for excluding their people from the cruelties of death by crucifixion; the Romans were in charge, and they knew how to keep order through intimidation as well as accommodation.)

    My position is that Jesus’s spiritual resurrection was preached originally, and as time and distance from the event of his death increased a faction preaching a bodily resurrection grew and took hold. That explains why the tomb, which presents a simple, effective story-telling device for bodily resurrection, does not appear in Paul and other documents that pre-date Mark. I think this is most probable among the naturalistic explanations, and it goes without saying that any variety of these is more probable than Jesus’s actual physical resurrection and subsequent passing through walls, etc., which David Ellis has already very well explained.

  97. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    Many days ago in comment 6, Geoff warned against “cultural jingoism.” I want to repeat that warning in a slightly different form, because “jingoism” isn’t exactly the right term, though it’s close. “Cultural blindness” is closer.

    In 21st century America, because of the work of numerous theologians especially beginning in Germany about 150 years ago, we can make sense of “Spiritual resurrection.” The two words together have meaning for us. But that meaning was created recently, and did not exist centuries ago. For the fourth time I will repeat this. Nobody in the first century had any conception of a non-bodily resurrection. The word “resurrection” only applied to rising bodily, and did not apply to anything like what you have in mind when you speak of some early belief in a spiritual resurrection. A non-bodily resurrection was as meaningless in that language and culture as saying I left home this morning to go to the office, but my body is still at home.

    For the record, I have previously said this in these locations (using CiteBite for the first one to point you to the exact phrases):

    http://pages.citebite.com/h1f8a1h4w6edy
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/evidences-for-the-empty-tomb/#comment-16459
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2009/10/evidences-for-the-empty-tomb/#comment-16479

    Your theory is historically impossible, and if you continue to pursue it I think you stand guilty of cultural blindness.

    Further evidence on this:
    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Old_Arguments.htm
    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6073347.ece
    http://tektonics.org/lp/physrez.html
    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/bodily.html
    Several pages beginning here and here
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6963

  98. Charlie says:

    It’s all well and good to state positions but they really ought to be based upon fact and logic.
    The Romans are well-known for having endured the religious practices of the Jews and were trying to keep peace, not conflict. Making an example of Jesus by defiling the land against the religious beliefs of the Jews would not only be counterproductive but stupid. The whole point was to avoid uprising, not incite it with scores of thousands of Jews piling into Jerusalem for the Sabbath.
    If it was such a custom to leave the bodies for days on the cross that this would be the most probable outcome why the crurifragium and why the burials of executed bodies found in Jerusalem? If the bodies of executed criminals were not given back to the Jews why body at Giv’at ha-Mivtar?

    On mass graves I repeat:
    I decided to find my reference in the book The Last Days Of Jesus by archaeologist Shimon Gibson and, lucky me, it opened right to page 131.

    I surmise he (Joseph of Arimathea) would have argued that respect be accorded to the executed man based upon the prevalent Jewish custom of the time that dead bodies must not be left exposed to be eaten by wild animals and buzzards. It was vital that the body of Jesus be buried before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath when burials were prohibited. Instructions are provided in Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

    The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been a normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities. The truth is that the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable. In fact, as we have seen, the only remains of a crucified man ever found in Jerusalem were not found in a pit, but inside a rock-cut family tomb at Giv’at ha-Mivtar to the north of Jerusalem, belying the notion that crucified criminals were subsequently buried disgracefully like dogs and without the dignity of a final repose.

    In my opinion, the intention to bury Jesus n a rock-cut tomb existed all along and had Joseph of Arimathea’s burial chamber not been available, Jesus would have been buried in another cave.

    131-135

  99. SteveK says:

    Tony,

    And that’s only if he was actually handed back over to the Jews, whereas I find it more probable that he was left on the cross for days as bird carrion, as was the custom in crucifixion. (I know that there were exceptions to this, but there were also rules, and the Jews did not have a universal pass for excluding their people from the cruelties of death by crucifixion; the Romans were in charge, and they knew how to keep order through intimidation as well as accommodation.)

    This is an example of what I was talking about in my earlier comment to Charlie (quoted below). It’s your job to find evidence that is known to apply to the situation we are discussing, and so far I don’t see any evidence being offered that would allow a reasonable person to conclude that Jesus was left hanging on the cross for days.

    All the counter arguments go something like this: given some OTHER set of facts that may, or may not, apply to the resurrection event or the events that followed, apparently Jesus didn’t actually rise again.

    The naysayers job is to show that these other set of facts (lying, hallucination, mistake, rewriting history, etc) do indeed apply to the resurrection event. If they apply to the events in question, then there must be evidence that they apply.

  100. David Ellis says:


    In 21st century America, because of the work of numerous theologians especially beginning in Germany about 150 years ago, we can make sense of “Spiritual resurrection.” The two words together have meaning for us. But that meaning was created recently, and did not exist centuries ago. For the fourth time I will repeat this. Nobody in the first century had any conception of a non-bodily resurrection.

    An interesting claim. I’m no expert on 1st century philosophical and religious assumptions so I did a quick search on the topic to see whether I could find an examples contradicting this claim. In a quick perusal of wikipedia’s article on resurrection I find:

    “In Hellenistic thought, at death the soul was said to leave the inferior body behind. The idea that Jesus was resurrected spiritually rather than physically even gained popularity among some Christian teachers, whom the author of 1 John declared to be antichrists.”

    And on the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA website:

    The beginnings of Gnosticism have long been a matter of controversy and are still largely a subject of research. The more these origins are studied, the farther they seem to recede in the past. Whereas formerly Gnosticism was considered mostly a corruption of Christianity, it now seems clear that the first traces of Gnostic systems can be discerned some centuries before the Christian Era.– “Gnosticism”. Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm

    And:

    “Gnostic sects may have existed earlier than the First Century BC, thus predating the birth of Jesus.” (wikipedia referring Bart D. Ehrman’s Lost Christianities. Oxford University press, 2003, p.188-202)

    Granted, this is just the result of a quick search to see if the idea of spiritual resurrection was to be found in the Roman Empire during this time. But it seems there are many who think such a belief did exist at the time and before.

    How that fits with your and Tony’s discussion I leave to the two of you to discuss.

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    First, David, I agree there were those who considered the possibility of a non-physical continuing existence after death. But they did not call it resurrection, which is the point in question, and it’s hard to see that they would have even called that existence “life.” Hades was not considered life. So it is still the case that the term “resurrection” had one meaning and one only in the context of the time: a return to bodily life.

    That view is even supported in the Wikipedia article you quoted:

    Indeed, in Greek religion, immortality originally always included an eternal union of body and soul. The philosophical idea of an immortal soul was a later invention, which, although influential, never had a breakthrough in the Greek world. As may be witnessed even into the Christian era, not least by the complaints of various philosophers over popular beliefs, traditional Greek believers maintained the conviction that certain individuals were resurrected from the dead and made physically immortal and that for the rest of us, we could only look forward to an existence as disembodied and dead souls.

    “Disembodied” and “dead” went together.

    Second, the quote you gave is inaccurate. There is nothing in 1 John to support the opinion that some people in the first century would have entertained the idea of “resurrection” being non-physical. The only place in 1 John where that view could conceivably have come from is 1 John 4:1-3:

    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

    What John was condemning was Docetism. The name comes from the Greek “to seem.” The Docetists held to an early variant of Gnosticism that considered flesh (all matter, actually) to be evil and spirit to be good, somewhat following Platonic thought in that. They regarded Jesus as God, but held it impossible that God, the perfect spirit, could take on physicality. They held that Jesus had not come in the flesh: that in his birth and earthly life he only seemed to have taken on physical, fleshly form.

    I think that the most natural reading of this passage would be in reference to that phase of Jesus’ life, even if one knew nothing of Docetism. “Has come in the flesh” clearly refers to the totality of Jesus’ earthly life. If the resurrection were intended, he would have said, “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ was raised in the flesh…” or something like that.

    So there is nothing in 1 John supporting the Wikipedia entry’s view that a non-physical return from the grave was a live option for Hellenic thinkers, except among a thoroughly anathemized group of Docetists; and even for them, there is no indication that they would have applied the term “resurrection” to such a return.

  102. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    I’m not sure what to make of your latest comment to me.

    For the fourth time I will repeat this. Nobody in the first century had any conception of a non-bodily resurrection. The word “resurrection” only applied to rising bodily, and did not apply to anything like what you have in mind when you speak of some early belief in a spiritual resurrection. A non-bodily resurrection was as meaningless in that language and culture as saying I left home this morning to go to the office, but my body is still at home.

    I have often heard that Christianity was probably influenced by Plato. I find it hard to believe that the Greek writers of the NT would be unaware of Plato. So, I too Googled on the subject.

    Plato’s Book X, end: The Myth of Er ( http://www.davidson.edu/academic/classics/neumann/CLA350/ErMyth.html ) would seem to be irreconciable with your statement above. I don’t mean the similarities with Er’s resurrection to Jesus, but also his recounting of the afterlife of souls (without bodies).

    Your theory is historically impossible, and if you continue to pursue it I think you stand guilty of cultural blindness.

    This seems too hard a stance to maintain – that it was somehow impossible of people of a prior time to conceive of something that you appear to say only came into existence, as an idea, in the last 150 years.

    I believe it’s an old philosophical saw that the Greeks thought of everything. That possibility aside, I don’t think that the idea of a spiritual afterlife or resurrection qualifies as so novel a concept that we had to wait for the 1850’s to stumble upon it.

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    I hope my previous response to David helps with this, Tony, since it’s very nearly the same topic.

    I did not say no one ever thought of a non-physical continuation of existence after death. I said that the term “resurrection” was never used in that sense; and that when “resurrection” was spoken of, the reference was always to a physical, bodily return to life. The link you provided from Plato does not include the term “resurrection,” so it has nothing to say to the question at hand.

    The disciples could quite easily have come to the conclusion that Jesus returned to life spiritually, but if they had, they would not have called it a resurrection. This is not a new kind of thing for me to say, by the way; nor is it a concession to David’s and your recent arguments. I wrote earlier,

    A Jew of the day might have said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were currently alive in spirit, in the hands of God, but they would never have used the term “resurrected,” because that could only apply to being raised again bodily.

    When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15, he was writing about Jesus being alive in the body. If he had meant anything other than that he would either have used a different term, or he would have had to make an obvious intentional effort to explain the novel and unique sense for which he was employing the term. Your theory that early Christianity held to a spiritual resurrection is historically wrong and culturally unaware. I stand by that.

  104. Tony Hoffman says:

    Tom,

    I’ve read some analysis before that makes the case for Paul’s preaching a spiritual resurrection. (I believe I read somewhere that N.T. Wright, although he does not conclude it, concedes that a spiritual resurrection reading of Paul is possible.) The issue is complicated, and I admit that I’m not interested in debating the finer points. A spiritual resurrection first/ bodily resurrection gaining prominence progression makes more sense to me, but it’ hardly a treasured belief on my part, so I’d happily concede that Paul could only conceive of a bodily resurrection.

    Whether or not Paul preached a bodily resurrection does little to affect my hypothesis, which is that the specificity found in the later narratives was absent from Paul, and that this is consistent with a religion whose historical claims evolved and developed significantly after the facts would have been verifiable.

  105. luke says:

    Tony:

    My position in regard to Jewish burial is that Jesus was not a common criminal who would suffer only a shameful burial. He was a blasphemer. As the Josephus quote implies, he would have been given an obscure burial, not the less severe “shameful” one in which the burial place is well established for later transportation of the bones.

    You don’t seem to understand, there was no “shameful” burial that’s a little less shameful and then the full on we’re taking your body and hiding it somewhere. The quote by Josephus about “obscure” means that the public rituals where not allowed to happen (the wailing, the 7 days off work hanging your head while people come by your house… etc). Here’s Richard Carrier making use of the same quote, maybe it makes more sense whatever translation he’s using:

    Let him who blasphemes God be stoned to death and hung during the day, and let him be buried dishonorably and out of sight

    Again, the “out of sight” is to indicate that none of the public “in sight” rituals were allowed to take place, this was the shame being heaped on the desceased to sever the kinship community.

    And that’s only if he was actually handed back over to the Jews, whereas I find it more probable that he was left on the cross for days as bird carrion, as was the custom in crucifixion. (I know that there were exceptions to this, but there were also rules, and the Jews did not have a universal pass for excluding their people from the cruelties of death by crucifixion; the Romans were in charge, and they knew how to keep order through intimidation as well as accommodation.)

    I will refer back to my previous comment

    What did happen was that during peace times (especially during the time that Pilate ruled) Roman custom was to allow the local/national customs to be observed and to not interfere with them (see Philo, Josephus and the summary of Roman law Digesta). Politically it seems unlikely that Pilate would try and go against Jewish burial custom since it was on the eve of Passover (a Jewish festival celebrating liberation from foreign oppressors). What better way to incite the people against you then on a Holy Day to deny them their generally practiced customs? The more plausible explanation is that Roman officials allowed the Jewish authorities to practice their established rituals which included the burial of the dead.

    I’ll quote to you the Digesta::

    The bodies of those who are condemned to deaath should not be refused their relatives; and the Divine Augustus, in the Tenth Book of his Life, said that this rule had been observed. 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.(48.24.1)

    also:

    The bodies of persons who have been punished should be given to whoever requests them for the purpose of burial. (48.24.3)

    To back this tradition, of respecting the local customs, we have Philo who talks about the Jews who appealed to Pilate to redress the infringement of their traditions caused shields being put up in the palace in Jerusalem. And Josephus adds that the Romans do not require their subjects to violate their national laws (Against Apion 2.73). He also notes that the Roman procurators that came after Agrippa I abstained from interference with the local customs and thus kept the country at peace. (J.W. 2.220)

    When it comes to the history of the situation all I can say is that You’re Doing It Worng (TM). You can keep saying that Paul never mentions the tomb but you’re not taking into account the sociology of the group that wrote and deveoloped the New Testament, again HIGH CONTEXT society (I’m going to keep harping on this). To ignore the social climate and customs in Jerusalem during the first century just seems absurd, to say that Jesus wasn’t buried is a total head scratcher.

  106. David Ellis says:


    But they did not call it resurrection, which is the point in question, and it’s hard to see that they would have even called that existence “life.” Hades was not considered life.

    I’m not referring to the belief in Hades. I’m referring to the Gnostic belief that the enlightened achieve a higher state in which they leave the material behind.


    That view is even supported in the Wikipedia article you quoted.

    Again, that quote is in reference to the older Greek belief. Not the Gnostic innovation. And scholars now seem to think the gnostic movement predated Christianity (according the the catholic article).


    Second, the quote you gave is inaccurate. There is nothing in 1 John to support the opinion that some people in the first century would have entertained the idea of “resurrection” being non-physical.

    The passage does not specifically refer to what beliefs were being promoted that the author condemns, I quite agree. The writer of that article thinks he had the gnostics in mind. Whether he’s right or not I don’t know and I don’t think its possible to be sure since 1 John isn’t specific on the issue.


    They regarded Jesus as God, but held it impossible that God, the perfect spirit, could take on physicality. They held that Jesus had not come in the flesh: that in his birth and earthly life he only seemed to have taken on physical, fleshly form.

    In which case they were denying a bodily resurrection.


    So there is nothing in 1 John supporting the Wikipedia entry’s view that a non-physical return from the grave was a live option for Hellenic thinkers, except among a thoroughly anathemized group of Docetists; and even for them, there is no indication that they would have applied the term “resurrection” to such a return.

    Whether they would have used the same word in the original language I’m not competent to comment on. But does it really matter that they wouldn’t have used whatever word, in their language, that we translate as “resurrection”? If the idea of appearances of a purely spiritual Jesus became exaggerated into bodily appearances then the writers of the NT would have used a different word from whatever word was used in the original (perhaps purely oral) story prior to exaggeration. How does that refute, or even weigh against, the idea that stories of visions changed, with time, into stories of bodily encounters?

    A final, tangential, thought. In reading the passage of 1 John mentioned I noticed, a bit further on, that it says:

    1 John 2:18 “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

    Another example of the many passages in the NT expressing the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return (which, as we know, did not occur).

    Like the Seventh Day Adventists, the original Jesus movement seems to have had its origins in an end-times cult that failed.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, how then do you explain Paul’s early preaching of resurrection? That was certainly not an evolved belief, in the sense I think you are stating it. It was an early one. How much more specific would Paul have to be?

  108. David Ellis says:

    Also, if they believed Jesus rose bodily (and went immediately in to heaven) and then appeared to them in visions (the stories of which grew in the telling into bodily encounters) then the whole issue of whether they could have conceived of a spiritual resurrection is moot. The important point is the idea of hallucinatory visions being exaggerated into stories of bodily encounters. Not the concept of purely spiritual resurrection (which can be dropped from discussion and the vision hypothesis still stands).

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    David, you said,

    I’m not referring to the belief in Hades. I’m referring to the Gnostic belief that the enlightened achieve a higher state in which they leave the material behind.

    The Gnostics did not call that resurrection, which is the point in question.

    I guess we’ll have to disagree on the interpretation of 1 John; but the clear sense of the passage, the history of the Docetists, and I would add also the weight of commentators’ opinion all support my view.

    In which case they were denying a bodily resurrection.

    They denied bodily everything (or at least, they denied that it could be good; the physical was bad to them). But the question is whether in denying bodily resurrection, they would have supplanted the concept with terminology of a spiritual (non-physical resurrection). They did not. “Resurrection” always meant bodily.

    But does it really matter that they wouldn’t have used whatever word, in their language, that we translate as “resurrection”?

    Yes, because the bodily resurrection of Christ is crucial both for Christian doctrine and apologetics. A spiritual resurrection would have been one that had no connection with history; it would have been extra-worldly and extra-historical. Christ’s resurrection was bodily and historical, or else it was no resurrection at all.

    And the fact that it was regarded as historical/physical/bodily from the earliest documents onward shows that it was not a legend or fable that developed over time. It was preached and taught from the beginning, by and to and among people who had reason to know whether it was true.

    As for 1 John 2:18, that’s an interesting discussion but not the one we’re having here.

  110. Tom Gilson says:

    Interesting point (your 4:18 comment). The hallucination theory is part of what I plan to include in the next post in this series.

  111. David Ellis says:


    And the fact that it was regarded as historical/physical/bodily from the earliest documents onward shows that it was not a legend or fable that developed over time. It was preached and taught from the beginning, by and to and among people who had reason to know whether it was true.

    We don’t know what was taught “from the beginning” we know what the NT records being taught a few decades later. A few decades is plenty of time for a story to change.

    And, in addition, none of this does anything against the fraud hypothesis. Even if a bodily resurrection and empty tomb were taught from the start it doesn’t make actual resurrection an iota more probable than fraud. The only argument against fraud I’ve seen is the “would he die for a lie” argument.

    An argument that’s weak for two reasons: we don’t know that the perpetrator of the fraud did die for his claims. And, second, we know frauds can and do die for their frauds. The perpetrator may simply have considered the gains worth the possible risk. Those who aren’t Mormon are well aware of the most famous example in American history.

  112. SteveK says:

    David,
    The fraud hypothesis needs support/evidence to give it credibility and so far you haven’t offered any. All we get is speculative statements that amount to nothing more than, ‘Hey, it could have been the case’. What we need is reason to think it actually was the case.

  113. SteveK says:

    David,
    Continuing my previous thought…telling me that fraud is more probable, doesn’t tell me that it actually occurred anymore than referencing the odds of someone winning the lottery on Jan 11, 1997 can tell me that nobody actually won that day. You need more than a statistical argument.

  114. Tom Gilson says:

    David, you wrote:

    We don’t know what was taught “from the beginning” we know what the NT records being taught a few decades later. A few decades is plenty of time for a story to change.

    Wrong on both counts:

    Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement [1 Corinthians 15:3-8] is based is dated to the 30s AD…. Further, Paul’s earliest epistles date from the 50s AD.

    Source here.
    Note that “critical” means “critical;” i.e., not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. The 1 Corinthians passage would be one of those from the 50s; so we have a source dating back to within the first few years after the events, and another within about 20-25 years.

    Can you show another incident in history where a major, ground-breaking, disruptive, public, historical event was made up out of whole cloth in only 25 or so years? The Mormon “revelation” was not public, nor was it particularly major or ground-breaking. (Anyone can claim they got a word from God; not just anyone shows up walking around in full health, power and victory after being brutally tortured and executed.) In other words, do you have any evidence that “a few decades is plenty of time for a story to change,” considering the massive magnitude of the change, and that it wasn’t really a full “few decades”? Isn’t that mere speculation on your part?

  115. SteveK says:

    This may have already come up, but one of Tom’s links also linked to this page where the following comment was made about N.T. Wright.

    “Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

    – The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations [refer to page link] that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
    – The empty tomb
    – The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

    Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

    …the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

    The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.”

  116. David Ellis says:


    The fraud hypothesis needs support/evidence to give it credibility and so far you haven’t offered any.

    So, if we know an extraordinary claim was made, but its impossible to get any substantial additional evidence other than the claim itself, we should regard the truth of the extraordinary claim as more plausible than fraud?

    Is there any circumstance other than your religious beliefs where you actually think along such lines?


    Most critical scholars think that Paul’s reception of at least the material on which this early creedal statement [1 Corinthians 15:3-8] is based is dated to the 30s AD…. Further, Paul’s earliest epistles date from the 50s AD.

    I don’t regard Habermas as very credible based on some of the things I’ve read from him. Can you quote any actual critical sources for this position?

  117. David Ellis says:

    1 Cor 15:3-8 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

    How is that not consistent with the Tom’s vision hypothesis?

  118. Tom Gilson says:

    David, in response to your 6:25 comment, I’ll have to work on getting some sources. In the meantime, you haven’t answered my last question to you:

    In other words, do you have any evidence that “a few decades is plenty of time for a story to change,” considering the massive magnitude of the change, and that it wasn’t really a full “few decades”? Isn’t that mere speculation on your part?

    Bear in mind that you made a positive claim there, and I don’t think you have any evidence to offer in favor of it. When you answer please answer the question in the context in which I originally asked it, since this is the short version.

  119. SteveK says:

    David,

    So, if we know an extraordinary claim was made, but its impossible to get any substantial additional evidence other than the claim itself, we should regard the truth of the extraordinary claim as more plausible than fraud?

    We have more than the claim itself, we have (among other things) the outcome/effect that followed from the events in question.

    If a group of people come running out of a building mumbling something about a fire, and you can’t see any signs of fire, what is the most reasonable conclusion? It certainly isn’t ‘fires are unlikely so nothing probably happened’ or ‘they only believed they saw a fire’ or ‘they were likely going for a group run’. Your hypothesis has to account for people running out of a building talking about fires.

    Likewise, if the claimed public events and public teachings are rooted in fraud then you have to make this fit the storyline. The evidence we have doesn’t fit the fraud storyline, and you need to find evidence that makes it fit.

    What do I mean by that? We’ve been over it a dozen times…Perpetrators of fraud don’t display the kind of public behavior that was on display – they don’t document that they doubt the fraud is real, they don’t document how clueless they are about the details of their own fraud, they don’t willingly suffer for the fraud itself.

    Fraudsters have answers to every question you can ask about their fraudulent claim – and then some. I should know, I’m in sales (hey, that’s a joke!)

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    In response to your 7:40 comment:

    Can you give me any evidence in favor of the possibility of a vision being experienced by so many people at different times, different circumstances, different numbers of people? Has it ever happened any other time in history? Bear in mind that Paul was speaking in the rest of the chapter of a resurrection (physical); so if this “vision” happened as you suppose, these people experienced it in such a way as to convince them they were experiencing his presence in the body, not as a spirit or as an apparition.

    Show me another event in history when so many people people were so thoroughly convinced that they were experiencing a real physical event under so many different circumstances, and yet it turned out to be just a vision. Do that and I’ll consider the vision hypothesis worth entertaining, strictly on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15.

    (But that doesn’t mean I accept any restriction on accepting the Gospel writers’ accounts as reliable.)

  121. Tony Hoffman says:

    Show me another event in history when so many people people were so thoroughly convinced that they were experiencing a real physical event under so many different circumstances, and yet it turned out to be just a vision.

    First off, it only takes one instance of fraud to concoct the stories about people purportedly experiencing real physical events; if I say a thousand people saw me fly to the moon it doesn’t make it a thousand times more likely that I flew to the moon than, say, Neil Armstrong, or anyone else who might make such a claim.

    Secondly, and I don’t care to spend real discussion time on this position, but why is it more likely that Jesus would be (supernaturally) raised than that those who witnessed his resurrection were (supernaturally) deceived by, say, Satan, or God who had a mysterious plan? I mean, if we’re going to seriously consider the supernatural as a probabilistic argument, how are we to use our rational minds to determine such events?

  122. Tom Gilson says:

    What I gather from your response, Tony, is that you don’t have an answer to my question; you don’t have any evidence supporting David’s supposition. He said that a visionary experience of this sort is possible, and I’m saying there is no evidence that it actually is. It is evidence-free conjecture.

    I wonder if he has any positive evidence to offer.

  123. Tom Gilson says:

    My view of Tony’s fraud hypothesis here, by the way, is that anybody reading the New Testament who thinks it’s an intentionally deceptive concoction of fables—an elaborate series of lies—isn’t reading what’s there. Anyone who thinks even that it consists largely of semi-innocent fables that were initially seeded by a series of purposeful lies is just obviously wrong, based on the content of the whole. The internal evidence of the NT just doesn’t fit with prevarication of that sort, as any reasonably aware reader ought to be able to tell just by reading through it.

  124. David Ellis says:

    I had a long post responding line by line to most of your comment but I accidentally deleted it. I won’t attempt to repeat most of it. I’m simply going to respond to one of the claims for now. I’m a bit too irritated at myself for spending so long on something and accidentally losing it to do any more right now.


    In other words, do you have any evidence that “a few decades is plenty of time for a story to change,” considering the massive magnitude of the change, and that it wasn’t really a full “few decades”?

    Not only is a decade or two plenty of time, it doesn’t take nearly so long:

    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/White/medicine/legends.html

  125. David Ellis says:

    There are innumerable other examples of the rapid and massive growth of legends. Have you never heard of urban legends?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_of_Mons

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Submarine_(shark)

  126. David Ellis says:

    “an you give me any evidence in favor of the possibility of a vision being experienced by so many people at different times, different circumstances, different numbers of people? Has it ever happened any other time in history?”

    I never claimed many people experienced visions.

    “Show me another event in history when so many people people were so thoroughly convinced that they were experiencing a real physical event under so many different circumstances, and yet it turned out to be just a vision.”

    And I never claimed in the vision/hallucination hypothesis they thought a vision was a real physical event. Only that the story could have been exaggerated in the telling.

  127. Charlie says:

    The in-credible Gary Habermas.
    http://www.garyhabermas.com/habermas_resume.htm

    The skeptical Dom Crossan who at times claimed the visions were fictitious, when debating Tom Wright:
    “But the something I’m insisting on is that they did have the visions. I am, I really am. Otherwise I would not be able to understand it. I don;t know how you make the jump without that.”
    The Resurrection Of Jesus

    I’m sure we’ve seen this of Ehrman’s already:

    Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.

  128. Only that the story COULD HAVE BEEN exaggerated in the telling. [emphasis added]

    Perhaps…

    … but isn’t the onus on you, David, for posing such a “could have been” possibility to support your position with, well, with any evidence? Simply stating it doesn’t make it so. Simply stating “could have been” doesn’t lend it any standing in reality. Simply stating it doesn’t actualize reality in any way.

    Provide the evidence. Tony failed–as Tom pointed out. Tom and company have given you and Tony loads of referenced evidence. You may dispute it, but at least they’ve done their job. Yet “dispute” is being too generous: all you and Tony continually do is counter with “fraud” or “magic” or “delusion” because the sources are allegedly “biased” or “Christian scholars” (the genetic fallacy) posed the arguments–all without a shred of evidence to back up your countering or a shred of evidence that the truth content of their claim can be logically (i.e., not fallaciously) questioned.

    Is anyone here being unfair to request you back up your “could have been” claims? Again, “could have been” does not mean “is” or “was”. SO, fine… we’ll accept “could have been”. The flying spaghetti monster could have been real. So what? Now provide the evidence that moves your (currently) empty conjecturing for the sake of conjecturing into the realm of the verifiable. Your vision of verifiable is that which is subject to your latent scientism and materialism. Okay then, let’s play strictly by your rules. Provide scientifically verifiable evidence that supports your attempt to actualize reality by means of (currently) empty pronouncements about what “could have been”.

    We’re waiting…

  129. Tom Gilson says:

    David,

    Your first example (10:56 pm) is from a thoroughly repudiated source (see Lindberg and Numbers). If you have similar information from a better source, please provide it.

    As for urban legends, I see I need to do what I did previously for the “visions” question: establish what it would take for some other legend in history to match what you think happened in early Christianity.

    Belief in the resurrection led to a total re-ordering of other beliefs regarding the kingdom of God and the Messiah (topics already covered in this series). It also led to disruptively new beliefs and practices with respect to persons’ associations (Jews and Gentiles coming together), ethics, giving, service (including service to the very poor, the very ill, and people outside their group, all of which were outside the norm for Greco-Roman culture), and to life (infanticide—especially the discarding of female babies—and abortion, which was terribly dangerous to the mother then, were both common at the time, but Christians condemned both). All of this, along with the statements recorded from the first century, indicates they were strongly convinced of new and massively non-trivial beliefs regarding the foundational nature of reality.

    If it was a legend it arose probably within 5 to 7 years, based on standard dating of the source material behind 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; and definitely within 20 to 25 years, based on the actual date of the letter.

    If you can find a legend parallel to that, please present it to us. Otherwise you have no evidence that such is possible.

    You say,

    I never claimed many people experienced visions…. And I never claimed in the vision/hallucination hypothesis they thought a vision was a real physical event. Only that the story could have been exaggerated in the telling.

    But you said (or implied) that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is consistent with the vision hypothesis. This passage says that many people experienced a physical event. For this to be consistent with the vision with the vision hypothesis, as you suggested it could be, there would have to be some evidence that multiple persons and multiple times could experience a common vision of a physical event.

    Now, if you don’t claim that multiple persons experienced a common vision of a physical event at multiple times, then you are also not claiming that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is consistent with the vision hypothesis. I’m satisfied with that response.

  130. Tony Hoffman says:

    So the question is that what evidence do we have that what you claim happened did not, or what evidence is there that people claim to have have visions at different places and times?

    For the first one we are all working from the same evidence. David’s and my (and other skeptics’) hypotheses are all better explanations than supernatural ones of that evidence for reasons explained.

    For the second one, do you really mean I suppose I could go spend time digging up instances, but that’s unnecessary; we have plenty of cases of fraud, and of mistaken credulity, and these are so prevalent a part of history and our daily lives that they should be admitted by all. As I tried to explain above, a claim of 500 witnesses to a supernatural event could mean there were 500 witnesses to a supernatural event, but it’s more likely to represent a single case of fraud.

    I don’t have time during the day today, so if I don’t respond immediately it’s because I cannot.

  131. David Ellis says:


    If it was a legend it arose probably within 5 to 7 years, based on standard dating of the source material behind 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; and definitely within 20 to 25 years, based on the actual date of the letter.

    If you can find a legend parallel to that, please present it to us.

    The question you asked was whether I have evidence that a few decades (or less) is enough time for a story to change and grow significantly. I’ve given examples of how quickly legends can emerge and be embellished. I won’t waste time chasing a moving goal post.


    But you said (or implied) that 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is consistent with the vision hypothesis. This passage says that many people experienced a physical event.

    Interesting. Originally you referred to verses 3-8.

    Now you only refer to 3-7.

    Verses 3-7 refer to Jesus “appearing” to the apostles and others.

    And what’s in the verse you left out this time:

    Paul saying “last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”

    Verses 3-8 do not refer specifically to a physical event. It says he “appeared”. Something entirely consistent with having appeared in a vision. Paul even includes his vision on the road to Damascus as one of the appearances (in the passage you too conveniently left out the second time).


    Holo: Perhaps…

    … but isn’t the onus on you, David, for posing such a “could have been” possibility to support your position with, well, with any evidence?

    That question has already been asked and responded to at great length. I suggest you reread the previous conversation on that topic if you wish to hear my position.

  132. David Ellis says:

    As to 500 witnesses seeing the same vision, I doubt they did.

    That sounds more like an early embellishment to me. It’s easy to imagine how it could have occurred. One of the followers of Jesus is preaching to others of Jesus followers (I very much doubt 500 of them) and whipping them up into a frenzy of religious hysteria. Either he or one of the crowd fall to their knees lifting their hands and declaring that they see Jesus. Others lift their hands and cry “Jesus! Jesus!” (and I’m not saying ANYONE else need have seen the same vision to respond to the original cry this way). The story is exaggerated in numbers to 500 and its naively accepted that its a crowd of people all seeing the same vision.

    Of course you’ll say that’s just speculation. Yes, it is. We have very little data to go on. There are only two options to someone wondering what really happened: naive acceptance of the story as told or speculation about what really occurred.

    As is the case with most claims of the miraculous or paranormal.

  133. David Ellis says:

    And, of course, there’s also the possibility that the story of the 500 is something Paul just made up out of whole cloth.

    Sincere believers are capable of lying after all. And they have a clear motive for making up things so that the evidence sounds better than it is—they believe that if their listeners fail to believe the gospel story they’ll all be damned. Indeed, that’s a possible explanation for why the stories of visions grew over time. The men who had the visions found that they could get more converts if they exaggerated the story into a physical encounter(s).

    Again, speculation. But, again, in this paucity of evidence, speculation or naive acceptance are the only options.

    But we’re not the ones telling making an extraordinary claim. To think the onus is on us to disprove the extraordinary claim is absurd. We’ve pointed out that far more mundane explanations work just fine. That’s all we need to do.

  134. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    So the question is that what evidence do we have that what you claim happened did not, or what evidence is there that people claim to have have visions at different places and times?

    No, the question is whether there is any evidence to support the claim that the events described in the text could have been visions. I said I don’t think there is any evidence in history of such a thing happening, and I asked for evidence to show that it had. So far I haven’t seen any, so I don’t think the events described in the text are explainable as visions.

    we have plenty of cases of fraud

    So the question seems to be moving in that direction. The vision hypothesis doesn’t fit, so we need to forget it and move on to a fraud hypothesis.

    David,

    I won’t waste time chasing a moving goal post.

    The goal post didn’t move; you changed the entire question. Did I waste my time by chasing it? I hope not.

    The original question was about a vision, and I thought you were going to answer that. When you brought up a different question, one about a legend, I did exactly what I did with respect to the vision hypothesis: I stated the conditions the new hypothesis would have to meet if it were to be credible.

    Verses 3 to 8 are the introduction to a discussion of the resurrection, which was a physical event, so they must be understood as referring to a physical event. I have not included verse 8 in my discussions (other than an external source I quoted) because Paul’s experience was different enough from the others’ that I felt it introduced unnecessary complications.

  135. David Ellis says:


    The goal post didn’t move; you changed the entire question. Did I waste my time by chasing it? I hope not.

    This was the question I was responding to:

    “In other words, do you have any evidence that “a few decades is plenty of time for a story to change,” considering the massive magnitude of the change, and that it wasn’t really a full “few decades”? ”

    And I’ve more than adequately answered it.

  136. Tom Gilson says:

    As to 500 witnesses seeing the same vision, I doubt they did…. And, of course, there’s also the possibility that the story of the 500 is something Paul just made up out of whole cloth.

    So we are giving up on the vision hypothesis, apparently. It was either genuine, or it was fraud, or it was legend.

    But we’re not the ones telling making an extraordinary claim. To think the onus is on us to disprove the extraordinary claim is absurd. We’ve pointed out that far more mundane explanations work just fine. That’s all we need to do.

    I’m saying that your far more mundane explanations don’t work just fine, because they fly in the face of what we know about legends and fraud. It is unbelievable to me that either of those suffices as an explanation for the event.

    There are theoretical reasons to consider the legend hypothesis impossible. I gave those reasons in the first three posts in this series, and also in the current one. I haven’t seen a single effectual reply to those theoretical reasons.

    What you have offered in reply is, “But a legendary development is still possible!” In history as in science, when one wants to overturn a theoretical conclusion (one that has supporting data), one must offer either theory or empirical data showing that the conclusion cannot be supported. You haven’t any theoretical objection that stands, so I am asking for empirical data showing that a legend could have arisen under these circumstances.

    You can’t just point to this NT circumstance and say, “There’s my evidence!” You have to show from history that legends of this sort can develop under circumstances like these. If you don’t do that, then you have neither theory nor empirical data to support your position.

    As to the fraud hypothesis, I find it completely unbelievable.

  137. Tom Gilson says:

    IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL COMMENTERS

    I am having trouble getting this page to load. I think it may be because it has grown so long. I have disabled several plug-ins (additional functionalities like live comment preview and automatic links to Scripture texts) to try to get it working again.

    I apologize for having to make these changes. I’m sure they will be temporary. Has anyone else had this problem?

  138. Tom Gilson says:

    David, and in that I was responding to this from you:

    We don’t know what was taught “from the beginning” we know what the NT records being taught a few decades later. A few decades is plenty of time for a story to change.

    You raised the question whether a few decades of changing stories could explain things, so please don’t object if I answer.

    Your “more than adequate” answers really don’t suffice, for reasons I’ve stated (again) above.

  139. Charlie says:

    My sincere compliments again on your patience and grace, Tom.
    Greta series and great comments from you.

  140. Tony Hoffman says:

    Mormonism has been offered as an example of fraud that somehow convinced enough believers to form a flourishing religion whose growth has exceeded that of Christianity.

    I think you’ll have to be much more specific about “what we know about legends and fraud” for me to answer this any further.

    There are theoretical reasons to consider the legend hypothesis impossible. I gave those reasons in the first three posts in this series, and also in the current one. I haven’t seen a single effectual reply to those theoretical reasons. What you have offered in reply is, “But a legendary development is still possible!” In history as in science, when one wants to overturn a theoretical conclusion, one must offer either theory or empirical data showing that the conclusion cannot be supported.

    Again, you’ll have to more specific here. A lot of comments have flown around on this topic in the past month or so, and I honestly don’t know specifically what you’re referring to.

    Your understanding of how scientific theories are overturned seems unusual to me; scientific theories are overturned (underdetermined) when another theory better explains the evidence, not when a conclusion cannot be supported. Where did you get that definition from?

    I don’t believe that historical “theories” are overturned, only that a version of history is not well supported by the evidence. (History is more of a sequence of revisions than the gestalt switch phenomenon Kuhn describes regarding scientific revolutions.) Holocaust deniers’ theory of history is deemed incorrect because it simply does not comport with the evidence we have, not because their conclusion, that the Holocaust was an invention of a Jewish cabal, cannot be supported.

  141. SteveK says:

    A few weeks ago, my new neighbor was an average working guy but yesterday he let it slip that he won the state lottery and is quitting his job. It was strange because I remember him saying in the past that he never played it.

    He said he hasn’t been paid yet, but tonight he is throwing a big, expensive party for the entire neighborhood to celebrate his big win. All the neighbors have an invitation. The catering trucks, decorations and entertainment are arriving now. Looks to be a big, blowout of a party. He showed everyone what appeared to be a letter from the lottery commission. His wife and kids are all very excited.

    I don’t know what to make of this rather extraordinary claim. He said in the past that he never played the lottery, now he claims to have won it? I’m unable to dig into his claim further so the most reasonable conclusion at this time is fraud, not “maybe it actually happened”.

    The reasoning is, I have very little information to go on and everyone knows fraud is very common today and throughout history. People lie and forge documents all the time. People lie to their wife, kids and neighbors. He obviously lied to me about never playing the lottery so this is just one more lie. Plus, the odds of winning the lottery are quite high. He probably stole the money, or doesn’t even have it. I wonder what he’s trying to hide by claiming to have won the lottery?

    I feel sorry for his poor wife and kids. They’ve bought into the fraudulent story. Wait until they learn the truth – whatever it is. I’m not going to party with a fraud so I think I will stay home tonight.

  142. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony,

    The Mormonism example has been rebutted, twice.

    I think you’ll have to be much more specific about “what we know about legends and fraud” for me to answer this any further.

    There is no evidence that legends can arise in the kinds of circumstances that they supposedly arose in the first century. (I hope I don’t have to rehearse all those circumstances another time here.) If you can show any reasonably good evidence to the contrary, I’ll retract that as a statement of knowledge, but for now, since no evidence has been presented, I feel safe in affirming that there is no evidence.

    Again, you’ll have to more specific here. A lot of comments have flown around on this topic in the past month or so, and I honestly don’t know specifically what you’re referring to.

    I’m sorry, but I can’t go over all of them again. Let me just point out that I have explained why (this is the theory) it is untenable to suppose that a legend like the resurrection story would have arisen when and where it supposedly did. You’ll find that in my first three posts in this series, and also in the current post.

    Skeptical/atheist rebuttals to these theoretical considerations have not successfully addressed the theoretical considerations that I raised in the first three posts. (I don’t think they have on this one, either, but it’s still in process so I won’t include this one in that category.) Rather they have been of this nature, “Have you considered the fraud/legend/etc. alternatives?” The theoretical considerations I have brought forth still stand strong after all of this.

    So absent any effective theoretical objections, there needs to be some empirical data to counter the historical claim that has been made. I haven’t seen any of that, either, except “we know miracles are rare.” But that is acknowledged by all of us, and it is equally well explained by Christian theology as by naturalism or atheism.

    I don’t have any quibble with your alternate definitions for what happens when people change their minds about scientific or historical theories. For the record, the place where I got my terminology from was research methods classes in psychology grad school, where we discussed how to interpret statistical findings. But that’s of no particular importance.

  143. David Ellis says:


    So we are giving up on the vision hypothesis, apparently.

    Were you under the impression these hypotheses are mutually exclusive? I can’t imagine why. A person can have a hallucination and tell a lie.


    In history as in science, when one wants to overturn a theoretical conclusion (one that has supporting data)….

    What supporting data? You’ve claimed that legends can’t emerge that fast. I’ve given examples of them emerging in a fraction of the time.


    You have to show from history that legends of this sort can develop under circumstances like these. If you don’t do that, then you have neither theory nor empirical data to support your position.

    I have to disprove your unsupported assertion? No, I don’t. I share Tony’s opinion that “I think you’ll have to be much more specific about “what we know about legends and fraud” for me to answer this any further”.


    I am having trouble getting this page to load.

    Me too.

    Steve K, regarding your thought experiment, you’ve offered a scenario in which you refer to a man claiming to have won the lottery while demonstrating sudden new wealth to be “extraordinary”.

    How do you come to that conclusion?

    We know beyond any reasonable doubt that lottery winners occur on a regular basis. On the other hand, we have no verifiable incidences of people who can move objects with their minds, or walk on water or rise from the dead.

    Your scenario would have been more analogous had you chosen something of the latter sort. Instead you chose something we know for a fact to occur many times a month.

    An odd decision if your intent was to create an analogy that was, you know, analogous.

  144. Tom Gilson says:

    David,

    Were you under the impression these hypotheses are mutually exclusive? I can’t imagine why. A person can have a hallucination and tell a lie.

    Let’s see, we’re talking about a fraud theory and a vision theory; the vision theory has failed, so let’s consider a vision-plus-fraud theory instead.

    Would you explain how K plus L, K having been rebutted, is superior to L alone?

    What supporting data? You’ve claimed that legends can’t emerge that fast. I’ve given examples of them emerging in a fraction of the time.

    Forgive me, but this is getting tiring. I have to keep repeating myself. Let me replay the conversation on the examples you’ve given, in brief form. Maybe that way you’ll see it more clearly.

    1. Tom: You claim that legends of the sort x can appear in y time. Please show evidence.
    2. David: Here are examples A, B, C, and D.
    3. Tom: Example A is from a repudiated source, and examples B,C, and D are not of the sort x.
    4. David: “I’ve given examples of them emerging in a fraction of the time.”

    Don’t you think you perhaps missed a step in there, that of trying to rebut my (3) rebuttal? As it stands now, your (4) assertion here is empty and meaningless.

    I have to disprove your unsupported assertion?

    The assertion was yours: that legends of the sort x can appear in y time. You’re the one who asserted it, you’re the one who holds the burden of proof to support it. So far you’re still missing that step between (3) and (4).

    Was Steve’s analogy analogous? Should he have used the kind you suggested? If he had, I can guarantee you would have said, “what good is that, we know those things don’t happen, so what’s the point of analogizing from one clearly impossible thing to show that something else isn’t impossible?”

    That’s called cooking the rules of debate. Not kosher.

    So again, was his analogy analogous? Maybe this was what you had in mind:

    We know that people win the lottery all the time, so it’s possible his neighbor won it. We know that nobody has ever risen from the dead, so it’s impossible that Jesus rose from the dead. Analogy fails.

    Whoops, wait minute. If we know it’s impossible that Jesus rose from the dead, why are we wasting time on Tom’s blog arguing whether it’s impossible? We can just assert it and be done! Okay, that’s what we’ll do: we’ll declare the analogy disanalogous on the grounds that we’ve won the argument already.

    Not kosher, even in Gentile kitchens. But maybe that’s unfair; maybe that’s not what you had in mind. I don’t really know, since you didn’t say. I mean, you did say, but what you said (as I noted a few paragraphs up from here) was clearly illegitimate.

    So again, was his analogy analogous? Let’s consider it an open question whether Jesus might have risen from the dead, since after all, if we’re going to debate whether Jesus might have risen from the dead, it’s being rather a poor sport to declare in advance that it’s not an open question. That would be a lot like saying, “Let’s debate whether Jesus rose from the dead, and as part of the rules of debate, let’s declare that he didn’t.”

    Given then that we’re entertaining the possibility that Jesus rose from the dead, we have to entertain reasonable doubt with respect to the proposition that resurrections cannot happen. We could even, if we were mathematically inclined, assign some theoretical non-zero probability to that proposition. (If you were to assign it a zero probability, then you would be roasting pork in the Jewish deli again.) With a non-zero probability, Steve’s analogy becomes, well, analogous.

    So either Steve’s analogy is analogous, or you’re declaring it disanalogous by virtue of denying in advance the conclusion it tends to lead toward. Petitio principii. Bacon-cheeseburgers in the deli.

  145. But we’re not the ones telling making an extraordinary claim. To think the onus is on us to disprove the extraordinary claim is absurd. We’ve pointed out that far more mundane explanations work just fine. That’s all we need to do.

         I’m amazed you keep missing the point.

         (1a) You claim the resurrection is an extraordinary claim, and you demand evidence.
         (2a) Tom and company provide you loads evidence as part of the explanation.
         (3a) You dispute that evidence and the explanation. Fine, you’re free to express your personal opinion.

         (1b) Yet you claim “more mundane explanations work just fine,” and we demand you provide evidence in support of these.
         (2b) You don’t: all you do is get flustered and keep repeating something similar to “more mundane explanations work just fine.”
         (3b) We can’t dispute the lack of evidence: all we can do is keep requesting you actually provide the evidence that supports YOUR “more mundane” explanations.

         And that’s the really silly part about all this: we’re NOT putting the onus on you to disprove the resurrection (the Christian claim), we’re demanding you provide evidence to support YOUR “mundane explanations”. Yet, when faced with that, your position reduces to the alleged fact that it is sufficient simply to state a possible “mundane explanation,” and that this is all that is required (your words, not our words), i.e., you ARE—quite literally—trying to actualize reality simply by suggesting a potential reality.

         Amazing! It is to adopt a position that is as anti-intellectual as one can get. The irony is that for you, for a believer to simply state “God exists” [allegedly] without explanation is a travesty. But for you, to simply state “more mundane explanations work” is “that’s all we need to do” is somehow not an anti-intellectual travesty. Why do you think simply stating some potential “more mundane explanation” is sufficient without evidence and support? Can you imagine a natural scientist simply stating “I believe a ‘more mundane explanation’ is enough” without providing evidence to support that “more mundane explanation”?

         So, to respond simply and to the point regarding your claim, “That question has already been asked and responded to at great length,” no it hasn’t, no you didn’t… and, I also suspect, “no I won’t.”

  146. Tom Gilson says:

    Well said, Holopupenko.

  147. SteveK says:

    David,

    How do you come to that conclusion?

    It’s no miracle event, I admit that, but it is quite an extraordinary claim considering these minimal facts – (a) the odds favor the outcome of ‘no winner of the lottery’; (b) he has no money to show for it, which reinforces (a); (c) he admited that he never played, (d) technology allows easy document forgeries. I forgot to mention that I saw multiple copies of his ‘winning letter’ in the trash later today. That means he has it on his computer! He likely either scanned an old document and altered it, or created it out of whole cloth.

    We know beyond any reasonable doubt that lottery winners occur on a regular basis.

    True. We know beyond any reasonable doubt that fraud and lying occur on a regular basis AND we know he lied to me already. I’m not saying he didn’t win the lottery – I grant that it is possibile, but not probable. The evidence just doesn’t suggest it actually occurred in this particular case.

    On the other hand, we have no verifiable incidences of people who can move objects with their minds, or walk on water or rise from the dead.

    On the one hand, question begging. On the other hand, question begging. On the third hand, we know beyond any reasonable doubt that fraud and lying occur on a regular basis AND he has no money AND he lied to me already AND he has the letter on his computer.

    Your scenario would have been more analogous had you chosen something of the latter sort. Instead you chose something we know for a fact to occur many times a month.

    Again, I’m not saying the story can’t be true. It can. We just don’t have enough information to know in this particular case.

    Given what we do know, I’m saying the most parsimonious explanation, and therefore the most reasonable explanation, is fraud.

    An odd decision if your intent was to create an analogy that was, you know, analogous.

    I didn’t intend it to be a direct analogy of miracle claims, although I guess it could fit considering the lottery claim hasn’t been ‘verified’ in the way you define it.

    The common ground between the two is that we are being asked to reach the most reasonable conclusion given the evidence we have right now. I say fraud.

    If you want to win me over, you should point out that fraudsters typically don’t do the things my neighbor is doing in public, for everyone to see, when it will be easy to check out the claim later and expose the fraud. But you aren’t doing that.

  148. SteveK says:

    we’re NOT putting the onus on you to disprove the resurrection (the Christian claim), we’re demanding you provide evidence to support YOUR “mundane explanations”. Yet, when faced with that, your position reduces to the alleged fact that it is sufficient simply to state a possible “mundane explanation,” and that this is all that is required

    This really is the nut of it. Thanks, Holo. I am noticing that “lack of faith” actually means the belief that something else happened, though I don’t have any positive evidence that it happened in this particular case.

  149. David Ellis says:


    This really is the nut of it.

    I’ve already discussed that issue. I’ve no intention of repeating myself on the topic.

    Given how slow this page is becoming to load and that we seem to just be repeating ourselves I’m content to move on for now.

  150. Tom:

    As far as I can tell, I haven’t noticed any appreciable slow-down in loading the page… but then again, that may be because I’m using Chrome.

  151. David:

    Okay, so for completion and clarity, your stated MO in these discussions is (quoting you):

    We’ve pointed out that far more mundane explanations work just fine. That’s all we need to do. [emphasis added]

    That is, merely pointing out potential (i.e., not actualized with evidence or supporting arguments) “far more mundane explanations” is sufficient to qualify them as true “explanations.”

    This reminds me of the following anti-scientific assertion: “Dr. Martin Rees, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain noted that it is not necessary to observe other universes to gain some confidence that they may exist. He was referring to certain solutions of string theory equations that allegedly indicate a range of other universes actually exist.”

    It also reminds of the following anti-scientific claim by a Case Western Reserve physics professor: “Singham denied that science is “goal-directed and thus progressing toward the ‘truth’… [T]o be valid, science does not have to be true.”

    Amazing. They walk among us.

  152. Tony Hoffman says:

    (1b) Yet you claim “more mundane explanations work just fine,” and we demand you provide evidence in support of these.

    We have provided a number of mundane explanations in order to show that a supernatural explanation is not the only one available. If you want to make a case for a supernatural explanation ever being more probable than a mundane one then go ahead.

    I said this before: we are all working from the same evidence. You reject every other religion but yours for the same reasons I reject yours, and yet you demand that evidence against your extraordinary claim be provided while you freely accept the mundane explanations against all other religions.

    I’ll say it even more simply. If you do not accept the claims of all religions, you should have no expectation that skeptics provide evidence for why they do not accept your religion.

  153. Tom Gilson says:

    Tony, the discussion is not about all religions or all religions’ claims. It is about one central event in the history of the world that either happened or did not happen. You have suggested mundane explanations for what has been documented and passed along to us, and we have asked for evidence supporting the likelihood of those explanations. You and David have supplied evidence that has been rebutted as irrelevant, and when given invitation and opportunity to rebut the rebuttals you have either repeated your assertions without addressing the current stage of the argument, or you have (as here) changed the subject.

    I think this is a good time to move on.