The Resurrection - Part 3

3rd February 2001

Most of the resurrection material for part 3 is in the first section below. However much else (non-resurrection) is discussed as this also serves as a full reply to Jordan's second response to my articles, resurrection - Part 1 and resurrection - Part 2

Technical note
Links like this [1] are mere footnotes - please use your browser's back button to return to the note's point in the essay. Links written like this [ref.] are to give backup for what is said and are advisable for reading to deepen the whole discussion. Links written like this are intended to be read as essential parts of my essay.

Contents

  1. Resurrection part 3

  1. Other Matters

  1. Updates


What do scholars say?

What can we poor amateurs know?

In Jordan's first response he said that it is ultimately the arguments themselves which are most important, not who converts to what. "Personally, my evaluation of the facts lies outside whether one Catholic priest, the Pope, or one thousand Protestant ministers have fallen away." Mostly I agree with this, although the argument from non-belief [1] is interesting and the asymmetry of conversion [ref.] appears quite compelling to me. In deference to Jordan I tried to be more direct and concentrate on specific arguments in my previous response. However, in his second reply Jordan repeatedly expresses his wish to clear up what scholars are really saying and which scholars are best and most numerous. I am happy to discuss this too as I also find it interesting and important. However there is something of a paradox. What is the use of an amateur assessment of scholarship? Why should anyone listen to what Jordan and I have to offer? Our qualifications are only that Jordan has attended apologetics classes and has listed his reading [ref.] and I am merely self-taught through reading [ref.] and discussion (that's an essential link, as I expect people to read my site. I have carefully read all of Jordan's [numerous times], all the links he gives, and much supplementary material). We want to know what scholars are really saying and yet both of us are amateurs, making our own amateur evaluations, looking to scholars and at evidence we may not be qualified to comprehend. Bertrand Russell wrote: "A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand." [2] But even if we are not all that stupid, we may still lack the insight and scholarship to really understand, no matter how well we imagine we are doing. Maybe it seems we are stuck, incapable of assessing if we have sufficient learning. However, do we all really need to study every relevant subject at elite universities before we can make valid inferences about Christianity? I raised the general question of amateur investigation in early 2000 on the "philosophers magazine online" and saved the thread here [ref].

Although I found the discussion of amateur investigation on the "philosophers magazine online" interesting, I did not form a fully satisfying conclusion, feeling that there is always the danger that informal study may leave important holes. But then would I get a rounded education at a fundamentalist seminary? Ed Babinsky's book "Leaving the Fold - Testimonies of former Fundamentalists" has autobiographies from plenty of fundamentalists who were given a dressing down when they dared to research beyond the ethos of their theological college. Conversely the Secular Web has a policy of linking to rebuttals of its articles [ref]. Indeed, ex-Christians frequently ascribe the material that deconverted them to extra-curricular reading, [e.g. ref.] although ironically it is the horrors of the bible itself which are often our undoing. [e.g. ref.]

If it's worth saying then somebody else has probably already said it!

Ironical to that discussion, whilst I was finishing making notes for this page I stumbled across these two resources. Firstly Richard Carrier's new lecture Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (2000). This is a half-hour lecture he gave at Yale on 26 October 2000. As he explains, though it shares the same title as his much-longer essay (which I have quoted from already) it is not the same paper, but actually a synthesis of several papers he has published, and includes entirely new arguments and information. It states my own position very well and includes many of the points I am attempting to make. So I consider it essential reading in this discussion as I do not wish to repeat what has already been said so lucidly by a professional, and easy to read, historian. In an introduction to the longer essay, Carrier writes:
" There are many reasons that I am not a Christian. I am an atheist for reasons more fundamental than anything to do with particular religions, but the arguments in favor of the Christian creed as opposed to any other are ubiquitous and always center around the historical claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. As an historian with a good knowledge of Greek, I am now very qualified to make a professional judgement in the matter. This essay explains why I find the Resurrection to be an unconvincing argument for becoming Christian." [ref.]

At Jordan's debate page he responds to my mentioning this essay by remarking "Note that Carrier's work has been countered at http://members.nbci.com/Ragu1997/carrier.htm by Ryan Renn." However Jordan's advice is long out of date. In Carrier's longer essay Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (2000), he writes: "A lengthy and admirable critique of this essay by Ryan C. Renn is also available on the web. His work responds to the original version, and the second edition of 1998 was revised in part due to his criticisms, so some of his points may be obsolete, while others are directly answered." As far as I am aware there is not yet (Jan 2001) a criticism of Carrier's latest essay and so I hope it will be read rather than assumed to be dealt with by anyone coming from Jordan's page. Also note that Richard Carrier does listen to and take on board criticism of his views.

Secondly, I recently bought and read the newly published "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment : A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann" ISBN: 0830815694. The synopsis at Amazon describes it as follows:
"This published version of a debate originally set at Boston College invites the responses of two additional scholars on either side of the debate. Robert Gundry, a New Testament scholar, and Stephen Davis, a philosopher, argue in support of a historical and actual resurrection, while Michael Goulder and Roy Hoover, both New Testament scholars, offer their support for Gerd Lüdemann's view that the "resurrection" was based on the guilt-induced visionary experience of the disciples. The book concludes with a final response from Gerd Lüdemann and from William Lane Craig."
The debate occurred whilst Lüdemann was nevertheless still a (liberal) Christian and despite the best efforts of Craig, Lüdemann subsequently renounced Christianity altogether. The issues discussed are largely what Jordan and I have been discussing, although a few more are covered. It certainly is a captivating read for those interested in this discussion. More on this book later.

Amateur advantage

I think that the advantage for we poor amateurs is that we are not constrained by a syllabus or the strictures of a theological college as professionals can be. Even so some have courageously gone against the view of their college, only to loose their post due to the subsequent backlash from their peers [ref.] I have pointed out elsewhere that people deconvert in the midst of religious family, peers and background, quite contrary to the "culture of secular humanism" that Jordan claims. Kim Walker writes: "...my father was an intelligent man, and he lost his faith in the institution where many intelligent men lose their faith: the seminary." [ref.] That is something I have also found in my researches.

If we are free thinkers and not self-censoring then we are free to roam. Another silver lining is that an amateur level of investigation is often more lively and interesting for other amateurs - and from feedback I am aware that we have readers. We may thus attempt to educate ourselves for free, but all amateur writings should carry an information warning - do further research yourself so that our errors are not so easily accepted! But then maybe that is obvious...

Guarding against bias

It still astonishes me that I either once had, or have now, a profoundly mistaken view of the world. Yet both with Christianity, and now with atheism, I have felt pretty sane and correct. How can any of us be sure that we are right and our perception of reality is not distorted by a powerful illusion? It is a humbling experience to realise that you too have a psychology! A major complication for our research into the resurrection, and New Testament scholarship in particular, is that religious beliefs are strongly motivational, making it difficult to be sure how many conclusions have been influenced by prior beliefs. In "The Historical Jesus", pp. 27-8, John Dominic Crossan writes: "It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history." Jordan's quotes his friend John Richards' email which mentions Schweitzer's conclusion that people invent a Jesus who reflects themselves or their ideas. Exactly so! (I was well aware of this by the way John!) St. Paul and the Gospel writers and their interpolators not excepted! I discuss this more later but for now notice that the fellows of the Jesus Seminar say this: "In addition to the safeguards offered by the historical methodologies practised by all respectable scholars and the protection from idiosyncrasies afforded by peer review and open debate, the final test is to ask whether the Jesus we have found is the Jesus we wanted to find. The last temptation is to create Jesus in our own image, to marshal the facts to support preconceived convictions. This fatal pitfall has prompted the Jesus Seminar to adopt as its final general rule of evidence: Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you" [20]. During an email discussion, John Richards told me that he has read this book, so he should know that the scholars conservatives disagree with are not all blindly creating their own Jesus to suit their own presuppositions. How often could this be said of conservatives? "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa." [William Craig - Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 1994] Indeed from reading the debate and analyses in "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment : A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann" it appears that despite his initial appeal to sift historical evidence, the crunch of the argument for Craig is that his personal religious experience convinces him of the resurrection. To claim something for Christianity (e.g. the veridical nature of mystical experience) that you would not accept for another religion (e.g. the very different mystical experience of Buddhists and Daoists demonstrating their veracity rather than Christianity's) is a fallacious argument (special pleading). Therefore such arguments carry no weight. [ref.] It also demonstrates what is really going on with apologists like Craig - apologetics are rationalizations after the fact of a previously held belief. However, if the evidence is against them, so much worse for the evidence. "Should a conflict arise between..." [21]

Meanwhile, fundamentalists like to accuse groups such as the Jesus Seminar of arguing from pre-suppositions that the supernatural elements of Christianity are false. However there are a number of problems with this accusation. Firstly it is not because of prejudices against supernatural phenomena that critical scholars and theologians including groups such as the Jesus Seminar and members of the Sea of Faith come to the conclusions they do. Rather a historian does not rule out in advance the possibility that certain stories in his sources are legendary, and non-fundamentalists are more at ease to face this possibility. The strong belief of fundamentalists and other conservatives in a supernatural Christian world view - something they got (usually as children) long before completing their "scholarly training" - is not put forward by many Christians as evidence against their impartiality! Special pleading is the most common error in Christian apologetics [5].

Secondly of course so many of us start as Christians and through research the Jesus we find is not the Jesus of faith. How many Christians desire to find that Christianity is untenable? [6]

Changing beliefs implies not being biased at that moment!

So, to indicate where the evidence really lies in NT studies it would be impressive to see people radically change religious beliefs due to their studies. The fact that there are many cases of this happening to professional and other well-churched Christians in the course of their studies and rare for skeptical researchers is the basis of my asymmetry of conversion investigations [ref] and why I contacted Jordan [ref.] and Dr. Garrett [ref.] and have long conversations with them. If one reads the deconversion stories of people like those in the list below, then it can be seen that they started as believers in supernatural Christianity but their studies led them to change their minds. This is the most common exit story amongst well-churched Christians.

There are plenty more like this available through my site and in the book recommendations [ref]. So scholars do change belief in the course of their studies, and this seems to be spectacularly happening in the direction of disbelief, rather the other way. It must take some powerful evidence to deconvert a Christian theologian, priest, apologist, missionary etc. and yet it happens frequently. The best (indeed, only) example I have so far found of somebody purportedly aware of arguments against Christianity who subsequently became a Christian is Jordan, hence my interest. So when Jordan said "maybe the fact that I and others have fallen away proves the falsity of atheism" he should be aware that I think he is in fact unique. Dr. Anthony Garret [ref.], the only other Christian previously a member of a freethought society, admitted to not being exposed to arguments against Christianity per se whilst a member of Australian Skeptics, his interest merely being to combat creationism, something he still does as a Christian. It is the quality of what people know before they convert or deconvert that matters, and when one takes the time to investigate Jordan, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell etc. and compares them to deconverters like the above list, then one side is far more impressive than the other.

A case in point of a scholar changing beliefs starts in The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, written by Professor Lüdemann whilst he was still a Christian. Lüdemann is Professor of New Testament and Director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at the University of Göttingen (he still is a "History and Literature of Early Christianity" lecturer, although since he renounced Christianity his university has tried to move him on). In this book he systematically surveyed all of the passages in the New Testament which pertain to the Resurrection, beginning with 1 Corinthians 15 and ending with the last chapter of John. In each instance, Lüdemann carefully considered each passage from a redactional, traditional, and critical historical perspective. He argues that a strictly historical investigation of the New Testament texts does not support apologetic claims: Jesus may not have received an honourable burial, the empty tomb story is legendary and late, the appearance stories are embellished, etc. As has been pointed out, Lüdemann, like so many others, eventually left Christianity due to his studies, despite the unpleasant fall-out that this caused from his colleagues. Again, contrary to Jordan's statements about the pervasive nature of the "culture of secular humanism" being the cause of people leaving Christianity, precisely the opposite is the case. People deconvert in the midst of traditional theological peers, in the pulpit, on the mission field and in the heart of the bible belt only to suffer constant and highly charged castigation from family and friends once their apostasy is let out. Some have written to say that they had never even met an atheist until they deconverted and went on-line. It is the incoherence of Christian apologetics, the immorality of Christian doctrine, and the slow discovery that Christianity is based on a view of the world that is scientifically bogus and morally primitive that leads people to deconvert through their own slow research and nagging questions, and all this happens despite peer pressure, not because of it.

All this should be obvious from my site. Some do deconvert on the Internet when they get into debate [7], it is true, but whether this can be classed as "peer pressure," intellectual or otherwise, from the atheists one may correspond with there compared to family/social/work life surrounded by Christians is dubious. From my inquiries most people deconvert on a solitary journey of reading and thinking, with this inner turmoil usually hidden from those around them for fear of the reaction. The question of how to "come out" to Christian family and friends is one of the most common themes on the ex-tian ("ex-Christian") mailing list.

Lüdemann's studies eventually led him to renounce Christianity altogether. The brilliant English scholar Michael Donald Goulder, after having been considered for the position of Anglican bishop, suddenly resigned both the priesthood and the Christian Church in 1981 to become what he described as "a nonaggressive atheist." Both these people were under strong peer pressure to remain Christians. Lüdemann is fighting for his job and has come under much peer criticism [ref]. Michael Goulder describes himself as "extremely biddable" and felt very awkward in facing his peers with his conclusions. He had spent 15 years running courses for West Midlands clergy before he lost his faith. One of his old tutors was the famous Austin Farrer, who Goulder still respects enormously. Goulder said that he found it very hard to say to the likes of Farrer and his old Bishop that he thinks they are wrong.

So, people deconvert due to what they discover. This would be extremely unlikely if Jordan's "real scholars" had decent answers and arguments. We should expect such good evidence, were it to exist, to above all be preventing scholars from becoming disbelievers. Rather the opposite is happening. Even so Christians seldom give up easily in the face of evidence. Most ex-Christians would be able to testify to the experience of mounting doubts and yet desperately attempting to hang on to their beliefs, even in the face of quite serious problems with Christianity. Ultimately though, good apologetics are not forthcoming and many of the best scholars and serious well-churched Christians deconvert. [ref.]

My Authorities and the empty tomb

Jordan starts his latest reply with the titular assertion "Steve Locks's Scholarly Authorities Concede Christ's Earthly Existence, Crucifixion, Absence of a Body, and Disciples' Visions." Throughout his reply, the previous one and at other places on his site, he makes repetitive claims that the consensus of scholars is that there was not only an historical Jesus, crucifixion and resurrection belief but also an empty tomb. He states: "All Steve has presented in Part Two is skeptic "scholars" who deny Christ's divinity but do not deny any of the above points." [My emphasis]

Jordan's statements are clearly false. I have already given proof of this through quotes from such scholars themselves. I have twice quoted the following:
Lloyd Geering at How Did Jesus Become God - and Why writes: "There is general agreement, among all but conservative scholars, that the Easter faith began with visions in Galilee and not with the discovery of an empty tomb in Jerusalem." From reading Craig, I get the impression that Jordan is merely repeating what he says rather than investigating for himself (and as we will see later scholars, including even Christian scholars, have criticised Craig for overstating his case). From the above quote it is clearly not the case (outside of fundamentalist circles of course) that scholars are in consensus over an empty tomb. I went on to quote: To quote the radical bishop John Shelby Spong "The defensiveness of the hierarchy [of the Church of England to the revelation that many bishops do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus] revealed a startling unwillingness to share common-place biblical scholarship with a questioning public. Most biblical scholars regard the emptiness of the tomb to be an early Christian legend but they don't actually believe there ever was an identifiable tomb in which Jesus was buried in the first place." [My emphasis]

In his reply to this paragraph, Jordan writes "Readers, please note that there is no argument above against Christ's existence, crucifixion, and followers' visions. Steve is hard-pressed to make a case against those points." In so writing, Jordan drops the all important entombment and "Absence of a Body" that has been absolutely central up to then, being "part c" of Jordan's fundamental position on his home page. Indeed, Jordan even concedes at this point "An empty tomb is not needed to make the case for Christ" despite saying on his home page that the empty tomb is one of his 4 central pieces of evidence! "By Godly hook, earthly crook, or whatever, there is no body."

We should also realise that it is no apologetic coup if the majority of scholars agree on the probable existence of a itinerant preacher about whom Christian beliefs grew - "Christ's " [well, maybe Yeshu bar Yesuf's or whoever] "existence, crucifixion, and followers' visions." There are many holy-men and those claimed to be gods whose historical existence is far more secure than Jesus. Yet the divinity of Roman emperors, Egyptian Pharaohs, the status of Mohammed etc. is not given much weight by their historical existence. Even "my" scholars who agree that there may have been a historical Jesus argue that this person was very different from any Christ of faith.

We really can lay to rest the claim that there is a scholarly consensus on an empty tomb, as Geering and Spong have reported the lack of. In his book What Really Happened to Jesus Lüdemann writes: "there are indications that Mark was confronted with the tradition of a dishonourable burial and reinterpreted this" and "the hypothesis that he was buried in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea comes to grief on the tendency of the early Christian accounts, which betray knowledge of a dishonourable burial of Jesus, or fear one." Lüdemann also discusses how the mission speech in Acts at 13:29, contrary to the Joseph of Arimathea story, claims that the Jews who decided that Jesus should be slain were the ones that buried him. This lies uneasily with other material in Luke which is generally anti-Semitic and it looks like an independent tradition which Luke took over [8]. Jordan's claim "...Gerd Lüdemann (non-Christian), with whom colleagues of various theistic persuasions agree regarding the above four points" is completely mistaken. Lüdemann goes on to say (as I independently surmised) "given the significance of tombs of saints in the time of Jesus, it can be presupposed that had Jesus' tomb been known, early Christians would have venerated it, and traditions about it would have been preserved." He quotes Joachim Jeremias: "The world of sacred tombs was a real element of the environment in which the earliest community lived. It is inconceivable that, living in this world, it could have allowed the tomb of Jesus to be forgotten." If a tomb location is unknown then it could not have been seen empty. Don Cupitt said poignantly, "the Easter faith preceded the Easter events." [9].

One of the many interesting features of the book "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment : A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann" was Craig's insistence, like Jordan's, that the scholarly consensus of critical scholars no less, is that the "established facts" are that Jesus was buried in a tomb, the tomb was found empty, people claimed to have seen appearances of Jesus alive from the dead and that the original disciples believed he was risen. Despite the responses of Goulder and Hoover that these "established facts" and consensus are no such things, Craig merely repeats that they are. If he really knows the consensus of critical scholars is with him, then he should have given his evidence. Indeed, only because fellow Christian, Robert Gundry complains numerously about Craig's overstating his case (and Gundry drops the mention of critical scholars) does Craig concede that maybe he should call these "facts" about Jesus "reported" rather than "established." Meanwhile, Goulder points out that historians are reluctant to speak so much of "facts" rather about probabilities and hypotheses. He goes on to say that "of Bill's four "facts" only two are roughly agreed: single disciples and groups of disciples had visions of Jesus after his death; and they interpreted these visions as his resurrection. Even these statements are not quite how Bill puts them..." Goulder goes on to explain how for the burial and the empty tomb, things are quite different to Craig's "consensus" of "established facts" (agreed upon by critical scholars!)

As G.A. Wells points out [10] the theologian Theodor Keim argued against the vision hypothesis and Gary Habernas claims that Keim 'decimated' the idea. However this is really not true. Quite a number of theologians since Keim have subscribed to it. Archbishop Carnley (P. Carnley, 1987 - The Structure of Resurrection belief. Oxford: Clarendon) notes that today "even a relatively conservative scholar such as James Dunn admits that the subjective vision hypothesis is a possibility given the evidence we have" [10]. Indeed given the frequency of post bereavement hallucinations and the supernatural outlook that was rife in biblical times, I was initially surprised to be told by Christians that tales of risen heroes was unique to Christianity (forgetting that C.S. Lewis had admitted to it [11]). Later I found out just how common such tales were! From Wells again, "Archbishop Carnley concludes: One of the most conclusive results of contemporary redactional studies of the New Testament traditions of the appearances, no less than of the empty tomb, is that an original nucleus of tradition has been developed during the course of its transmissions and that the resulting diversity can be explained by reference to apologetic motives and concerns along the way; the modification of the tradition is an inevitable by-product of the attempt to communicate and defend resurrection belief in different contexts to different people with different preconceptions and concerns. All this conditions what is said. The diversity of the resulting traditions cannot just be added together to form one synthetic account of what is supposed to have happened at the first Easter" [12].

Carnley elsewhere makes an about turn and professes faith in the empty tomb and resurrection, based purely on his own spiritual experiences, so arguing alarmingly like William Craig as discussed above [ref]. Nevertheless, again contrary to Jordan's claim of consensus and the pivotal nature of the resurrection, Archbishop Carnley discusses how modern theology today "offers a spectrum of views...ranging from belief in the resurrection of Christ as a historical event of the past, to talk of it as little more than a religiously useful story or myth... not to mention a very significant number of theologians who are content to treat the resurrection with a degree of ambivalence or lack of candour." [13].

Again as Wells notes [12], Ute Ranke-Heinemann (once professor of Catholic theology at Essen, now holding a chair for history of religion there) and Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner conclude that the gospel stories do not record a historical event which occasioned the "Easter faith", but itself resulted from a prior conviction that Jesus was risen [14]. The theologian John Hick admits that the earliest references to the resurrection simply allege Jesus to be risen, and that the gospels elaborate this message into a catena of incompatible stories characterised by 'progressive degeneration from history to legend' [15].

Regarding the status of the Jesus Seminar Jordan writes: "It is not that they are "believed" a minority opinion by fundamentalists; it is that they are a minority opinion, even compared to moderates-period. Face it."
No one should "face" unsupported assertions, they are not arguments unless evidence is given and nothing will be found out unless claims are investigated. Before concentrating too much on the Jesus Seminar, I would like to point out that it was through reading the deliberations of theologians such as Don Cupitt "the Easter faith preceded the Easter events" [9] and James P. Mackey [16] that I first saw a view of resurrection belief that I found far more sophisticated and mature that also ties in with psychology and theological development in other religions. I found this material and deconverted from Christianity by 1986. This was when the Jesus Seminar was just beginning and the Internet was a very small thing. In fact I had no idea of the existence of the Jesus Seminar until about 1998 and it played no part in my deconversion. I have also checked the books I read at the time and most of them were written before 1985 when the Jesus Seminar started and my later books (until 1998) also don't refer to the Jesus Seminar at all in their notes or references. So it looks like even second hand I was not influenced by the Jesus Seminar. Rather the point is that similar thoughts had been going round theological circles for a long time. This material has been available before so-called "fringe groups" like the Jesus Seminar were in existence. Ironically it was only because of the fuss that some on-line Christians were making about the Jesus Seminar that I investigated them in any depth a couple of years ago. Even though I had come across them via the secular web I had not read much (finding them rather dry) until the amount of Christian venom they were receiving got me interested. I was surprised not to find anything particularly new other than an openness with the public. As one of their members said it appears that what makes their critics really angry is the fact that the Jesus Seminar have gone public and the invective that they receive from fellow scholars would not be seen if they were merely keeping their deliberations to scholarly journals. I can vouch for this being the case. Reading the xtalk archives [ref] shows plenty of similar views being aired but because it is merely an academic forum this is discussed in a civilised fashion.

So, the Jesus Seminar are pretty much just bringing to light the fruits of critical scholarship. This does not mean that every result they come up with is part of a consensus but certainly their critical view of the gospels is the norm. It is only fundamentalists who do not view the bible as containing much fiction, "temple legends" and thematic development with relatively little factual material. However, as an aside before we get too involved in what current scholars may or may not agree on, it should also be noted there has never even been a consensus amongst Christians as to what Christianity is, even in quite major doctrines!

Responding such criticism as Jordan's, Robert J. Miller writes as follows:
"Nearly all critics of the Jesus Seminar object, some of them strenuously, to the notion that the Seminar's views reflect a consensus among New Testament scholars. It may help if I express my understanding of what the Seminar claims. I am confident that my understanding is shared by nearly everyone in the Seminar. I have never understood our claim to speak for scholars to mean that most scholars agree with our specific findings or even with all of our methods. (Not even members of the Seminar agree on these). What I do understand it to mean is that the Seminar's fundamental views about the gospels --- that some of the words attributed to Jesus were not actually spoken by him; that the gospels contain historical memory from before Calvary and religious interpretation from after it; that they are, to put it bluntly, a complex blend of fact and fiction; and that to discover the historical Jesus we need a critical sifting of evidence rather than theological assurances --- that these views do represent the consensus among critical scholars. This is not news to scholars, but it is to the American public. A huge number of Americans believe that inerrancy is the only legitimate approach to the Bible, that to take the Bible seriously is to take it literally. (According to a recent poll, 40% of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth in the next few decades.) Critics are right to protest that many scholars disagree with the Seminar's results, but they do a disservice if they perpetuate the mistaken impression that doubts about the historical accuracy of significant portions of the gospels are confined to some allegedly radical "splinter group." This is important because critics assert that the Jesus Seminar is little more than a "faction" with 'idiosyncratic opinions.' " [ref.] (My emphasis)

In the Higher Critical Review another Jesus Seminar fellow writes as follows:
"The fact of the matter is that most of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are far less skeptical, less methodologically rigorous, than Rudolf Bultmann and the critics of the previous generation. Their methods and assumptions differ little from those [the conservative Christian, Luke] Johnson and his allies use. Nor are the results attained by the Jesus Seminar anything particularly new, as anyone familiar with the last few decades' of biblical scholarship will be aware. The only thing new about the Jesus Seminar is that it has made a point of going public with the commonplaces of professional biblical scholarship." [ref.]

Jordan is just plain wrong about the consensus of scholars and the views of "my" scholars on the resurrection. However I have seen in debate that both sides will claim scholarly consensus is on their side. If referenced hard and carefully analysed statistics can be supplied then the matter can be settled. Jordan says his views are a fact, so he would do better to present his evidence that makes him so confident rather than using rhetoric like "...they are a minority opinion...period. Face it.". Unfortunately when examined such claims are frequently dubious and I have been able to find plenty of scholars who claim that the consensus is quite other than Jordan claims. If we can do no better than both wheel out scholars making opposite claims, then it is hardly fair of Jordan to write: "anyone arrogant enough to claim superior knowledge to the scholars hails from an interesting breed indeed." Rather we all have to disagree with some scholars' evaluation of consensus! I have illustrated plenty of scholars who disagree with Jordan and I doubt he would see himself as arrogant for disagreeing with their claims on consensus. Nobody can please everyone else. If scholars make different claims about consensus then it is not arrogant to disagree with one of the contrasting groups. Meanwhile, in the absence of hard data, whose evaluation of scholarly consensus (and amongst critical scholars at that, according to Craig [19]) should convince? That of fundamentalists who say that scholars (including critical scholars (Craig) and even Gerd Lüdemann (Jordan)) agree with Craig/Jordan's "four points?" Or should we be convinced by the scholars themselves who say they and their colleagues largely do not agree - especially on the empty tomb, or even that there was a tomb?

But it gets worse. Conservative Christians like to believe that people agree with them when they often really do not, their thoughts being more subtle then claimed by conservatives. Fundamentalism offers "black and white in a grey world" (as spotted on the "Antioch Bible Church" billboard) and Jordan claims to be a fundamentalist as far as the NT is concerned, and I suspect he is a creationist. Not only outside of fundamentalist seminaries is the scholarship at odds with Jordan's portrayal, but just like creationist's misleading quotations from evolutionists [ref.], even those scholars quoted in favour of conservative beliefs about the historical Jesus are often really saying other than they are taken for. As I discussed above, Jordan himself mis-portrays Lüdemann as if he agrees with Jordan's "four points." [ref.] Even Gary Habermas (a conservative apologist as famous as Craig) disposes of the legendary view of the physical resurrection by saying that Otto Pfleiderer (a radical enough theologian) "was critical" of it and "even admitted that it did not explain Jesus' Resurrection." However in the pages of Pfleiderer to which he refers, the resurrection is expressly called a "Christian myth," and all that is conceded is that it is not totally explicable in terms of parallels with dying and rising pagan gods, but "had its most direct source in the historical fact of the death of Jesus and the following visions seen by his disciples." See A Resurrection Debate: The New Testament Evidence in Evangelical and in Critical Perspective for the full discussion and further examples. (Another interesting snippet can be found at the above link by searching for the phrase "Habermas sternly tells Flew" and reading the next six paragraphs).

Another example: Wells also points out [12] that in his book "I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus" Christian Scholar G.E. Ladd "supposes (1979, p. 90) that it "may be of some comfort to many readers" that a scholar of the stature of C.H. Dodd wrote, in his final (1971) book, "as though he considered the appearances both in Galilee and Jerusalem to be true". What Dodd actually did was to list different gospel stories of the appearances and to comment that, while the "dramatic motive" of them all is to elicit the cry "It is the Lord", they differ "in almost all other particulars, and the attempt to harmonize them is not hopeful" (1971, pp. 169f). In this same context he noted that the question whether Jesus had in fact "in some way left his tomb" is one on which the historian "may properly suspend judgment" (p. 167)."

Meanwhile what scholars think is frequently subtle and interesting from my reading. [ref.] The Jesus of Christianity can be a myth without there having been no historical Jesus. I make no case against the possible existence, crucifixion, and followers' visions of a Jesus because, although alternatives are intriguing, I have no problem with it being true. Jordan really ought to know this from my writings and I spell it out in What does Steve believe? later, because he surprisingly accused me of a deliberate obscurity on this claiming it to be an issue - and by implication one I dare not tackle, being apparently "very hesitant to assume and defend a position."

It may not be my current opinion, but there are scholars who argue against all Jordan's points, such as Earl Doherty [ref] and Robert Price [ref.] who argue (more subtly than one may guess) that Christ is a fiction [17]. For instance, Price points out the following: "Romans and 1 Peter both warn Christians to watch their step, reminding them that the Roman authorities never punish the righteous, but only the wicked. How could they have said this if they knew of the Pontius Pilate story? The two exceptions, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, epistles that do blame Pilate or Jews for the death of Jesus, only serve to prove the rule. Both can easily be shown on other grounds to be non-Pauline and later than the gospels." Others are available through the Jesus Quest Bookstore [ref.] and its links. Whatever ones stance, some of the questions these people raise show just how problematic reliance on the various Christs of faith are (more on this later).

Although Jordan accepts Holding's privately emailed opinion on what "most scholars" believe, the facts are otherwise. Most biblical scholars (unless only fundamentalists are to be considered scholars) regard the emptiness of the tomb to be an early Christian legend, and they have said so themselves. Therefore, Jordan's repeated assertions that he says he will make "until Steve gets the picture" do not stand up to scrutiny and he should have known this from my first page. If however, he has evidence for his claims then he would do better to present the data that makes him so sure. If something is said confidently enough times then eventually some people will believe it [18] but this is not a reliable way to find things out! As I pointed out before, in "Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 1994" the conservative Christian apologist William Craig writes: "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa." Jordan says on his site 'My intent is not necessarily to convert readers to Christianity but to question whether he or she is practicing the old saying, "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts."' Unless Jordan is practising what he preaches against then he must both disapprove of Craig and should certainly retract his assertions about what "Steve Locks's authorities" are saying, given the quotes from "my authorities" that say no empty tomb (or even a tomb at all)!

"Real Scholars"

Jordan defines a "real scholar" as one "fully and formally studied in linguistics, archaeology, literature, anthropology, and so on, pertaining to New Testament times." Leaving aside whether we should accept Jordan's definition, it rules out most (maybe all) of those he admires. To prevent making unsupported assertions, Jordan should provide his rationale for his definition and list his approved scholars who actually have all these qualifications. I would also like to know why he admires those who do not fulfil such stipulations, such as C.S. Lewis and J.P. Holding whilst similar non-Christians are to be dismissed as "skepti-mania's la-la webland." Even Craig's qualifications are in only communications, philosophy of religion, church history, philosophy and theology. The pseudonymous J.P. Holding is/was an employee at a penal institution and, despite reliance on his opinions, is not a "real scholar" by Jordan's definition. Presumably one does not need similar qualifications in Arabic linguistics, Middle Eastern archaeology, literature, anthropology and so on pertaining to Koranic times to have good reasons for not being a Muslim. Likewise encyclopaedic knowledge of the Indian sub-continent is not required to reject all their religions with good reason. Meanwhile any schoolchild will be accepted into the Christian church as a true believer without having spent years studying the secular web to ensure they have not been too hasty in their acceptance of Christianity.

Jordan writes as follows: "So, Steve can now enlighten us as to which of his referenced "scholars" have works used in academia rather than merely in pop readership and skepti-mania's la-la-Webland. Further, is Steve claiming that these individuals are fully and formally studied in linguistics, archaeology, literature, anthropology, and so on, pertaining to New Testament times, as real New Testament scholars are? Either way, no where in his response (and I just reread his snippet) has he discredited my claim that, nearly all New Testament scholars agree Christ existed, faced crucifixion, there is no body, and His followers saw something. Such circumlocution around that base merely supports my claim by presenting skeptics who concede that Christ existed, faced crucifixion, there is no body, and His followers saw something. I thank Steve; I will use his work in further debates to strengthen my case."

I really wonder what such writing is meant to impress anyone with, especially given Jordan's frequent chastisement on his website and on email lists about anyone being at all uncivilized with him. I don't think any scholar would use puerile mockery and, despite stating "Do not criticize my referenced material you have not read in its entirety" as Jordan does, would denigrate the world of online freethought as "skepti-mania's la-la-Webland" (not to mention neglecting that many of my sources are from respectable theologians and biblical scholars in academia [ref]). I write at length about this later, but for now I will just mention the issues of fact raised. A scholar is a learned person - somebody who has studied - usually, but not necessarily, in academia. That is what my dictionary says. This means there will be degrees of scholarship, some better than others. I am unaware of any hard definition of what makes a "good scholar" or even why those outside of any one definition should be ignored. Some study formally in academia as their employment, with advanced degrees in biblical studies, religion or related fields such as the Jesus Seminar scholars and many of the members of the diverse Xtalk. If Professors of divinity at Cambridge University are not to be considered scholars then no-one is, and yet not one of them is currently an ordained minister of the Church of England, which is most odd if scholarship points to supernatural Christianity. Others are formally employed in unrelated subjects, making historical Jesus research a separate interest as is G.A. Wells, Professor Emeritus of German at the University of London. As Jordan says elsewhere, ultimately it is the quality of their arguments that counts, which is just what deconverted the list of scholars I gave earlier.

Jordan should be wary of denigrating books for being popular. This would discredit the Bible, and C.S. Lewis, whom Jordan admires, would have to be disregarded having no Christian books outside of the popular press. Jordan says of Lewis "He had been a front-runner in atheist apologetics. He, too, knew all the arguments." I have read all of C.S. Lewis' writings (except his non-religious work on literary criticism) and I do not think that Jordan has made an informed assessment. Again, vague assertions like "he, too, knew all the arguments" need to be backed up by evidence if they are to be taken seriously. Rather I find that Lewis had very little grasp of arguments against Christianity (or even for atheism). He alarmingly left me somewhat unsatisfied as a Christian, even though I enjoyed his lively writing and many of his Christian thoughts. In "Fern Seed and Elephants" Lewis even admits how little he knows about historical Jesus research during a talk he gave at a liberal theological college. At the beginning of his talk he writes that he is "extremely ignorant" of modern theology. So much for Lewis knowing all the arguments. Instead Lewis basically argues that he knows from his literary work what myths are like and the Christian story reads like a myth, but for him a myth that came true. As transpired to be the case with my conversation with Dr. Garrett [ref], I have found a poorly examined hope amongst some Christians that there exists a top apologist who has satisfactorily answered the questions people ask of Christianity. It is precisely the lack of substantial answers and the magnitude of the problems with Christianity which frequently leads people out of faith. Indeed, in "Surprised by Joy" after a complex argument which convinced Lewis of theism he continues on to Christian belief with this non-apologetic: "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought." Throughout his writings virtually nothing of the arguments or evidences I found in philosophy, psychology, history, biblical criticism and comparative religion that convinced me that Christianity is false were mentioned, let alone addressed [ref]. His main arguments are ones on the foundation of an innate moral sense which largely suffer from the fallacy of the Euthyphro dilemma [ref.]. This is the worst part though - that his arguments have some serious logical flaws. One can see just how poor his arguments are at "Mere Assertions" [ref.] and Review of "Mere Christianity" [ref].

Many of the scholars Jordan dismisses do indeed publish widely in academia. So much so that the Jesus Seminar was partly motivated to bring this work out of academia into the public domain. Gerd Lüdemann, Professor of New Testament at the university of Göttingen, was criticised for making his work (which would be of interest to the public) too impenetrable and was persuaded to re-write his "Resurrection of Jesus : History, Experience, Theology" into the more accessible work for the lay-public "What Really Happened to Jesus."

It is interesting, but there are worse problems than complex historiography

Most of us who are interested in the historicity of Christianity do not have the luxury of a long and formal training in New Testament scholarship (and whatever else it takes). Although appeal to authority does not necessarily give correct answers, if matters are truly complex it will be of interest to know what those who have studied in depth have come up with as such hard studious work may actually be required and scholars will surely have interesting things to say. The Xtalk archives certainly make interesting reading [ref.]

Nevertheless, I think that there are serious philosophical problems that show Christianity to be incongruent and immoral that cut to the quick for many people [3]. For instance, when Jordan writes: "I say His body sits at the Fatherís right hand. Steve?" I reply that if that is so then what sacrifice was the crucifixion and how does Jesus stand compared to frail humanity who have suffered so much more and personally gained so much less? If a human being dies for a cause in full cognisance that death is the end for them personally then that is a brave and (if the cause is good) noble act. However to die, knowing oneself to be immortal and divine and then to obtain the greatest reward of all - to sit at the right hand of the Father - makes Jesus' purported sacrifice no real sacrifice at all. John 15:13 "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Yet what sort of death is it when one is 'The Immortal and Eternal God' soon to be in a highly privileged state of glory? It is humans who suffer, not gods. I recently saw a documentary containing this story told by an eyewitness: One day as Jews were herded of the train into Auschwitz, in his innocence a child asked one of the SS if anyone had ever escaped. Immediately the guards pushed him onto the ground and forced dirt down his throat with sticks until he died. He did not have the purposiveness and assurance of future glory that Jesus had and with his child's mind would have suffered more terror than a divine being could ever feel. If Jesus was divine then his purported sacrifice should leave us feeling hollow. If Christianity is true, then Jesus was not man enough to really die for a cause, let alone eternally burn in hell like atheists (Mark 16:16 and John 15:6). If Christian claims are true then Jesus' suffering was short lived and surrounded on both sides by purposiveness and glory. As the poet Stevie Smith wrote:

"All humans should carry a medal,
A god cannot carry it, he is not able."

How lucky for Jesus to be who he is and what a shame for the billions of hapless incredulous humanity who do not find Christianity tenable or moral. According to Matt 2:16 the baby Jesus was saved whilst the other babies acted as a human smokescreen. An angel warned Joseph, but not the parents of normal children, and so Herod was fooled. Would you have warned the locals if you knew an army was coming to kill their babies? Do you feel love for a god who keeps this impending massacre a secret from the other parents? I often have mused over how bad the Christian God would have to be before bible-believing Christians realise that their religion was invented by a primitive people. Unfortunately my conversations have taught me that some Christians will accept any extreme wickedness rather than question Christianity (e.g. this graphic example). Human babies acted as cover for Jesus, God allowing their slaughter to put Herod off the scent. According to the bible it seems that the one who is being saved is Jesus and his saviours include human babies [4]. So if Jesus really sits at the right hand of the Father, he should be ashamed.

More quotes from Scholars

"In the synoptic gospel accounts, the Romans, not the Jews were in control of the deposition of Jesus' body. Most of the tens of thousands of Jews crucified by the Romans during the first century were left up on the crosses to serve as carrion for bird and dogs. Pontius Pilot was known for his brutality. Both he and Caiphus, the chief priest, were relieved from their duties by Rome for the harshness and insensitivity they displayed in suppressing a peaceful Sumerian demonstration a few years later. If Pilot had acquiesced to Jewish sensibilities and made an exception only for the deposition of Jesus' body it would have been very much out of character for him."
      - (Crosstalk)

"...The gospels simply fail to account for the disposal of the corpses of those who were crucified with Jesus. This was not a problem that concerned either the evangelists or their audiences who were preoccupied by with the fate of Jesus' body alone. But it is a problem that any historical reconstruction of what happened to Jesus' corpse needs to take seriously. For if Jesus' body alone was allowed burial (which is all the gospels report), then one cannot consistently claim that potential desecration of the Passover or Sabbath was the reason for a Jewish aristocrat requesting and Pilate granting Jesus' burial. And without that general condition, the claim that Jesus was buried after his crucifixion is completely historically incredible."
      - Mahlon H. Smith (Crosstalk)
Note: for a fascinating insight into this problem, see "Where No One Had Yet Been Laid" The Shame of Jesus' Burial - Byron R. McCane - **Highly recommended**

"No supporter, even an aristocrat, would have been in a position to claim the corpse of someone whom the Roman prefect had ordered executed as usurping the office of basileus. Not only is there no probable Christian witness to this arrangement, usurping a dignity that was not authorized by the emperor is the very charge that led to the execution of Sejanus and desecration of his corpse less than a year later."
     - Mahlon H. Smith (Crosstalk)

" Mark's account of the empty tomb was structured on the story of Daniel in the lion's den (Daniel 6). A leader of the nation opposed to the spokesman for God's people (Darius of Persia; Joseph of Arimathea), yet one who in his heart reveres that spokesman (Daniel; Jesus), though greatly distressed, feels obliged to place the spokesman into a pit in the ground and cover it with a stone (the lion's den; the tomb), an act that clearly means the spokesman's permanent end. In both stories the death of the spokesman is required by law (the law of the Medes and Persians; the law of Rome), and in both, the executor of that law is reluctant to enforce it (Darius 'exerted himself until evening' to save Daniel; Pilate attempted to convince an angry mob that Jesus should be released). But despite reluctance and delay, late in the afternoon both heroes are placed into the pit. In both stories a stone is put over the opening, and in both the placer of the stone has hope in the providence of God (Darius says, 'Your own God... will save you', Joseph ' looked forward to the kingdom of God'). Early on a subsequent morning in both stories ('At dawn, as soon as it was light' - Dan. 6:19, 'just after sunrise - Mark 16:2), the pit is approached by those who cared deeply for the hero (Darius; the three women). Next comes joyful news (Daniel lives; 'He has been raised again'). In both stories, the stone is removed, death is miraculously overcome, and deliverance is assisted by an angel ('My God sent his angel,' to shut the lions' mouths, says Daniel; 'a young man... dressed in a white robe' has removed the stone, says Mark)."
     - Randal Helms, Gospel Fictions (1988) pp. 135-136

"...There was a hurry to get things done on the Preparation which could not be done on the Sabbath. But according to Mark's chronology of the Passion, the day of Preparation was that year the feast of the Passover, and the prohibitions with regard to Passover were as strict as those relating to the Sabbath. But the tradition says that Joseph of Arimathea bought the shroud that day, which if taken literally, would have meant a serious breach of the religious laws. Either Joseph did not buy the Shroud but already had it, or else, more likely, this section comes from a tradition which did not identify the Crucifixion with the Passover."
     - Noel Currer-Briggs, The Shroud and the Grail - A Modern Quest for the True Grail

"The Role of the Sacred Story Teller According to Michael Goulder: 'Midrash' is defined from its root darash, 'to probe or examine' (Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew, p. 28) and Jewish writers from the Chronicler to the rabbis had a doctrine of inspiration whereby they would think 'Things must have been so (in view of the light cast by passage x): therefore they were so'."
     - Mark S. Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (1996), p. 244

"The fact that the women do not pass the message on may suggest that the evangelist, or his source, knew that the story of the tomb and the angel was not part of the original Easter proclamation and had only developed at a relatively late stage in the tradition."
     - The Resurrection. A Dialogue Arising from Broadcasts by G. W. H. Lampe and D. M. Mackinnon, ed. W. Purcell, London, 1966, p. 48.


Notes:
  1. For the argument from non-belief see The Fernandes Martin debate and Arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Nonbelief at the Secular web. When closely examined I think the argument from non-belief is a surprisingly strong argument against the existence of a Christian god.
  2. Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) British philosopher, mathematician, social critic, and writer - "A History of Western Philosophy."
  3. For inherent problems with the logic and morality of the atonement see here. General problems with Christianity are discussed here. The serious abusive relationship problem at the heart of Christianity is discussed here.
  4. For discussion of just who is saving who, see my conversation with John Richards.
  5. From "Straight and Crooked Thinking" by Robert H. Thouless:- "There is a common fault in argument arising from the influence of prejudice which may be employed deliberately as a dishonest trick but which is more commonly used unwittingly by a speaker who is mislead by his prejudices. This is the use in one context of an argument which would not be admitted in another context where it would lead to the opposite conclusion. This is special pleading." Many Christian claims are special pleading and therefore at fault. To claim something for Christianity (e.g. the veridical nature of mystical experience) that you would not accept for another religion (e.g. the very different mystical experience of Buddhists and Daoists demonstrating their veracity rather than Christianity's) is a fallacious argument. Therefore such arguments carry no weight. [ref.]
  6. I discuss this at many places, including the previous two parts of this web discussion with Jordan on the resurrection etc. For more discussion see my conversation with Dr. Garrett.
  7. For on-line deconversions see Peter Kirby, Anon, Wayne VanWeerthuizen, and Chris Ashton
  8. Gerd Lüdemann - "What really Happened to Jesus"
  9. Scott Cowdell - "Atheist Priest? Don Cupitt and Christianity"
  10. G.A. Wells - "A Resurrection Debate The New Testament Evidence in Evangelical and in Critical Perspective" - Revised Edition, 2000
  11. C.S. Lewis - "Modern theology and Biblical Criticism"
  12. Reported by G.A. Wells in "The Jesus Myth" - Chapter 2 ii - The Resurrection.
  13. P. Carnley, "The Structure of resurrection Belief" 1987
  14. Ute Ranke-Heinemann " Nein und Amen" 1994 (p. 162)
  15. J. Hick, Death and Eternal Life, London, 1985, pp. 171, 175-7
  16. James P. Mackey "Modern Theology - A Sense of Direction" See note here.
  17. Robert Price - Christ a Fiction
  18. Techniques of Persuasion - From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Chapter 9 "The nature of Religious Conversion." J.A.C. Brown (Penguin books).
  19. Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment : A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann ISBN: 0830815694. See p. 46-47 for Craig's claim that the majority of critical scholars concur with his "four established facts." Michael Goulder disagrees with this at p.98, as does Roy Hoover at p.129. Even Christian Robert Gundry (Professor of New Testament and Greek at Westmount College) cautions Craig to "trim the debate" saying "Craig makes a similarly broad denial of legendary development in regard to the report that some women found Jesus' tomb empty. It would be wrong, however, to assume that a majority of the scholars to whom Craig appeals agree with this denial."
  20. From the introduction to "The Five Gospels, - The search for the authentic words of Jesus" R.W. Funk, R. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar.
  21. See Craig's Holy Spirit Epistemology by Michael Martin.


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