Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Empty Tomb -- Review

Although it was released in 2005, I have only now gotten my hands on a copy of "The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave". It is a collection of fifteen essays which respond to Christian Apologist claims concerning the alleged Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The real creme de la creme of these essays is, by far, Richard Carrier's "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb". At over 100 pages, it is pretty much a small book included in this volume!

In it, Carrier presents (in my opinion) a hefty case for the following thesis: The first christians did not believe that Jesus arose in the same body he lived in. Rather, the first christians believed that Jesus' body was left behind in the tomb and that his soul recieved a new (more glorious) body.

Carrier also defends the hypothesis that the Empty Tomb story is a myth: He believes that the tomb was symbolic, representing Jesus' fleshly body, and that its emptiness represented that Jesus' soul had left his original body. I have no idea how this holds up historically or theologically, but it is very interesting indeed.

However, I do see a problem: If you read the end of the gospel of Matthew, you will notice that Matthew tells of a report amongst the Jews that the disciples stole Jesus' body, to which Matthew replies that the guards were paid to say this. Let's think about this for a minute: If the empty tomb was a symbolic fiction, wouldn't Matthew have reacted to this rumor amongst the Jews by saying that the empty tomb was not literal, but only a symbolic expression meant to convey some spiritual truth? I suppose Carrier could argue that the story of the Jews' rumor and its reply all have some symbolic meaning. That's fine. But the burden of proof is on him to show that this interpretation is correct, since the plainest, simplest reading of the text does not indicate any such thing. The best explanation is that this story is not (completely) symbolic myth.

Perhaps the next best essay in the book is Jeff Lowder's response to William Lane Craig's case for the Resurrection. Lowder does a superb job responding to Craig, and even presents a hypothesis of his own: That Jesus' body was moved sometime in the night, and his followers later discovered it empty.

The rest of the book is also lively: Robert Price delivers an often-funny rant against William Lane Craig, Michael Martin contributes two essays showing the immense improbability of the Resurrection, and Keith Parsons defends the hypothesis that the followers of Jesus were victims of hallucinations. Until I read the last essay I had no idea that mass hallucinations were so well-documented, and it makes me wish that I had mentioned them in my recent article on the Resurrection.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to those wishing to investigate arguments for and against the Resurrection of Jesus.

The Empty Tomb: Official Companion Site

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Gospel according to Matthew is one of the most dishonest writings in all of the gospels. Just have a look at what happens when Jesus dies and zombies start roaming the streets of Jerusalem.

Carrier in a debate with Licona (I think) stated that he does not consider Matthew historical at all and I would agree because there is no supporting evidence (outside Matthew) to suggest this is actually what the Jews thought.