Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Was Jesus Raised: Notes on Carrier

Although I have been reviewing Tim and Lydia McGrew's argument on the resurrection, I have decided to give a brief rundown of Richard Carrier's Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable which is a chapter of that (highly recommended) book The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.

Carrier's Basic Contentions

1. Herodotus, who was an educated, careful, and generally reliable historian, reports all kinds of fantastic tales, such as a fortress that magically defended itself with armaments. But no one would believe any of Herodotus' wild tales, and since Herodotus' credibility is equal to or greater than the Gospels, we shouldn't believe the Gospels when they tell us that a man came back from the dead.

Point of interest: yesterday I posted about how the gospels had some degree of archaeological support, a real boasting point for Tim and Lydia McGrew. Well, guess what: Herodotus has recieved some fantastic corroboration, and even some corroboration for issues about which some historians thought he was full of it. His fantastic tale of giant ants, for example, probably refers to something real (!), he correctly identified the first pharaoh and the builders of the pyramids, he correctly reported that Medes was overthrown by Cyrus, and he's been vindicated by various topological and archaeological surveys, as has been reported in the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writings.

2. The Resurrection of Jesus is an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The evidence for the resurrection is not extraordinary because it comes from poor sources, and, even if those poor sources were right about basic things such as an empty tomb, such evidence could never be called truly "extraordinary."

On the sources: Our Sources are (1) Paul and (2) the Gospels. Paul is not reliable because, as he tells us in Galatians 1, he gets his gospel from Old Testament Scripture and from personal revelation of God. We wouldn't accept the word of a cult leader today who claimed God revealed the truth to him or that he could find hidden messages in Old Scripture (such claims are reminiscent of Charles Manson believing that the Beatles were giving him messages through their songs). Therefore Paul is not a reliable source for true historical events, because he does not use a method we would consider to be reliably tracking the truth.

The gospels aren't reliable either, for a number of reasons:
(a) they are wildly contradictory (just read the resurrection stories of each one).
(b) they report extravagent events that aren't reported anywhere else, even though such fantastic things would have been reported if they really happened. For example, they report that the temple curtain was torn after Jesus' death. But that isn't reported anywhere by anyone, even though there were priests whose sole duty was to attend the temple veil.
(c) The gospels are full of symbolic fiction, as Carrier demonstrates with his example of the passion narrative imitating the scapegoat ritual, and has been shown by others in works such as Gospel Fictions and The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark.
(d) they contain interpolations and later additions, which makes their original content somewhat suspect (I don't fully agree with Carrier on this point, and I'll elaborate on that later).
(e) the gospels were born in an environment that was short on skepticism and full of credulity and fraud, which doesn't give us any reassurance that the gospels must be true; the fact that they were passed down to us is not an indication that they were considered credible by any careful, critical, and skeptical person(s).

3. Natural explanations of Christian beliefs are more credible. This true because (a) natural explanations are intrinsically more likely (b) they have greater explanatory scope, they explain why Christianity has so much in common with other religious movements of the time and (c) natural explanations explain why Jesus was only seen by a Paul and a handful of others after his death, instead of appearing to the whole world, which is something God would certainly do if he endorsed the Christian religion.

Where I Disagree with Carrier

On page 302 Carrier tells us that Mark 16:9-20 was "'snuck in'" by "dishonest Christians." He says that the story of the woman caught in adultery, long known to be a later addition to the text of John, a "forgery" which was "deceitfully inserted after the fact." He finishes up with, "We have no way of knowing what got added to the version we now have in the Bible."

I think this is a little uncharitable. First, the insertions and additions that occurred in the New Testament may not be dishonest. Maybe a scribe figured that Mark's ending had been "cut off" from his copy of the Gospel (as some scholars have proposed today), and decided to fill in the blanks as best he could by writing a new ending. Such an action wouldn't be dishonest to my mind. The same goes for the story of the woman in adultery: it could be an illicit forgery, or it could simply be some piece of oral tradition or something that got inserted into the gospel by a Christian who wanted to see it preserved; by a Christian who thought he was doing nothing more than augmenting someone else's gospel.

And as for Carrier's statement: "We have no way of knowing what got added to the version we now have in the Bible." That is way off. The field of lower criticism has ways of knowing (such as: when a verse isn't present in our earliest manuscripts, which is how we know Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition). The field of higher criticism has ways of telling when something is out of place or uncharacteristic, an example being 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 which, to my mind, is certainly an interpolation because of its antisemitism (not characteristic of Thessalonian's author) and because the chapter reads just fine when the passage in question is removed.

Carrier may have meant something along the lines of, "We have no way of being absolutely certain about the original text of the New Testament." Which is true. If some addition or change was made to the New Testament in the early time from which we have no manuscripts, and if the finished text reveals no clues showing us that the passage in question is interpolated, then we won't know about it. And that is a significant concern which ought to decrease our confidence in the evidence for the resurrection, at least slightly.

And that's it. Those are my only concerns with Carrier's chapter. Other than that, I approve of it and highly recommend it.


James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Just chiming in on one specific point, about Mk 16:9-20: Carrier's presentation is, as you mentioned, "a little uncharitable" -- particularly because if it was not a later scribe, but a colleague of Mark, who added verses 9-20, then not only would those verses be honestly included, but they would technically qualify as part of the original text.

Regarding the idea that we can know that a passage is not original when it is not present on our earliest manuscripts: Mark 16:9-20 is absent from our two earliest manuscripts of Mark 16, but those two copies are from the 300's; three patristic writers in the 100's used the contents of Mk. 16:9-20 in one way or another. (Irenaeus, for example, specifically cited 16:19, unhesitatingly showing that the passage was in his copy of Mark). And there are unusual features at the end of Mark in those two copies that stop the text at 16:8. And, the other 1,500 or so undamaged copies of Mark include 16:9-20. So the evidence is not as simple as some Bible footnotes make it appear.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

AIGBusted said...

Hi James,

Thanks for your input. I have a couple of questions about what you wrote:

"three patristic writers in the 100's used the contents of Mk. 16:9-20 in one way or another."

Could you be specific? Which one of Irenaeus' letters cites the passage? Which other two writers cited this? I only ask because my understanding is that some of Irenaeus' letters may be forged or altered in one way or another, and I think the case you are making would be highly contingent on the authenticity of the letter.

"And there are unusual features at the end of Mark in those two copies that stop the text at 16:8."

I'm not sure what you mean. Could you be specific about what the unusual features are and why they bolster the case for authenticity.

"And, the other 1,500 or so undamaged copies of Mark include 16:9-20. So the evidence is not as simple as some Bible footnotes make it appear."

My understanding is that different manuscript traditions have different endings, and Bruce Metzger once wrote that there was no good evidence of any kind to support the authenticity of the passage. Metzger, of course, was an erudite scholar and fairly conservative, so I'm a little bit hesitant to recieve the idea that the passage is authentic, or even plausibly authentic.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Hi Ryan,

Sure: Justin Martyr utilized Mark 16:20 in First Apology chapter 45. The composition-date of First Apology is 155-160. Justin, when he used material from the Synoptic Gospels, tended not to quote from the Gospels individually (except when quoting passages exclusive to only one of them); his quotations blend together the contents of all three, which – as Bellinzoni and Petersen demonstrated – indicates that Justin used a Synoptic-Gospels-harmony, sort of like the Diatessaron without the text of John. He appears to have been using that Synoptic-Gospels-harmony when he composed Dialogue with Trypho, around 140.

Second, Tatian, who was a student of Justin for a while before becoming an Encratite later on, incorporated Mark 16:9-20 into the Diatessaron. This is efficiently demonstrated via a comparison of the arrangement of the text of Mark 16:9-20 in the Arabic Diatessaron and in Codex Fuldensis. Plus, Ephrem Syrus used a snippet from Mark 16:15 in his commentary on the Diatessaron; Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709 displays this clearly.

Third, Irenaeus’ specific citation of Mark 16:19 is in Book Three, chapter 10, paragraph 5 (or, in some formats, 6) of Against Heresies: “Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.’”

This part of Against Heresies (which is not a letter, but a large composition), like most of the text of Against Heresies that was not preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea, is extant only in Latin. Whenever a patristic work is extant in translation, researchers must watch out for the possibility that the translator conformed the Bible-quotations made by the writer whose work was being translated to a form of text known to the translator. That’s sort of like what would happen if a modern-day translator, in the course of translating the sermons of, say, Bernard de Clairvaux, into English, would replace Bernard’s quotations of the Vulgate with quotations of the NIV.

But that’s not what we’re looking at in Against Heresies 3:10:5: if the text of Irenaeus’ copies of Mark had stopped at 16:8, the translator would have had nothing to conform. To propose that this statement in Against Heresies does not proceed from Irenaeus would be to propose that it is an interpolation. But in MS 1582, which echoes an exemplar from the late 400’s, there’s a note – in Greek – alongside Mark 16:19 that says, “Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the apostles, cites this from Mark in the third book of his work Against Heresies.” This note is not only in MS 1582; it’s also in the margin of MS 72, and another currently uncatalogued MS. Which means that it’s from a shared ancestor of 1582 and 72 and the other MS that has the note. And while it is natural and probable that a Greek-writing annotator in the 400’s – whose other annotations reflect an acquaintance with the library at Caesarea – would be familiar with the Greek text of Against Heresies, it is profoundly improbable that his basis for this note was the Latin translation of Against Heresies. Similarly it is profoundly improbable that a Latin translator would feel the urge to interpolate the text of Against Heresies by adding a quotation from Mark 16:19 where, in the copy of Against Heresies that he held in his hands, there was no such quotation.

Regarding the unusual features at the end of Mark in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, see the following comment.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Continued) -- About Vaticanus:

Throughout Codex Vaticanus, when the copyists finished a book of the Bible, they routinely begin the next book at the top of the very next column, unless some special factor made this unfeasible – with one exception. Special factors were present in three places: first, before the beginning of Psalms (where the format changes from three columns per page to two columns per page). Second, after Tobit (where one copyist had finished his work with a lot of blank space left, and another copyist had, of course, begun Hosea at the top of a page; in order to reduce (but not eliminate entirely) the amount of blank space between the end of Tobit and the beginning of Hosea when the two parts were sewn together, the last page of folio 49 (being blank on both sides)) was removed. And, third, at the end of Daniel/Bel and the Dragon (where the Old Testament ends and the New Testament begins).

At the end of Mark, no such special factors are involved – but the copyist, after writing 16:8 on the 31st line of the second column, skipped the third column – leaving it blank – and began the Gospel of Luke at the top of the first column of the opposite side of the page. It is as if he was using an exemplar in which the text of Mark stopped at 16:8, but he recollected verses 9-20 and attempted to leave space for those 12 verses in the event that the eventual owner of the codex wanted to include them. His attempt was not perfect: a person would have to compress his lettering to fit the entire passage into the space provided – but it is reasonably close; a competent copyist could fit all 12 verses onto the page.

Regarding Codex Sinaiticus, see the following comment.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Continued) About Codex Sinaiticus --

In Sinaiticus, the last part of Mk and the first 56 verses of Lk are on four pages that were not produced by the same copyist who made the surrounding pages. The text of Mk 15:54-Lk 1:56 is on a cancel-sheet, that is, replacement pages consisting of a single sheet of parchment folded in the middle. This was something that the diorthotes – the person who supervised the production of codices, and did the proof-reading and correction – made. (This person, though, was badly in need of a proof-reader himself; he made several bad mistakes on these four pages.) It looks like this is how he did it: realizing that the crucial thing to do was to make the last line of the text from Luke on the replacement-sheet line up with the first line of text on the next page, he began by writing down the text from Lk 1:1-56, beginning at the top of the eleventh column of the cancel-sheet. Having succeeded in that – which was not easy, because he had to drastically compress his lettering – he went back and wrote the text of Mk 14:54-16:8. But he did a lousy job of it. He began sufficiently well, but in column four he lost track of what he was doing, and began to drastically compress his lettering in the same way he had compressed the lettering in Lk 1:1-56. Then, realizing his mistake, he began to stretch out his lettering slightly, to compensate for that: after writing 635 letters in column 1, and 650 letters in column 2, and 639 letters in column 3 – that’s normal – he wrote 707 letters in column 4, and then decreased to 592 letters in column 5, 593 letters in column 6, and 604 letters in column 7, and 605 letters in column 8. Why? Because he wanted the text of Mark to end in column 10, right beside the column in which the text of Luke 1 began. He did not want to leave a blank column between Mark 16:8 and Luke 1:1 – which is odd, since there are blank spaces, “filler” space, one could call it, between other books in Sinaiticus.

The diorthotes’ plan to undo the effect of the lettering-compression in column 3 by expanding his lettering in the remaining seven columns (before Luke 1) was a good plan. But then he accidentally skipped from the “Maria” in 15:47 to the “Maria” in 16:1, omitting everything in between. As a result, in order to have some text to place in column 10, he resorted to stretching out his lettering (which averaged about 630 or 635 letters per complete column) in column 9 to only 552 letters. He could have just written the text of Mark normally, without stretching out his lettering – but, clearly, he really, really, really didn’t want to leave a blank column.

(Continued in the following comment)

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

In addition, after finishing Mk 16:8, the diorthotes was not satisfied to add his standard decorative flourish. Instead, he made the decorative design after Mk 16:8 extend clear across the column; compared to the other decorative flourishes he made, this one is particularly emphatic. It is as if he wanted there to be no doubt that the text of Mk did indeed end at 16:8. And that implies that Codex Sinaiticus, while testifying to an exemplar in which Mark’s text ended at 16:8, also testifies that the proof-reader rejected an alternative to that abrupt ending.

Now, Codex Sinaiticus was almost certainly made at Caesarea. And the bishop of Caesarea in the early 300’s was Eusebius. And Eusebius, in his composition Ad Marinum, discussed the ending of Mark: in the course of answering a question about how Mt 28:1 can be harmonized with Mk 16:9, Eusebius says, first, that someone might propose resolving the difficulty by rejecting the passage in Mark, on the grounds that it is not in all the manuscripts, or not in the accurate ones, or in some copies but not in all of them, or in hardly any of them. But then he recommends that the passages be harmonized by punctuating Mark 16:9 so as to say that Jesus arose early, but was not necessarily seen by Mary Magdalene early, on the first day of the week.

Among the interesting aspects of Eusebius’ comments is something he does not say: in his statements about what one might say about the manuscripts, he does not mention the Shorter Ending. He was aware only of copies in which the text of Mark stopped at 16:8, and copies in which the text of Mark stopped at 16:20. The Shorter Ending was not on his radar. So it follows that if Codex Sinaiticus’ diorthotes was at Caesarea, and was aware of an alternative to the abrupt ending at 16:8, that alternative = 16:9-20.

Finally, regarding Bruce Metzger: he did not write, as far as I know, that there was “no good evidence of any kind to support the authenticity of the passage.” In his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament – which no one should confuse with an even-handed description of the evidence as far as Mk. 16:9-20 is concerned – he acknowledged the testimony of Tatian and Irenaeus, and Codices A C D K X W, etc. Metzger considered the passage to be secondary, but he also considered it canonical Scripture.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.