Once again, we'll be heading off-track from the McGrews and focusing on a new book about Jesus' resurrection called The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ
The book takes place as a dialogue about various issues having to do with Jesus' resurrection: Whether Jesus really died on the cross, whether he was buried, and so on. The dialogue is between two imaginary characters created by the author, Charles Foster. They are, unimaginatively, named 'X' and 'Y' (X is the skeptic, Y is the Christian). I thought it would have been a lot nicer to give the characters actual names that subtlely indicated their theological positions. For example, the skeptic should have been named Tommy after Thomas the doubting disiple and the Christian could have been named Mark after Mark the gospel writer. Naming your characters 'X' and 'Y' just seems so uncreative and dry. But it's a very small point and it doesn't detract from the book's content, and to that I now turn.
Naturally, X the skeptic spins many different, mutually exclusive theories about what happened that weekend 2000 years ago. At one point X argues that Jesus may have survived the cross, and trots out the so-called Jesus family tomb, and refers to fringe work such as Michael Baigent's Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Foster shows off his ability as a writer here, as he vividly describes the various fringe theories about conspiracies surrounding Jesus' crucifixion, and that makes for fun reading. However, as Foster is careful to have Y the Christian point out, such theories are nothing more than fantasy novels; they have little solid historical ground to stand upon.
Things become a little tricker for Y as the book progresses to more complex issues, and throughout much of the rest of the book I found Y's arguments to be weak or engaging in special pleading or circular reasoning. Example: X makes the point that archaeological evidence appears to indicate that poorer criminals were normally buried in the dirt, and not in tomb as the gospels say that Jesus was. Y responds by pointing out that customs are not like immutable, physical laws. Rather, customary practices revealed through archaeology and textual study simply record human behavior and practice, which is often highly variable. Well, of course, that's a correct and fine point to make. But for someone who is arguing that Jesus was buried in a tomb, this is merely an appeal to possibility rather than an appeal to probability. Customs describe what usually happened, and hence dictate the probability of what would happen in any specific case. So if most crucified victims were buried in the ground, then Jesus probably was too (unless we have good evidence to the contrary). To deny that line of reasoning is too engage in special pleading.
And do we have any good evidence to the contrary? Not really. Paul tells us that Jesus was buried (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) but he doesn't tell us whether Jesus was buried in a tomb or in the dirt. The gospel accounts tell us that Jesus was buried in a tomb, but are the gospel reports "good evidence"? Since it was common for historians of that time to speculate and create narratives around bare-bone sets of information that they recieved, it could very well be that Mark recieved word that Joseph of Arimathea had buried Jesus, and Mark "filled in the blanks" by creating a narrative in which Joseph placed Jesus in a tomb. It's quite possible that Joseph of Arimathea (if he existed), really did bury Jesus. However, it must be pointed out that we don't know if Joseph buried Jesus in his tomb or in the ground. Mark may not have known, and he may have simply speculated the burial location was Joseph's own tomb. In fact, such a speculation may not even be original to Mark. It could be that some of Jesus' followers thought he was buried in Joseph's tomb when in fact Joseph had buried him in a common criminal's graveyard. Supposing that the empty tomb story is true, that would explain why Jesus' followers never found him in Joseph's tomb when they went to anoint him!
That brings me to another issue: Y argues that the Christian story about Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus is true. After all, if the story were an invention, why would the Christians have gone to the trouble of naming the person and his place of origin? Wouldn't that have been nothing but a big damn liability for getting caught in a lie? Why not simply say that Jesus had been buried by some anonymous character? Now this is an interesting point of contention. And before I continue I just want to point out that even if Y is right and the burial by Joseph of Arimathea is correct, it is still completely plausible that Joseph did not bury Jesus in his tomb. Although Y has a point here, it is quite possible that Joseph of Arimathea was a literary creation and would have been understood as such by Christian and Jew alike who read Mark's gospel. As Richard Carrier pointed out in chapter 6 of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave "Arimathea" can be translated as "Town of the Best Disciple". Joseph, of course, was Jesus' father, and it is rather ironic that Jesus is buried not in the tomb of Joseph his father, as he should have been, but with another Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea.
I plan on continuing this review in the future, but for now, that's all folks. In conclusion: There's much to be said for this book. The writing style is engaging. The information, as far as I can tell, is correct in all but a few small places (which I will point out in further blog posts and which do not, to my mind, indicate dishonesty on the author's part but rather simply missing a few things on an extraordinarily vast subject.). And the author, though obviously writing from a Christian apologetic standpoint, has made a conscious effort to be fair and present both sides of the issue as best he can. For that, he has more going for him than The Case for Christ
So, if you're interested in the resurrection, it's worth picking up a copy of The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ
And if you want to balance your intake about the resurrection, pick up Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?
The Inquest is an honest attempt to objectively look at the evidence written by a Christian, Doubting is an honest attempt to objectively look at the evidence written by an agnostic. They're Yin and Yang, and if it's a subject of interest for you then you should own them both.