Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Was Jesus Raised: Why Invent an Empty Tomb?

Why would the early Christians invent the story of an empty tomb? At least two factors (besides sheer mythmaking) may be the sole or contributing reason(s):

1. On page 147 of Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in RewriteL. Michael White figures that there was a sort of back and forth arms race between claims of Jesus' resurrection and skeptical opponents. The Christians began by claiming "Jesus was raised". Skeptics, White hypothesizes, responded with "You only saw a ghost!" It is notable that conservative scholar N. T. Wright, in his book Resurrection of the Son of God, points out that post-mortem appearances were normally understood in ways other than bodily resurrection. Hence, critics of Christianity might have been especially likely to reply that the Christians had "only seen a ghost". White figures that the empty tomb story originated in order to emphasize the physical nature of what the Christians were proclaiming about Jesus. They didn't simply see a ghost, they saw a resurrection, and they were sure of it because the body had gone missing. To which the Jews (or perhaps some other opponents of Christianity) responded that the disciples stole the body (see Matthew 28) to which the Christians responded that there were guards at the tomb (see Matthew 27 and 28) to which the opponents responded that the guards had fallen asleep, to which Christians responded that the guards had been bribed to say they had fallen asleep when they hadn't.

Hence, the origin of the empty tomb story as part of a propaganda war is highly plausible. It's plausible, if not highly probable, that there were propaganda wars between Christians and their detractors (Matthew makes that much clear). It's plausible, if not probable, that the Christians claiming to have seen the post-mortem Jesus would have been answered with "you only saw a ghost." And one response to such a charge would be: "We didn't see a ghost, it was really Jesus. If we had seen a ghost, the tomb wouldn't have been empty." That response would be very plausible. In fact, I'm willing to bet that someone would have made such a response whether it was true or not.

2. Pre-Christian Jewish and Pagan traditions contained stories of a hero figure whose body went missing after death. Some examples are listed below. Suffice it to say that if this was a common story to tell about a hero figure (and it was), then it is likely that the Christians would have borrowed it. Why? Because it was what was commonly expected of a prophet or Son of God or hero. Because people might naturally wind up confusing the already similar stories of Jesus with the missing body stories of other Sons of God/ancient holy prophets.

2 Kings chapter 2 records Elijah going missing and his body not being found even after being looked for for three days. If you read the second paragraph of Plutarch's Numa Pompilius you'll find out that Romulus' body was "never seen alive or dead" after Romulus disappears in a whirlwind. Other parallels can be found in my DB Skeptic article and also in Robert M. Price's book The Incredible Shrinking Son of Manin which Price demonstrates extensively that many "apotheosis" narratives like the two I've mentioned were told about other figures around the same time Christianity was born.

Monday, February 14, 2011

William Lane Craig: Plagiarism?

I recently stumbled upon the following video:

Check out this:

Assuming that the creator of this video and document has reported this accurately, William Lane Craig looks sure to be a plagiarist. If this is true, shame, shame, shame on you Mr. Craig.

Of course, this isn't the first time I've doubted Craig's honesty. If you watch enough of his debates, it is quite clear that he doesn't hold to his own standards during debates. Example: he says that the point of a debate is to make an attempt to get at the truth (he says that here, roughly 50 seconds in). But watch his debates and notice the tactics. He likes to flood his opponents with more arguments than they can possibly refute. In his debate with Paul Draper (which I believe is available on youtube), for example, he threw out tons of bogus calculations that purported to show that naturalistic evolution is impossible. That's not an honest debate technique, for no one could sit there and refute all of those BS calculations in the time given for response. Moreover, it isn't honest because Craig, trained as a philosopher, knew they were fallacious. It's easy enough to see that they are fallacious if you look at the assumptions that go into them. For that, I recommend Richard Carrier, "The Argument from Biogenesis: Probabilities against a Natural Origin of Life," Biology & Philosophy 19.5 (November, 2004), pp. 739-64. Also see Carrier's online piece on the subject.

Even better is the time I caught Craig making a very ignorant criticism of Smolin's theory of Cosmological Natural Selection. Here's what Craig said. I emailed Dr. Lee Smolin about this and got the following reply:

Dear Ryan,
Thanks for writing to me. There are answers to both of these issues. The issue of primordial black holes was directly addressed in the first paper I published on the subject in 1992, which can be found here: It is discussed briefly also on p 310 of The Life of the Cosmos, which is the book I wrote on cosmological natural selection, published in 1997. Dr. Craig is apparently not doing his homework, had he read the original sources, as a scholar should, he would know about this. The point can be put this way: in a one parameter, single field inflation model, which so far accords well with observation, there is a parameter that would haveto be tuned up a lot to make a lot of primordial black holes. But this parameter also controls how long inflation goes on and so how large the universe is. It turnsout that to get a large production rate of primordial black holes you need a very small universe so the overall number of primordial black holes is never higher than the number of stellar black holes. Thus CNS requires that if inflation is true, it is single field, single parameter inflation. This is one of the predictions I published in the 1992 paper above.The second issue is dealt with in detail in a recent paper:, published in physical review. Unfortunately, Hawking is wrong, indeed,his paper related to this was not very convincing. There is no inconsistency between what we know about quantum gravity and the possibility that there are babyuniverses made in black holes. Baby universes are in fact a viable solution to the information loss problem. The reasons why are discussed in detail in that paper. I am happy if you pass this message on or post it on the web site raising the issue, but only if you post in full what I wrote. Thanks, Lee

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are Christians Delusional?

From Skepticon 3, Richard Carrier gives a talk called "Are Christians Delusional?". It's fairly entertaining, it's mostly a big preview for the book The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails

Carrier is the author of Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Was Jesus Raised: Evidence for the Empty Tomb

This is the tenth post of my blog series concerning Tim and Lydia McGrews' A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This post will concern portions of pages 15-16.

Christian apologists frequently confuse facts with hypotheses. For example, William Lane Craig often likes to bring out the "empty tomb" as a "fact" which needs to be explained. But the empty tomb is not a fact. I have never seen it. You have never seen it. It is not something available for direct verification. What is available for direct verification is that there are reports of an empty tomb in the New Testament. The Empty Tomb Stories might be reported in the New Testament because there really was an empty tomb that Easter morning. Or the Empty Tomb Story might be sheer legend, which I will refer to as the "legend hypothesis". On any naturalistic account of the origin of Christianity, the money lies on the legend hypothesis. Although there are ways to explain an empty tomb without appealing to any supernatural processes,* I consider these to be far inferior to the legend hypothesis.

We'll start with the evidence that the McGrews offer in favor of an empty tomb:

"That some women claimed to have seen Jesus risen is a slightly more controversial matter, but it is supported by the existing evidence. Mary Magdalene’s meeting with Jesus is not mentioned in Mark except in the long ending which is probably spurious, but the account of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is found in John 20:11-18 in some detail, and it ends with her going to the disciples and telling them what has happened. In Matthew 28:9-10 a brief account is given of Jesus’ meeting the women who had been to the tomb in a group."

I believe that probably a few of Jesus' female followers did believe they saw him. I'm not necessarily willing to accept the word of the Matthew, Luke, and John concerning what the exact nature of this encounter was, and indeed, neither can the McGrews trust the gospel on exact details, since they have already made it known that they accept that these stories are contradictory and have tried to use that point to make their case.

"Though some scholars have challenged these accounts as later additions, there are serious reasons to take them to be authentic reports of what the women said. First, the prima facie tensions in the narratives of the discovery of the tomb and the first appearances of Christ tell strongly against collusion, copying, and embellishment. One evangelist gives an account of one angel at the tomb, another of two; one has the women setting out 'early, while it was yet dark,' another sets the scene 'when the sun was risen.' The lists of the women who are named in the
various gospels overlap only partially. Some puzzling details are never worked out for the reader. If Mary Magdalene ran back to tell Peter and John, how did they fail to meet the other women as they returned? What did Jesus mean when he said 'Touch me not' to Mary Magdalene? These are the sorts of loose ends and incongruities one would expect from independent eyewitness accounts of the same event, where substantial unity – agreement on the main facts –is accompanied by circumstantial variety."

I agree that collusion, properly defined, is highly unlikely. On the other hand, that the gospel writers may have copied (to some extent) from one another and embellished the narrative is the most probable hypothesis, in my opinion. I have been engaging L. Michael White's masterful book on the gospels Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite What he tells us is that oral tradition does not seem to preserve stories in a certain order. Since the synoptic gospels appear to follow a similar "timeline" so to speak, and since it seems more likely that such a chronology would be preserved in written, rather than oral, sources, it is therefore prima facie likely that the relationship between the gospels is one of literary borrowing with some embellishments and theological changes that went on in the process.

However, even if the above hypothesis is wrong, the gospel stories could still end up being somewhat similar with some big discrepancies if some sort of oral tradition was in place. The discrepancies could easily show up as being due to ordinary failures of human memory, hearing, or embellishment over the long process of oral transmission from the eyewitnesses (assuming it started with eyewitnesses) to the gospels. It is even possible that both literary borrowing and use of oral tradition occurred: For example, that Matthew copied substantially from Mark but "corrected" Mark on points that disagreed with the oral tradition he was familiar with.

Therefore, the incongruities in the gospel stories cannot be taken as evidence that they are from eyewitnesses, since there is already a far more probable alternative (literary borrowing with embellishment) and two other highly plausible alternatives.

Nor is "multiple attestation" lend any credence to their case. Since Matthew and Luke seem heavily dependent on Mark, and since even the gospel of John shows signs of awareness of Luke and Mark (though it is far from clear what sort of relationship exists between Luke and John, it is clear that there is a relationship)** they don't qualify as independent, multiple attestation. The Empty Tomb story is not to be found in the hypothetical Q document (the link presents four "transcripts" of Q and Michael White's book Scripting Jesus contains another, and none of them contain the empty tomb story). As far as my reading has taken me, it remains to be seen whether other hypothetical source documents contain anything concerning the empty tomb story.

Nor are the "loose ends" and strange things that the McGrews cite evidence of anything. In the case of the "Touch me not" Jesus, for example, the McGrews don't attempt any formal argument to show that this is somehow evidence of eyewitness testimony. And I can't think of how it would be; certainly not in any way that would constitute a strong argument.

The Old "Women at the Tomb" Routine

The McGrews present us with yet another argument for the historicity of the empty tomb:

"Second, there is the remarkable fact that in the accounts in Matthew and John where the women are shown as seeing the risen Christ, they are the first witnesses. It is not controversial that in first century Jewish society women were widely considered to be unreliable as witnesses to serious matters. (See Wright, 2003, pp. 607-8.) A few quotations illustrate this point:

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex; ... (Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.15).

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer) ... (Talmud, Rosh Hashana 1.8c)."

The comment from Josephus refers to a courtroom setting (not day-to-day life) and does not say that women are "unreliable." Rather, it says that women are not to be admitted because of the levity and boldness of their sex. Levity refers to having a lack of seriousness (i.e. not solemn and serious as would be required in court) and boldness I assume would mean not being controlled and solemn. None this says anything about women being untrustworthy.

I have not been able to find a text of the Rosh Hashana, so I can't say for myself what this may refer to. However, Richard Carrier has written about this and offers us the following commentary (which I have abbreviated for space):***

Rosh Hashshanah 1:8c says of various scofflaws that "all evidence that cannot be received from a woman cannot be received from" these scofflaws either, with regard to testifying that the new moon was seen, which implies...that women were not qualified to testify to the moon being new... Since witnessing the new moon called you to the duty of traveling to the Temple to report it, even to the point of violating the Sabbath if necessary (ibid. 1:3-2:3), this entailed taking a public religious role (including remaining in the Temple for a whole day and sharing a communal meal with men: ibid. 2:5), which all no doubt entailed a boldness that was unseemly for a woman. At the same time, witnesses were interrogated on minute astronomical details (2:6-2:8), suggesting that significant technical knowledge was necessary for your testimony to count, knowledge a woman was not supposed to have, and certainly was not expected to have.

I'm not sure if Carrier is right on this or not, as I said, I have not checked the source for myself. Nonetheless, it is notable that the McGrews make a pretty big concession right after citing those two passages:

"The point should not be overstated, for there are disagreements reported in the Talmud regarding the degree of credibility to be granted to the testimony of women.

Wherever the Torah accepts the testimony of one witness, it follows the majority of persons, so that two women against one man is identical with two men against one man. But there are some who declare that wherever a competent witness came first, even a hundred women are regarded as equal to one witness ... but when it is a woman who came first, then two women against one man is like half-and-half (Talmud, b.Mas. Sotah 31b).

"Nevertheless, it would plainly be better from the standpoint of enhancing the credibility of a contrived story to put a group of respectable males at the tomb and as the first to see the risen Christ than a group of women."

Actually, Luke and John do put "respectable males" at the tomb. Luke and John do not, however, place the men first, though I would regard that as so minor a point as to be irrelevant. What about Matthew and Mark? Since Matthew feels the need to place guards at Jesus' tomb and to fend off the Jewish rumor that the (male) disciples stole Jesus' body (Matt. 28:13-15), obviously the worst thing he could do is to place the male disciples as being the first discovers of the empty tomb! As for the presence of women in the gospel of Mark, Bart Ehrman makes a case that they are simply a literary device showing that the "last shall be first":

"One of Mark’s overarching themes is that virtually no one during the ministry of Jesus could understand who he was. His family didn’t understand. His townspeople didn’t understand. The leaders of his own people didn’t understand.Not even the disciples understood in Mark—especially not the disciples! For Mark, only outsiders have an inkling of who Jesus was: the unnamed woman who anointed him, the centurion at the cross. Who understands at the end? Not the family of Jesus! Not the disciples! It’s a group of previously unknown women. The women at the tomb fit in perfectly with Mark’s literary purposes otherwise. So they can’t simply be taken as some kind of objective historical statement of fact. They too neatly fit the literary agenda of the Gospel. The same can be said of Joseph of Arimathea. Anyone who cannot think why Christians might invent the idea that Jesus had a secret follower among the Jewish leaders is simply lacking in historical imagination." (See Page 20 of Ehrman versus Craig)

I wonder whether the women were originally understood as the first to discover Jesus' empty tomb in the gospel of Mark. Does that sound strange? Take a look at Mark 14:51-52, when during Jesus' arrest a young man loses his garment and flees. Who is this young man? Some believe that the young man was the author of the gospel of Mark.**** Now look at Mark 16:5, in which the women go to the tomb and disocover a young man clothed in white. Was the author of Mark trying to identify himself as a witness to Christ's resurrection? (Which strangely recalls, "The Lord has said, you will be my witnesses"). If so, the gospel of Mark has a male witness as the first witness to Christ's resurrection, and therefore the presence of women in Mark is irrelevant.

The blogger NT Wrong has conjectured that the women merely had a vision of an empty tomb. He has pointed out that if the women were used as witnesses (in a sense) then this would not have been "embarassing" in any sense, since misogynistic societies often do hold a special place for women who recieve visions, indeed. He cites both medieval and Biblical evidence for that claim. I would point out that Acts 16:16, of the possessed girl who made a great living telling fortunes, as yet another example of this.

The McGrews make one last attempt to establish the credibility of this account:

"The last important fact concerning the women’s reports is that they were not believed. Luke says of the women’s report of the empty tomb to the disciples, 'And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them' (Luke 24:11)."

Sure, that's credible. As we all know, cult members are highly prone to disbelieving suggestions that would confirm their prior views.

Seriously: According to the gospels Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, his disciples thought enough of him to give everything up and follow him, they saw him perform many miracles, they hear the women's testimony, Peter even goes to the tomb and finds nothing but Jesus' clothes in Luke 24 (!) and apparently Peter just walks away wondering to himself what had happened. This just isn't plausible. These stories are very probably later contrivances concocted for the sole purpose of inspiring faith in those who read the accounts. As Luke tells us in the introduction of his gospel: "I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." Or as the gospel of John would have it: "These are written that you may believe."


I conclude that the McGrews have failed to show that the empty tomb narratives were probably derived from eyewitness testimony. In my next post I will explore why the empty tomb narrative might have been invented (assuming the empty tomb was not derived from some sort of visionary experience).


* See The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave
Especially Jeffrey Jay Lowder's chapter, which completely destroys the arguments called on to support an empty tomb [that I have not addressed here], and debunks standard canards such as "If Jesus hadn't been raised, the Jewish leaders would have hauled out the body and Christianity would have died instantly." In case your curious, one of the more devastating counters to this argument is that first-century Jews did not consider a body to be identifiable for legal means after 3 days. This is supported and strengthened with further references from Jews for Judaism.

** See Pages 58-60, Andrew Gregory, The reception of Luke and Acts in the period before Irenaeus, as well as page 54, John Amedee Bailey, The Traditions Common to the Gospels of Luke and John.

*** See here:

And by the by, Carrier's revised version of this series of essays is well worth owning:
Not the Impossible Faith

**** Pages 198-200, Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Also see page 22, R. Alan Cole, The Gospel According to Mark: An Introduction and Commentary.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Victor Stenger: The Abuse of Physics by Theists and Spiritualists

Here is Dr. Victor Stenger's lecture from skepticon 3 about how the science of Physicis is abused by Spiritualists and Theists. Victor Stenger is the author of God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
That book is one of my favorites, as it is one of the first books that really got me thinking critically. Dr. Stenger also has a forthcoming book that I cannot wait to read called The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Update on "Was Jesus Raised" Series

I've been reading a lot lately on various issues surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. So here's an update:

1. I will no longer be attempting a formal Bayesian analysis of the case for the resurrection. As was recently pointed out to me by someone, the calculations that would be involved in such a thing would be incredibly complicated. For example, Bayes' Theorem requires that the hypotheses in question are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. The hallucination theory, commonly called upon to explain the post-mortem "appearances" of Jesus, isn't mutually exclusive with the resurrection theory. It could be that some people hallucinated a Jesus while others actually did see the genuine risen Jesus.

The angle I'm going to take is that the resurrection theory isn't necessary to explain any of the evidence that we have and that other theories (such as hallucinations) are not wildy unlikely and do a fine job of explaining the evidence. Calculations won't be done, however, I think it will be quite clear that if someone ever did take up the task of making them, the resurrection hypothesis would not almost certainly not come out with any considerable probability. One note: If there is anyone who is an expert in Bayes' Theorem and would care to undertake the task of helping me figure out the right numbers to put in, I would love to do so, I've pretty well gathered the data already that would allow someone skilled in Bayesian analysis to figure out how to use. The results of such an effort would make a great paper to submit to a journal of philosophy. But unless I hear from someone interested in such a thing, the effort can't get off the ground.

2. I have a number of books on my amazon wishlist that I think would greatly contribute to this discussion. Some of these books feature contributions from Christians who argue for the resurrection, such as:

Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann

How Did Christianity Begin?: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence

Resurrection Reconsidered

If you're a Christian who wants a chance to convert me, and if you're willing to spare four to eight dollars to purchase a used book that might do the trick, then by all means, feel free. All of these books are on my amazon wishlist and purchasing it from that list ensures the book will make it to my mailbox.

Alternately, if you're a secular person who wants to see my examination of the resurrection be as well-informed as possible, any of the Jesus books on my wishlist would help (especially the ones I just listed).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ancient Texts are a Thin Reed to Hang Your Faith On

I'm currently reading The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story by Richard Pervo. Interestingly, another book of Pervo's was recently released entitled The Making of Paul: Constructions of the Apostle in Early Christianity

Here's a portion of a review of the book:

"[Pervo] addresses how Paul became a book, how the tradition was shaped in thepseudepigraphic Pauline letters, what became of Paul in early Christian epistolary andnarrative tradition, and how he fared among the anti-Paulinists as well as those for whomhe became an object of interpretation.

"The thesis of this book is that the only real Paul is the dead Paul. Even though some of Paul’s actual words undoubtedly survive, the entire Pauline corpus has gone through a process of selection and editing that served the needs of varied and diverse early Christian communities. Likewise, as the author rightly points out, authorship in the ancient worldhad more to do with what he calls authority and orientation than it did actual textual composition."

For those who want to present the letters of Paul and other New Testament documents as evidence of miracles, maybe you should give it up. We don't have the original manuscripts. The more I read New Testament scholarship, the less I believe the apologetical reassurances that "even if we don't have the originals, we can still deduce what they said with over 99% accuracy." Don't be so sure. We don't have any copies of these until the fourth century, even fourth and fifth century manuscripts are rare. As the review of this book shows, just exactly how much of the New Testament has been doctored is open to debate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wizard of Oz Verified by New Testament Methods

Luke over at Common sense atheism posted a very hilarious video:

My comment:

Here's a more scholarly approach to Oz:

Oz has early attestation in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" which all Oz scholars agree is the first Oz book ever written.

Oz has multiple attestation: The land of Oz is mentioned not only in our earliest sources but also in "Rinkitink in Oz" "The Patchwork Girl of Oz" "The Emerald City of Oz" and "Glinda of Oz".

As the guy in the video pointed out, much of what is written about Oz is eminently plausible given what we know about history. Further, many stories about Oz pass the criterion of embarrassment: The Cowardly Lion, for example, is portrayed as being very cowardly and the whole lot of Dorothy, the tin man, and the scarecrow are portrayed in various points of the story as being weak, which isn't the sort of story that would simply be made up. Think about: If the Oz books were written by close companion of Dorothy, as most scholars believe, then why would Dorothy or the author simply invent stories that portrayed themselves in a bad light. It doesn't make sense unless you believe in Oz.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wanted: Bayesian Mentor

So, I've been doing a lot of reading and research lately for my blog series on the Resurrection Argument. So far I think I've done fine collecting the facts I need. I've outlined several hypotheses for explaining the "evidence" of the resurrection (i.e. the report of an empty tomb and reports of individual and mass hallucination) and of course have gathered plenty of information concerning the plausibility of these hypotheses.

But when it comes time to convert the facts into the valid numbers I should plug in to Bayes' Theorem, I feel a certain lack of confidence as to whether I'm using Bayes' Theorem correctly. This is probably because I, of course, have no formal training in using it. So I could use a little help: I'd like someone who knows Bayes' Theorem well to spend a little time exchanging a few emails in order to help me get the numbers right.

Leave a comment and let me know if you're interested or if you know anyone that would be.