My initial discussion several months ago with ex-evangelical Christian-turned-atheist DagoodS involved this question: Would a (neutral) jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?
Dagood and I have had some very interesting and enlightening (at least for me) discussions since that time on both this blog and on his. I left this comment for him a few days ago:
Dagood: Is it possible that the correct answer to your question, “Would a modern jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection” be… not “yes” or “no”, but “depends”?
If the jury is composed of twelve “Dagood’s” then the jury will definitely not find in favor of the Resurrection. However, if the jury is composed of twelve members who reflect the population at large of the United States, I think there would be a very good possibility that they would.
Studies show that 80% of Americans believe that miracles are possible.
Only if the jury is composed of persons like yourself who believe that miracles are impossible, would they definitely vote “no”.
Here are excerpts from Dagood’s response:
“Given all the information—what we know about Roman culture, and Hebrew Culture, and the First Century Mediterranean honor/shame society, and altered states of conscious, mixed with the language and writings of the time, combined with Christian documentation, archeology, geology, etc.—a jury neutral to the prospect of Jesus’ resurrection would determine it is more likely no resurrection occurred. This was a developed legend arising from disappointed followers of a perceived Messianic figure.”
“I reviewed your current set of blog entries reiterating apologists’ attempts to provide evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Alas, they present a much skewed, (sometime downright incorrect) recitation to a favorable audience in assurance the vast, vast majority of Christians will swallow whatever they feed to gratify their own desire to justify rationality within the Christian belief.”
“I strongly encourage anyone (and everyone) to go to a motion hearing day in a local court. A day set aside for the Judge to hear numerous Motions on various cases where the litigants hope to compel a decision on a parcel of the case. When the first lawyer talks, they recite the facts, and the law, and one cannot help think, “Wow!—what a great case. That other side is a complete idiot to think they could possibly win.” But then the other side stands up, and informs how the facts were not exactly as portrayed by the first attorney. And the law is not so crystal clear. And then you think, “Hmmm…not so cut-and-dried after all.”
You begin to realize how we humans (and those arguing vociferously for a position) shade the facts, and put our best position forward, and downplay or outright ignore any opposing situation. This is what your apologists are doing.
Let’s look at one example—I’ve used this previously.
”But three days later the tomb was empty.”
”Number one is the empty tomb of Jesus–everybody agreed in the ancient world that the tomb of Jesus was empty. The question is, how did it get empty?”
”A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb,…”
”The tomb was empty on Easter”
”The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.”
Okay, okay, okay…I get it! Pretty solid fact the tomb was empty on Sunday, right? Almost every apologist you listed mentioned it, it is highlighted as a fact, how do those skeptics explain THAT!?
But what…..is that the actual fact?
Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark. Written (by consistent methodology) after 70 CE, at least 40 years after the event. We do not know who wrote Mark, let alone where the person obtained their information. So instead of “The tomb was empty on Sunday” the actual evidence is “At least 40 years after the claimed event, an unknown person repeated what they heard from an unknown person who claimed the tomb was empty on Sunday.”
So skeptics do not have to answer the question, “How was the tomb empty on Sunday?” but rather, “How did the story of the empty tomb develop 40 years after the event?” As one can see, the actual evidence provides for an easy naturalistic explanation.
Reading through those blog entries I see error after unfounded claim after lack of evidence after unsubstantiated assertions. Sure it initially looks like strong arguments to those who want to believe it. Alas, once it is questioned, probed or researched, it is discovered to be a cardboard façade held up with tape and string.”
My response to Dagood:
I want to address this statement in particular from your above comments:
“Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark. Written (by consistent methodology) after 70 CE, at least 40 years after the event. We do not know who wrote Mark, let alone where the person obtained their information. So instead of “The tomb was empty on Sunday” the actual evidence is “At least 40 years after the claimed event, an unknown person repeated what they heard from an unknown person who claimed the tomb was empty on Sunday.”
So skeptics do not have to answer the question, “How was the tomb empty on Sunday?” but rather, “How did the story of the empty tomb develop 40 years after the event?” As one can see, the actual evidence provides for an easy naturalistic explanation.”
So to summarize your position from this statement and from other conversations with you, this is what you believed happened regarding Jesus of Nazareth (correct me if I am wrong);
1. A Jew, named Jesus of Nazareth, did exist in first century Palestine.
2. He was crucified sometime in the early 30’s by the Romans.
3. Sometime in the 50’s and 60’s Paul the Apostle wrote his epistles. Paul gives very limited information about the life of Jesus, but does state that he “saw” Christ and that Christ was resurrected. Whether Paul saw a walking, talking corpse or whether he saw a vision or a hallucination, is not clear.
4. Approximately 40 years after the crucifixion the first Christian Gospel is written, Mark, describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
So, you conclude, that since Paul seems to know very little about Jesus, and the fact that the first Gospel telling us anything in detail about Jesus, including that the tomb was empty and that Jesus “has risen” wasn’t written down for forty years after the fact, that gives forty years for Jesus’s disillusioned followers to either “make-up” a Resurrection story, or, more likely, in your opinion, using cognitive dissonance, imagine that they have seen a resurrected Jesus, whether in dreams or hallucinations, and based on these dreams/hallucinations they are emboldened to propagate this fantastic myth, which spreads around the Mediterranean, eventually is made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and conquers most of the known world!
But here is the problem: the Gospel of Mark was NOT the first source for the Resurrection. There were much earlier sources. And if these sources were stating that a man who was publically crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans is now alive and well…don’t you think that someone would point out the fact that, 1.) We know where his grave is and can produce the skeleton. 2.) We watched the birds pick the skeleton clean on the cross (if the Romans didn’t bother to take it down). 3.) The body was thrown in a common grave. We have witnesses. 4.) The body was stolen. We have witnesses to the evidence at the tomb.
It would be like someone today saying that no one died in the Branch Davidian complex in Waco. “What are you talking about?? There are plenty of people alive in Waco today who watched the building burn!” The same with the crucifixion. Too many people in Jerusalem witnessed this event for the disciples to get away with centering their new faith, based on a resurrected Jewish messiah, in Jerusalem. There were too many witnesses in Jerusalem to get away with this tall tale, whether it was a lie or an hallucination-created myth.
Dagood, you make it sound as if the author of the Gospel of Mark made up the Resurrection forty years after the fact, and then all the other Gospel writers simply copied Mark. Bart Ehrman, in “Did Jesus Exist”, doesn’t agree with you. Listen to what he says:
“Once it is conceded that the Gospels can and should be treated as historical sources, no different from other historical sources infused with the authors’ biases, it starts to become clear why historians have almost universally agreed that whatever else one might say about him, Jesus of Nazareth lived in first-century Palestine and was crucified by the prefect of Judea. It is not because “the Gospels say so” and that it therefore must be true (the view, of course, of fundamentalist Christians). It is for a host of other reasons familiar to scholars who work in the field. This opening section will not be convincing to naysayers, for reasons I will explain, but we need to start somewhere, and the place to start is with the surviving witnesses that we have in hand.” Page 74
“It is almost (but not quite) universally thought among New Testament scholars that both Matthew and Luke had access to the Gospel of Mark and used it for many of their stories of Jesus…Some mythicists have taken this critical conclusion to a faulty end to argue that all of our Gospel accounts (even John, which has very little to do with Mark) ultimately go back to Mark so that we have only one source, not multiple sources, for the life of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Matthew and Luke did indeed use Mark, but significant portions of both Gospels are not related in any way to Mark’s accounts. And in these sections of their Gospels Matthew and Luke record extensive, independent traditions about Jesus’s life, teachings, and death. So while in their shared material they do not provide corroboration without collaboration, in their unique material they do. These Gospels were probably written ten or fifteen years after Mark, and so by the year 80-85 we have at least three independent accounts of Jesus’s life (since a number of the accounts of both Matthew and Luke are independent of Mark), all within a generation of so of Jesus himself…” Page 75-76
“But that’s not all. There are still other independent Gospels. The Gospel of John is sometimes described as the “maverick Gospel” because it is so unlike the synoptic accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Prior to the narrative leading up to Jesus’s death, most of the stories in John are found only in John, whereas John does not included most of the stories found in the other three Gospels. And when they do share the same stories, John tells them in such a different way that he does not appear to have received his accounts from any or all of them…John is generally considered the latest of our canonical Gospels, dated 90-95 CE. So within the first century we have four independent accounts of Jesus’s life and death (Matthew and Luke being independent in a good number of their corroborative stories; John possibly in all, and certainly in most, of his).
Gospels continued to be written after John, however, and some of these later accounts are also independent. Since the discovery in 1945 of the famous Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, scholars have debated is date. Even though some continue to place the Gospel in the first century, possibly prior to all or some of the canonical Gospels, more widely it is thought that in its current form Thomas comes to us from the early second century, say 110-120 CE. Moreover, while some scholars think that Thomas relies on Matthew, Mark, and Luke for some of its sayings—there are overlaps in about half of them—it is more commonly thought that Thomas is independent, that it got its information from other sources. In either event, a good portion of Thomas, if not all of it does not derive from the canonical texts. To that extent it is a fifth independent witness to the life and teachings of Jesus.
The same can be said for the Gospel of Peter discovered in 1886…In either event, since it is in part or in whole different form the other Gospels, in these passages—and probably in is entirety…this would be a sixth independent Gospel account of Jesus’s life and death.
Another independent account occurs in the highly fragmentary text called Papyrus Egerton…Here then, at least in the nonparalleled story, but probably in all four, is a seventh independent account.
…If we restrict ourselves to a hundred years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, we have at least seven independent accounts, some of them quite extensive. (It is important to recall: even if some of these sources are dependent on one another in some passages—for example, Matthew and Luke on Mark—they are completely independent in others, and to that extent they are independent witnesses.)
What is sometimes underappreciated by mythicists who want to discount the value of the Gospels for establishing the historical existence of Jesus is that our surviving accounts, which began to be written some forty years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death, were based on earlier written sources that no longer survive. But they obviously did exist at one time, and they just as obviously had predate the Gospels that we now have. (See Luke’s statement of “receiving accounts from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word” in Luke 1:1-3) …There is no reason to suspect that Luke is lying here.” Pages 76-79
“Within a couple of decades of the traditional date of his death, we have numerous accounts of his (Jesus) life found in a broad geographical span. In addition to Mark, we have source Q, source M (which is possibly made of multiple sources), source L (also possibly multiple sources), two or more passion narratives, a signs source, two discourse sources, the kernel (or original) Gospel behind the Gospel of Thomas, and possibly others. And these are just the ones we know about, that we can reasonably infer from the scant literary remains that survive from the early years of the Christian church. No one knows how many there actually were. Luke says that there were “many” of them, and he may well have been right. “ Pages 82-83
“The information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30’s of the Common Era, as arguably does some of the material in the book of acts. The information about Jesus in these sources corroborates as well aspects of the Gospel traditions, some of which can also be dates back to the 30’s to Aramaic –speaking Palestine.”
Dear Dagood: Ehrman did not write “Did Jesus Exist” to prove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He wrote it to counter the mythicists who deny the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. But I believe that Ehrman’s presentation of the many sources upon which the existence of Jesus is based, can also be used to support the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not based solely on the author of the Gospel of Mark as you allege!
Ehrman doesn’t believe in the Resurrection because he believes that any excuse for an empty tomb is more believable than the supernatural Resurrection of a dead man. He is not willing to believe in miracles, so he chooses to believe any other explanation for the story of the Resurrection but a miracle. Ehrman believes, like you, that the disciples so desperately wanted their “messiah” to rise from the dead, that they hallucinated or dreamed his resurrection, and that these hallucinations/visions/dreams developed into a myth that snowballed into the Christian doctrine of the physical Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah.
But if the Resurrection is a myth developed by Jesus’s disciples during those forty years, one of two things happened: Either the remaining eleven disciples sat down and created the most elaborate lie ever perpetrated on the people of the world…or…all the sources listed above, whose authors were separated from each other, by sometimes, thousands of miles, recorded the exact, same elaborate myth of Jesus of Nazareth: minor variations, yes, such as the discrepancies in the Empty Tomb accounts in the Gospels, but all the major details are there, and even a lot of the minor details are in harmony. Do you really believe, Dagood, that a bunch of uneducated peasants and fishermen were capable of spinning such an elaborate tale and keeping all the main details straight in their numerous writings, written down by multiple authors, none of them allowing any legendary silliness into the story, such as a Medussa or a Poseidon, and were able to maintain this story for almost 400 years (prior to being made the state religion) without having it unmasked as a fraud by either the Jews, Romans, or any other pagan religion??
How can 27 (I originally said 32. My bad!) canonical books, in addition to numerous non-canonical books, all written within 100 years of the event in question, keep all the basic facts straight, if concocted by hallucinating fishermen?? And these guys weren’t even expecting a Resurrection! Many of them went home after the crucifixion to Galilee to start fishing again. Yet these cowards, who ran away from a few Jewish guards in the Garden when Jesus wasn’t even dead yet, now, after a couple of them have a vivid dream or experience a life-like hallucination, find the courage to defy not only Jewish authorities but the mighty Roman Empire, risking, and in many instances, dying, in horrific circumstances!
Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish scholar, states in his writings, that he does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but he does believe that the physical resurrection of Jesus really did occur, and he bases much of this belief on the radical change in attitude and behavior of Jesus’s disciples.
All these people had the same hallucination or vision? No way!
In conclusion, I do believe that a neutral, non-Christian, non-atheist jury could very well decide for the validity of the Resurrection based on the multiple sources still in existence for this 2,000 year old event and on the radical change in behavior in Jesus’s disciples.