Can Christians be certain of the accuracy of the Oral Transmission of the Resurrection Story?

Conservative Christian:

You need to understand more about oral transmission in antiquity to know what the process is. It wasn’t just naively passing on information it was taught and memorized repeatedly until those who were taught it remembered it word for word. It was common place for Jewish Rabbi to remember the whole Torah and in fact you were not allowed to preach it until you remembered it off by heart. In those days memory was used more than writing things down on paper because paper was expensive and in fact they didn’t write anything on paper unless it was worth remembering to begin with.

Gary:

So you are 100% sure that once the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection began preaching (telling what they had seen) to others, that this story was transmitted perfectly for 30-60 years until the stories were written down? But let’s back up a step. It wasn’t as if there was only one story, told by one person, that was then memorized by everyone and passed down. If the New Testament is correct, there were over five hundred eyewitnesses, therefore there would be over five hundred different original stories. Are you saying that we should have 100% faith that each of these 500+ people got all the facts straight?

Let’s say that all 500+ eyewitnesses agreed that Jesus had been crucified and that three days later he appeared, in some sense, to his followers. And, 490 of these original eyewitnesses’ stories agreed on all the major “facts”, but 10 of them “saw” things very differently, and it was the story of these 10 people, which included much more exciting details (dead people roaming the streets of Jerusalem, earthquakes, angels) that gets wider circulation. And it is from this version of the story that the authors of the four Gospels, living in foreign lands, writing decades later, write their stories.

So the original story of the original ten eyewitnesses is preserved intact, but it bears little resemblance to the original story of the majority of eyewitnesses.

I’m sure you do not believe that this happened, or that it is even plausible, but you cannot say that it did not. You cannot say that it is impossible. And I and other skeptics would say that this scenario is much more probable, as is the scenario that ALL the stories became embellished over time after passing from person to person over many years, than the scenario that 500+ superstitious, grieving, first century Galilean peasants really saw a reanimated dead body 2,000 years ago in primitive Palestine.


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