This book is the second book in which Dr. Bombaro and Dr. Francisco have collaborated with each other to defend the central claims of orthodox Christianity, in particular, the Resurrection of Jesus. In addition to these two men, several other Christian authors contribute chapters to the book.
Introduction by Dr. John Bombaro, LCMS Lutheran pastor and theologian. Opening quote:
“For were there no [bodily] resurrection, we would have neither comfort nor hope, and everything else Christ did and suffered would be in vain.” —Martin Luther
The addition of the word [bodily] to the quote is mine (Gary’s). To Martin Luther, to Pastor Bombaro, and to all other orthodox (conservative and moderate) Christians the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone belief of their faith. Without it, the whole belief system comes crashing down. That is why they defend it with such ferocity. That is why Dr. Bombaro and Dr. Francisco have written a second book on the subject.
I believe that I can prove them wrong. I believe that their belief in this alleged ancient event is based on very little evidence, and what evidence there is is very weak. I believe their belief is based primarily on assumptions, conjecture, and generalizations about the attitudes and behaviors of peoples living almost 2,000 years ago. But let’s read the book and see.
Dr. Bombaro: “Why is there so much contemporary skepticism about the resurrection?” p. 3
Gary: Well, Dr. Bombaro, it is true that skeptics are skeptical about supernatural claims, but why do you act so shocked? It is nothing specific against Christianity. We are just as skeptical of the Muslim claim that the prophet Mohammad flew on a winged horse to heaven. We are just as skeptical of the Hindu claim that the Buddha caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language for over a half an hour. We are skeptical of all claims that defy the known laws of nature.
Why? We are skeptical because after tens of thousands of years of human beings fearing floods, thunder, lightning, and other natural phenomena because our holy men have told us they are the punishments of “gods”, we have learned that the Scientific Method has proven to be the most reliable method of determining truth in our world. We don’t claim it is perfect. We don’t claim that we know as a fact that it is the only method of determining truth, but until a better method of determining truth comes along, the majority of educated societies are going to stick with the Scientific Method. It has the best track record. Better than any holy book.
Dr. Bombaro: “The Resurrection is proclaimed as a fact of history and throughout history, reaching back to the eyewitnesses of the event itself—the authors of the New Testament.” p. 4
Gary: The consensus position of New Testament scholarship is that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor by the associates of eyewitnesses. This is also the position of one of your favorite scholars, NT Wright. Even conservative scholar Richard Bauckham, who disagrees with the consensus, admits this. It would really be best if you would make the disclaimer that this statement is your personal opinion or that this is the opinion of a small minority of scholars.
Dr. Bombaro: “…convincing reasonable people that something happened and ‘proving’ that something happened are not the same thing. And if we are talking about a miracle like the resurrection of Christ Jesus, we cannot ‘prove’ that it happened any more than a prosecutor can prove someone committed a crime. Instead, what is required not only for belief but also for action is to substantiate the resurrection beyond a reasonable doubt.” pp. 4-5
Gary: I agree 100%. It is impossible to “prove” any event in ancient history. The historicity of any event in Antiquity is a matter of probability. We cannot “prove” that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. So we should instead ask, “Is it more probable than not that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon?” I think it is only fair to apply this same standard to the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. However, I would like to expand that question a little since we know that early Christians believed that Jesus had been resurrected, the question is, “why?”:
Is it more probable that the Early Christian belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus was based on a literal resurrection of the dead body of Jesus or more probable that this belief was based on some other natural explanation?
If I can prove that a natural explanation or a combination of natural explanations is much more probable to be the explanation for the early Christian belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, I win. Fair enough?
Dr. Bombaro then goes on to give a brief summary of what each author will be discussing in his or her chapter. They all sound interesting (so, Readers, go and order the book on Amazon!). However, one chapter already has me irritated. One author plans to address NT scholar Gerd Luedemann’s theory that the disciples had visions/hallucinations of a bodily resurrected Jesus and these hallucinations/visions caused them to believe that he had been resurrected. The author (and Dr. Bombaro) poo poo this idea stating essentially that first century Jews would never confuse an (imaginary) body in a vision or hallucination with a real tactile physical body. This is the “First Century Jews were Super Humans” generalization. It belongs in the same category as “No First Century Jew Would Move a Dead Body on the Sabbath” generalization, and many others. For some reason, conservative/moderate Christians believe that first century Jews never broke the Law; they never violated Jewish customs and traditions. Conservative/moderate Christians believe that the reanimation of a dead corpse is more probable than a first century Jew having an hallucination and believing that the body which he saw in the hallucination was real.
Sorry to break the news, Christians, but there is no evidence whatsoever that first century Jews were immune to mental illness and hallucinations. (Even mentally healthy people can have hallucinations when they are sleep deprived, emotionally distraught, have a high fever, etc.). All it took was just one disciple to hallucinate seeing a flesh and blood resurrected Jesus and that belief will remain real to him even after the hallucination is over.
The “No First Century Jew Would Believe or Do Such and Such” generalization falls flat on its face.
Update 2/15/2017: I posted a couple of comments on Bart Ehrman’s blog about some of the issues discussed in Dr. Bombaro and Dr. Francisco’s book. Below is one comment and Ehrman’s response:
February 14, 2017
Here is a quote from “The Resurrection Fact”, a book recently published by my former denomination which expresses this position [that no Jew would believe in the bodily resurrection of one person without visual and tactile evidence]:
“Hansen [one of the authors] straightforwardly contradicts Luedemann’s theses [that the disciples had non-veridical visions] by substantiating that the New Testament witnesses operated in a Semitic philosophical tradition that was intensely tactile and defined by a biblical narrative in which God was providential and miraculously active in space and time. It was the apostle’s deep commitment to a Jewish worldview that provided them resources to recognize the difference between trauma-induced visions and a bodily resurrection. Indeed, biblical Judaism had a profound understanding of material reality and, relatedly, its antithesis in terms of nonphysical entities. What the earliest Jewish Christians proclaimed was a bodily resurrection, and no one more so than Paul who was himself “a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees” (Acts 23:6).” —Dr. John Bombaro in the Introduction
I run into this all the time in my discussion with Christians: “Unlike people today, first century Jews would never have done or believed X, Y, or Z.”