“It was the apostles’ deep commitment to a Jewish world view that provided them with resources to recognize the difference between trauma-induced visions and a bodily resurrection.” –Carolyn Hansen, page 211
Gary: How in the world can anyone living two thousand years after these alleged events make such a claim???
Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other health care practitioners have massive documentation of grieving family members and friends of the recently deceased claiming to have seen and conversed with their dead loved one. How can anyone claim with any degree of confidence that first century Jews would not have had the same experiences?
The argument that one cannot hallucinate a concept that does not exist in one’s cultural experience is true, but is not applicable in this situation. The claim that no first century Jew would have conceived the concept of an individual resurrection fails if we accept the historical accuracy of the four Gospels when they tell us that Jesus was “openly” making just that claim prior to his death (see Mark 8:31, for example). In addition, the Jews of Asia Minor believed in the individual resurrection of one man (Jesus) based on searching the Hebrew scriptures. Therefore such a belief did exist within first century Judaism. It was not a novel, unheard of concept…if we accept the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Hansen: [Skeptic scholar Gerd Luedemann] cautions that we can’t assume that a Jew at the time would immediately think of bodily resurrection because “there were various notions of resurrection around, one of which was bodily”. N.T. Wright, for example, has conclusively established that both antiquity’s meaning and usage of resurrection “always meant bodies”.
[NT Wright]: “The ancient world, like the modern world, produced widely differing speculations about what happens after we die. The word “resurrection” designates one and only one of those options: a new bodily existence. A new physical human being, after a time during which that human being had been dead and gone.” Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good.
“Aside from the decisive work of N.T. Wright concerning the meaning of resurrection …” p. 218
Gary: I really would like to know how exactly NT Wright has “conclusively” and “decisively” established that the word resurrection always meant bodies in the first century? The author of this chapter is not a scholar. She has a B.A. in… history (?) She does not say why NT Wright is conclusively/decisively correct (and Luedemann is wrong), she only declares him to be. Hansen does not give any indication of the scholarly consensus on this issue.
I find it very curious that NT Wright’s view that there existed a unanimous perspective on the subject of “resurrection” in first century Judaism is accepted as “conclusive” by conservative Christian apologists, yet Wright’s position on the non-eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is never mentioned by these same conservative Christian apologists. Why is NT Wright the authority on one New Testament issue and persona non grata on another? Could it be…bias?
Hansen then spends several pages talking about how ancient Jews were much more “tactile” than modern human beings and therefore they would not have confused seeing a resurrected body with an hallucination/vision. She quotes a Thomas Howard:
“Judaism…is heavy with matter. First, at Creation itself, where solid matter was spoken into existence by the Word of God. Then redemption, beginning not with the wave of a spiritual wand, nor with mere edicts pronounced from the sky, but rather with skins and blood—the pelts of animals slaughtered by the Lord God to cover our nakedness. Stone altars, blood, fat, scapegoats, incense, gold, acacia wood—the Old Covenant is heavily physical.” Recognizing the Church in Creed and Culture: A Touchstone Reader
Gary: What ancient society wasn’t heavily physical??? I just don’t buy the argument that because first century Jews were accustomed to slaughtering goats and sheep to their deity that somehow this made them better at differentiating between a body in an hallucination and a real, flesh and blood body in reality! As Bart Ehrman said when presented this argument: This is just wishful thinking on the part of conservative Christians.
On page 218, Hansen quotes a lengthy, complex argument contrasting visions with appearances by infamous conservative Christian apologist, William Lane Craig:
“Paul was familiar with “visions and revelations of the Lord” (I Cor. 12:1). Yet Paul, like the rest of the New Testament, did not equate such visions of Christ with resurrection appearances. The appearances were to a limited circle of witnesses at the birth of the Christian movement and soon ceased, Paul’s untimely experience “last of all” (I Cor. 15:8).
Gary: Really? If we read the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15, Paul does not differentiate his “appearance” experience with that of the Eleven, yet the author of the Book of Acts, in chapter 26, quotes Paul, in his own words to say that his appearance experience of the resurrected Jesus was a “heavenly vision”. So if Paul’s appearance experience was of the same nature as the appearance experiences of the Eleven, and the author of the Book of Acts correctly quoted Paul in Acts chapter 26, then the Eleven apostles and ALL the (alleged) witnesses to the resurrection experienced appearances of Jesus in “visions”. This certainly seems to contradict Mr. Craig.
“Yet visions of the exalted Lord continued to be experienced throughout the Church. The question then presses: what essential difference exists between a vision of Christ and a resurrection appearance of Christ? The answer of the New Testament seems clear: a resurrection appearance was an extra-mental event, whereas a vision was merely in the mind of the recipient. To say that some phenomenon were visionary is not to say that it was illusory [based on illusion; not real].”
Gary: The writers of the Gospels, whom the majority of scholars have concluded were not eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses to these alleged events, may have believed that a resurrected body appeared to the disciples in an extra-mental event, but that does not mean that one actually did. That is the issue in dispute. Skeptics believe that it is highly probable that one or a few of the disciples had visions or hallucinations of a resurrected Jesus and that these “sightings” of Jesus created emotional hysteria among the mostly poor, lower class, superstitious, uneducated or poorly educated disciples (similar to what is seen in Pentecostal Christian healing services today) causing more people to experience visions, hallucinations, false sightings, and misperceptions of natural phenomena (shadows, bright lights, etc.) and voila!…the Resurrection belief was born!
William Lane Craig (WLC) continues: “Biblical scholars have found it necessary to distinguish between what are sometimes called ‘objective visions’ and ‘subjective visions’. An objective, or, less misleadingly, veridical vision is a vision caused by God. A subjective or nonveridical vision is a product of the percipient’s imagination. A veridical vision involves the seeing of an objective reality without the normal processes of sense perception. A nonveridical vision has no extramental correlate and is therefore hallucinatory.”
Gary: How on earth have “Biblical scholars” determined that in certain visions mentioned in the Bible, the people did not use their sense of sight, hearing, smell, or touch to experience the alleged event? I want to see the research!
WLC continues: “Now visions of the exalted Christ such as Stephen’s (Acts 7:55-56), Paul’s (Acts 22: 17-21), or John’s (Rev. 1:10-18) were not regarded as hallucinatory: but neither did they count as resurrection appearances of Christ. Why not? Because appearances of Jesus, in contrast to veridical visions of Jesus, involved an extramental reality which anyone present could experience. Even Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road, which was semivisionary in nature, could count as a real appearance because the light and the voice were experienced by Paul’s traveling companions (though they were not experienced by them as a revelation of Christ).
Gary: But what if the detail of Paul’s traveling companions experiencing the light and the voice in some manner was simply a literary invention to the story? The Damascus Road Story is retold by the author of Acts at least three times and each time the details about what the traveling companions did, saw, and heard varies. Isn’t it entirely possible that this entire detail is invented? Therefore it is possible that the only person who experienced anything on the Damascus Road was Paul and exactly what he experienced is anyone’s guess. But in actuality, the entire Damascus Road Story could be a literary invention because Paul himself never tells this story in his own epistles! All Paul says in his epistles is that he was the last to have received an appearance from Jesus; that he had “seen the Christ”. That’s it. Paul never says, in his own writings, that he saw the resurrected Jesus on the Road to Damascus.
This is the big disconnect with conservative Christians. They don’t stop to think (or they refuse to consider) that a considerable portion of the Christian Resurrection story may be literary invention. Most skeptics accept that Paul existed and that he had a dramatic conversion from Judaism to Christianity, but that doesn’t mean that the Damascus Road Conversion Story as presented in the Book of Acts is historical. The majority of scholars say that we have no idea who wrote the Book of Acts and if we do not know who wrote the Book of Acts how can we know if the stories told in the Book of Acts, especially those that are not told in any other first century document, such as the Damascus Road Conversion Story, are historically true??
WLC continues: “As I say, this seems to be the consistent answer throughout the New Testament to the question of what the difference was between a vision and an appearance of Jesus. And this answer is thoroughly Jewish in character : the rabbis similarly distinguished between an angelic vision and an angelic appearance based on whether, for example, food seen to be consumed by the angel was actually gone after the appearance had ceased.”
Gary: Please provide the rabbinic evidence of angelic appearances and the absent food for us to cross examine.
Hansen on page 222: “The resurrection stands outside the process of inductive inquiry , and so miracles are explanations of last resort when we are otherwise at a loss for a naturalistic one, especially when the testimony and governing narrative clearly posit such. This is an important point. People don’t rise from the dead, as human experience shows, but in the case of a resurrection of Jesus, we are at a loss for a natural explanation and must explore the possibility of a supernatural one.
…[Luedemann and other skeptics] ultimately end up altering the narrative [concerning the events related to the origin of early Christianity] to cohere not with the evidence but with [their] own physicalist commitments.
Gary: I hear this accusation from Christians all the time: “The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the most probable explanation for the evidence. You skeptics just won’t accept and admit this because you are biased. You are anti-miracle, anti-supernatural. If you would only drop this bias, you would see that the bodily resurrection is the most probable explanation for the evidence we have.”
I reject this claim. I believe that the bias actually lies squarely with Christians. I believe that Christians are biased in this debate in that they presuppose the existence of their all-powerful, omniscient god, Yahweh. If it were true that Yahweh exists, and that he possesses the attributes that Christians claim he possesses, and it were true that the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament really are about Jesus, then the resurrection of Jesus IS the most probable explanation for the evidence! But Christians must prove Yahweh’s existence and stop presuming his existence in the debates with skeptics regarding the probability of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Appeals to evidence for a generic creator in no way prove the existence of the ancient Hebrew god, Yahweh. And the resurrection of Jesus cannot be used to prove the existence of Yahweh if you have not first established the historicity of the Resurrection based on its own evidence, without appeals to the existence of Yahweh and his supernatural powers.
Without presuming the existence of Yahweh and the fulfillment of Yahweh’s Old Testament prophecies, the evidence for the bodily Resurrection as the most probable explanation for the development of the early Christian Resurrection Belief is poor. There are many other naturalistic, much more probable explanations that could have given rise to this belief that a never heard of before or since reanimation of a dead body by an ancient deity.
The existence of Yahweh is not the only assumption that Christians make in this discussion. Many Christians also assume that every detail in the Gospels is historical fact. But even conservative New Testament scholars such as Gary Habermas will admit that this is not correct. There are only a very few “facts” that all scholars agree upon in regards to the life and death of Jesus. All the other claims about Jesus are disputed and therefore cannot be considered facts. The Empty Tomb is not a fact. It is disputed. The detailed post death appearances stories in the Gospels are not facts. They are disputed. They may very well be literary inventions.
Christians really need to stop saying that the bodily resurrection is the most probable explanation for the “evidence” because this is not the case by any stretch of the imagination. What can’t Christians just admit that belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith, not evidence?