Bombshell! Respected Christian Scholar Suspects Gospel Authors Included Fictional Folklore in their Gospels

Image result for image of the death of the messiah

I find the special material [material unique to Matthew; not found in any other gospel] that Matthew has grouped around the birth and the death of Jesus a consistency that suggests a source, but one of another nature than Mark and Q—a source that reflects popular dramatization through storytelling, much like expanded birth and passion narration ever since.

With regard to the common Synoptic passion narrative  I argued that OT allusions or citations did not create the basic passion narrative sequence but helped to fill in the established, skeletal preaching outline.  In the instance of the Matthean special material, however, the OT background may have actually generated the stories, eg., of the manner of Judas’ death.

Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, pp. 60-61

(emphasis:  Gary’s)

 

Raymond Brown (deceased) was not a liberal New Testament scholar.  Raymond Brown was a devout Roman Catholic who very much believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  His scholarship was acceptable Catholic teaching during the papacy of the conservative pope, John Paul II.  He very much believed in the reality of the supernatural.  He believed that the first gospel, Mark, was most likely written in the late 60’s, prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  Therefore, conservative Christians cannot accuse Raymond Brown of a bias against the traditional teachings of Christianity or a bias against the reality of miracles and other supernatural phenomena.

So, with that background, the above statement by highly respected New Testament scholar Raymond Brown is devastating to the conservative Christian claim that we can trust the historical reliability of the Gospels due to the “fact” that first century Jews lived in an “oral” culture which strictly maintained the accuracy and consistency of their traditions and oral stories.

Raymond Brown states that the author of Matthew (whom he does not believe was an eyewitness) had three sources for his gospel:  the Gospel of Mark, “Q”, and fictional folklore.  That’s right, fictional folklore!  Brown suspects that when early Christians retold the bare bones story of Jesus prior to the stories being written down, they added fictional details to the story, borrowing from themes in the Old Testament.  Brown does not believe that this was due to sloppiness or an attempt on the part of the storytellers to deceive their listeners.  He believes they did this purposefully to make for better story telling, similar to what Christians do today when they participate in a Nativity Christmas play or a Passion play.  Everyone in attendance at a modern church Christmas play knows that the extra dialogue is fictional.  This  fictional material does not make the entire story fictional; it simply makes for better storytelling; it makes for a better Christmas or Passion play!

This is what Brown suspects was happening among early Christians as they told and retold the Jesus Story.  Matthew added some of these (fictional) stories into his gospel, not to deceive anyone, but to make for a better story!  After all, Matthew was writing a Greco-Roman biography; a document of religious evangelization.  He was not writing a modern history textbook.  Adding embellished details was perfectly acceptable in this genre of literature as long as the core story remained intact.

But here is my question:  What exactly was the original, core, Jesus Story?

Did the core Jesus Story include Jesus’ anguished prayer to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as described in Mark or the serene, calm Jesus as described in Luke?  But wait.  Maybe the original story didn’t include any details about Jesus’ actions in the Garden including his arrest; the core story was simply that he was arrested during the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.

Did the core Jesus story include the detailed scene with Pilate at Jesus’ trial?  Was there really a crowing rooster?  Did Pilate really wring his hands in fear of the Jews?  Was Pilate really so indecisive and weak?  Are all these details historical facts or simply literary embellishments, derived from popular (fictional) folklore?  Did the Jews really call out for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads and on the heads of their children…or was this just later anti-Jewish Christian folklore?

What exactly did Jesus say on the cross?  The Gospels can’t seem to agree.  Maybe the original core Jesus Story had no details about his crucifixion (since none of the disciples were probably there) and that is why each gospel has Jesus saying something different.  These sayings of Jesus on the cross may have been folklore.  The authors of the Gospels simply selected one of these circulating folklore accounts to include in each of their gospels.

And what about Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb?  Was this part of the core Jesus Story or was it an embellished detail to the bare-bones original story that Jesus was arrested during Passover celebrations, tried, crucified, and then buried with other criminals executed that week in a common, unmarked grave?  And what about the three very different, detailed appearance stories in Matthew, Luke, and John?  Are these factual historical accounts or were they fictional embellishments to the core Jesus story?

You see, dear Readers, if “Matthew” added fictional folklore to his gospel as Brown suspects, then how do we know that “Mark”, “Q”, “Luke”, and “John” didn’t also use fictional folklore when writing their gospels???  Maybe the core Jesus story is what we find in the Early Creed, as quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15:  a bare-bones account with zero details about a rich man’s empty rock tomb or post-death appearances involving a visible, touchable, speaking body!  Maybe the original group appearance claims were based on similar phenomena used to describe Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road:  a bright light…and nothing more!  A group of disciples saw a bright light and thought it was Jesus!  The Gospel authors included embellished folklore to make these appearances more interesting (and maybe more believable for evangelization purposes!).

And why didn’t first century Christians call out and complain about these fictional embellishments to the Jesus Story?  Answer:  Because everyone at the time knew it was just part of good story telling!  It was not only acceptable…it was expected.

So what if one New Testament scholar believes that there is fictional folklore in the Gospels!” many conservative Christian apologists will howl.  “That proves nothing.  It is only one man’s opinion.”

Well, it’s not just one scholar, dear conservative Christians.  It is every scholar who is not an evangelical or very conservative Protestant (i.e., LCMS).  Even respected New Testament Christian scholar NT Wright, who like Brown, believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, has also said that literary invention (fiction) probably exists in the New Testament.  In his masterwork, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright suggests that Jesus’ prophesies regarding his own resurrection may be fictional inventions of the authors.  Wright also states that the author of the Book of Acts was probably using literary invention in his (three different) descriptions of the events of Jesus appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road.  Wright also suggests that some of the details in the Beheading of John the Baptist Story may be fictional.

In addition, Raymond Brown (along with the majority of NT scholars) do not believe that eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.  NT Wright is a little more cautious on this issue, but is on record saying the following: “I don’t know who wrote the Gospels, nor does anyone else!” 

And now we find out that even respected, moderate scholars such as Raymond Brown and NT Wright believe that there are fictional embellishments in the Gospels!

My, my, my. 

The evidence for a never heard of before or since miracle—a first century resurrection of a three day brain-dead corpse—gets weaker and weaker the more scholarship one reads!

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61 thoughts on “Bombshell! Respected Christian Scholar Suspects Gospel Authors Included Fictional Folklore in their Gospels

  1. Interesting, interesting … another thing it makes me think about is the literacy issue. Whoever wrote MT was smart. And literate. Why did so many people (including the non-accepted gospels) choose to *write*. The books were not going to make the NYT bestsellers list, and writing would not be the best way to spread a story. Information was oral, for the most part, until Gutenberg. People didn’t write information in diaries or newspapers, and many couldn’t read. So why? I don’t have any answers … has Brown commented on this? It seems kind of like someone making a web page before the invention of the internet.

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    1. Brown hasn’t said anything about it so far. My suspicion is that the original gospels were written for individual churches. Later, the Church canonized these books and magically turned them into “Scripture”. The Jews had their sacred Scripture and since Christianity was supposedly the fulfillment of Judaism, Christians felt they needed their own written “Scripture”.

      Just a guess.

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    1. It isn’t a story about Judas but of a man who betrays his friend and then hangs himself. Raymond Brown points out that much of the exclusive Matthean material has similarities to stories in the OT. That is why he suspects that these stories are fictional.

      From this source: http://globalchristiancenter.com/christian-living/lesser-known-bible-people/31287-ahitophel-the-wise-man-who-committed-suicide

      Ahitophel served David, from the begining of his reign in Hebron, and was close to him for years. Suddenly he turns on his King, and joins the conspiracy of Absalom, and then finding his advice not followed he hangs himself. Herein lies an interesting tale. You see Ahitophel was the one person who was in the know when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. He was in the Palace, in the confidence of the King, and he was Bathsheba’s Grandfather! Yes look up 2 Samuel 11:3. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam whose father was Ahitophel.

      Here is the seed of betrayal that years later became the motivation to turn on David and join Absalom.

      Bathsheba had been happily married to Uriah, whose name means, ‘Light of Jehovah”, a proselyte to Judaism and also a commander in David’s army. He had been passionately in love with Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 12:3, and never knew of his wife’s seduction and dishonor. David had brazenly seduced Bathsheba and had Uriah killed in battle on purpose. Grandfather Ahitophel carried that grudge for years, and David never knew it. In Psalm 41:9 David laments, “Yea mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”

      Interestingly, Jesus quoted this verse in speaking of Judas at the last supper, as the betrayer, who like Ahitophel turned against the one who entrusted him with responsibility.

      When Ahitophel saw that his advice to Absalom to attack David immediately and kill him, was rejected, he knew that David would come out the victor and there was no future for him, so he went home, related the events to his family, and according to Josephus, he went into an inner room, hanged himself, and the family buried him.

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      1. Jesus told the disciples, “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me’” (Jn. 13:18).

        Here Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9, which originally refers to David’s betrayal by Ahithophel.

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  2. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the invitation to visit your blog and to answer your question. I have been impressed with how much work you have put into it.

    You seem mostly to address conservative christianity, which I understand is your background. As you know, I am not a conservative christian, so while the ideas of fictional elements in the gospels may be a “bombshell” to conservative christians, it certainly isn’t to anyone who has read any New Testament historians.

    But it is easy to overstate the case too. For example, you ask ”if “Matthew” added fictional folklore to his gospel as Brown suspects, then how do we know that “Mark”, “Q”, “Luke”, and “John” didn’t also use fictional folklore when writing their gospels??? “ You may not realise it, but asking such a question is a classic way of raising doubts without any real evidence. You can see this by asking the alternative question: “If “Mark”, “Q”, “Luke”, and “John” used factual material, how do we know that Matthew’s material that some think is fictional isn’t also factual???”

    You know the answer to both questions, of course, as you say in another post: “I have come to the conclusion that the best guide to discovering truth is this:  Trust the majority opinion of experts in all fields in which one is not an expert.”

    So if you take Brown (and other competent scholars) as an authority on fictional material, you I presume also take him (and other competent scholars) as an authority on historical material.

    I haven’t read anything by Brown except some web pages, so you will know better than I what he says about historical material. But from my limited reading and other comments of yours, I think he saw most of the main facts and stories of Jesus’ life and teachings to be historical, and the fictional elements were embellishments, as you have pointed out.

    And of course, many other scholars say the same. You have mentioned NT Wright, but Maurice Casey was another. Casey’s views on the gospels are clear – there are fictional elements and much post hoc interpretation, but nevertheless (taken from “Jesus of Nazareth”) are good historical sources:

    Mark (p97,8).”his best sources were in Aramaic, and he translated them as he went along. These sources, though abbreviated, were literally accurate accounts of incidents and sayings from the life and teachings of Jesus. We do not know who wrote these sources, but they were certainly in close touch with the ministry of Jesus, so this is just one short step away from eyewitness testimony.”

    Luke (p94 – 98): ”An author of of Luke’s education and determination could have gained access to more material than we can envisage, to oral sources as well as written ones. ….. [He was] in an ideal position to collect information for his Gospel, as well as for parts of Acts. …. he was an outstanding historian by ancient standards, and he had access to a wide variety of sources”

    And you may be interested in his assessment of Matthew. He thinks (p87) the evidence indicates that Matthew the disciple, an eye-witness, was the source of much of the Q material, written down at the time and containing ”perfectly accurate material about Jesus …. transmitted accurately”. So the final author/compiler of Matthew used Mark plus Matthew’s Q material (which gave the gospel its name), plus other material, as Brown also says.

    Now Casey’s view isn’t supported by all scholars any more than Brown’s is, but the general picture from competent scholars is similar.

    So my answer to the question you asked me (”Which stories are fiction, and which are fact?”) is this. Just as we know, from the experts, that there may have been fictional embellishments in the gospel accounts, so we can know that the basic stories and sayings come from eye-witness reports handed down both orally and written, and compiled into the gospels we have today. They are quite sufficient to construct history and draw conclusions, even though, like all other history, they contain non-historical material.

    Thanks again for the invitation to visit and comment. I look forward to reading more of your New Testament adventures.

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    1. Hi Eric,

      Thank you for your very detailed, very interesting comment.

      I have not read any of Casey’s work so I cannot comment on him specifically. Do you have a particular work of his that you recommend? I may choose to read him.

      It is certainly true that just because Raymond Brown believes something to be true does not make it true. As brilliant a scholar as he was, he was still a fallible human. I do not believe that any of my readers should believe any individual claim made by Brown just because Brown espouses it. However, I would encourage all my readers who are not New Testament scholars themselves to accept majority scholarly opinion. I hope I have made that point clear in my posts.

      The majority of scholars agree with Brown that the Gospels contain (fictional) embellishments. Even very conservative scholar Michael Licona agrees with this position (He lost his job at an evangelical institution for voicing this position.) I believe that all non-scholars should accept this position as fact.

      The majority of scholars also believe that the Gospels were not written by the traditional authors of the Apostle Matthew, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John the son of Zebedee. The majority of scholars go further and state that they do not believe that the Gospels were not written by any eyewitnesses or associate of an eyewitness. Renowned New Testament scholar, NT Wright, a strong believer in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, has said, “I do not know who the Gospels authors were, nor does anyone else”. He and Brown are moderate scholars. They are not liberals who reject the reality of the supernatural. Yet they join liberals and other moderate scholars in rejecting the conservative claim that it is a fact that the traditional authors wrote the Gospels.

      The majority of scholars believe that the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses, decades after the alleged events, in lands far away.

      You are correct that the majority of scholars believe that Jesus was a real person. That he was an apocalyptic preacher. That he had a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. That he irritated the Jewish authorities. That he was arrested and convicted for the crime of claiming to the king of the Jews. That he was crucified. And that shortly after his death his disciples believed that he appeared to them alive again.

      My question is this: How much more of the Passion and Resurrection narratives in the four Gospels is fiction? Answer: I don’t think we can know. If this is so, for which I believe Brown is (probably unintentionally) making a very good case, the evidence for the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus is considerably weaker than most Christians realize. There may have been no empty rock tomb as evidence for a resurrection. There may have been no detailed appearance claims involving a visible, touchable body.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @ Unklee

      As the author of Luke is credited with penning Acts the claim that he was he was an outstanding historian by ancient standards, and he had access to a wide variety of sources” in light of what we now know about Acts tends to diminish this claim considerably.

      ”An author of of Luke’s education and determination could have gained access to more material than we can envisage,

      Could have … being the operative term here. In other words, speculation. As you said yourself:

      You may not realise it, but asking such a question is a classic way of raising doubts without any real evidence.

      Also, Casey’s Aramaic claim is, as far as I am aware, not the consensus. In fact, the first time I came across this claim was on your blog. I have not seen it expressed as ”a given” anywhere else.

      Over 600 verses of Matthew were lifted directly from Mark and some are used verbatim.

      That in itself is a clear indication that we are dealing with a plagiarized story that is, with what we know of gMark, at best, historical fiction.

      And while professional theologians and scholars have likely been aware of the fictionalized material for a long time, which is probably a lot more than they are currently willing to admit, the gospels have generally been regarded as ”God’s inspired word” by the Pew Warmers and disingenuously punted as such.

      But now, slowly but surely, admissions from individuals such as Brown and NT Wright about the true nature of the gospels, and by extension the entire bible are coming to the fore.
      And I am sure there are hints throughout New Testament scholarship.

      It seems inevitable that New Testament scholarship and beliefs regarding what was was once sacrosanct will go the way of the Old, and be reduced entirely to myth and folklore.

      It’s been said before that the Internet is where religion comes to die, and this is just another piece of evidence to demonstrate this.

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  3. Hi Gary, I recommend Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth” as an excellent book. It contains opinions as well as an assessment of historical facts, and I don’t always agree with his opinions, but the historical analysis is well worth reading.

    Of course the majority of scholars say the gospels weren’t written by eyewitnesses. But they were compiled from eyewitness reports. Very little ancient history is written by eyewitnesses, but that doesn’t mean it is not taken from eyewitness reports.

    My comments were directed at your question (on my blog): “Which stories are fiction, and which are fact?” And the answer is clear. Most of us don’t have the knowledge to judge, but the experts who have the knowledge to judge that there are fictional elements also have the knowledge to judge that many of the stories are good historical sources. So you don’t need to worry about questions like that, you can broadly trust the experts.

    And that means that whatever we may think about an individual story or saying, we can say with the experts that we know pretty much what Jesus taught (the kingdom of God, ethics, etc) and we can pretty much know what he did (apparently heal and exorcise, teach, argue, get executed and apparently appear to his followers).

    That means christian belief (if it is based on the real Jesus – it isn’t always!) has a good historical basis, whether any of us personally accept christian faith or not. That may be a bombshell to some, but like your bombshell, isn’t a shock to those who read the scholars. And since you are reading Brown, I presume you know it too.

    Like I said, I look forward to more. Thanks.

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    1. unkleE wrote: you can broadly trust the experts. and the experts who have the knowledge and we can say with the experts that we know pretty much what Jesus taught.

      The ONLY thing that divides a person that studies the scriptures and “the experts” is how much time each of them devotes to the subject (and perhaps a published book or two). Every aspect of bible scripture is based on opinion formed through study, but since the events took place many, many years before any “experts” came along, it is, at best, all speculation.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “But they were compiled from eyewitness reports.”

      That is the crux of our discussion, isn’t it? I agree that experts can deduce what probably happened in the past from non-eyewitness sources, but I am not aware of any source which states that the majority of experts believe that the detailed Appearance Stories are based on eyewitness accounts. And that is my main point. Brown has shown us that the Gospel authors invented fictional details to “flesh-out” the Jesus Story. Are the detailed appearance stories part of that literary invention??? I agree that it is accepted historical fact that the early Christians believed that Jesus appeared to them. My question is: Did eyewitnesses recount appearances involving a visible, touchable, speaking body or are these literary inventions.

      Is it possible that the original appearance stories simply involved claims of individuals and groups of believers “seeing” Jesus…in a cloud formation, a shadow on a hillside, or a bright light as a number of Christians have claimed over the last 2,000 years?

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  4. ”I am not aware of any source which states that the majority of experts believe that the detailed Appearance Stories are based on eyewitness accounts.”

    I think this can be provided.

    Scholars generally agree that either Jesus didn’t make any overt claims to divinity that have been recorded, or that such claims were muted and cryptic. Yet 7o years later, he was considered to be the only divine son of God. How did this change happen among monotheists?

    Larry Hurtado is a scholar who has studied this at length and he concludes that the early christians began by worshiping Jesus alongside God, because they believed they had seen him alive and resurrected, and the formalisation of the doctrine of divinity took a little longer. He says that their belief they had seen him alive during the 40 days (probably a symbolic number) after his death was written and spoken about very early, probably within months and certainly within years of his death. You can read something of his views on his blog and more in his book How on earth did Jesus become a God?.

    More recently, Bart Ehrman wrote on the same topic with a similar title, How Jesus became God. He has admitted that his research of the evidence forced him to change his views a little. So while he thinks the process took longer than Hurtado thinks (you can read Hurtado’s review of Ehrman’s book here), he still accepts that the resurrection stories were very early and historical:

    ”For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.”

    Now to be sure, Ehrman doesn’t believe that Jesus was actually raised from the dead, but he does say the disciples believed that he had been resurrected right from the beginning.

    Gary Habermas reviewed all the papers written on the topic over about twenty years, and concluded:

    ”Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”

    Now it is true that Habermas has been criticised for not making his database public, but he has never been refuted, and a quick check of scholars I have read affirm his statement.

    We have already seen what Hurtado and Ehrman say, and to them you can easily add Wright and (you would know, I don’t) probably Brown. Then there are these:

    EP Sanders: ”That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”

    Maurice Casey (p456): ”from a historical perspective …. the belief that Jesus had risen from the dead was held at a very early date …. this belief was based on appearances of Jesus seen by some of his earliest followers.”

    Habermas also references Meier, Dunn and Fuller saying the same thing. Even the sceptical Jesus Seminar concluded the same.

    So we can say that there are very early eyewitness reports of people seeing visions or reality of Jesus alive after his death. The claim of resurrection is well supported historically.

    Now of course there are difficulties with the reports written into the gospels. Most scholars say they cannot easily be harmonised (though it can be done, see Was Jesus raised from the dead?), and some (e.g. Casey) think there really were appearances, but many of the stories in the gospels are not historical. But there are reports in Paul which are very early (according to scholars), and the doubts about any individual report don’t take away the strong evidence for reports generally.

    So it is our choice what explanation we give for the resurrection reports, but there is ample historical evidence for them according to all these scholars.

    The same is true for most aspects of Jesus’ life – his teachings, healings, etc. While there may be doubt about individual accounts, especially if they are from one source only, scholars have little doubt about the course of his life, the substance of his teaching and that he was known as a miracle-worker (not just apparently doing one or two miracles, like, say, Honi the Circle-Drawer or some famous figures, but on an unprecedented scale).

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    1. Thank you for the very thorough response, Eric, and I appreciate the scholarly sources you have quoted. I encourage all my readers to check out these sources.

      We may be much closer on this issue than we both realize, Eric. I agree 100% with Gary Habermas that: “Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”

      I very much believe that the early Christians experienced something very dramatic, something very real (to them) for them to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. The question is: What?

      I do not believe that Habermas is asserting that the overwhelming majority of scholars believe that it is an historical fact that the early Christians experienced real sightings of a resurrected Jesus in a real walking, talking, fish eating body. If he is, that is preposterous. I believe that what he is saying is that the experiences were “real” in the sense that the early Christians did not lie or fabricate the experiences (whatever they were) that lead them to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead.

      So the question is: Did they see an actual body that they could touch, hear speak to them, and watch eat food as the Gospels describe, or, did something else happen, such as false sightings of a man in a crowd or in the distance that looked like Jesus, or, visual illusions (seeing a shadow, a bright light) that they mistakenly presumed to be Jesus?

      Then, decades later, the Gospel authors added literary “meat” to the bare-bones Jesus Story (maybe the bare-bones story found in the Early Creed, mentioned in First Corinthians 15), making it more interesting reading, but not contradicting the core story. This would have been perfectly acceptable in the genre in which they were writing (Greco-Roman biography). So the detailed appearance stories of people seeing and interacting with a walking, talking, fish eating corpse are literary fiction. The early Christian belief that Jesus was risen and that they had (in some fashion) seen him was very much real.

      I agree with Habermas: I do not believe that the early Christians fabricated the story of Jesus resurrection. I believe, as do almost all scholars, that the early Christians sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus and it was this belief that emboldened them to preach the gospel of Jesus to people all over the known world.

      So, yes,I realize that there are some New Testament scholars (primarily evangelical Protestants) who believe we can accept as historical fact that the detailed Appearance Stories in the Gospels come directly from eyewitness sources, but that was not my original assertion. My original assertion was: ”I am not aware of any source which states that the majority of experts believe that the detailed Appearance Stories are based on eyewitness accounts.”

      A small minority of scholars may hold this position, but not the majority.

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  5. Hi Gary, I’m glad we have some agreement, that is always encouraging.

    “I do not believe that Habermas is asserting that the overwhelming majority of scholars believe that it is an historical fact that the early Christians experienced real sightings of a resurrected Jesus in a real walking, talking, fish eating body.”

    No I don’t believe this either, and i wasn’t suggesting that, so we are in agreement here. But here is the point. You say here:

    “I very much believe that the early Christians experienced something very dramatic, something very real (to them) for them to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. The question is: What?”

    But previously you have said:

    ““What exactly was the original, core, Jesus Story? ….. And what about the three very different, detailed appearance stories in Matthew, Luke, and John?  Are these factual historical accounts or were they fictional embellishments to the core Jesus story? ….. You see, dear Readers, if “Matthew” added fictional folklore to his gospel as Brown suspects, then how do we know that “Mark”, “Q”, “Luke”, and “John” didn’t also use fictional folklore when writing their gospels???  …. Maybe the original group appearance claims were ….  a bright light…and nothing more!  A group of disciples saw a bright light and thought it was Jesus!””

    The suggestion of all these questions, without any scholarly evidence it must be said, is that maybe the stories were made up, perhaps much later (i.e. not part of the core), perhaps from a very simple experience of a light. But this isn’t what the scholars say, and it isn’t what you have agreed to now, if I understand you correctly.

    The scholars I have referenced say the disciples saw visions of some sort, and this was a core part of the story from the very earliest days of the christian movement. So at the very least your questions about the core story are clearly answered. Yes, the reports of a resurrected Jesus were indeed part of the core story.

    And from the scholars I have read (you may wish to show some counter claims, though you haven’t so far), this was more than a light. It was something credible. Note that while the details of Paul’s story vary a little even within Luke’s account, there was communication (words), not just a light.

    So I say again, as much as it is possible to have historical evidence (i.e. independent credible reports by people close to the event) we have that evidence for Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, death and the appearances. As we both keep saying, this doesn’t prove that Jesus was son of God, actually did miracles or actually was resurrected, that is a judgment we each have to make.

    But it does seem to put to rest your claims that maybe it was almost all fictional, maybe the historical evidence is poor, maybe it’s nearly all smoke and mirrors. Some parts of the story as told are extremely doubtful, some parts are unable to be verified or falsified historically, but a good solid core is believed by most scholars to be historical, even though they vary in what they conclude from that. And I’m guessing that Raymond Brown is part of that group of scholars.

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    1. The scholars I have referenced say the disciples saw visions of some sort, and this was a core part of the story from the very earliest days of the christian movement. So at the very least your questions about the core story are clearly answered. Yes, the reports of a resurrected Jesus were indeed part of the core story.

      Story is the key word.
      One must always bear in mind that there are no original documents.
      The gospels of Mathew and Luke are simply add-ons of gMark, which we know contains interpolation.
      Acts is largely fiction and there are evident connections to Josephus in some parts. As mentioned before, this casts even more doubt on the already shaky reliability of gLuke, the writer of which also raided gMark for material.
      There is no evidence of the supposed Q source only speculation. The material unique to the synoptics could quite easily be nothing more than material from the writers’ imagination, something that is evident in the way the writer of Matthew delved back into the Old Testament to find material to fulfill prophecies.

      The claim of seeing visions is again simply that. A claim. Honesty and integrity demands that this be acknowledged.

      There is no evidence outside the bible to even verify the existence of the supposed Disciples.
      When all said and done all there is is faith, which is basically a Wish Sandwich: Two slices of bread wishing they had a slice of ham between them.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. @Unklee

      But it does seem to put to rest your claims that maybe it was almost all fictional,

      No it does not.
      You are refusing to take into account any degree of presupposition here.
      And this option must be considered.
      Why could it not have all been simply a work of fiction?
      It is eminently possible that the entire story was concocted on the bare bones of an itinerant Rabbi who was executed for sedition.

      Islam arose from the babblings of a pedophile prophet so what is so special about the very real possibility your religion being a contrived work of fiction?

      Among a world population of 7.6 billion only Christians accept the (NT) biblical story, and not all of them either. A great many Christians are of widely differing beliefs, and some of these do not even include Yeshua being the son of god or in a resurrected corpse.

      It is probably time you realised unklee that, even those who are prepared to engage you in a polite civil manner have been fully aware of your unique brand of subtle condescension and scholarly name dropping for a considerable length of time. Your almost anal-retentive attention to the minutiae of sentence structure of interlocutors strongly suggests a Gotcha mentality rather than a willingness to consider your position may in any way be in jeopardy.

      We are fortunate that, as mentioned before, this scenario is changing faster than most people are aware or if they are, are prepared to acknowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I again believe that we are closer to agreement on this issue than we realize. I very much believe that the original Jesus Story contained the belief that the early Christians had real experiences “of some sort” which caused them to believe that Jesus had come back from the dead.

      What seems to still divide us is what constitutes a “real experience of some sort”?

      In my opinion, experiencing an illusion is a real experience. The interpretation of the illusion may be incorrect, but the experience of the illusion is very real. This past summer in Ireland, hundreds of people experienced a real event of seeing something in the sky. Many of them interpreted that something as the presence of a woman who died almost 2,000 years ago. Others saw nothing but clouds and the sun. So one can participate in a real experience, but understand that experience incorrectly. I believe that this is quite probably the explanation for the early Christian claims of appearances by Jesus. The earliest account we have about appearances is the Early Creed in First Corinthians 15. This creed never mentions anyone seeing a walking/talking/fish eating body.

      Here is a link to a video of the alleged appearance of this dead woman to a crowd of thousands in Ireland last summer. Listen and watch as the crowd of hundreds work themselves into an emotional frenzy as they scan the skies and finally “see” her. I see no reason why a similar very real “experience” could not be the origin of the original resurrection belief.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Gary,

        “I again believe that we are closer to agreement on this issue than we realize. I very much believe that the original Jesus Story contained the belief that the early Christians had real experiences “of some sort” which caused them to believe that Jesus had come back from the dead.

        What seems to still divide us is what constitutes a “real experience of some sort”?”

        Thanks for this. So let me see if we can clarify exactly where we agree and disagree.

        1. You seem to be distinguishing here between what was core belief for the earliest christians, and what was the nature of the experience that led to that belief. Is that correct? I agree that this is a useful distinction.

        2. You seem to be saying here that belief in the resurrection based on reported experiences was indeed part of the core belief from the very early days, but you question the nature of the experience they thought they had. Is that correct?

        3. You are therefore, it seems, saying that perhaps they thought they saw something which they didn’t actually see, more or less a hallucination or an imagination, something analogous to people thinking they are seeing the Virgin Mary. Is that correct?

        Thanks.

        Like

        1. Correct, but I would use the words “illusion”,”vivid dream”, or “false sighting” to describe the types of real experiences that the early Christians probably experienced to explain the development of a Resurrection Belief.

          Most people today who claim to have seen a dead person are not hallucinating, such as is the case with the people in the video I reference above who believe that they are seeing a 2,000 year old dead woman in the clouds. These people are not hallucinating. A crowd of people cannot experience the same hallucination. Hallucinations are personal/individual distortions of reality that occur within the brain, not in the exterior environment.

          No, the people in this video are either truly seeing a dead woman (I can’t prove they are not) or they are experiencing an illusion (a mistaken perception/interpretation of something occurring in their environment). But the “something” really is occurring; it is not occurring solely in their brains as occurs in an hallucination; it is a very real event. It is the interpretation of that real event that is in dispute.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. Your mention of the Knock apparition caught my attention so I watched it. I could not see anything but light. I looked for more info on it and one watcher said this particular light appeared when the clouds began parting. From the videos I saw, that’s exactly what it looks like and I don’t think it can be clearly identified as a shape of a human or anything else for that matter so one would have to decide (perhaps subconsciously?) if the light resembles anything more. Now, why the people there believe this light was actually the Virgin Mary, only they would know. If anything is a “mystery”, it seems to be the workings of the mind of man.

        I’ll tell you a little story that happened in my own family that my mother told me. The night after her mother’s funeral, she, her sister, and her sister’s 2 year old daughter were sleeping together in a bedroom. Suddenly, they heard my cousin yell out, “Grandma!” and when my mother and my aunt sat up, they saw my cousin pointing across the room. They looked and “saw” my grandmother standing there across the room. I don’t recall any details or how long this lasted but my mother never stopped believing she had seen the ghost of her mother. It probably won’t surprise you that my mother’s family were superstitious in general and did believe in “ghosts” and other supernatural beings. Now, my father, who knew of my mother’s superstitions always told me not to believe these things and I am so grateful that I took my father’s advice.

        I have found your posts and the comments interesting. Though I did not have to endure a childhood such as yours, I was brought up a cradle Catholic in a completely Catholic family and my journey seems a bit similar to yours. I began to move away from the church as a teenager and by college considered myself an atheist. After some very difficult trials and tribulations, then coming to a place where I wanted to give my children a foundation of good moral values, my husband and I went back to the Catholic church and stayed Christian, if not always Catholic, until all the children were grown. At times, we were very observant; at other times, we found it difficult to believe as the church did but we continued because we thought it was the only thing to do. Then our spiritual lives began to grow away from organized religion and we began a search for a simple faith based on the truth. No matter where we looked, we couldn’t find it in any “church” or “sacred text” — it was “within”. So this has been a fascinating journey, at times disconcerting and even confusing, but well worthwhile. We are happy with what we believe now though I would find it hard to describe what it is we do believe… Some of it is from the Bible (with many modifications), some from the Stoic philosophers (again with modifications), and anywhere else we can find wisdom. Everything is carefully considered not only for whether it is logical and truthful, but also for whether it brings peace to that place within us which I guess people call the “heart” or the “soul”. When all these criteria are met, we think it over some more. We try to live by it but we always keep our minds open for anything that can prove it wrong. Being open-minded about what one believes or doesn’t believe is the best way to finding truth and happiness in our experience. Life seems to keep changing how we perceive what is true and discovering the truth is a process I find to be very fulfilling.

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        1. Thank you for sharing your very interesting story, Gloria!

          My unkle and my cousin have both experienced near death experiences and both believe that Jesus appeared, in the flesh, to them. Thousands of people over the last 2,000 years have claimed to see Jesus—in a visible, walking, talking body—and some have even claimed that Jesus touched them or they touched him. Most conservative (Protestant) Christians reject all these claims as “emotional hysteria”.

          Yet these same people ask us to believe that similar claims made by a small group of first century Galilean peasants were absolutely true.

          Silly.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, my husband and I have discussed points like that often. The obvious hypocrisy is perplexing especially when this thinking is applied to the many, many other beliefs of so numerous and various groups of religious adherents each so convinced they have the truth. This is the reason we have decided to look “within”, to use our own reasoning based on logic and truth as well as to know what touches our own hearts as goodness. It’s a challenge to balance these two elements, to make certain we are accepting a belief that brings both into our minds and into our lives. Yet, we find it preferable to what often amounts to meaningless debates over different theology and dogma among the religious. We prefer to make our lives as peaceful and contented as we are capable with a simple spirit of goodness and we believe this is what is meaningful in life. Therefore, we avoid “churches” or any other group of believers. We believe it is more fulfilling to find your own way of goodness.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. @ Gary

            I stand under correction on this, but if we presume that there are numerous NDEs across the globe in every culture and every religion, then surely if the biblical character Jesus the Nazarene were real … and divine/God(sic) then every NDE report would feature the Lake Tiberius Pedestrian?

            You are probably more clued up on this than me, what do the Tom-Toms say in this regard, Gary?

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Yes, it is odd that when people living in a Hindu culture have a NDE they almost always see Lord Krishna; people living in Muslim cultures almost always see Mohammad; and only people living in Christian cultures see Jesus (or Elvis).

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Gary, thanks for your agreement. I am happy to add the words you have suggested for #3.

    So I want to start with #1, where we distinguish between the core belief and the nature of the experiences behind that belief, and I want to focus for the moment on the core belief.

    You agree that belief in the resurrection, based on some sort of experience which we can leave undefined for now, was an early core belief. So with this agreement, let us answer your question: ”What exactly was the original, core, Jesus Story?”.

    We can now say that the core early christian beliefs included the following claims or beliefs (we are discussing the historical question of their core beliefs, not yet whether they were true):

    1. The disciples saw Jesus alive, not just once, but several times, and in several different situations.

    2. Many people saw him, and some of the key people are named.

    3. He was raised on the third day.

    4. It was Jesus himself who was raised and appeared, not someone else and not a ghost. His dead body had been transformed and resurrected, not resuscitated.

    5. They saw this as a vindication by God of the life, teaching and miracles of Jesus, of his Messiahship (he had aroused expectations that he was the Messiah during his life) and of the beginning of the new age Jews had been long hoping for, where eventually all the righteous would be resurrected.

    6. It was this belief, formed right from the early days, that significantly motivated their worship of Jesus and the spread of their message.

    (These conclusions are based on the conclusions of Larry Hurtado – see for example, this blog post and this academic paper – and of Bart Ehrman in his book.)

    So that is a significant core of belief, and is pretty much all I need to assert to answer your question.

    But then we may ask, how much of the stories recorded in the gospels, of visits to the empty tomb, were part of this core belief? This is a trickier, and as I say, a less important question, for we have already established that bodily resurrection based on appearances was part of the core belief.

    Bart Ehrman says (p7) we cannot know historically, and expresses the opinion that he doubts the historicity of the empty tomb stories, and Maurice Casey agrees. But NT Wright and classical historians Michael Grant and Robin Lane Fox believe the tomb was indeed empty.

    So we are left with uncertainty about some of these details. But if there was no historical basis for the stories, then we have to say that the disciples saw what they believed was the risen Jesus, but then totally forgot those events and invented a new set of stories. That seems so implausible that it seems much more likely that at least some of the reports are historical.

    So to answer your question, we can say that many (I would say the most) important aspects of the resurrection belief were very early and core to christian belief, and some of the details are probably also historical and some not.

    I will finish by pointing out again that it is easy to ask questions and to give an impression, even if not intentionally, that there is considerable doubt about the answers, when in fact most of the questions you asked in this post have quite definite answers according to the experts.

    Thanks.

    Like

    1. Hi Eric,

      I would tweak your statement thus: The earliest Christians believed that Jesus had appeared to them. This caused them to believe that he was risen from the dead. They soon came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected as the first fruits of the general resurrection of the righteous.

      Saying that they had seen Jesus alive infers that they had seen a body, a statement I am not willing to concede as that is not what the majority of scholars have said.

      Bottom line: They believed that they experienced real appearances of Jesus. This made them believe that Jesus was alive again.

      Like

    2. So here is a corrected version of your summary of the original Jesus story:

      We can now say that the core early christian beliefs included the following claims or beliefs (we are discussing the historical question of their core beliefs, not yet whether they were true):

      1. Jesus appeared to his disciples shortly after his death, not just once, but several times, and in several different situations.

      2. Many people received appearances, and some of the key people are named.

      3. He was raised shortly after his death. (I am not aware that the majority of scholars believe that the earliest Jesus Story contained the “three day” time period).

      4. It was Jesus himself who was raised and appeared in some form, not someone else and not a ghost. His dead body had been transformed and resurrected, not resuscitated. (We presume that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been resurrected in a heavenly body but I am not sure that scholars would say that we know that the earliest version of the Jesus story contained this detailed Resurrection theology. What we know as fact is that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was risen from the dead due to “appearance experiences of some sort”.)

      5. They saw this as a vindication by God of the life, teaching and miracles of Jesus, of his Messiahship (he had aroused expectations that he was the Messiah during his life) and of the beginning of the new age Jews had been long hoping for, where eventually all the righteous would be resurrected.

      6. It was this belief, formed right from the early days, that significantly motivated their worship of Jesus and the spread of their message.

      Like

    3. @unklee.

      As gMark does not feature post-crucifixion appearances, and we know that the long ending to gMark is a fraudulent, Christian interpolation any assertions about post crucifixion appearances are simply speculatory.

      I will finish by pointing out again that it is easy to ask questions and to give an impression, even if not intentionally, that there is considerable doubt about the answers, when in fact most of the questions you asked in this post have quite definite answers according to the experts.

      This is a flagrant misrepresentation of the actual state of affairs regarding this matter. There is not a single expert Jewish, Hindu or Muslim scholar in the world who will ever likely agree to your arrogant and somewhat ignorant assertion regarding the implausibility of a resurrected corpse, or the so-called appearances.
      it is also indicative of just how underhand your approach to this is when you never ever attempt to apply the same criteria to the Lazarus story, where there were ample witnesses, according to the gospel, and yet not a single contemporary account of this ”miraculous” event are even alluded to.

      This episode is quite simply yet another typical example of your disingenuous, indoctrinated Christian bias. Your attempts at belittling and demeaning, especially in your not so subtle baiting tactics are one of the glaring hallmarks of your complete lack of intellectual integrity.

      Like

  7. Hi Gary,

    We now have agreed on a lot. I will focus on what I understand to be the areas of disagreement about the history. You have offered no evidence for your disagreements with my statement, simply assertions. That immediately makes me wonder whether you may be discussing your personal beliefs as well as the history.

    Summarising what you say (if I have it right), you accept that the stories of appearances were early and core, but you don’t accept the following:

    1. “Saying that they had seen Jesus alive infers that they had seen a body, a statement I am not willing to concede”
    2. You disagree that they thought his body had been raised and it wasn’t a ghost.

    These don’t seem to me to be very substantial disagreements, but let’s look at them.

    1. Bart Ehrman, who doesn’t believe in the resurrection and is doubtful about the stories of the empty tomb, nevertheless says (p7): “Here I argue that the evidence is ambiguous and compelling: some of Jesus’s disciples claimed that they saw him alive after he had died.”

    2. Larry Hurtado, on his blog says: “The conviction that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory seems to have erupted soon after Jesus’ death, and it was central in earliest faith of the Jesus-followers thereafter. ….. This was not a claim that Jesus had been resuscitated and brought back to life of this world, but instead that God had catapulted Jesus forward into life of the world to come.”

    I could quote others. These views are based in part on the recognition that some parts of Paul’s letters (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, Philippians 2:6-11, Romans 1:3-5) are very early christian creeds, in part on the early sermons in Acts (which Raymond Brown says Luke ”preserves ancient expressions from the Church’s beginnings.”).

    So I am well justified in making those statements, and since they are the only parts that you disagreed with, unless you can show reasons why these and other scholars are mistaken, I think my statement can stand. And that means that some clear beliefs about the resurrection, based on some personal experience, were part of the early core beliefs of the christians. Some scholars think those core beliefs included visits to the empty tomb, some don’t.

    But it is interesting that you are reviewing Raymond Brown’s book, and you use it to throw doubt on the resurrection stories, yet you don’t mention that Brown says (The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus p127):

    ”In the genesis of resurrection faith it was the appearance of the glorified Lord that first brought his disciples to believe; and this belief, in turn, interpreted the empty tomb. Having seen the risen Jesus, they understood that the reason why the tomb was empty was because he had been raised from the dead. Thus Christians confessed a Jesus who both was raised and appeared (1 Cor 15:4-5; Luke 24:34). Consequently, while the empty tomb was not an object of Christian faith, it was not unrelated to that faith, for it colored the way in which the faith was proclaimed.”

    So I suggest you haven’t fairly represented either Brown’s views or that of the majority of scholars, on the resurrection, and on the other New Testament questions you have raised.

    Like

    1. We seem to be getting closer and closer, Eric!

      Let me give an analogy: If you were to ask the hundreds of faithful Roman Catholics in the video I reference above what they saw that day last summer in Kock, Ireland, what would they say”

      Would they say:

      I saw a cloud formation/a ray of light from the sun that I believe represented the Virgin Mary

      or

      I saw the Virgin Mary!

      I will bet that the majority will say, “I saw the Virgin Mary!”

      But when you ask them for specifics, “So what did the body of the Virgin Mary look like? Was she brunette or blond? Did she have blue or brown eyes? Did she have long, wavy hair or short, curly hair? Was she tall and thin or short and plump? These same people will probably look at you like you are an idiot and say, “Well, I didn’t see her body. I saw a cloud/a bright flash of light. That was the Virgin Mary!

      Do you see my point?

      People can claim to have seen a dead person without claiming to have seen a body. I will bet that if you ask Ehrman his position on this he will agree with me: It is possible (and the most probable explanation based on cumulative human experience) that the disciples saw something that they believed to be Jesus, just as our Irish Catholics in Knock, Ireland believed that the something which they saw was Mary. Both groups of people would probably be willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that they saw Jesus (or Mary) but if you probed further, you would find that what they really meant is that they saw a light/shadow/cloud that they THOUGHT was Jesus (or Mary).

      Bottom line: We do not have any confirmed evidence that any person in the first century ever gave eyewitness testimony describing seeing a walking/talking/fish eating body. All we have are three anonymous books (Matthew, Luke, and John) with three similar (but differing) stories in which individuals and groups see a walking/talking/fish eating body.

      Very big difference.

      Let me just say: I believe that the earliest Christians sincerely believed that the real body of Jesus had been literally raised from the dead and that the real, bodily resurrected Jesus had appeared to them…in some form. I do not believe that they thought they had seen a spirit come up out of the ground. The question is: Did the earliest Christians claim that they had actually seen a walking/talking body with two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, or, did they see something unusual (a bright light, a shadow) which they interpreted as an appearance of the real, bodily resurrected, Jesus?

      Note that the author of Acts describes Paul’s appearance experience as only involving a bright light and a voice. There is no mention of Paul seeing a body, yet the majority of scholars believe that Paul truly believed that Jesus had been bodily resurrected. This is more evidence to me that early Christians did not need to see an actual body to believe that someone had been bodily resurrected!

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    2. Raymond Brown may or may not believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb. I honestly don’t know at this point in my reading of his work. I will have to finish “The Death of the Messiah” to find out, I guess. Your quote certainly sounds as if he does.

      Did I say somewhere that Brown did not believe in the Empty Tomb? If I did, I apologize.

      Like

  8. Hi Gary,

    Firstly, you don’t need to apologise, I don’t recall you saying anything about Brown and the empty tomb. I have only read snippets, but my understanding is that he believes the stories of the empty tomb are doubtful historically, and he believes that either no-one knew were it was or no-one cared much about it later so they didn’t talk about it much. But he believes the tomb must have been empty logically because he believes that Jesus really was raised.

    My point was simply that Brown seems to conclude, as do the other scholars I have referenced, that the stories of him being raised bodily were part of the very early core belief.

    I see your point about the virgin Mary, and it may well be true, but it is not relevant to what we have been discussing. Remember we agreed that there was a difference between the core beliefs of the early christians and what we each think actually happened? I have been talking about their core beliefs, i.e. what the historians can tell us.

    So when you say ”People can claim to have seen a dead person without claiming to have seen a body.”, you are clearly right, but it seems that scholars like Bart Ehrman and Larry Hurtado don’t think that was the case with Jesus, as the quotes I gave show. They say the claim was that they actually saw Jesus, which obviously means his body, alive. Whether you believe they didn’t is secondary to the historical conclusion that that was the early core belief.

    I believe I have shown from the scholars (and you agree we must accept what the experts say) that the core belief about the resurrection that you questioned in your post actually has a sound historical basis. My main point all along has been pointing out that your post (and this latest comment) was more based on your own personal opinions than on the scholars, but you have presented it as if it comes from the scholars. Until we have agreed on that, I don’t think it would be helpful to discuss our personal beliefs about the resurrection, which in any case wasn’t the topic of your post.

    I hope that clarifies. Thanks.

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    1. “They [Erhman and Hurtado] say the claim was that they actually saw Jesus, which obviously means his body, alive.”

      I’m not sure that is what they meant. So I’m going to do this: I will go to both Ehrman and Hurtado’s blogs and ask them to clarify. Then I will post their responses here.

      Like

      1. That would be great, if you get an answer. But make sure you ask the question we are discussing:

        “Do you think the early christians believed they had seen Jesus alive and bodily resurrected after his execution, or they thought they had seen a vision only?”

        Does that sound like the right question to you?

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        1. What does it matter what ”they” believed they saw?
          Besides, which Christians? There is no evidence of the ”Christians” mentioned in the biblical tales.

          You have a story that has no more credibility that a Harry Potter tale. Seriously, why exactly do you consider such nonsense has any credibility at all?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I would reword your statement to say: “Do you think the early christians believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus because they had seen his actual walking/talking body alive again after his execution, or can we only say that the earliest Christians believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus because they saw something that they thought was the bodily resurrected Jesus.”

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Larry Hurtado’s response to my question to him on his blog:

          The earliest reports on post-resurrection appearances of Jesus seem to make it clear that what believers saw was Jesus. But the resurrection body portrayed in early NT writings is characterized by differences from the mortal body. E.g., in 1 Cor 15 Paul discusses what resurrection means and characterizes the resurrection body as immortal, glorious, powerful, and Spirit-empowered. So, a real body, and early reports also mention Jesus’ burial (e.g., 1 Cor 15:1-7), which I take to allude to the vacated grave. So, this seems to me to mean a transfigured body, as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 15:51-55.

          The resurrection-appearance narratives in the Gospels are decades later, and some (e.g., the references to the risen Jesus eating, etc.) seem embellished to emphasize a real resurrection-body, not a spirit/ghost. Certainly, all witnesses affirm something other than a dream, or ghost-apparition. But the resurrection-body they also describe as markedly different from the mortal body.

          Many (perhaps most) Jews of the time expected a resurrection of the righteous. The experiences of earliest believers was such that they were convinced that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory. That is, they saw the risen Jesus as the initial experience of what they hoped to include all the elect. Resurrection = a bodily state, not a disembodied state. But it’s an eschatological body, not the one we know.

          Gary: Hmm. I’m not sure that fully answers our question. What I want to know is: Could the early Christians have seen a bright light and believed that it was the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even though they did not see an actual body? I don’t contest that they believed they had seen Jesus (in some form) and I don’t contest that the earliest Christians believed in a bodily resurrection, but did they need to see an actual body to believe all this?

          I left this response to Dr. Hurtado, we will see if he responds again:

          —Ok, so in other words, you and the majority of NT scholars believe that all the appearance claims listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 are based on claims that the individuals listed believed they had seen a BODY. None of these claims could have been based on an individual or group of individuals seeing a shadow, bright light, or other phenomenon and believing that they had just seen the resurrected Jesus (whom they believed had been resurrected bodily) even though all they had seen in their “appearance experience” was a shadow, bright light, etc.?

          The reason I believe it is important to make this distinction is this: How do we explain the alleged appearances of the risen Jesus to groups of people as claimed in the Early Creed? I suggest that these groups of people most likely experienced the same phenomenon that some devout Roman Catholic Christians experience today: They all see SOMETHING real in their environment such as a cloud formation, shadow, or bright light but instead of seeing just a cloud, a shadow, or a bright light, these people perceive these real objects to be something else (a misperception; an illusion): they see the Virgin Mary.

          Could the reports of groups of early Christians receiving appearances of Jesus have been based on a similar phenomenon or are scholars certain that the early Christians believed that each appearance claim as listed in the Early Creed was based on a claim of seeing a BODY?

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          1. Hi Gary,

            Your quotes still show that both Hurtado and Ehrman believe that at least some early christians believed they saw a real person with a real body even if not all thought that and even if they didn’t quite know how to explain it.

            That is enough to show that this belief wasn’t a later addition as you have suggested, but was there right from the beginning.

            Are you willing then to accept your own quotes on that?

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          2. Where did I say that scholars or even myself think that the belief that the disciples believed that they had seen the real, resurrected body of Jesus was (a claim of historical fact) a later development? Please direct me to my quote.

            What I thought occurred in our discussion was that I questioned your claim that “the majority of scholars believe that the earliest Christians believed that they had seen the real body of Jesus”. I thought I had said that I was not aware that most (the majority) of scholars hold that view. You said they did. I asked you for proof. You quoted Ehrman and Hurtado. I showed you that Hurtado and Ehrman do not believe that ALL the disciples held this view, but some did.

            That is why I said “we both seem to be right”.

            All this tells me that the claims of groups of disciples “seeing Jesus” may have been based on seeing an illusion. The majority of scholars do not insist that EVERY resurrection appearance claim involved someone/someones claiming to see a BODY.

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          3. I’m reviewing my early comments regarding what you are claiming that I said. Here is the first one I found discussing this issue:

            “There may have been no empty rock tomb as evidence for a resurrection. There may have been no detailed appearance claims involving a visible, touchable body.”

            Note I never said that there were no early claims of persons seeing an actual body as you are alleging. What I said was that it is POSSIBLE that there were no DETAILED CLAIMS involving a visible body. That does not preclude a nondetailed claim of seeing a body.

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          4. And here is another of my statements from above:

            “I am not aware of any source which states that the majority of experts believe that the detailed Appearance Stories are based on eyewitness accounts. And that is my main point.”

            Your next reply included a quote from me: ”I am not aware of any source which states that the majority of experts believe that the detailed Appearance Stories are based on eyewitness accounts.”—Gary

            Eric/UnkleE: “I think this can be provided.”

            So it seems that it was actually you, Eric, who made a mistake. I never claimed that the majority of scholars believe that all the early appearance claims were based on everyone claiming to see an actual body, but you did claim that you could provide proof that the majority of scholars believe that the detailed appearance claims were based on eyewitness accounts.

            You were mistaken, my friend. But we all make mistakes.

            Thanks for the interesting discussion!

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  9. What early Christians came to believe is, in reality, meaningless if what they base this belief upon is spurious nonsense.

    As there is no corroborating, non-biblical non-christian evidence to support the claims made in the three later gospels then what do we actually have to go on?

    There are no non-biblical accounts of the characters involved, family or disciples.

    The earliest gospel makes no mention of post Resurrection appearances and the ending which was added later is simply a piece of fraud.

    So,in reality, aside for desperately trying to hammer out semantics, this nonsensical argument is an attempt by unklee to justify and whitewash a 2000 year old lie. And a rather silly one at that.

    I wonder if there is a term that one would use for a person who vehemently defends fraud and lies?

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  10. Hi Gary,

    I think your question is quite different to what I am discussing and there would be no point in asking it.

    Remember we agree a while back that there was a difference between ”what was core belief for the earliest christians, and what was the nature of the experience that led to that belief.” The core belief is a historical question of evidence, while the second is based on the historical question but involves belief as well.

    Now I keep saying that I am taking issue with you about the historical question, which was the subject of your post. You have suggested several times that you doubt the early christians had a core belief that they had seen Jesus bodily alive, and your post hints that maybe they had seen ”a bright light…and nothing more”, and the rest of the story came later.

    Against that, I have quoted two scholars saying that the early christians believed more than you have said, and so your statement is not in accordance with those and other experts I have referenced.

    My suggested question asks about the historical facts (the core beliefs) whereas your question asks not about their core beliefs, but about the possible reality behind those core beliefs.

    It is important to settle the historical questions before discussing our opinions, do you agree?

    So let me ask you again, have you any evidence that their core beliefs were any different to what I have quoted Ehrman and Hurtado as concluding?

    Like

    1. uncleE

      The NT seems to support the view that the disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. But how probable is it that such a view is correct? Dead people don’t normally rise bodily from the grave.

      Is it more likely that the disciples thought they saw Jesus bodily alive than that he was actually bodily alive? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So what extraordinary evidence does the NT supply?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As we know that the (various) post resurrection material featured in Mark is fraud why is there any need to speculate on anything that the ”disciples” are supposed to have seen?
        Surely this is simply an exercise in futility?

        Once one is prepared to acknowledge that all post-resurrection appearances are simply additions to the plot then these discussions become meaningless.

        Did the writer known as Paul consider Jesus the Nazarene physically rose from the dead? Not if you accept the Greek word pneumatikon as “spiritual.”

        Like

    2. Actually, I think we are on the same page as to what the issue in question is: Did the earliest Christians who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus believe that they had seen an actual body?

      Here is Bart Ehrman’s response to my question:

      It’s complicated because there were different opinions among the early Christians: some thought the disciples saw a real body (that could eat food); others thought they had seen a phantom/spirit; others thought they had seen a “heavenly” body, and so on. There wasn’t just one view.

      There’s a big difference between what the disciples (a few of them? a couple of them?) thought they saw, what the later Christians thought the disciples saw, and what I myself think they saw. We don’t know the answer to the first question; the answer to the second question is varied (as I said in my earlier comment); the answer to the third is: visions of something that wasn’t really there physically.

      Gary: in summary:

      Larry Hurtado believes that they saw a transformed (heavenly) body of some sort. Bart Ehrman says that some claimed to see a body, some claimed to see other things.

      So maybe we are both right???

      Thanks for the discussion, Erik. I learned something.

      Like

  11. But to answer the question …
    As Paul wrote at least 20 years before the writer of Mark and there was no physical resurrection featured in his letters then it is fairly obvious what the early Christians believed, surely?

    Like

  12. Hello Gary.

    A fantastic post and subject, too often ignored by the mainstream and Placebo-effected (blind) Faith-followers. Hopefully the modern challenges to Intellectualism and properly accredited Experts can weather this current wave of blissful ignorance, eh?

    If I may, there’s one excellent expert on this particular subject I’d like to suggest. He is Dr. James Tabor of the University North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has an outstanding blog and a specific blog and books on this subject matter that are well worth a look and examination! Here’s the link:

    https://jamestabor.com/how-faith-in-jesus-resurrection-originated-and-developed-a-newold-hypothesis/

    Thank you Sir and keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “The NT seems to support the view that the disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.”

    Hi John, may I ask you a question first please? If you have followed the discussion between Gary and I, you will know that I believe we should ascertain the historical facts as best we can before we develop and express our opinions, which Gary and I both agree entails considering, and generally accepting, the consensus historical conclusions of the experts.

    Do you agree with this approach? What do you think is the consensus of expert conclusions about the historical evidence for what the early christians first believed about the resurrection, and how early was the belief that Jesus had risen bodily?

    Thanks.

    Like

    1. I am not sure why you need me to answer your question about experts before you are prepared to answer the question I asked you.

      Do you believe that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence to support ‘rational’ belief in their occurrence? What extraordinary evidence do the NT authors provide to support the claim that Jesus rose from the dead?

      If Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave, isn’t it a waste of time following Jesus? Was the grave empty? Did the disciples see a Jesus whom they touched or not? If Jesus’ soma pneumatikos has continuity with the body that died, then the grave would be empty?

      If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the body would still be in some grave somewhere? Who stole the body? Which grave was Jesus buried in? etc.

      Like

      1. “I am not sure why you need me to answer your question about experts before you are prepared to answer the question I asked you.”

        It wasn’t an idle question. My experience is that often differences of opinion occur because of differences about the basic facts. Any discussion of opinions will likely be muddied by the two people disagreeing about facts but this disagreement remains unidentified, and frustration results..

        So I wanted to clarify if we had any agreement about the evidence. Do you have a difficulty with telling me what you have concluded about the evidence?

        Like

  14. I haven’t asked you for your opinion. What I asked was “do you agree that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence to support ‘rational’ belief in their occurrence? Do you believe that Jesus rose bodily from the grave or not? If you do believe this, please provide extraordinary evidence for your claim.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suppose we could argue about who should answer the other one’s question first, but that’s not going to help Gary’s blog improve its Google Rank, so I don’t think I’ll go there. 🙂

      Like

      1. Why not simply answer the man, unkleE?
        It was a straightforward, question politely asked.
        He was not questioning your faith, so you have no good reason for withholding an answer.
        You’ve been at this long apologetics game enough that a little integrity would not be amiss.
        Do yourself a favour and show some mettle for a change.

        Like

    2. @ John
      Smile.
      You must have realised already how slippery dear old unklee is, John?
      He is a past master at the non-answer.
      If you have not encountered him before then you are in for a treat!
      That is if you are up to it.

      And If you may have thought someone such as William Lane Craig was difficult to squeeze a straightforward, honest answer from then … as they say , Babe you ain’t seen nothing yet.

      Oh, and when you have exhausted every avenue in an attempt to obtain that honest answer, and have obviously handed him his backside on a plate he will abruptly end the dialogue citing your obvious intransigence and atheist/materialist bias because you do not accept what the experts say.

      But it’s worth a laugh or two, just to watch him ignore comments.

      You might have noticed that he simply refuses to explore outside very narrow parameters he sets.
      Maybe you could get him to answer why gMark does not feature any resurrection?
      Or why Paul has no knowledge of any flesh and blood holey hands Jesus the Nazarene going walkabout?

      have fun!

      Like

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