Liam, a reader of this blog believes that there is strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s continue looking at Liam’s evidence (see Part 1 here):
Liam: At no point in time in any of my comments have I asserted that it is a “feeling” of a “presence” that keeps me believing that Jesus rose from the dead. So I find it interesting that this supposed “feeling” is what is being used to dismiss my assertions that history isn’t being done when you start spouting off “contradictions” in the Gospels as reasons not to trust them as historically reliable. Is this how you lost your faith Gary? Did you put all your “stock” in your feelings and when they went away you were left with no choice but to find “reasons” for not believing? If anything that might explain your inability to rationally assess the evidence, or to engage with any of the points made.
Gary: I left evangelical Christianity in my 20’s due to the emotional roller coaster that the born-again version of Christianity imposes on its adherents. I left conservative Lutheran Christianity and Christianity as a whole in 2014 due to an examination of the evidence. My feelings had nothing to do with it as I was very happy as a Lutheran Christian.
Liam: And hey, feel free to use pejorative language and phrasing to distort what it is I believe. I receive no pressure whatsoever from any leader to remain committed to the faith. I am however committed to rational assessment of the evidence, and remain convinced of the historicity of the resurrection based on facts – facts that you seem only able to dismiss, and not engage with. So as for your “proof” that the accounts in the Gospels are fabrications, this is just emotive hokum from somebody with little to no grasp of how to do ancient history.
Gary: I have never claimed that anyone has proven that the accounts in the Gospels are fabrications. I have only claimed that the majority of scholars, including a large percentage of scholars who believe in miracles and the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Roman Catholic scholars), reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. For that reason, I assert that we cannot consider the accounts in the Gospels historically reliable. They may be true. The may not be true.
Liam: Let’s see what historians tell us about the sources of other ancient persons and events. “The sources [for Genghis Khan] contain contradictory statements, their individual biases springing from the subjective attitude of the authors towards the world conqueror, the aim of the work and the dependent relationship of each author on those for whom the work was written.” Preface, pg xiii “The history of Genghis Khan’s life thus contains many unresolved questions.” pg xvi From ‘Genghis Khan His Life and Legacy’ by Paul Ratchnevsky. Ratchnevsky was Emeritus Professor of Sinology at Humboldt University, Berlin. “Principle sources for Genghis Khan are the ‘Secret History of the Mongols’, a court history by an unknown author, the ‘History of the World Conqueror’ by the Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvaini (written in the 1250’s), and two other key Persian works: Rashid al-din’s Compendium of Chronicles (completed in 1307) and the Tabaqat-i Nasiri by Minhaj al-Din Jazjoni (completed 1260).” pg xxv-xxvi From ‘Genghis Khan – His Conquests, His Empire, his Legacy by Frank McLynn. British author, biographer, historian, journalist. He was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford (1987–88) and was visiting professor in the Department of Literature at the University of Strathclyde (1996–2001) and professorial fellow at Goldsmiths College London (2000–2002) before becoming a full-time writer. He points out that Rashid Al-din is often preferred. Notice that the works are all comparative to the dating of Paul’s letters and the Gospels. In fact the preferred source is the one completed 80 years after Genghis Khan’s death (he died 18 August 1227). So there’s no issue if the author of a source never met the person about whom they are writing. They also don’t dismiss the Secret History of the Mongols just because they don’t know who wrote it. The sources aren’t dismissed because of the biases of the authors either. And of course notice Ratchnevsky’s assessment of the source’s contradictions and biases. None of these are reasons to now assert that they are fabrications. ” Caesar in particular wrote to celebrate his deeds and win support for his continuing career. Neither he nor the other [historians/sources] were dispassionate observers keen only to report unvarnished fact.” “[A] good deal of our evidence for Caesar was not written until the early second century AD, over one hundred and fifty years after the dictator’s murder.” “There are notable gaps in our evidence.” “Each author had his own biases, interests or viewpoint, and made use of sources that were in turn prejudiced and often open propaganda.” “[A]ncient historians often had to make the best of limited and possibly unreliable sources, as well as balancing apparently contradictory accounts.” From Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy, pages 5 -7. Goldsworthy studied ancient and modern history at St John’s College, Oxford,and completed a D.Phil in ancient military history from Oxford University. Andrew M Riggsby gives an example of a “prima facie contradiction” in Caesar’s own writing and immediately points out that it might be “hyperbole for political or literary reasons.” page 9 of his Caesar in Gaul and Rome: War in Words. He also deals with interpolations in the surviving sources on page 11. Riggsby is a Ph.D., UC Berkeley He is Lucy Shoe Meritt Professor and Graduate Adviser in Classics and Professor of Art History. You should notice that many reasons given for why we the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, cannot be trusted as historical are also found in the sources for other historical events and persons. So it’s special pleading to think that the Gospels and New Testament aren’t reliable history on the basis of these “reasons”. If anything we have 9 authors confirming the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, but for some reason that doesn’t count because they were collected into what we call the New Testament today.
Gary: You don’t seem to understand my position, Liam. I am not a mythicist. I believe that Jesus was a real historical person; that he had a reputation as a healer and miracle worker; that he was crucified by the Romans; that he was buried in a tomb; that shortly after his death some of his followers believed that he appeared to them in some fashion. I accept the numerous sources that refer to Jesus as evidence for his existence. But you seem to confuse evidence for the existence of an historical figure with evidence for the supernatural claims about that historical figure. If we had multiple texts by known associates of Genghis Khan which state that a crowd of people witnessed Genghis Khan and his horse walk on water, would you accept that claim as an historical fact? If we had multiple texts written by known associates of Caesar Augustus who state that a crowd of people saw Caesar turn water into wine and then elevate off the floor, would you believe this claim to be an historical fact? I don’t think you would. Do you see my point? Just because eyewitnesses claim something to be true doesn’t mean that we have to accept it as fact. The more fantastical the claim, the more evidence most educated people will demand. The problem with the Gospels is that we don’t even know for sure who wrote these four books. Most scholars, including a large percentage of scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Roman Catholic scholars), doubt the eyewitness or even the associate of eyewitness authorship of these books. So, yes, the many sources which refer to Jesus are evidence of his existence as a real person. But that doesn’t mean that we are required to believe every fantastical claim that those sources make about Jesus, especially given the genre of literature in which the Gospels were written: Greco-Roman biographies. In this genre of literature, embellishments to the historical facts were an accepted and expected feature. Did Jesus live? Yes! Did he walk on water in front of twelve eyewitnesses? No way to know for sure! But alleged eyewitness testimony is not sufficient for me to believe this claim, just as alleged eyewitness testimony would probably not be enough for you to believe that Genghis Khan and his horse walked on water!
Liam: Surely you can see how silly that line of reasoning is?
Gary: No, but I can see how silly it is for you to confuse evidence from 9 sources for the historicity of Jesus with evidence from nine sources about his alleged supernatural act of coming back from the dead (resurrection). The fact is, we only have four sources that provide the details about the alleged resurrection of Jesus and at least half of all scholars believe that three of the four sources, the authors of Matthew, Luke, and John, used the first Gospel, Mark, as a template for their stories. If that is true, then we have only one independent source for the details of this supernatural claim. Again, would you believe one source which states that a crowd of people watched Genghis Khan and his horse walk on water?? I doubt it.
Liam: Hang, the more skeptical you are about the authorship of the NT documents, the more authors you have affirming the events. So no Gary, you haven’t by even a long-shot provided any evidence that that the Gospels are fabrications, unless you will be consistent and declare our primary sources for Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan to be fabrications too. If you’re not going to be consistent, then you’re special pleading.
Gary: I never claimed that the stories in the Gospels are fabrications, Liam. I simply stated that the Gospels are not historically reliable sources since we don’t know the identities of the authors; because most scholars doubt they are eyewitness sources; and because two, and maybe even three of the four authors, used the first author’s story as a template for his story. That is hardly good evidence for the facts about an auto accident let alone good evidence for the facts about an alleged resurrection of a dead corpse.
Liam: The other fact that gets dismissed by Carrier, Erhman et al is the genre of the Gospels. The fact is they fall in the spectrum of ancient biographies and historical writings, not novels, myths or legends. Give the first 3 or 4 lectures a spin to hear about that: https://www.biblicaltraining.org/new-testament-introduction/ben-witherington They’re all free! I think that you can make a good case for traditional authorship – you wrote a critical response to my article giving just that. I might have to write a follow up which says that the traditions associated with the Gospels are what we can be pretty certain of, which is what Bauckham actually says and affirms when he tells us that the authors are anonymous. I think the main point of traditional identification stands, though.
Gary: You are a smart guy but you not a scholar, Liam. Your opinion on the authorship of the Gospels is just as authoritative as my opinion on climate change. The fact is, most scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Period. I am not going to debate you on this evidence for the same reason that I would not debate a climate change denier regarding the evidence for climate change. I accept expert consensus opinion on all issues on which I am not an expert! That is what most modern, educated people do, Liam. You need to explain why so many Bible scholars who believe in the supernatural and in the miracles of Jesus (Roman Catholic scholars) doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. What possible bias could they have?? Isn’t it more likely that it is YOU and conservative Protestant scholars and apologists who have the bias?
Liam: But as we have seen in the sources for Genghis Khan, anonymity is no reason to distrust an historical source. I looked at other comparisons to ancient historians in this article – you might give it a read: http://www.joydigitalmag.com/have-your-say-post/trustworthy-new-testament-compared-ancient-historians/ So tell me again how I am “dismissing convincing evidence” against my faith? How I am positing a “feeling” as the bedrock for my beliefs?
Gary: Because you cannot prove that you have more than one independent source for most of the detailed stories about Jesus. Yes, you have nine sources that refer to Jesus, but you only have one (Mark) or possibly two (Mark and John) sources for the detailed stories about Jesus. And since John wrote many decades after Mark, it is entirely possible that John had heard the stories told in Mark and was simply repeating them, adding his own embellishments.
Liam: Mainly I try to do good history.
Gary: Do you have a PhD in history, Liam? A master’s degree in history? A bachelor’s degree in history? What credentials do you have for us to accept your opinion as an authority on Ancient Middle Eastern history, Liam? I will bet that you are simply an amateur who is certain that he is right and that the consensus of experts is wrong. Is that intelligent thinking??
Liam: If you follow the evidence for Jesus as you would the evidence for other figures of ancient history, I think it’s very clear that He did in fact raise bodily from the dead. Hence my belief. I mean “Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history” (Jack Weatherford, 2004 pg xviii) and Julius Caesar was a colossal figure in ancient history. Never mind other famous ancient persons such as Hannibal of Carthage who have far less evidence for their deeds or existence, but none of them are doubted as verifiable historical persons who did the works ascribed to them.
Gary: There are supernatural tales told about many real historical figures. These supernatural tales do not cancel out the historicity of the person described in those stories, but the fact that the people in the stories really did exist in no way proves that the fantastical tales told about these real people are true! I don’t understand why you can’t comprehend that, Liam. Please provide a history book in which even ONE of these supernatural tales are believed by historians to be a real historical event!
The rest of Liam’s comment is simply a copy and paste of previous discussions on this topic between myself, Liam, and other readers of this blog. You can read Liam’s collection of these statements here.
End of post.