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Christian Apologists Distort Sherwin-White’s Statements on Legendary Development in Antiquity

A.N. Sherwin-White

Most non-Christians, theists and non-theists, believe that the Gospels are legendary tales. Most of us do not claim that the Gospels are myths. There is a big difference. Legends contain some truth. Myths are pure fiction. The big question with legends is: Which parts of a legend are fact and which parts are fiction?

Conservative Christian apologists claim that in Antiquity, legends took hundreds of years to develop. According to these apologists, ancient peoples were very careful to maintain their oral traditions. They did not allow embellishments. Therefore, Christians can be certain that the Gospels are historically reliable eyewitness accounts. They know that without eyewitness testimony most modern people will come to the conclusion that the alleged Resurrection is a tall tale.

So apologists MUST insist that legends could not have developed between the time of Jesus’ death and the writing of the first gospel approximately 30-40 years later. To admit it was possible, would be to capitulate to skeptics!

Anyone living in the 21st century knows how quickly a rumor can become a legend. One needs to look no further than the websites of QAnon bloggers. But according to apologists, first century people weren’t like us. Baloney.

But apologists like Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig have found research to support their claims! Problem is, they have distorted the researcher’s statements:

“Christian apologists often cite Sherwin-White as if he proposed some empirically established process whereby fact and myth fight it out in the oral tradition with myth needing several generations in which to subdue its opponent. Sherwin-White’s example, however, suggests that each person in the oral tradition makes up his own mind whether he prefers the legendary version of events or the true one. If enough people are interested in the true version of events to preserve it and pass it on, it will be accessible after several generations even if the mythological version proves quite popular. That’s a far cry from some inviolable principle that the true version will always survive within the oral tradition for some definable period of years.

In the case of the gospels, the questions remains (1) whether anyone was interested enough in the historical Jesus to preserve and pass on accurate information and (2) whether the evangelists were sufficiently interested in recovering that Jesus rather than reporting myths that furthered their theological agendas. It is certainly possible that the answer to both questions is yes, but Sherwin-White’s musings don’t support Craig’s insistence that there must recoverable historical information in the gospels.

I often get into debates about whether Irenaeus actually had any basis in 180 A.D. for attributing authorship of the canonical gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Invariably, someone will argue that there must have been some factual basis for these names or someone who knew the truth would have corrected Irenaeus If such errors are so easily resolved, how come nothing has deterred Craig from repeating his misstatements for so many years? I see no reason to think that second century believers would have been any more diligent in pointing out Irenaeus’ errors than today’s believers are in pointing out Craig’s. Nor can I see any reason to believe that Irenaeus would have been any more conscientious in his fact checking than Craig.”

Source: https://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/search/label/A.N.%20Sherwin-White

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The First Appearance of the Resurrected Jesus: Where, When, and to Whom?

God himself has risen from the dead and appeared in a transformed, heavenly body to the earliest Christians. Yet, Christianity forgot to record where this first appearance occurred, when it occurred, and to whom it occurred! If you look in the Gospels, the first appearance mentioned is different in each Gospel. Even if you choose to ignore the Gospels and follow the eyewitness list in the Early Creed, the Church forgot to record any details about Jesus’ alleged first appearance to Simon Peter. Where and when did this appearance occur? Why no details?

Seriously? Christians forgot to record for posterity the greatest event in human history?? Isn’t that pretty strong evidence that the resurrection appearances are legends and rumors?

First Appearance in the Gospel of Mark: None. There are no appearances mentioned in the original Gospel of Mark. A young man at the empty tomb tells a group of women that the risen Jesus will meet his disciples in Galilee.

First Appearance in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus appears to a group of women, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on Easter Sunday. Jesus tells the women to tell the male disciples to meet him in Galilee.

First Appearance in the Gospel of Luke: Jesus appears to two lesser disciples on the Emmaus Road. They are not part of the Eleven. These two disciples then return to Jerusalem and inform the Eleven (which would include Simon Peter):

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Why would these two guys inform Peter (gathered with the other Ten) that Jesus had just appeared to Peter?? Sure sounds like a hasty addition to an established legend, maybe an addition to make this story corroborate with the Early Creed, in which the first appearance is to Simon Peter.

Shortly thereafter that same day, Jesus appears to all the disciples, shows them his wounds, eats a broiled fish lunch with them, gives a sermon, then leads them all to Bethany where he is “taken up” into heaven. What happened to meeting them in Galilee??

First Appearance in the Gospel of John: Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene alone, in the Garden, on Easter Sunday. That evening he appears to the Eleven, in Jerusalem, even though Matthew and Mark indicate his first appearance to the male disciples was in Galilee.

First Appearance in the Early Creed: Jesus appears to “Cephas”, presumably Simon Peter. Where? We are not told. When? We are not told. Details? None.

Conclusion: Christians liken the four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection to that of multiple eyewitnesses testifying to an auto accident: Some of the details will differ among the various eyewitnesses but the central facts will corroborate. But the Appearance Stories are NOT like an auto accident. Each story is of a different “auto accident”! None of the first appearance stories above describe the same “Jesus sighting”!

Isn’t it obvious? These are legends, folks. These are tall tales!

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The Empty Tomb: Did Mary Magdalene Abscond With The Body?

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus[i] to eat with him, and when he went into the Pharisee’s house he reclined to dine. 37 And a woman in the city who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair, kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” –the Gospel of Luke

Skeptics (since the first century!) have pointed out that the most likely cause of the empty tomb of Jesus was that someone moved the body. Christian apologists scoff at this suggestion, claiming that the Romans had no reason to move the body and that no first century Jew would have moved a dead body on the Sabbath, as touching a corpse on the Sabbath would make them unclean. Well, that might be true for most “righteous” first century Jews, but what about a first century Jew who already had the reputation of being a “filthy sinner”; one of “those kind of women”… a prostitute?

Not only was Mary Magdalene believed to have been a prostitute but she seemed to have a strange obsession with Jesus’ body. I’m not suggesting that there was anything sexual behind this obsession (but this of course cannot be ruled out) but what person in their right mind pours expensive perfume on someone’s feet and wipes it off with their hair?? Even the disciples found this behavior odd.

 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

–the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus, of course, was flattered by her (bizarre) behavior. But what delusional messiah pretender wouldn’t be?

And there is more circumstantial evidence for Mary Magdalene’s involvement in the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Why does a former (very rich) prostitute get so much play in the Passion Narratives and in the Resurrection Appearance Stories? The mother of God herself doesn’t get as much play time in these stories! Yet in every Gospel, a former (very rich) prostitute is front and center in the story. Why? Why was this woman so involved? What else did she do that the Gospel authors are not telling us, or more likely, didn’t know about??

On the night of Jesus’ execution, did Mary Magdalene convulse at the thought of the body she so loved and worshipped rotting away in the tomb of a member of the Sanhedrin? Did Mary and her servants (she was VERY wealthy, so why not?) abscond with the body of Jesus in the middle of the night to bury him in her own private burial plot?

We will never know, but it is an interesting possibility!

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If There Were Good Evidence for the Resurrection, I Would Still Be a Christian

Christian: If there was good evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead it would be good evidence that Christianity was true, right?

Gary: I agree. If there were good evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead, I personally would still be a Christian. The problem is, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is very weak. Alleged sightings of a dead person by the dead person’s family and friends is not good evidence.

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Jesus Performed All His Great Miracles in Public…Except His Resurrection Appearances. Why?

Odd. Jesus performed all his greatest miracles in public…except his post-resurrection appearances. Not one single post-resurrection appearance occurred in public. Why was that?

Turning water into wine in Cana: public!

Healing the paralytic let down through the roof: public!

The raising from the dead of the widow’s son in Nain: public!

Casting demons into a herd of pigs: public!

The raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter: public!

The feeding of the five thousand: public!

The raising of Lazarus from the dead: public!

The reattachment of the high priest’s servant’s ear: public!

Yet when Jesus performed his greatest miracles—raising himself from the dead, appearing to individuals and groups in a glorified heavenly (supernatural) body, and later ascending into the clouds–he chose to do these miracles in private. Believers only. The Gospels do not mention one single non-believer being included in any post-resurrection appearances prior to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Why?

The Apostle Peter tells us in Acts chapter 2 the purpose of Jesus’ miracles: “Fellow Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— “

If Jesus (and God) really wanted to attest to the veracity of Jesus’ claims about himself, why didn’t Jesus make a post-resurrection appearance in the Temple? Why didn’t Jesus make a post-resurrection appearance in front of the Sanhedrin? Why didn’t Jesus make a post-resurrection appearance to Pilate…or to Caesar himself?? Not one single appearance of the resurrected Jesus in public to non-believers! Jesus’ post resurrection appearances were limited to believers, and a few years later, to one vision-prone (mentally unstable?) rabbi. Why??

Answer: Because these post-death appearances only happened in the wild imaginations and vivid dreams of his disciples!

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Critics of Early Christianity Were Biased

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards,[e] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to abolish things that are, 29 so that no one[f] might boast in the presence of God. 

–Paul of Tarsus to the church in Corinth

Gary: After these points Celsus [a second century Greek writer and critic of Christianity] quotes some objections against the doctrine of Jesus, made by a very few individuals who are considered Christians, not of the more intelligent, as he supposes, but of the more ignorant class, and asserts that “the following are the rules laid down by them [Christians]. Let no one come to us who has been instructed, or who is wise or prudent (for such qualifications are deemed evil by us); but if there be any ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons, let them come with confidence. By which words, acknowledging that such individuals are worthy of their God, they manifestly show that they desire and are able to gain over only the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.”… –Origen, early Church Father

Christian: Celsus was not an unbiased witness; his polemical goal was to make Christians look bad. You don’t think he could’ve exaggerated?

Gary: Excellent! Ditto for the anonymous Christian authors of the Gospels! They too were biased. Their polemical goal was “so that you might believe”. You don’t think they could’ve exaggerated???

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Early Christianity Was a Religion of the Poor and Uneducated

Christian catacombs in Rome

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

In this essay I want to outline how the poor in the Graeco-Roman world survived – if they did – and how we might place early Christian networks in and among the poor, on the assumption that most early Christians were poor themselves. –John Barclay, Professor of Divinity, Durham University, England

Gary: Christian apologists like to claim that early Christianity spread like wildfire in the first three centuries after Jesus’ death, attracting thousands and maybe even millions of converts to the Faith. What they often fail to mention is that the overwhelming majority of these converts were poor and uneducated (ignorant and superstitious). So did Christianity grow because it had good evidence to support its supernatural claims or did it grow because it promised poor, desperate people social equality and eternal riches?

Slaves seem to have been a significant part of the early Church and in some cases even found themselves in leadership roles (Shaner (2018), but cf. Meeks (1983), 64). Early Christian communities were evidently accused of targeting the illiterate, enslaved, young, female and under-educated (Origen, Cels. 3.44, 55; Tert. Against Praxeas 3) – the early Christian apologists seek to defend the Church against this charge, but it does seem that there was some truth to the characterization, at least of the makeup of the Church if not its proselytizing. –Dr. Bret C. Devereaux, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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I Want to Remain a Christian But It Seems a Fool’s Errand

Christian (on the brink of de-conversion from Christianity): Progressive Christians who hold for a Christian faith where one does not need an actual resurrection, metaphor being enough, must do some interesting theological gymnastics with the last Apostle’s declaration that their resurrection-less faith is in vain. Traditional Christians suffer despite the Apostle’s circular reasoning because, again, the account they put their hope in is entirely internal (an arguably ecclesiastically borne) ‘evidence’.

I do, so want to remain Christian but it seems very much a literal fool’s errand.

Gary: So why do you remain a Christian?

Christian: A good question, Gary. My best and no doubt weak answer by some people’s standards would be, in broad generality, circumstances: family relationships primarily and once would have included livelihood though this is no longer the case and secondarily, the acknowledgement that Christianity had brought good into the world and perhaps with a renewal of itself bring continued good in spite of its baked in flaws that inspired and facilitated much harm in the world. Mind, this can be said of other religions and of non religious movements. However, there is no external evidence for the veracity of the claims of the new testament’s chief and foundational claim, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On this all stands or fails on faith and if one cannot believe then yes, very good question and one that is my daily struggle. I am not one to comment online at all. My comment is in no way frivolous or merely an attempt to be contrarian (which I do not say you think of me though certainly some readers will think just that).

Gary, do you identify as a Christian (of any label)? Do you believe in the literal, actual, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ? Honest questions. Not baiting.

Gary: I was a preacher’s kid. I grew up evangelical until my mid 20’s. I left evangelicalism because I was tired of the emotional roller coaster of always trying to determine whether or not I felt truly saved. Catholics, Lutherans, etc. know they are saved because they were baptized. Evangelicals can only know they are saved if they are certain (a feeling) that they sincerely repented of ALL their sins and sincerely committed EVERY aspect of their life to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If there is even a sliver of doubt, they worry that they might not be saved, and repeat the born again experience…again. There is one evangelical pastor who says on his website that he repeated the born again experience FIVE THOUSAND times while he was an older child and teenager! I then became a Lutheran. I was very content as a (conservative, LCMS) Lutheran until one fateful day an online ex-evangelical pastor turned atheist challenged by beliefs. I determined that I was going to bring this black sheep back to Christ! Instead, four months later I was a non-believer. This ex-pastor/turned atheist helped me see that the evidence for the central claims of Christianity are really, really poor: assumptions, assumptions, and more assumptions.

I believe that Jesus was a real person. I believe that he was crucified by the Romans in the first century. I even believe that there was probably an empty tomb. I also believe that his followers soon came to sincerely believe that he had appeared to them in some fashion. But good evidence that a resurrected corpse appeared in the flesh to individuals and groups of people?? No. The evidence is very, very poor.

I have been studying the evidence for the Resurrection ever since that fateful day in February, 2014, when the ex-pastor turned atheist first challenged my beliefs. Here is the first post on my blog about my encounter with this man (while I was still a believing Christian):

Evolution is Silly: I’m No Kin to the Monkey

Growing up evangelical in the 1960’s and 70’s, this was one of my favorite songs as a kid. Oh, those stupid scientists and evolutionists! Humans aren’t related to monkeys! Evolution is soooo silly and ridiculous. Good old-fashioned common sense tells you evolution is blatantly false. You don’t need to read one single science book to know that.

“It’s silly to believe that human beings are descended from an ape-like creature!”

This is what I believed growing up as an evangelical. However, if one takes the time to look at the evidence, the evidence is overwhelming that Darwinian evolution is true. Here is an interesting point to consider: Dog breeding is excellent proof of how evolution works.

Experts agree that dogs are descended from wolves. How did a big wolf turn into a tiny Chihuahua?? Answer: human selection! Humans took wolves which met their preferences (good natured, loyal, obedient) and bred those wolves to have more wolves like them. Over time, humans bred the descendants of these wolves based on other features as well such as size, color, coat length, etc. and over approximately 15,000 years, where there were once only wolves, we now have Great Danes, Labradors, and Chihuahuas. This is what happens with HUMAN selection.

Humans evolved over a much longer period of time using NATURAL selection: Nature picked the traits that best suited our ancient ancestors for survival! And over millions of years, a single celled organism eventually became…a human being.

“As you can probably imagine, this process from single celled organisms to multicelled organisms took an enormously long time. The first signs of life around 4 billion years ago!! The first multicellular organisms only evolved about 1 billion years ago, and the first humans appeared about 15 million years ago.”

Source: here

Yes, little Johnnie and Susie: You are kin to the monkey!

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Which Is More Probable: Jesus’ Disciples Saw a Reanimated Corpse or They Were Sincerely Mistaken?

The debate regarding the historicity of the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus comes down to one’s views of probability. Question: Which is more probable: the disciples only thought they saw an appearance of the resurrected Jesus or they really did?

99.9% of skeptics (including theists–Jews, Muslims, etc.) will choose the first option and 99.9% of Christians will choose the second.

That is the problem. Why do Christians believe a corpse reanimation is more probable than a mistaken belief based on an illusion, vivid dream, false sighting, hallucination, or a combination of some or all of the above?

It is simply baffling

My questions for Christians: I believe that Jesus’ followers sincerely believed that he had appeared to them after his death and burial. I do not believe that the disciples made up this story. People do not die for a lie.

But is it possible that the disciples were mistaken? Is it possible that they sincerely believed that Jesus had appeared to them when he had not? Is it possible that the original sightings of a resurrected Jesus involved vivid dreams, illusions (bright lights), and false sightings? Is it possible that the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are theological embellishments created for apologetic purposes, to counter first century skeptics who were saying that the disciples had only seen a ghost?

Christians may not believe that this scenario is plausible, but if it is possible, it is plausible in the minds of most non-Christians, including most non-Christian theists (Jews, etc.); much more plausible than the reanimation of a brain dead corpse. Why are Christians’ views of probability on this issue so different from that of the rest of the planet, theist and non-theist?

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