Are the Ten Commandments Historically Reliable? Yes…

3 Comments

20110818-101929.jpg A week ago, I posted a response to a blog that made some pretty strong claims regarding the 10 commandments and the entire Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible). My response was critical, but was never posted. Whether this is a result of the original author not checking comments on his post or if its because if he chose not to approve my comment, I am not certain. But, I have decided to post a more thorough response in my own blog. The blog claimed that the first five books of the Bible are not historically reliable because they are sewn together fragments from various writers that didn’t exist as one unit until Josiah was king of Israel in the 600s BC. Thus, he claims that the scriptures ought not be treated as reliable because they are a mish-mash of texts used to force religious authority in Israel. This argument relies on a variation of a theory forwarded by J.H. Wellhausen in the 1880s. Wellhausen postulated that when the scriptures indicate that the priests of the time “found” the book of the law, what actually took place was that they had collected several smaller texts and pieced them together. The texts were labeled by Wellhausen: J, E, D and P. Wellhausen argued that the original books can be divided up based in literary features within the texts themselves. Please note that he did not come up with his theory based on any outside evidence. There are no copies of J, E, D or P as single units anywhere or any indication from literature that these books exist. There is no testimony that confirms the reworking of any of the texts to form the Pentateuch. There are no inscriptions or archeological supports. Wellhausen read the texts and speculated that several guys probably wrote it and some other guy knit it together.

The strongest opening argument against this position is that it totally lacks external supporting evidence. In fact, there is external supporting evidence supporting an opposite position. Every ancient source that deals with the Pentateuch identifies Moses as the original author of the text. This includes other books in the Old Testament, the Talmud, etc. The ancient tradition is unanimous in its support of Moses as author.

You may be thinking that perhaps Wellhausen had really good reasons for dividing the books up. Maybe he found some sort of amazing evidence in the texts. The thing is that he didn’t find any real evidence. Instead, he came up with four characteristics in the text that he thought were signs that different authors were involved. These must be fairly convincing characteristics. Well, perhaps looking at them will shed some light on the matter. The four characteristics Wellhausen used for determining sections authored by different guys are:

Variations in the name of God- In the Pentateuch, God is referred to by Elohim and Yahweh. Wellhausen decided that every part of the book that referred to God by a different name was written by a different guy. Even if this was a compelling argument, it falls apart when one considers the fact that it was common for ancient deities to be referred to by multiple names. It is present in non-biblical texts that were contemporary to Moses and therefore, it isn’t really proof of a different author. Further, it’s not really conclusive evidence because it’s reasonable for one author to refer to something by different names. I call my wife by the following names: Jess, Jessica, Jessie, honey, baby, woman and a few others. If I post more than one name on my Facebook wall, has my post automatically been written by multiple authors? Certainly not. This is the only argument offered for the existence of E and J. It’s shaky at best. It’s more embarrassing than anything else.

The use of doublets- Doublets are any repeat of a story with the details changed. The creation narrative is repeated twice or the story of Abraham lying about Sarah being his sister. Genesis records Abraham’s deception twice. This, Wellhausen argued, demonstrates that more than one book was stitched together because the account was likely in both. At its face, this argument may seem compelling. However, there are two reasonable explanations for doublets being present in the Pentateuch. The first is the obvious one: some things may have actually happened that way. Abraham may have passed his wife off as his sister more than once. The second explanation deals with literary style. Recent examinations of ancient Jewish literature demonstrate that repetition was commonly employed in order to have a certain effect. Here again, we see that with a little examination, the theory falls apart.

Variations in writing style and using more than one name for places and people: when the book changed style from something like a genealogy to historical narrative. He argued that the shift in style from list to narrative indicates that a new author is writing. The problem with is suggestion should be clear: it’s hard to make a genealogy exciting. Te style variations Wellhausen points to are generally associated with variations in material being addressed. Of course a list isn’t going to read like a story. Of course, laws won’t read like a story. As far as places and people having multiple names, it wasn’t uncommon for ancient literature to feature multiple names for people and places. Here again, we see that the proof Wellhausen uses isn’t proof of any kind.
Theological difference: Wellhausen suggests that Variations in theology within the text represents variation in authors. The real problem with this is that it’s highly subjective and very few theologians acknowledge the presence of theological differences. Those who do acknowledge them can’t seem to come to any consensus as to what sections of the text represent different theologies. This is largely because the sections are divided up by scholars based purely on opinion and conjecture. The criteria is subjective.

Having examined the faulty approach taken to reach the multiple author theory, we must now ask “Who wrote the Pentateuch?” Answering this question is a tad more complicated than simply saying: Moses. Though tradition clearly indicates that Moses wrote the books, it’s likely that there were other hands involved in the process. There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to properly answer the question:

Moses: As stated earlier, all ancient sources and tradition supports Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. In fact, until the 1880s, there are very few voices of descent on the matter. However, the driving factor in all descent is skepticism. There is no evidence, only doubt. The fact is that there is no real reason to oppose Moses as the author of the core of the Biblical texts.

The accounts Moses probably didn’t write: Moses probably didn’t write a few portions of the texts in question. Though this may seem controversial, there are reasons for taking this position. The most glaring portion of the books that Moses probably didn’t write is the account of his own death. There are scholars that argue that Moses had these portions dictated to him by God before heading off to die, but it seems questionable. Another passage that may have been subject to editorializing is the point where Moses is referred to as the most humble man who ever lived. This seems like an odd thing for the most humble man who ever lived to say about himself. These things point to a contemporary, possibly Joshua, who added to the text after Moses died.

Later editing: There are a few points where the text suggests that it was likely edited. One example of this is reference to the city of Dan. Dan was a city in the ancient world, just not by that name. The Pentateuch pre-dates the name Dan by a few years. Another city worth considering is Raamses, which is mentioned in Exodus. The exodus likely took place about 200 years before Raamses took on that name. It went by a different monicker during the Exodus. These changes in city names most likely point to a later editor, most likely during the period of the exile. Some have argued that these represent errors in the text and are proof of the historic inaccuracy of the books. This is a premature conclusion, particularly in light of the accuracy the Pentateuch has demonstrated in regard to ancient city locations and other archeological finds that support the various elements of the Biblical accounts. The simplest explanation is that the texts were edited later to reflect the newer names of cities. This would be akin to changing references to Stalingrad to St. Petersburg.

The 10 Commandments: One of the central claims made in the blog I commented on, which prompted this post, was that the pieced together account in Genesis featured two very different accounts of the 10 Commandments. One is the traditional account in Exodus 20, while the other is a variant set of commands in Exodus 34. The claim is that the book is unreliable because the two sets of commandments are different. The problem with the claim is that it doesn’t reflect what is going on in the passage. The commandments presented in 34 are addendum directions to the total covenant presented in Exodus 20 through 31. God reestablishes the covenant in the beginning of the chapter and has Moses rerecord the covenant with the additional agreement. That’s it. The strange interpretation that accuses the original books of inconsistency regarding the commandments is based on a shortsighted reading of the passage. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens when skeptical readers pour over the text looking for things to attack without bothering to research or understand the original text. So, in short… yes, the 10 Commandments are historically reliable.

When considering whether or not skeptics who claim the scriptures are faulty bring meritorious accusations to the table, the most important factor in deciding the truth of claims is the evidence. Further, it is important to realize that the starting point for most arguments of this ilk is skepticism, doubt and a certainty that the Bible needs to be deconstructed. These starting points result in the willing acceptance of speculation as evidence. In the case of attacks on the original texts and the commandments, a little research is valuable. Further, studying the texts to prepare properly to respond to accusations is invaluable.

Advertisements

Defending the Resurrection: Part 5- The Accuracy of the Texts

Leave a comment

20110817-022728.jpgOne of the most frequent issues raised by skeptics when discussing the validity of the Gospel accounts is the veracity of the documents. Claims generally center on the idea that the books were heavily edited by leaders within the church or by the Catholic authorities in order to present a certain message that the church thought was desirous. The less sophisticated version of this argument is the: “what if some guy just made it all up” question. This installment of the defending the faith series will look at how accurate the original texts are to the original writers’ intent.

In order to understand the texts properly, we must begin with understanding where they come from and how they were distributed. The texts themselves were originally hand written and hand copied documents, printed on vellum or papyrus. Both were fairly expensive medium. Documents had to be copied by hand and were shared from church to church. By the end of the second century, most of the documents that are in the Bible we use today had been spread to all of the churches in the world. This is no small feat considering the fact that these documents had to be hand copied and hand delivered during a time when travel could be dangerous and Christians were not always that popular.

Hand Copying-

20110817-022652.jpgIt is frequently suggested that hand copying documents is not a very reliable method. Skeptics further suggest that the hand copying results in significant changes in the texts themselves. While it may be the case that hand copying was less reliable than photocopying, hand copying has proven to be remarkably reliable in the ancient world. This is particularly the case amongst the Jewish scribes. In the ancient world, people who professionally hand copied documents were called scribes. This was a profession of some prestige. Scribes were frequently experts in the law and were well educated. They took their jobs very seriously, because they feared God. One example of this fear is the fact that Jewish scribes would not write the name of God for fear of committing blasphemy. They would only write part of the name and they would dispose of the pen when they were done for fear of offending God with their using a pen that wrote His name to write anything else. It was this fear and reverence that was brought to the table by the copyists.

The beginning of understanding why the texts of the Bible were accurately copied is understanding the rigor that went into the copying process. After the text was copied, the letters in both the original and copied documents were counted. If there was variation between the number of letters the copy was destroyed. The scribe then compared the middle letter of each document. If the middle letter was different in either, the copy was destroyed. This was repeated with the letters in the middle of the first and second halves. Here again, variations resulted in the destruction of the copied documents. This level of professional rigor testifies to the seriousness of the professional scribe, particularly in light of the fact that the paper they were writing on was quite expensive.

It is worth noting that this was not a foolproof system of checking documents. Copies of New Testament books exist with misspelled words, changed phrasing and other variations. In addition, some scribes did alter texts. However, the amount of variation in the New Testament manuscripts is fairly minute and the vast majority of variations relate to the misspelling of words and other clearly typographical errors. However, the hand copying of texts has provided us with over 5,000 copies of each manuscript, though some are newer than others. The manner that those manuscripts were copied and distributed is illustrated in the above diagram. Again, this is very simplified. An original text was copied several times. Those copies were copied and so forth. Errors can be attributes to specific “families” of documents. In the diagram, I use the example of a misspelled word. Translators backtrack through the manuscripts and identify which copies belonged to which group. This helps them to identify variations and determine which variant is most accurate. This tracing of variations is called “textual criticism.” It has provided us with very accurate copies of the original documents. If you are interested in understand how minute most of these variations are, take the time to read the bottom page of a Bible. You will find the word variations noted there.

The widespread distribution of texts has other advantages. The biggest is that it prevented any one person from dramatically altering the books. We see this fairly early in church history. In 140 AD, a man named Marcion attended a meeting with all of the leaders of the church from all of the churches in the world. (This was called a council. It seems to have been a practice from as early as the church in Acts.) Marcion had assembled a Bible. In his book were several heavily edited copies of the book of Luke and Paul’s letters. The church leaders immediately recognized the changes in the books and called Marcion to task. He was unable to foist his altered books on the church because they all already had copies of the books. After the first few years of Christianity, it would have been impossible to alter the books through copying. Further, the entire Bible wasn’t assembled until a couple of hundred years later. This means that in order to truly alter the message of Christianity, a person would need to change not just one book, but 27 books that had been distributed all over the world. The task would be utterly impossible because of the distribution of the books.

The Early Church Fathers reenter the story at this point. The 50-volume set of writings from the early leaders of the church provides the next layer of protection against tampering with the documents. The early church leaders quoted the original books of the Bible extensively. This begins with the earliest of the writings from the church fathers. Using the works of the church fathers, we can piece together almost the entire New Testament. Therefore, if there had been dramatic alteration to the texts, we would be able to detect it through the variations with the early fathers.

Early manuscripts and fragments are another source for evidence regarding the distribution and some of the wording for ancient biblical texts. Scraps and fragments of the original documents are sometimes found by archeologists. These scraps indicate the distribution of texts and can occasionally provide small segments of text. The most notable chache of manuscripts and fragments discovered in recent history is the dead sea scrolls. The documents included 9 fragments of New Testament documents. However, these are not the only examples of early manuscripts. These sorts of items are important because they augment the arguments for the ancient texts by demonstrating age, how widespread the documents were distributed and some portions of the texts themselves.

The preceding arguments are enough to easily answer accusations that the Catholic Church or other early church leaders altered the books. The manuscripts were far too spread out for this to happen and scholars have a plethora of manuscripts to check for consistency in the texts. Further, most of the variations are minimal. Those variations that are more significant than misspelled words don’t relate to any major doctrines of the faith. The New Testament is very well preserved. In fact, we have a more complete picture of the New Testament than we do for any other ancient text.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 4 External Evidence

Leave a comment

The previous installment of this series dealt with the various eyewitnesses to the resurrection. All of the eyewitness accounts of the event are contained in the Bible. This has been a point of contention between believers and skeptics, because it is often claimed that the all of the supporting evidence is contained in the Bible. The lack of outside confirming sources is considered by some to be a weakness to the historicity of the scriptures. The outside evidence that supports the resurrection narrative will be the focus of this post.
20110812-112403.jpg

For starters, the argument that the lack of extra-Biblical eyewitnesses weakens the case for the resurrection is a bit of a non-starter. To understand why, it is important to know that the various accounts were not written as components of a larger collection. In fact, the authors had no idea that the books would eventually be assembled into the Bible. The original texts were written as letters and testimonies meant to transmit instructions or to attest to the life of Christ. The effort of assembling a collection didn’t begin until around 140 AD, but more on that in a later post. The exact collection of books was finally settled on in 367 AD. During the course of 200ish years, the assemblers of the Bible sought out and verified the texts that eventually became the Bible. All of the verifiable documents were included in the Bible. All of the texts that could not be verified did not make the final cut. This includes texts written by individuals who clearly did not know Christ or see his resurrection and books that were clearly pseudoepigraphical (written under a fake name claiming to be someone important like Paul, Peter, Judas, etc.). Otherwise, all of the accounts of Christ were included in the Bible itself. Most of the skeptics who encountered Jesus after the resurrection would likely have become his followers, as is the case for James, Jude and Paul. Believers who wrote books that attested to Jesus as having been risen would ultimately have had their books added to the canon. There is a natural lack of books that confirm Christ’s resurrection through eyewitness in the secular realm because the skeptics who saw Jesus alive ceased to be skeptics. One need only reflect on the words of Thomas that he needed to ‘put his finger in the holes in Christ’s hands before he would believe’ to find a mirror of the skeptics demand for still more proof.

However, that does not mean that there is no external evidence to be found or that there is no other evidence related to the documents themselves that can be considered. We will begin by looking at the external sources that offer information related to the resurrection.

Josephus: The most popular extra-Biblical source that relates to Christ is Jewish Antiquities by Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisee/priest turned traitor to the Jewish people, who aided the Romans in their (re)conquering of Israel around 70 AD. His book is a history of the Jews, and it mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist. Most scholars generally accept the Jesus quote as authentic or partially authentic as all available manuscripts feature at least some variation of this passage. The John quote is almost universally accepted as genuine. Here are the two passages in question:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.”

“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him.”

The reason these are important is that they are sources from outside the Bible that support the existence of two major figures from the Biblical texts. Josephus also supports several basic facts of the resurrection story: (1) the crucifixion and death under Pilate and (2) the continued devotion of his followers. If Christ were a fictional person, it is unlikely that external sources would support his existence, much less confirm the crucifixion narrative. This support is very important when defending the resurrection as historical because it trumps claims that there was no Jesus or that the crucifixion did happen.

Talmud: The next source worth considering is the Talmud. The Talmud is the Jewish collection of teaching and commentary on the Old Testament scriptures. They are notoriously difficult to interpret properly and are so expansive that it is difficult to deal with them as a layperson. The issue with dealing with the Talmud is that it is a trickier source for supporting claims about Christ. There is much debate and disagreement regarding whether or not Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud as we posses it today. This debate includes suggestions that Christians are grasping at straws in trying to find Jesus in the texts, accusations of editing the Talmud to remove Christ, difficulties related to interpreting texts, etc. That having been said, there are scholars who believe that Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud and that the texts support his existence and some of the details of his life, including the crucifixion. Of particular note is the work of Peter Schafer, Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton. His book, Jesus in the Talmud, addresses the matter of editing in the Ancient texts. He argues that references to Jesus were edited out entirely and references to Christ completely expunged. It is important to note that the Jewish people were quite hostile to Christians during the era of the early church, as illustrated by the addition of prayers hostile to Christians in synagogue services during the second century. Christianity was a rival religion to the Jewish faith, which makes expunging of records a reasonable possibility. Please note that the expunged texts are fairly graphic and not for polite conversation. Nonetheless, the existence of these texts lends support for the existence of Christ from an early source.

Various Roman Historians: Tacitus, a roman historian, mentions Christ by the name “Christus” and describes his arrest and crucifixion for advancing a dangerous superstition. The reference is associated with Tacitus’ account of Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians in the mid to late 60’s. Julius Africanus, yet another historian, references the darkness that fell over all of the empire during the crucifixion, which is referenced in the Biblical account. Suetonius, another historian, references Christians in relation to a banishing from Rome that took place under Emperor Claudius. This particular reference is important because it confirms the reference in the Bible to the same event. Ultimately, this is important because it supports the scriptures, not so much because it recounts the resurrection. There are other references to Christians, but these do not really help as evidence because they only refer to Christians and we know that Christians existed. The issue we are addressing is the resurrection.

Textual Issues that Argue for Authenticity: The Biblical texts contain several oddities that argue against them being fraudulent. For example: according to the text, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. This may not seem like a big deal, but at the time women were not allowed to act as witnesses in court. This makes the opening testimony inadmissible to anyone who was from that day and age. Unless it was true, it would be as stupid opening argument. Another support from within the text is the surplus specifics featured in the story. This includes names of people who were present. If a writer were coming up with a lie they would be wise to avoid including names of people who can confirm or deny the story. Vagueness is the mark of a good lie. It is also important to note that the main characters, aside from Jesus, wind up looking pretty silly. If the texts were falsified, why make the authors look so bad? A final point of consideration is the unusual nature of the message. The scriptures offer a religious message that is quite unique to the era. The Jews found the incarnation and crucifixion totally offensive. The Greeks found resurrection to be ridiculous. The proponents of the mystery religions tried to alter Christianity to make it conform to their ideas of what ought to be true of a religion (see the gnostic gospels). There is no other faith in the ancient era like Christianity. If it were a lie, why generate the LEAST palatable story possible?

The Prophets: The final area of consideration regarding the crucifixion that argues for the truthfulness of the resurrection is the glut of prophetic writing pointing to its occurrence. These supports will not sway an ardently anti-supernatural skeptic, but are quite compelling to an open minded individual. One need only read Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 to find the clear story of Christ’s death and resurrection. The trick is that Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus was even born and Psalms even farther back. The Old Testament is rife with specific prophecies that are fulfilled by Christ’s death and resurrection. For a list of these prophesies type “Jesus crucifixion resurrection prophecies” into Google. Spend time reading them. Still more can be found by looking into his whole life. There are literally hundreds of them. Most folks, including a lot of Christians, don’t have any idea how specific the details are in the Old Testament. This, unfortunately does not gird the argument for the historic nature of the resurrection, however it does offer strength to the validity of the text itself.

The early church fathers: There is a collection of books consisting of roughly 50 volumes entitled “The Early Church Fathers.” These books contain the collected writings of the early scholars and leaders of the church. These texts include the work of Polykarp, who was a student of John, the disciple. Polykarp confirms the resurrection as well. Admittedly, this is hearsay, but it is a first hand source recounting what the disciple John taught regarding Christ. It is as close of a connection as we have to Socrates, the Greek philosopher. With Plato writing about Socrates and Aristotle writing as Plato’s student. We find the same with John as Jesus’ student and Polykarp as John’s student. Interestingly, almost no one questions Socrates as a historical figure, despite having fewer than half the number of eyewitnesses and almost no external witnesses. By the standards applied to every other historical figure, Christ undisputedly walked the earth, was crucified under Pilate and rose again. The only hindrance to the general acceptance of the claim is the supernatural elements of the story.

The next post will focus on the Bible texts themselves and how we can know if they are accurate to what was originally written.

Response to a comment on Part 3 of Defending the Faith Series

6 Comments

Yesterday, while I was at work Random Ntryrgg posted a comment on Part 3 of my Defending the Faith series. After checking out the post, I set out to write a response. However, the initial comment was vague and so a lot of material needed to be covered to respond properly. The longer it got, the more it became clear that I would need to post a blog covering the material. This is good though, because the point of the series is to help believers respond to skeptics. This is a sort of principles in action example. It was also fun to do. So, here is the original comment:

Random Ntrygg posted:

well, the reason that secular thinkers don’t accept the evidence, is because there isn’t anythe bible gospels were not written by the so called witnesses – they were written decades after and are not eye witness accounts.

none of the historians of the day wrote about Jesus – there aren’t Roman records either, which, there would be if he was such an important figure as claimed.

the only accounts of him are the bible texts, which cannot be deemed as their own evidence – they are not corroborated with any records and do not match the actual known historical events.

King Herod was dead before Jesus was born, Nazareth didn’t exist until the 3rd century and it was a Roman village – Jews were never slaves in Egypt – so the bible stories start to fall apart in several places very rapidly.
Egyptians left detailed records of their daily lives at many social levels – the pyramid builders were paid free men, not slaves.

My Response:
Well, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist camp! I don’t know where to start! I will address all of your statements in turn. Though, first I will make the point that you are making broad statements without reference to any sources that support your positions. Its easy to attack when you don’t have to cite sources, just make unfounded claims. Also, this will be kinda long, because I will try to be more specific. Generalities tend to hide a lack of real thought and information.First, scholars do use the bible as a source. Both historians and archeologists frequently use the Biblical accounts as a point of reference because they have proven to be amazingly accurate regarding the details of ancient history, geography and the details of ancient life. By “scholars”, I assume you mean skeptics.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: The pyramids aren’t mentioned in the scriptures at all, much less in connection with the Jews as slaves in Egypt. Further, it has very little to do with the story of Christ. But, for arguments sake let’  s look at the claim. The pyramids were built in the 1600s BC, whereas the timeline for the scriptural account has the Exodus taking place in the 1440s (depending on whether or not you go with the Old theory or New Theory on the Exodus) either way… the whole pyramids thing is a straw man attack. That’s without discussing the Hebrew slave settlements that archeologists have recently uncovered in Egypt dating back to the time of the Exodus. Whoever sold you this bill of goods was pretty ignorant of the texts he was attacking.

I don’t know if you did this on purpose or not, but the Gospel texts do reference Nazareth. They do so before 70 AD (we have texts that reference it from pretty early on). You accuse the writers of the Gospels as having written the texts “decades” after the events. Then you indicate that Nazareth was a Roman town founded in the 300s. Christianity was illegal in the 300s. So, how did the writers come up with a town before it came about? You even acknowledge that it was referenced in text before the town was founded. Then, why did the Romans accommodate the Bible text by forming a town that fixed the backstory of the texts BEFORE Christianity was legal? These guys were still feeding Christians to lions at the time. Your argument falls apart upon further investigation. Let’s look deeper at the claim. This would mean that the authors came up with a town, wrote about it in their texts, and distributed their writings  IN Israel before the town existed. These guys would need to be idiots of the highest order. It’d be like me saying: Hey guys, we are going to Crazy Town! It’s a little town south of Chicago! Let’s go. To which everyone responds: “Where? You made that up!” You can’t lie to people who live directly in a community about the place they live. In addition, why would the Romans name a town with such a clearly Jewish name? They had long since exported the Jews and made the religion illegal in Palestine. Why gave it a Jewish flavored name? Further, can you site a source for this claim? I research a bit when I read your response, but it’s not a common point of knowledge. I’d love to read about it.

The lack of historians mentioning Jesus is a non-starter as well. The next post I will be putting up deals with this matter more directly, but for the sake of conversation let’ s look at the issue here briefly. Josephus is the obvious first guy to mention. Josephus is a historian who is well known, read and quoted. He references Jesus, John the Baptist and James, the author of the book of James. His mention of Jesus includes reference to the arrest and crucifixion. Even if you buy into the dubious claims regarding the texts of Josephus having been edited, very few historians believe that it was entirely added and no manuscripts exist that are completely missing the lines about Jesus. After Josephus, there is Cornelius Tacitus, who mentions Jesus by name and includes details of his execution by Pilate, who he refers to in a familiar manner. Tacitus was not a Christian, mind you, so he had no reason to generate a false report. Seutonius mentions Christ, though his name is Latinized in the text. He specifically references Christ in relation to followers who were banished from Rome during the reign of Claudius. This particular account confirms mention to the same event in the scriptures. Pliney the Younger references Christ in a letter to Emperor Trajan. Not the smallest mention is the Talmud. Now, an ounce of search engine work will produce arguments against the Talmud’s mentions of Jesus. However, I’d suggest you check out Peter Schafer’s book: “Jesus and the Talmud.” Schafer is a professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton and is an expert in Jewish mysticism, ancient Jewish history and Rabbinic Judaism. His book brings forward portions of the Talmud, which had been edited to remove references to Christ. He demonstrates that Jesus was extensively written about in the Talmud and that he was the topic of much discussion amongst the rabbis. Here again we see an external source referencing Jesus and claims regarding his life. The suggestion that there is no external historical reference to Christ is simply not true. This may seem like a lean collection of references, but Israel was a backwater nowhere country. The fact that anyone from the country is mentioned at all is amazing. The fact that Jesus is mentioned several times is fairly impressive considering the fact that he was a peasant whose public life lasted a scant 3-years and that he never left his backwater country to travel to anywhere important.

The suggestion that Herod was dead before Christ was born is based on incorrect assumptions regarding the date of Herod’s death. If we go by Josephus’ reference to an eclipse that took place before the death of Herod and that Passover followed shortly thereafter, we can pin the date of his death to between March 12th and April 11th 4 BC. This date is well within the potential dates for the birth of Christ, particularly based on the census that is referenced in the Gospels. There is record of a census in 6 BC that was organized by Quirinius. If Christ was born during the census, as the texts claim, it was YEARS before the death of Herod. Now, I assume you didn’t come up with this theory based on the idea that the birth of Jesus happened in 0 AD, as this was a date approximated by monks centuries later.

Now for the bigger topic. The texts as eyewitness accounts. I am guessing you didn’t bother to read my post thoroughly, because you really didn’t look at any of the arguments, but let’s start with the obvious stuff. The Bible is a single unit now, but was not assembled in that way until much later. For the purpose of testimony, the New Testament represents 7 separate accounts of varying specificity and strength. It may not be able to self verify, but we can compare the 7 accounts and determine their truthfulness based on consistency in the accounts given. Further, if folks watched Jesus being murdered then saw Him alive again, then their account would specifically mention that they saw him alive. This makes them religious documents by your standard, and therefore, unacceptable sources. So, regardless of whether or not Paul confirms Matthew, they are both religious documents, and therefore, not acceptable. All of the 7 available witness are collected into the New Testament and were collected as such by design because part of the intent of the Bible was to present the best possible case for the life and resurrection of Jesus. However, your standard eliminates the presented evidence because it has been assembled by ancient scholars in an effort to present the best possible case.

Now, you reference the Gospels as unreliable, but the Gospels aren’t the only accounts of the resurrection in the texts. Paul clearly indicates that he saw the risen Christ. All of his books are letters. It’s one thing to manufacture a biographical account, but Paul was generating correspondence to churches he had already planted. Thus, the dating is not particularly important because regardless of 1 year or 10 years worth of time passing between writing and occurrence, he was writing a piece of material that represented a particular interest at the moment. So, Paul is a fairly strong witness. He confirms Luke as his companion, thus offering support for Luke’s work. Luke was not an eyewitness. He clearly states that he is doing the job of a historian by researching and writing based on his research. His research includes interviewing witnesses! Luke isn’t Jewish and he isn’t from Israel. He was later executed for the things he professed to believe based on the eyewitness accounts he collected. Further, Luke was no one in particular. If he were generating a false report, why pick a nobody or indicate that he was interviewing witnesses? If he was lying, it would have made more sense to go with one of the prominent disciples in order to bolster his claims. As for the death of Paul, we have the work of Clement that confirms his execution for claiming that he saw Christ risen.

John was the only disciple to die of natural causes and to live to a ripe old age. He did so in Greece, where he led a church. He wrote his Gospel account in his old age along with several other works. This is a guy who knew Jesus personally. Further, we have the testimony of Ignatius and Polykarp, who both knew him and were his students. They offer strength to the idea that John wrote the Gospel of John as an eyewitness. Here again, the later date of writing doesn’t add much to the argument against John having written the text because outside witnesses confirm it. Within the text, we have John hiding his identity as being present. He doesn’t use his name, but rather refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. If the author of John were fabricating the text, why take on the persona of John, then hide it? That goes against the pattern of pseudoepigraphs from the ancient world. The reason you use a pen name is to give notoriety, not try to hide your identity.

As for Mark, we know it’s not an eyewitness account. Mark wrote what Peter told him. Peter was an eyewitness. We can connect Peter to Mark through Peter’s own writing, again in a letter. Mark is attributed as the author of Mark by Polykarp and the tradition of the early church. Luke’s history indicates that Mark met Peter decades after the resurrection. So, it’s unlikely that Mark could write Peter’s account earlier. This doesn’t negate the writing he did. Again, we have confirmation from outside sources that Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s testimony.

Matthew was the first Gospel text written. Some scholars attribute it to a date as early as 40 AD, though some time in the 50s seems more likely. One interesting supporting argument for the position is that Matthew doesn’t reference the destruction of the Temple, but does include prophecies of it happening. An anti-supernatural bias would dictate it’s writing after 70 AD based on the references to the destruction of the temple. However, the same logic would require Isaiah to have been written after Jesus because he displays knowledge of Jesus’ life 700 years before Christ was born. An objective perspective would argue that Matthew’s prophetic references to the destruction of the temple ought to be accompanied by pointing out that the temple had been destroyed! Or that Matthew’s pattern of subjects as presented in the Sermon on the Mount were reflected in the work of Paul and James. Both Paul and James were dead by 65 AD, thus dictating that they referenced Matthew’s work before they actually died, mainly because it’d be a real trick to pull off after being beheaded. Ultimately, your accusation at Matthew was written decades later is weak at best. On the long end, it was a little over a decade later, on the short end it was a couple of years. However, proximity of writing doesn’t equal authorship proof, as I have demonstrated with the previous 3 Gospels. I would argue that every early source points to Matthew as the author of the text, particularly Polykarp (who hung out with John). This is FAR more proof as to the authorship of Matthew than can be offered for an anonymous author. Ultimately, this theory didn’t show up until the uber-liberal German rationalists came along in the 1800’s. They offered NO proof from history to support their claims. All they had was guesses base on leaps of logic from suppositions grounded in speculation resting on a foundation of skepticism.

Now, let’s look at the broader problem with your accusations. How exactly did Christianity get rolling without any eyewitnesses? In particular, this took place where Jesus actually lived and taught. If it was all made up, how did they garner such success in the town where it all began? Wouldn’t the locals simply indicate that it was all made up? I could see if they did it in Greece exclusively, but in the capital of Israel where Jesus was crucified and resurrected!? Also, how did the authors of the 4 Gospels manage to generate accounts consistent on the major details, but spread out all over the world and written by guys with no direct connections to the event? If they colluded, how did they mess up minor details? Further, if Biblical Christianity was an invention of individuals decades after the fact, how did Christianity become so widely spread that by the 60s Nero was able to target a large community of Christians for persecution? Or Claudius a decade before? There had to have been a solid teaching about Jesus to distribute from early on. The most obvious option is Matthew, because of his influence on Paul and James. This requires a very early authorship of his book. It also accounts for the widespread usage of his book and the broad consensus regarding it’s origins. If another book had been the source of information regarding Jesus, it would certainly have survived antiquity.

I would also welcome you to have a look at the proximity of the writing of the scriptures to ANY other ancient account of events. The New Testament accounts were generally written very close to the events they refer to by ancient standards. Further, there are more manuscripts that date closer to the original documents than with any other ancient texts. By your standards most of ancient history is in question.

Also, the councils that assembled the full Bible, did so after extensive research. They set about creating the canon in 140 AD. They then researched the origins of the texts for 200 years. This research had the advantage of being much closer to the events of the scriptures and therefore it had resources we don’t. They were able to go the the churches and ask where they got their manuscripts and were able to prove that some ancient texts were psuedononymous. The assemblers of the canon demonstrated great care and high standards in dealing with the texts to ensure the apostolic authorship of the books and their authenticity. Books were carefully removed based on questionable authorship and inaccuracies to history. But hey, those guys believed what they were doing was a big deal and that doing it wrong put them in danger of hell, so naturally they would have falsified the documents to forward a fake message. Oh wait… that doesn’t seem right. That might work as an incentive to do it legitimately. Heck, they even excommunicated guys they discovered to have generated texts under false pretenses. I assume you discount their research because they believed in stuff.

I welcome responses. Please use sources next time, so it’s not like yer making it up off the top of your head. Thanks for responding as well! This was fun!!

Defending the Resurrection: Part 2- Defending the Resurrection

Leave a comment

Very often discussions about the truthfulness of Christianity center around proof for the existence of God or questions regarding the moral teachings. However important these topics may be, the most important component of Christianity is Jesus. Jesus is the man that makes Christianity different. In addition, He is the lynch-pin of the faith. If one desires to knock down the existence of God amongst Christians and destroy the very foundation of the faith, they need only pull this pin. Further, they need not even tear down Jesus entirely. Rather, one must merely disprove the resurrection. Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, all belief is in vain. The main reason for this is that all of the most important beliefs regarding Christianity center around the reserection.

Often, the argument that happens between atheists and believers revolves around the scientifically possible or provable. However, this is problematic because Christianity doesn’t revolve around scientifically verifiable facts. Rather, it revolves around historic events. This makes the argument subject to historically verifiable events. This makes the argument between believers and the skeptics look something like this: (please note this is an example that removes the religious element because it creates clarity)

Historian: The battle of Gettysburg took place between July 1 and July 3 in 1863. Robert E. Lee commanded the confederates, while George Meade commanded the union. Roughly 46,000 men were killed or wounded. It marked the beginning of the end of the confederacy.

Scientist: that’s an incredible story, but certainly you cannot prove this scientifically! You cannot measure anything that demonstrates that this took place, and that which was measured is not reproducible. 46,000 men killed in battle! That is simply hard to believe.

Historian: I have newspaper clippings, bullets, journal entries, and years of belief amongst Americans!

Scientist: Measure something and prove it to me! All of those things can be manufactured after the fact! Show me something measurable and repeatable!

Now, obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point remains true. The story of the resurrection is the hinge point for the truthfulness of the claims of the scriptures. It is also a point of historic evidence, not scientific measurement. This points to the logical question: what historic evidence exists? The gospel accounts are the biggest and best evidence that points to the resurrection of Christ. They stand on their own strength as four different eyewitness accounts. In addition, we have at least 4 other New Testament authors that defend the resurrection as eyewitnesses. For the purpose of this essay, we will look primarily at the opposing positions. The next essay will deal with the pro-resurrection arguments/evidence, but most of the pro-resurrection proofs are best illuminated as responses to the anti-resurrection arguments. So, for now let’s begin by looking at the common arguments against the resurrection as they have appeared throughout history.

  1. Stolen Body: This is the first argument against the resurrection that was made by the temple leadership that arrested and crucified Christ. The long and short of the argument is that the disciples came to the tomb and stole the body. They then went out and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised. This explanation offers us an important bit of information: the body of Christ was gone. Otherwise, the temple officials would have simply produced it. It’s tough to say that Jesus was alive when the corpse is lying in the room. The veracity of the stolen body claim is questionable, at best. The texts tell us that a squad of Roman soldiers was left to guard the tomb and that the imperial seal was placed on the stone blocking the entrance. The penalty for breaking such a seal was death and guards were present to follow through with the sentence. These were not just any guards; they were Roman soldiers, the most elite soldiers in the world. For the body of Jesus to have been stolen, it would require that the disciples attack the soldiers, beat them and then steal the body. Further, they would need to do this without killing anyone or being killed themselves. Since we have record of the fates of most of the twelve and none of them were killed during the time of the crucifixion/resurrection, this seems unlikely. Further, there was no prosecution of rebels who dared attack the guards, much less kill any of them. The elite ninjas that pulled this off were the same disciples that ran away rather than stand with Jesus in the garden. One of the disciples even pulled out of his clothes when he was grabbed, opting instead to run off naked rather than fight. You know you aren’t tough when bullies take your clothes entirely. The argument is that these same fishermen, tax collectors and other assorted men that ran away days before, later defeated elite soldiers in order to collect a dead body. They would have done this, knowing it was a death penalty offense. It seems dubious. The temple officials accounted for the unlikely skirmish by alleging that the guards were asleep. Here again, we find problems. Sleeping on guard duty was a death penalty offense, giving them real incentive to stay awake. Further, this was not one soldier, it was a squad of soldiers. A squad typically consisted of 8 men. An elite squad of soldiers, all sleeping, while the disciples snuck by, rolled a boulder away (without waking someone up) and stole the body. Really? Again, this seems dubious. So, what if all of these things happened? Well, the disciples would then need to concoct a whopper of a story and convince 500 other witnesses to go along with it. (Paul refers to 500 witnesses of the resurrection.) Even if that were the case, they would need to stand by that lie. Despite torture, persecution and living in constant danger, they would need to stand by it. There are lots of reasons people lie: to get out of trouble, to profit from manipulation or simply for the sake of being dishonest. None of those reasons make sense when the liars are being tortured. Why would you maintain a lie under torture or even the threat of death? Of the 11 disciples that remained after Judas’ death, 10 were killed swearing they saw what they saw. The 11th died in prison still swearing to it. Many have argued that lots of people die for their faith. Simple willingness to die doesn’t prove anything. The major difference here is willingness to die for faith, verses willingness to die for claiming to have witnessed an event. These guys were not just claiming to believe something they were told; they were claiming to have seen something. Why on earth would anyone die or be tortured for a lie? If the disciples stole the body, they would need to lie about it, but they gain nothing for it. Even if 11 guys could be sold on this course of action, they weren’t alone in it. Paul, when pointing to proof of the resurrection in one of his letters, urged the readers to ask their neighbors because 500 witnesses saw the risen Christ. That’s a large crowd for a conspiracy or a con game. The stolen body theory simply doesn’t fit the available evidence.
  2. The substitute: The Koran is the origin of this argument, that Christ did not even go to the cross, but instead a substitute was sent in His place unbeknownst to the disciples. Fist things first, this was revealed to Mohammed through his claimed revelation from Allah. It is not based on any historic evidence. Second, reading the narrative of the trial and crucifixion points to the unlikelihood of this being the case. Judas, who knew Jesus, sells out Christ. Judas later kills himself in remorse, which points to the idea that it is unlikely that he would identify the wrong guy. His trial was run by the temple authorities, who had watched him teach and knew who he was. They also stood and watched the crucifixion, along with John the beloved disciple and Mary (Jesus’ mom!). You have an awesome look-alike when your own mom doesn’t recognize you. Further, why wouldn’t a substitute make it clear that he wasn’t Jesus?! There is no record of the guy on the cross saying: “Hey! You got the wrong guy! I am Rufus, I’m not Jesus!” Ultimately, this theory lacks detail because the Koran is vague. I suggest detail would do nothing but further expose the spuriousness of the theory.
  3. The swoon theory: This theory argues that if Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen and lots of people saw him, perhaps he didn’t die on the cross, but rather passed out only to wake up later and leave the tomb under his own power. This would account for confusion on the part of the disciples and their willingness to stand by their story. This theory sounds reasonable until we compare it with the details of the death and burial. Christ had been severely tortured before the crucifixion, which included scourging. Scourging was a bad enough punishment that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be scourged beyond 39 times, because it would usually result in the death of the victim as a result of their flesh being so torn that their organs simply falling out. Scourging was followed by crucifixion. Nails were pounded through the victim’s hands or wrists and their feet or ankles. They were then suspended from a cross until dead. This sometimes lasted days. In Christ’s case, it was a mere 6 hours as a result of the severity of the treatment he had received before the crucifixion. After he died, the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, resulting in water and blood pouring out. Several things could cause this, but one of the more popular theories involves the piercing of the pericardial sack and heart (i.e. the heart and the bag it comes in). It seems reasonable that a trained Roman soldier would know the most efficient way to kill a guy with a spear. The heart really works when you happen to be in a hurry to kill someone. Jesus then was buried in a stone tomb with a boulder blocking the entrance. He was pretty severely injured. If he had passed out and revived, its unlikely that he would be able to muscle the boulder from the entrance to the tomb. Even if he did, the nasty surprise that would meet him outside would certainly have ended his escape: a squad of elite Roman soldiers. In his injured state, he would not have been capable of escape. For arguments sake, if he had escaped and appeared to the disciples a day or so later, they would be stretched to argue that he had come back from the dead, for he would have been in pretty bad shape. Then, he would need to exit the scene and the disciples would have been in the same boat of lying regarding his ascension into heaven. The theory simply doesn’t fit the facts.
  4. The poison theory: This is a variation of the swoon theory. It involves Christ receiving a poison during the crucifixion that would result in him appearing dead. The soldiers, it is argued, would have administered the poison when they gave him vinegar to drink during the crucifixion. The problem here is that the guys who were killing him would then be complicit with faking his death. Why would they fake his death, then run him through with a spear an hour later. Further, when he awoke from his deathlike state, he would need to escape the tomb. See the previous point for the major issue with this scenario.
  5. The wrong tomb theory: One of the more recent theories regarding the resurrection, which claims to account for the empty tomb is that the disciples were so grieved at the loss of their master that they went to the wrong tomb and hysterically assumed he was alive. The story exploded from there and a religion was born. Here is the problem with this one: Opponents to the new teaching could have gone to the right tomb, produced the body and ended the discussion. Then there is the issue of the multitude of witnesses. They were witnesses to the resurrection, not the empty tomb.
  6. The impostor theory: I will start by saying that this one is silly, but in the name of fairness, it is worth covering. The theory goes that someone disguised himself as Jesus in order to trick the disciples in the grandest practical joke ever. I can’t say this out loud without smiling. So, first things first, this doesn’t account for the empty tomb and there is no evidence supporting it. The temple officials could have produced the body of Christ at any time and demonstrated the invalidity of the resurrection. Beyond that, Jesus had lived/traveled with the disciples for 3 years before the crucifixion. The imposter Jesus would need to be pretty versed to pull this off. It would be tough for someone to convince me that they were my wife, even if they looked like her because I have lived with her. If they didn’t know to tease me about my mustache or bring me biscuits and eggs in bed on Saturday mornings, it would be a tip off that something was wrong. Some of the arguments purporting this position included the idea that Mary didn’t immediately recognize Christ, but rather thought he was the gardener and that the 2 guys on the road to Emmaeus didn’t recognize him either. As for Mary, she was likely weeping and the text clearly indicates that she turned and recognized him. So crying and looking away impaired her immediate awareness to identify Him. As for the two on the road to Emmaeus, The text indicates that they were kept from knowing who he was until he was done teaching to them. One could argue that this is a simple supernatural explanation for the event, but the whole conversation is about the resurrection. Certainly a supernatural explanation is warranted. The rest of the 11 saw and identified Jesus without hesitation, even Thomas who openly challenged the claims.
  7. The hallucination theory: “Everyone who saw Jesus alive was hallucinating” is the general idea behind this theory. The big problem with this is that hallucinations are always private. There is no such thing as group hallucinations. They simply do not happen. In addition, the 500 or so people who all saw him would need to be hallucinating in unison. Further, the body was still gone.
  8. It never happened: I will deal with this one more thoroughly in a later essay on this subject. I will, however, touch on it briefly for the sake of completeness in this essay. For a far more thorough exploration of the theory, please stay tuned. The early church originated in Jerusalem and grew outward from there. The disciples did not start the church in Greece and take advantage of the ignorance of the people. They started it in the place where everything took place. If the crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred at all, or even if they had made up Jesus entirely, this would mean that the disciples went to the people of Jerusalem and told them they saw something they didn’t see. It would be a crazy plan and would have been completely shut down before even getting out of the gates. I cannot convince anyone that they met someone last week, listened to him teach in a crowd of thousands and watched him be tortured to death if they didn’t actually see it.
  9. Some brief points in favor of the historicity of the resurrection: (all of these will be addressed in more detail in the next essay)
  • The disciples: These guys make for a pretty compelling point on the issue. They lived poor, lost family, were tortured and killed swearing they saw the risen Lord. Their actions are not the actions of men who were making up a story because they got nothing in this world for their efforts. They did not get rich, they did not attract popularity, it got them into trouble (not out of it), and it ultimately got them killed.
  • Multiple accounts: This one will be examined more in depth later as well, but it’s worth touching for this discussion. Unlike every other world religion, the resurrection is accounted for directly by multiple witnesses in writing. We do not have a book. We have 4 direct accounts, and at least 4 other writers who attest to the historicity the resurrection.
  • The large group of witnesses to the risen Lord: Paul directs his readers to ask the witnesses themselves. This is a crummy strategy if there were none.
  • The stolen body theory is the only one from the era of the early church: The only contra-resurrection theory that was found in the ancient era is that the body was stolen. Every other offering is a product of guesses based on suppositions precarious balanced on anti-supernatural bias. Even then, the Bible accounts for the stolen body theory in Matthew, who refers to a bribe that was given to the soldiers to lie about what happened. As we examined earlier, the “sleeping soldiers/stolen body claim” is problematic on a number of accounts, whereas the bribe does fit the facts we have regarding the event.
  • The Apostle Paul: Paul was a persecutor of Christians. We know from Acts and Paul’s own account that he was involved in the persecution and execution of early believers. We also know that Paul went against his teaching rabbi in persecuting Christians. This is no small thing. Paul then is turned around and not only becomes a Christian, but becomes one of the strongest advocates of the faith. This is roughly akin to Hitler becoming a rabbi and leading the remnant of the Jews back to Israel. All of this is based on an encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The crumminess of the story: The story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is a powerful one in our day and age. However, to an ancient Jew crucifixion is unbelievably offensive. The Old Testament associates crucifixion with being accursed of God. Saul was killed in a similar manner. Jews were deeply offended by the practice. Further, most Jews were looking for God to send a messiah in the vein of Judas Maccabeus, who kicked the butts of the Persians and chased them out of the promised land. They wanted a conqueror. Even further still, the incarnation is a deeply offensive concept to the Jews of that time and an absurd concept to anyone who was a student of Plato or Aristotle. If the disciples concocted this story in an effort to make a fortune, they were dumb. This story stands as the opposite of what would be an effective con at the time. Its just downright offensive to the cultures of the time.

Summary: The major arguments against the resurrection are fanciful guesses that do not stand up to the slightest degree of examination. In fact, most of these arguments are so weak that they highlight the strength of the argument for the resurrection. The next essay will look at the evidence in favor of the resurrection as a total, cohesive argument.