Book Plunge: Transcending Proof

What do I think of Don McIntosh’s book published by Christian Cadre publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Don for sending me this book to see what I thought. As I read through, there were some parts I really did like, and some that I wasn’t so sure about it. I definitely did like seeing a foreword by Stephen Bedard, someone I have a great respect for. Since I said it was a mixed bag, I’ll go with what I did like and then mention ways I think a future edition could be better.

McIntosh makes an interesting beginning by starting with the problem of evil. One would think this is not where you would begin your case for theism, but it is for him. McIntosh I think spends the most time on this part of the book. He looks at evil and all the explanations for it. At times, I found myself thinking an objection from the other side could be easily answered, but then he answered it later on.

I also like that McIntosh is willing to take on popular internet atheists such as Richard Carrier. Again, this part is a case for theism and relies highly on the usages of the problem of evil. McIntosh makes a fine dissection of Carrier’s argument, though it’s quite likely you won’t follow along as well if you don’t know the argument of Carrier.

The same applies to Dan Barker. Of course, Dan Barker is about as fundamentalist as you could get and is a poster child for fundamentalist atheism. McIntosh replies to an argument he has against theism based on God having omniscience and free-will both and how Barker thinks that is contradictory. Again, it’s good to see popular atheists that aren’t as well known being taken on because you do find them often mentioned on the internet and many popular apologists don’t deal with them.

It was also good to see a section on the reliability of Scripture, which is quite important for Christian theism, and a section on Gnosticism. I see Gnosticism often coming back in the church. This includes ideas like the body being secondary and a sort of add-on. (Think about sexual ethics. People who think sex is dirty and a sort of necessary evil and people who think “It’s just sex and no big deal what you do with it” are both making the same mistake.)  I also see Gnosticism with the emphasis on signs and the idea of God speaking to us constantly and personal revelation being individualized.

That having been said, there are some areas that I do think could be improved. One of the biggest ones is it looked like I was jumping all over the place when I went through. It was as if one chapter didn’t seem to have any connection to the next one. I would have liked to have seen a specific plan followed through. If there was one, I could not tell it.

I am also iffy on critiques I often see of evolution. I am not a specialist in the area to be sure, but yet I wonder how well these would do against an actual scientist and I still think this is the wrong battle to fight. I also found it troublesome that the God of the living could not be the same as the one described as the abstract deity that was Aristotle’s prime mover of the universe. I do not see why not. I think Aristotle’s prime mover is truly found in the God of Scripture and that God is more living and active than any other being that is. I am not troubled by God using an evolutionary process to create life than I am by God using a natural process to form my own life in the womb and yet I can still be fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also would have liked to have seen a chapter focusing solely on the resurrection and giving the best arguments for and against it. I think it’s incomplete to have a look at Christian theism without giving the very basis for specific Christian theism. It’s good to have the reliability of Scripture, but there needs to be something specific on the resurrection.

Still, I think McIntosh has given us a good start and there is plenty that could be talked about. I do look forward to a future writing to see what it will lead to. We need more people who are not known willing to step forward and write on apologetics and especially those willing to engage with the other side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Jesus Is No Myth

What do I think of David Marshall’s book published by Kuai Mu Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you’re on the internet and you’re completely unaware of scholarship, you might think mythicism is the next big phase of historical Jesus studies. You’d be completely wrong on that. Mythicism was, is, and will be a joke still. There are three figures that have stolen the spotlight recently and although only one is a mythicist (One is in fact strongly an anti-mythicist), all have had their impact.

Reza Aslan stirred some of the waters by publishing a book called Zealot. In this, he argued that Jesus belonged to the group at the time known as Zealots. Some of you might have even seen him on Fox News. Is Reza Aslan a scholar worth taking seriously?

If you’re a skeptic on the internet, usually you take Richard Carrier as the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship. Why not? He’s a world-renowned philosopher and historian. I know this because hey, Richard Carrier said so. Is Carrier thus shaking the boat seriously and causing scholars to rethink their views on the historical Jesus?

Finally, many already use Bart Ehrman and have done so. Normally, if your skeptic isn’t pointing to Richard Carrier, they’re pointing to Bart Ehrman. He’s definitely not a mythicist, but he is definitely not an evangelical Christian either. He’s made some claims of Jesus being similar to other great figures. Is he right?

Marshall takes on all of these, the group that he calls ACE in this book. The book is a lively and engaging read. Marshall is an unusual mix. He is well-read in ancient literature and knows what was going on in the times of the Bible, but he’s also brought something else interesting, and that’s a knowledge of Chinese and other Far Eastern histories. After all, one can step outside of the world in the Bible to see what other cultures were like for comparison and how history was done in them.

Not only that, he also comes equipped with some great pop culture references. The closest that comes to his style of writing in scholarly works is actually Michael Bird. Marshall manages to make references in his book to Dr. House, epic rap battles, and Pokemon. A reference like this can bring an extra smile of delight and humor. Marshall is heavy on substance, but he brings light humor as well.

Still, let’s focus on the substance, and there’s plenty of it. Marshall takes on all three of these. Aslan is probably the simplest one seeing as he really isn’t a scholarly in the field and makes some simple mistakes that real scholars have corrected him on, but he does serve the purpose of showing us what not to do. Marshall shows how Aslan cherry picks the evidence so that Jesus comes out the way he wants him to.

Carrier is a different story. If you’re like many skeptics on the internet, you think Carrier is everything. Most in the scholarly world really have no idea who he is. That’s right. Not only is he not shaking the boat, he’s not really making any ripples in the water at all. Still, Marshall takes him on, particularly on the point of parallels to the Gospels in older literature. This also includes a great admirer of Carrier, Matthew Ferguson.

Marshall also takes on the mythicism of Carrier and others. For Carrier, there is a look at the whole Rank-Raglan idea and Marshall shows that it just doesn’t apply well. He also pays attention to the claims of the arguments of silence as well as shows that the methodology of Carrier in history would lead to disastrous results and no, ideas like the criterion of embarrassment have not been thrown out.

Dealing with Ehrman means dealing with a lot of parallels. One favorite one to use is Apollonius of Tyana. Marshall goes through this work showing that Apollonius is not a valid parallel to Jesus. This is material quite helpful for anyone encountering this kind of claim.

Another figure he deals with is the Baal Shem Tov. This was a historical Jewish figure that lived in Poland that Ehrman brought up in a debate with Tim McGrew. Unfortunately, Ehrman didn’t get out all the facts about the Baal Shem Tov and if listeners knew what Marshall shares in this book, they never would have taken Ehrman’s claim seriously.

I should also point out that Marshall writes not just with an intellectual blowtorch that burns through the rubbish in bad arguments, but he writes from the perspective of a devout Christian who sees Jesus as far greater than any other figure. That’s another benefit of this book. It allows you to see Jesus as different and how weak the attacks are against Him. If anything, they only make the Christian faith all the stronger.

This is a book I highly recommend you read. Marshall has given us a gift with this excellent work. You owe it to yourself to partake of it and if you are a fan of ACE, you need to consider the arguments in this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Big Think On The Historical Jesus

Are scholars coming to doubt Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. We’ve been down this road before. Another website claiming that there’s an increasing number of “scholars” who doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Of course, as we’ll see, when they use the word scholars, there’s really only one reply to that.

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This time the website is Big Think, which is apparently inappropriately named. The article can be found here. I went through it when someone pointed it out to me just groaning at the massive ignorance of the author named Philip Perry. So what are his major errors? (Other than writing the whole thing?)

To begin with, we have the whole idea that Christmas was copied from the pagans, which is something sadly that many Christians fall for. The author claims that the traditions we celebrate came from Norse mythology and from Saturnalia. His source? Just another website. Most of the material if not all is answerable in my ministry partner’s book, Christmas is Pagan And Other MythsI want to focus more on the main article.

When we start talking about Jesus, we then see what the writer means by scholars. As he says “Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.” Yes. There are bloggers questioning this. There are bloggers also saying 9-11 was an inside job and the moon landing was a hoax. We could say there is a growing number. Will the author start treating them seriously?

The writer of course tells us which sources we shouldn’t accept. We should not accept religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. Interestingly, the atheist he cites can be found here and lo and behold, his source is Richard Carrier! (That is, Richard Carrier who is teaching at the prestigious university of…..ummmm…..well….okay. He’s not teaching anywhere for a scholar who is supposed to be world-renowned in philosophy and history, but oh well.)  Of course, Carrier is someone many of us don’t take seriously at all and when I hear his name, I just think of his theme song going through my head.

Let’s look at the question about religious scholars. John Dickson addressed this point in the past when he responded to Raphael Lataster, someone I have responded to as well here and here. John Dickson said about Lataster’s idea that Christians shouldn’t get involved in the study of the historical Jesus said that

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality. This is why the methods of history are so important. They are how we assess each other’s work. We don’t fret about other scholars’ private beliefs and doubts. We judge their handling of the acknowledged evidence according to the rules of historical inquiry. Anything else would be zealotry.

When it comes to peer-review, no one gets a pass for being a Christian or an atheist. The methodology is the same. Can you show you handle the scholarship and handle it properly? Would Perry be fine with my saying that no Christian should listen to an atheist on evolutionary biology since they come with a bias?

Perry also finds it interesting that we have Jesus go straight from 12 to 30 with nothing about what happened in-between. This is pretty simple. I challenge Perry to go and read other Greco-Roman biographies of the time and see how much time they devoted to someone’s childhood. Jesus’s biographies are nothing unusual in this regard. They are par for the course.

Perry then goes on to say:

Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable.

Really? This is a rule? I have never heard about this 100 year rule. This rule would rule out most of ancient history. The huge majority of the lives of Plutarch would be thrown out. Our biographies of Alexander the Great would be out the door. Today, no one could write a book about the Civil War. Only people who have no clue about how to do history would say nonsense like this.

As for the rule about an author being clearly established, it can be helpful to know who the author is, but many times, we don’t know. We hold to Plutarch authorship because his grandson said it later on. I find this whole thing a red herring anyway. Do we really think skeptics of Christianity would keel over and accept it if the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel said “The Gospel according to Matthew?” Not a bit. After all, we have letters claiming to be from Paul and that is not accepted as a good enough reason for granting six of them authorship by Paul to them. Of course, Perry could have looked at what E.P. Sanders said about this.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Perry then tells us we have sources written several decades after the fact. First off, his source is Raphael Lataster for this information, which isn’t a big shock. Apparently, sound mythicist argumentation is just quoting other people who agree with your views. Second, again, could he show us some history that’s not like that in the ancient world? The overwhelming majority was written several decades after the fact.

Keep all this in mind about decades and the 100 year rule as it will hurt Perry in the end, but Perry says nothing about the Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15. What do scholars say about it?

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Perry also says they were written by people who wanted to promote the faith. Yes. Of course. And? This somehow shows they are unreliable? Should we say that Jewish holocaust museums should be viewed with suspicion? Do we not accept the account of a soldier who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked because he could have a bias? In the ancient world, everyone had a bias, just like today. History was to be written with passion after all.

He also says the Gospels contradict on events like the Easter story. Of course, many of us have seen these lists of contradictions, but Perry never tells us what they are. Does he throw out the accounts of Polybius and Livy on Hannibal crossing the Alps because those hopelessly contradict? Perry has created a standard that if there is any disagreement, then we throw it out. Unfortunately for him, Mike Licona has recently shown that this kind of disagreement is common even in the writings of Plutarch. For the part about being anonymous, see E.P. Sanders’s quote above. He then tells us that there’s evidence that the Gospels were heavily edited over the years.

There’s also evidence that Philip Perry climbs on top of his car at night and howls at the moon.

Oh, wait? I need to provide actual evidence and not just make a claim? I just figured I would do exactly what Perry has done. Still, let’s look at the claim. What would someone like Bart Ehrman say about it?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

If Perry wants to back his claims that the Gospels are heavily edited, let him. By the way, pointing to Mark 16:9-20 and the pericope of the woman caught in adultery does not show heavily edited. We’ve known about these passages since the time of the early church. If anything, showing that these weren’t in the original manuscripts shows we have a good idea of what was in the original manuscripts.

Perry goes on to say that:

St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

As soon as you hear this talk about “Heavenly Jesus” you know where exactly this is coming from. There are a number of things we know about Jesus from Paul, such as His being crucified, having a Passover meal, being descended from David, dying on Passover, being seen after His resurrection, and being born of woman under the law in Galatians 4, which would definitely refer to an earthly existence. Scholars across the board have not taken the heavenly Jesus idea seriously. (By the way Perry, these are real scholars who actually have Ph.Ds and teach at accredited universities and not bloggers.)

Perry also finds it shocking that such an important religious figure wasn’t talked about. Unfortunately, what is really shocking is that Jesus was talked about. Perry is following an anachronism here. It is assuming that because Jesus is all the rage today and everyone talks about Him, that meant everyone was talking about Him in His time. Not at all. As I have in fact argued, in Jesus’s time, He wasn’t worth talking about. He discounts Josephus and Tacitus who wrote a century later. This isn’t accurate anyway. Jesus would have been crucified around 30 A.D. Josephus wrote before the end of the century and Tacitus wrote at the start of the second.

He also claims that their sources are Christian. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated. Perry can talk all he wants about these accounts being controversial, but this is not according to the scholars of Josephus and Tacitus. The overwhelming majority have no problem with a witness to the historical Jesus being found here.

Next, Perry gives a list of authors who back his thesis supposedly. Let’s look at them.

Reza Aslan in Zealot? Nope. Aslan holds that there is a historical Jesus and that he was a zealot. His claim is wrong, of course, but he is not a mythicist.

Nailed by David Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald has no credentials in the scholarly community. One needs to look at atheist Tim O’Neill taking down Fitzgerald here.

Bart Ehrman with How Jesus Became God? Bart Ehrman has even written the book Did Jesus Exist? taking down the Jesus mythicist movement. He has no patience for these people. Finally of course, we have Richard Carrier with On The Historicity of Jesus. (Carrier to most of scholarship is just someone who happens to have a degree but to most skeptics on the internet, he’s the alpha and omega of scholarship.)

Perry has the quote from Bart Ehrman, but what of it? Ehrman himself doesn’t think that Jesus never existed and if Perry had done just a brief look on Amazon and found Ehrman’s book and read what it’s about, he would have known this. Unfortunately, Perry did not do any real research.

Perry also uses Carrier’s argument of the Rank-Raglan figure to show that Jesus is a mythical figure. Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer the questions like “Why does Carrier use Matthew instead of Mark when Mark is thought to be earlier?” He also doesn’t address the critiques of this position like here and here.

In the first article, I would like to highlight one quote of Ronnblom.

Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus, and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is clearly misrepresenting his sources

And as McGrath says at the start of his article:

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Keep in mind, this is said to be the centerpiece of Carrier’s argument.

It’s also worth pointing out that Carrier has given a talk on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar and says that all the great historians of the age mention it. Unfortunately, the great historians of the age wrote much later. What happened to that 100-year rule?

Finally, we conclude with Perry bringing up Joseph Atwill. Unfortunately, the media does us a disservice of calling most anyone a Biblical Scholar. This would be like me calling any blogger who critiques evolution a scientist. Atwill’s crazy theory is that the Romans invented the figure of Jesus to control the Jews. Larry Hurtado has taken his own shot at Atwill. Even Carrier said Atwill’s theory was nonsense, but hey, who cares? He made the claim.

We can hope that someday, BigThink will actually follow its own advice and think. Right now, this growing number so far consists of just a small handful of writers. Next story no doubt will be “A number of scientists are seriously questioning evolution”. I will be told that that is inaccurate I am sure, but when it comes to Jesus, you’re allowed to break the rules.

There’s a reason mythicism is rightly seen as nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Miracle Myth

What do I think of Lawrence Shapiro’s book published by Columbia University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been said before that when Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga gets a critique of the Christian worldview, he likes to take his opponent’s argument and reshape it, not to make it weaker, but to remove any problems he sees in it. He wants to make it as strong as he can. When that is done, he goes and then deals with the argument.

Shapiro seems to take the exact opposite approach of taking arguments of his opponents and making them as weak as possible in this book.

This is a book that does not deal accurately with any of the ideas that it wishes to critique. The author takes straw man after straw man and then announces with joy that the hideously weak case has been knocked down. Unfortunately, Shapiro has knocked down a sand castle while a powerful fortress stands there untouched.

In fact, a striking problem of Shapiro’s book is how little time he spends discussing actual miracle claims. There are many times he argues against the idea of miracles and in fact painting them as ridiculous as claims of alien abductions or Bigfoot. The only two claims of a miracle he takes on are the Book of Mormon and the resurrection of Jesus, and while I disagree with the former entirely, even then Shapiro does a horrible job dealing with this.

Fortunately, at the start Shapiro does make clear what he’s arguing against. He says “Miracles, I argue, should be understood as events that are the result of supernatural, typically divine, forces.” Now at this point, I still wonder what is meant by this term supernatural. I don’t see atheists and skeptics define it a lot and the supernatural/natural dichotomy makes no sense to me.

I can’t help but wonder how familiar Shapiro is with some miracle arguments when he says “Why do we think that it’s perfectly natural that a stone falls when dropped or that metal expands when heated or that days are shorter in the winter than in the summer? We do so because these events and others like them happen all the time.” Of course, Hume himself said that dropping a stone 1,000 times and watching it fall will not prove that it will fall the 1,001st time.

At the start of his story The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton wrote about a man who was amazed about all that did happen like that. It is amazing when a train reaches the correct stop or a letter reaches the correct address because there was a potentially infinite number of places it could have gone to. All of these are a way of establishing order in the universe.

Why bring this up? Because unknowingly to Shapiro I suspect, when he makes statements like this, he’s upholding the theism he would be arguing against. This is, in fact, part and parcel of the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. The fact that there is expected order at all is something that needs to be explained and with more than “We see it happen every day.” You may see a man kiss his wife every day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know of a reason behind it.

Right after this, Shapiro does bring up the natural/supernatural distinction which he thinks that nearly everyone accepts. Perhaps they do, but for what reason? I contend that it is not a good one as I have questioned Christians and atheists on this one and never received replies that make sense of the distinction. I prefer to speak of objects acting according to their nature unless other objects or forces or beings intervene.

I’m not surprised when I get to Location 571 in my Kindle reading and read “If science tells us anything, it’s that the dead tend to stay that way.” Normally, this kind of statement isn’t really spelled out which makes it all the more humorous. Perhaps Shapiro just isn’t aware that man in the past has always tended to bury or dispose of the dead in some way. We learned pretty quickly that they’re not coming back. If this is the discovery of modern science, then please tell me which scientist discovered this and when it took place. We know more scientifically about death, but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that dead people stay dead.

Shapiro then says something about the inference to the best explanation. It’s understandable that when you see something science can’t seem to explain, such as a statue crying, you can infer that the cause must be something outside the realm of science (Which is what he would call supernatural.). There’s nothing wrong with the reasoning per se. We do it all the time with what we can’t observe.

At this point, I wonder about the question of goodness. Do we observe goodness? Hume would have said we didn’t. You talk about how the action feels to you and you impress that onto the action. Myself being a Thomist, would prefer to say that the goodness is in the action itself and you recognize it as such. Science cannot explain this goodness. It’s a metaphysical quality. This is not to insult science. It’s just properly recognizing the limits of science.

At 841, Shapiro tells us that whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative. Really, they’re guesses. Somehow, Aristotle and Aquinas and other thinkers didn’t get that memo. They used reasoning about metaphysical matters to arrive at a conclusion about God they could argue for. Sadly, Shapiro never bothers to look at such arguments.

Shortly after, he starts to say something about the resurrection. He tells us that there is a better natural explanation, that for instance, the women went to the wrong tomb or the body was stolen by grave robbers. These would surely explain the data better.

Except they don’t. Kirsopp Lake tried the wrong tomb explanation long ago. It never got much ground. Anyone would have been happy to point out the right tomb. As for grave robbers, grave robbers would normally not steal the whole body but only the parts they needed. None of these would explain either the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James.

But hey, Shapiro just needs a just so story. Just throw it out and boom, you’ve shown what a better thinker you are. Obviously, this is something that has never crossed the mind of Christians ever.

It’s ironic he says this in response to Licona’s book on the resurrection where counter-theories would be dealt with. He also says Licona cannot say that this is a miracle. Unfortunately for Shapiro, Licona regularly speaks about what a miracle is. It’s described as an event that goes beyond the laws of nature and takes place in an atmosphere charged with religious significance.

A blind man sits at home one day and all of a sudden, BOOM!, his eyes are open and he can see. Is this a miracle? Maybe.Maybe not. On Licona’s terms, it wouldn’t look like it just yet. Meanwhile, a blind man is at a church service and people gather around him and pray in faith that in the name of Jesus the man’s eyes would be opened. The man can then see. This would be a miracle.

Shapiro also gives an account of Sally. Sally is a little girl who is amazingly accurate with all she says. Unfortunately, she’s also boring. She talks about mundane things regularly. Then one day you see Sally and she talks about how she’s been an alien hostage for twelve years and had gone through a wormhole and because of that, it will seem to us like she was never gone. After all of the description, he asks if we should believe her. His reply is we shouldn’t.

I have a different reply. I understand skepticism. By all means, be skeptical, but instead, ask “Okay. What is the evidence?” Could we take Sally to a doctor to check her for bruises? Could we see where the abduction took place to see some residue? Could Sally tell us facts about the universe and such she would not have known otherwise that we can verify?

Does that seem bizarre to you? Why should it? What is wrong with receiving a strange claim and just asking “What is the evidence?” I’m skeptical of alien abductions, but I am sure that if someone was abducted by aliens, they would want to talk about it. Should I discount the story immediately without seeing the evidence they have?

Shapiro also gives an account of a disease that can only be treated if caught early. The disease is a deadly one, but the treatment leaves one in a horrid state. The test for the disease is accurate when it says someone has it 999 out of 1,000 times. The test says you have it. Should you get the treatment?

Shapiro argues that there is in fact overall a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of getting the disease. Since I am not a specialist on probability, I spoke to my friend Tim McGrew on this, who is a specialist on this. According to him, this means that at the start, the probability you have the disease is .0000001. If the test makes it a thousand times more likely that you have it, your odds are still ,0001.

McGrew says that in that case, it might not be wise to get the treatment regardless of what the test says, but what if there are other tests? What if you can go to other doctors and find other means? Each of these will increase the odds. Should you not at least consider doing this?

McGrew also points out that events like miracles are not like catching a disease where one in a certain population will get it as a random event in the universe. A miracle is a deliberate action by an agent. It is not as if we bury people and one out of every 10,000,000 will rise from the dead.

Shapiro also says with other events, we have more independent sources and other evidence, such as if we take the account that a volcano destroyed Pompeii. I find this one quite amusing since for Pompeii, we only have one direct reference to it. We have allusions to it, but it’s only mentioned by Pliny to Tacitus telling about why his uncle died in an off-the-cuff remark. It’s not until Cassius Dio centuries later that we learn that Herculaneum was destroyed.

Amazingly, Shapiro does concede that if God exists and He is omnipotent, this raises the probability that the resurrection happened to one. You would think that someone would want to look at theistic arguments at that point, but it looks like Shapiro doesn’t. Shapiro in fact asks why not believe in aliens or other entities that raised Jesus. If Shapiro wants to make a case for any of those, he’s welcome to it. We will make our case for a theism consistent with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments and see which explanation makes the better case.

It’s sadly not much of a shock when Shapiro goes also to “the historian Richard Carrier.” (Cue Yakity Sax playing in your head right now.) I could repeat all that Carrier says here in comparing Jesus’s resurrection to the crossing of the Rubicon, but I have done that elsewhere. Keep in mind also that in historical statements about this event, Shapiro says “We have the written reports that historians produced a couple hundred years after the event.” Keep this in mind because this tells us right now that a couple of hundred years isn’t a problem.

Doug Geivett was also the one who made the claim originally that the evidence of Jesus rising from the dead is comparable to that of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Shapiro says Geivett would be disappointed to learn that Carrier thinks the Biblical miracles are made up. No, I quite contend that Geivett would not be at all disappointed, other than disappointment for the possible salvation of Carrier. Carrier’s positions are getting more and more to the extreme that it looks more and more that if Carrier says something is true, the opposite is far more likely to be true.

A story Shapiro goes on to deal with then is the account of the Book of Mormon. Now I have done some reading on Mormonism including all of their Scriptures, but it’s hardly a specialty area. Still, while Shapiro makes a good case, it’s just a decent one. Much more could have been said. What is interesting is that he makes a case with something he thinks many of us would readily agree on to show us that the case for the resurrection is just as bad.

Oh really?

In all of this, Shapiro has been wanting to compare Jesus to the story of a frog in India who heals pets who are brought to him, except for ferrets. For some reason, he does not like ferrets. The person telling you about this frog is convinced. Now it’s time to see how well this holds up.

The frog believer tells you at this point that not until decades later did someone think to write down anything about the accounts. Yes. Decades later. This is a man who just recently said a couple of hundred years wasn’t a problem for crossing the Rubicon. Now decades later is a problem for Jesus.

Shapiro also doesn’t ask why the accounts were never written down. He never pauses to think that he lives in a society where books are easily made, inexpensive generally, and everyone can read them. I got his book sent to me immediately on my Kindle and it didn’t cost a lot. Did the ancients have it the same way? Not at all.

In the ancient world, you had two choices. You could go with oral tradition for one. This was free, quite reliable, (Shapiro would have to say that as oral tradition would be necessary for those historians writing a couple hundred years later) and could reach everyone who could speak the language. You could also write. Writing was timely and expensive, not seen as reliable when compared to oral tradition, and could only reach those who could read unless someone read it to them.

This would have been a good thought for Shapiro to consider, but he never does. Instead, he just assumes that the culture was just like his and writing makes the most sense. To us, it does. To them, it didn’t.

Shapiro also says before researching this book, he was profoundly ignorant of the New Testament. I think Shapiro is in a worse position now. He is still profoundly ignorant of the New Testament, but now he thinks that he is informed on it. This isn’t a big shock since he tells us his sources are Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier. After all, when you want to learn about a view, there’s nothing like going to people who will already agree with the ideas that you hold.

At the start, he is skeptical about written records because the people who were Jesus’s disciples couldn’t write anything. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Some fishermen would need a basic literacy, especially being in charge of a business. Tax collectors would definitely need a basic literacy. Also, the people we attribute the Gospels to does not mean they themselves sat down and wrote the account. Most writings were done through scribes. The Gospel according to Matthew could mean that Matthew was the main source of the account, for instance. We know there were well-to-do people in the early church and they’d just need to give some funding for the writing of the Gospel and it would be made.

Speaking of authorship, Shapiro says that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the original authors. Unfortunately, you will not see him interacting with any positive case. He thinks it sufficient to show that Irenaeus said there were four Gospels because there were four corners of the Earth and four principle winds. Never mind that this says nothing about authorship and even only makes sense if it is already accepted that there are four Gospels. Never mind there’s no interaction with someone like Dr. Charless Hill who wrote Who Chose The Gospels? Just make the assertion and that’s enough. Of course, any case will sound good if you only present the evidence for your side.

For enemy assent, he says you would think that if Jesus returned from the dead, some Roman or Jew would write about it to express their disappointment. Why? Why would you expect that? In fact, we did have one Jew who wrote about it. That was Paul. His opinion won’t count though because He became a Christian. We have no evidence that Jesus appeared to the Romans or the Jews en masse so why would they give a testament of it? They would want to shut this up immediately.

Shapiro does tell us that Josephus mentions Jesus twice, but we can’t be sure if the writings are authentic since Christians passed them down. This is news to Josephus scholars who are quite convinced that the Testimonium has an authentic core to it with information about Jesus and the second reference is really not questioned at all. It would have been nice for Shapiro to actually look at real scholars on these issues specifically, but he doesn’t.

For physical evidence, Shapiro thinks it’s interesting that square stones were used to seal tombs instead of round ones so they couldn’t be rolled. Shapiro thinks that since this basic fact is wrong, we can’t trust the accounts. Is this accurate? I spoke to Greg Monette about this who I have interviewed on this before. Monette has spent time in Israel and is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus.  This is what he told me about it.

Simple answer: even if it were a square stone what do you call it when you move it into place? You ROLL IT!!! It’s true that many tombs discovered have square stones but not all. Rachel Hachlili and L. Y. Rahmani provide numerous references to round doors. I’ve personally seen some in Jerusalem.

For reliable accounting, he tells us our information ultimately comes from two sources. It comes from Mark and from John. He makes no mention of Paul and he makes no mention of material unique to Matthew and Luke and no mention of Q.

Amusingly, in the middle of this, he says that we today “have a sophisticated medical science that explains what happens in death and why death is irreversible, except very rarely and certainly not after a period of three days.” It’s as if the ancients just didn’t know that dead people stay dead. Sorry, but this is hardly breaking news.

He goes on to say that New Testament scholars recognized long ago that the Gospels as they are today would be unrecognizable to the original authors? Really? What scholars are these? In talking about this, he refers to Bart Ehrman. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Shapiro also tells us that within a couple of centuries of the writing of the Gospels, hundreds of distinct Gospels had to exist. Okay. Show them? What’s the evidence for this? Go with the manuscripts we have and show me the vastly different manuscripts.

He also wants to bring out some discoveries that will be absolutely shocking! Now if you’ve read this blog any, none of this will shock you, other than Shapiro’s ignorance about it and the ideas he brings from it. As I said earlier, Shapiro moved from being profoundly ignorant to being profoundly ignorant and thinking he’s not.

His first major shock for you is that 1 John 5:7-8 is not in the original manuscripts. (Shapiro has John 5:7-8 and nothing about it being 1 John) So what do we draw from this? It’s that the author of John never accepted the Trinity.

Yes. I’m serious. That’s exactly what he says.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Tilling, Bauckham, Hurtado, and others. Never mind you can see the full deity of Jesus in the Gospel of John plain as day. Never mind the early church never had this verse and they still had no problem condemning Arius. Never mind that technically this verse doesn’t even go with the Trinity. Arians and modalists could still interpret it a different way. The ignorance of Shapiro is astounding.

Next major shock. The Gospel of Mark did not originally have the last twelve verses which means the first witness we have did not mention the resurrection. Well, no. The first witness we have is Paul who did talk about the resurrection. Second, it would be a mistake to think that Mark has no resurrection. Who would disagree with him on this? Bart Ehrman. Check footnote 280 on p. 226 of How Jesus Became God.

It is sometimes said that Mark does not have a resurrection narrative, since the final twelve verses (16:9–20) are lacking in our best and earliest manuscripts. It is true that Mark appears to have ended his Gospel with what is now 16:8, but that does not mean that he lacks an account of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus is indeed raised from the dead in Mark’s Gospel, as the women visiting the tomb learn. What Mark lacks is any account of Jesus appearing to his disciples afterward; in this it is quite different from the other three canonical Gospels.

And finally, the account of the woman caught in adultery is not in the original writings. Of course, no doctrine hangs on this one at all, but what is amazing is how amazed Shapiro is by these discoveries. He thinks he’s found something that blows apart the idea of the reliability of the Bible. Question for Shapiro. How do you know that these weren’t in the originals? Could it be you know that because we do in fact have great information on what is in the originals?

But nope, Shapiro thinks this destroys any idea that the Gospels are reliable. The only matter destroyed here is the idea that anyone should pay attention to anything Shapiro says. I can take him to the best conservative scholars who have no problem thinking the text is reliable and know these problems already. Perhaps my interview with Dan Wallace would suffice.

In good scholarly humility, Shapiro decides to interact with N.T. Wright and say “It seems that Wright’s case for the resurrection—consisting of more than seven hundred pages of learned and dense analysis of the historical context in which Jesus and the authors of the New Testament lived—can be easily disassembled with the philosophical tools that I have illustrated in the preceding pages.”
Never underestimate the ego of modern day atheists.

He goes on to say that to grant that Jesus’s tomb was found empty and that people claimed to see Him alive after his crucifixion is to beg the question. No, Shapiro. It is not. It is to go with the conclusion of Biblical scholars across the board who have studied this. While Ehrman is a rarity who discounts the burial, let’s look at what he says on the appearances.

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

Shapiro wants to argue also that all that is necessary is just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Unfortunately, belief will not explain what happened to the body or the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James. Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

To top things off, Shapiro thinks that if we are strong conservatives, his arguments should be found very troubling. The only troubling matter is Shapiro actually thinks they’re troubling. Shapiro actually makes me thankful that atheists are getting more and more uninformed and thinking they are informed.

He also has an appendix asking what the supernatural is. The oddity is that he never really answers the question the whole time through. I searched and searched and found nothing. It’s also worth pointing out that not once in this book is Craig Keener’s work interacted with.

In conclusion, Shapiro’s book leaves me tempted to be an environmentalist. It’s a shame so many innocent trees will die. I hope in the future we’ll see a better class of skeptics than this.

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s latest book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I saw Carrier had a new book coming, I decided I had to order it immediately. Carrier is one of the biggest names in atheism today for some reason and I want to be on top of what is being said as a Christian, so I placed my request and waited. The book actually came before the release date, which was a surprise, but I’m not complaining.

To start, some people will be surprised that this book is short. Had it not been for the presidential debates and then getting ready to spend Anime Weekend Atlanta with my wife, I can conceive of someone going through this in a day. The content pages aren’t large in number, they have footnotes, and the font seems larger than normal. This isn’t a complaint by the way, but just a statement of fact.

Reading this also, one in many ways seems to encounter a Carrier that they haven’t seen before. I thought his book on the historicity of Jesus just went for stretch after stretch after stretch and his book on sense and goodness without God had no real referencing to speak of. The style in this is quite different and I would not have known it was a Carrier book unless I had read it on the front because that was so incredibly different, but I understand that this is based on his dissertation so that’s probably what explains it.

I actually think the book is quite informative as well. It’s important to note that science wasn’t taught as much not because it was looked down on per se, but because attitudes like virtue and rhetoric were seen as more important. This is understandable. As Lewis wrote that many people can put up one kind of moral behavior and posit that for morality and think they are more moral than people of the past because of where they excel, ignoring where they are weak, so can it be done with knowledge. For the ancients, it was rhetoric and persuasive ability that mattered. For the medievals, it was the knowledge of God that was on top. For moderns, it’s science. Of course, it’s my persuasion that we can learn from all three.

Carrier does want to compare the time to the Middle Ages, but here you see that he has not really looked at it as much. I look forward to seeing what Hannam and O’Neill will say in response. Let’s look at some such passages in Carrier to see what I mean.

“How many youths studied the enkykios (A basic curriculum consisting of scientific knowledge) and its basic science content in the Middle Ages?  I suspect it is not likely even to be comparable, much less greater. But I must leave that for others to determine.” (p. 85)

“But I suspect very much the same could be said for the Middle Ages.” (p. 89)

“It seems unlikely that these standards for the education of scientists and philosophers continued in the Middle Ages, which oversaw a broad decline of scientific knowledge, and the gradual elimination of even the idea of a philosophy school.” (p. 119)

“Medieval state and public support for education is not likely to compare as well, until the rise of the universities, yet even those were small and few in number for quite some time and thus, at least until the Renaissance, might not have surpassed what had already been available in the Roman Empire.” (p. 136)

Statements like this do show that we need to wait for that information to come out. As I said, I look forward to what Hannam and O’Neill have to say, particularly about Christianity not being responsible for the rise of science. Still, this book is actually an interesting and enjoyable read and I think contains information that is worth further study. We’ll have to see what others have to say about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Review of Atheism: The Case Against Christianity

What do I think of Matthew McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was asked by someone to read this book and see what I thought about it. I was expecting to see a really strong case. McCormick is a Ph.D. in philosophy. While it’s not history, philosophers usually tend to be really good thinkers and I was really thinking I’d see more of the same.

In fact, the book started out with a lot of promise on why we should believe something and that the benefits we get from believing something don’t entail the truth of that something. All of this had a lot of promise to it. Unfortunately, that promise died quickly. It died so quickly that I soon realized that to review this book, I would need to do a lot more than just one blog post. McCormick’s book is full of errors and bad analogies and show really the same typical approaches from atheistic writers.

It’s also worth noting that I don’t get much hope still when I see the acknowledgments include thanks to John Loftus and Richard Carrier. I saw both names and thought “Well maybe he’ll make a better case anyway.” I was disappointed.

At the start, McCormick is partially right when he says at location 71 that “A God who performs miracles to accomplish his ends, prove his divinity, and foster belief is the foundation of the Christian religion—as well as many other religions.” I would not say the resurrection is there to prove that YHWH is divine for instance. It would not even be to prove that Jesus was divine per se. Many of us have this idea that the Gospels were written to show Jesus is fully God and fully man. While they do that, that is not their purpose.

I also think McCormick is wrong about miracles. For instance, classical Islam only claims one miracle, the Koran itself. Buddhism would not have miracles and they do not fit well in Hinduism either. You could look at a more modern religion like Mormonism, but as we’ll see later on, that builds on a Christian foundation already.

Still, McCormick is right that a God who performs miracles is essential for the Christian religion. You can take the miracles out of Christianity and you might have a nice ethical system, but you do not have a religion. Jesus is just another great teacher and frankly, we’ve had a hard time listening to great teachers already anyway.

I also wonder what McCormick means when he says “We must reject attempts to redefine God in some nonliteral fashion.” (Loc. 94) Why must we do this? Should I believe God literally in His nature has a body and that passages speaking about the hand of the Lord are literal? Would it surprise McCormick to know that a lot of passages that we might think are “literal” today were not seen that way by the early church because that would not be seen as fitting for the glory of God?

Now to say something I definitely agree with, I agree at loc. 102 when McCormick says “If the typical claims about Jesus are true—he is the son of God, he died for our sins, his forgiveness promises eternal salvation, he was resurrected from the dead, and so on—then he is the most important person in human history.” One would think with such a recognition that McCormick would take the case more seriously. As we will see, he does not.

McCormick also at 149 has the usual atheistic view of faith. “Faith is how we describe believing when the evidence by itself, as we see it, does not provide adequate justification, but we are motivated to believe anyway by hope.” Of course, I have my own view on faith. While McCormick’s view might be what Joe Christian means today, it is not what the Biblical writers meant and if we are approaching the Biblical text to see what it says, we need to see what the authors meant.

I do agree also at Loc. 173 that if the historical facts do not matter, then all religions are on the same footing, insofar as they claim to be true. Christianity is a historical religion. That needs to be acknowledged. This isn’t about events that happened long long ago in a galaxy far far away. These are events that happened at a real place and a real time.

Around 211, McCormick points out that Carrier says Herodotus mentions several bizarre events that took place at a battle. Many of these are fascinating, but unfortunately, McCormick is not a researcher. In fact, there isn’t even a primary source cited but rather just a reference to Carrier himself. A researcher when seeing these claims would want to know “Where does Herodotus say them and what is the explanation?” “What is the distance between the events and the time of writing?” “What do leading historical scholars, especially those specializing in Herodotus, say about these events?” Unfortunately, these are not asked. As we will see later, the evidence for Jesus is far better.

There’s also of course something on science and Christianity. After making a case for evolution, McCormick says at 266 that “These discoveries are at odds with Christian views of sin, vice, weakness of will, or the magical transmission of moral guilt across centuries from Adam and Eve on to their remote descendants.” One wonders what would happen if McCormick came across Christians that have no problem with the idea of evolution. Perhaps it is not Christians that have the problem with literalism but rather atheists?

I also agree at loc. 334 that a miracle is not just a fortuitous event, though I think describing it as a violation of the laws of nature is problematic, and I will have more on that when we discuss miracles later on. I do think sometimes it can be a fortuitous event. Let’s suppose the Red Sea parting happened and it was due to a wind and that this does happen from time to time as is claimed. The miracle then is not that it happened, but that it happened when it happened.

Of course, McCormick is right throughout that we must take the evidence seriously and that we shouldn’t believe just because we like the outcomes of Christian belief or it makes us good people. The question will be, does McCormick have a case? As we will see, he does not.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Part 6 can be found here.

Part 7 can be found here.

Part 8 can be found here.

Part 9 can be found here.

Part 10 can be found here.

Part 11 can be found here.

Part 12 can be found here.

Part 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe

Book Plunge: Unmasking the Jesus Myth

What do I think of Stephen Bedard’s book on Jesus mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Stephen Bedard for sending me his latest book on this topic. Bedard is one Christian who still wants to give time to Jesus mythicism and addressing it. I do as well, but it is becoming less common mainly because when we meet anyone who is a mythicist, we tend to see them as beyond reasonable discussion. The rules of historiography are changed to allow for this.

Bedard has put together a small book that you could read in a couple of hours on the topic so you can be familiar with it. He has put some of the most important information in there such as stories of the pagan gods that Jesus is said to be a copy of. He also points out that this is not a scholarly debate at all. Instead, it is a debate that is largely taking place on the internet. If you meet someone who says academics in the field don’t even know if Jesus existed, you have met someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, at this, someone is going to say “Richard Carrier!” Yes. Bedard talks about him as well and Robert Price as lone exceptions to the rule of scholars in the field. Note that these are exceptions. They also do not teach at accredited universities. There’s a reason for that. Mythicism is just not taken seriously.

Still, since Carrier is mentioned, I do wish Bedard had spent more time talking about Carrier’s hypothesis about Jesus being a cosmic being who was supposedly crucified in outer space and that the accounts eventually became historicized. The dying and rising gods idea is still out there and still needs to be addressed, but this is an approach that a lot of people are not familiar with and can lead to some people being caught off guard.

In fact, this is the real ultimate problem with mythicism. It is not that the arguments are so powerful. It’s that they’re so bizarre. Many would have a hard time answering them for the same reason they’d have a hard time answering objections to the idea that we really landed on the moon. Moon landing conspiracy theorists have outlandish claims that a man on the street will not be familiar with and even if you read scholarly literature you will not be familiar with. Mythicists tend to take this strange ideas and run with them thinking they’re gold. When you listen to a mythicist talk, you will often hear unaccepted claim after unaccepted claim in a sort of shotgun approach. (I was there when Craig Evans debated Richard Carrier. I saw Carrier doing just this.)

Still, Bedard’s book is a good summary of the situation. If you have read extensively on this topic, you won’t really find anything new here, but if you aren’t familiar with it, then Bedard’s book can be a really good place to begin. While it is short, it is indeed filled with important information to help you counter the claims of mythicists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

It’s Time To Ponder Whether Jerry Coyne Knows What He’s Talking About

Can a biologist really give us the answers on questions of ancient history? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’ve had some fun on here before reviewing the “work” of Jerry Coyne and yet, he has provided even more fodder for us. In a recent writing, he has come down on the side of the idea that Jesus never even existed. Of course, if he holds to that, there’s no longer really any basis for his making fun of young-earth creationists (Of which I am not one) for holding a position that goes so much against the scientific consensus. Still, let’s look at what he says:

I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Why be surprised? Historians who know how to do history look at the data and conclude that the best explanation for what we have is that a historical Jesus once walked this Earth. The debate is not over if He existed, but the debate is over what He did and said in His life. Of course, it’s not a shock to hear Bart Ehrman is the first mentioned. I find that if you ask most atheists, the only scholars they seem to know of in the area of Biblical studies are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. (The last one is the be all and end all in historical studies to most internet atheists. Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.)

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence, and that arguments can be made that Jesus was a purely mythological figure, perhaps derived from earlier such figures, who gradually attained “facthood.” As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Jesusology. That’s cute. We can suspect that when Coyne says he’s read enough that means “I read a book by Richard Carrier and his blog posts and that settled it for me.” We would very much like to see him try to make a historical argument some time and see if he can make one that can garner the attention of even liberal and atheistic New Testament scholars. His claim that there is no extra-biblical evidence is in fact, entirely bogus, but we will get to that more as we go through.

Towards the end, you could deal with this simply by replacing the word mythicism with young-earth creationism and religion with science. Coyne should see that his position is seen as ridiculous to scholars for a reason. It is ridiculous. It is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

Probably nobody reading this post thinks that Jesus was the miracle-working son of God, and that pretty much disposes of his importance for Christianity. In the end, I’m most surprised at how much rancor is involved in these arguments, especially by the pro-Jesus side, even when that side readily admits that Jesus was not the son of God. (I can understand, of course, why Christians want to argue that Jesus was a real person.)

Well no. Some people reading this post do hold that Jesus is that, but that’s because many of us regularly read what disagrees with us. Most of us who are making the arguments against mythicism have read many books by the mythicists themselves. Furthermore, to say that if Jesus is not the miracle working Son of God then His importance to Christianity is disposed is quite amusing. Christianity is here regardless and it was there regardless and we should seek to know what role Jesus played in it even if the Biblical one is not accurate.

At this Coyne recommends we read the following article. The writer, Brian Bethune, relies heavily on Bart Ehrman and his latest work on memory, which I have responded to already here. Unfortunately, I find Ehrman’s case incredibly lacking as have scholars in the field. Bethune also too quickly dispatches group memory not realizing how it works, especially when he keeps making analogies of a telephone type game.

The article goes on to say that:

Yet Pilate is in Mark as the agent of Jesus’s crucifixion, from which he spread to the other Gospels, and also in the annals of the Roman historian Tacitus and writings by his Jewish counterpart, Josephus. Those objective, non-Christian references make Pilate as sure a thing as ancient historical evidence has to offer, unless—as has been persuasively argued by numerous scholars, including historian Richard Carrier in his recent On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt—both brief passages are interpolations, later forgeries made by zealous Christians.

Yes. Numerous scholars have argued this. Numerous ones like….

Well, there’s Carrier…

And there’s….

Well we’d really like to know!

Now to be sure, most scholars do agree that there is SOME interpolation in Josephus by Christians, but they do not say that the whole is an interpolation. There is a historical core. The second passage mentioning Jesus is even more attested and is not what a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would not write “the so-called Christ.”

As for Tacitus, we’re on even firmer grounds. I do not know of any other scholar who says this is an interpolation. Also, this is not the kind of statement a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would have Jesus spoken of in far more glowing terms than this and would not risk it being considered a mischievous superstition.

But hey, Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.

Now we could talk about the apostle Paul in Bethune’s article. What does he say?

That the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians has long obscured the fact that the bulk of the New Testament, its epistles, provide none at all. The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings. Paul never uses an example from Jesus’s sayings or deeds to illustrate a point or add gravitas to his advice—and the epistles are all about how to establish, govern and adjudicate disputes within Christianity’s nascent churches. And, despite knowing the apostles Peter, James and John, he never settles a dispute by saying, “Peter, who was there at the time, told me Jesus said this . . . ” Nor, by the evidence of his correspondence, did any faraway Christian ever ask Paul about Jesus’s life. Everything the Apostle claims to know about Jesus comes from his reading of the hidden messages in Old Testament passages and by direct revelation, the latter being the very thing that proves its worth, as he told the Galatians.

Carrier’s book on the case for Christ as a mythical construct rather than an actual human being is something of a breakthrough on the mythicist front. He gives credit to earlier writers, especially Canadian Earl Doherty, but Carrier’s rigorously argued discussion—made all the more compelling for the way it bends over backwards to give the historicist case an even chance—is the first peer-reviewed historical work on mythicism. He’s relatively restrained in his summation of the absences in Paul’s letters. “That’s all simply bizarre. And bizarre means unexpected, which means infrequent, which means improbable.” Historicists have no real response to it. Ehrman simply says, “It’s hard to know what to make of Paul’s non-interest; perhaps he just doesn’t care about Jesus before his resurrection.” Other historians extend that lack-of-curiosity explanation to early Christians in general, which is not only contrary to the usual pattern of human nature, but seems to condemn the Gospels as fiction: if Christians couldn’t have cared less about the details of Jesus’s life and ministry, they wouldn’t have preserved them, and the evangelists would have been forced to make up everything.

No. Historicists do have a response to it. The response is there was no need to mention these events. What benefit would they do? If you’re writing about how to handle meat offered to idols, how does it help to know that Jesus worked miracles? In a high-context society, the background knowledge was assumed and communication was meant to fill in the details that weren’t known. In fact, myself and some of my friends have made a whole joke of this kind of claim with the idea that if Paul believed in the virgin birth, surely he would have mentioned it. Well no. I have only heard a few sermons that taught about the virgin birth and I am convinced the preachers I heard all believed in it. Their not mentioning it does no mean they don’t affirm it. To show the humor of this, we regularly interjected in random conversations (And still do) that we affirm the virgin birth. (Which by the way, I do affirm.)

In fact, one aspect that is amusing is this whole article is meant to show us that memory is not reliable and what is one point they have in there? They have Ehrman’s memory of what happened when he was in school talking to a professor. This is supposed to be accepted at face value even though by Ehrman’s criteria, it should be rife with suspicion. The author himself accepts it and then goes on to tell us that memory can’t be trusted.

Coyne goes on to say that

What that further means is that over the four or five decades spanning the reported date of Jesus’s death and the first written scriptural account of his deeds (the Gospel of Mark) the Story of Jesus could involve not just severe distortion, but even fabrication.

Certainly it could have, but that does not mean that it did. Both sides have a burden to prove, but let’s suppose it did. Are we to think that within the timeframe when there could be eyewitnesses and people who knew eyewitnesses that the entire story would be overturned immediately and people would suddenly hold to a historical Jesus even though there was no memory of him anywhere by anyone? This was all tied in to a particular place and time with particular people. It is one thing to say a legend rises up quickly. It is another to say the legend totally supplants the real historical truth that quickly.

Bethune then argues that the one “solid” fact buttressing Jesus’s existence—his execution under Pontius Pilate, a historical figure—is likely based on post-Biblical fabrication, since many early Christians didn’t accept Pilate as executioner or even that Jesus died around the time of his reign. As Bethune notes, “Snap that slender reed and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history—the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and is an inspiration to millions who do not accept the divine Christ—is wobbling badly.”

Many early Christians? Who were these many early Christians? It would be nice if we knew that. Unfortunately, we don’t. If he wants to say Paul never explicitly mentions that, well why should he? Silence does not equal ignorance. If all we had was the writing of Tacitus on this, we would in fact have enough to believe a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Bethune draws heavily from the work of Richard Carrier, a prominent mythicist. I’ve read quite a bit of that and find it heavy weather, but in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

Because when you don’t have an argument against your opponent, psychoanalysis works well. Scholars have pored over every word of the New Testament with great detail and yet we’re supposed to believe they just gave in on this one to Christians? Seriously? There’s a reason Carrier and other mythicists are not taken seriously in scholarship. It’s because their case is weak.

But I’m not willing to do that—not until there’s harder evidence. And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed. Remember that eleven historical Americans signed statements at the beginning of the Book of Mormon testifying that they either saw the Angel Moroni point out the golden plates that became the Book, or saw the plates themselves. Yet nearly all of us reject that signed, dated, eyewitness testimony as total fabrication. Why are we so unwilling to take a similar stand about Jesus?

Oooh look. Mormonism! Okay. Once again Coyne, many of us know about this story. In fact, what I did was I talked with someone who seriously has investigated Mormonism on this question. Maybe you should have done the same. There’s more to good research than doing what you did, just citing Wikipedia. Last I saw, good scientists are supposed to ask questions.

In the end, I once again conclude that there’s a reason mythicism is laughed at. We can give thanks that people like Jerry Coyne are doing all they can to lower the intellectual standards of atheists everywhere.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Can Christians Prove The Resurrection?

What do I think of Chris Sandoval’s book published by Trafford Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Can Christians Prove The Resurrection is a book by a skeptic of Christianity written to show that while a disproof may not be possible of the resurrection, it is very far from proven. To his credit, this is probably the best book I’ve read attacking the resurrection. I suspect that many not familiar with the ins and outs of the Biblical world could find themselves concerned about what they read. For those of us who do know something about the scholarship in the area, it’s still highly lacking.

Also to be fair, Sandoval is not a typical new atheist type. He does at least have a bibliography, although one that I think is lacking at times. Naturally, any mention of Richard Carrier is enough to make me wonder but a few times Wikipedia is also cited which is problematic. Still, he’s not just someone parroting other new atheists and there isn’t a hint of mythicism in the book.

Much of his argumentation relies on what he calls the principle of Judas’s nose. The Bible never says that Judas has a nose, but it’s fair to think that he did because all people we see for the most part have one and we should take the mundane ordinary explanation over something extraordinary. He gives the example that when you hear hoofbeats, you think horses and not zebras.

This principle can work in many ways, but the problem is that too often Sandoval has assumed the physical similarities but has ignored the cultural dissimilarities. Sandoval writes not paying attention to the social world of the New Testament. Thus, arguments I favor relying on the honor and shame context of the New Testament world to defend the resurrection aren’t even touched and when we get to his attacks on the resurrection instead of his defensive position, it gets worse.

There are also times I think Sandoval presses to heavily on biblical inerrancy, all the while knowing that some apologists like C.S. Lewis rejected it. Sandoval goes after fundamentalists, but in many ways it looks like he has some fundamentalism in him himself. This will become even more apparent when we get to this attack on the resurrection. That having been said, he finds it interesting that evangelicals would want to side with people like Lewis who did not hold to inerrancy. Well why not? Lewis believed in the risen Lord like I did. I know a good number of Christians who don’t hold to inerrancy but they are some of the most devout people I know.

Sandoval also starts with the burden of proof and how history is done. He agrees with McCullagh for the most part with ideas like explanatory scope and avoiding ad hoc items and such. Some of you will recognize this from Mike Licona’s work and to be fair, it looks like this book was written before or as that book came out so you won’t see interaction with Licona’s massive tome in here.

He does argue against miracles without any mention of Earman and of course, we now have Keener’s work on miracles and again, we cannot criticize Sandoval here for not having a reply to something that hadn’t come out yet. It would be interesting to see if he might revise his thesis if he read Keener. Still, Sandoval says that saying God exists and miracles are possible is ad hoc and implausible, though not impossible, yet I wonder what is ad hoc about it? Is this not taking not just skepticism of the resurrection but skepticism of theism as the default position, something I have written on elsewhere?

He also uses the problem of evil in saying that if we were God, we would have intervened in XYZ. Well would we? If we were God, we would also know the end from the beginning. Sandoval implies that being God would mean no new knowledge of the situation that would change one’s data. Well if he thinks that’s the case, I’ll leave it to him to demonstrate that.

When we get to eyewitnesses, on page 48 we are told that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses ignored eyewitness opponents when they started their movements. Christians likewise did the same. Okay. What eyewitnesses? Name them. In fact, if we looked at the earliest opponents of Christianity, we would find that they not only held to basic truths any historian would agree to, such as Jesus being a real person who was crucified, but also that he in fact did miracles.

Now of course, we could say there were people who wrote against Christianity and their writings were lost due to events like the Jewish war in 70 A.D., but that’s not the same as saying that they were there and even if they were there, that they were ignored. If we went by Acts, we could even say Apollos is an example that they weren’t ignored since he engaged the Jews in public debate demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:27-28. This would also demonstrate that even far away, the facts of the life of Jesus were being discussed.)

Sandoval also argues that the eyewitness argument would prove more than would like to be admitted, such as the miracles of people like Kathryn Kuhlmann and other Pentecostals. What of it? Let’s suppose that we have eyewitness testimony that they did miracles. Let’s investigate the claims and see what we can find. If there were real miracles, well and good. That’s another point in my favor and one against Sandoval.

What about someone like Sabbatai Sevi? The difference is not that stories arose around him, but even in a short time those stories were jettisoned because of Sevi’s apostasy to Islam. The claim is not that legends can grow in a short time, but what does it take to get a legend to come up and totally supplant the truth of what happened in the critical stage of a belief system’s formation? The resurrection was formulated straight out of the gate (And might I add the full deity of Christ) and there wasn’t a competing Christian tradition until around the time of the second century when we have the Gnostics showing up and their denying the bodily resurrection would in fact make Christianity more appealing to Romans and such, but the orthodox would have nothing of it.

Another figure that could come up is the Baal Shem Tov. For that, I can give no better source I think than my friend David Marshall. Marshall also rightfully asks that if we have these accounts that are supposed to be so close to the life of the individual and have eyewitness testimony of miracles, well why not believe it? It looks like the ultimate answer would come down to “Because I don’t believe in miracles.” I often see skeptics saying that they don’t rule out miracles outright, but then when any evidence is presented, it must be denied because a miracle cannot be allowed.

Sandoval writes that miracles proves all these worldviews, or it proves nothing. Well that depends. You see, I have no problem with miracles in other worldviews. I think some of them could be God showing common grace. Some could also be due to dark supernatural powers. I don’t know without looking but here’s the thing. I won’t say yes or no without looking. Can I be skeptical? Sure, but I should also be open.

What we have to ask is what is being proven in other worldviews? Christianity is the one religion that staked everything on one historical claim. No other world religion has done the same. What does the resurrection mean if true for Sandoval? Is it just “Jesus is Lord and we will go to Heaven when we die if we believe on Him?” If so, then that is lacking. It is really that Jesus made numerous claims about the Kingdom of God that centered around Him and His being the Messiah and the resurrection is God Himself vindicating those claims.

Sandoval also wants to speak about how creative Christians were in handing down their texts and uses Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 and the final chapter of John as his main examples. Well if we were wanting to talk about creative, much of this is mild. The appearances are found elsewhere and after John 20:28, Jesus helping catch fish is not exactly a huge step up. If stories were being created, we would expect the Christians to write something like the Gospel of Peter into the canonical Gospels. They didn’t.

In fact, it’s quite interesting that someone like Matthew while regularly showing throughout his text how prophecy was fulfilled says absolutely nothing when it comes to the resurrection. He never says “This fulfilled the Scriptures.” If you want to know what the resurrection means theologically, you must go to Paul. Had the writers been wanting to historicize prophecy as someone like Crossan would say, the resurrection would be the best place for them to do that, and they never did.

He also argues that the Gospels were not valued equally, such as Luke wanting to drive out his predecessors, though all that is said is that he used sources before him, which was common. Because the writer of 1 Timothy used Luke, it is thought the other Gospels were not valued, but this no more follows than my quoting Matthew in a sermon sometime would mean I didn’t care for the other Gospels. Also, we are told Justin Martyr did not use John, but such a scholar as Michael Kruger has called that into question.

There is often much conjecture, such as saying that the Christians put an end to prophecy due to factions. This is odd since in a letter written to a community with factions, namely 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks highly about the gift of prophecy. Second, he argues that the next step taken was to go with Apostolic succession to stop the rumor mill and then to canonize four Gospels that contained information some Christians probably knew to be false. This is on page 56 and there is no citation given. The scenario is ad hoc indeed.

Sandoval also says many cults and such rely on peer pressure. The reality is that peer pressure would work in the opposite way for the Christians. Christians would experience peer pressure from their society to not be different from everyone else and not to accept new belief systems that conflict with the Roman belief system and have shameful beliefs and practices. Sandoval’s claim then works against him. Were peer pressure to be a strong deterrent in the early church, we would expect it to go the opposite way. Keep in mind Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians considering apostasizing and this without having to have any persecution in a physical sense. They are simply being shamed and that is enough for them to want to return to Judaism.

This is really a major problem for Sandoval. He writes as if he assumes that all cultures are alike and that if individualistic peer pressure is a problem here, then it would have been in the ancient world. This is a radical claim that needs to be established since one of the first rules of understanding a foreign culture is to not presume that it is just like yours. Remove this assumption from Sandoval and much of his case falls flat.

He also tells us that history is written by the winners, but what about Xenophon? What about Thucydides? These were not the winners and yet they wrote the history. This ultimately leads to a subjectivism of history if we follow it to its conclusion.

When he writes about people who were outside of the church and wrote about Christianity, he says that clearly these writers knew only what they heard from the Christians themselves. Well no, that’s not clear. It’s not clear to scholars of Tacitus for instance, especially since Tacitus did not speak favorably of Christ or the Christians and wrote against hearsay and even did not take everything Pliny the Younger said at face value, who was his closest friend. Tacitus would have access to records as a senator and priest we would no longer have access to. Sandoval also says this was Celsus’s only source, aside from Jewish Christians who were limited to Christian sources. It’s amazing what Sandoval thinks he can know about a work that we don’t even have a full copy of today.

When it comes to the dating of the Gospels, Sandoval pretty much plants everything on the Olivet Disource, but this I find quite odd. If Sandoval is so sure that this is a false prophecy, which he has a chapter on, why would Matthew and Luke write about it after the fact? Why not just not mention it?

He also wants us to call into question tradition from people like Irenaeus on the authors of the Gospels because Irenaeus thought Jesus lived to be 50. What is ignored is that Irenaeus does not get 50 from any tradition, but rather from his own unique doctrine of recapitulation. In fact, when Irenaeus speaks of the Gospels, he speaks as if his audience already knows what he is talking about and that there is no debate over. In fact, there never has been debate over this in the early church aside from if the Gospel of John is from John the apostle or John the elder.  You can listen to my interview with Charles Hill for more.

He also wants to use the usual canards about Mark getting the geography of Palestine wrong in Mark 7, as if only direct travel could be mentioned and not an itinerary. Sandoval also mentions the Gospels being anonymous citing page 66 of Sanders’s book. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t give the quote from that pages. It goes as follows:

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

We could go on with more at this point, but for now the work is not convincing. At least Sandoval is trying to interact, but it looks like what he does is just try to find a place where he thinks someone is unreliable and then say “Well based on that, why should we trust them elsewhere?” Follow this standard consistently and you will never trust anyone on anything.

Sandoval also writes that if Jesus had performed miracles like these, most Jews would have followed Him. Well why? This from someone who cites Deuteronomy 13 later on about following a false prophet who even does miracles is surprising. Jews did not follow Jesus because miracles were not enough in themselves. It was His teaching and shameful lifestyle. Yet Sandoval wants to say then that these stories must be fictitious because of these reasons. He also says the Gospel stories could have been coherent without the nature miracles, so those must be an afterthought. There is no backing for this radical claim.

When it comes to the claims of Jesus being traced back through oral tradition, Sandoval follows a Carrier strategy and says that Paul was receiving revelation from a heavenly Christ. His main place for this is in 1 Cor. 11, but he ignores Keener’s work on the historical Jesus where Keener points out that Jewish rabbis would say they received material from Sinai. They do not mean they heard Sinai speak but that that was the ultimate source. When it comes to 1 Cor. 11, Jesus is the ultimate source since He spoke those words. This would not apply to 1 Cor. 15 where Jesus did not speak about eyewitnesses seeing him.

He also writes about mass hallucinations, namely Catholic appearances and such. Well first off, let’s try to investigate and see what happened. Second, these were also a lot of power of suggestion and not so much hallucinations as people could well be seeing something and interpreting it wrongly. A hallucination is a case where someone sees something when really there is no external referent to see. If we consider the dancing sun, I have been told that if people stare at the sun for too long, that it will start affecting their eyes so they see weird things. (I have not tried this and have no intention of doing so. I don’t want permanent retinal damage and excuse me, but I happen to enjoy looking at my wife and don’t want that to change.)

Sandoval also writes of bereavement hallucinations. No doubt, these happen, but how many times do we see these happening and the person afterwards says something like “My spouse is alive! Open up the casket!” No. If anything, bereavement hallucinations in fact lead to the opposite conclusion. They lead to the conclusion that the person is certainly dead.

The next chapter is on the idea of persecution. Of course, this was written before Sean McDowell’s Ph.D. on the topic so we can excuse that, but in all this talk about persecution there is not one mention of shaming. It’s as if the only kind of persecution Sandoval can picture is persecution that puts your life on the line. Christians could run from that kind of persecution, but they could not run from shaming and if he wants to say early Mormons lived virtuous lives, I simply want him to explain the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In fact, in all of this Sandoval never asks one question. “Why were Christians persecuted?” What great crime were they committing? Answer. They were putting society at risk by failing to acknowledge the gods. They were also going further by saying Caesar is not Lord but Jesus was. There was no separation of church and state. Attacking religion is attacking the state and attacking the state is attacking religion.

Sandoval also says Paul’s conversion is not miraculous. After all, Reagan went from being a liberal to being a conservative. He gives other examples but all of this miss who Paul really was. Sandoval wants to say Paul had to understand the wrestling with sin since he wrote in Romans 7 which he says is not likely autobiographical but surely Paul knew the wrestling. Well no. Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 gives no hint whatsoever of any wrestling and Sandoval is reading a modern guilt conscience into this, something Krister Stendahl wrote about this long ago in his work on Paul and the introspective conscience of the West.

Paul’s move was in fact suicide on his part. If we want to think about benefits Paul got from being a Christian, we need to look at 2 Cor. 11. Those are not exactly glowing job benefits we would want. Paul was moving up and up in a prestigious position. Why would he switch to a shameful position? Unfortunately, since Sandoval does not know about honor and shame, he does not understand what was really going on in the case of Paul.

When we come to Sandoval’s explanation of what happened, he first goes after the claim that Joseph of Arimathea saying that it’s odd he does not show up in Acts. Well what’s odd about that? For instance, Mary Magdalene will fit into Sandoval’s scheme, but the only place she could be mentioned is Acts is a reference to “The women” in Acts 1. Many people just drop out of the narrative so why expect Joseph to be mentioned?

Sandoval’s explanation for all the data relies on Mary Magdalene having a bereavement hallucination and then Peter exploiting her financially for it. For the tomb being found empty, he goes more with the idea of grave robbers, though grave robbers would not likely steal the whole body but only the parts that were needed for their incantations. Again, I find it all lacking. He does want to compare the appearances also to what happened with the claims of Mormonism, though I think Rob Bowman has given an excellent reply to that in my interview with him.

So now we get more into Sandoval’s scenario. Sandoval sees the idea of Mary having an exorcism as a sign that she was emotionally fragile. Also, she was secretly in love with Jesus and had a nervous breakdown after the crucifixion. She panicked when a young man at the tomb said the body was missing and fled and later thought that it meant an angel had appeared to explain the supernatural disappearance of the body. She told this to her lady friends who had also had exorcisms and they had powerful feelings of Jesus’s invisible presence.

Peter after hearing about this started to experience the same and saw a career opportunity. He could rely on Mary Magdalene and the others in the Christian movement and not have to do any work and become the leader of a Messianic movement. Peter would then speak to crowds and was such a dynamic speaker that others would feel the presence of Jesus and if they didn’t, well they were the doubters who weren’t worthy. This is also why the appearance to the 500 isn’t mentioned because it was known to be subjective.

At this, let me give an aside. Paul relates this 20+ years later to the Corinthians not as new revelation to them, but something that they already know. This was accepted material. Why was it not mentioned in the Gospels? Why should it be? The Gospels were not written to prove the resurrection but to share the life and teachings of Jesus. Had they been written to prove the resurrection, they would have just focused on that and in fact answered objections. They didn’t.

To go back to the story, when we get to James, Sandoval continues his flights of fancy as he says that after Joseph died, Jesus abandoned his mother and brothers and ran away to join John the Baptist embarrassing his family financially. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. When the family approached Jesus in Mark 3, it was because he had shirked his financial responsibilities.

Sandoval also says a lot of this creativeness comes through the oral tradition, but as expected, he cites no scholars whatsoever of oral tradition. It is all just presumed to be unreliable. Maybe it was, but Sandoval needs to make a case instead of just an assumption.

When we get to other objections, Sandoval brings forward the idea that some first century Jews believed that Elijah and John the Baptist would be raised from the dead before the general resurrection. They do? When was this? I especially wonder with John the Baptist. Did Elijah have an important role to play in end times events? Yes, but Jews would not say Elijah had been raised from the dead due to the simple reason that in their tradition, Elijah never died! The common people did think Jesus could be someone come back from the dead, but there is no hint that they thought this meant the final eschatological resurrection.

We are also told that novelty is not impossible and Mormonism is the example of that, but Mormonism arose in a modern individualistic society with a more live and let live attitude and where the Mormons had wide open spaces they could flee to. Their tradition also changed quite rapidly and we do have independent evidence that Joseph Smith was a highly questionable character. If someone wanted to say Islam, one thing differentiates Islam. Islam had a sword. Remove the warring aspect from Islam and see what happens.

Sandoval also writes about how the Christians destroyed the library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, it looks like Sandoval has followed an atheist myth, perhaps in the footsteps of Richard Carrier. An atheist like Tim O’Neill takes it to task here. He also says that Justinian passed a law against pagan teachers which meant shutting down the academy of Plato. Nonsense. There were plenty of neo-Platonic schools.  Justinian did close a school but not because it taught Platonic teachings, but because it was founded by anti-Christians and including anti-Christian teachings.

We will now move to the offensive case of Sandoval starting first with how the New Testament supposedly ripped the Old Testament out of context. If you’re wanting to see if Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period is cited, well you already know the answer. Of course not. In this, Sandoval is being the fundamentalist that he condemns.

My view is of prophecy not so much as fulfillment but as reenactment. Now were there fulfillments? Yes. These were the case where specific timeframes were mentioned such as Daniel 2 and Daniel 9. (In fact, these would not be altered even if the late date for Daniel was accepted) In this case, it is that Jesus redoes as it was what was done back then and a this for that context is applied where the writer sees a parallel. It could even just be one verse in the passage instead of the whole passage. This was an acceptable method of exegesis in the time of Jesus and in fact done by the Dead Sea Scrolls community. We would not use it today, but the Christians were playing by the rules.

One key example of this would be Matthew 15:8 where Jesus says to the Pharisees that Isaiah prophesied of them saying “These people follow me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Of course Isaiah was not speaking about the Pharisees, but Jesus saw a parallel that as the Jews were in the time of Isaiah, so the Pharisees were in the time of Jesus. This was entirely acceptable in the time.  This would apply to many of these events, but let’s look at some places Sandoval brings up anyway.

One is that Matthew cites an unknown prophet in Matthew 2 saying Jesus would grow up in Nazareth. My reply to this is that this is a time where Jesus says prophets instead of prophet. I interpret it as saying Jesus would grow up a shameful figure and what could be more shameful than Nazareth?

We naturally have the idea that Jesus supposedly rode two animals at once when he came in on the triumphant entry. What is noted is that there is the reference also to the garments being sat on the animal and Jesus sat on them. The them is not to the animals but to the garments. Matthew may have been wrong, but he is not an idiot. He does not presume to think Jesus can ride two animals at once.

We next move to contradictions. Much of this I want to leave for Mike Licona’s work likely coming out in the fall looking at contradictions in light of the study of Greco-Roman biographies. Still, Sandoval starts by saying that some Gospels plagiarized the others which would be a violation of American copyright law today. Well no. Copyright law did not apply naturally in the ancient world and secondly, what was said by one Gospel writer would be the property of the church and the church could do with it what it wanted. There is nothing more in this chapter that cannot be found talked about in good commentaries, so let’s move to my favorite chapter, the last.

I love this one so much because it brings one of my favorite objections to eliminate. Jesus was a failed prophet. Sandoval has already expected that Christians will spiritualize a text rather than take it literally, which of course begs the question that it’s to be taken “literally” to begin with.

Sandoval goes by two tests. The first is that a teacher would show up leading people away from God to follow a contrary system and Jesus did this by abolishing the Law and then of course there are ideas like the Trinity. Sandoval makes no mention of passages in the Old Testament that speak about a new covenant and about God doing something new in the midst of the people. He does in fact rightly show that the word translated as “forever” can refer to an indefinite time, but unconvincingly says that this cannot apply to the Law itself. While the term everlasting is used of God, it is followed with superlatives such as “From everlasting to everlasting.”

Yet let’s go to my favorite. Jesus was wrong about the end of the world. The problem is Jesus is not saying a thing about the end of the world and you’d think that someone who cites N.T. Wright would know about this. Perhaps Sandoval did not really read Wright but just looked up a reference. Jesus is speaking in the manner of an Old Testament prophet and uses cosmic language to describe political events. What he is prophesying is in fact the great war of 70 A.D. and the destruction of the temple. In that case, Jesus’s prophecy was right on the money.

In fact, it’s really sad he does this because he rightfully gets that the whole world in the discourse can just as easily refer to the Roman Empire and that Paul said he preached to every creature under Heaven which would be seen as a fulfillment of that prophecy. Sandoval just has a hang-up on literalism in this passage. Unfortunately, he will see my explanation as an explaining away and spiritualizing instead of realizing that there is a good exegetical basis for this.

I prefer to point to 2 Samuel 22. If we take that literally, we should expect to find a case in the life of David where God hitched up Gabriel and Michael and came out flying Green Arrow style shooting his enemies with arrows. Search high and low and you will not find that. What it is is David is using the kind of terminology that was used in his day. We could point to similar passages like Isaiah 13.

The irony then is that rather than this being a sign that Jesus was a false prophet, it is a great sign that He was a true prophet. Of course, Sandoval could punt to a late date, but if he does that due to it being a prophecy, then he is letting his worldview interpret the data where he says it must be late because prophecy cannot happen. I still find it odd that if this is such a blatant false prophecy that it would be written after the fact. (It’s interesting that if it was also, Matthew nowhere says “This prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled in the destruction of the temple.” Perhaps Matthew didn’t say that because it hadn’t happened yet?)

In conclusion, while Sandoval’s work is the best I’ve read attacking the resurrection, it is still drastically weak. I am reminded of the adage that one of the best ways to increase your confidence in the resurrection is to read those who oppose it. At the same time, we need more work on the social context being brought to light in the church because those who hold to a modern concept of how societies work will struggle with this work.

In Christ,

Nick Peters