Evidence Considered: Chapter 33

Did Jesus die on a cross? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In Chapter 33, Jelbert looks to see if Jesus died on a cross or not. Now I will again state possible bias so that everyone can know I am being upfront. Mike is my father-in-law. That being said, even when it comes to the New Testament, we don’t agree on everything and when I watch his debates, I give an honest critique and he would tell you that if you asked him.

One would think this chapter would be a slam dunk. Of course, Jesus was crucified. Why would anyone think otherwise? While Jelbert is not a mythicist, which is a relief, he does still rely on G.A. Wells. Don’t ask me why. If you think a position isn’t really credible, why state your case on the New Testament from people of that persuasion?

Jelbert quotes Wells in saying it is unsatisfactory to trace the resurrection narratives in the Gospels to deliberate lies from eyewitnesses who concocted stories they knew to be false. Jelbert agrees. He points to Mormonism and Scientology as examples.

These are not convincing. Joseph Smith had a known reputation as a con man and he did gain a lot from his movement, such as a couple dozen wives, and even a revelation given to his wife Emma to let Joseph have all these wives. As we have pointed out also, Mormonism grew in a culture that was much more live and let live and had a Christian background and run to the West out of easy government reach if need be.

Scientology meanwhile is incredible profitable with people paying fortunes to deal with their problems there and a number of celebrities in the movement. The religion is seen as a strange one by many, but we don’t see mass persecution going on for Scientology. Compare this to the disciples who gained nothing from their religion and a number of them faced persecution for it.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the crucifixion and says while a swoon is unlikely, in that Jesus only appeared to die, it is more likely than that Jesus was God made man and was killed so that people could be saved from God/Himself (Will these guys ever get the Trinity right?), but only if they believed the above was factually accurate based on meager evidence. You gotta love the straw men that take place. Let’s consider some problems right here before we continue.

To begin with, all that’s being asked to believe in this chapter is that Jesus was crucified and died from that, which is a no-brainer. Of course on both. The next step to follow from that is resurrection itself. The claims of deity follow the resurrection. Was this on meager evidence? Well, let’s see. The disciples were convinced that this person had died. They knew he had been buried. They knew that tomb was empty. They saw Him alive again. These appearances lasted for some time. The body itself never materialized in any other way. If the accounts of the New Testament are their testimony, that evidence wasn’t meager for them.

Jelbert says though that most anything is more plausible than the above. In other words, Jelbert has said that no matter the evidence, anything that avoids something miraculous will be more probable. If this is the case, then we have simply the question that I asked to Bart Ehrman in a public debate in the Q&A to ask to Jelbert. This is that if a miracle is the least likely explanation by definition, is this said beforehand or after? If we want to say beforehand we are skeptical, I understand that, but if we say it afterwards, then are we not in danger of saying that no amount of evidence can bend the dial to make it that a miracle is more likely than not? If evidence will not change your position on a subject, your position is not based on evidence.

That being said, Jelbert does accept that Jesus died by crucifixion, but then he goes on to look at Tacitus and Josephus. He quotes Wells who quotes John P. Meier. Unfortunately, Wells does not tell us where this quote is found. He tells us that Meier says that Tacitus and Josephus both reflect what they heard Christians of their own day say and are not independent extracanonical sources. Tacitus is said to be repeating uncritically what was said.

Let’s start with Tacitus then. Tacitus was quite critical and an excellent researcher. As a senator and priest both, he would have access to records we would not have today and he would know how to examine them. It would be a simple matter for him to go and check and records that Rome had at the time and see that Pilate did crucify Jesus.

Was it hearsay? No. Tacitus was clear on his stance on the matter.

“My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history.”
(Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

Those who want to say Tacitus was uncritical and just repeating hearsay have a huge hurdle to climb over. It is one that the best Tacitus scholars have not accepted. Maybe, just maybe, they know more about Tacitus than these people do.

As for Josephus, very few would say that the Testimonium of Josephus is entirely from Josephus, but very few would also say the entirety is an interpolation, and that’s just one reference to Jesus. Most would agree that some part of it is authentic. This part does show that Jesus was a real person who was crucified.

On top of that, having something at eighty years after the event being too late would eliminate a lot of ancient history. Are Wells and Jelbert willing to do that to avoid Jesus? One fears they just might be.

Next we return to Jesus being an apocalyptist, which we have dealt with in the chapter looking at Darrell Bock and the Son of Man sayings. 1 Thess. 4:16-17 is given as an example of Paul thinking the parousia would happen in his lifetime. Is it really?

Let’s try an exercise. Let’s suppose Paul believes some things to be true.

#1. Jesus will bodily return someday.
#2. Paul does not know when this is.
#3. Paul knows he could die before Jesus returns.
#4. Paul does not know when he will die.

So let’s suppose Paul wants to let people know that this could happen, but he doesn’t know when. If he says, “Those who remain” then he is saying it won’t happen in his lifetime, but he knows no such thing. What does he say then? We. Why? It’s an editorial use to say that any of us who are alive at His coming will see Him and meet Him in the air.

Let’s consider how it works today. On some anniversaries of 9/11, it is not implausible for the U.S. government to say to be on the watch for a terrorist attack. Do they know it will happen? No. Is there a possibility it still could? Yes. Is our government lying or mistaken? No. They just want us to be prepared.

Jelbert also says Mark 13:2 is a failed prophecy when it claims all the stones of the Temple will be thrown down. Jelbert says they’re left on top of each other on the Western Wall. Technically, they are still thrown down even if that’s accurate since they are no longer connected to the temple. Not only that, the wall is not part of the temple but the temple mount. You can see here about that.

He also thinks it’s unlikely that Jesus by Himself could shut down the temple since it was so big. That’s not what is said. It refers to the temple courts and most likely this refers to one part of the Temple complex. It does not mean everything ceased to function.

He goes on to present Ehrman’s case for Jesus being arrested in that Judas shared information Jesus shared with them privately about His rule as messiah. Interestingly, Jelbert quotes Matt. 19:28 about this. This is our passage that we brought up with his chapter on Darrell Bock about Jesus saying that the twelve will sit on twelve thrones. Jesus says the Son of Man will rule on a throne. Where is Jesus going to be? It makes the most sense if Jesus is the Son of Man. Jelbert says it is plausible that Jesus is ruling them as the King Himself, but that would mean that Jesus is on a throne and the only other figure on a throne in there is the Son of Man. Do the math then.

It would have been better for Jelbert to have just said Jesus died by crucifixion and move on. When Ludemann begins his book asking what really happened to Jesus, he simply says the following:

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Would that Jelbert have simply done the same. He would not have provided even more reason for us to not consider him knowledgeable on the subject matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters