A Response to Brent Landau

Is there a good case for the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Brent Landau has written a response to the movie, The Case For Christ. Landau is at least someone with credentials so we’re not talking about your run of the mill person who has a web site. Still, his case against the resurrection is very much lacking.

For instance, Strobel makes much of the fact that there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in existence, far more than any other ancient writings. He does this in order to argue that we can be quite sure that the original forms of the New Testament writings have been transmitted accurately. While this number of manuscripts sounds very impressive, most of these are relatively late, in many cases from the 10th century or later.Fewer than 10 papyrus manuscripts from the second century exist, and many of these are very fragmentary.

I would certainly agree that these early manuscripts provide us with a fairly good idea of what the original form of the New Testament writings might have looked like. Yet even if these second-century copies are accurate, all we then have are first-century writings that claim Jesus was raised from the dead. That in no way proves the historicity of the resurrection.

The problem for this part is that if you want to dispute the authenticity of the NT text, and note I don’t mean the truthfulness of it yet but that it has been handed down accurately, then you have no reason to trust any other ancient text. There is nothing that comes remotely close to the New Testament. If we look at age, number of manuscripts, number of languages, time between original writing, and earliest manuscript we have, nothing comes close.

As one scholar of textual criticism has said

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.

Elsewhere, this same scholar also said

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.

Who is this scholar?

The first instance is here. The second is from the third edition of his book on the New Testament and is found on page 481. That scholar is Bart Ehrman.

We go on from there to talk about the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. Unfortunately, Landau has a bad habit of just pointing to a book and not giving any page references or anything. I have no problem with pointing to books, but I’d like to know where I’m supposed to look in these books. Still, he is right about the creed being early. As a selection of non-Christian scholars shows:

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.]

Landau is certainly right that the disciples were sure they had seen the risen Christ, but his explanations are lacking. Grief hallucinations are certainly real, but those would lead them to conclude that Jesus was dead, not that He was alive. Grief would not explain Paul or James. We don’t even know the disciples were grieving. Maybe they were angry instead. After all, no Messiah would be crucified, so maybe they thought they’d given all those years to a huckster.

What about group appearances? Landau is quick to compare them to Marian apparitions and UFO sightings. The problem with both is first off, it’s assumed that nothing is happening. Am I open to some Marian appearances being something appearing? Sure. If the skeptic wants to say it was nothing, he does bear that burden to show why.

Still, at many of these sightings, many people walk away not seeing anything. It can often be a few people, normally children, seeing Mary and then sharing what they have seen. As for UFOs, what I did was to talk to someone in the area who understands UFOs and that was Ken Samples of Reasons To Believe.

What about the empty tomb? Landau is open to the idea that Jesus wasn’t buried, to which he points to Crossan. Of course, you won’t see any interaction with Craig Evans or Greg Monette. The burial of Jesus also was a shameful burial and one that would not be made up. The latest holder of the non-burial view is Bart Ehrman and yet he doesn’t even bother to mention Jodi Magness, a Jewish NT scholar who specializes in Jewish burial practices of the time and studies at the very university Ehrman teaches at and was hired by him. Why is that?

Landau says that even if we granted the empty tomb and appearances, there are many more other probable explanations. We are eager to hear them if he wants to give them. He does say a miracle is the least probable explanation by definition, but whose definition of miracle? Are we to say that you can look at the evidence and it can never make a miracle more likely? If so, then one is not operating a fair look but out of bias.

It’s amusing to hear Landau talk about not bringing in a diversity of scholarly views in the movie when in his very article, he does just that. He points out that Craig and Habermas teach at universities that hold to inerrancies and have a Statement of Faith. What of it? Does that change the data somehow? Does he think someone like Habermas or Craig signs up to teach at a university without knowing what they believe? Some people want to go to a Seminary in line with their tradition so they look for that. The data is still what matters.

It’s interesting that he talks about Strobel’s email where Strobel points to the minimal facts data and says that many scholars have an anti-supernaturalistic bias. Keep in mind, those are Strobel’s words. I say nothing about an anti-supernaturalistic bias since I don’t buy into the natural/supernatural dichotomy. I do believe in a bias against miracles, but how does Landau answer this claim?

He doesn’t deny it. Instead, he deflects. He says “Well Craig and Habermas are anti-supernaturalistic against miracles outside of Christianity.” Not at all. The evidence for Habermas is a look at how Jesus isn’t a copy of pagan religions. Landau managed to email Strobel. Why not email Habermas himself? That’s what I did since he’s a friend of mine and I thought he’d be amused. Habermas has told me even would predict other miracles outside of Christianity. I have no problem with them either. If you can show me a miracle that is well-evidenced, I am to believe it.

Also, Landau says nothing about Christianity being a shameful belief and surviving up to the time of Constantine. It’s all a one-sided approach. Landau gives a lot of maybes and possibilities, but no counter-explanation of any real substance. We welcome him trying, but we don’t expect much.

In Christ,
Nick Peters



Book Plunge: Jesus and The Remains Of His Day

What do I think of Craig Evans’s latest book published by Hendrickson Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At the latest ETS meeting, with a little bit of spending money my in-laws gave me as an early Christian gift, I was quite excited to go to the bookstore and while in that area, where books are sold for discount prices before the rest of the public gets them, I found Craig Evans’s newest book. Naturally, that was one that jumped immediately to the top of my list. Evans is an awesome scholar and anything that he writes is worth reading about. This book in particular is about archaeological discoveries and the impact they have on our understanding of Jesus and like his others, it does not disappoint.

This is a book that could take you about a week to finish, but it will be time well spent. The material is thoroughly researched with a plethora of footnotes. It’s also highly readable. You don’t need to be too familiar with archaeology or the Greek language to understand what’s going on. Right now, if there was one book I would recommend someone read on the topic of Jesus and archaeology, it would be this one.

Evans also starts off saying that archaeology does not prove or disprove. You cannot go to an archaeological finding and say “Therefore, Jesus rose from the dead”, but you can certainly use it as information in your case. It’s simply amazing how much out there exists in the field of Biblical archaeology and how much we can learn about the life of Jesus based on what is being dug up in the Middle East. This is something that really separates the Old and the New Testaments from so many of the other holy books out there. So what all is covered?

The first chapter is about Bethsaida and Magdala and what we can learn from these cities. Helpful in this chapter also will be the critique of the idea that synagogues did not exist in the time of Jesus, which is a growing idea on the internet, but not so much a growing idea among actual scholars in the field. Knowing about Bethsaida will also give us more information about Peter, Andrew, and Philip, which Magdala naturally gives us a little bit of information about Mary Magdalene.

Chapter 2 deals with the Jesus boat and the supposed house of Peter. These provide us information about the base of operations that Jesus likely worked from in His ministry as well as the kind of boat that Jesus would have been on with His disciples in the storm. While it’s doubtful that this is the exact same boat, there’s no reason to think that Jesus was not on a boat much like this one. Finally, there’s an interesting piece in this chapter on the James ossuary which has been debated back and forth and Evans presents the latest evidence on it for the interested reader.

Chapter three looks at the evidence for Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon. We have in fact found the ossuary for Caiaphas. Meanwhile, Bruno Bauer, the first one to largely present the idea that Jesus never existed was also skeptical that Pilate existed. Now we have found evidence for Pilate in the form of a stone slab. It’s worth noting also (though I don’t think Evans mentions this) that those who are skeptical of Jesus when going to Tacitus might be surprised to learn that the only place Tacitus mentions Pilate is also the only place where he mentions Jesus. Evans also in this chapter looks at what we can find out about Simon, the man who carried the cross of Christ.

In Chapter four, Evans looks at literacy in the ancient world and gives his case that Jesus was someone who was capable of reading. Jesus being a good rabbi and able to interact with scribes and producing a movement that had people who could read and write well would quite likely himself have been one such individual. He also points out how while literacy might have been lower in the rest of the world, that we could expect matters to be different in the area of Israel since these were people that did bind their religious identity, which was central to them, around written words.

I found chapter five particularly interesting where Evans talks about Psalm 91 and how it was seen by the Jews at the time of Jesus. Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Psalms as a spiritual medicine cabinet and if you’re in some sort of danger, well go to Psalm 91. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. Psalm 91 was seen at the time of Jesus as an exorcism song and it was meant to keep away demonic powers. Jesus Himself is also said to be an exorcist and have exceptional skill at casting out demons and this without using any magic, drugs, or artifacts that existed in His day.

Chapter six concerns the idea of hanging and crucifixion in Second Temple Israel. What did it mean to have someone be crucified? How did that relate to the notion of hanging on a tree? Evans looks at symbols found in catacombs as well as the writings of the DSS to show what the view was on crucifixion at the time. He looks at skeletal remains that we have of crucifixion as well as looking at writings and artwork outside of the Jewish culture to show that this was seen as a curse.

In Chapter seven, Evans looks at burial in the ancient world. This will be an incredibly important chapter nowadays with Bart Ehrman recently taking his strange position on the burial of Jesus. The whole point of this chapter is asking how families handled death together in burial. Could we expect that even those who were buried would be buried in family tombs? Those who are interested in the recent case of Ehrman should read this chapter.

Chapter eight begins with a line that should be written in gold for all the people online who think mythicism is just the latest thing and that scholars aren’t even sure if Jesus existed. On page 147, we read:

“No serious historian, of any religious or nonreligious stripe, doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.

From there we go to various claims in the Gospels themselves about the burial of Jesus. Would Jesus have been buried? Why should we think that? What about the idea that Pilate would release a prisoner on Passover? Isn’t that just a fiction? He also looks at the question of if Jesus anticipated his own death. The interested reader will also find information on the relationship of Annas and Caiaphas to the high priesthood and how this all played out in history.

Chapter nine looks at the old idea of the Talpoit tomb as the supposed burial place of Jesus. Of course, having someone like Craig Evans going after this is kind of like using a bazooka to kill a fly in your house, but he does of course effectively get the job done.

Chapter ten wraps it up by looking at views in the world at the time of Jesus on the question of the afterlife. Many of us today have the idea that the message of the resurrection would have been welcomed by so many because, hey, who wouldn’t want to live again? Well maybe it’s not that simple. Evans takes us across the spectrum and he looks at how Christians looked at the topic of death seriously.

This book is a tour de force. It is simple to read and I found it one that I did not want to put down. If you want to say anything about archaeology and the life of Jesus, you must get your hands on this book. Pick up a copy today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/22/2015: Greg Monette

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Apostle Paul says of Jesus in the 1 Cor. 15 creed that he was buried. Bart Ehrman says no. Which one is right? Greg Monette has come down hard on the side of burial and since he’s doing his Ph.D. on the topic of the burial of Jesus, then he’s certainly qualified to speak on this matter. So who is Greg Monette?


And in his words:

Greg Monette is the Canadian Representative for Faithlife Corporation, the makers of Logos Bible Software. Logos serves over 2.5 million customers and employs nearly 500 people at their head office in Bellingham, Washington.

Greg recently became an author for the first time with the release of his book The Wrong Jesus: Fact, Belief, Legend, Truth…Making Sense of What You’ve Heard (NavPress, 2014).

Greg earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and attainted both his Masters of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology degrees from Acadia University’s Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis in the field of Christian Origins through the University of Radboud in the Netherlands under the guidance of Jan Van der Watt and Michael Licona. His dissertation is on the burial of Jesus and ancient Jewish burial practices. He is a student member of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Greg has lectured in Canada, Israel, the U.K. and the United States.

He is a deeply passionate Canadian hockey fan who loves to read, travel, and spend time with his best friend and wife, Julie. He is also looking forward to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots winning their fifth Super Bowl very soon!

I’ve already recorded the interview which was an hour long, but this was certainly a fascinating interview as we delved into claims made by Ehrman that the burial of Jesus did not take place, as well as something at the start about the importance of teaching apologetics to young people based on Greg’s own experience in college. In looking at the burial, we discussed why it is that many scholars today are quite certain that Jesus was buried, so much so that Craig Evans among others uses terminology that indicates he thinks it’s a certainty. We discussed how Jews in Second Temple Judaism saw the purity of the land and why it is that the body of Jesus would be buried.

We also discussed questions relating to Joseph of Arimathea. Was he a real person? What about the problem that we do not know where Arimathea was? We talked about how Bart Ehrman in writing his section on the burial of Jesus neglected to interact with the very best scholars in the field who would speak on the matter and did not interact with the evidence of archaeology. We also discussed the idea of what if the burial account is just something that is created only for the purposes of getting to the resurrection?

This was a fascinating interview and I hope you’ll be listening to it! I will release it this Saturday!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: And Was Buried

Was Jesus buried? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As we look at the Apostles’ Creed, the next claim to look at is that Jesus was buried. This is highly important since Bart Ehrman has come out lately saying he does not think that Jesus was buried, a position that has been held by John Dominic Crossan as well. An excellent rebuttal to Ehrman can be found by Greg Monette here.

So is there any evidence that Jesus was buried?

Well all of our texts that speak about this do indicate a burial. The 1 Cor. 15 creed says that Jesus was buried. This would not mean being thrown into a common grave to be eaten by dogs. That would not be a burial but would rather be a lack of a burial.

It is true that this was the common treatment of people who were crucified in the Roman Empire, but in Israel, things were done a little bit differently. They had scrupulous views on how the dead were to be treated and this included even the criminals. To do otherwise would be to desecrate the persons involved. With Passover coming, the people of Israel would want to remove any uncleanliness from the people and the land.

Now some might say that this did not take place in the war on Jerusalem around 70 A.D., but this was hardly a normal time. Most of these people would not be buried because the Israelites were too busy trying not to be killed and the Romans weren’t really caring about Jewish sensitivities at that time.

It’s also important to note that the burial would not be talked about as much because the burial of Jesus was not an honorable burial. When we look at the account we find that it is not Jesus’s family that buries Him, as would be the case in an honorable burial. It was instead Joseph of Arimathea, a practical stranger to Him.

Also, Jesus was not buried in the tomb of His family. Many times in the book of Kings, we will read about a king and how he was not buried with the kings. How the king was buried spoke volumes about how his life was to be viewed. A good burial would mean a good life. A bad burial would mean a bad life.

In fact, this is even one of the judgments pronounced on a prophet who disobeyed God in the book. He is told that as punishment for his disobedience, he would not be buried in the tomb of his ancestors. For us today, we would say he got off easy. The ancient world would have been aghast and thinking that this is someone they don’t want to model themselves after!

Also, Jesus’s family was not allowed to mourn for Him. This would be another aspect of the shame. We don’t read accounts of His mother Mary going to the tomb or of His own brothers going to the tomb. Jesus’s burial was meant to be a mark of shame to Him.

So what about Joseph and Nicodemus wrapping him up and giving him a burial and covering his body with spices? They couldn’t make the burial honorable, but they wanted to make it a little bit less dishonorable as difficult as that was.

This fits us in then with the criterion of embarrassment. The burial of Jesus is not something that people would want to talk about as much because of the high nature of it being dishonorable. If Jesus was raised from the dead, the burial could easily be skipped over provided one mention that He had died and the nature of His death would indicate the divine vindication that took place with His resurrection.

For these reasons, I conclude that the burial is indeed a historical reality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters