This is a draft of my history dissertation. Even though I don't start it until next year, I thought I would upload this now.
"The historian's one task is to tell the thing as it happened... He may nurse some private dislikes, but he will attach far more importance to the public good, and set the truth high above his hate... For history, I say again, has this and only this for its own. If a man will start upon it, he must sacrifice to no God but Truth. He must neglect all else." – Lucian of Samosata, The Way to Write History.
This might seem an odd choice of topic for a history dissertation, but it is a subject that has major implications for the historian. Whilst is has become fashionable to dismiss miraculous sounding claims with a hand wave, it is the business of the historian to tell history wie es eigentlich gewesen ist (the way it really was.) As such, it also falls to the historian to investigate ALL historical claims, be they miraculous or not. This is the principle argument of this dissertation: miracle claims can only be dismissed or accepted after a careful and considered historical investigation. However, more than that, I believe that consistent usage of such methodology can be used to show that some miracle claims are viable historical hypotheses. In this dissertation, I shall look at several areas of historical research. The first area of consideration is the philosophy of history, where I shall look at the theory behind history. I shall lay down a set of criteria for assessing historical hypotheses, whilst addressing postmodernist arguments against the possibility of historical knowledge. I shall also address arguments against the possibility of miracles.
I shall consider the application of textual criticism, as well as criteria of authenticity for evaluating individual elements within ancient documents. I shall lay down a means of assessing oral traditions, whilst offering a critique of form criticism and its conclusions. Once I have laid down a critical methodology, I shall use the resurrection of Jesus as a test case, which, very controversially, I argue can be shown to be a viable historical hypothesis, and that it should be treated as such. After outlining what facts can be reasonably determined, I shall compare the resurrection hypothesis against rival hypotheses, determining which hypothesis best explains the facts, before concluding. If I am successful, then I hope to demonstrate that historians can reasonably know things about the past, that there are no good reasons for dismissing miracle claims a priori, that there are objective means of assessing ancient documents and oral tradition and can be used to assess miracle claims in addition to regular mundane historical claims. Most controversially of all, I argue that the resurrection of Jesus can be reasonably inferred from the data we have, using the criteria and methodology I have implemented.
Historiographical Considerations and the Philosophy of History
The two issues that I aim to discuss here are what American philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig refers to as the problem of historical knowledge and the problem of miracles. Probably the most important question for a historian is: what is historical knowledge? A second question is: how do we obtain historical knowledge? Whereas a third, more pertinent question, especially in light of the attacks of postmodernism is: can we obtain historical knowledge? These are questions that any historian should be prepared to answer and as such, I shall do my best to answer them here. The first question is easy enough: historical knowledge is knowledge of a past event or events, determined through vigorous historical analysis. The second and third are trickier in light of the attacks of post-modernism. For the postmodernists deny that knowledge of the past can be obtained. History has been beleaguered by two views of historical relativism: historical anti-realism, the view that all we can know are re-constructions of the past, and historical subjectivism, the view that no historical narrative can claim to be superior to another. Whilst postmodernist historians differ in their levels of scepticism, perhaps the most radical is Keith Jenkins who maintains that history is dead, and that objective historical knowledge is an implausible idea. As a whole there are two main arguments against historical realism, the view that facts about the past can be known.
The first is the argument that we lack direct access to the past, and therefore we can only know re-constructions of the past. A comparison is often made with scientists conducting experiments in a lab. Whilst the scientists have direct data at hand, the historian has no such luxury. The second argument is the lack of neutrality. Because not only historians, but the authors of the texts historians are reliant upon, are products of their culture, whatever conclusions they come to will be coloured by such a socio-cultural milieu. Whilst such arguments are worthy of consideration, they fail in demonstrating the superiority of postmodernism. Regarding the first argument, even if we admit the reality of past events, then we are still left with the fact that events of the past are no longer occurring today. It is argued that since the historian is separated from the past, then he or she has not way of checking to see if their historical reconstruction is true or not. As aforementioned, appeals are made to scientists who study data in the lab. However, such a comparison backfires for the postmodernist. For certain fields, such as palaeontology, geology, and cosmology are very much concerned with past events. Scientists in these fields study things such as the origin of the cosmos, the history of the earth and the origin of life, yet this does not prevent them from developing accurate theories.
However, let us consider the idea that all we can do is offer re-constructions of the past that cannot be tested. Under the postmodernist view, no reconstruction can be said to be truer than other. However, this leads to a bizarre form of pluralism, whereby even radical historical hypotheses can be said to be true, such as holocaust denial and so forth. There is a concrete body of evidence, and it is the role of the historian to develop historical hypotheses that best explains these facts. There can be no possible reconstruction where WWII never happened, thus it seems that constructionism is false. The postmodernist might gripe that we have no objective means of assessing historical hypotheses, leading us to the second objection: the problem of lack of neutrality. This second objection is equally flawed, for the same is true of every profession. Everybody is affected by the culture they grow up in, however, to claim that this prevents us from knowing anything in history would prevent us from knowing anything at all. Secondly, it matters not how a historian comes to their views, but in how their views are tested. This leads me into how to assess historical hypotheses.
Historian C. Behan McCullagh outlines the following criteria in his book Justifying Historical Descriptions:
1. The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.
2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope (that is, imply a greater variety of observable data) than rival hypotheses.
3. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power (that is, make the observable data more probable) than rival hypotheses.
4. The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, be implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses.
5. The hypotheses must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer new suppositions about the past not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses.
6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is when conjoined with other accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses.
7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)-(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis, after further investigation, exceeding in it meeting these conditions.
This I think constitutes a vigorous and critical method of analysing historical hypotheses. This method is an argument to the best explanation, whereby competing hypotheses are compared to these criteria. For example, explanatory scope refers to how much data is explained by a hypothesis, the more data a hypothesis explain, the better. That covers mundane claims, but what then about miraculous claims? The standard response is to approach them if they are already false. However, this does not strike me as being any way to conduct historical enquiry. Surely, one must be open to all possibilities, only coming to conclusion after detailed and critical analysis? The major arguments used against the possibility of miracles are those of David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, et al., and have not changed much since. The principle objection to miracles is that because miracles are violations of the laws of nature, they are therefore impossible. This is based on a mode of thinking that was in vogue during the Enlightenment. The universe runs according to specific laws which cannot be broken; the ‘Newtonian World Machine’ so to speak.
Spinoza argued that the laws of nature flowed from the ‘divine will’ whereas Hume argued that since we have a ‘full proof’ of the unchanging laws of nature, no amount testimony in favour of a miracle, not even a full proof, is enough to establish a miracle. There are several problems with either way of thinking. One problem is that such views are predicated upon outdated ways of thinking, for the laws of nature are not ‘immutable’, as they are descriptive and not proscriptive. We just happen to know how the universe works, the real reason why the universe behaves the way it does is a mystery. Another problem is that it assumes that miracles are ‘violations’ of nature. Let’s say I catch a bouncing ball. That ball WOULD have hit the floor had I not intervened. Would you say that this were a ‘violation’ of nature since I interrupted the natural workings of the universe thusly? This, I think straightforwardly analogous to miracles, if they occur. They are simply an interruption in the way the things usually occur, and are no more or less impossible than my catching a bouncing ball.
However, the main problem lies in the fact that these objections make theological assumptions. For Spinoza assumed deism, and the doctrine of divine simplicity, as did Hume. That makes the fact that it is primarily atheists who use these arguments today rather ironic. Whilst I personally believe there are better arguments for theism than atheism, such theological questions are of no concern to the historian. The only position one can take in dealing with historical hypotheses, is one of agnosticism. Whilst demonstrating a particular miracle has occurred might theoretically, lead to the conclusion that a God exists, but we cannot assume such things prior to investigation. Hume, ironically, laid out several criteria that we could use to identify miracles, which he just assumed have never been met, namely: if a sufficient number of educated witnesses who had a great deal to lose by lying testified, were of sufficient moral character and weren’t already pre-disposed towards believing in such things, then that would count as testimony that a miracle had occurred. Hume’s last argument is that the multiplicity of miracle claims ‘cancel each other out,’ which is one so bizarre that it hardly merits a response. The number of miracles has no bearing on the truth or falsity of a particular claim.
What means, then do we have for assessing miracle claims? Instant a priori dismissal is an outdated mode based on antiquated ways of thinking about the world. One popular slogan that often gets passed around on the Internet is “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” On the face of it, this might actually seem like a reasonable view, however, the main problem lies in its thorough subjectivity. The simple problem lies in how we determine the meaning of the word ‘extraordinary.’ What counts as an ‘extraordinary claim’ and what counts as ‘extraordinary evidence?’ If we define ‘extraordinary’ as something that is inconsistent with our current worldview, then the whole thing becomes rather circular. In order to validate claims that are inconsistent with our worldview, we need evidence that is inconsistent with our worldview. A more nuanced interpretation would be to suggest that it simply means require a greater standard of evidence for a claim we personally find miraculous or incredible. However, then this becomes a case of special pleading, question begging and, again, circular reasoning. For it affords us to grant our personal suppositions, that an event is improbable, as a properly basic belief without rational justification. If it simply means claims that have no evidence or evidence against them require sufficient evidence to overturn such a status, then it simply becomes ‘claims require evidence.’
Historian Richard Carrier spends roughly over a page in the atheist screed The Christian Delusion arguing that it’s obvious common sense that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that it is simply irrational to believe otherwise. He invites us to imagine several scenarios: his owning a car, his owning a nuclear missile, his owning an interstellar spacecraft, and Jesus being resurrected from the dead. If he claimed to have a car, then he would not need to present much evidence, as plenty of people like himself own cars. He would need a lot more evidence for owning a nuclear missile because there is evidence that people like Carrier do not own nuclear missiles. Carrier then notes that claiming to own an interstellar craft requires even more evidence, as there is no evidence that anybody owns such a craft. However, he goes on to argue that we need even more evidence for the resurrection, because whilst we do not have evidence of interstellar crafts, miracles are still less probable than interstellar travel on our current evidence. Carrier’s arguments here boil down to suggesting that we require less evidence to prove that X is correct, if X has precedent. However, there are several problems with this.
The first is that there were times when completely mundane things, such as cars, did not exist. Cars, at the time of their invention, would have required as much evidence as interstellar spacecraft. Secondly, X having precedent does not give us warrant to assume that X is the case in specific situations. For example, there is good evidence that cars exist, and that a lot of people own a car. According to Carrier, this is good evidence that he owns a car. However, this is not the case, for we would need to take more information in to account, such as Carrier’s finances and so on. Carrier could be too poor to own a car for all I know. Another problem is how he just assumes that there exists strong evidence that miracles are unlikely, and that interstellar space travel, whilst unlikely, is more likely than miracles. This just seems to me as nothing more than special pleading. For what evidence do we have that interstellar travel is unlikely, but less likely than miracles? We don’t have any evidence against miracles, just, as far as we know, no evidence in favour of miracles and absence of evidence is not evidence of absence by a long shot. The only honest position prior to investigation one can take is one of agnosticism. It seems as if Carrier’s approach is to label claims he personally finds to be incredulous as improbable, which isn’t a valid argument.
However, even if we have no evidence of miracles, how would this affect our assessment of a specific miracle claim? Prior to the invention of a car, nobody owned a car, and so people could have dismissed claims of the invention of the motorcar out of hand using Carrier’s methodology. However, the only way to know if there is evidence AGAINST X, is to first analyse the data surrounding X. Carrier’s suggestion that something being unprecedented is evidence AGAINST something’s occurrence or plausibility simply does not work as already demonstrated. Using generalities to make inferences about specific cases is simply an invalid approach to history, and one that neglects detailed background information. In reality, Carrier’s approach compels one to make a snap-judgment about the veracity of a claim before looking at the evidence and introduces bias such that an objective analysis of the data becomes difficult if not impossible. In essence, it is therefore nothing more than an argument from personal incredulity, and thus has no place in honest historical enquiry.
There simply is no good a priori reason for assuming miracles are either impossible or improbable. In the absence of evidence, the only position we can take is agnosticism. If you’re going to flatly rule a particular explanation out prior to looking at the historical, then that is neither fair nor objective.
“An epistemology that does not allow for the possibility that evidence, whether from eyewitness testimony or from other source, can establish the credibility of a UFO landing, a walking on water, or a resurrection is inadequate.”
A miraculous claim, like any other, is still a claim that demands to be critically assessed. A miracle event, as with any other event, can only be considered reasonably true or reasonably false after critical historical analysis. However, Biblical scholar, Hector Avalos, argues against using McCullagh’s criteria to support miracle claims. He spends some time in his book The End of Biblical Studies arguing against philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, who applies McCullagh’s criteria to the resurrection of Jesus. Avalos’ three main complaints are that Craig misuses McCullagh’s criteria, that disproof by counter-examples can be made, and that Craig is a ‘selective supernaturalist.’ Whilst two of these criticisms are directed against Craig personally, they still are relevant to the discussion here.
Avalos claim’s that McCullagh’s criteria are mostly used only to differentiate between rival naturalistic hypotheses, not between naturalistic and supernaturalistic hypotheses. As discussed earlier, a priori dismissing the possibility of miracles is no way to conduct honest enquiry. Secondly, he quotes McCullagh disagreeing with Craig’s conclusion that the resurrection passes his criteria, yet McCullagh himself is open to the possibility:
“One example which illustrates the conditions most vividly is discussion of the Christian hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. This hypothesis is of greater explanatory scope and power than other hypotheses which try to account for the relevant evidence, but is less plausible and more ad hoc than they are. That is why it is difficult to decide on the evidence whether it should be accepted or rejected.”
Notice how McCullagh does not dismiss it simply for being a miracle claim. Whether or not he is right in his evaluation of the resurrection hypothesis is another matter entirely. Avalos also complains that McCullagh’s plausibility criterion is ‘subjective’, citing McCullagh’s discussion of the mysterious death of William II of England. The three explanations given are 1, accident, 2 witchcraft and 3 conspiracy. Avalos partially quotes McCullagh stating that one’s view of hypothesis 2 depend upon one’s view of the occult. Avalos scoffs, saying that if we believe in Krishna, then explanations involving Krishna can be used without further evidence. However, Avalos completely neglects to mention McCullagh’s discussion of Christopher Brooke, a medieval historian specialised on the life of William II does not reject the witchcraft hypothesis because it appeal to the supernatural, but because there is no evidence William II was a devil-worshipper and there were no Luciferians in England in the 12th century.
In regards to Avalos’ second complaint, he brings up alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, in former Yugoslavia. He claims that these appearance of the virgin Mary pass McCullagh’s criteria. How this amounts to a disproof is not clear, for if such appearances genuinely could pass McCullagh’s criteria, then we would have good grounds for affirming their historicity. As to whether or not these sightings actually pass McCullagh’s criteria, these shall be discussed later. Regarding the last point, Avalos notes that Craig, whilst a Christian, does not believe that the resurrection of the dead people in Matthew 27:50-54 was a historical event. Avalos asks why Craig believes in Jesus’ resurrection, but not theses, and criticises Craig for being a ‘selective supernaturalist.’ How this is so is not clear, as Craig notes the reason for this conclusion is because of the apocalyptic imagery in the specific verse, but that there is no such apocalyptic language in the resurrection narratives. In other words, the evidence does not warrant us to believe it was a historical event. Avalos’ other criticisms are either directed exclusively against Craig, or equally dishonest.
Test Case: The Resurrection of Jesus
As a test case, I shall analyse the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but before I do, I shall quickly address source criticism and what results they reveal when applied to the Biblical sources. The primary mode of assessing ancient documents is textual criticism. It is a discipline that involves itself with the study of manuscripts and identifies interpolations and makes ancient texts clearer in general by resolving textual problems and making conjectural emendations if need be. First we need to take into account how many manuscripts we have, how close they are to the writing of the original, and how many variations exist within the text. For example, Celsus’ de Medicina authored in the 1st century AD has twenty 15th century manuscripts based on a lost manuscript that was first discovered in 1426, and has two 9th century and one 10th century manuscript. Ovid’s Metamorphoses authored in the 1st century AD has three fragments dating to the 9th century, and twenty-five manuscripts from the 13th century. Pliny’s Natural History authored in the 1st century AD has five early fragments from the 5th century and larger manuscripts date to the ninth century. Quintilian’s Institutio Oratio authored in the 1st century AD has two manuscripts that date to the 9th century and one that dates to the 10th century. Tacitus’ Annals authored in the 2nd century has a manuscript of books 1-6 from the 9th century and a manuscript of books 11-16 from the 11th century as its earliest manuscripts.
In relation to the New Testament, we have approximately 5,745 Greek manuscripts, roughly 10,000 Latin manuscripts, around 1,000 Coptic manuscripts, hundreds possibly thousands of Syriac manuscripts, and between 15-20,000 Gothic, Ethiopian, Armenian and other versions of the New Testament. In addition to this, the New Testament is quoted over 1,000,000 times by early Church Fathers. In terms of dating the manuscripts, the New Testament again stands head and shoulders above the nearest competitor. The earliest manuscripts for the synoptic Gospels date between 125-200 AD, with the earliest manuscripts for the Gospel of John dating to the 3rd century. The earliest complete copies of the entire New Testament date to the 4th century. What then of textual variations and discrepancies? There roughly 400,000 within the New Testament. Whilst this may seem a lot at first, over half of these are spelling differences, typos, and a significant amount involve the usage of synonyms. As it stands, less than 1% of these variants actually involve additions or errors that affect the meaning of text, and do not affect any major part. Prominent textual critic Bart Ehrman and historian Richard Carrier both argue that the New Testament documents are “hopelessly corrupt.” However, the problems they raise are either overstated or simply outright wrong.
For example, Carrier argues 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are interpolations, when not only do these passages not affect any major portion of the New Testament text, but there is a good amount of evidence that they are not interpolations at all.
“The situation for the New Testament is hardly as bleak as this! Of the 138,000 words of the original text, only one or two might have no manuscript support. And in the places where conjecture may be necessary, this does not mean that we have no idea what the original text said… Frankly, when skeptics try to make the claim that we simply have no clue what the original New Testament text said, one has to wonder what drives their dogmatic skepticism, because it certainly isn’t the evidence.”
One case bought up in particular is the ending of the Gospel of Mark. The earliest manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20 of Chapter 16, but instead end on 16:8. In this shorter ending, the women disciples of Jesus find the tomb empty, but discover an angel there who tells them Jesus has been risen and to go and tell Peter and the other disciples. The shorter ending ends with the women disciples running off afraid, and says that they told nobody about what they had seen. Some people think this is a big problem, however, it is not. There are some very good reasons for believing that Mark did not originally end at 16:8. The Gospel of Mark, like the other Gospels, is in the genre of laudatory biography and, as such, it is therefore unlikely that it would not end on a positive note. Mark’s Gospel as whole emphasises the fulfilment of early promises and predications in the passion narrative, especially those of Jesus. We should therefore expect the same with the resurrection appearances. If Mark intended to convey that the women disobeyed the angel’s command, then he would have introduced the situation with an adversative as he does with other situations of disobedience, such as Mark 1:45, 7:36, 10:14, 10:22, 10:48, 15:23, or 15:37.
Mark’s Gospel ends with an unusual conjunction. Whilst we have examples of sentences being ended with this word, we do not have evidence of entire works ending on such a word. Essentially, it would be like ending a work with the word “because.” It suggests a lost ending. A point of comparison between Mark 16:8 can be found in Mark 1:44, where a leper is told to be silent to others, but to tell the appropriate person. This suggests that the women were only silent to the general public, but went straight to tell the intended audience, the male disciples. Mark 15:40-16:8 builds a cumulative case for the validity of the women’s witness to the Easter message, therefore it makes no sense that the women would not pass the message on as instructed. The longer ending is not authentic, but there is no reason to suppose that Mark’s Gospel originally ended at 16:8, therefore it seems reasonable to conclude that the original ending of Mark’s Gospel was lost and somebody who noticed this tacked on a pastiche of material from the other Gospels. How this poses a problem is anybody’s guess.
We also need to look at oral tradition. The study of oral tradition in relation to the New Testament was more or less taken over by a mode of thinking known as Form Criticism, led by Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann et al. used Form Criticism to pronounce much of the Gospels as theological embellishments of the Church, with not much being traceable to the historical Jesus. However, their methodology is fundamentally flawed. New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses has noted the following assumptions made by form critics that have turned out to be false. They assumed that traditions originated in pure forms, that traditions corresponded to their use in society, that oral tradition is folkloric and were transmitted collectively, they assumed certain notions of the developments of early Christianity, they assumed that the gospel traditions were transmitted purely orally prior to the writing of the Gospels, and they used a literary model for understanding the process of oral tradition.
Ancient societies placed high value on the preservation of ancient traditions. The aim of educational processes was to gear the student towards memorising cultural tradition and cultivate their ability to perform. In Mesopotamia, students were required not only memorise individual elements of standard works, but they had to be able to place the text they had memorised in the correct order. This was also the case in Egypt, where education involved copying, memorisation and recitation of core curriculum. In both cultures, the use of music and song was used as a memory aid for the purpose of education. Recitation was also the primary aim in Ancient Greece. Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, wrote a book entitled On Memory, which outlined a number of memorisation techniques, including, but not limited to, the use of acrostics. The Romans likewise used a variety of memorisation techniques. To become a successful teacher, you had to memorise vast of information. Orators memorised quotations from classical literature and famous speeches, sometimes verbatim, sometimes just the central core and structure was memorised. Texts were memorised for oral performances, either in outline or verbatim. Memorisation was also considered necessary for developing a strong moral character.
When we look the Gospels, we find strong evidence of memory retention techniques, Stunning, memorable words and images. Jesus often used hyperbole and overstatement in his teachings, to make them more memorable. For example, tearing out one’s eye to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30) and the log-in-the-eye (Matthew 7:3-5) were two such vivid examples that would have been guaranteed to be more memorable, and thus stick in the minds the listeners and disciples. Wordplay. This one is less obvious, due to the fact that Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic and/or Hebrew, and we would (presumably) read his teachings in our native languages, and so would not notice these. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and says that they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, this is wordplay on these words in Aramaic. As the Aramaic for gnat was galma and the Aramaic for camel was gamla. For non-language dependant examples, however, we have the use of riddles (such as John 2:19-21), paradoxical images (such as Mark 12:41-44) and irony.
Proverbs. Proverbs were short, pithy sayings that were simple and easy to remember. The Old Testament book Proverbs is an example of this, strangely enough. Many of Jesus’ teachings were thus encapsulated in such proverbs. For example, in Mark 3:24, Jesus uses the following proverb: If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Poetic forms. Roughly 80% of Jesus’ teachings fall into this category. Jesus’ teachings use a lot of both synonymously using the same patterns and words, and the use of strong contrasts. In fact, comparing thesis to anti-thesis was a common Jewish concept that can is also replete in the Old Testament.
However, what of the content? How do we know if something a document reports or if something that originated in an oral tradition is accurate? The first thing we can do is to assess the character of the document. Classical scholar, Richard A. Burridge, in his book, What Are The Gospels, compared the Gospels to ten different ancient biographies: Evagoras by Isocrates (436-338BC), Agesilaus by Xenophon (427-354BC), Euripides by Satyrus (2nd century BC), Atticus by Nepos (99-24BC), Moses by Philo (30BC-45AD), Agricola by Tacitus (56-113AD), Cato Minor by Plutarch (45-120AD), Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius (69-122AD), Demonax by Lucian, (120-180AD) and Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus (170-250AD). After a detailed analysis of and comparison between both ancient biographies and the four Gospels, he writes:
“We discovered a high degree of correlation between the features of the gospels and those noted in Bioi, indicating a shared family resemblance. All four gospels lack any kind of biographical title, but the range of opening features (genealogy, starting directly into the narrative, preface or prologue) is also found in Bioi, especially the early use of the subject’s name. Analysis of the subjects of the verbs demonstrates that the gospels exhibit the same ‘skew’ effect noticed in Bioi, caused by the concentration on one person as the subject, rather than a range of subjects in the manner of other narrative genres; also the allocation of a reasonably large amount of space to events of Jesus’ death and passion can be compared with the allocation of space in Bioi to the subject’s significant period, including the death in some cases.”
In terms of authorship, who write the Gospels? It is often claimed that they were anonymous, and whilst it is true that the authors are not named within the text itself originally, this is not a mark of true anonymity:
“Anonymous works were relatively rare and must have been given a title in libraries. They were often given the name of pseudepigraphical author… Works without titles easily got double or multiple titles when names were given to them in different libraries.”
We have strong external attestation from early Christian authors. Whereas in the case of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which IS a genuinely anonymous work, we find early Church writers suggesting a few possible authors. Perhaps the most important piece of testimony comes from Papias of Hierapolis. Whilst his work is now lost to us, it is preserved in quotations in the work of Eusebius et al. Papias states that the Gospel of Mark was written by an interpreter of Peter, and that Matthew was originally written in ‘the Hebrew language.’
Papias’ statements are often overlooked or outright ignored, but Papias was by no means a stupid man. What is left of his work bespeaks the care of his investigation, and New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has delivered a decisive defence of Papias, and has made an impressive case for the presence of eyewitness testimony within the Gospels themselves. Papias is by no means alone, and later writer Jerome confirms Papias’ report. Papias, however, is the most valuable witness, however, due to his incredible proximity to the source of traditions themselves. However, the most important evidence comes from internal stylistic evidence. For example, there are a number of stylistic elements that reflect that the Gospel of Matthew was written by a tax collector, such as the good Greek style, as well as the usage of unique monetary and tax collector terminology, as well as monetary terms that reflect an author who was familiar with money. The Gospel of Matthew is also topically ordered and systematic, again implying that the author was a good organiser, which is what we would expect from a tax collector such as Matthew. Lastly, the Gospel of Matthew indicates a strong familiarity with the geography of Judea, as well as Jewish customs and history. All of these point to an author who was Jewish. The other three Gospels evince similar internal stylistic indications of their respective authors too.
Some scholars, however, adopt a certain hypothesis known as Markan priority. This hypothesis states that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke copied from Mark heavily, utilising a common source between them named Q, as well as sources unique to themselves. However, there are problems with some of the assumption made by defenders of Markan priority. For example, two arguments in favour of Markan priority are Mark’s being shorter and its simpler style. Albert Lord notes that there were oral parallels of texts that tell the same story, but in a longer and shorter variation. This demonstrates that shorter does not equate with earlier. It is also noted that authors rewrote material in their own style, and whilst some preferred elegance others preferred colloquial speech. David Neville notes that E. P. Sanders has observed that despite being argued by a variety of scholars, the QM hypothesis has been found wanting by most scholars. Neville himself notes that whilst Markan and two-Gospel hypotheses are able to solve the “synoptic problem,” Markan priority is simply just largely assumed without taking into account of alternate viewpoints and dealing with their defender’s arguments. William Farmer has written many books arguing in favour of Matthean priority.
Other scholars who argue against Markan priority include: Bo Reicke, B. C. Butler, D. J. Chapman, Eta Linnemann, Hans-Herbert Stoldt, and John Rist. Linnemann in particular noted that in a sample of 35 pericopes, only 22.17% of the words are identical among all three synoptic Gospels. Even secular and classical scholars have found the Markan/QM hypothesis wanting, including: Northrop Frye, Albert Lord and George Kennedy. Members of the International Institute for the Renewal of Gospel Studies also do not hold to Markan priority, including: Lamar Cope, David Dungan, Allan McNicol, David Peabody, and Philip Shuler. The second problem lies in the testimony of Papias. Papias is often dismissed, but his testimony gives us warrant to suppose there was a version of Matthew written in Aramaic, prior to the Greek version. Papias’ explanation of Mark’s Gospel being based on the preaching of Peter provides a much better explanation. Other problems include the fact that 1st century AD Palestine was an oral culture where writing desks did not exist yet. In such an oral culture, works would have been produced from memory and on notes. In fact, note taking was extremely prevalent in the ancient world. However, scholar Richard Bauckham, whilst arguing that the Gospels are eyewitness testimony, still assumes Markan priority, so Markan priority is not a count against the character of the Gospels at all.
Now we can scrutinise what these sources have to say. What reasons do we have trusting them? How can we be sure if they are reporting something accurately? Questions like these can be answered by adopting certain criteria of authenticity. The main criteria of authenticity are:
1. Criterion of Multiple Attestation. If something is attested in multiple sources.
2. Criterion of Embarrassment. If something causes embarrassment for the author.
3. Criterion of Dissimilarity. If something is unique.
4. Criterion of Linguistic and Socio-Cultural Background. If something fits into the cultural background of the society a work was produced in.
An element within the Gospels does not need to meet all of these criteria, or even one of them, but these are useful tools in ascertaining whether or not something within the Gospels is accurate. In order to show that something is specifically inaccurate, one would need to employ negative criteria of authenticity. In order for us to proceed with our investigation, we first need to see what facts can be ascertained. Applying these criteria to the Gospels can therefore be used to show which parts are likely factual and not invented.
Jesus’ Self-Understanding. Whilst this is hotly contested, Jesus’ self-understanding that he was Israel’s messiah and the incarnation of God is one aspect of the Gospels that strongly passes these tests of authenticity. One such example is the story where Peter acts a spokesman for the rest of the disciples and declares that Jesus is the Messiah in Mark 8:29-30 and Matthew 16:16. Certain scholars argue that this is an invention and never really happened. It is supposed that this story was meant to paint an elevated picture of Peter. However, in the same story Jesus rebukes Peter, saying “Get behind me Satan!” when Peter opposes Jesus’ passion prediction in Mark 8:33 and Matthew 16:23. If this were intended to make Peter, et al. look good, why include such an embarrassing element? Other attestation includes Jesus’ usage of the title ‘son of man’ and frequent references to God’s kingdom. The son of man title is perhaps the strongest evidence that Jesus thought of himself as divine as it meets the criterion of multiple attestation, dissimilarity and socio-cultural background. It is Jesus’ most used description of himself, yet it is not widely used in either Jewish or later Christian writings. The reason why this counts as evidence that Jesus thought himself divine is the context. It refer to a passage in the Old Testament, Daniel 7:13-14. This passage in the Old Testament describes one, like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven, approached God and was given eternal dominion over all men. These and other sayings of Jesus reveal that he clearly thought himself not only as Israel’s messiah, but that he was the divine son of man described in Daniel.
Jesus’ Crucifixion. This is perhaps the most widely accepted fact, for not only does this story occur in all four Gospels, as well as elsewhere in the New Testament, but is also recorded by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. Whilst it is generally admitted that one of the two passages by Josephus is an interpolation, in nonetheless contains genuine reference to Jesus. Furthermore, it passes the criterion of embarrassment as well as dissimilarity. Crucifixion was the most shameful method of death available at the time. It was an obscene status degradation ritual designed to humiliate the victim in every way. Not only did it signify a loss of power and having someone assert their authority over you, but also crucifixion also led to other humiliating things, such as self-defecation. Jews in particular believed that people who were hung on trees (such as crucifixion victims) were cursed, as is evidenced in the Old Testament.
As deSilva notes:
“No member of the Jewish community or the Greco-roman society would have come to faith or joined the Christian movement without first accepting that God’s perspective on what kind of behaviour merits honor differs exceedingly from the perspective of human beings, since the message about Jesus is that both the Jewish and Gentile leaders of Jerusalem evaluated Jesus, his convictions and his deeds as meriting a shameful death, but God overturned their evaluation of Jesus by raising him from the dead and seating him at God’s own right hand as Lord.”
The reason why it passes the criterion of dissimilarity is because the idea of crucified messiah would have simply been nonsense to the people at the time, and so, as such, is completely unparalleled in the ancient world. We therefore have good grounds for believing that Jesus was crucified, which in turn directly implies he was also subject to trial by the authorities.
Jesus’ Burial and The Discovery of the Empty Tomb. Jesus’ burial is another aspect of the Gospel accounts that can be reasonably determined to be factual. Scholar Byron McCane, in his essay Where No One Had Yet Lain, he argues that:
• The processes of burial and mourning were meant to honour the dead and the denial of these honours was a further dishonour.
• Based on Jewish custom, the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day would have wanted Jesus buried, not left on the cross.
“Ordinarily, death is an event which disrupts the functioning social order, for the death of any particular individual tears away a member of a social network and forces the network to reconstitute itself. Death rituals – i.e., burial customs and rites of mourning – are social processes which the wounds which death inflicts on the social group. By burying the dead and mourning their absence, members of a society affirm that someone significant had been lost. When the Romans did not permit the burial of crucifixion victims, then, they were doing more than merely showing off the power of Rome: they were also declaring that the deaths of these victims were not a loss to Roman society. Far from it, the deaths of condemned criminals actually served to strengthen and preserve Rome, protecting and defending the social order of the Empire.”
“For Jews, one of those values was the importance of belonging to an extended family group. The foundational narrative for Jewish culture was a story about a man whose descendents were to be more numerous than the starts in the sky, and respect for the family was enshrined in the moral charter of Judaism: “honor your father and mother.” Jews in Jesus’ day typically lived in extended family groups, and routinely identified themselves in legal documents, inscriptions, and literature as “X, son (or daughter) of Y.” At life’s end, they thought it best to be buried with their nearest kin. To be buried away from the family tomb – by design, not by fate – was to be cast adrift from these cultural patterns, and dislodged from a place in the family. To be unmourned by one’s nearest relatives was to be effaced from the cultural landscape. It was worse than unfortunate, it was a shame.”
Whilst it was customary to leave crucifixion victims on their crosses to be eaten birds, sometimes the Romans did allow them to be buried, and since it was prohibited in Judaism to leave a man hanging on a tree, then it makes sense that the Jewish authorities would have petitioned to bury Jesus. Burying Jesus away from the family tomb was their way of dishonouring Jesus themselves, and was not against the precepts of Judaism. Furthermore, the admission in the Gospels narratives that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, buried Jesus rather than His family or disciples, is again another extremely embarrassing feature of the Gospel story. The accuracy of the burial tradition logically implies the accuracy of the empty tomb tradition. For if it was well known that Jesus was buried, then it would have been a simple matter of checking Jesus’ tomb and exhuming the body of Jesus when the disciples began proclaiming His resurrection. Yet, the earliest Jewish polemic was that they had simply stolen the body.
Quite simply, if the body were still in the tomb, then Christianity would have been crushed like a bug. The final reason to suppose that the empty tomb narrative is accurate, however, is the admission that the women disciples were the first to witness the empty tomb. In ancient times, the testimony of women was effectively worthless. If this were an invention, it would make more sense to have Peter and the other male disciples arrive first. There is one other aspect related to this, however, that often gets rejected and that is the guard at the tomb. It is supposed the disciples invented the account of the guards to counter claims of theft of the body. However, again, we have good reason to suppose the tomb guard is historical. Since Jesus was a criminal in the eyes of the Roman and Jewish authorities, dishonour would not have stopped with his dishonourable death and burial:
“Rites of mourning were not observed for these criminals, either. Family members were supposed to keep their grieving to themselves… From the Hebrew Bible through the rabbinic literature, dishonorable Jewish burial meant two things: burial away from the family tomb, and burial without rites of mourning.”
Such a guard would not only have been there to prevent robbery, but to prevent rites of mourning, which is again, something that would have been an embarrassment to admit.
The Resurrection Appearances. This last aspect is another contentious area, yet I believe I can reasonably determine that the disciples genuinely believed they had seen the risen Christ, and had some kind of experience which led them to believe this. The first point is that resurrection would have been a hard sell to Jews and pagans had it been false. Whilst some Jews believed in resurrection, it was believed that resurrection would occur once at the end of time:
“Within the context of late Jewish apocalyptic thought, to claim the resurrection of a single individual before the end of the world was to introduce quite a new element… Neither the disciples nor anyone else expected the resurrection of one person alone. Without a new, compelling reason they would not have asserted the individual resurrection of Jesus alone.”
Pagans, on the other hand, would have the idea of bodily resurrection obscene. In pagan thought, the highest good was the emancipation from “corporeal defilement.” Matter was seen as evil, and the body something to be escaped after death. The idea of your body being physically raised would therefore have been repulsive to the pagans. This is further evident in the fact that certain heresies that arose in the 2nd century onwards tried accommodating Christianity to pagan belief, such as Docetism, which denied that Jesus was really human, and Gnosticism, Despite the fact they tried accommodating Christianity with classic pagan beliefs, these movements died out and were opposed by orthodox Christian groups. If the disciples were simply making the appearances up, then why pick such a mode of vindication? Why not claim Jesus was assumed into heaven like Elijah and Moses? It would have also been simpler to say that Jesus had merely returned to life from death rather than be resurrected.
More evidence that points to the disciples being honest in their convictions lies in the fact that they were not expecting a resurrection. Despite believing Jesus to be the Messiah, it states throughout all four Gospels that they did not know what Jesus meant when he was making his passions predictions. Now, apart from the fact we have warrant to believe this is accurate due to the fact resurrection was traditionally believed to be reserved for the end of time, but also because it makes the disciples look ignorant. Furthermore, when Jesus is arrested, the disciples flee, and even Peter denies Jesus three times. When the women disciples report they have seen the risen Christ, they are initially sceptical and don’t believe them. This paints the disciples in an incredibly negative light. Furthermore, as aforementioned, having the women encounter the risen Christ first would make no sense if this were being invented from scratch. Thus it is safe to say that we can be reasonably sure that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be resurrected.
Lastly of all, the disciples remained bold proclaimers of this message. The reason why this is significant was because the Christian message was offensive, absurd, and would have resulted in the disciples and early believers in Christ getting persecuted, which did end up happening:
“The message about this Christ was incompatible with the most deeply rooted religious ideology of the Gentile world, as well as the more recent message propagated in Roman imperial ideology.”
“That there was an intrinsic incompatibility between Christianity and classical values was apparent from the time Romans became aware of the presence of the new religion. Christians were criticized on a variety of grounds, but principally because they had rejected the gods of their ancestors and the civic values of Greco-Roman world. Their religion was new; they had turned away from the traditions of their immediate ancestors, the Jews. Because of their refusal to attend the festivals, they were seen as atheists and misanthropists. In popular belief they even practiced incest and cannibalism. In short, they did not fit into the system that had been sanctioned by centuries of classical use.”
“Logically enough, the official response to Christianity was often repression. The new religion had none of the characteristics that would have given it an approved status.”
Whilst the statewide persecution enacted by certain Roman emperors did not occur until the 2nd century and later, the early Christians would have faced intense social discrimination and persecution.
“The group would exercise measures designed to shame the transgressor (whether through insult, reproach, physical abuse, confiscation of property – at worst, execution) so that the transgressor would be pressured into returning to the conduct the group approved (if correction were possible) and so that group members would have their aversion to committing such transgressions themselves strongly reinforced.”
Therefore, to suggest that the disciples, or anyone, would make this up is completely ludicrous and literally flies in the face of everything we know about ancient society. If the disciples invented the Gospel accounts, then they would confirm to existing socio-cultural values, not fly in the face of them. Thus we can reasonably determine that the disciples were honest in their convictions, and that a good deal of the Gospel accounts are factually correct and reliable. The kicker is that Paul of Tarsus used to actively persecute the Church, and Jesus’ brothers James and Jude were sceptical of Jesus’ but later converted after their visionary experiences.
Whilst a better defence of these facts could be made, this is the unfortunately the best treatment that could be offered in such a limited space. Indeed, much tighter defences have been made. Either way, we are therefore presented with a core of basic facts.
1. Jesus was executed via crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried and his tomb was later found empty by a group of his women followers.
3. The disciples, despite being distraught and despairing, witnessed what they believed to be the risen Christ.
4. Former sceptics and enemies of Christianity came to believe after similar experiences.
Which hypothesis best explains these facts? There are a number of hypotheses that rival the resurrection hypothesis.
One hypothesis is that Jesus survived the crucifixion and awoke in the tomb. He emerged from the tomb and convinced his followers that he had been resurrected. We shall call this hypothesis the apparent death hypothesis. One hypothesis is that Jesus either had a twin brother or lookalike who pretended to be the risen Jesus after he was crucified. We shall call this the evil twin hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that the women followers visited the wrong tomb by mistake, and when they discovered the empty tomb, they erroneously believed that Jesus had been resurrected. We shall call this the wrong tomb hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that someone stole the body. We shall call this the stolen body hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that Jesus’ body WAS produced, but had rotted so that nobody recognised it. We shall call this the decomposition hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that the disciples’ belief in the risen Jesus was the result of collective hallucinations. We shall call this the hallucination hypothesis. Another hypothesis is that the disciples belief arose from a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. We shall call this the cognitive dissonance hypothesis. Finally, the resurrection hypothesis is that Jesus was the messiah who was resurrected from the death for specific redemptive purposes by God.
How well then, do these respective hypotheses fair when compared to McCullagh’s 7 criteria? Virtually any hypothesis is capable of passing the first criterion, providing it is a serious hypothesis that intends to explain the data. As such, all the hypotheses pass this first criteria. What then of explanatory scope? The apparent death, evil twin and resurrection hypotheses offers explanations for all the facts, but the other hypotheses only explain some of the facts, not all of them. For instance, the stolen body and wrong tomb hypotheses explain the empty tomb, but not the resurrection appearances and the hallucination hypothesis explains the resurrection appearances but not the empty tomb. It is when we come to the next four criteria is where things get interesting. Explanatory power is how probable a hypothesis renders the facts. In other words, if a hypothesis were true, how probable is it that we should see the data that we currently see? How well does it explain the data? This is where the resurrection hypothesis starts to dominate. If Jesus truly did rise from the dead, then this would adequately explain the empty tomb and the disciples belief in a resurrected Jesus despite his earlier crucifixion, and the conversion of sceptics and enemies, and their persistent belief despite persecution. How well do rival hypotheses match up?
This is where attractive sounding naturalistic hypotheses start to flounder. Let us consider the apparent death hypothesis. Jesus would have been tortured for hours, nailed to and then hung from a wooden cross for hours, taken down and then left for dead in a tomb. How on earth would this adequately explain the belief in the risen Jesus? For nobody would have mistaken such an enfeebled Jesus for a resurrected being. If the disciples were gullible and stupid (an unwarranted supposition) then at the very least they might have concluded he had simply been resuscitated (as in risen from the dead without being glorified) but not resurrection (being risen from the dead and being transformed into a glorious form.) The same thing goes for the evil twin hypothesis. Why would somebody mistake an ordinary human being for a glorified being? The decomposition hypothesis fails because there is no record of such a controversy. The Gospels admit that the disciples were accused of stealing the body, so if a body was produced then why not admit that? The stolen body hypothesis fails in that the Gospels are chock full of embarrassing details, and the disciples would have faced persecution and ridicule for their beliefs. Quite simply, why would they die for a lie? The stolen body fails for a similar reason, in that it is not very likely that the disciples would have died for a false belief, and if they had stolen the body, why not make an easier to swallow claim, such as that Jesus was assumed or resuscitated? The wrong tomb hypothesis likewise fails in that it is more likely the disciples would have posited that Jesus were assumed like Moses, et al. rather than resurrected.
This is where the hallucination and cognitive dissonance hypotheses completely die, as the Gospel accounts do not match the criteria for either phenomenon in any way. Hallucinations have the following criteria, expectation plays a key role, visions are not seen by everybody present, visions are seen differently, emotional excitement present in people witnessing hallucination, being informed beforehand of an event occurring, conforms to past experience and background knowledge and such phenomena are limited in duration. In the Gospels, the risen Jesus is described as appearing to at least 500 individuals, in group settings, and for protracted periods of time. The Gospels claim that this risen Jesus spent roughly 40 days with the disciples and other early followers of Jesus, and not only could they physically touch him, but he allegedly spoke to them and even ate food. Furthermore, key aspects such as expectation were missing, especially in the case of Paul of Tarsus, and sceptics like James. Cognitive dissonance on the other hand is a phenomenon where discomfort is caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously, and therefore people alter and change their beliefs, attitudes, or by trying to come up with justifications, denying or blaming. In a case study of a UFO cult, a group of investigators noted that when their prediction of an alien visitation failed, one of the group later claimed to have received instructions from the aliens saying that the event was delayed. This is not analogous to the Gospel accounts in any way and furthermore, we are again met with the problem that the if the disciples were simply making it up, why have the women disciples be the first witnesses to the resurrection, and why resurrection instead of other modes of vindication that would have been easier to believe?
What then of plausibility? Remember the definition of plausibility is that it be implied by more accepted truths. In light of Jesus’ self-understanding, the discovery of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the conversion of Paul and James, the resurrection is incredibly plausible. It is strongly implied by these truths. Whereas the other hypotheses are not. Nothing about these facts implies an apparent death, an evil twin, a decomposition, a wrong tomb, hallucinations, or cognitive dissonance. They are only implied if one assumes naturalism, which is unwarranted. In terms of ad hoc, the only new supposition that the resurrection hypothesis invites us to assume is the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. Whereas, the other hypotheses require to assume all sorts of things in order to make them work. In order for the apparent death hypothesis to work, we have to assume that a man can survive hours of the most brutal torture imaginable and was then capable of lifting a one-ton stone from the front of his tomb. The medical consensus is that Jesus would have died from his injuries.
The evil twin hypothesis requires us to assume the existence of an otherwise unknown doppelganger, and that either Jesus or his lookalike willing got crucified whilst the other stole the body and posed as the risen Jesus, or that someone who just happened to look like Jesus, was capable of pulling off such a hoax, and just so happened to be in a position to pull of such a hoax. Furthermore, we have to assume that an ordinary human being could persuade the disciples as well as Paul and James that they were the resurrected Jesus. The decomposition hypothesis requires us to assume that the Jews had no way of identifying remains. This is actually contrary to what we know about ancient Jews and Jewish custom. Furthermore, we have to assume that such a controversy would not leave any trace in the written record. The wrong tomb requires us to assume that not only did the women disciples go to the wrong tomb, but so did the male disciples. We also have to assume that body of Jesus would not have been produced had the disciples merely gotten the wrong tomb. Some have tried to suggest that Jesus was temporarily buried, but there is no such evidence. The hallucination hypothesis requires us to suppose that 500 people hallucinated a walking, talking, eating Jesus whom they believed they could touch, for 40 days. The cognitive dissonance hypothesis requires us to assume that cognitive dissonance could lead to the disciples inventing beliefs that were so hard to swallow, rather than easier to swallow beliefs.
As for the sixth criteria, which hypothesis is disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs? The resurrection hypothesis is only disconfirmed if we hold to either atheism and/or naturalism. Whereas all the other hypotheses are disconfirmed by a large variety of accepted facts. The apparent death hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that Jesus would not have survived crucifixion, would not have been able to lift the stone from the tomb, and would not have been able to convince his disciples he was resurrected. The evil twin hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that there is no mention of such a lookalike, and the sheer intricacy such a conspiracy would involve. The decomposition hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that the Jews possessed means of identifying remains after decomposition and there is no mention of such a controversy. The wrong tomb hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that both groups would not have got the tomb wrong, and that the authorities would have produced Jesus’ body had it still been in the tomb. The hallucination hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that 500 people do not have the same hallucination for 40 days, and hallucinations are audio-visual only, require expectation and only takes on elements of the hallucinator’s background experience. The cognitive dissonance hypothesis is disconfirmed by the fact that there is no such coping mechanism for cognitive dissonance that involves such whole cloth invention. In terms of the seventh criteria, it is clear that the resurrection hypothesis is the only one that passes.
Whilst the conclusions reached will no doubt be controversial and contentious, I believe that they are sound. I have laid out what I consider critical historical methodology and applied them to the Gospels to ascertain which facts, if any, could be learned. I found that the Gospels are largely reliable document that have been carefully preserved, far outstripping any other ancient document. I subjected the Gospel accounts to certain criteria of authenticity and found much can be positively affirmed to be historical to a reasonable degree of certainty. After drawing up a basic set of facts, I then evaluated a number of rival historical hypotheses and found that the resurrection hypothesis passes the critical historical criteria laid out earlier. Even if my conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus turns out to get refuted, then we at least have a possible means of evaluating it as a historical hypothesis, instead of dismissing it because it does not fit in with your personal worldview. The outdated notion that miracle claims can automatically be dismissed without investigation is precisely that: outdated. As such, it falls to critically minded historians to subject them to rigorous, but honest, historical enquiry. Who knows, what they find might surprise them? This is certainly an area I would like to continue research on.
Appendix A: Marian Apparitions
Despite Hector Avalos’ assertions, the appearances of Mary at Medjugorje, former Yugoslavia does not come anywhere close to fulfilling McCullagh’s criteria:
1. There at least 4 generally agreed upon facts that can be used to imply Jesus’ resurrection. There are no such facts surrounding Mary.
2. The doctrine of the assumption of Mary was not developed until the 5th century AD, whereas belief in Jesus’ resurrection has been an integral part of Christianity since its beginning.
3. There are no sources that directly state Mary was assumed, whereas we have numerous sources that state Jesus was resurrected.
4. Roughly 500 people were said to have seen the risen Christ, whereas we have no such witnesses for the assumption of Mary.
5. The belief in the assumption of Mary has been around for hundreds of years prior to the reported sightings of Mary. Whereas, Jesus’ resurrection was proclaimed after the disciples’ visionary experiences.
6. Mary made no radical personal claims, whereas Jesus did.
7. In light of these points, the doctrine of the assumption of Mary does not exceed rival explanations.
8. We have little if any reason to accept the veridicality of the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje. Kenneth Samples journeyed to Medjugorje to interview the witnesses, and was present during one of these so-called apparitions. Whilst the Catholic woman he was with said she could see Mary, he saw nothing.
9. It was concluded by the Catholic Church that supernatural appearances were NOT occurring here.
For more, see: Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples, The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary, Grand Rapids: Baker, (1992), p107-108, 110,114-115, 153-154, 156-157
Appendix B: Non-Canonical Gospels
Much ado has been made about certain non-canonical Gospels that have been discovered. Yet, despite receiving much hype, even from some scholars, these non-canonical Gospels are non-canonical for very good reasons. When the Church selected which books belonged in the canon, they had three criteria they applied when discussing books:
1. Apostolicity. They were written by an apostle, or a similarly authoritative source.
2. Orthodoxy. They do not contain heretical material.
3. Catholicity. They are accepted by a large number of churches and individual Christians within those churches.
Using modern analysis we can determine that the non-canonical fail these criteria. The Gospel of Thomas was a 2nd century proto-Gnostic writing that was derived from a deviant form of Syriac Christianity. It is heavily dependent on Tatian’s Diatesseraron, which was a harmonisation of the four Gospels composed around 175AD and shows other signs of dependence on a late form of Syriac Christianity. The Gospel of Judas has been unanimously declared as being the work of Gnostics during the 2nd century or later. Another source, The Secret Gospel of Mark turned out to be a fraud created by late biblical scholars Morton Smith! None of these sources offer us anything new, and their worth is highly dubious.
See: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p135-166 and Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p52-99, 240-245
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Jocelyn Small, Wax Tablets of the Mind, Routledge, (1997)
Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Samuel Shirley, trns., Brad S. Gregory, ed., Leiden: E. J. Brill, (1989)
Jan Vansina, Oral History: A Study of the Historical Methodology, Aldine, (1961)
Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus, New York: Viking, (2001)
William O. Walker, Interpolations in the Pauline Letters, Continuum Publishing Group, (2001)
Daniel Wallace, Matthew: Introduction, Argument and Outline, http://bible.org/seriespage/matthew-introduction-argument-and-outline
Daniel Wallace, Mark: Introduction, Argument and Outline, http://bible.org/seriespage/mark-introduction-argument-and-outline
Daniel Wallace, Luke: Introduction, Outline and Argument, http://bible.org/seriespage/luke-introduction-outline-and-argument
Daniel Wallace, John: Introduction, Outline, and Argument, http://bible.org/seriespage/gospel-john-introduction-argument-outline
William Walker, ed., The Relationships Among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, Trinity University Press, (1978)
Michael Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, eds., Jesus Under Fire, Zondervan, (1996)
Robert Wilken, The Christians As The Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1985)
Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Paternoster, (1998)
Leonard Zuzne and Warren H. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behaviour and Experience, Erlbaum Associates, (1982)
1 This is a reference to 19th German historian Leopold von Ranke.
2 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, Crossway, (2008), p207, 247
3 Keith Jenkins, The Post Modern History Reader, New York: Routledge, (1997),
p6, 8, 10, 17, 19, 20
4 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions, Cambridge University Press, (1984), p19
5 David Hume, Enquiries Regarding Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 3rd edition, P. H Nidditch, ed., Oxford: Clarendon, (1975) and Benedict de Spinoza, Tracatus Theologico-Politicus, Samuel Shirley, trns., Brad S. Gregory, ed., Leiden: E. J. Brill, (1989)
6 Whilst Spinoza was a pantheist, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was a deistic work.
7 For example, see: Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H Publishing, (2009), William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, John Wiley and Sons, (2009), William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), and Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, eds., The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science, ISI Books, (2011)
8 Richard Carrier, Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable, from John W. Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, Prometheus Books, (2010), p298-299
8 John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles, Oxford University Press, (2000), p4
9 Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, Prometheus Books, (2007), p187-194
10 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions, Cambridge University Press, (1984), p22
11 William Lane Craig, Resurrection and the Real Jesus, Paul Copan, ed., Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, Grand Rapid: Baker, p165
12 L. D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, (1983), p46-47 and W.G. Spencer, Celsus: de Medicina, Harvard University Press, (1971), pxiii
13 L. D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, (1983), p276-277
14 L. D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, (1983), p307-308 and H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History, Vol. 1, Harvard University Press, (1979), pxii
15 L. D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, (1983), p332-333 and Jeffrey Henderson, Quintillian: The Orator’s Education, Harvard University Press, (2001), p19
16 L. D. Reynolds, ed., Texts and Transmission: A Survey of Latin Classics, Clarendon Press, (1983), p406
17 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p71-82
18 Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p26, 28, 32-33
19 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p104-105
20 Richard Carrier, Pauline Interpolations, Richard Carrier Blogs, (June 2011), http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2011/06/pauline-interpolations.html
21 See: Carol J. Schluter, Filling Up The Measure: Polemic Hyperbole in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Sheffield Academic Press, (1994) for a full coverage of arguments for and against interpolation of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. For a substantive treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 passage, see: William O. Walker, Interpolations in the Pauline Letters, Continuum Publishing Group, (2001)
22 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p109
23 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Eerdmans, (2006), p246-249
24 David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, Oxford University Press, (2005), p8, 9, 27-29, 71-72, 95, 98.
25 Whitney Shiner, Proclaiming the Gospel, Trinity Press International Press, (2003), p4-5, 25, 103-108, 151-153. Jocelyn Small, Wax Tablets of the Mind, Routledge, (1997), p82
26 Richard A. Burridge, What Are The Gospels?: A Comparison With Graeco-Roman Biographies, Eerdmans, (2004), p235
27 Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, Trinity Press International, (2000), p48
28 Papias, Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, quoted by Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, Book III, Chapter 39.16, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.vii.ii.vi.html
29 See: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Eerdmans, (2006)
30 Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 3, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.v.iii.v.html
31 For more on these points see: Donald Senior, The Gospel of Matthew, Nashville: Abingdon, (1997), W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, New York: Doubleday, (1971), and Daniel Wallace, Matthew: Introduction, Argument and Outline, http://bible.org/seriespage/matthew-introduction-argument-and-outline
32 See: Daniel Wallace, Mark: Introduction, Argument and Outline, http://bible.org/seriespage/mark-introduction-argument-and-outline, Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Paternoster, (1998), Daniel Wallace, Luke: Introduction, Outline and Argument, http://bible.org/seriespage/luke-introduction-outline-and-argument, Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, IVP, (2007) J. A. T Robinson, The Priority of John, London: Meyer and Stone, (1985) and Daniel Wallace, John: Introduction, Outline, and Argument, http://bible.org/seriespage/gospel-john-introduction-argument-outline
33 Albert B. Lord, The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature, from William Walker, ed., The Relationships Among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, Trinity University Press, (1978), p42
34 E. P. Sanders, and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, Trinity Press International, (1989), p72
35 David Neville, Mark’s Gospel: Prior or Posterior?, Sheffield Academic Press, (2002), p284, 337-338
36 Eta Linnemann, Is There A Synoptic Problem?, Grand Rapids: Baker, (1992), p129
37 Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress, (1986), p46-47
38 George Kennedy, Classical and Christian Source Criticism from William Walker, ed., The Relationships Among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, Trinity University Press, (1978), p131
39 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Eerdmans, (2006), p42, p222
40 Robert H. Stein, Criteria for the Gospels’ Authenticity from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H, (2009), p88-103 and Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p46-51 See also: Michael J. Wilkins, Who Did Jesus Think He Was?, from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H, (2009), p167-181
41 For more see: Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p123-157, J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p169-193, Ben Witherington III, Jesus the Seer, from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., B&H, (2009), p104-112 and William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p287-329
42 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 3.3, http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-18.htm, Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter 9.1, http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-20.htm and Tacitus, Annals, XV.44, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078%3Abook%3D15%3Achapter%3D44
43 The consensus amongst the scholarly community is that, whilst some parts of this passage are obvious interpolations, other parts are distinctly authentic, which include the reference to Jesus. From 1937 to 1980, out of 52 scholars reviewing the subject, 39 found portions of this passage to be authentic. Since 1980, 10 out of 13 books on the subject argue that this passage is partially authentic whilst the other three argue it is a complete forgery. Coincidentally, these three books all argue that Jesus never existed. Notable scholars that accept partial authenticity of the Testimonium Flavium include: - John P. Meier, Steve Mason, Paula Fredrikson, E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, John D. Crossan, Louis H. Feldman, Paul Winter, S.G.F. Brandon, Morton Smith, James H. Charlesworth, Carlo M. Martini, Wolfgang Trilling, A.M. Dubarle, Robert Van Voorst, R.T. France, F.F. Bruce, Craig L. Blomberg, Ben Witherington III, James D.G. Dunn, Darrell L. Bock, Alice Whealey, Luke T. Johnson, J. Carleton Paget and Graham Stanton. These scholars represent a wide swath of academia, not just some narrow subset of conservative believers. Even Jeffrey Jay Lowder, co-founder of Secular Web, agrees with partial authenticity: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html Furthermore, there are non-interpolated manuscripts without the suspect language: Agapios, Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title,") and James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/JewishJesus/josephus.html
44 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977), p22 and Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress, (1998), p263-264
45 Deuteronomy 21:23, NCV, Biblegateway, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy%2021:23&version=NCV
46 David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, IVP, (2000), p51 and Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977), p19
47 A small group of conspiracy theorists believe Christianity started as a mishmash of pagan deities, and is typically held by people who argue that Jesus ever even existed. Such view has been totally rejected by contemporary scholarship. See: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p249-258
48 Byron C. McCane, Where No one Had yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p433
49 Byron C. McCane, Where No one Had yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p444
50 See note 45.
51 Byron C. McCane, Where No one Had yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p431-452
52 Gerald O’Collins, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Judson Press, (1973), p31
Resurrection was the specific belief in a physical return from death to life, and then a subsequent transformation into a glorified form. Not to be confused with resuscitation, which is just simply coming back from death to life.
53 Murray Harris, Raised Immortal, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, (1985), p116
54 In some extra-biblical Jewish tradition, it was believed Moses was assumed into heaven like Elijah and Enoch were. The document that is the source of this tradition, The Testament of Moses, is even referred to in Jude’s Epistle in the New Testament.
55 Again, resurrection was not the same thing as coming back to life from death. Resurrection involved being raised physically from the dead but also included a transformation into a glorified state.
56 David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, IVP, (2000), p46
57 D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History, Third Edition, Pearson, New Jersey (2006), p314-315
58 D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History, Third Edition, Pearson, New Jersey (2006), p318
59 The earliest account of Roman state persecution comes to us from Cornelius Tacitus, who reported that Nero set Christians on fire and used them as torches. See note 42, Tacitus, Annals.
60 David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, IVP, (2000), p36
61 See: Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, IVP, (2010), and William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p333-399
62 Leonard Zuzne and Warren H. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behaviour and Experience, Erlbaum Associates, (1982), p133-135
63 The resurrection appearances are described in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and further appearances are described in Acts 1:1-11; 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:-12-18; 7:55; and also in 1 Corinthians 15:3. The creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is important because it dates so early. Gary Habermas notes:
“These “authentic” Pauline epistles are preferred even over the Gospels because of the critical belief that we know the author and dates of composition for these writings, whereas we do not know the authors and are somewhat less specific regarding the dates of the Gospels…. The key text in this regard is certainly 1 Cor 15:3ff… In the case of 1 Cor 15:3ff., critical scholars agree that Paul’s reception of at least the content of this proclamation, and probably the creed itself, go back to the mid-AD 30s, when he spent two weeks with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. But these two apostles had the material before Paul did, and the events behind the reports are earlier still. This is probably the chief argument that persuades the majority of scholars today that the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection originated in the earliest church. Virtually all critical scholars think this message began with the real experiences of Jesus’ earliest disciples, who thought they had seen appearances of their risen lord.” – Gary R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus Time Line, from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H, (2009), p115, p125
64 Leon Festinger and J. M. Carlsmith, Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, p203-211 and P. gosling, P. M. Denizeau, and D. Orbele, Denial of Responsibility: a new Mode of Dissonance Reduction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, p722-733
65 Leon Festinger, H.W. Riecken, and S. Schachter, When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World, University of Minnesota Press, (1956)
66 “Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus' death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.” – William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, On The Physical Death of Jesus Christ, The Journal of the American Medical Association 255 (11, 1986), p1455-1463
“Death, usually after 6 hours--4 days, was due to multifactorial pathology: after-effects of compulsory scourging and maiming, haemorrhage and dehydration causing hypovolaemic shock and pain, but the most important factor was progressive asphyxia caused by impairment of respiratory movement. Resultant anoxaemia exaggerated hypovolaemic shock. Death was probably commonly precipitated by cardiac arrest, caused by vasovagal reflexes, initiated inter alia by severe anoxaemia, severe pain, body blows and breaking of the large bones. The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim.” – FP Retief, and L Cilliers, The History and Pathology of Crucifixion, South African Medical Journal 92 (112, 1993), p938-941
67 Carefully observing where Jesus is buried and then returning on the Sunday morning to confirm and even mark, for identification, his corpse, is in keeping with Jewish burial customs. After all, m. Sanh. 6.5-6 implies that bodies are still identifiable, long after decomposition of the flesh. How was this done? We don’t know, but evidently the Jewish people knew how to mark or in some way identify a corpse, so that it could be retrieved some time later. We should not allow our ignorance of such customs, or our condescension, to lead us to discount such tradition as implausible.” – Craig A. Evans, Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3/2 (06, 2005), p233-248. See also: Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, T and T Clark, (2005), p318 and Byron McCane, Roll Back the Stone, Trinity Press International, (2003), p11, 14, 47, 54.
68 Richard Carrier, in his chapter Jewish Law, the Burial of Jesus and the Third Day in the volume, The Empty Tomb appeals to two separate passages in Josephus’ Antiquities as if they were referring to the same thing to try and support his belief that Jesus was only temporarily buried and then moved to a graveyard reserved for criminals. He uses a passage speaking about blasphemers, and then tries to link it to another passage discussing unruly and rebellious children, despite the fact that they are completely separate. He also incorrectly attributes the passages to Jewish Wars and gets one of the verses wrong. Such an appeal is fraudulent and dishonest.