When it comes to the project of history there is something that historians must be careful to pay heed to above anything else: they must be wary of their own biases and pre-suppositions. One’s worldview influences one’s work in history as surely as it influences everything else in one’s experience. This does not invalidate the efforts of fallible humans in engaging in such an enterprise, of course. Contrary to the post-modernists, recognition of such pitfalls merely highlights the need for caution in making judgments and pronouncements, and the need for critical self-reflection. For my Bachelor’s dissertation, I wrote on the subject of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. In that dissertation, I argued for a particular historical hypothesis of Christianity’s origin based on socio-cultural data and rigorous criteria for assessing historical hypotheses. In this dissertation, however, I shall instead be looking at the views and hypotheses of other historians.
It is my aim to assess such hypotheses in three ways: first, I shall be looking at how 1st century socio-cultural data is correctly integrated, secondly, I shall be looking at to what extent 21st century socio-cultural suppositions affected their forming, and lastly, I shall be assessing their value as historical hypotheses against specific historical criteria. The reason for my choice in subject matter is for a number of reasons: I am very interested in early Christianity and the historical Jesus. I am particularly interested in how socio-cultural data impacts our understanding of various historical periods. However, it seems to me as if the effects of modern socio-cultural views on how historians engage in history and historical reasoning is something that has not received substantial or sufficient treatment. Obviously, from a purely logical and philosophical point of view, an argument cannot be undermined based on any attribute of the arguer, or the origin of the argument. In looking at the influences of modern society and culture on modern historians, we will not so much be ascertaining the truth-value of their hypotheses, but assessing their historical reasoning. However, it is undeniable that one’s socio-cultural background impacts one’s historical reasoning.
In assessing how the socio-cultural backgrounds of the historians in question impacts their historical reasoning it is my aim to ascertain to what extent their historical hypotheses depend on a priori assumptions grounded in their socio-cultural backgrounds. Moreover, I shall also be assessing how well their historical reasoning stands on its own without such assumptions. Historian C. Behan McCullagh lists the following criteria for assessing historical hypotheses in his work Justifying Historical Descriptions.
1. The hypothesis must explain a greater variety of data than rival hypotheses. (Explanatory scope.)
2. The data must be more probable under the hypothesis than rival hypotheses. (Explanatory power.)
3. The hypothesis must be implied by a greater variety of established truths than rival hypotheses, and to a greater degree than rival hypotheses. (Plausibility.)
4. The hypothesis must include fewer new suppositions not already implied by the data than rival hypotheses. (Non-ad hoc.)
5. The hypothesis must include fewer observation statements believed to be false than rival hypotheses. (Accord with existing beliefs.)
As we can see, these criteria refer to things that can be affected by one’s socio-cultural suppositions, for example: plausibility and accord with existing beliefs.
When forming a historical hypothesis, or when assessing a historical hypothesis, clear and valid historical reasoning is essential. As such, making a priori assumptions based purely off of one’s socio-cultural suppositions is clearly an invalid historical reasoning. Of course, this does not demonstrate that the historical hypothesis is necessarily false, only that it is badly argued. In this dissertation, we shall be looking at three separate viewpoints regarding the historical Jesus. First, we shall be looking at so-called ‘Christ-Myth’ hypothesis. Whilst this is a fringe view dismissed by virtually every historian, there are nonetheless defenders of this view even in the realms of academia. The two authors we shall be principally be looking at from this view are Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier. They maintain and defend the radical claims that there was no historical Jesus, and that he was merely a mythological figure invented by Paul of Tarsus, et al. based on a variety of pagan deities.
Secondly, we shall be looking at the secular view: with the views of Bart D. Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan being chief among these. The defining element in common is the claim that the historical Jesus was merely a man. The Christian claims of the historical Jesus’ divinity are typically regarded as legendary additions accrued over the ages. They only differ slightly: Ehrman regards the historical Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet, whereas Crossan regards the historical Jesus as a cynic sage. Unlike the aforementioned ‘Christ Myth’ hypothesis, these views are much more mainstream. Lastly, we shall analyse the approaches of Christian scholars such as William Lane Craig, and Mike Licona. The Christian viewpoint is that the historical Jesus was the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Whilst this view is highly contentious amongst secular scholars, it is nevertheless a position that continues to receive widespread support.
Given that this dissertation covers the subject of how one’s historical reasoning can be influenced by one’s socio-cultural suppositions, it would be prudent to highlight my own. I am a Christian, by which I mean that I believe in the existence of a maximally great being, and that the historical Jesus was the incarnation of the second person of the trinity. Philosophically, I do not subscribe to either physicalism, the belief that everything that exists is comprised of physical matter, or naturalism, the belief that everything that exists can be explained in terms of natural causes. Whilst I am more than willing to suspend these beliefs and adopt a position of neutrality, i.e. assuming that neither theism nor atheism is true, etc., because I actually do believe in Christian Theism, I may nevertheless be more favourable towards Christian views than non-Christian views.
Given my existing beliefs, I will certainly strive to be as objective as humanly possible. Of course, the corollary to this is that a person who does not believe in Christian Theism, or any version of theism at all, would be more likely to be disfavourable to Christian views, even despite efforts at remaining neutral. Philosophers refer to our individual structures of beliefs as ‘noetic structures,’ and one’s stance on the existence of God can be a tremendously major part of one’s noetic structure. Unfortunately, space does not permit me to devote too much to the issue of philosophy of history, but I shall obviously touch upon issues such as methodology, etc. in the discussion ahead.
Chapter One: Jesus as Myth
As aforementioned, this is a fringe view that has very few defenders who are actually academics at all, let alone academics in relevant fields. However, this has become an increasingly popular view amongst the so-called ‘new atheist’ movement, as well as amongst online sceptic groups and communities. Whilst authors such as Acharya S and Earl Doherty are lay authors with little to no formal historical training at all, other authors, such as Richard Carrier and Robert M. Price, are academics that actually hold some relevant expertise. Even so, the overwhelming majority of their work on the subject has been published, not through any serious academic publishers, but through a publisher by the name of Prometheus Books, which is dedicated to publishing anti-religious material.
Put simply, the Christ Myth hypothesis is the position that there is no historical Jesus at all, let alone the Christian version of Jesus. As can be expected, this is a view that has not had very many defenders, even at its most popular. The only difference between now and one hundred years ago is that a hundred years ago it was possible to defend the Christ Myth hypothesis and still be considered a mainstream scholar. That and there are substantially fewer defenders of the Christ Myth hypothesis today. Modern Christ mysticism can be traced back to 19th century scholars such as D. F. Strauss and Bruno Bauer, as well as taking influence from 20th century scholar Rudolph Bultmann. These views, in turn, being distant derivatives of earlier, 18th century Deistic polemics against religion.
This obviously does nothing to invalidate their arguments, of course. I am simply noting the strongly polemical anti-religious background of the Christ-Myth hypothesis. Indeed, such leanings are evident in the writings of the Christ Mythers themselves, not just in works promoting the Christ Myth hypothesis, but also in their other works too. This obviously presents us with a clear and obvious bias against any possible interpretation of the data that favours Christianity, and so when assessing the arguments and historical reasoning of the Christ Myth hypothesis, we must take special care to look out for anything that presupposes a non-theistic worldview.
As aforementioned, the purpose of this dissertation is to look out for any circular reasoning inherent in the arguments of various scholars, namely those that presuppose the very thing they are trying to establish. As such, approaching the subject of the historical Jesus and early Christianity already convinced that it is false can be as problematic as approaching the subject already convinced that Christianity is true. This is especially true when we are considering viewpoints that not only consider rival views false, but ‘evil,’ etc. The question is whether or not those who hold to such views can suspend them and approach the subject as objectively as possible, and to what extent they allow their suppositions to influence their historical reasoning and hypotheses.
Aside from the non-existence of any historical Jesus, and the charge that Christianity plagiarised from pagan religions, other claims and arguments are made that, whilst not dependent on the non-existence of Jesus, are typically used and employed by Christ Myth hypothesis defenders in their overall model of Christianity’s development and origin. Typically, the New Testament documents are dismissed outright as anonymous documents of no historical value, and weren’t intended to be historical documents. It is also usually claimed that Christian editors forged all non-Christian references to Jesus, and went on an anti-heretic pro-Orthodox campaign of persecution, destroying all documents that conflicted with their version of the Gospels and their version of Jesus.
It might be important to note what both Price and Carrier have to say about their own biases. Consider the following written by Carrier:
“I am a marginally renowned atheist, known across America… as an avid defender of a naturalist worldview and a dedicated opponent of the abuse of history in the service of supernaturalist creeds… I have always assumed without worry that Jesus was just some guy, another merely human founder of an entirely natural religion… So, I have no vested interest in proving Jesus didn’t exist...”
Obviously, a human Jesus is no challenge at all either to atheism or naturalism. However, one way to undercut Christianity is to simply deny the historicity of Jesus. Why bother debating the historical value of the New Testament documents, their textual accuracy, or whether or not the resurrection occurred when you can argue Jesus himself never existed? This is hardly speculative either; many within the so-called ‘new atheist’ movement have adopted this strategy and promoted the Christ Myth as a means of attacking Christianity.
Carrier’s attitude towards theism and religion are hardly neutral either. Consider the following:
“Believers, by contrast, and their apologists in the scholarly community, cannot say the same. For them, if Jesus didn’t exist, then their entire worldview topples. The things they believe in (and need to believe in) more than anything else in the entire world will then be dire threat. It would be hard to expect them ever to overcome this bias, which makes bias a greater problem for them than for me. They need Jesus to be real; but I don’t need Jesus to be a myth.”
This seems little more than Carrier attempting to poison the well by smearing the reputation of his ideological opponents. What makes Christians inherently less likely to overcome bias? What makes Christian bias more problematic than anti-Christian, anti-theistic, and anti-religious biases? This comment, far from impugning the reputation of believers, simply reveals Carrier’s own biases.
Someone who is hostile to religion is more likely to adopt radical views than someone who simply believes religion to be false. Carrier himself continues on to say:
“That’s how my involvement in this matter began, resulting in my mostly (but not solely) positive review of Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle. My continued work on the question has now culminated in over forty philanthropists (some of them Christians) donating a collective total of $20,000 for Atheists United, a major American educational charity, to support my research and writing a series of books.”
How then can Carrier say he has no vested interested on the question? The overwhelming majority of his works are published through Prometheus Books, who publish exclusively anti-theistic works, and his research is being funded through Atheists United. His comments regarding the abuse of history in favour of supernaturalist creeds also betray a strongly anti-theistic bias. Why not simply all abuses of history?
Price’s statements are more interesting:
“Some will automatically assume I am doing apologetics on behalf of “village atheism,” as some do. For what it may be worth, let me note I began the study of the historical Jesus question as an enthusiastic, would-be apologist.” Price continues: “I have never come to disdain Christianity. Indeed, I was for half a dozen years pastor of a Baptist Church and am now a happy Episcopalian. I rejoice to take the Eucharist every week and to sing the great hymns of the faith. For me the Christ of faith has all the more importance since I think it most probable that there was never any other.”
The problem here is that Price coming from a Christian background does not negate bias. Indeed, it seems that Price is coming to this with a very skewed definition of the term ‘faith,’ most likely a hangover from his Christian days.
Neither Carrier’s nor Price’s statements seem to match their actual views and attitudes. Whilst Carrier is forthright about his atheism, naturalism, and activism in favour of both of these worldviews, he nevertheless tries to mitigate his biases by trying to argue that his ideological opponents are somehow inherently more biased than he is by default. He also claims to have no vested interest in the existence of Jesus despite publishing numerous articles and books arguing that Jesus never existed via a specifically anti-theist publishing company, and being funded through an organisation geared towards advancing atheism. Price, on the other hand, tries to mitigate his own bias by noting his former beliefs and worldview. Such a change in beliefs and worldviews is not necessarily an indication of lack of bias. In reality, these are men with a strong vested interest in promoting a certain ideology.
Let us then assess the arguments of these two scholars. Aside from assessing the historical reasoning employed, we will also be looking at the extent to which their arguments are based on suppositions resulting from their worldview and biases. Good arguments will be able to stand independent of the worldview, biases, and assumptions of its author, whereas bad arguments will rely heavily on certain assumptions that are a part of their worldview that are not necessarily shared by those who hold to different worldviews. These types of assumptions can range from dismissing the possibility of the resurrection because you hold to naturalism, to dismissing the value of the Gospels because you believe ancient people were stupider. As we can see from the historical criteria laid out by McCullagh, we must make as few new suppositions about the past not already evidenced by the data as humanly possible.
Central to Price’s rejection of the hypothesis that there was a historical Jesus is his reliance on the assumptions of form criticism, particular the notion of ideal types:
“The third commandment is to remember what an ideal type means. Conveniently forgetting it, many have ignored the importance of the mystery religions, the theios aner (divine man), the dying-and-rising gods, and, most recently, Gnosticism, for the historical Jesus question. An ideal type is a textbook definition made up of the regularly recurring features common to the phenomenon in question.”
Price’s argument is that accounts of Jesus fit certain mythological stereotypes: the dying-and-rising god archetype, and the mythic hero/divine man-god archetype. Thus, according to Price, because the accounts of Jesus match these mythical archetypes, we are warranted in believing that the Jesus of Christianity was a mythological figure and not a historical one.
There are numerous problems with this approach. The first and most obvious flaw in his reasoning is the assumption that parallels between Christianity and other religions necessarily makes Christianity mythical. The biggest problem with this assumption is the existence of striking parallels between actual historical figures and events with other figures and events as well as to fictional accounts.
“Many readers will be familiar with an account of a large passenger ship built approximately one hundred years ago that had a name beginning with “Tita___.” Despite the fact that it was said to be “unsinkable,” on a cold April night the new ship hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. It sank and more than half of its passengers perished due to an insufficient number of lifeboats. Of course, the ship that comes to mind is the Titanic. However, all of these details are likewise used to describe the sinking of the Titan in the novel Futility, written in 1898–fourteen years prior to the sinking of the Titanic.”
This is not the only example of a work of fiction predating an event to which it bears an extraordinary degree of resemblance. In 1884 a yacht called the Mignonette left England for Australia. However, the journey met disaster when it sunk during a storm. The crew initially survived by eating a turtle, and ultimately resorted to cannibalism by eating 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker.
These events are eerily similar to an account in the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe, written 50 years prior to the sinking of the Mignonette. In the novel, the survivors ate a tortoise before resorting to cannibalism by eating their 17-year-old cabin boy, whose name was also Richard Parker. Last but not least, there are considerable parallels between American presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Are we to believe that there is a presidential archetype and that Lincoln and Kennedy are myths, or that the sinking of the Titanic and the cannibalisation of Richard Parker form some kind of nautical disaster archetype? The more rational explanation is that these parallels are coincidences that bear no causal relationship to one another.
According to Price, Christianity borrowed heavily from eastern mystery religions that predated the supposed lifetime of Christ:
“The Jesus story as attested in the Epistles shows strong parallels to Middle Eastern religions based on the myths of dying-and-rising gods… Originally celebrating the seasonal cycle and the death and return of vegetation, these myths were reinterpreted later by peoples of the ancient nationalities relocated around the Roman Empire and in urban settings… Strong evidence from ancient stelae and tablets make clear that Baal and Osiris were believed to be dying-and-rising gods long before the Christian era. There is also pre-Christian evidence for the resurrection of Attis, Adonis and Dumuzi/Tammuz. All these survived into the Hellenistic and Roman periods, when they were available to influence Christianity.”
Price also argues that the Church Fathers and ancient apologists knew this and tried to get by this by arguing that the evidence was planted by Satan to fool people. The problem is that these claims of parallels between Jesus and ancient pagan deities are simply an overblown and severe misrepresentation of the truth.
Let us start with the claim that early Christians knew of these supposed parallels and tried to explain them away by claiming that Satan was responsible for them. This claim is derived from quotations of 2nd century Christian apologist Justin Martyr. The problem is that Justin Martyr says no such thing. This is what Justin has to say:
“The prophet Moses, then, was, as we have already said, older than all writers; and by him, as we have also said before, it was thus predicted: There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is reserved; and He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape. The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine [or, the ass] among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven.”
“For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by [Jupiter’s] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?”
“And these things [the messianic prophecies] were said both among the Greeks and among all nations where they [the demons] heard the prophets foretelling that Christ would specially be believed in; but that in hearing what was said by the prophets they did not accurately understand it, but imitated what was said of our Christ, like men who are in error, we will make plain.”
When we take all of Justin’s statements into account, it becomes clear that Justin is not trying to dismiss parallels as being down to some kind of diabolical mimicry at all. Rather, he is offering an explanation to the origins of paganism. He is arguing that the devil created these religions based on the Old Testament prophecies, but got them wrong. However, are the statements of a 2nd century Christian enough to demonstrate that Jesus was a mythological figure based on paganism? The problem is that there are no striking similarities between Christianity and pagan religions at all. Any and all similarities that do exist are superficial at best. Price’s appeals to the pagan figures he names are misleading for a number of reasons. In the case of Baal “…the ritual standing between nature and myth was not a complex procedure celebrating the death and resurrection of the god but royal funerary ritual.”
Osiris is similar in that he too does not return from the dead. Rather, Osiris functioned as a funerary deity who ruled over the land of the dead. As noted by Jonathan Smith:
“…he [Osiris] did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have 'risen' in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern (as described by Frazer et.al.); most certainly it was never considered as an annual event."
Elements of the Attis cult involving resurrection were not added until significantly after the origin of Christianity. Moreover, scholars believe that such elements were the result of cultists copying Christianity rather than the other way round.
“The Frazerian construct of a general ‘Oriental’ vegetation god who periodically dies and rises from the dead has been discredited by more recent scholarship. There is no evidence for a resurrection of Attis; even Osiris remains with the dead; and if Persephone returns to the world every year, a joyous event for gods and men, the initiates do not follow her. There is a dimension of death in all of the mystery initiations, but the concept of rebirth or resurrection of either gods or mystai is anything but explicit.”
Thus, not only are claims of parallels a complete red herring to begin with, there simply is no evidence for the kind of similarities Price claims.
This is a major death blow for the argument that Jesus was a mythological figure based on pagan myths and a decisive refutation of one of the central claims of the Christ Myth hypothesis. With such a central aspect of the Christ Myth hypothesis decisively refuted it becomes difficult to see how it can stand on its remaining premises. The second main argument is the apparent lack of secular sources that mention Jesus. The problem with this should be apparent to anybody who has spent any amount of time studying the subject, a problem which even Price himself admits (albeit in a roundabout fashion):
“The silence-of-the-sources argument at most implies a Bultmannian version of a historical Jesus whose relatively modest activity as an exorcist and faith healer would not have attracted much attention, any more than secular media cover Peter Popov today.”
So, one of the few proponents of the Christ Myth hypothesis in academia today admits that a lack of secular sources mentioning Jesus is no argument against a historical Jesus at all.
The silence argument is, of course, far weaker than even Price is willing to admit. For one thing, we DO have secular sources that mention Jesus. Aside from the two passages in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, one of which Price dismisses as a Christian forgery at the hands of Eusebius without argument, we have a variety of other references of varying usefulness, including a reference in Tacitus’ Annals. However, these references are largely irrelevant as they do not tell us much about the historical Jesus. Indeed, most scholars on the subject agree that the primary sources we have on the life of Jesus are the New Testament documents, in particular the Gospels. Bart Ehrman of all people says the following: “…the Gospels, their sources, and the oral traditions that lie behind them combine to make a convincing case that Jesus really existed.” Even if the historical Jesus was as the Gospels portrayed him, there simply is no reason to expect anything other than the brief, secular references that we already have.
The last argument put forward in defence of the hypothesis that there was no historical Jesus is the argument that the Epistles lack significant details on the life of Jesus, do not attribute various sayings of Jesus to Jesus, and fail to quote Jesus where it would be expected. According to Price: “It makes eminent sense to suggest, in the Epistles, that we see early Christian sayings just before their attribution to Jesus.” Once again, these are claims that are highly problematic. The whole notion of individual sayings being invented wholesale by various communities is an assumption of form criticism, as is the notion that the sayings in the Epistles and Gospels represent distorted or evolved versions of certain pure forms. As Richard Bauckham notes: “It is a curious fact that nearly all the contentions of the early form critics have by now been convincingly refuted, but the general picture of the process of oral transmission that the form critics pioneered still governs the way most New Testament scholars think.”
Price’s contentions rest on an entirely defunct way at looking at ancient oral traditions. Bauckham notes several problems with form criticism, any one on its own being enough to bring down the entirety of form criticism. A critical study of the Gospels reveals a variety of mnemonic techniques that provide evidence as to how they were transmitted orally prior to their writing down. These memorisation techniques were similar to those employed by Rabbis and their students and reveal a relatively stable oral transmission. Moreover, there is no evidence at all that suggests that Christian communities believed they had the authority to alter sayings, etc. freely. Rather, the oral transmission was most likely held in check by the authority of the disciples. As for Price’s complaint regarding the Epistles’ apparent lack of life details, quotations, and attributions of sayings, these can be answered readily.
The assumptions that, had Jesus existed, then the Epistles would have surely: a) contained lots of details about Jesus’ life, b) quoted Jesus profusely, and c) would have explicitly attributed each quotation of Jesus to Jesus are simply faulty. The reason for this lies in two facts: 1) the genre of the Epistles vs. the genre of the Gospels, and 2) the culture in which both were composed. The Gospels were ancient biographies, or bioi, and, as such, we can expect lots of details on Jesus’ life. The Pauline Epistles, on the other hand, were letters from the apostle Paul to Christian communities and churches he had helped set up. Secondly, the early Christians lived in what anthropologists call ‘high context culture.’ What this means is simply that when individuals in such a society communicated with one other, they presumed “a broadly shared, generally well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing.”
Given the genre of the Epistles as being personal letters, the high context nature of 1st century Near Eastern culture, and the fact these letters were being written to Christians already familiar with the sayings and deeds of Jesus, why on earth would they have contained lots of life details, quotations, and attributions? As it stands, the Epistles DO quote Jesus, and do provide some details of Jesus’ life. They simply do not name him as being quoted from because those being written to would have known who had said it, due to the high-context nature of their society, and the fact those being written to were amply familiar with said quotations. The Epistles providing little details of Jesus’ life do so precisely the same reason why not every quotation of Jesus is attributed to him. To 1st century people to do so would have been redundant.
Aside from the argument that Jesus never even existed, it is not uncommon for proponents of the Christ Myth hypothesis to promote similar ideas. Richard Carrier, a proponent of the Christ-Myth hypothesis, argues that early Christians believed in a “spiritual resurrection” and that the empty tomb was a later interpolation by later Christians. Whereas Price tries to make the argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 was a post-Pauline interpolation. These claims are similarly problematic and ignore the socio-cultural reality of the 1st century Near East. Let us start with the argument that belief in a physical resurrection evolved from an earlier belief in a “spiritual resurrection.” The first point to make is that such a term is a complete oxymoron. In Judaism, resurrection was a specific mode of vindication that was believed to occur at the end of time for all the righteous dead.
Resurrection was a physical return to life followed by a transformation into a new imperishable physical form, whereas belief in existence as a disembodied spirit after death was what certain pagans believed (although most apparently believed death was permanent.) The second point to make is that the idea of physical resurrection would have been abhorrent to pagans, whereas the idea of existing as a disembodied spirit after death would have been more acceptable. As such, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to suggest Christians discarded an earlier belief that was more acceptable in favour of a belief that was less acceptable. What then of Price’s argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 was an interpolation? There simply is no evidence at all for this claim. Rather, all the evidence shows that the creedal formula contained in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 predated Paul’s Epistle.
As Habermas explains:
“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 that they had seen appearances of their risen Lord. It did not arise at some later date. Nor was it borrowed or invented.”
In addition to demolishing Price’s claims, this also serves as further refutation of Carrier’s argument that resurrection was a later belief that superseded an earlier belief in “spiritual resurrection.”
Chapter Two: Jesus as Human
The overwhelming majority of scholars today at least recognise that a historical figure named Jesus lived roughly 2,000 years ago in 1st century AD Palestine. Where they tend to differ is in just who precisely the historical Jesus was and the degree to which he resembles the Christian portrayals of him. Scholars Bart D. Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan represent the two leading non-Christian views on Jesus. Ehrman is a former fundamentalist Christian turned agnostic who regards Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet, whereas Crossan, despite professing to be a Christian, nevertheless regards Jesus as a cynic sage rather than the incarnation of the second person of the divine trinity. The main works we shall be analysing and referencing will be John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins, (1994), and Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.
It can be fair to say that these scholars represent the ‘middle ground’ so to speak between the orthodox Christians on one side and the hardcore anti-theists on the other. Indeed, as Bart Ehrman has himself noted:
“…I can imagine readers who think me anti-Christian taking umbrage at my refusal to toe their line. And Christian readers may well be pleased that even someone like me agrees with them on key points (although they certainly won’t like other things I have to say in the book).”
This might give some readers the impression that Ehrman is therefore much more impartial, especially when they find out he used to be a fundamentalist Christian. Of course, simply taking the middle ground is no guarantee of impartiality, just as changing views does not either.
Crossan on the other hand is a former Roman Catholic Priest who left the monastic order “…to avoid a conflict of interest between priestly loyalty and scholarly honesty.” However, despite seemingly claiming to hold faith in God, Jesus, and the resurrection, Crossan nevertheless holds to several unorthodox beliefs, most notably: Crossan claims that, after Jesus’ burial, his body was thrown into a ditch where it was likely eaten by wild animals. It can safely be said that Crossan is no Christian in the orthodox sense, but it seems as if, at least as far as religious biases go, Crossan has no particular dog in this fight. Of course, despite this, a careful gleaning of his work betrays a few key assumptions that colour his conclusions. I shall attempt to show this in my analysis of his arguments.
We shall first look at the arguments of Bart D. Ehrman. One point he repeatedly stresses throughout his work is the apparent anonymity of the Gospels:
“…in the final analysis, we should return to the point from which we began: even though we might desperately want to know the identities of the authors of the earliest Gospels, we simply don’t have sufficient evidence.”
“The Gospel writers – anonymous Greek-speaking Christians living thirty-five to sixty-five years after the traditional date of Jesus’ death – were simply writing down episodes that they had heard from the life of Jesus.”
Now, those who have studied the Gospels and New Testament history will at once agree that the original authors of the Gospels did not write their names on their work themselves, and that the current attributions to Matthew, Mark, et al. derive from later Christian tradition. Does this mean, however, that we cannot know who wrote them with any degree of certainty?
Ehrman seems to think it strange that nobody at all mentions the names of the authors of the Gospels prior to 2nd century despite quoting from them. Of course, given that they lived in a high context society, such an omission is hardly conclusive of anything at all, other than that those quoting the Gospels took for granted that others would know the author already. Moreover:
“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.”
To his credit, however, Ehrman does mention Papias and his references to two of the Gospels in the 2nd century. Ehrman argues:
“The tradition about Matthew is even less fruitful, since the two things that Papias tells us are that (a) Matthew’s book only comprised “sayings” of Jesus–whereas our Matthew contains a lot more than that–and (b) it was written in Hebrew. On this latter point, though, New Testament specialists are unified: the Gospel of Matthew that we have was originally written in Greek. Papias does not appear, therefore, to be referring to this book.”
This treatment of Papias, however, does not deal with the main arguments concerning the importance of Papias in discerning the identity of the Gospels’ authors.
The fullest treatment of Papias to date can be found in Richard Bauckham’s magnum opus Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Ehrman claims that Papias claimed that Matthew was a collection of sayings but the Gospel of Matthew contains more than just sayings. Bauckham, however, shows why such an argument does not work:
“Since Q consists almost entirely of sayings of Jesus, this identification has usually entailed thinking that by the logia of the Lord Papias means sayings of Jesus. However, we have seen that In his discussion of Mark Papias uses the term for short accounts of both what Jesus said and what Jesus did.”
Given Papias’ use of the term logia, to argue that he was merely claiming Matthew as a sayings Gospel is erroneous.
Ehrman’s second argument is similarly flawed. As all New Testament scholars know, the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, and not in either Hebrew or Aramaic as Papias claims. However, this does not mean Papias’ testimony regarding Matthean authorship of Matthew can simply be dismissed as referring to another book. Indeed, it can be argued that Papias is referring either to a Hebrew or Aramaic original penned by Matthew, or a ‘proto-Gospel’ Matthew penned before the writing of the Greek version. This is attested to by other early Christian authors Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, yet such a hypothesis is typically dismissed out of hand for little to no reason at all. Jerome in particular says: “Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain.”
Ehrman does, however, seem to be more favourable towards Papias’ testimony regarding the authorship of the Gospel of Mark.
“I would assume that the tradition about Mark refers to the Mark that we have in the New Testament, even though there is no way to know for sure, since Papias doesn’t quote any of the materials that are found in the book he’s referring to, and so we have nothing to compare it to. It is striking, though, that he emphasises that (a) the author is not an eyewitness, (b) Peter would retell the stories at random, and (c) Mark modified the accounts he heard from Peter so as to provide an “order” for them.”
On the one hand, Ehrman provides no reasons for doubting the veracity of Papias’ attestation, but nevertheless attempts to cast doubt on it in a particularly underhanded way. For example, he seems to think Mark not being himself an eyewitness is somehow a negative attribute, even though his accounts were simply those of the eyewitness Peter committed to writing.
However, Ehrman make the bizarre claim that Mark modified the accounts of Peter to give them an order, yet this is precisely the opposite of what Papias said. Papias noted that the lack of order in Mark’s Gospel was precisely because he did NOT modify the accounts of Peter he heard, listened to, and remembered. The lack of order was borne from the fact Peter told them out of order, as Ehrman himself notes. However, none of these things affects whether or not the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, translator and interpreter of Peter. These claims of Ehrman also do nothing to affect the credibility of the Gospel of Mark either. Of course, Ehrman tries to attack the credibility of the Gospels in other ways:
“Irenaeus, along with many other Christian leaders in the second-century church, was involved in heated debates over correct doctrine… It’s probably no accident that the first time Christians started insisting that the Gospels they preferred were written by apostles and companions of the apostles… was after various “heresies” began to thrive, heresies in which alternative beliefs were propounded and books embracing these beliefs were distributed.
This argument, however, is invalid and disingenuous for multiple reasons.
Firstly, Ehrman here is implying that the non-canonical gospels and the four canonical Gospel are on equal footing. This is simply false, as all the non-canonical gospels were penned in the 2nd century AD and later. Whereas the four canonical Gospels were all penned in the 1st century AD, all within 30-40 years of Jesus’ death. Ehrman himself later admits:
“…we have other Gospels that did not make it into the New Testament. Lots of other Gospels, in fact–over a couple of dozen of them… But most of them are latecomers–the bulk of them date from the third to the eighth centuries, hundreds of years after Jesus himself. And nearly all of them are based on the New Testament Gospels themselves.”
Of course, in mentioning how the non-canonical gospels emerged, Ehrman is implying that, because the 2nd century gospels were forgeries written by people trying to defend certain theological viewpoints, the same applies to the 1st century Gospels. This is simply the fallacy of poisoning the well and guilt by association.
Indeed, despite the fact that Ehrman tries to malign the canonical Gospels as not being concerned with recording accurate history, and anonymous forgeries not written by eyewitnesses, there is a good deal of evidence that undercuts this assertion. Scholar Richard A. Burridge notes that:
“…a wide range of similarities have been discovered between the gospels and Graeco-Roman Bioi; the differences not sufficiently marked or significant to prevent the gospels belonging to the genre of Bioi literature. The increasing tendency among New Testament scholars to refer to the gospels as ‘biographical’ is vindicated; indeed, the time has come to go on from the use of the adjective ‘biographical’, for the gospels are Bioi!”
In other words, if we treat the Gospels as ancient documents, rather than approaching them as if they constituted some form of sui generis, we discover that, contra Ehrman, they are historical documents.
Of course, there are differences between bioi and general historical accounts. One of the chief differences is that “…biography does not aim to give exhaustive historical reporting. It succeeds in its portrayal of character by a careful selection of whatever actions serve best to illustrate it.” As such, it is therefore reasonable to expect differences amongst different biographical accounts of the same person:
“The process of selection, of deciding which details and quotations should be used and which discarded, depends on the biographers interpretation of character and career, his sense of significance, and his intentions and insights. No two biographers, when confronted with the same body of evidence about a person, will reach the same set of conclusions. That is why there is no such thing as a definitive biography.”
This more than accounts for the apparent discrepancies and differences amongst the Gospel accounts. This is most likely true of modern biographies also.
Moreover, Ehrman’s claim that the disciples were not interested in recording history is simply an example of black-or-white thinking. As New Testament scholar Mike Licona explains:
“Each biographer usually had an agenda behind writing. Accordingly they attempted to persuade readers to a certain way of political, philosophical, moral or religious thinking about the subject. Just as with many contemporary historical Jesus scholars, persuasion and factual integrity were not viewed as being mutually exclusive. It was not an either/or but both.”[60[
Indeed, as philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig explains:
“The overriding lesson of two centuries of biblical criticism is that such an assumption [that the historical case for Jesus’ radical self-understanding and resurrection depends upon showing that the Gospels were generally reliable historical documents] is false. Even documents which are generally unreliable may contain valuable historical nuggets, and it will be the historian’s task to mine these documents in order to discover them.”
This also undercuts Ehrman’s claims of Christian bias getting in the way of serious critical research of the historical Jesus and the early Church. Ehrman opines:
“At one end of the spectrum, fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians often treat the Gospels as literature unlike anything else that has ever been produced because, in their theological opinion, these books were inspired by God. In this view, inspired literature is not amenable to the same kind of historical and critical investigation as other kinds of literature.”
Yet, as we have seen, it is Ehrman who is treating the Gospels woodenly, whereas Christian scholars such as Licona and Craig are more than capable of treating the Gospels as ancient documents, and such a treatment reveals them to belong to the genre of Bioi, or, in other words, ancient biographies.
Of course, aside from attacking the authorship and general character of the Gospels, Ehrman, as a textual critic, attacks the reliability of the textual transmission of the New Testament:
“Is the text of the New Testament reliable? The reality is there is no way to know. If we had the originals, we could tell you. If we had the first copies, we could tell you. We don’t have the copies in many instances for hundreds of years after the originals. There are places where scholars continue to debate what the original text said, and there are places we will probably never know.”
The problem is that this is not accurate. To be sure, we do not have the original copies that the authors of the Gospels themselves wrote, nor do we have the first copies. However, Ehrman uses these facts to cast doubt about the reliability of the New Testament textual transmission. When we compare the textual transmission of the New Testament compared to those of other ancient documents, the New Testament stands head and shoulders over them all, dwarfing the nearest competitor in both quality and quantity of manuscript evidence.
If we cannot trust the words of the New Testament because we do not have the originals, this means that we must bestow that same doubt a hundredfold upon other ancient documents. As of 2006, we had roughly 5,700 Greek NT manuscripts alone, with the earliest dating to the early 2nd century. By comparison, the earliest manuscripts we have for the works of Tacitus and Suetonius date to the 9th century, with a combined number of 23 manuscripts between them. As far as textual variants go, only 1 percent are meaningful, viable differences. Yet, these variants do not affect anything major within the New Testament text at all; nothing is lost or gained depending on which meaning we go with. As Daniel Wallace notes: “Indeed, the very fact that Ehrman and other textual critics can place these textual variants in history and can determine what the original text was that they corrupted presupposes that the authentic wording has hardly been lost.”
The next leg of Ehrman’s argument is to provide clear evidence of Jesus’ inherent apocalypticism:
“Scholars of antiquity agree that, as a rule of thumb, we should give preference to sources that are closest to the time of the events they narrate that are insofar as possible not tendentious…The earliest sources at our disposal all portray Jesus apocalyptically. Our later sources–for example John and Thomas–do not. Is this an accident?”
The problem with this ‘just so’ explanation is that it presents an overly simplistic representation of the Gospel portrayals of Jesus. Not only this, but Ehrman neglects to mention that these earliest sources all agree that Jesus rose from the dead. As noted in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 15:3 is perhaps the earliest attestation of Christ’s resurrection, predating Paul’s written statement and dating back to the earliest core of Jesus’ followers.
That Jesus’ earliest followers believed that he had risen from the dead is undeniable, a fact that Ehrman himself agrees with. However, in order for his hypothesis to work, Ehrman has to explain why Jesus was believed to have been risen from the dead and ignored the apparent apocalypticism of his teachings. Ehrman claims that the early Christians proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection makes sense if Jesus were a purely apocalyptic prophet because resurrection was believed to occur only at the end of time, and apocalypticists believed that the ends times were upon them, and so probably saw Jesus’ resurrection as heralding the beginning of the end times. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was believed that all righteous dead would be resurrected at the end of time, all at the same time. So, Ehrman’s hypothesis requires a modified version of existing beliefs.
Whilst we could easily imagine such apocalyptically minded Jews coming to a conclusion that differed from existing beliefs, it is hard to see how this would have been the case with Jesus’ followers. The main reason for this is because Jesus was publicly flogged, beaten, and crucified. In the honour-shame centric world of the 1st century Mediterranean and Near East, this was the ultimate shame and dishonour. If we assume that Jesus remained dead, then, even if we assume his followers remained loyal to him, it defies explanation why thousands of others came to accept a crucified man as being second to the most high God.
Bizarrely, Ehrman even makes the claim that we don’t know that Jesus’ followers proclaimed his resurrection immediately, arguing the earliest proclamation is to be found in Paul’s writings, dating 20 years after Jesus’ death. However, as aforementioned, the creedal material in 1 Corinthians 15:3 predates Paul’s writing. The core proclamation constituted a creed that was well known amongst Christians during the time of Paul’s writing, dating back to the earliest Church. How Ehrman deals with the resurrection hypothesis also leaves much to be desired. He makes two simple arguments: that the Gospels are contradictory in detail despite being in general agreement, and we couldn’t affirm the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection because ‘miracles’ are outside the scope of history. The problem with the first argument is that even if we grant that this is the case, it has no bearing on the truth or falsity of the resurrection hypothesis whatsoever, making it a red herring.
Ehrman’s second argument is simply pure question begging, and the result of equivocation. Ehrman argues that historians can’t establish what really happened, only what probably happened. Since miracles are ‘by definition’ improbable, we can never be justified in affirming the historicity of a miracle. This is merely the same argument put forward by David Hume in the 19th century. Hume defined miracles as ‘violations of nature’ and held them as impossible because he was a deist who held to the uniformity of nature. The problem with both of these ‘definitions’ of ‘miracles’ is that they are particularly nebulous and viciously circular. Indeed, if the evidence suggests that something considered ‘miraculous’ probably occurred, then we are rationally justified in believing that such a thing probably happened, regardless of what the ‘prior probability’ was for its occurrence.
Let us now turn to Crossan’s approach. Crossan’s approach is not entirely dissimilar to that of Ehrman’s. However, whilst Ehrman maintains that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet, Crossan maintains that Jesus was a cynic sage. Crossan, like Ehrman, maintains that the Gospel depictions of Jesus are contradictory, biased and consist of mythologised and heavily edited versions of the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Moreover, he thinks the existence of ‘other gospels’ and the status of the four Gospels as canonical renders the canonical Gospel portrayal of Jesus as ‘suspect’:
“It is precisely that fourfold record [the canonical Gospels] that constitutes the core problem… it is disagreement rather than agreement that strikes you most forcibly… The existence of such other gospels [non-canonical works] means that the canonical foursome is a spectrum of approved interpretation forming a strong central vision that was later able to render apocryphal, hidden, or censored any other gospels too far off its right or left wing.”
The problem is that such a hypothesis assumes that which it sets out to prove. The fact that the four Gospels were eventually accepted into an official canon whilst “other gospels” were sidelined to the scrapheap of history does nothing whatsoever to show that the Gospels, the traditions behind them, or those that canonised them cannot be trusted.
Indeed, whilst Crossan’s suggestion is entirely possible, it is also equally possible that the four canonical Gospels were canonised and the apocryphal gospels were rejected for good reasons, rather than purely nefarious ones. The early Church Fathers had certain theological convictions to be sure, but why suppose this means they altered Jesus heavily to suit their image? Indeed, the evidence shows the exact opposite of what Crossan, et al. suggest:
“First, there was never any great pressure within the church to accept certain books as canonical. This makes it all the more impressive that the church came to such firm conclusions about the majority of the books early on, and the rest in due time. Second, because there was no pronouncement, some books naturally were debated, at least in a part of the church… The very lack of a council’s decree allowed the ancient church to wrestle with the legitimacy of these books. And on this score, the most important books were never doubted”.
The canon was not imposed upon the Church via a central authority, but, rather, was a list of books all churches happened to agree were authoritative. Only a handful of books that made the canon were doubted, whereas there were Christian books that were perfectly orthodox that, nevertheless, did not make the canon for other reasons.
As for the non-canonical ‘gospels’ to which Ehrman and Crossan refer, are they just as or even more legitimate a witness to the life of Jesus of Nazareth? If we analyse these other so-called ‘gospels’ in the same manner as the four canonical Gospels and other ancient documents, then we see quite quickly that they contain nothing of any historical worth or significance regarding the life of Jesus of Nazareth. For instance, the Gospel of Thomas, so prized by Crossan and believed by him to be closer to the historical Jesus than the four canonical Gospels, contains material based on Syrian traditions, most notably Tatian’s Diatessaron, which date no earlier than the late 2nd century AD.
However, what of Crossan’s specific view that Jesus was really a Cynic sage? Scholar Craig Evans lists a number of important facts that serve to undercut such a hypothesis. First, several of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples contradicts what Diogenes, founder of cynicism, gave to his followers. Jesus, in fact, instructs his disciples NOT to take certain items with them that were staples of a true cynic. Other chief differences include the fact that Cynics rallied against religion because they thought that the gods were indifferent, whereas Jesus’ teachings were deeply religious, encouraging his followers to devote their lives to God. Secondly, there is no archaeological evidence that shows that Cynics inhabited the nearby city of Sepphoris prior to 70 AD. Moreover, we need also remember the religious history of the Jews who, only a century and a half prior to Jesus’ lifetime, rebelled and waged war against the Greeks.
Crossan’s hypothesis can thus hardly be said to be plausible. Indeed, despite insisting on the need for cross-cultural anthropology and criticising the willingness of scholars to take the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus seriously, it is rather Crossan whose arguments and hypothesis are found lacking. In the cases of both Ehrman and Crossan we have examples of formerly religious men. In the case of Ehrman, he formerly belonged to a fundamentalist Evangelical background. This is evident in the way Ehrman makes a big deal over the fact that we don’t have the exact wording of the original New Testament despite having a stable textual transmission. Contrary to both his and Crossan’s claims “…in general, Christian copyists were quite conservative in transmitting texts.”
Chapter Three: Jesus as Divine
With this group of scholars it should be exceedingly obvious where their biases lie. They are Christians and so obviously have an interest in defending the Christian faith. Obviously committed Christians are going to say that the historical Jesus was the second person of the divine person. The question is to what degree such scholars allow their beliefs to influence their results. We may recall Richard Carrier’s particular derisive comments about those in the scholarly community who defend Christian views. Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan also seem to think that those who defend the orthodox view of Jesus aren’t being true historians. Key in their rejection of even the possibility of the orthodox Christian view being true is a worldview that precludes the possibility of the existence of God.
Now, the question of the existence of God is a philosophical debate, and so it would lead us too far afield to discuss the subject here. What concerns us, however, is can the historian be justified in concluding that God has acted in history? Ehrman, et al. argue that we can never be justified in affirming a ‘miracle’ has occurred, yet if we admit that it is possible that God exists, and that, if God exists, it is possible for God to act in the universe, then, without assuming a stance on these issues either way, what reason is there to preclude the resurrection hypothesis from our pool of live options a priori? It strikes me as being particularly disingenuous to speak on the biases of Christian scholars when you won’t even consider their hypothesis as possible.
Of course, this does not give the resurrection hypothesis a free pass. This hypothesis must be treated just as critically as the other views we have already discussed. Regarding the four canonical Gospels, we have already seen that they are ancient biographies, and that the textual tradition behind their transmission was very reliable. However, this does not establish the Christian view that Jesus was resurrected by God. The basic Christian argument in favour of the resurrection hypothesis is that it meets the criteria for the best explanation mentioned in the introduction, i.e. explanatory scope, etc. This is done by establishing a core group of ‘minimal facts’ from the data, and then arguing that the resurrection best explains these facts.
Chief amongst these facts are as follows: the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and the spread and success of the Christian faith. More specifically, we can include things such as Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, and others add the conversion of Paul, and of James, Jesus’ half-brother. Aside from this we may also add: Jesus’ radical self-understanding (i.e. who he believed himself to be, and what he predicted about himself), and the socio-cultural background of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean. Even if we assume that the Gospel accounts weren’t written by eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness accounts, even if we assume that they weren’t generally reliable, a successful defence of the factuality of these so-called ‘minimal facts’ can nevertheless be maintained.
That Jesus was crucified is not in doubt by any serious historian. Aside from the multiple corroborating non-Christian attestations to this fact, we can also be assured that it would not be something followers of Jesus would want to invent due to the massive social stigma attached to crucifixion. Some critics, however, such as Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan, doubt the historicity of Jesus’ burial tradition. However, again, an understanding of the socio-cultural value of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean reveals that the burial tradition is hardly something the disciples would have invented. Indeed, Jesus’ being purposefully buried away from his family tomb, and by a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin rather than by his friends and family, would have been considered a massive dishonour, even if we accept that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus.
Romans typically refused burial of crucifixion victims, however they would sometimes permit burial in certain circumstances. Since leaving someone “hanging on a tree” overnight was forbidden in the Torah, then it would have made sense for the Jewish Sanhedrin to bury Jesus themselves, so that they could dishonour Jesus in death whilst still observing Jewish religious laws. Furthermore, the guard outside Jesus’ tomb can also be considered historical for similar reasons. The guards would have been placed there, not just to prevent grave robbing, etc., but also to prevent people from mourning. To not have one’s friends mourn at one’s tomb was also a massive shame and dishonour, and would have been yet another culturally embarrassing detail for the disciples to admit. The historicity of the empty tomb tradition is more widely doubted, albeit still accepted by a wide number of New Testament scholars.
William Lane Craig lists multiple reasons for accepting the historicity of the empty tomb. The first major argument is that the reliability of the burial tradition implies the historicity of the empty tomb. There are multiple strands of reasoning here: first, the site of Jesus’ burial would have been known. Resurrection in Judaism was physical and so the disciples could hardly have begun preaching Jesus’ resurrection had his body still lay in his tomb. Moreover, even if they had, then the authorities could easily have produced Jesus’ body. So, if the burial tradition is accurate, then the tomb of Jesus would have been known, and had the tomb not been empty, belief in Jesus’ resurrection would not have been able to get off of the ground.
The second significant argument is that the burial and empty tomb are widely attested in very early source material, such as the Gospel of Mark, and is implied in the creedal material located in 1 Corinthians 15:3. Moreover, the first discoverers of the risen Jesus and his empty tomb were reported to be women. This is significant because of how women were viewed in the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean. Women were essentially viewed and treated as second-class citizens, and their testimony was considered useless in court. As such, it defies reason why the Gospel writers would have women as the first witnesses to resurrection and empty tomb if they were inventing the account. Lastly, there is strong evidence that in order to observe Jewish customs, religious Jews had a method of identifying bodies and remains after decomposition.
As Craig Evans explains:
“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.”
All of these points, as well as others not discussed here, lead me to conclude along with Craig, et al. that the empty tomb tradition contained in the Gospels is reliable and historical.
That the disciples saw something that convinced them that Jesus had been risen from the dead by the God of Israel is accepted almost universally. Specifically, it is accepted that the disciples believed that they had not just seen the risen Jesus, but believed that they had spoken to and interacted with him too. Moreover, the creedal material records further appearances of up to 500 other followers who were claimed as witnesses to the resurrection. The conversion of Paul is similarly widely accepted, most likely due to the unanimous consensus that most of the Pauline epistles are authentic. The conversion of James is accepted similarly as the New Testament records that he, along with the rest of Jesus’ family, did not believe his claims about himself. This was an embarrassing detail for the NT authors to admit. This same James, however, is later reported by Christian and non-Christian sources (such as Josephus) that he became a leader in the Church, and was ultimately martyred in Jerusalem.
The socio-cultural data has been covered at length in my BA (Hons) dissertation. Essentially, Christianity violated multiple socio-cultural values and resulted in severe social persecution: “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.” That Christianity spread and succeeded is something so obvious that not even the most radical Christ Myth advocate would conceivably deny, so the only fact requiring justification is Jesus’ radical self-understanding. As we have seen, this is something that is actually disputed by actual scholars. We have seen that both Ehrman’s and Crossan’s respective hypotheses are on shaky ground. However, if we can show that Jesus thought himself as the messiah and divine, then this would effectively bury both hypotheses.
Craig devotes an entire chapter in his work Reasonable Faith to discussing Jesus’ usage of various messianic titles. He writes:
“Unless Jesus himself made messianic pretensions, it is difficult to explain the unanimous and widespread conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. Why, in the absence of any messianic claims on Jesus’ part, would Jesus’ followers come to think of him as Messiah at all, and why was there no non-messianic form of the Jesus movement?”
Indeed, this fact is problematic for those who wish to suppose Jesus made no messianic claims about himself and that such claims were ascribed to Jesus afterwards. As for the specific instances in the New Testament itself, there are too many to recount in their entirety. I shall mention some of the more major instances.
The use of the Son of Man title is one that has confused numerous commentators on the study of the historical Jesus. This title, however, makes sense once we take into account the Old Testament Book of Daniel, specifically the apocalyptic visions describing the end times. The Book of Daniel contains the following passage:
“I continued to observe the vision in the night, and behold, One like the Son of Man was coming with the clouds of heaven, until He came to the Ancient of Days and approached Him. Then dominion, honor, and the kingdom were given to Him, and all peoples, tribes, and languages served Him. His authority is an everlasting authority which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed.”
Here, the Son of Man is someone who appears human, but is clearly meant to be not just supernatural, but also God’s equal.
It is this to which Jesus refers in his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, resulting in their charge of blasphemy against him:
“And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.””
We can see from this example that, aside from answering positively in response to the high priest asking Jesus if he was the Christ, and the Son of God, he also directly alluded to the passage in Daniel that described the Son of Man. Of course we still need to assess if the resurrection hypothesis is the best overall explanation of the data. In the introduction, I mentioned several criteria listed by historian C. Behan McCullagh that a hypothesis must pass before it can be judged to be the best explanation.
In order to answer the question of Christianity’s origins, we need to conclusively account for:
1. Jesus’ claims about himself.
2. Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
3. The discovery of the empty tomb.
4. The post-mortem appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples.
5. The conversion of Paul and James.
6. The spread and success of Christianity despite its violation of a multitude of socio-cultural values, and despite massive social persecution (as well as the eventual state sanctioned persecution.)
7. The willingness of the disciples and early Christians to suffer persecution and martyrdom for their beliefs.
Any hypothesis must explain all facts together, not only some of the facts. Moreover, the evidence must be made more probable under a certain hypothesis than rival hypotheses. The hypothesis must be implied by a greater variety of existing beliefs, and to a greater degree than rival hypotheses, as well as disconfirmed by fewer existing beliefs, and to a lesser extent than rival hypotheses. The hypothesis must include fewer new suppositions not already implied by the data than rival hypotheses. The hypothesis must include fewer statements believed to be false than rival hypotheses. The hypothesis that best explains the data is the one that exceed rivals in these criteria to such a degree that it is doubtful that new discoveries would overturn the hypothesis.
Let us begin with some of the more plausible naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection hypothesis. For non-theists, it is eminently more plausible that the disciples suffered hallucinations and this hypothesis has indeed been advanced as a possible explanation. In order to assess this particular hypothesis, however, we must consult with the relevant medical data on hallucinations and then compare the Gospel accounts of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus to the medical data to see if they match the medical definition of hallucinatory episodes. It may also be helpful to compare the resurrection narratives and accounts to known examples and cases of hallucinations in similar settings. Specifically, we need to consider the phenomenon of mass hallucinations, given the fact that these appearances occurred to groups of people together, rather than to an isolated individual.
For this purpose, I have consulted Zuzne and Jones’ Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behaviour and Experience, which I shall be referring to in regards to the phenomena of hallucinations in general and the phenomenon of mass hallucinations specifically. Zuzne and Jones report that hallucinations can be visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, haptic, kinaesthetic, or organic. Visual hallucinations can range from observing simple light phenomena to the witnesses of life-like life-sized persons who appear to be three-dimensional and solid, cast shadows, and interact with the real life objects around them, rather than walking through walls, etc. Whilst it is possible for the same hallucination to be experienced by two or more individuals, such hallucinations are much more limited in scope. According to Zuzne and Jones, mass hallucinations are limited to certain categories that are determined by the kinds of ideas that people can get excited about as a group.
However, the key element in mass hallucinations is expectation, as it is expectation that plays the coordinating role in collective hallucination. All participants must be informed beforehand, says Zuzne and Jones. Unless at least the general outline of the hallucination is outlined beforehand, mass hallucination simply cannot happen. This is problematic for those wishing to explain the post-mortem appearances as being collective hallucinations. The New Testament narratives are quite clear that the disciples’ had zero expectation of what was to actually come. Moreover, it is made clear that the disciples did not understand what Jesus meant when he predicted his own death and resurrection, most likely because their messianic expectations were in line with the expectations of other Jews. They were expecting a triumphant political leader, a King to lead Israel to rebel against Rome.
Moreover, when we consult the New Testament accounts, they are far more detailed than the kind of experiences to which collective hallucinations are limited. The second major problem is that a collective hallucination simply lacks explanatory scope. It attempts to explain the post-mortem appearances alone, and does not account for any of the other facts. It would have to be conjoined with another hypothesis, and two bad hypotheses don’t make a good one. Therefore, let us move onto other naturalistic hypotheses. Some have suggested that the body of Jesus was stolen. Whilst this might seem plausible to some, we must remember the reliability of the burial tradition of Jesus. The guard in front of Jesus’ tomb were there to prevent mourners, a culturally embarrassing detail. However, even if we assume the guard outside the tomb were fictional, who would have stolen the body?
In order to seriously suggest theft as a plausible hypothesis in the absence of any likely party, it needs to be shown that the theft of bodies was something that generally occurred in 1st century Jerusalem, which is where Jesus was buried. In other words, is there evidence of grave robbers, et al. in 1st century Jerusalem? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so the burden of proof is on those who wish to suggest that such a group would have been in a position to have stolen Jesus’ body. What of those whom we do know about who may have had a motive to have stolen Jesus’ body? The obvious choice is the disciples: they had followed Jesus for a couple of years, and believed him to be the promised messiah. When Jesus was crucified, their messianic hopes would have been shattered.
For this hypothesis to work, we have to suppose that the disciples conspired together to trick people into believing that Jesus had been resurrected. First of all, why would they have turned to resurrection? There were other modes of vindication reserved for Jewish heroes of the faith that were more palatable. Resurrection was not unanimously believed in by all Jews, and was believed to happen at the end of time. Moreover, why would they die for beliefs they knew to be false? Secondly, how were they able to dupe so many people into accepting claims that were so contrary to the current socio-cultural values without some form of convincing evidence? Modern authors like to think of ancient people as superstitious simpletons, however, this is nothing more than chronological snobbery and modern western elitism and bigotry.
As I noted in my BA dissertation, the claims of the disciples would have been investigated. In ancient times, people minded other people’s business, a fact that might shock modern westerners today. Neighbours were expected to keep a constant watch and vigilance over each other so that deviant behaviour would not escape notice. Aside from the core group of disciples, we have the former persecutor of the Church, Paul, as well as Jesus’ sceptical half-brother, James. However, the creedal material in 1 Corinthians 15:3 mentions Jesus appearing to over 500 of “the brethren” at once. These 500 would have been sought out. As hard to believe as resurrection may seem to non-believers, are we to assume that literally nobody bothered to check the facts? Moreover, such a fraud would have become increasingly more difficult to conceal and pull off as more people became involved. Are we to suppose that none of the conspirators got cold feet?
Theft and hallucination are the two most plausible naturalistic hypotheses available, however, as I have shown, they are far from likely or plausible when it comes to explaining the facts. Let us now move to some more outlandish hypotheses. One suggestion is that Jesus didn’t die during his crucifixion, and emerged from his tomb alive. This hypothesis is even more fraught with problems than the previous two. For this to work, we have to assume Jesus was able to survive one of the most brutal methods of execution ever conceived. To underscore just how absurd such a proposition is, I have consulted two different medical reports:
“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.”
“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.”
We are also presented with a hypothesis that requires us to suppose that the attending Roman soldiers: a) were unable to tell when a crucifixion victim had died, and b) would have left without making sure that the victim was dead. This contradicts what we know about ancient crucifixion:
“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.”
However, even if we assume Jesus had survived such a brutal punishment, we need to assume that he was strong enough to escape his tomb, and then somehow persuade the disciples that he had been resurrected.
Some have suggested, however, that belief in the risen Jesus arose from cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that results from individuals holding to conflicting beliefs simultaneously. Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of discomfort that arises from such a conflict, and leads to individuals resolving such a conflict by altering their beliefs and attitudes, trying to come up with justifications, by denial, or through laying blame at the feet of another party. The most famous example of this kind of phenomena that is used as the classic case example of such a phenomenon occurred with a UFO cult who claimed that they would be visited by aliens at a certain date. When the aliens did not show up, one of the group later claimed to have received instructions from the aliens saying that they had simply been delayed. Is this scenario useful as an explanatory hypothesis regarding the facts surrounding the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity?
This hypothesis suffers from the same problems that plague the hallucination hypothesis. Why did the disciples claim that Jesus was resurrected, rather than resuscitated, or assumed into heaven? Even if we assume all the 500 witnesses were ‘in on it’ (which is highly unlikely for such a scenario), again, are we to assume nobody got cold feet in a socio-cultural climate where they would have faced intense social persecution for their beliefs? This also does not account for the empty tomb, the conversion of Paul and James, etc. This scenario is suggesting that, to save face, the disciples invented a belief system that got them and their followers persecuted and killed. This is assuming that the scenario even matches cases of cognitive dissonance.
Other, more outlandish suggestions include the hypothesis that Jesus had a twin brother, lookalike, or some other doppelganger with whom Jesus conspired to trick people into thinking he had been raised from the dead. This requires us to believe either that Jesus persuaded a lookalike to willingly get crucified in his place, or that Jesus willingly went to his own death so that a lookalike could persuade people he had been resurrected. We also need assume that people would have mistaken a regular human being for a resurrected being, and that nobody ever noticed Jesus or the lookalike ever again. Others have suggested that the disciples accidentally visited the wrong tomb. For this we have to disregard the reliability of the burial tradition, and that the authorities would not have produced Jesus’ body if they had it. This also does nothing to account for the post-mortem appearances, or any of the other facts.
As far as explanatory scope and power go, the resurrection hypothesis adequately explains all of the facts, and all facts are to be expected under such a hypothesis. The only difficulty lies in assessing its plausibility, how ad hoc it is, and its accord with existing beliefs. There are those who argue that the resurrection hypothesis is falsified by the fact that dead people stay dead. However, this is an unsatisfactory argument for a number of reasons. First, we do not know that all dead people stay dead in all circumstances. Rather, we know that people do not rise from the dead naturally. Nobody is suggesting that Jesus rose from the dead via natural processes. Secondly, such a responses clearly begs the question. How do we know that resurrection is impossible? We also do not know for a fact that there is no such being as God. Quite the contrary, there is an overabundance of evidence and reasons to think that there is such a being. Thus, the only thing we need suppose for the resurrection hypothesis that is not included in the facts or observation statements is that the Judeo-Christian God exists.
Having reviewed three different 21st century viewpoints, and the arguments of those who defend such viewpoints, it is now time to see what can be said regarding each position and the views of those we have reviewed. In reviewing the radically sceptical view of Jesus Mythicism, we saw that the arguments put forward to argue that there was no such person as Jesus of Nazareth were particularly lacking in substance. The entire position revolves around certain assumptions that have long since proven to be erroneous. Robert Price in particular seemed to be arguing from the basis of certain form critical assumptions. His arguments against the existence of Jesus are simply an extension of his allegiance to the defunct school of form criticism.
Richard Carrier’s statements regarding religious believers seem also to betray a hidden bias against supernaturalism and those who take it seriously. As such, his standing in the international non-theist community and his involvement with a large number of pro-atheist and anti-religious movements belay his allegiance to naturalism, as do his own words. Historically, there simply is no justification at all for the position that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. To adopt such a position amounts to nothing less than a total abandonment of the historical method.
In our discussion on the views of more serious critics of Christianity, however, we see a much stronger commitment to correct methodology. Whilst, in my view, Ehrman and Crossan are mistaken, they at least made use of cross-cultural anthropology, etc.. However, again we see an overriding commitment to certain ideologies. Crossan owes much to his association with Robert Funk and the so-called ‘Jesus Seminar’ and their reliance on extra-canonical documents, particularly the Gospel of Thomas. Such a reliance is not borne out of any historical concerns, but of a commitment to more ‘liberal’ views of Jesus as simply a good and moral man. Similarly, Ehrman’s views are a sort of hangover from his fundamentalist Christian days. His obsession over the exact wording of the original New Testament is anachronistic, as we do not need the exact wording to know what the original authors meant.
As such, both authors tend to ignore a lot of evidence that severely challenges their views. Moreover, both authors have stated a refusal to admit the possibility of the resurrection. Any epistemology that rules out certain options a priori is inadequate. We simply cannot rule out certain hypotheses right off of the bat without even considering them, no matter how absurd they might seem to those with certain noetic structures. Nevertheless, despite their refusal to entertain the possibility of resurrection, both Ehrman and Crossan nevertheless do manage to at least get some things right, and they do not adopt notions as radical as those adopted by Price and Carrier, et al. In many cases, some of their pronouncements are very similar to what I and other Christians would say and argue.
Lastly, in assessing the resurrection hypothesis, we took a look at some pronouncements and arguments made by Christian scholars, such as Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig. Craig, far from being a deluded simpleton or a fundamentalist, his approach was very critical and meticulous. For example, Craig, despite being a Christian, does not view a defence of the general reliability of the New Testament documents as being necessary for a defence of the resurrection. We also saw that scholars such as Habermas relied on methods and criteria employed by critical historians. The only thing problematic about the resurrection hypothesis is that it requires the existence of God, an extremely difficult existential question that has been debated for near enough the entirety of human history. Of course, such a debate is outside the bounds of just history alone, not to mention outside the purview of this dissertation.
In conclusion, it seems that the resurrection hypothesis is more serious and worthy of consideration that certain critics would like us to believe, whereas critical views of Jesus are particularly lacking and borne out of allegiances to naturalism, and/or other ideologies. Of course, this same charge could easily be applied to the resurrection hypothesis. As a Christian who defends such a hypothesis, I myself may be blind to such things. Of course, what this means is simply that historians need to be as self-critical as possible. We need to ask ourselves questions about our own beliefs and assumptions, not just questions about opposing views. We also need to be as neutral as possible. We can’t reject certain views a priori just because we disagree with them.
I have again felt it appropriate to divide my bibliography into ancient and modern sources, including the version of the Bible I have used in the previous discussions.
Ancient Sources: Biblical Text
Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008)
New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008)
Ancient Sources: Non-Biblical Writings
Celsus, quoted in Origen, Contra Celsus, New Advent, Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04162.htm (2013)
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, William Wheaton, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/
Justin Martyr, First Apology, New Advent, Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (2013)
Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm, (2010)
Tacitus, Annals, Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078&redirect=true, (2007)
Modern Sources: Modern Historical Writings
Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and its Interpreters, T&T Clark, (2005)
Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, SPCK, (2008)
Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, SPCK, (2011)
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2006)
James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010)
Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature, Zondervan, (2014)
Darrell L. Bock, Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus With the Christ of Faith, Howard Books, (2012)
Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Kregel, (2007)
Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist Press, (1973)
Peter Carnley, The Structure of Resurrection Belief, Oxford University Press, (1987)
Richard Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, (2012)
David Catchpole, Resurrection People: Studies in the Resurrection Narratives of the Gospels, Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd., (2000)
Gerald O’Collins, Easter Faith: Believing in the Risen Jesus, Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd., (2003)
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H Publishing Group, (2009)
William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, Moody Press, (1981)
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008)
William Lane Craig, The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection, Southampton Guildhall, October 2011, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iyxR8uE9GQ)
William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Blackwell, (2009)
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins, (1994)
James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50 CE), Westminster John Knox Press, (2006)
Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall Sj., and Gerald O’Collins Sj., eds., The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus, Oxford University Press, (1997)
Gavin D’Costa, ed., Resurrection Reconsidered, Onesworld Publications, (1996)
David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, InterVarsity Press, (2000)
James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans, (2003)
James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making: Volume 2: Beginning From Jerusalem, Eerdmans, (2009)
Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Baker Academic, (2007)
Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999)
Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper Collins, (2012)
Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, InterVarsity Press, (2007)
Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, (2004)
Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, SCM Press, (1977)
James Patrick Holding, The Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Succeeded When It Should Have Failed, Xulon Press, (2007)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist?, Xulon Press, (2008)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Trusting the New Testament: Is The Bible Reliable?, Xulon Press, (2009)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, Xulon Press, (2010)
Philip S. Johnson, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, InterVarsity Press, (2002)
Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts: Volumes 1 and 2, Baker Academic, (2011)
J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture, Kregel, (2006)
Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, InterVarsity Press, (2010)
Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry, Prometheus Books, (2004)
Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights From Cultural Anthropology, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001)
Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996)
Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Hendrickson Publishers (2000)
Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, (2006)
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress Press, (1998)
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, (2003)
Willi Marxsen, Jesus and Easter: Did God Raise the Historical Jesus From the Dead?, Abingdon Press, (1990)
James F. McGrath, The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to do With Faith?, Patheos Press, (2012)
Paul K. Moser, ed., Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, Cambridge University Press, (2009)
Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Prometheus Books, (2005)
Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, Princeton University Press, (2007)
Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts, Lexington Books, (2011)
Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, Fortress Press, (2011)
Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Oxford University Press, (2003)
Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, Penguin Books, (2008)
A. J. M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection, SCM-Canterbury Press, (1999)
Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1984)
Peter S. Williams, A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism: God is Not Dead, Paternoster, (2009)
Peter S. Williams, Understanding Jesus: Five Ways to Spiritual Enlightenment, Paternoster, (2011)
N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, (2003)
 C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions, Cambridge University Press, (1984), p19
 Acharya S (real name: D. M. Murdock) has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in Classics according to her personal website, whereas Earl Doherty has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Ancient History and Classical Languages as mentioned in the preface of the 2005 reprint of his book Jesus, Neither God Nor Man.
 Richard Carrier has a PhD in Ancient History, specialising in the area of Roman Science, whereas Robert Price holds a PhD in Systematic Theology and a PhD in New Testament studies. As it stands, these are probably the only academics with somewhat relevant qualifications and who actually defend the Christ Myth hypothesis. There are other academics who defend the Christ Myth hypothesis, but hold no relevant qualifications, such as G. A. Wells, an Emeritus Professor of German. Interestingly, Wells now accepts that there was a historical Jesus, but that the Gospels and the writings of Paul represent legendary embellishments.
 This publishing company was founded by American philosopher Paul Kurtz, a prominent sceptic, atheist, and secular humanist who, aside from being the founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, was also the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
 James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p15-20, and Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p55-56
 James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p15-20
 Whilst Price is a former pastor and claims to not be hostile to religion, he nevertheless featured in the strongly anti-religious film The God Who Wasn’t There by Brian Flemming, along with Richard Carrier and others. Both have been involved in numerous debates where they take strong anti-religious positions. Richard Carrier in particular out of the two is an avowed atheist and member of several anti-religious groups and movements, as well as movements promoting secular humanism, atheism, and anti-theism. He has also written a number of books on subjects other than the historical Jesus attacking religion, particularly Christianity. Christ Mythers also promote the idea that Christianity is some kind of global conspiracy aimed at enslaving the entire population of the world on the part of a global cabal of elites who control the world’s main nations. This view is most vocally defended by Acharya S, and also in the anti-religious conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist by Peter Joseph.
 Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, (2012), Kindle Edition preface
 Victor Stenger appeals to the Christ Myth hypothesis in his book God: The Failed Hypothesis, Prometheus Books, (2010), Richard Dawkins makes a passing reference to the possibility of the non-existence of Jesus in his book The God Delusion, Bantam Press, (2006), and the late Christopher Hitchens defended the Christ Myth hypothesis in debates. The relevance here is that the New Atheist movement, of which Carrier is a part of, are overwhelming hostile and polemical towards religion.
 Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, (2012), Kindle Edition preface
 Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, (2012), Kindle Edition preface
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p55
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p56
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point, in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p56
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, InterVarsity Press, (2010), p148
 Claude Rawson, The Ultimate Taboo, New York Times, (2000) http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/04/16/reviews/000416.16rawsont.html (Accessed 19th July 2014)
 Linkin’ Kennedy, Snopes.com, Urban Legends Reference Pages, (2013), http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp (Accessed 19th July 2014)
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p75
 Ibid. See also: Robert M. Price, in Brian Flemming, The God Who Wasn’t There, Beyond Belief Media, (2005) at 22:40 minutes.
 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 54, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (Accessed July 19th 2014)
 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter LXIX, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.lxix.html (Accessed July 19th 2014)
 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 54, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (Accessed July 19th 2014)
 Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford University Press, (2001), p130 See also: John C. Gibson, Canaanite Myths and Legends, T&T Clark International, (2004), p15
"A speaker (apparently Shapash the sun-goddess) addresses Baal (who has, we may assume, been abandoned by El to his fate). As the sequel shows (for the text at this point is missing or hopelessly damaged) she is advising him to procure a substitute in his own image, who will then be sought out and slain by Mot in his stead; the life thus lost will, it seems, be that merely of a calf.”
 Jonathan Z. Smith, Dying and Rising Gods, from Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, Volume I, Macmillan, (1987), p524
“Osiris, in fact, was not a 'dying' god at all but a 'dead' god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, as Tammuz was. On the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king.” – Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the gods: a study of ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society & nature, University of Chicago, (1978), p289
“The Egyptians never envisaged a bodily resurrection. While the dead are pictured in human form and the underworld is portrayed as an extension of this life, there is never any hint of a return to earth in renewed human bodies.” – Phillip S. Johnston, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, IVP Academic (2002), p232
“The taurobolium appears as a late feature of the cult, being introduced into the rites of Cybele only in c. A.D. 160. Moreover, at first far from being the redemptive ceremony graphically described by Prudentius, it appears to have been a normal sacrifice of a bull for the well-being of the emperor and then for the provider of the sacrificial animal. It was only in c. A.D. 300... that the term was used to describe a ceremony involving a baptism of blood... the stress on the Hilaria as celebrating the resurrection of Attis also appears to increase at the beginning of the fourth century A.D.: the same time as the change in the taurobolium towards being a rite in personal redemption occurred… While these changes could simply be the mutation of a religion over time, they do seem to have been provoked by a need to respond to the challenge of Christianity... This rival, born of a reaction to the Christian agenda, used the symbolism and ethos of the Christian church while claiming them firmly for paganism.” – A. T. Fear, “Cybele and Christ” from Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren, Eugene Lane, ed., Brill (1996), p41-42, 44
 Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard University Press, (1987), p75
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p63
 Contrary to the claims of Price, there is simply no evidence that the entirety of the Testimonium Flavium is a wholesale orgery, let alone a Eusebian one. The evidence shows that a Josephan reference still remains in the absence of any Christian interpolation in the case of the Testimonium Flavium, and that the second reference is completely interpolation free. The same applies to the Tacitean reference. The evidence demonstrates a genuine reference to Jesus, and one that was well-researched.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, (2012), p70
 Jesus was a rural Galilean Jewish peasant in a social world dominated by wealthy Greco-Roman urbanites and elites. Moreover, Jesus was executed via crucifixion, a death reserved for criminals, and was accused of sedition. He never set foot in Rome, and had absolutely nothing to do with Roman politics. If it had not been for the success of Christianity, we probably would never have even gotten the few secular mentions that we do have.
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p64-66
 Robert M. Price, Jesus at the Vanishing Point in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010), p67
 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2002), p242
 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2002), p246-249
 See: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2002) and James Patrick Holding, ed., Trusting the New Testament, Xulon, (2010) for comprehensive arguments on the subject from a scholarly and lay perspective respectively.
 Richard A. Burridge, What Are The Gospels?: A Comparison With Graeco-Roman Biographies, Eerdmans, (2004), p108-123, p235-236 and Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, InterVarsity Press, (2010), p201-208
 Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, (2006), p5
 Richard C. Carrier, The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb, from Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Prometheus Books, (2005)
 Robert M. Price, Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation, from Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Prometheus Books, (2005)
 See: N. T. Wright, The Resurrection and the Son of God, SPCK, (2003)
 Gary R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus Time Line, from Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H Academic, (2009), p125
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, (2012), p37
 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, Harper Collins, (2005), p11
 John Dominic Crossan and Richard D. Watt, Who is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), px
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins, (1993), p174
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p44-45
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, (2012), p72
 Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, Trinity Press International, (2000), p48
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p43
 To be fair to Ehrman, Bauckham’s work was not published until 2006, seven years after the publication of Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.
 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2006), p225
 Jerome, On Illustrious Men, Chapter 3, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm (Accessed July 29th 2014)
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p43
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p44
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p65
 Richard A. Burridge, What Are The Gospels?: A Comparison With Graeco-Roman Biographies, Eerdmans, (2004), p235-236
 Patricia Cox, Biography in Late Antiquity, University of California Press, (1993), p12
 Stephen B. Oates, Biography as History, Waco: Markham Press Fund, (1991), p11
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: a New Historiographical Approach, IVP, (2010), p203
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p11
 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, (2012), p71
 Bart D. Ehrman, Opening Remarks from Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace, The Textual Reliability of the New Testament: A Dialogue from Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, Fortress Press, (2011), p27
 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p71
 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p63
 Daniel B. Wallace, Opening Remarks, from Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace, The Textual Reliability of the New Testament: A Dialogue from Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, Fortress Press, (2011),p41-42
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p128
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p232-233
 I discussed this at length in my BA (Hons) Dissertation. For more, see: Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977)
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999), p229
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, p227-229
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper One, (1993), pxiv-xv
 J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, Kregel, (2006), p132
 Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p74-77
 Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p107
 Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p111
 Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), p114-119
 Steven Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers (1992), p169-70
 Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Prometheus Books, (2012), Kindle Edition preface
 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper One, (2012), p72 and John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper One, (1993), pxv
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p360-361
 See Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, (2004) and Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, IVP, (2010)
 See Chapter 7 of William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008)
 This was the subject of my BA (Hons) Dissertation. For more, see also: James Patrick Holding, Defending the Resurrection, Xulon, (2010)
 The only people who would deny such a fact would be proponents of the Christ-Myth hypothesis. Such individuals can hardly be called serious historians.
 For example: Tacitus, Annals, 15.44, Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0078:book=15:chapter=44 (Accessed 13th 2014) and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-18.html (Accessed 13th August 2014)
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977), p22 and Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress, (1998), p263-264
 This was discussed at length in my BA (Hons) Dissertation. For more see: 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)
 Deuteronomy 21:23, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p237-238
 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
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p361-371
 See: N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, (2003)
 Whilst the longer ending narrating the resurrection appearances was not original to Mark, the original ending of Mark still included the discovery of the empty tomb by the women disciples. As a side note, the argument can be made that, whilst the ending of Mark is indeed not original, Mark originally was not intended to finish where it does and that the longer ending was added to replace an original ending that was lost.
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p72, p82, and David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p33
 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.
 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.
 For example, see: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html, (Accessed August 16th 2014)
 D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History, Third Edition, Pearson, New Jersey (2006), p318
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p302
 Daniel 7:13-14, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1253
 Matthew 26:62-65, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1323
 Leonard Zuzne and Warren J. Jones, Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Extraordinary Phenomena of Behaviour and Experience, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, (1982), p135, p182 See also: Dale Allison Jr., Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters T&T Clark, (2005), p289-292
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p183
 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
 FP Retief, and L Cilliers, The History and Pathology of Crucifixion, South African Medical Journal 92 (112, 1993), p938-941
 Leon Festinger and J. M. Carlsmith, Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, p203-211, 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) 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