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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Valerie Talico and David Fitgerald "Debunk" Jesus

Valerie Talico, a Seattle psychologist, is fond of bad New Atheist arguments.  She doesn't know much about some of the subjects she posts on, but she is open to learning -- from non-scholars like David Fitzgerald -- whether someone named Jesus who didn't play for a Hispanic baseball team ever walked the Earth. 

Here the two are on my birthday, blogging about how my favorite ancient political philosopher never lived.

I doubt she'll read this rebuttal and up her game on the subject.  As Geico would put it, that's not what a clearing house for bad Gnu arguments does.  But refuting such arguments is what I do.  So let's get started.

Putting letters by dubious comments that merit challenge or amendment, I was hoping to make it through their relatively short article before running out of letters.  Pardon if I use some letters more than once, below.

Most people would be shocked to learn how little is actually known about Jesus.

Note: This story was co-authored with David Fitzgerald, (a) author of “Jesus: Mything in Action.”
Before the European Enlightenment, virtually all New Testament experts assumed that handed-down stories about Jesus were first recorded by eye witnesses and were largely biographical. That is no longer the case.
Assuming that the Jesus stories had their beginnings in one single person rather than a composite of several—or even in mythology itself—he probably was a wandering Jewish teacher in Roman-occupied Judea who offended the authorities and was executed.  Beyond that, any knowledge about the figure at the center of the Christian religion is remarkably open to debate (b) (and vigorously debated among relevant scholars).
(b) That there is a debate about Jesus is hardly remarkable.  The gospels describe Jesus in a way that directly confronts the central dogmas of modern materialism to which the Academy is wed: that God does not act in the world, that history is merely what we make of it, that the dead stay dead, and that sins need to be repented of.   Jesus is thus an offense to modern skeptics as to ancient Pharisees.  So why is is surprising that so many feel the need to get rid of him, one way or another?  
Where was Jesus born? Did he actually have twelve disciples? Do we know with certainty anything he said or did? (c-e))
(c) We don't know anything about the past "with certainty."  Certainty is for mathematics (maybe) not history.  But even the extremely liberal scholars of the Jesus Seminar, as hostile as it was to Christianity, found many of Jesus' sayings and deeds highly credible and well-evidenced.  That someone somewhere may demur -- as some people demur about the moon landings, or the value of vaccinations -- does not make the most famous and remarkable human being who ever lived completely unknowable.  
(d) And the fact that the phrase "the twelve" is repeated dozens of times in 1st Century records of Jesus' life, would in every other context be described as "evidence."   
(e) Birth records are another matter.  One probably can't place the birth of many ancients in a particular city with much certainty.  Wild stories are told even by good biographers about the birth of someone as famous and influential as Alexander the Great.  So it is rather unreasonable to demand clear and unproblematic birth records for Jesus. 
As antiquities scholarship improves, it becomes increasingly clear that the origins of Christianity are controversial, convoluted, and not very coherent. (f)
(f) If you're going to write about what "scholarship" has found, why don't you co-author with a scholar?    
All history is controversial, convoluted, and sometimes incoherent.  These are clichés that anyone who studies any field of history can trade in.  Now they have finished their introduction and reached their six main points, we'll see what specifics our duo can dig up.  
1. The more we know the less we know for sure.  After centuries in which the gospel stories about Jesus were taken as gospel truth, the Enlightenment gave birth to a new breed of biblical historians. Most people have heard that Thomas Jefferson secretly took a pair of scissors to the Bible, keeping only the parts he thought were historical.  His version of the New Testament is still available today.  Jefferson’s snipping was a crude early attempt to address a problem recognized by many educated men of his time: It had become clear that any histories the Bible might contain had been garbled by myth.  (One might argue that the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of the books of the Bible that they called “apocrypha,” was an even earlier, even cruder attempt to purge the Good Book of obvious mythology.) (g)
(g) On the contrary, the Reformation was more reasonable than Jefferson.  Both were cutting out what didn't fit their dogmas, but the Protestants had additional reasons to exclude the apocrypha, such as weaker provenance and later appearance.  
In the two centuries that have passed since Jefferson began clipping, scores of biblical historians—including modern scholars armed with the tools of archeology, anthropology and linguistics—have tried repeatedly to identify the “historical Jesus” and have failed.  (h)  The more scholars study Jesus, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge has become. Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more —each with a different scholar to confidently tout theirs as the only real one. (i) Instead of a convergent view of early Christianity and its founder, we are faced instead with a cacophony of conflicting opinions. This is precisely what happens when people faced with ambiguous and contradictory information cannot bring themselves to say, we don’t know.
(h) Have scholars failed to find Jesus?  Talico and Fitzgerald seem to be begging the question.  The scholars don't seem to think so. 
(i) But setting them all against one another, as Loftus sets religions against one another in the Outsider Test for Faith, is simplistic.  Human beings are complex creatures, and even skeptical scholars like Marcus Borg suppose that Jesus could have fit into more than one category.  The teacher who roams the pages of the gospels was, at least, one of history's great geniuses.  Who can say a moral genius cannot transcend a category that some simple-minded scholar may try to squeeze him into?  Heck, even experienced cowboys sometimes find sheep hard to corral: so much more the Great Shepherd.
The key word here is "only."  Who would deny the first item on this list, that Jesus was an itinerant preacher?  How does that conflict, say, with "apocalyptic prophet?"  Prophets are usually preachers, and most roamed around a bit.

Complex people can even be contradictory.   Think of Gandhi.  He was certainly an itinerate preacher.  Hindus might call him a Muslim sympathizer, while Muslim fanatics might call him a Hindu preacher.  Others have described him as a follower of Jesus, in some ways truthfully.  Or was he the founder of a commune and a quasi-socialist?  An economic conservative?  A sharp, British-trained lawyer?  A "half-naked fakir?" as Winston Churchill put it?  An international student?  A mystic?  All of these things and more accurately describe Mohandas Gandhi.  Yet he was one man. 
This scholastic mess has been an open secret in biblical history circles for decades. (j) Over forty years ago, professors like Robin S. Barbour and Cambridge’s Morna Hooker were complaining about the naïve assumptions underlying the criteria biblical scholars used to gauge the “authentic” elements of the Jesus stories.  Today, even Christian historians complain the problem is no better; most recently Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith in the 2012 book Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.
(j) More like a cliche.  
(i) Pointing out that some scholars hold some opinion, is no substitute for a good argument that that some opinion is true.  
2. The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. (j) Every bit of our ostensibly biographical information for Jesus comes from just four texts – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (k)  Though most Christians assume that associates of Jesus wrote these texts, no objective biblical scholars think so.  (j) None of the four gospels claims to be written by eyewitnesses, (k) and all were originally anonymous. Only later were they attributed to men named in the stories themselves. (l) 
(j) Richard Bauckham wrote Jesus and the Eyewitnesses 11 years ago, now.  What excuse does Fitzgerald have for not having read it?  True, he adds the weasel word "objective" here.  He may wish to claim that Bauckham (an eminent scholar, unlike Fitzgerald, who has no relevant scholarly credentials) is not "objective" and therefore doesn't count.  Nor perhaps would he concede that Martin Hegel, N. T. Wright, or James Dunn, eminent scholars who warmly reviewed that book, are "objective."    
In short, T & F's claim is just special pleading, either based on ignorance of contrary scholarship, or on the arbitrary exclusion of eminent scholars who disagree with their claim.  ("All scholars who recognize me as King of Siam, agree that I am King of Siam.  So bow down and render me obeisance!")  
(k) John does claim to have been written by or with an eyewitness. 
(l) Luke wasn't named in the gospels, and Mark only briefly.  So Luke, at least, never was attributed to anyone named in the gospels.  And Mark was a very minor figure.   
"While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark.(m)   Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors.  It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory."
(m) A highly dubious account of what textual analysis has shown.  In fact, scholars recognize that aside from Mark, the gospels rely on at least three other sources.  And no, Mark is not an "allegory:" the comment makes one wonder if these two know what allegory is.    
"All of the gospels contain anachronisms and errors that show they were written long after the events they describe, and most likely far from the setting of their stories. Even more troubling, they don’t just have minor nitpicky contradictions; they have basic, even crucial, contradictions." (n) 
(n) We'll stick with refuting arguments actually given here.  
3. "The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians. Despite generations of apologists insisting Jesus is vouched for by plenty of historical sources like Tacitus or Suetonius, none of these hold up to close inspection.  The most commonly-cited of these is the Testimonium Flavianum, a disputed passage in the writings of ancient historian Flavius Josephus, written around the years 93/94, generations after the presumed time of Jesus. Today historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery. (For one reason, no one but the suspected forger ever quotes it – for 500 years!) But Christian apologists are loathe to give it up, and supporters now argue it is only a partial forgery." (o-q)
So much wrong here.  
(o) The consensus on Josephus' longer passage about Jesus (the TF) is, in fact, that it contains a historical core, with a few additions by a Christian scholar.  Wikipedia notes accurately: 
"The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian expansion/alteration."
That these two commentators are unaware of this general view is troubling, considering how important skeptics like Fitgerald see debunking that consensus to be.  He OUGHT to know better.  He ought to know that it is not "Christian apologists" who are "loath to give up" the TF, and draw the conclusion that most of it was from Josephus himself (personally, I could hardly care less), but mainstream scholars.

This is a serious, and telling, misrepresentation of the state of the scholarship. 
(p) No one but Eusebius quotes the TF?  But Wikipedia against points out: 
"There is considerable evidence, however, that attests to the existence of the references to Jesus in Josephus well before then, including a number of ad hoc copies of Josephus' work preserved in quotation from the works of Christian writers. The earliest known such reference to Josephus' work is found in the writings of the third century patristic author Origen, who refers to Josephus' record of "the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ)" in Book I, Chapter XLVII of Against Celsus, including Origen's observations that Josephus did not recognize Jesus as "the Christ" when mentioning him in the "Antiquities of the Jews". 
True, Origen was referring to the other Josephus mention of Jesus -- which DF somehow neglects to mention.  
(q) Personally, I don't care much about these Josephus passages.  I argue in Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels that the gospels themselves provide more than enough evidence not merely to prove that Jesus lived, but that he was much as the gospels describe him.   Josephus is petty change, by comparison to the astounding wealth of evidence within the gospels themselves.  
"Either way, as New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman points out, the Testimonium Flavanium merely repeats common Christian beliefs of the late first century, and even if it was 100% genuine would provide no evidence about where those beliefs came from. This same applies to other secular references to Jesus–they definitely attest to the existence of Christians and recount Christian beliefs at the time, but offer no independent record of a historical Jesus."
The Josephus quotes, while almost certainly genuine, are not much worth arguing about.   They would be more than enough to prove that Jesus lived, were that a real issue, and were no one motivated to believe otherwise.  But why scramble for a nickel in the street, when you're sitting on a pile of gold?  
"In sum, while well-established historic figures like Alexander the Great are supported by multiple lines of evidence, in the case of Jesus we have only one line of evidence: the writings of believers involved in spreading the fledgling religion." (r) 
(r) Aside from Alexander's followers, do we really have much evidence from within Alexander's lifetime testifying to that life?  And should we toss the writings of, say, Ptolemy on the scrap heap, just because he had motivation to glorify his former boss?   
Anyway, I describe 30 "lines of evidence" within the gospels themselves testifying to their essential historicity.   
4. "Early Christian scriptures weren’t the same as ours.  At the time Christianity emerged, gospels were a common religious literary genre, each promoting a different version or set of sacred stories.  For example, as legends of Jesus sprang up, they began to include “infancy gospels.”(s)  As historian Robert M. Price (t) notes, just as Superman comics spun off into stories of young Superboy in Smallville, Christians wrote stories of young Jesus in Nazareth using his divine powers to bring clay birds to life or peevishly strike his playmates dead." (u)
(s) Anyone who can read the so-called "infancy gospels" and imagine them to belong to the same genre as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, is a poor literary scholar, indeed.   I wonder if Talico has even read those works?   
(t) Robert Price has a Masters and PhD in theological studies, not in history.  You might call him a historian, I suppose, since he has been working in that field, according to his lights, but going by his credentials, Price is a theologian.    
(u) Pointing to the stories of Jesus making birds or striking other children dead is another cliché in scholarship.  What is the point?  Some 2nd or 3rd Century Christian wrote obvious tall tales about the child Jesus, so any earlier stories about Jesus must also be fiction? 
Numerous great historical figures in the ancient world inspired such a secondary literature, including Alexander, whom T & F have already mentioned.  Shall we say that because Alexandria Romance is a tall tale, therefore Arrian can't be trusted?  Because George Washington didn't chop down a cherry tree, therefore he didn't cross the Delaware, or serve as president? 
There is simply no sense to such an argument.      
"Early Christians didn’t agree on which texts were sacred, and those included in our New Testament were selected to elevate one competing form of Christianity, that of the Roman Church over others. (Note that the Roman Church also proclaimed itself “catholic” meaning universal.)" (v)
(v) Actually, early Christians did agree on the real gospels quite early.   
"Our two oldest complete New Testament collections, Codex Siniaticus and Codex Vaticanus only go back to the beginning of the fourth century. To make matters worse, their books differ from each other – and from our bibles. (w) We have books they don’t have; they have books we don’t have, like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Barnabas."
(w) Another standard, and irrelevant, cliche.  Read the Shepherd of Hermas, and please explain to me why anyone brings that book up in a discussion about whether we can believe the gospels.   This is like saying:

"Anthologies of C. S. Lewis' writings contain a varying selection of essays.  Therefore his autobiographical Surprised By Joy must be a forgery." 
A mere paeon to irrelevancy. which also underlines the scholarly limitations of Mr. Fitzgerald and Ms. Talico.  There is no relationship between premises and conclusion. 
The present four canonical gospels were recognized as authoritative fairly early in the 2nd Century, and were quoted extensively and widely at an early date.   That is all one needs to know.   The fact that early Christians were less clear about some other works, not having to do with the life of Jesus anyway, is neither here nor there. 
"In addition to gospels, the New Testament includes another religious literary genre—the epistle or letter. Some of our familiar New Testament epistles like 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude were rejected as forgeries even in ancient times; today scholars identify (x) almost all of the New Testament books as forgeries except for six attributed to Paul (and even his authentic letters have been re-edited)."
(x) "Scholars identify?"  Here, again, a claim by favored but unnamed (in this context, to be unnamed is to be favored, one might say!) "scholars" is treated simply as fact.

The gospels are not "recognized as forgeries" by "scholars in general."  Neither are "almost all the NT books." 
5. "Christian martyrs are not proof (if they even were real).  Generations of Christian apologists have pointed to the existence of Christian martyrs as proof their religion is true, asking “Who would die for a lie?” (y) The short answer, of course, that all too many true believers have died in the service of falsehoods they passionately believed to be true—and not just Christians. The obvious existence of Muslim jihadis has made this argument less common in recent years."
(y) What T & F put on the lips of Christians here is a "genuine forgery," if that be not self-contradictory.  The argument which "generations of apologists" have made (I know, I heard it as a young man from Josh McDowell) was not "Who would die for a lie?"  But "Who would knowingly die for a lie?"

Would T & F die for their lie of misrepresenting the Christian argument by dropping this crucial word?  I hope not!  But I don't know if I should hope that they are self-aware enough to realize that they have altered it to make it easier to defeat. 
But what is the actual effect of simplifying opposing arguments like this?  It is like pinning a sign to one's backside: "Sorry, I cannot deal with the argument in its proper form, so let me dump it down and deal with what's left."  If you will only fight a gladiator if he first cuts his arms and legs off,  isn't that a confession of impotence?  
"But who says that the Christian stories of widespread martyrdom themselves were real?  The Book of Acts records only two martyr accounts, and secular scholars doubt that the book contains much if any actual history.(z)   The remaining Christian martyr tales first appeared centuries later. (aa) Historian Candida Moss’ 2014 book The Myth of Persecution gives a revealing look at how early Christian fathers fabricated virtually the entire tradition of Christian martyrdom—a fact that was, ironically enough, largely uncovered and debunked by later Christian scholars."
(z) In fact, even so radical an anti-Christian scholar as Richard Carrier admits that Acts contains numerous facts that are known (and proven) to be historical.  (Colin Hemer names 84 in the last half + of Acts alone, which Carrier seems to concede.)  So this is just wrong.  Ben Witherington, a far better scholar than Carrier or Fitzgerald, makes a strong case for Acts in his two works on the book.  In my doctoral research on Acts 14 and 17, I found Luke a consummate historian. 
(aa) Christian martyr tales only appear centuries later, so much be fake?   Odd.  Tacitus records in his Annals ("the pinnacle of Roman historical writing") the following: 
"Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace."
Tacitus was writing Annals during the 2nd decade of the 2nd Century.  Is 116 AD "centuries" after the life of Jesus, which ended in 30 or 33 AD?  It's actually amazing to find such early corroboration about a community that must, at the time of Tacitus, remained tiny.   
Nor is Tacitus the only non-Christian Roman to record the persecution of Christians.  Most scholars also believe Suetonius referred even earlier to persecution of Christians. 
Valerie Talico has chosen her "scholar," and seems determined to stick with him -- no matter that he is no scholar at all. 
6. "No other way to explain the existence of Christianity?  Most people, Christians and outsiders alike, find it difficult to imagine how Christianity could have arisen if our Bible stories aren’t true.  Beyond a doubt, Christianity could not have arisen if people in the first century hadn’t believed them to be true.  But the stories themselves?
"Best-selling New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman believes that the biblical stories about Jesus had their kernel in the person of a single itinerant preacher, as do most New Testament scholars.  Historian Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald (co-author of this article) take an opposing position—that the original kernel was a set of ancient mythic tropes to which unsuspecting believers added historical details.  Ehrman and Carrier may be on opposite sides of this debate, but both agree on one important fact: (bb) the only thing needed to explain the rise of Christianity is the belief fostered by the rival Christian preachers of the first century."
(bb) Carrier and Ehrman: the "C" and "E" of the ACE Detective Team which I refute in Jesus is No Myth!  They may disagree about whether Jesus was historical, but that's hardly a debate in scholarship: on more serious issues, they're allies and fellow lost pilgrims, as I show. 
"Witchcraft, bigfoot, the idea that an American president was born in Kenya, golden tablets revealed to a 19th century huckster by the Angel Moroni . . . we all know that false ideas can be sticky—that they can spread from person to person, getting elaborated along the way until they become virtually impossible to eradicate.  The beginnings of Christianity may be shrouded in mystery, but the viral spread of passionately-held false ideas is becoming better understood by the year." (cc) 
(cc) Yes, and if mythicism continues to grow more popular, our understanding of the process of how silly ideas spread will keep marching forward.  
But there is no real argument here.  Our two writers have yet to even engage with the positive evidence for Christianity, or even to hint that they know what that evidence might consist of.   As Jesus put it, they seem to be the "blind leading the blind." 
Keeping Options Open 
"University of Sheffield’s Philip Davies—who believes that Christianity probably began with a single Jesus, acknowledges that the evidence is fragile and problematic. Davies argues that the only way the field of New Testament studies can maintain any academic respectability is by acknowledging the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist.  He further notes this wouldn’t generate any controversy in most fields of ancient history, (dd) but that New Testament studies is not a normal case."
(dd) NT studies certainly is not a normal case, and the likes of Philip Davies (Richard Carrier's publisher) is a case in point.  If anyone claimed Confucius never lived, that would I believe kick up a stir in China Studies- if he were eminent enough that scholars noticed him.  But the evidence for Jesus is vastly stronger than that for Confucius.  The inability for some people to even notice that evidence is what is truly incredible in Jesus studies.  (And also the clumsiness with which scholars in the Jesus Seminar and the likes of Bart Ehrman stumble through the texts which contain that evidence, as I have documented.)
"Brandon University’s Kurt Noll goes even further and lays out a case that the question doesn’t matter: Whether he was real or myth, a historical Jesus is irrelevant to the religion that was founded in his name.
"That is because either way, the Christ at the heart of Christianity is a figure woven from the fabric of mythology. (ee) The stories that bear his name draw on ancient templates imbedded in the Hebrew religion and those of the surrounding region. They were handed down by word of mouth in a cultural context filled with magical beings and miracles. (ff) Demons caused epilepsy. Burnt offerings made it rain. Medical cures included mandrakes and dove blood. Angels and ghosts appeared to people in dreams. Gods and other supernatural beings abounded and not infrequently crossed over from their world to ours." (gg) 
(e)  There is no one at all like Jesus in ancient mythology, legend, novels, or plays.  After a lifetime of studying such literature, C. S. Lewis baldly stated that fact in his great essay "Fernseed and Elephants."  I show how threadbare the comparison is in more painstaking detail, in Jesus is No Myth.  The very parallels that skeptics put forward, demonstrate with special clarity how unique Jesus is, and how strong the evidence for the gospels actually is.  
(f) Magic is not miracle.  The purpose, causes, and nature of the two categories differ dramatically.  The failure by skeptics to recognize the true nature of Jesus' miracles, and differentiate them from the works of Apollonius or the infancy stories, is a serious critical lapse, indeed.  They fail to notice the elephant which stands a few paces in front of them, trumpeting and bellowing, to borrow C. S. Lewis' metaphor.  
(g) No "gods" appear in the New Testament.  And the problem with this whole argument is, miracles continue to occur in the modern world.  Its assumption is that the ancient "cultural context" is quite different from ours.  But it is not.  This failure to recognize events that tens of millions of people around the world have experienced -- including many of my friends -- reflects the blindness that is endemic to this whole tribe of skeptics.  
Real miracles are not so arbitrary and unreasonable as DF and VT depict them.  They again, simply miss the true nature of the phenomena they aim to describe.  
"Who, in the midst of all of this, was Jesus? We may never know."
Not if you keep your eyes closed and cover those eyes with your hands, then climb down into the cellar and turn off all the lights, you won't.  Not even an elephant can break through some walls. 

3 comments:

Matthew Wade Ferguson said...

David,

I am working on a peer-reviewed article at the moment, so I will only make a few points right now to respond to this:

First off, the reason why I brought up the distinction of the “paranormal” was to focus on the phenomenon itself, not whatever its cause may be. A phenomenon is paranormal if it exceeds ordinary physical limitations documented by scientific observation.

A body after 3 days of brain death physically returning back to life exceeds all current medical documentation of human death and decay. It would therefore be a “paranormal” event. It doesn’t matter if it was caused by a miracle of God, or if God’s intervention would make the event more probable. The event itself would still be categorically paranormal, and different from a claim like a body being stolen from its place of burial, which does not exceed ordinary physical limitations documented by science.

It’s also wrong to frame this as if I am “presupposing” that such an event is outside the realm of ordinary physical limitations. That billions of human beings die and don’t rise from brain death back to life on the 3rd day has been documented by ample medical evidence. It is an observed conclusion that has been reached a postiori, and not a priori.

It’s also worth noting that Jesus’ resurrection, according to standard Christian theology, involves more than just a body resuscitating to life. Jesus rose into an immortal and imperishable body, not just into his old body, which would eventually die again. As William Craig (Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection, pg. 15) argues:

"Jesus rose to eternal life in a radically transformed body that can be described as immortal, glorious, powerful, and supernatural. In this new mode of existence, he was not bound by the physical limitations of the universe, but possessed superhuman powers."

That makes the kind of event described in the Gospel even further paranormal, and outside the realm of what has been documented in medical science about human anatomy.

Matthew Wade Ferguson said...

Now, I bring up this distinction, because it shows that when we discuss the resurrection “historically,” we are dealing with a kind of claim that is categorically different from an event like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. It is not a paranormal phenomenon that generals cross rivers during times of war to invade a country. Nor is it paranormal that bodies might be stolen from their graves, or that false stories might be spread about a dead man returning to life.

I bring this up because it is wrong to frame historical apologetics for the resurrection as just doing ordinary history. It’s not ordinary history, even if the methods used might be similar. It’s a very exceptional kind of history that has no parallel in Classical Studies, in that it seeks to prove a kind of (paranormal) phenomenon that no Classicist that I am aware of seeks to prove.

I’m also not talking about “proscribing the work of God.” I’m just talking about science documenting what ordinarily happens physically and what ordinarily does not happen physically. All of this can be answered empirically without making any theological assumptions.

With regard to the UFO example, it doesn’t matter if aliens would face difficulties traveling the vast distance of space naturally, whereas God would have no problem raising Jesus supernaturally. Both events would still be paranormal phenomena, wholly apart from their cause, and its affect on their probability. Plus, one could even argue that the aliens were given supernatural aid by God to reach earth, and make the same kind of argument that a skeptic is “presupposing” that God can’t give aliens access to earth in order to abduct humans.

While the article mentions “scientific assumptions” (not my wording in including the quotation), I am not talking about assumptions in terms of what God can or cannot do, or what a super advanced race might be able to technologically do or not. I am talking about assumptions reached according to current scientific documentation. It is documented that no human being has ever risen from the dead on the 3rd day after brain death, and so you might call it an assumption (a postiori) that this is a physical limitation on human anatomy.

What I would like apologists to do, if they want to treat the resurrection as an ordinary historical claim, is find an example of a Classicist or ancient historian who argues that we can use ancient texts to prove a paranormal event (it doesn’t have to be supernatural). I have never seen one do so, and that makes resurrection apologetics look quite different in terms of the content of historical claim that they are focusing on.

Craig Keener has not shown scientifically that miracles occur in the world. The claims that he has compiled have not been vetted by a peer-reviewed scientific, medical, or parapsychological publisher. Keener also hasn’t even provided an anecdote for the kind of remarkable resurrection (not just resuscitation) described in the case of Jesus.

Matthew Wade Ferguson said...

When I referred to “bracketing” claims of such content, I did not mean “assume they cannot be true.” What I meant is that we acknowledge that they involve kinds of phenomena that are categorically different from ordinary claims (in that the one has never been documented by current scientific observation, while the other has), and that we therefore acknowledge that there is an added component of philosophy or theology (or at least parapsychology) when dealing with these special kinds of questions. I would categorize resurrection apologetics under “philosophy of religion.” I would not categorize it under “history,” even if it makes use of some of its methods.

I also do think there is a significant difference from ordinary “academic concerns” and the “desire to evangelize” when the latter seems to spend far more time targeting a general audience, and likewise has influenced university doctrinal statements. You don’t see historians of Julius Caesar eagerly trying to reach the public, repeatedly challenging others to public debates, and trying to get people to change their worldview. You also don’t see faith-based universities with doctrinal statements that pertain to historical claims about Julius Caesar. There seems to be a dogmatic and evangelistic component to resurrection apologetics that is usually absent from most of academic history.

The closest parallel that I can think of is a historian trying to reach out the public in combating Holocaust denial or 9/11 conspiracy theories, but even then, those issues haven’t resulted in faith-based universities with doctrinal statements about such things, and they only pertain to particular claims about the past, not attempts to get people to change their worldview. The added theological component, I would argue, makes resurrection apologetics and evangelism once more different from ordinary historical research. I’m willing to engage its arguments, but I won’t operate under the pretense that we are doing just ordinary history. We would at the very least be doing an usual kind of history.