Jason Engwer Responds to Evaluating the Evidence

Jason Engwer at Triablogue has taken the time to respond to my post on evaluating the evidence for the resurrection. He thinks I have dramatically understated the evidential value of the time of the first surviving reports, and he thinks that the parallel to Homeric epic is not significant. I’ll give him credit for taking time to address the issues, but I think there are significant problems with his analysis.

Time between the reports and the events
One of the issues he emphasizes is that Craig’s claim is that legend would not “prevail” over a core historic tradition:
"In Bill's quote of William Craig, Craig (who's citing A.N. Sherwin-White) uses the word "prevail". He's referring to widespread acceptance of an account. He isn't saying that there aren't any individuals or groups that accept unhistorical accounts of recent history. Rather, he's arguing that an unhistorical account isn't likely to be widely accepted early on if it's a claim that was of significant interest to people (a "core" fact). Thus, Bill's use of examples like Roswell and Benny Hinn are insignificant. The accounts of Roswell and Benny Hinn that Bill considers unhistorical were widely opposed early on. They didn't "prevail", to use Craig and Sherwin-White's term."

Ironically, I agree that legend has not “prevailed” over the core historic tradition in case of the Gospels. I think the core that has been preserved is the fact that there was an apocalyptic prophet named Jesus who claimed to be the messiah who was crucified. However, I don’t think that Craig (or White) have demonstrated their claim that legend doesn’t typically overcome core historic fact within three generations. Even more significant they have not shown that a surviving report within 50 years of the reported event is evidence for historicity.

Consider the problem of determining if the date of a first report of an event counts as evidence for historicity or legend (Let us say T = time between first report and the event in question). One should endeavor to determine both the distribution on T for known legends, and for known historical events. In other words, White and Craig should provided tables from which P(T | known historical reports) and P( T | Legend) can be determined as a function of T. Admittedly, this could be a fairly large study.

Now I haven’t undertaken this study either (nor has Jason), but White’s examination of selected writing of Herodotus does not accomplish this. What was striking to me is that Herodotus recording of the temple of Delphi’s defense of itself (within 55 years of the recorded event) didn’t serve to qualify the statements that Craig makes. This report in itself is enough to make me think that P(T = 40 to 50 years | Legend) is not necessarily low. The legendary developments associated with the events at Roswell seem to be about a perfect match for the timelines of the gospels.

Another significant shortcoming in the Craig’s analysis is that he didn’t analyze P(T | historicity). There is good reason to think that P(T = 40 to 50 years | historical report for an eclipse) is low. Matthew 27 states:

45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

It seems extremely unlikely that such earth shattering events would have been unmentioned by Seneca, Pliny, Josephus, and other historians of the era. I think this indicates that P(T = 40 to 50 | historicity of report) is much lower than I indicated in my previous assessment. If anything I overstated my estimate of P(T | Historicity)/P(T | Legend).

Chief Priest's need of Judas
Jason presented a rationale for the chief priest’s need of Judas.:
Bill Curry".. asks why Judas would have needed to identify Jesus when He was arrested, since Jesus was such a public figure. But how do we know that all of the people with Judas had seen Jesus before? We don't. They were going to arrest a man at night, and they were expecting other people (Jesus' disciples and perhaps others in the area) to be with that man. Since people might flee once the arrest was being attempted (as Jesus' disciples did), and since they would want everybody (not just the people who knew what Jesus looked like ahead of time) to know which man needed to be arrested, and since Judas would know the relevant details (how Jesus was dressed, where He tended to go, etc.) better than others would, it would be helpful to have somebody who could quickly single out the man who needed to be arrested. To conclude that Mark's gospel is significantly unhistorical, on the basis of Judas' coming along to identify Jesus, is absurd. To then go on to argue that this element of Mark's gospel carries more weight than the earliness of the Christian claims about Jesus is likewise absurd."

One issue that I would like to emphasize is that it is not enough to present a potential solution and consider the issue settled. The plausibility of the evidence on both hypotheses must be considered before the evidential value is determined. Now Jason is presenting why he thinks why it is sensible for the chief priest to need Judas.

However, if the report is historical, it raises many questions. Before accepting Judas’ help, it must be kept in mind that Judas could have potentially betrayed the chief priest as well. This is all the more likely since he was known to be a member of Jesus’ inner circle. The information Judas was providing doesn’t seem to me to have that much value relative to the risk incurred. Keep in mind that there were many who had debated Jesus and would have are able to identify him. To think that they were all unavailable seems implausible. Note I am not saying that it is impossible, it is merely surprising.

Now on the hypothesis that Mark was writing legend, Judas’ betrayal makes perfect sense. If Mark were using Homeric epic as inspiration, it is not surprising that he would write that account regardless of what it did to the believability of his account.

Jason has not (yet) disputed my assessment of the initial implausiblity of the resurrection. In order to make the case that belief in the resurrection is reasonable, he has a very high evidential burden. He must keep in mind that offering potential scenario that make the resurrection possible is not good enough. He has to show that the some aspects of the resurrection reports are extremely unlikely under legendary development. I don't think he has come close to making the case that the "time between the reports and the event" is unlikely if the report were a legend. Similary, I certainly don't think he has made the case that the chief priest's need of Judas is unsurprising.