Historical Reliability

We hear constantly from apologists that multiple attestation of miraculous events makes those events more likely than not. We hear constantly from apologists that if several sources report the same miracle story, than that makes the miracle all the more likely. Yet few, if any apologists worship Serapis, and almost none view the Emperor Vespasian with anything like the reverence due to him if their theory of history is right.

A recent article in New Testament Studies (54 (1). 2008. 1-17) by Eric Eve discusses the story of the Emperor Vespasian healing a blind man with his spittle and contrasts it to the similar healing of the man from Bethsaida in the gospel of Mark.

Here is Tacitus on this healing:

One of the common people of Alexandria, well-known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor's knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. This he did by the advice of the God Serapis, whom this nation, devoted as it is to many superstitions, worships more than any other divinity. He begged Vespasian that he would deign to moisten his cheeks and eye-balls with his spittle. Another with a diseased hand, at the counsel of the same God, prayed that the limb might feel the print of a Cæsar's foot. At first Vespasian ridiculed and repulsed them. They persisted; and he, though on the one hand he feared the scandal of a fruitless attempt, yet, on the other, was induced by the entreaties of the men and by the language of his flatterers to hope for success. At last he ordered that the opinion of physicians should be taken, as to whether such blindness and infirmity were within the reach of human skill. They discussed the matter from different points of view. "In the one case," they said, "the faculty of sight was not wholly destroyed, and might return, if the obstacles were removed; in the other case, the limb, which had fallen into a diseased condition might be restored, if a healing influence were applied; such, perhaps, might be the pleasure of the Gods, and the Emperor might be chosen to be the minister of the divine will; at any rate, all the glory of a successful remedy would be Cæsar's, while the ridicule of failure would fall on the sufferers." And so Vespasian, supposing that all things were possible to his good fortune, and that nothing was any longer past belief, with a joyful countenance, amid the intense expectation of the multitude of bystanders, accomplished what was required. The hand was instantly restored to its use, and the light of day again shone upon the blind. Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.

Now this is clearly eyewitness testimony of the sort that we must regard as reliable if we are to use the historical method of the apologists. In addition, the story is multiply attested albeit with slight and theologically insignificant changes in detail as we see in this passage from Suetonius:

Vespasian as yet lacked prestige and a certain divinity, so to speak, since he was an unexpected and still new-made emperor; but these also were given him. A man of the people who was blind, and another who was lame, came to him together as he sat on the tribunal, begging for the help for their disorders which Serapis had promised in a dream; for the god declared that Vespasian would restore the eyes, if he would spit upon them, and give strength to the leg, if he would deign to touch it with his heel. Though he had hardly any faith that this could possibly succeed, and therefore shrank even from making the attempt, he was at last prevailed upon by his friends and tried both things in public before a large crowd; and with success. At this same time, by the direction of certain soothsayers, some vases of antique workmanship were dug up in a consecrated spot at Tegea in Arcadia and on them was an image very like Vespasian.

Remember that Tacitus and Suetonius are considered the verifiers of the existence of the historical Jesus by most apologists. They are used repeatedly as texts to show the veracity of the gospel accounts. I am curious what stance apologists such as Dr. William Lane Craig would make of this multiply attested account of a miracle based on eyewitness testimony. If this is not considered to be a miracle, on what basis do we make that judgment? And if it is considered a miracle, why is there no St. Vespasian?

66 comments:

Gabe said...

Wow!! Great find man. I'll definitely have to keep this one up my sleeve when debating an apologist.

bart willruth said...

You get the gold star for the day. That is rich.

Bart

John W. Loftus said...

Richard Carrier had mentioned this so it was great to read the texts themselves!

Christian options: 1) Become skeptical of this miracle along with the ones reported in the Bible, like liberals do; 2) Believe the miracle happened and be one of the "Kooks and Quacks" Carrier is talking about; or 3) Accept a double standard when it comes to assessing the claims of miracles in the ancient world.

John Murphy said...

1. Tacitus wrote this account in Rome of something that happened in Egypt 27 years before. No one who was present at the miracle was around to either confirm or negate Tacitus' claim. The gospels were written while some of the eyewitnesses were still alive both those who believed in Christ and those that did not.
2. Even the physicians who inspected the men admitted that both of their ailments "might be healed." In Christ's case many/most were incurable (man blind from birth).
3. The "miracles" of Vespasian were not performed, as were Christ's in the presence of adversaries of Christ. Witness the Pharisees reaction when Christ healed the man blind from birth.

Interesting argument, but weak...now if you could only explain why the Moral Law keeps sneaking out of your evolved brains to pronounce transcendent morality...

Evan said...

John you remain a delight.

Let's break down your defense here.

First you say: 1. Tacitus wrote this account in Rome of something that happened in Egypt 27 years before.

When was that first gospel written? At the EARLIEST 67 CE. When did Jesus die?

Then you say: No one who was present at the miracle was around to either confirm or negate Tacitus' claim.

Gee you aren't really reading these are you. Here's the final sentence from Tacitus: Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.

Got that? There were EYEWITNESSES who told the story to Tacitus who had firsthand evidence.

Then you add: The gospels were written while some of the eyewitnesses were still alive both those who believed in Christ and those that did not.

I don't dispute this claim, it is equally true in regards to Vespasian's story.

2. Even the physicians who inspected the men admitted that both of their ailments "might be healed." In Christ's case many/most were incurable (man blind from birth).

What testimony of physicians do we have in the gospels regarding the medical condition of the people healed in them?

3. The "miracles" of Vespasian were not performed, as were Christ's in the presence of adversaries of Christ. Witness the Pharisees reaction when Christ healed the man blind from birth.

What evidence do you have that is outside the gospels that there were Pharisees in Bethsaida between 1 and 30 CE?

John, admit that by the criteria that apologists such as Dr. Craig use, Vespasian also performed miracles. If you accept Dr. Craig's arguments, you MUST accept Vespasian's miracles.

badger3k said...

I figured they would just claim that the "miracles" were the work of the devil, but I see that (from a sample of one) might be wrong. I guess the dissonance is to great to even admit that such an event might have occurred?

Beth said...

It may simply be that that's the only miracle attributed to Vespasian, and it takes at least two to become a saint.

Tommy said...

Then there "The Testimony Of Eight Witnesses" from the Book of Mormon:

"Be it known to all nation...unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith...has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that thhe said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness to it."

This is followed by the eight names of the individuals. Now, since we know these eight men, as well as Joseph Smith, were actual people who lived, why should their sworn testimony be any less believed than references in the New Testament to more than 500 people who allegedly saw the risen Christ? Or rather, as an atheist, since I do not believe the sworn testimony of the eight documented living Mormons, why should I give any credence at all to the claims of the Gospels and the New Testament?

Evan said...

Beth, there are two. He healed the blind man and the lame man. I see two miracles there on the same day.

Evan said...

Tommy of course you're right.

But the key point is that most Christians use these exact same two authors to anchor Jesus to history.

So while Christians can doubt the veracity of the statements of the Smith attestees, the Christian who doubts the veracity of Tacitus and Suetonius puts his own faith on weaker ground.

Tim said...

The attempted Vespasian parallel was debunked thoroughly about 250 years ago after Hume tried to use it in his Philosophical Essays (1748). See Douglas, The Criterion (1754), Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (1762), etc. Craig is of course familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian parallel: see here. But historical amnesia and veneration for Hume conspire to keep this argument in circulation.

Evan said...

Tim I can't really get what you're saying.

You agree that Hume debunked Vespasian's miracle. I agree. See I don't believe anyone ever did any miracles because I think they are legends made to make people appear more powerful than they ever were. I am completely in agreement with Hume.

As far as I can tell, Hume also believed his criticisms were valid as they applied to Jesus and his miracles. Yet Dr. Craig feels that Hume's critique of miracles in general is invalid.

I read Craig's article you cite. Here is what he has to say about Hume's specific concern regarding the examples of miracles Hume cites:

... (Gottfried) Less later examines in considerable detail the miracles alleged by Hume to have equal footing with Christian miracles, particularly the miracles at the tomb of the Abbé Paris. In all these cases, the evidence that miracles have occurred never approaches the standard of the evidence for the gospel miracles. Therefore, none of Hume's objections can overturn the evidence for the gospel miracles.

That's it. That's the extent of his discussion regarding Vespasian's miracles.

It's pretty clear that Craig does NOT believe Vespasian healed a blind man and a cripple, but given his own criteria it's clear that he does NOT accept Hume's general debunking of the concept of miracles.

So what you have is Craig arguing that Hume is wrong, and that miracles CAN happen, but completely silent on whether he accepts the veracity of Tacitus and Suetonius as they relate to Vespasian.

Please educate me regarding exactly how he deals with their multiply attested eyewitness accounts that he otherwise feels are critically distinctive veridical facts.

John W. Loftus said...

TIM: This attempted parallel was debunked about two and a half centuries ago...

Rhetoric. Your faith amazes me. You are so sure these miracles did not occur and yet you are so sure the Biblical ones did. Why not take an even handed approach? Why the double standard?

Tim, how long ago were the claims that Muhammad received the Koran from Allah debunked? How long ago were the claims of Mormonism debunked? In my opinion the Christian claims were debunked by H.S. Reimarus two and a half centuries ago in his masterful work titled Fragments. Have you even read it?

Only historical amnesia and veneration for the Bible keeps you coming back.

But just in case you haven’t heard, miracles by definition are not probable events. ;-)

Tim said...

Evan,

Sorry for the double post: comment moderation and a blogger error message crossed me up.

You write:

Tim I can't really get what you're saying.

You agree that Hume debunked Vespasian's miracle.


Actually, no. Hume offers nothing in the way of argument against the evidence for the miracle but instead waves his hands and says that we should reject it simply because it is a miracle.

What got debunked -- hard -- was Hume's attempt to make use of it as a parallel to the gospel miracles.

You write:

Please educate me regarding exactly how [Craig] deals with their multiply attested eyewitness accounts that he otherwise feels are critically distinctive veridical facts.

If you know German, you could go read Less, which is the reference he provides. If you don't, you could go read Campbell or Douglas, which are the references I provided.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

TIM: This attempted parallel was debunked about two and a half centuries ago...

[John:] Rhetoric. Your faith amazes me. You are so sure these miracles did not occur and yet you are so sure the Biblical ones did. Why not take an even handed approach? Why the double standard?


When the quality of the evidence for two claims is very different, it would be a double standard to treat them as if they were on a par. In the Vespasian case, the quality of the evidence is very much weaker than the evidence for the resurrection. Details can be found in Douglas and Campbell -- and, from Craig's reference, probably in Less as well.

You ask:

Tim, how long ago were the claims that Muhammad received the Koran from Allah debunked?

As Mohammed never produced any public evidence that had bearing on the question, there is nothing to debunk.

How long ago were the claims of Mormonism debunked?

When Martin Harris admitted that he had seen the plates of the Book of Mormon only with a "spiritual eye" ...?

In my opinion the Christian claims were debunked by H.S. Reimarus two and a half centuries ago in his masterful work titled Fragments. Have you even read it?


Yes, I am familiar with the Wolfenbüttel Fragments. I am not much interested in Reimarus's theological opinions -- his rejection of the Trinity, for example, which is cruder than the work of some other non-trinitiarian writers of the same century -- but the fifth fragment which treats of the resurrection narratives is of more direct interest. However, there is not much there in the way of argument against anything but a very brittle view of inspiration. The considerations raised by Reimarus, as Michaelis points out, have force only against artificial harmonizations such as that of Osiander.

Evan said...

Tim I find it interesting that rather than summarize the arguments against Vespasian's miracle in a way that we can analyze here, you refer us to a page from Dr. Craig that does nothing to support your case, and then we're left with 18th and 19th century texts that we are obligated to look up.

I can refer you to all sorts of literature disproving miracles but I personally am happy to summarize the argument.

I have no idea exactly what your argument is against these multiply attested, independent accounts of the same miracle and I have no idea why you feel this evidence from Suetonius and Tacitus is unconvincing.

In Bart's thread you have incomparable faith in the rectitude of the slimmest Christian references in Suetonius and Tacitus and are certain that if they present data, it supports your case. Without referring me elsewhere, please give me a thumbnail sketch as to why the miracles of Vespasian (which by the way have significant resonance to some of Jesus' miracles) are of magnitudes less value from Suetonius and Tacitus than are oblique references to someone named Christus or Chrestus in determining history?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, evidentialism is doomed. When will you give it up? You apparently are not philosophically trained. Maybe you'll listen to Norman Geisler:

The mere fact of the resurrection cannot be used to establish the truth that there is a God. For the resurrection cannot even be a miracle unless there already is a God.” “The real problem for the Christian apologist is to find some way apart from the mere facts themselves to establish the justifiability of interpreting the facts in a theistic way.” “No fact, event, or series thereof within an overall framework which derives all of its meaning from the framework can be determinative of the framework which bestows that meaning on it. For no fact or set of facts can of and by themselves, apart from any meaning or interpretation given to them, establish which of the alternative viewpoints should be taken on the fact(s). -- Christian Apologetics, p. 98.

Tim said...When the quality of the evidence for two claims is very different, it would be a double standard to treat them as if they were on a par.

So understood, but I don't think you've made your case. Besides, I think D.F. Strauss more than adequately debunked the case for miracles in the NT in his Life of Jesus nearly two and a half centuries ago.

Tim said...Yes, I am familiar with the Wolfenbüttel Fragments...there is not much there in the way of argument against anything but a very brittle view of inspiration.

I understand the various views of inspiration. While I take aim at evangelical views, I also maintain there is no evidence for the other views. Just because someone claims his words are inspired doesn't make them so.

Have you fully understood the superstitious outlook of ancient people which can be found nearly everywhere in the Bible? We also find things like the evil eye.

Based on what I find in the Bible itself, which I document at some length in my book, why is it that I should believe someone who claims to be inspired by God? That's what is claimed by Muslims in the Koran, ya know, along with the Mormons. They do what you do. They claim the quality of the evidence for YOUR claims are very different!

You just don't get the point. Evidentialism is dead, buried and covered with a ton of cement. In my opinion no thinking educated person adopts it. The philosophy of science even shows this.

John W. Loftus said...

Sorry, I accidently crossed the two links above.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you continually want to inspect the trees but fail to see the whole forest. Your inspection of each individual tree comes from a view of the forest that cannot be maintained. When will you actually step back and look at the whole forest like I have done. The view of the whole is is what you need to offer me and I don't see you doing this, nor have I seen you critiquing my arguments about how best to view the whole forest.

Tim said...

Evan,

One of the things that makes interacting with you such a chore is that you seem incapable of reading and responding to what people actually write. I referred you to Craig's article as evidence that he is familiar with the attempt to use the Vespasian case as a parallel to the gospel accounts. That is why I said:

Craig is of course familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian parallel ...

If you cannot, or will not, bother to look up the sources you've been offered -- and they are available free online -- then you're out of luck. I haven't the time to spoon feed someone who won't feed himself, particularly when it comes to a warmed-over anti-Christian argument that has been known to be refuted for a quarter of a millennium.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

... evidentialism is doomed.

I've heard that before.

When will you give it up?

When I see a compelling reason to do so. Don't hold your breath.

You apparently are not philosophically trained.

<yawn>Personal attacks like this always bore me.</yawn>

Maybe you'll listen to Norman Geisler: ...

Probably not -- it's been decades since I read his stuff in any detail, and I thought he was wrong back then too.

Besides, I think D.F. Strauss more than adequately debunked the case for miracles in the NT in his Life of Jesus nearly two and a half centuries ago.

You mean in question-begging passages like this?

Our modern world, on the contrary, after many centuries of tedious research, has attained a conviction, that all things are linked together by a chain of causes and effects, which suffers no interruption.

-- D. F. Strauss, Life of Jesus Critically Examined, 2nd ed. (1892), p. 78.

This will make the infidel faithful feel comfortable, but as an argument it is completely worthless. Strauss depends on Spinoza and Hume for his anti-supernaturalism; and at bottom, there is nothing in their arguments but sophistry and illusion.

You just don't get the point. Evidentialism is dead, buried and covered with a ton of cement. In my opinion no thinking educated person adopts it.

For my part, I think assertion this is very amusing.

The philosophy of science even shows this.

Which being translated means: some misguided souls have fastened on some of the most foolish statements in Thomas Kuhn's foolish book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and held them up as a garlic and crucifix against the depredations of Enlightenment Rationalism.

Ho hum.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you're an intriguing character to me, and I appreciate your comments even if I disagree.

In any case, when I recommend a book I never recommend everything that an author said in it, and neither do you, so taking a quote from Strauss as if I recommend it is pure rhetoric masquerading as an argument. Jumping to the conclusion that I accept Kuhn does the same thing. There is a dialectic between assumptions and evidence in my opinion, and like Karl Popper we can only conjecture and guess about the truth, which can only be falsified, not confirmed.

Aside from your excellent rhetorical skills your arguments are weak because your starting assumptions are weak. Just like what psychologists observe with regard to paranoid schizophrenics, assumptions can be very gripping to how one views the evidence, sometimes overpowering extremely strong evidence to the point that evidence is negligible at best. So in my opinion one must first justify his or her assumptions, and like I said, I have done that.

But no one is a pure evidentialist. It's impossible. One always uses a schematic to justify his understanding of the evidence. Just like in a courtroom drama the case is won based upon the evidence AND the apologetic. The apologetic makes sense of the evidence. But uninterrupted evidence? What’s that?

Evan said...

Tim,

I'm glad to see your fingers haven't atrophied away and that you can still type.

Your argument boils down to this:

If people would just read the right 18th and 19th century authors they would know the difference between one set of multiple attestations from independent sources and another set.

The fact that the website that you linked to from Dr. Craig in no way addresses the specific facts of this case, much less the fact that you yourself would rather encapsulate the argument that I'm unread in the philological lore than simply and easily spell out briefly why I'm wrong does not suggest a great deal of confidence in your argument.

I notice you've expended much effort in trying to show that the silence of Paul regarding the details of Jesus' life is not in anyway damning to his orthodoxy of belief. I notice in that argument you bring forth the importance of Tacitus and Suetonius and are happy to state their claims rather than just demanding people go read them themselves.

I could just as easily demand that you go read David Friedrich Strauss, who remains in the minds of most non-evangelical Biblical scholars one of the premier Biblical historians of the 19th century. Schweitzer certainly considered Strauss the pre-eminent scholar of Jesus.

However, rather than curse the darkness, I decided to light a candle and see if what you were referencing was real, since you assured me these texts are online.

A search of Campbell's book reveals no references to Vespasian at all. That would be none. Perhaps my computer has textual problems with that book, but I'd need some help finding any specific reference to Vespasian from him.

I've already quoted you what Dr. Craig has to say about the miracles of Vespasian (that would be nothing other than mentioning that they've already been dealt with by Hume).

As for Mr. Douglas' book. It apparently is not online in any form. Since you have assured me that it's available free online, I assume you have already checked it and I only need a link.

John W. Loftus said...

My last line should read:

But uninterpreted evidence? What’s that?

Tim said...

Evan,

You write:

I could just as easily demand that you go read David Friedrich Strauss, who remains in the minds of most non-evangelical Biblical scholars one of the premier Biblical historians of the 19th century.

Too late: I've done it already. Reading the classic attacks on Christianity is one of my hobbies.

However, rather than curse the darkness, I decided to light a candle and see if what you were referencing was real, since you assured me these texts are online.


This sounds like a promising way to tell whether I am bluffing or whether, on the contrary, I have actually done my homework.

A search of Campbell's book reveals no references to Vespasian at all. That would be none. Perhaps my computer has textual problems with that book, but I'd need some help finding any specific reference to Vespasian from him.

In your very own link for the Campbell, start on p. 161.

As for Mr. Douglas' book. It apparently is not online in any form. Since you have assured me that it's available free online, I assume you have already checked it and I only need a link.

You would be right. Go here for the Douglas and start on p. 55.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

In any case, when I recommend a book I never recommend everything that an author said in it, and neither do you, so taking a quote from Strauss as if I recommend it is pure rhetoric masquerading as an argument.

I'm glad to hear that you don't like that bit of Strauss. Unfortunately, that is all the argument one ever gets from him regarding the credibility of miracles. It is an assumption he brings to his criticism, not a conclusion he derives from it.

Jumping to the conclusion that I accept Kuhn does the same thing. There is a dialectic between assumptions and evidence in my opinion, and like Karl Popper we can only conjecture and guess about the truth, which can only be falsified, not confirmed.

Okay: I stand corrected. Most evangelicals who appeal to philosophy of science to bolster their soft-core relativism rely on Kuhn. I'm an old-school evidentialist myself, more akin to Carnap than to Popper, so I reject Popper's falsificationism as well as Kuhn's relativism. We certainly do confirm theories by evidence.

Aside from your excellent rhetorical skills ...

You flatter me.

... your arguments are weak ...

Ahh, I knew it couldn't last!

... because your starting assumptions are weak. Just like what psychologists observe with regard to paranoid schizophrenics, assumptions can be very gripping to how one views the evidence, sometimes overpowering extremely strong evidence to the point that evidence is negligible at best.

As a bit of descriptive psychology, I think this is often borne out. But the appeal to psychology will not establish the falsehood of evidentialism, which is a normative rather than a descriptive position: we ought to try to proportion our belief to the evidence. This is not hopeless; it is just difficult in some cases where passion or interest pulls us strongly in one direction or another.

[Side note: Christians and non-Christians expend a lot of words accusing one another of ignoble motives. I think this is generally a waste of time. Even if in some particular case there is a Christian who evaluates the evidence for Christianity more highly than he ought because he is afraid to face a universe without a protective Father, or a non-Christian who evaluates the evidence for Christianity less highly than he ought to because he doesn't want there to be a moral governor of the universe who might have a right to disapprove of his behavior, the individual humans who are having the discussion are virtually never in a position to say this about each other with any assurance. The whole discussion would be carried on at a higher level if both sides would drop the Bulverism.]

So in my opinion one must first justify his or her assumptions, and like I said, I have done that.


Here you shift from the language of falsification to the language of justification -- something Popper does not permit. In order to justify your assumptions, you need something in terms of which to justify them. This brings us to your closing line:

But uninterpreted evidence? What’s that?

We could start with matters of immediate experience and (to use a bit of Hume's terminology) relations of ideas. I think Locke is better than many modern epistemologists on this point. You might want to pick up a copy of J. L. Mackie's book Problems from Locke, which has many interesting and thought-provoking reflections on Locke's epistemology. For some contemporary epistemologists whose positions are fairly Lockean in the sense of incorporating something like direct acquaintance, have a look at Richard Fumerton, Rich Feldman, Earl Conee, and Laurence BonJour.

Evan said...

Tim:

Thank you very much for the links. It has been great reading.

In sequence let's take them down:

First Mr. Campbell uses pretty much every argument that atheists use against Christ against Vespasian. He decries their hearsay character (present in the gospels), he invents alternative motives for the storyteller to have said what he said that would not entail an actual miracle (definitely present in the gospels to a far greater degree), and then he tries to give natural explanations for the events described (also exactly parallel to those in the gospels). He neglects to even attempt to explain the similarities between Vespasian and Jesus' use of spittle to heal the blind, even though the writer of Mark would likely have been aware of the tale told about the powerful emperor whose family destroyed Jerusalem.

Here is his final conclusion (so that others reading the thread don't have to do the work):

There are other circumstances regarding this story, on which I might make some remarks; but shall forbear, as it is impossible to enter into a minute discussion of particulars that appear but trivial, when considered severally, without growing tiredness to the bulk of readers. I shall therefore only subjoin these simple questions: First, What emperor or other potentate was flattered in his dignity and pretensions by the miracles of our Lord? What eminent personage found himself interested to support, by his authority and influence, the credit of these miracles? Again, What popular superstition or general and rooted prejudices were they calculated to confirm? These two circumstances, were there no other make the greatest odds imaginable betwixt the miracles of VESPASIAN and those of JESUS CHRIST.

So there is one your responses, and I see you truly did give me more of his argument than I gave you credit for.

He's too tired to bother arguing the point, it's too silly and just not worth engaging (in this respect you have mirrored his argument perfectly). Besides, the people telling the stories about these miracles had ulterior motives.

Douglas seems to give a little more than that, but again seems to fall quite short of dismissing all similarity. He posits that the cures were no different than the cures made today but charlatans like Benny Hinn or Peter Popov, simple fakes.

Of course the exact same complaint could be made of all of Christ's healings up to and including his resurrections of the dead. Yet Dr. Craig and other apologists fail to exercise the same skepticism when it comes to them.

Indeed Christ's supposed resurrection was never witnessed and is much more plausibly explained by (a) Legend (b) Bodysnatching (c) Removal of the body from the tomb by wild animals for the purposes of eating it.

Again, if the argument against Vespasian's miracles made by Douglas are legal arguments -- I am thrilled to be able to use them and have you accept them. So that's great.

His conclusion is excellent, as it includes his comparison to the gospel accounts of healing, here it is (for the edification of other readers):

I shall only add, that the manner in which, as Tacitus relates, one of these pretended cures was performed by Vespasian, so exactly resembles that which St. John informs us our Saviour adopted in the cure of the man born blind, as to afford a fair presumption, that the contrivers of the pagan imposture, having it in their view to check the rapid progress of Christianity, produced by an appeal to the miracles of its great founder, fabricated similar powers for their emperors: and it is very remarkable, that this honour was also conferred on Adrian, another of them, who is represented as having cured blindness by the same mode of operation.

Now that's just a mother lode. And I'm really glad you gave me the link so I could read it. I really wish you had done it earlier and obviously your skill at finding 18th century English apologies for miracles far surpasses mine.

But I'm still flummoxed to see how these texts remove Craig from his responsibility to believe Vespasian's healings were real?

Craig obviously believes Jesus's were. And these authors adduce no general principal under which multiply attested independent accounts can be ignored if a given criteria is met, which is what is necessary to remove the burden off Craig's argument.

In fact, these authors use the same arguments modern skeptics turn on the Jesus accounts in nearly every detail.

In addition, Douglas makes a curious move, one that I wonder if you agree with, as you referred him to me. Tacitus' Histories are dated to 105 CE. The gospel of John is generally dated to 100 CE. Is it your position that Tacitus copied the gospel of John to stop the spread of Christianity? This is really your argument?

Once again, thank you for the links, I'm happy to review things but I still have no idea how you imagine these thinkers dealt with my contention that if you are required to accept multiply attested miraculous events for independent sources as genuine miracles then you must accept the miracles of Vespasian as well.

The naturalistic, legendary, and improbability arguments apply equally to the miracles attributed to both Jesus and the Pagan emperors.

Harry McCall said...

Besides the Christian claims that what Jesus did is founded on reality while the other miracles of Classical history are not, Christianity must control the wider grow of traditions of Biblical characters drawn form the creative thinking of pious minds. But the question will always remain (even if certain apologetic claims that Biblical miracles are indeed true) and that being just exactly where does the mountain (religious fiction) begin and the valley (historical reality) end?

To control this wide growth of religious propaganda which directly shapes the religious mind of theology, the flexible term know has Canon or, as modern theology understands it, “Canonical Criticism” is used to governed this wide growth to keep a Biblical characters in check and fight off heresy (a highly subjective term clearly base on which Christian tradition was in control at the time).

Since NO WHERE in the Biblical text is falsification of history condemned, the creative mind of the pious believer was in fact free to fabricate events to bolster communities of faith; be they the many Judaisms or the many Christianities as the growth of both religious traditions produced writing which were, for the most part, termed Apocryphal or Pseudepigraphic.

So the negative side to the argument that the Christian miracles are some how objectively truer than other ancient miracles, now has to be some how now itself be limited on the positive side of faith by claiming the Biblical Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphic miracle stories or some how subjectively “cooked up” while those of the theologically controlled in the canon are not.

Again, the Bible NO WHERE limits the creative pious religious mind, if anything, its encouraged (as can be seen today when a Christian closes his or her eyes to pray).

In 1988, Arthur J. Droge published his dissertation in the department of Early Christianity at the University of Chicago entitled: “Homer or Moses? Early Christian Interpretation of the History of Culture”. In this book, Droge provides clear examples of where the debate for the “truth” of historical reality had already begun with the rhetoric between Jews and their Classical neighbors and continued on with the Jesus traditions.

To claim that our miracles are historical “facts” while your miracles are “false” is truly the “Pot calling the kettle black” whether it be in ancient or modern cultures.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim said...As a bit of descriptive psychology, I think this is often borne out.

Thanks, that's all it is and it's something you need to consider when pontificating with the rhetoric that you use. You write as if anyone who disagrees with you just hasn’t read the proper books, and I find that extremely naïve. If nothing else the fact that people who read the same books have different opinions about the conclusions of those books should be a clue to the clueless that it’s not about more information. It’s about Bayesian background factors which incorporated everything else we’ve experienced and known starting from when and where we were born.

Tim said...Here you shift from the language of falsification to the language of justification -- something Popper does not permit. In order to justify your assumptions, you need something in terms of which to justify them.

You can talk abstractly all you want to. I have given a concrete example.

John said...But uninterpreted evidence? What’s that?

Tim said...We could start with matters of immediate experience and (to use a bit of Hume's terminology) relations of ideas.

So understood. The evidence of the senses are primary, personal and incorrigible. But I was talking about evidence that is not primary, personal or incorrigible.

Tim said...

Evan,

I provided the links simply because you were declaring that one source (Campbell) didn't discuss Vespasian and the other (Douglas) wasn't available online. I am not surprised that you disagree with them; they are, after all, emphasizing a point you must reject if you are to maintain your position in ths post: the evidence for the resurrection is of a higher quality than the evidence for these "miracles" of Vespasian, so that, on evidential grounds, the explanations for these healings are not applicable to the resurrection.

Since the links are there for anyone to follow, others can now read around a bit in those two volumes in order to get a better sense of their case instead of simply accepting your (or my) evaluation of the arguments.

As far as the chronological order of Vespasian's caper and the dissemination of the gospel stories is concerned, Douglas notes:

[T]he manner in which, as Tacitus relates, one of these pretended cures was performed by Vespasian, so exactly resembles that which St. John informs us our Saviour adopted in the cure of the man born blind, as to afford a fair presumption, that the contrivers of the pagan imposture, having it in their view to check the rapid progress of Christianity, produced by an appeal to the miracles of its great founder, fabricated similar powers for their emperors: and it is very remarkable, that this honour was also conferred on Adrian, another of them, who is represented as having cured blindness by the same mode of operation.

This is recounted in Mark 8. On the publication of Mark's gospel in Alexandria, see Eusebius, HE 2.19 and Huidekoper, Judaism at Rome: B.C. 76 to A.D. 140, 3rd ed. (1880), pp. 544-45.

Evan said...

Tim:

Again I'll ask you.

Is it your position that Tacitus included this account of the emperor to check the spread of Christianity? You remain mute on this.

Additionally, while you kept assuring me that the difference between the two multiply attested independent sources whose quality as historians you deeply value when they relate to Christus or Chrestus would become immediately obvious if I read the right 18th century texts. It isn't. In fact I adduce no argument that changes my essential point at all.

Do you have an argument? Is there some rational, logical, universal method that can be applied to ancient miracles such that eyewitness testimony that leads to multiply attested independent reporting can in one case be dismissed and in another case accepted?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Tim~ U R Da Man...Turn all the anti-Christ advocates OUT!

Evan said...

DSHB -- odd you are so reluctant to engage here.

Do you think Tacitus was reading John and trying to stop the spread of Christianity? Do you think Tim does?

I'm REALLY curious about this. Since if this is the defense against the argument that was supposed to be a slam dunk -- well it's not.

Tim said...

Evan,

You ask:

Do you have an argument?

Obviously. Whether you are competent to see it is, of course, a separate question.

Is there some rational, logical, universal method that can be applied to ancient miracles such that eyewitness testimony that leads to multiply attested independent reporting can in one case be dismissed and in another case accepted?

If by the question you mean to ask whether there is a way to determine this independent of an examination of the actual evidence and circumstances, then of course not. It does not follow that all such reports are on a par; rather, what follows is that examination of the details is the only rational, logical way to make the discrimination. And of course, that is exactly what Campbell and Douglas provide.

I realize that it must come as a bitter disappointment to you to discover that the Vespasian example has not caught Christians by surprise and even more of a disappointment to discover that they have argued in some detail that it is not evidentially on a par with the case for the resurrection. Tant pis.

You are particularly insistent with the following question, which you've now asked several times:

Is it your position that Tacitus included this account of the emperor to check the spread of Christianity?

No. As Campbell points out, it is pretty obvious that Tacitus doesn't even believe it himself.

You remain mute on this.

Evan, I have other things to do than to answer your questions. I do not think you are in a position to complain if at some point I simply stop paying attention to what you have to say. It isn't as though I haven't given you any help. I found the discussion of Vespasian in Campbell for you in your own link after you declared that it contained "no references to Vespasian at all. That would be none." I gave you a link to the Douglas after you declared that it "apparently is not online in any form." Now I have answered your strange question about Tacitus's motives, even though it is already effectively answered in Campbell, pp. 164-5. And I have made the obvious answer to your question about the analysis of historical evidence, an answer that you could have obtained for yourself by reading Campbell or Douglas or even just by thinking hard about the question.

At a certain point, I'm simply going to leave you to your own devices.

You seem concerned to make sure that "others reading the thread don't have to do the work" of reading Campbell and Douglas for themselves. By contrast, I rather hope they will.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

You write as if anyone who disagrees with you just hasn’t read the proper books, and I find that extremely naïve.

Obviously you have misunderstood something I have said. Certainly there are people who disagree with me who have read the same books I have. There are also people who have not read the proper books and think that they have discovered an important new argument when really it has all been known for centuries. There are also people who, when pointed to those books, can't find the relevant passages in them. There are also people who, when pointed to those passages, cannot or will not understand the arguments they contain. I would never be so foolish as to deny that this can happen; there is too much evidence to the contrary.

If nothing else the fact that people who read the same books have different opinions about the conclusions of those books should be a clue to the clueless that it’s not about more information.

That depends on whether we're talking about persuasion or about rationality. The two frequently come apart. It is not a tenet of evidentialism, either in epistemology or in apologetics, to deny this.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

Tim said...Here you shift from the language of falsification to the language of justification -- something Popper does not permit. In order to justify your assumptions, you need something in terms of which to justify them.

[John:] You can talk abstractly all you want to.


You were the one who brought up Popper; I am simply pointing out that Popper's epistemology makes no room for the notion of justification.

I have given a concrete example.

I'm afraid I've lost track of it in the confusion of participating here on multiple threads. Which concrete example did you have in mind?

Was it this one?

[John:] why is it that I should believe someone who claims to be inspired by God? That's what is claimed by Muslims in the Koran, ya know, along with the Mormons. They do what you do. They claim the quality of the evidence for YOUR claims are very different!

If so, I should point out that all that you say here is that people dispute evidential claims. But of course, that is not something that a diehard evidentialist like John Warwick Montgomery would deny.

John said...But uninterpreted evidence? What’s that?

Tim said...We could start with matters of immediate experience and (to use a bit of Hume's terminology) relations of ideas.

[John:] So understood. The evidence of the senses are primary, personal and incorrigible. But I was talking about evidence that is not primary, personal or incorrigible.

Then what justifies it, if not that which is primary, personal, or incorrigible?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim said...That depends on whether we're talking about persuasion or about rationality. The two frequently come apart. It is not a tenet of evidentialism, either in epistemology or in apologetics, to deny this.

I’m not sure I understand you. Are you denying what I think you are? Please clarify.

But let me comment and you can reply if you choose. We are all persuaded about that which we believe, and we all claim our beliefs are rationally justified. We also claim that what we rationally believe is true. You do know about confirmation bias, don't you? As human beings we are not logic machines. We do not think consistently. We hold mutually inconsistent beliefs and don’t know that we do. Many people are ignorant, not just about matters of history, science, philosophy, psychology and religion, but about the rules for logic themselves. I know. I have taught critical thinking classes. I know. I meet and talk with ignorant people from time to time who cannot think well at all, even about a simple argument, much less about a complex one.

Are you really wanting to say that ignorant people, and their name is Legion, should be able to assess the evidence you have studied out so well and come to the same conclusions as you do? Many of them cannot even think very well at all! If this is what you’re saying, you have an arrogant ignorance the likes of which I don’t see coming from educated people like yourself. We are all ignorant about many things, you too. No one can master all knowledge and all evidence. It’s humanly impossible.

It's one thing to abstractly make the distinction between rationally held beliefs and beliefs that persuade us. It's another thing entirely to say that our specific beliefs are rationally held ones. Even when we do, when it comes to rationally held beliefs all we can say is that we are within our epistemic rights to believe what we do, not that what we believe is true. So when we say our beliefs are true what we really intend to say with that nomenclature is that we are persuaded that they are true. As far as I know, persuasion is all there is, and all we can say is that we are persuaded by certain arguments. Hitchens Harris and Dawkins claim your beliefs are not rational. How can they do that? They do so based on what they think it means to say some set of beliefs are rational. And by that criteria your beliefs fail the test. We may claim our beliefs are rationally justified, as I do, but in the end, it’s all about rational persuasion, and I am not persuaded by your arguments.

The concrete example I refer you to is to be found here.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim asked...Then what justifies it, if not that which is primary, personal, or incorrigible?

Here's an example: You seek to justify some miraculous events reported in a Biblical text written in the past. The past is not accessible to that which is primary, personal, or incorrigible

Evan said...

Tim I asked you:

Is there some rational, logical, universal method that can be applied to ancient miracles such that eyewitness testimony that leads to multiply attested independent reporting can in one case be dismissed and in another case accepted?

And you replied:

If by the question you mean to ask whether there is a way to determine this independent of an examination of the actual evidence and circumstances, then of course not. It does not follow that all such reports are on a par; rather, what follows is that examination of the details is the only rational, logical way to make the discrimination. And of course, that is exactly what Campbell and Douglas provide.

And I think that is a fantastic answer and one which I think seals the deal.

You agree that simply conferring truth status on multiply attested independently cited miraculous events is not even close to sufficient for proof of their truth. You must, in fact, examine the truth claims being made and assess their truth by the quality of the evidence and the validity of alternative explanations. In this respect we are methodologically identical and I'm glad to hear it.

What remains curious to me then is what independently good evidence exists for the resurrection of Christ, much less his miracles that distinguishes them from this tale of Vespasian. As I have shown, the authors of your texts adduce the same complaints regarding the one ancient reported miracle as I do for all ancient reported miracles.

Dr. Craig routinely asserts that the resurrection is unique -- because it is multiply attested by independent sources. Yet you have dissolved this argument in the acid of the above statement and I am pleased to see you value reasonable explanations over supernatural fideism. This seems to me a huge admission on your part and I appreciate your forbearance with me
when I was unable to deduce that this was your position previously.

You then agree that Tacitus wasn't trying to put down Christianity. Now you can understand that when I go and read the sources you assert will solve all my problems and this is the final argument put forward I have no evidential basis for finding out if you believe such an argument without asking you, but you really are weary of this thread as I can see. You just don't have time to answer too many more questions about ancient miracles and I can see why.

At a certain point, I'm simply going to leave you to your own devices.

You seem concerned to make sure that "others reading the thread don't have to do the work" of reading Campbell and Douglas for themselves. By contrast, I rather hope they will.


Now I'm thrilled if people reading the thread go and read Campbell, Douglas, and then -- please if possible, Hume himself. But again, the purpose of this thread is not Campbell or Douglas or even Hume. The purpose of this thread is Dr. Craig's argument which is nowhere to be found in Campbell or Douglas.

Dr. Craig never mentions Vespasian except to dismiss his accounts with references to other scholars. He never explains the detailed specifics that he uses to discount this particular multiply attested miracle with independent authoritative accounts and what I was hoping was that there was some rational basis on which he did so.

Your admission that all miracles are judged by their likelihood independent of how many accounts there are or how well-respected the authorities who report them are is really a step forward and I look forward to seeing some sort of rational defense of the resurrection that removes the objections to Vespasian's miracles that Campbell and Douglas put forward.

I'll repeat them in case you are unclear the point I'm making.

If Campbell and Douglas are correct that Vespasian's miracles are improbable because of (a) naturalistic answers preferably explaining the events (b) poor quality of sources (c) likely ulterior motives in the reporting and (d) uncertain mindset of the authors relating the events, then it is the job of the apologist to remove those obstacles from the resurrection.

My assertions regarding the resurrection, using Campbell and Douglas's criteria are as follows;

(A) The resurrection is better explained by body-snatching, animals removing and eating the body, and (or) hallucination if you assume the gospel accounts to be true.

(B) The quality of the sources is very poor and far removed from the event itself, and the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests unchecked legendary development, casting grave doubt on any underlying historical claims.

(C) Undeniable and profound ulterior motives on the part of those reporting the events, not disputed even by the apologists.

(D) Unknowable mindset on the part of the authors of the autographs. There is no compelling evidence of who they were, much less their purposes in writing.

Therefore, using the criteria you have established for the determination of a historical miracle's veracity as adduced by Douglas and Campbell (and again, thank you so very much for getting those links, and I agree with you that everyone should go over and read them for themselves as they are great writing) the resurrection fails the test in each particular.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

Tim said...That depends on whether we're talking about persuasion or about rationality. The two frequently come apart. It is not a tenet of evidentialism, either in epistemology or in apologetics, to deny this.

[John:] I’m not sure I understand you. Are you denying what I think you are? Please clarify.


I’m not sure. What do you think I’m denying?

In epistemology, evidentialism is the position that the justification one has for a belief is a function of one’s evidence for that belief. Do you have an objection to this? Or are you attacking something else?

You write:

As human beings we are not logic machines. We do not think consistently. We hold mutually inconsistent beliefs and don’t know that we do. Many people are ignorant, not just about matters of history, science, philosophy, psychology and religion, but about the rules for logic themselves. I know. I have taught critical thinking classes. I know. I meet and talk with ignorant people from time to time who cannot think well at all, even about a simple argument, much less about a complex one.

I would not dream of contradicting you here. I have had the same sorts of experiences, many times over.

Are you really wanting to say that ignorant people, and their name is Legion, should be able to assess the evidence you have studied out so well and come to the same conclusions as you do?

Well, “should” is a normative term; I suppose in some sense, yes, they “should.” But as a group they aren’t going to, and that means that there is little point in my expecting it. What they can do, however, is to follow what evidence they have and what arguments they can.

We are all ignorant about many things, you too. No one can master all knowledge and all evidence. It’s humanly impossible.

Agreed. But that is not an excuse for failing to study what we can as deeply as possible. Omniscience is humanly unattainable, but there is nevertheless a difference between a well-informed judgment and an ill-informed one.

In the piece on confirmation bias, you write:

Scholars who hold no emotional investments in Christianity present the most unbiased conclusions on Christianity simply because they are more open during their studies to accept evidence that contradicts their tentative conclusions.

I think this is too simplistic. For one thing, such bias can (and frequently does) go both directions. Some scholars are emotionally or personally committed to the falsehood of Christianity or the non-existence of the supernatural. Since this is a two-edged sword, it cannot be used simply to pump the non-Christian side, as you try to do in that piece.

The problem, however, is greatly alleviated by cross-comparing what different scholars have to say about each other’s work. Here it is useful to read transcripts of debates and even more useful to read articles and full works by scholars who disagree with each other. That is why it is so useful to read D. F. Strauss’s Life of Jesus side by side with Andrews Norton’s works, for example.

It's one thing to abstractly make the distinction between rationally held beliefs and beliefs that persuade us. It's another thing entirely to say that our specific beliefs are rationally held ones.

These are different statements; it does not follow that the latter is never a reasonable statement.

Even when we do, when it comes to rationally held beliefs all we can say is that we are within our epistemic rights to believe what we do, not that what we believe is true.

Here I simply disagree: we can and do make such assertions, and sometimes we are reasonable in so doing. I think talk of epistemic rights is not of central importance in epistemology; better to talk about evidence and its role in determining epistemic justification.

So when we say our beliefs are true what we really intend to say with that nomenclature is that we are persuaded that they are true.

Here, if you have not simply misspoken, you are surely wrong: we often do intend to say that our beliefs are true. If what you mean to say is that we ought not say such things, then you have to make an argument. On your own terms, I think this will be difficult; to abide by the conditions you are trying to press on others, you will be able only to say that you are persuaded of these claims. We need to keep a distinction between rational and irrational persuasion, between being moved to belief or disbelief by good reasons and being moved by emotional appeals or arational affections.

Hitchens Harris and Dawkins claim your beliefs are not rational. How can they do that? They do so based on what they think it means to say some set of beliefs are rational. And by that criteria your beliefs fail the test.

And so, if we wanted to have a conversation about the matter, we could start by talking about their criteria. This is something Vic Reppert has been doing for quite some time over at Dangerous Idea.

John W. Loftus said...

'Round and round we go Tim; where we stop nobody knows.

It wasn't me who wrote the piece on confirmation bias. It was Jason Long. I would've stated things more precisely if it were me writing it.

In any case, the things we can agree upon lead you into a dilemna, I think. For people cannot study out (or think through) the issues that we do. And even if they could, they would still come to opposite conclusions like you and I have. So to judge people and send them to hell (however conceived) as punishment for getting these issues wrong, seems barbaric, undemocratic and against the freedom to think for ourselves on these issues. People come to conclusions, rightly or wrongly. They think they are right. They hold these beliefs in sincerity. In fact, they cannot think otherwise because that's what they think. Sending them to hell for being wrong is barbaric and reflective of the ancient "thought police," which we still see in some Muslim cultures.

Tim said...

Evan,

You write:

What remains curious to me then is what independently good evidence exists for the resurrection of Christ, much less his miracles that distinguishes them from this tale of Vespasian.

We’ll get to that in a moment below, as I see you’ll bring up the topic in detail and make it easier for my answers to parallel your claims.

As I have shown, the authors of your texts adduce the same complaints regarding the one ancient reported miracle as I do for all ancient reported miracles.

Right. So the question is whether those criticisms are equally applicable.

Dr. Craig routinely asserts that the resurrection is unique -- because it is multiply attested by independent sources.

This is only one of the steps in his argument, of course, though it is an important one.

Yet you have dissolved this argument in the acid of the above statement and I am pleased to see you value reasonable explanations over supernatural fideism.

Fideism, we can agree, is bankrupt. I value reasonable explanations over unreasonable ones, even when the reasonable ones require the invocation of the supernatural.

This seems to me a huge admission on your part and I appreciate your forbearance with me when I was unable to deduce that this was your position previously.

I have always maintained a strictly evidentialist position, even against John’s urgings.

You then agree that Tacitus wasn't trying to put down Christianity. Now you can understand that when I go and read the sources you assert will solve all my problems and this is the final argument put forward ...

Okay, you completely missed Douglas’s point. So I will spell it out for you.

Douglas is not saying that Tacitus was trying to put down Christianity. He is saying that Vespasians flatterers were trying to put down Christianity by mimicking a miracle ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.

You apparently missed or misunderstood my references to Eusebius and Huidekoper above, so I will spell that out too. Though Douglas mentions John 9, the miracle is also recounted in Mark 8. By just about everyone’s admission, Mark’s gospel was written much earlier than John’s. Eusebius says (and Jerome concurs) that Mark published it in Alexandria after leaving Rome. Even if Mark left Rome after the death of Peter, this would have been in the mid 60s. Huidekoper notes that Mark must have published his gospel in Alexandria a few years before Vespasian arrived there in A.D. 69. Hence, Huidekoper:

Of the miracles attributed to Vespasian both may, and one perhaps must, have been suggested by Mark’s gospel.

Now I'm thrilled if people reading the thread go and read Campbell, Douglas, and then -- please if possible, Hume himself. But again, the purpose of this thread is not Campbell or Douglas or even Hume. The purpose of this thread is Dr. Craig's argument which is nowhere to be found in Campbell or Douglas.

I thought the purpose of this post was to discuss the Vespasian case.

I heartily recommend that everyone, Christians as well as non-Christians, read Hume, Campbell, and Douglas.

Dr. Craig never mentions Vespasian except to dismiss his accounts with references to other scholars.

Two points here. First, this is a pretty sweeping claim. Have you checked all of Craig’s books? I certainly have not.

Second, waiving that point, it is completely reasonable to point to a job that has been done adequately by others rather than re-doing the job oneself. So I do not understand why you are disappointed with Craig in this respect.

He never explains the detailed specifics that he uses to discount this particular multiply attested miracle with independent authoritative accounts and what I was hoping was that there was some rational basis on which he did so.

From what I know of Craig, I am confident that he has thought this through very carefully. Why not write it up as a question for his Reasonable Faith Website and see if he will answer it?

Your admission that all miracles are judged by their likelihood independent of how many accounts there are or how well-respected the authorities who report them are ...

I have, of course, “admitted” no such thing. If you are writing this in the hope that careless readers will accept your misrepresentation of my position for my actual position, then you must have a very low opinion indeed of the intelligence of readers here.

... is really a step forward and I look forward to seeing some sort of rational defense of the resurrection that removes the objections to Vespasian's miracles that Campbell and Douglas put forward.

I'll repeat them in case you are unclear the point I'm making.

If Campbell and Douglas are correct that Vespasian's miracles are improbable because of (a) naturalistic answers preferably explaining the events (b) poor quality of sources (c) likely ulterior motives in the reporting and (d) uncertain mindset of the authors relating the events, then it is the job of the apologist to remove those obstacles from the resurrection.


This is fair enough in conception, though in several of these cases you are just misreading Campbell and Douglas, as I will explain below.

My assertions regarding the resurrection, using Campbell and Douglas's criteria ...

Readers of this thread should go directly to Campbell and Douglas rather than taking Evan’s summary at face value.

... are as follows;

(A) The resurrection is better explained by body-snatching, animals removing and eating the body, and (or) hallucination if you assume the gospel accounts to be true.


If you assume the gospel accounts are true or even largely true, you are going to have to have the body stolen and hallucinations. Lots of hallucinations. Group hallucinations. Lifelike hallucinations, heavy on detail, recurring over a period of more than a month.

This is not a promising way to start an explanation.

(B) The quality of the sources is very poor and far removed from the event itself, and the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests unchecked legendary development, casting grave doubt on any underlying historical claims.

Campbell directly contradicts the claim that the quality of the sources was poor, writing (p. 164):

His [Tacitus’s] veracity is only concerned to satisfy us, that it was actually reported, as he relates; or that the attempt was made, and the miracle pretended; a point which, I presume, nobody would have disputed, although the authority had been less than that of Tacitus.

(C) Undeniable and profound ulterior motives on the part of those reporting the events, not disputed even by the apologists.

This is obscure. If by “those reporting the events” you mean Tacitus and Suetonius, Campbell and Douglas ascribe to neither any “ulterior motives.” If you mean those from whose testimony Tacitus derives the report, then we need to distinguish two questions: (a) is this testimony good evidence that a public event (possibly psychosomatic or a fraud perpetraded by the two men) took place as described? and (b) is it good evidence that the healings were actually miraculous?

Douglas is particularly clear on this point. See what he says on pp. 57-58:

It seems to me that the ingenious essay writer [Hume], in the above quotation, confounds two things very different from each other: the evidence that this transaction happened, and the evidence that there was any thing supernatural performed. The circumstances which he expatiates so much upon, the character of the emperor, the veracity of Tacitus, the testimony of eye-witnesses, and the public nature of the facts, do indeed prove unexceptionably that the two men in question did apply to Vespasian in the manner related. But that there was any truth, either in the vision of the god Serapis, or in the cures pretended to, we are so far from having the strongest evidence, that no evidence can well be supposed weaker.

Perhaps you were confused by the fact that Campbell, on p. 166, points out Hume’s overstatement regarding the qualification of the witnesses, and goes on (p. 167) to give a sarcastic counterpoint to it. But this is a point regarding Hume’s managing of the case and the credulity of the onlookers in accepting the event as a miracle, i.e., in sense (b) given above rather than in sense (a).

(D) Unknowable mindset on the part of the authors of the autographs. There is no compelling evidence of who they were, much less their purposes in writing.

It is not clear what autographs you are talking about. Tacitus’s purposes are not difficult to discern. If you mean his sources, then the simplest explanation is that they were reporting what they had seen – which would be much the same, from the audience’s view, whether it was a fraud or a genuing healing. We really have no grounds for any other supposition.

It should not have to be said that fraud is not an explanation that can reasonably be invoked to explain the resurrection of a victim of Roman crucifixion. Which is not to deny that some have tried.

Therefore, using the criteria you have established for the determination of a historical miracle's veracity as adduced by Douglas and Campbell (and again, thank you so very much for getting those links, and I agree with you that everyone should go over and read them for themselves as they are great writing) the resurrection fails the test in each particular.

I hope everyone does; then they can judge independently the accuracy of your reading and the fairness of your representation.

In particular, they shouldn’t miss Campbell’s two closing questions:

First, What emperor or other potentate was flattered in his dignity and pretensions by the miracles of our Lord? What eminent personage found himself interested to support, by his authority and influence, the credit of these miracles? Again, What popular superstition or general and rooted prejudices were they calculated to confirm? These two circumstances, were there no other, make the greatest odds imaginable betwixt the miracles of Vespasian and those of Jesus Christ.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

It wasn't me who wrote the piece on confirmation bias. It was Jason Long. I would've stated things more precisely if it were me writing it.

My mistake.

You go on:

In any case, the things we can agree upon lead you into a dilemna, I think. For people cannot study out (or think through) the issues that we do. And even if they could, they would still come to opposite conclusions like you and I have. So to judge people and send them to hell (however conceived) as punishment for getting these issues wrong, seems barbaric, undemocratic and against the freedom to think for ourselves on these issues.

Here, I think, is one difference between our positions. Your position seems to be that there is no such thing as culpable ignorance, or that if there is, it is rather limited in scope and does not apply to disbelief in the existence of God. I think people should follow the evidence to the best of their ability and that they can be held responsible for failure to do so. I certainly do not believe that simply because two people have read the same books and come to different conclusions, it follows that the evidence is not good for one side or the other. Perhaps both are not equally honest. Perhaps they are not equally perseverent. Perhaps one of them is ignoring other available sources of evidence; much as I love books, they are only one source of information. These are all moral evaluations; to be dishonest, to care little for truth, and to ignore evidence are all morally culpable actions.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim said...Perhaps one of them is ignoring other available sources of evidence; much as I love books, they are only one source of information. These are all moral evaluations; to be dishonest, to care little for truth, and to ignore evidence are all morally culpable actions.

How do we know? I think it is you who ignore the evidence, although there is no final judgment condemning you to hell if you're wrong. Do I have to convince you of this before I can say that? No! That places an unjustified burden on those who disagree with you. Do I have to read everything you have before I can say that? Again, I see no reason why I should, since you likewise have not read everything I have read on these topics. But let's say you have read everything I have plus a whole bunch of other books I haven't. So what? Would you want to say that only people who are as well read as you can properly assess the evidence? Would you claim that people should simply trust your judgment on these issues, since few can do what you (or I) do (some are illiterate). Surely not, otherwise God requires us all to be scholars in order to arrive at the correct conclusions, even though he seems to prefer "babes" in their thinking anyway.

Since you visit Bill Craig’s website, what do you say in response to his answer to one of my questions. He said: The fact is that the vast majority of people throughout history and in the world today have had neither the training, the time, nor the resources to conduct a historical investigation of the evidence for Jesus. If we insist on a historical, evidential foundation for faith, then we consign most of the world’s population to unbelief and thus deny them the privilege and joy of knowing God in Christ. To me this is unconscionable. This, then, is the ugly, broad ditch which confronts us: the gap between people’s historically conditioned epistemic situation and the evidence required to warrant Christian belief.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

John~ How many times CAN you change the nature of the conversation?

I mean Tim put down the post and it's faulty line of reasoning, and WEAKER than water evidence to support it.

You expected Tim to fall into your trap of standard evidences, but people of God are led by HIS Spirit, which you know NOTHING about...so now you go for the second best thing, an attempt to try to come up with any reason you can find why you shouldn't be held accountable for IGNORING the overwhelming evidence for Christ.

I've remained silent because both you and Evan got HANDLED and I thank God for that, but now your're graspin'for whatever garbage you think will float...Well You're SUNK...Done like a Thanksgiving Turkey!

No brownie points for your book on this one---(LOL)!

Thank you.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

[Tim said ...] to be dishonest, to care little for truth, and to ignore evidence are all morally culpable actions.

[John:] How do we know?


How do we know that dishonesty, carelessness about truth, and ignoring evidence are all morally culpable actions? By the natural light, I should say.

But perhaps this isn't what you meant.

I think it is you who ignore the evidence, ...

Deep as our disagreements are, I would think less of your integrity if you did not think this. Anyone who runs a blog called "Debunking Christianity" had better believe he has evidence on his side.

... although there is no final judgment condemning you to hell if you're wrong. Do I have to convince you of this before I can say that? No! That places an unjustified burden on those who disagree with you. Do I have to read everything you have before I can say that? Again, I see no reason why I should, since you likewise have not read everything I have read on these topics.

I am sure that I have not. But let us be clear: if you are intellectually dishonest or lazy, I will not send you to hell (or anywhere else) on that account. Any judgments I might make along those lines would be fallible, and for that reason it would indeed be unjust (as well as presumptuous) of me to punish you for what I perceive to be these mental failings.

But let's say you have read everything I have plus a whole bunch of other books I haven't. So what? Would you want to say that only people who are as well read as you can properly assess the evidence?

No. I would say that everyone capable of wondering about the truth of Christianity or the existence of God is responsible to follow the evidence that he can see.

As for your quotation from Craig, this is perhaps one place where, with the greatest respect, I part company with him. A little girl who has enough sense to trust her mother, who has never led her astray, is believing rationally when she believes what her mother tells her. As she grows, she will in due course face new objections and discover new sources of evidence. It is surely possible, and indeed not very difficult, and highly desirable, for Christians to have sufficient reasons for believing what they do believe, though those reasons amount to not the hundredth part of the reasons that might be given, if it were necessary.

Evan said...

Tim:

I am absolutely thrilled that you have regained your wind. This thread seemed so tiresome to you. But something puffed up your sails and I'm glad to see it.

First, of course it is good to see we agree when you say:

Fideism, we can agree, is bankrupt. I value reasonable explanations over unreasonable ones, even when the reasonable ones require the invocation of the supernatural.

It has of course been argued by many scholars from time immemorial that the supernatural cannot partake of reason. You are I'm sure aware of the many well-regarded scholars who consider this a bedrock principle. I won't give you a list of scholars since I'm sure you could give me one twice as long.

Now the arguments of those scholars have been challenged by other arguments, but if I may timidly put forward a brief test for you, you will see that I don't see your response as particularly agreeable.

Please describe an event of the supernatural that is universally agreed by all who have examined it to have occurred at any point in history. If you can assert one, I will happily agree that your position is rational.

Unfortunately I am not currently aware of this event and therefore I can't accept any position holding to a supernatural explanation to partake in the boundaries of discussion that we normally consider rational.

I'm in no way asserting your position COULD not be rational. But you yourself agree that evidence is critical. For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.

I then said:

I can see that you agree with it as you then state: I have always maintained a strictly evidentialist position, even against John’s urgings.

Then I asked you:

You then agree that Tacitus wasn't trying to put down Christianity. Now you can understand that when I go and read the sources you assert will solve all my problems and this is the final argument put forward ...

And your response was:

Okay, you completely missed Douglas’s point. So I will spell it out for you.

Douglas is not saying that Tacitus was trying to put down Christianity. He is saying that Vespasians flatterers were trying to put down Christianity by mimicking a miracle ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.


I see this as a distinction without a difference. There is no suggestion that any of the writers of the gospels had firsthand knowledge of the events depicted in them. Therefore the motives of the primary storytellers are suspect in each case as they had an agenda to put forward. Those who were flattering Vespasian were doing so to gain favor with him. Those who were flattering the Christ-cult were doing so to gain favor within that cult.

Also, are you suggesting that Tacitus is in some way gullible? If so, why do you put so much credence in his attestation of Christus crucified under Pontius Pilate. Either Tacitus is to be given the benefit of the doubt, or he is not. In one instance you clearly give him the benefit of the doubt and in the other you do not. Tacitus is the same, what has changed?

You go on to say:

You apparently missed or misunderstood my references to Eusebius and Huidekoper above, so I will spell that out too. Though Douglas mentions John 9, the miracle is also recounted in Mark 8. By just about everyone’s admission, Mark’s gospel was written much earlier than John’s. Eusebius says (and Jerome concurs) that Mark published it in Alexandria after leaving Rome. Even if Mark left Rome after the death of Peter, this would have been in the mid 60s. Huidekoper notes that Mark must have published his gospel in Alexandria a few years before Vespasian arrived there in A.D. 69. Hence, Huidekoper:

Of the miracles attributed to Vespasian both may, and one perhaps must, have been suggested by Mark’s gospel.


Many other scholars date Mark's gospel to after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. I'm sure you are familiar with their arguments and I'm sure you are aware that Mark is not quoted by any church father until the 2nd century is well under way. You require additional evidence to place Mark in Alexandria before the destruction of the temple than what I see here. If I am too stubborn to go read Huidekoper I hope you will allow me to trust you have encapsulated his data adequately above. If there is additional non-speculative data regarding the dating of Mark that is not well known I am of course open to it.

You then said:

I thought the purpose of this post was to discuss the Vespasian case.

I think you're not quite there. The purpose of this post is to show that there are more miracles that meet Dr. Craig's frequently stated criteria for acceptance than the ones he mentions. The fact that these miracles just happen to be attested to by two authors who hold a lion's share of the pagan data regarding the supposed Christ legend and are used by apologists repeatedly to locate the historical Christ is additionally of great value to seeing if there is a double standard regarding such evidence.

As you have already shown, there is a double standard and you seem not to be much troubled by it, but that's fine. We can all be friends.

You then say in regard to Craig's treatment of Vespasian:

Two points here. First, this is a pretty sweeping claim. Have you checked all of Craig’s books? I certainly have not.

Absolutely NOT. I have not read anything of Craig other than what I have from the link you originally posted which you claimed was dispositive of my case and the claims he makes in several debates he's been in that I have heard. Dr. Craig has a clear, authoritative tone and he is a master at obfuscation and false claims of unanimity and I choose not to read him unless forced.

However I believe I have heard him claim the validity of the test that miracles multiply attested from independent sources are in a unique epistemic position against other miraculous claims. He has never in any of the pronouncements I've heard him make dealt with the Vespasian counterexample and to be clear, any honest broker making such an argument would be obligated to show this example and explain clearly what the differences are, especially when such a person quotes the same two authors as anchors for their claims regarding the existence of a historical Christ to begin with.

You continue:

Second, waiving that point, it is completely reasonable to point to a job that has been done adequately by others rather than re-doing the job oneself. So I do not understand why you are disappointed with Craig in this respect.

I hope my above explanation suffices. I don't believe the job has ever been done.

You continue:

From what I know of Craig, I am confident that he has thought this through very carefully. Why not write it up as a question for his Reasonable Faith Website and see if he will answer it?

You're free to do so. I don't regard Dr. Craig as an honest broker since he regards the argument from personal experience as a valid argument. I believe the argument from personal experience is the single weakest possible argument, and from what you adduce above I think you do to. The fact that you are defending someone who regards it as the single BEST argument should concern you.

I responded:

Your admission that all miracles are judged by their likelihood independent of how many accounts there are or how well-respected the authorities who report them are ...

You then continue:

I have, of course, “admitted” no such thing. If you are writing this in the hope that careless readers will accept your misrepresentation of my position for my actual position, then you must have a very low opinion indeed of the intelligence of readers here.

Please tell me what you mean when you say "If by the question you mean to ask whether there is a way to determine this independent of an examination of the actual evidence and circumstances, then of course not

Is there something in here that I'm not seeing. Because that is the exact standard that I use. If your position is somehow different from mine, I don't see it there. I see no correction in your method for the multiplicity of accounts or independence of attestation.

I then continued:

... is really a step forward and I look forward to seeing some sort of rational defense of the resurrection that removes the objections to Vespasian's miracles that Campbell and Douglas put forward ...

And you responded:

This is fair enough in conception, though in several of these cases you are just misreading Campbell and Douglas, as I will explain below.

I eagerly await my lesson. You once again directed people to the original sources, something I heartily recommend as well.

I then said:

(A) The resurrection is better explained by body-snatching, animals removing and eating the body, and (or) hallucination if you assume the gospel accounts to be true.

You replied:

If you assume the gospel accounts are true or even largely true, you are going to have to have the body stolen and hallucinations. Lots of hallucinations. Group hallucinations. Lifelike hallucinations, heavy on detail, recurring over a period of more than a month.

Indeed you do. At least the stories of such hallucinations. Since you are so widely read, I am sure you have read up on crowd psychology, folie a deux, and are familiar with the works of Charles Mackay which are more than germane to this argument. I myself was attending the medical school at which the toxic lady event took place.

As I am sure you are aware, there are today in the US church services which take place weekly at which marvelous things are claimed to have taken place. But each skeptical investigation of them yields no necessary supernatural explanation.

That this does not give you pause concerns me a bit. If you believe mass hysteria not to be a real phenomenon, perhaps you should read Mackay, or simply follow news reports from 2002 regarding Iraq.

You then assert:

This is not a promising way to start an explanation.

No I suppose it's not, if you consider a book that has a talking snake and a talking donkey authoritative.

I continued:

(B) The quality of the sources is very poor and far removed from the event itself, and the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests unchecked legendary development, casting grave doubt on any underlying historical claims.

You reply:

Campbell directly contradicts the claim that the quality of the sources was poor, writing (p. 164):

His [Tacitus’s] veracity is only concerned to satisfy us, that it was actually reported, as he relates; or that the attempt was made, and the miracle pretended; a point which, I presume, nobody would have disputed, although the authority had been less than that of Tacitus.


Here we have had a misunderstanding. I am applying the criteria that Campbell and Douglas apply to Vespasian's miracle to the reports of the resurrection and you are still talking about Vespasian.

The sources I am referring to are the gospel accounts of the resurrection. They are poor sources, far removed, evince no direct eyewitness testimony of the presumed event (the resurrection) and they are anonymous. They are in every respect inferior to the eyewitness testimony regarding Vespasian that Tacitus proclaims.

I then said:

(C) Undeniable and profound ulterior motives on the part of those reporting the events, not disputed even by the apologists.

You responded:

This is obscure. If by “those reporting the events” you mean Tacitus and Suetonius, Campbell and Douglas ascribe to neither any “ulterior motives.” If you mean those from whose testimony Tacitus derives the report, then we need to distinguish two questions: (a) is this testimony good evidence that a public event (possibly psychosomatic or a fraud perpetraded by the two men) took place as described? and (b) is it good evidence that the healings were actually miraculous?

Again you walk past me like a stranger in the night. I'm applying the standards of Campbell and Douglas to the resurrection. This is obviously something I've completely fouled up and not made plain, as you keep referring to Vespasian.

My claims about ulterior motive are about the evangelists, and while they may apply to Tacitus and Suetonius they most certainly apply to the evangelists. Thus, if they disqualify the sources of Tacitus and Suetonius, they disqualify the gospels.

As if to prove to me I've completely bungled my attempt to explain my premises to you, you go on to say:

Douglas is particularly clear on this point. See what he says on pp. 57-58: ...

... Perhaps you were confused by the fact that Campbell, on p. 166, points out Hume’s overstatement regarding the qualification of the witnesses, and goes on (p. 167) to give a sarcastic counterpoint to it. But this is a point regarding Hume’s managing of the case and the credulity of the onlookers in accepting the event as a miracle, i.e., in sense (b) given above rather than in sense (a).


Perhaps you were confused about the fact that I'm criticizing the gospels and not the chroniclers of the Flavians here.

Finally I said:

(D) Unknowable mindset on the part of the authors of the autographs. There is no compelling evidence of who they were, much less their purposes in writing.

Your response, again misses my point entirely:

It is not clear what autographs you are talking about. Tacitus’s purposes are not difficult to discern. If you mean his sources, then the simplest explanation is that they were reporting what they had seen – which would be much the same, from the audience’s view, whether it was a fraud or a genuing healing. We really have no grounds for any other supposition.

The autographs I'm talking about are Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. And for that matter the gospel of Peter, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Judas, and any other gospel. NONE have an autograph and we cannot know the slightest thing about the intent of the writers.

We do know with certainty that texts were altered that suggested adoptionism, docetism or gnosticism as Dr. Ehrman has elucidated.

Finally you say:

It should not have to be said that fraud is not an explanation that can reasonably be invoked to explain the resurrection of a victim of Roman crucifixion. Which is not to deny that some have tried.

It can and has been said and will continue to be said. There are many opportunities for fraud. The one you seem least willing to deal with is that the whole story of Jesus' death is a fraud, that it is a myth, that it is a legend. I worry that 2000 years from now people will be arguing about the existence of Hal from 2001.

Finally I said:

Therefore, using the criteria you have established for the determination of a historical miracle's veracity as adduced by Douglas and Campbell (and again, thank you so very much for getting those links, and I agree with you that everyone should go over and read them for themselves as they are great writing) the resurrection fails the test in each particular.

You closed:

In particular, they shouldn’t miss Campbell’s two closing questions:

And I'll try to answer them.

First, What emperor or other potentate was flattered in his dignity and pretensions by the miracles of our Lord?

The leaders of the proto-orthodox church in Rome, one of whom Flavia Domitilla(curiously) was the related to Vespasian. (Imagine that)

What eminent personage found himself interested to support, by his authority and influence, the credit of these miracles?

The leaders of the Christian church in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries were certainly benefited by the creation of the gospels.

Again, What popular superstition or general and rooted prejudices were they calculated to confirm?

That Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine circa 30 CE.

These two circumstances, were there no other, make the greatest odds imaginable betwixt the miracles of Vespasian and those of Jesus Christ.

Except they make no such distinction. The same rules that dispose easily of a miraculous claim for Vespasian dissolve the resurrection back into what it is, a legend or myth.

Tim said...

Evan,

You write:

I am absolutely thrilled that you have regained your wind. This thread seemed so tiresome to you. But something puffed up your sails and I'm glad to see it.

I comment from time to time when I think it might save someone from being misled by you, Evan.

You propose a test:

For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.

Well that’s hopeless: nothing meets that standard, since you can always find some kooks who will look into anything and disagree with the reasonable folks.

It is curious, though, that your standard involves depending on a consensus rather than looking at evidence.

You write:

[Tim:] Douglas is not saying that Tacitus was trying to put down Christianity. He is saying that Vespasians flatterers were trying to put down Christianity by mimicking a miracle ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.

[Evan:] I see this as a distinction without a difference.


You can’t see the difference between a claim about Tacitus’s intentions and a claim about the intentions of the people Tacitus is using as a source!?

There is no suggestion that any of the writers of the gospels had firsthand knowledge of the events depicted in them.

This claim is nonsense. There is lots of evidence that the gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony. Have a look at Bauckham’s book.

Therefore the motives of the primary storytellers are suspect in each case as they had an agenda to put forward.

Who would be the primary storytellers here? If you’re referring to Tacitus’s sources, why think a thing like that? Simpler to assume they really saw the whole production being carried off but to back up the question one level and ask what was really going on.

Those who were flattering Vespasian were doing so to gain favor with him.

It isn’t at all clear that the people who were Tacitus’s sources gained anything from Vespasian, though it probably didn’t hurt their local reputation either, since the Serapis cult was the dominant religion in Alexandria.

Those who were flattering the Christ-cult were doing so to gain favor within that cult.

... and get crucified or thrown to the lions for their pains? Ah, right.

Also, are you suggesting that Tacitus is in some way gullible?

How many times do I have to point out to you that Tacitus doesn’t believe it himself – complete with references to Campbell, pp. 164-5, which presumably you read the first time, where this very point is made painfully clearly – before you will stop trying to make silly suggestions like this? I can understand your not reading Campbell the first time ’round, but also not reading what I wrote and not checking out the explicit page reference ... well, Evan, that’s the sort of carelessness that makes it a chore for people to interact with you.

You write:

Many other scholars date Mark's gospel to after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. I'm sure you are familiar with their arguments ...

Yes, I am.

... and I'm sure you are aware that Mark is not quoted by any church father until the 2nd century is well under way.

Which is not surprising, from a historical point of view, as there are very few writings of any church father before the 2nd century. I would have to look at 1 Clement to see whether he shows knowledge of Mark.

You require additional evidence to place Mark in Alexandria before the destruction of the temple than what I see here.

Could be that you haven’t read the Eusebius? There is an old, multiply-attested tradition that Mark published his gospel in Alexandria after leaving Rome. It isn’t conclusive, but it is certainly evidence.

If I am too stubborn to go read Huidekoper I hope you will allow me to trust you have encapsulated his data adequately above.

You lose: time to do your own homework.

If there is additional non-speculative data regarding the dating of Mark that is not well known I am of course open to it.

Given your extreme reluctance to look up anything for yourself, this expression of openness is not very credible.

[Tim:] I thought the purpose of this post was to discuss the Vespasian case.

[Evan:] I think you're not quite there. The purpose of this post is to show that there are more miracles that meet Dr. Craig's frequently stated criteria for acceptance than the ones he mentions.


Then you’ll have to find a canonical statement of all of Craig’s criteria, won’t you? Otherwise, this is pretty much useless.

[Evan:] As you have already shown, there is a double standard and you seem not to be much troubled by it, but that's fine.

This sort of arrant misrepresentation is another clue that you’re not interested in discovering the truth. It doesn’t sound clever, Evan; it just sounds childish.

[Tim:] Two points here. First, this is a pretty sweeping claim. Have you checked all of Craig’s books? I certainly have not.

[Evan:] Absolutely NOT. I have not read anything of Craig other than what I have from the link you originally posted which you claimed was dispositive of my case ...


Let’s see. You want to cast this post as a critique of Craig. But you haven’t read anything by him prior to writing it.

Then you persist in misrepresenting what I said. I pointed out (above, 9:28 PM, March 18, 2008) that Craig is familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian case, and I gave a link to something that is online to show this. You then twisted this into a claim that Craig had discussed the Vespasian case at that link, quoting the reference to Vespasian from the link I gave and then writing:

[Evan:] That's it. That's the extent of his discussion regarding Vespasian's miracles. (11:47 PM, March 18, 2008)

You reiterated this misunderstanding here:

Tim I find it interesting that rather than summarize the arguments against Vespasian's miracle in a way that we can analyze here, you refer us to a page from Dr. Craig that does nothing to support your case, ... (10:35 AM, March 19, 2008)

I told you (above, 5:08 PM, March 19, 2008) that this claim was a mistake:

[Tim:] I referred you to Craig's article as evidence that he is familiar with the attempt to use the Vespasian case as a parallel to the gospel accounts. That is why I said:

Craig is of course familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian parallel ...


And now here you are you’re repeating it. Good grief.

If it is your mission to persuade anyone who does not already agree with you that you are either (a) terminally obtuse or else (b) so wrapped up in the fantasy of scoring points on an apologist whose works, by your own admission, you have not read that you are not serious about getting at the truth of any of these matters, this sort of repeated complaint that ignores what people actually say is a good way to do it.

On, now, to your attempt to make a case against the resurrection, which I mistook for an attempt to explicate Campbell and Douglas – obviously I got you wrong, for which I apologize. You write:

[Evan:] (A) The resurrection is better explained by body-snatching, animals removing and eating the body, and (or) hallucination if you assume the gospel accounts to be true.

You replied:

[Tim:] If you assume the gospel accounts are true or even largely true, you are going to have to have the body stolen and hallucinations. Lots of hallucinations. Group hallucinations. Lifelike hallucinations, heavy on detail, recurring over a period of more than a month.

[Evan:] Indeed you do. At least the stories of such hallucinations. Since you are so widely read, I am sure you have read up on crowd psychology, folie a deux, and are familiar with the works of Charles Mackay which are more than germane to this argument. I myself was attending the medical school at which the toxic lady event took place.


I am familiar with Mackay’s book – entertaining reading, commonly cited in the skeptical literature, but containing nothing really parallel to the gospel accounts – and I have read various works, including some modern ones, on crowd psychology and hallucination. The “toxic lady” case, however, was new to me.

As I am sure you are aware, there are today in the US church services which take place weekly at which marvelous things are claimed to have taken place. But each skeptical investigation of them yields no necessary supernatural explanation. That this does not give you pause concerns me a bit. If you believe mass hysteria not to be a real phenomenon, perhaps you should read Mackay, ...

As an attempt to create a parallel to the resurrection, this is a non-starter. Show me a gathering of disspirited ex-Christians who have lost their faith and then, suddenly, collectively, maintain in the face of violent persecution that they’ve seen someone physically raised to life, and I’ll be more interested.

[Tim:] This is not a promising way to start an explanation.

[Evan:] No I suppose it's not, if you consider a book that has a talking snake and a talking donkey authoritative.


What a stunning way to make your own hopeless explanation suddenly look more plausible: pull an irrelevancy out of left field, pin it on your opponent, and hope that your audience will believe that it is somehow pertinent to your case.

[Evan] (B) The quality of the sources is very poor and far removed from the event itself, and the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests unchecked legendary development, casting grave doubt on any underlying historical claims.

You reply:

[Tim:] Campbell directly contradicts the claim that the quality of the sources was poor, writing (p. 164):

[Campbell:] His [Tacitus’s] veracity is only concerned to satisfy us, that it was actually reported, as he relates; or that the attempt was made, and the miracle pretended; a point which, I presume, nobody would have disputed, although the authority had been less than that of Tacitus.

[Evan:] Here we have had a misunderstanding. I am applying the criteria that Campbell and Douglas apply to Vespasian's miracle to the reports of the resurrection and you are still talking about Vespasian.

The sources I am referring to are the gospel accounts of the resurrection. They are poor sources, far removed, evince no direct eyewitness testimony of the presumed event (the resurrection) and they are anonymous. They are in every respect inferior to the eyewitness testimony regarding Vespasian that Tacitus proclaims.


I did indeed misunderstand you; thanks for the clarification. To your unargued assertion I would make the same reply that Douglas makes. Since the quality of the New Testament sources is excellent, much of it coming directly from eyewitnesses, some of it being published in the very place where the events took place, the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests that there was neither time nor opportunity for significant legendary development. The gospel accounts are not anonymous (and please do read your Martin Hengel before giving a knee-jerk reaction to this claim), whereas Tacitus’s sources are. Interested readers who are actually working their way through Douglas’s book can find his version of the argument there. A more thorough case can be found in Andrews Norton, The Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels. For a brief, readable statement of the case by a respected 20th century scholar, see F. F. Bruce’s little book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Those looking for something more contemporary should have a look at Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Thinking that you were still trying to make a parallel between the Vespasian case and the gospels, I similarly misunderstood what you were trying to do with the third point:

[Evan:] (C) Undeniable and profound ulterior motives on the part of those reporting the events, not disputed even by the apologists.

The only undeniable and profound motive present in the case of the apostles and the seventy was the motive to clam up and get out of dodge to save their hides. That these early eyewitnesses did not do this is quite fascinating, but it hardly helps your case.

And again on your fourth point:

[Evan:] (D) Unknowable mindset on the part of the authors of the autographs. There is no compelling evidence of who they were, much less their purposes in writing.

There is strong, old, unanimous testimony to the authorship of the four gospels. It is doubtful, as Martin Hengel has argued, that any of them were ever published anonymously, if by that is meant “apart from any indication of authorship.” Luke’s purpose is explicit in Luke 1:1-4. We have information on the broader purpose of John’s gospel from Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.1.

You write:

We do know with certainty that texts were altered that suggested adoptionism, docetism or gnosticism as Dr. Ehrman has elucidated.

And even Ehrman, who makes such heavy weather out of Jesus’ “anger” in Mark (it was there anyway, so what?), the Johannine comma in 1 John 5:7-8, and the Pericope Adulterae, hasn’t managed to wring out of the Western Text any significant signs of orthodox tampering with the resurrection narratives.

[Tim:] It should not have to be said that fraud is not an explanation that can reasonably be invoked to explain the resurrection of a victim of Roman crucifixion. Which is not to deny that some have tried.

[Evan:] It can and has been said and will continue to be said. There are many opportunities for fraud. The one you seem least willing to deal with is that the whole story of Jesus' death is a fraud, that it is a myth, that it is a legend.


I’m very willing to deal with it. I’ve read many books trying to establish it, and many more that simply assume it. In the absence of concrete evidence, it would be the first explanation I would reach for. But we do have evidence, and it points in a different direction.

[Campbell:] First, What emperor or other potentate was flattered in his dignity and pretensions by the miracles of our Lord?

[Evan] The leaders of the proto-orthodox church in Rome, one of whom Flavia Domitilla(curiously) was the related to Vespasian. (Imagine that)


This is pretty crazy. Sweeping aside all of the references to miracles in the Pauline epistles and Acts, including the resurrection, it works only if you assume that the synoptic gospels are (a) late creations, mid 80s at the earliest and (b) disconnected from earlier oral tradition.

[Campbell] What eminent personage found himself interested to support, by his authority and influence, the credit of these miracles?

[Evan:] The leaders of the Christian church in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries were certainly benefited by the creation of the gospels.


No doubt they were a benefit. But to make this pertinent to your case, you have to argue that they were written late and not by eyewitnesses or those with access to the testimony of eyewitnesses. And you’d have to do this, in this context, without the benefit of the presupposition of naturalism. Have you ever even looked at the evidence Hemer amasses for eyewitness testimony in the second half of the book of Acts?

[Campbell:] Again, What popular superstition or general and rooted prejudices were they calculated to confirm?

[Evan:] That Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine circa 30 CE.


Another myther speaks out! We’re down the rabbit hole again ...

[Campbell:] These two circumstances, were there no other, make the greatest odds imaginable betwixt the miracles of Vespasian and those of Jesus Christ.

[Evan:] Except they make no such distinction. The same rules that dispose easily of a miraculous claim for Vespasian dissolve the resurrection back into what it is, a legend or myth.


Or maybe they do so only out there in myther land.

Evan said...

Tim,

I see you are in fine fettle and this is pleasing to me. I am glad we can continue to discuss the issues I am bringing up. I genuinely apologize for my lack of clarity earlier and I think we are really arriving at some crux issues.

I also am very pleased to see you quoting F.F. Bruce, who my father and brother used to discuss endlessly around our dinner table when I was a kid.

To begin our discussion again you say:

I comment from time to time when I think it might save someone from being misled by you, Evan.

I doubt anyone is being misled by either of us. I think we are having a spirited dialog that shows how far apart two people can be even with good will on both sides. Certainly with the erudition you evince and the numerous opportunities people have to "check our work" so to speak, anyone who can't decide for themselves here is in relatively deep weeds and has probably long ago stopped reading our verbose repartee.

You then quote me:

For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.

You replied:

Well that’s hopeless: nothing meets that standard, since you can always find some kooks who will look into anything and disagree with the reasonable folks.

Wow. I can think of absolutely oodles of things that meet that standard. Chickens have existed. Corpses have existed. Trees have existed. It has rained, it has thundered, there have been lightning storms. I could go on ...

All of these phenomena are universally attested to. In addition, respiration occurs constantly in all living beings, digestion does as well. But no reliable reports exist of a human corpse being reanimated. No reliable reports exist of non-avian talking animals. So you see I admit many categories of experience that are universal. I'm sort of shocked you couldn't think of any.

Therefore, if I report that it rained on a given day, strong evidence must be shown that I am wrong or the benefit of the doubt must be given me as this is a universally known phenomenon. If I report that it rained blood, the most likely explanation is not that it rained blood, but that some substance was in the rain that gave it a reddish color, given that rain is a universal phenomenon it is correct to assume I perceived that appropriately, but given that raining blood would be MUCH less likely than that I perceived red color in otherwise normal rain, it would take much stronger evidence to give credence to my claim that it rained blood.

A similar gedankenexperiment is to imagine that I report to you that my dog spoke to me and reported that Paris was the capital of France. The fact that there is not a single reported reliable instance of a dog talking makes you very doubtful of the primary claim, and the veracity of the secondary claim says nothing about the validity of the primary claim.

These are pretty basic things and I'm sure I just didn't make myself clear to you before and you were in fact aware of them. I certainly don't want you or anyone else to be misled into thinking I was saying something difficult there.

You then say:

It is curious, though, that your standard involves depending on a consensus rather than looking at evidence.

No, my standard involves finding agreed-upon phenomena as the points over which one can dispute. The evidence is always primary, and as I pointed out -- if you could evince a single supernatural event that was more likely to be supernatural than any other explanation -- and if this event was agreed upon by all skeptics who had examined it, then it WOULD be logical to allow your explanation.

There is universal agreement that it has rained. There is universal agreement that people eat food for nutrition and die when they lack air to breathe. Nobody disputes these facts, so they are primary data and can be used for good explanations as they are the ground-theory of our evidences of anything. The category of the supernatural has many epistemic concerns, as I'm sure you are aware from reading Hume and Kant. It is arguable in fact, that it is an oxymoron, as anything knowable would by definition be natural -- but this is not the place for such a discussion. Suffice it to say that I am aware of many universal phenomena common to all mankind and you may or may not find my examples compelling, but it's a curious primacy of evidence you have if you deny these.

You then point out that Tacitus's informants are trying to put down Christianity by making fun of Vespasian, something I think is not clearly in the text and may be argued over by scholars.

I replied:

I see this as a distinction without a difference.

You replied:

You can’t see the difference between a claim about Tacitus’s intentions and a claim about the intentions of the people Tacitus is using as a source!?

So you are agreeing that Tacitus could be manipulated to put things in his Annals that were there to serve the political agenda of his informants and he did not personally evaluate what he put in the Annals by any critical method? Or are you suggesting that Tacitus wrote his histories as wry sarcastic gibes at the imperial family?

I then suggested:

There is no suggestion that any of the writers of the gospels had firsthand knowledge of the events depicted in them.

You respond:

This claim is nonsense. There is lots of evidence that the gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony. Have a look at Bauckham’s book.

Again I believe Christianity is a myth. I think spending time reading apologists is a waste of time. I know you don't and you spend a lot of time doing it. I personally believe that the evidence for first century gospels is paper thin, and that the evidence that whatever existed in the first century is knowable to people today is demonstrably false.

But I am not alone. A sizable number of New Testament scholars place Mark as the first gospel written and agree that the authorship of Mark was NOT Mark the companion of Peter. The text of the gospel does not specify an author. The first manuscripts we have are from the 4th century. There is simply no way to know what the first century text said. There is simply no ability for a modern person to have any certainty regarding the gospel accounts and their accuracy.

Consider William Shakespeare. How much was known in detail about him in 1820? Do we trust all the writings that we have from 1820 regarding Shakespeare as perfect evidence never to be doubted?

I then said:

Therefore the motives of the primary storytellers are suspect in each case as they had an agenda to put forward.

And you replied:

Who would be the primary storytellers here? If you’re referring to Tacitus’s sources, why think a thing like that? Simpler to assume they really saw the whole production being carried off but to back up the question one level and ask what was really going on.

All that we have are stories Tim. So the primary storytellers are whoever told the story first. Again, if you agree that ulterior motives make healing narratives unlikely, that acid dissolves the gospels as effectively as it does Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn.

You then confirm my beliefs re: Vespasian.

It isn’t at all clear that the people who were Tacitus’s sources gained anything from Vespasian, though it probably didn’t hurt their local reputation either, since the Serapis cult was the dominant religion in Alexandria.

I then stated:

Those who were flattering the Christ-cult were doing so to gain favor within that cult.

And you replied:

... and get crucified or thrown to the lions for their pains? Ah, right.

There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century. Nero is reported to have blamed them for burning down Rome, but that was what he charged them with, not believing in Christ. To imagine that first century Christians faced empire-wide persecution suggests a real paucity of data on your part which sort of surprises me. Am I once again ill-informed? Was there an empire-wide first century persecution? The first empire wide persecution I can find was a perfunctory one under Maximian late in the 2nd century. So I think you miss the mark here, but I'm happy to be shown what facts I was unaware of.

Suffice it to say that any Christians in the empire living anywhere but in Rome (even those in Rome except directly after Nero's fire) practiced their religion without persecution from the state.

I then asked:

Also, are you suggesting that Tacitus is in some way gullible?

How many times do I have to point out to you that Tacitus doesn’t believe it himself – complete with references to Campbell, pp. 164-5, which presumably you read the first time, where this very point is made painfully clearly – before you will stop trying to make silly suggestions like this? I can understand your not reading Campbell the first time ’round, but also not reading what I wrote and not checking out the explicit page reference ... well, Evan, that’s the sort of carelessness that makes it a chore for people to interact with you.

Again I deeply apologize but I wanted to be sure what you are saying. You are saying that Tacitus reports on events that he himself believes to be fakes. Things that he has no actual belief in. This is good for me to know. In the past I had seen you rely on Tacitus for his good sense and ability to accurately report early 1st century Palestinian events. It is good to see you view him critically and I wish I had known it sooner.

I said:

... and I'm sure you are aware that Mark is not quoted by any church father until the 2nd century is well under way.

You said:

Which is not surprising, from a historical point of view, as there are very few writings of any church father before the 2nd century. I would have to look at 1 Clement to see whether he shows knowledge of Mark.

First, I'm glad to know there are a few things you don't know off hand, discussing things with such a polymath can be taxing. I was under the impression from the 800 lb. Gorilla thread that you were familiar with Doherty. If you have read him, you are aware that Clement doesn't mention the gospels, nor do Didache, Ignatius, Barnabas and 2nd Peter, as well as the pastoral Epistles.

So I think it is odd that you believe Tacitus was aware of Mark's Gospel when all those Christian writings weren't aware of him, since they never quote his gospel, but I'm sure there are very good reasons for this.

I then said:

You require additional evidence to place Mark in Alexandria before the destruction of the temple than what I see here.

Could be that you haven’t read the Eusebius? There is an old, multiply-attested tradition that Mark published his gospel in Alexandria after leaving Rome. It isn’t conclusive, but it is certainly evidence.

Yes, Eusebius is not conclusive. Eusebius had Constantine to please. If you think that pleasing Vespasian was reason enough to affirm things not held to be true, you must agree that pleasing Constantine would also give one an ulterior motive. I'm really hoping you can see the direct parallel here.

I followed up by saying:

If I am too stubborn to go read Huidekoper I hope you will allow me to trust you have encapsulated his data adequately above.

And you retorted:

You lose: time to do your own homework.

And I really do lose. Since I'm convinced Mark can't be dated before the destruction of the temple from multiple lines of evidence and don't care to look for any more unless I have data that suggest my belief is wrong. I am hoping that your orneriness is hiding a lack of data, but I could be wrong. Suffice it to say that an early provable date for Mark would be interesting, but evidence that he wrote in Alexandria seems quite laughable given his Latinisms.

I let you know:

If there is additional non-speculative data regarding the dating of Mark that is not well known I am of course open to it.

And you quipped:

Given your extreme reluctance to look up anything for yourself, this expression of openness is not very credible.

Good thing I have a thick skin (as do you).

You defied me to:

... find a canonical statement of all of Craig’s criteria, won’t you? Otherwise, this is pretty much useless.

I have of course encountered Dr. Craig's arguments. They are encapsulated at that link I believe. He recites as if it were a litany that Jesus' resurrection is multiply attested in independent sources. Is there some other criteria he's ever adduced? I sure don't see it from the link you gave me.

Nobody here has thought to educate me regarding any additional criteria Dr. Craig has, yourself included. Therefore, if I am wrong, and Dr. Craig has more criteria than he brings forward in debates, the man is a paragon, holding one arm behind his back when he does battle. This is certainly an interesting trick and I may very well be suckered by it, but I doubt it.

I argued you had a double standard and you took offense:

This sort of arrant misrepresentation is another clue that you’re not interested in discovering the truth. It doesn’t sound clever, Evan; it just sounds childish.

But I don't see how you can argue you don't have a double standard. You easily dismiss the multiply attested independently sourced miracles from Vespasian due to concerns about possible naturalistic explanations with greater explanatory power, source verifiability, ulterior motive, and inability to know the author's intent. Yet your skepticism flies out the window when it comes to the gospels.

I'm sure you have a double standard because of this, pique notwithstanding, unless you can generalize a principle that someone less erudite than yourself might use to differentiate a similar case, say if there were multiple independent accounts of Julius Caesar's ghost taking flight on the wings of an eagle out of his pyre and then him reappearing to his troops 20 days later (I made that up).

You then scolded me for not being a Craig scholar and criticizing him by saying:

Let’s see. You want to cast this post as a critique of Craig. But you haven’t read anything by him prior to writing it.

Yes, I have heard him (and others) say ad nauseam that multiply attested independent accounts of miracles made the miracles more likely than alternative explanations. Read his debate with Ehrman (which I have read and heard). Listen to his debate with Hector Avalos. I don't have to read the man to know he is like a broken record with this thing.

But I find nothing in his writings available to me that suggest he ever addresses this issue. Also, your inability to quickly dispose of this suggests that you (having read him) also can't do so. Therefore I think I am correct in asserting his position. You've had a long thread here to correct me if I'm wrong. If you didn't before now, can you see how I might be justified in thinking my attestation was accurate.

To quote Dr. Craig himself from "Reasonable Faith":

Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.

Therefore, Dr. Craig believes before he analyzes data, and thinks his primary purpose is not objective analysis of evidence, but apologetic efficacy. In addition, he asserts the primacy of personal experience, a thread I notice you didn't touch.

Continuing your pique:

Then you persist in misrepresenting what I said. ... I referred you to Craig's article as evidence that he is familiar with the attempt to use the Vespasian case as a parallel to the gospel accounts. That is why I said:

Craig is of course familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian parallel ...

And now here you are you’re repeating it. Good grief.

If it is your mission to persuade anyone who does not already agree with you that you are either (a) terminally obtuse or else (b) so wrapped up in the fantasy of scoring points on an apologist whose works, by your own admission, you have not read that you are not serious about getting at the truth of any of these matters, this sort of repeated complaint that ignores what people actually say is a good way to do it.


Tim I'm really sorry but that page doesn't have what you think it does. I quoted his response already above and his response is weak. Nobody has to fight over this, everyone can read it for themselves and see that Craig never specifically addresses the issues I am addressing here, namely that Vespasian's miracle is multiply attested and independently sourced. The fact that the two sources are ones apologists fall all over themselves to promote when it helps to establish a historical Jesus is even more remarkable, but you again prove my point here. You admit of no general principle and I thought we were pretty much done with that part of the discussion and had moved on.

If there is no general principle, you hold to a double standard if you agree Tacitus and Suetonius are accurate regarding their very limited references to Christ, yet they are highly suspect when it comes to this story regarding Vespasian. I hope I am in no way misleading anyone and if anyone has any doubts about my position they are free to query me further.

Pique in abeyance, you continue:

On, now, to your attempt to make a case against the resurrection, which I mistook for an attempt to explicate Campbell and Douglas – obviously I got you wrong, for which I apologize.

Happens to everyone and there's no need for an apology. My clumsy wording is much more to blame I am sure than any misapprehension on your part.

You resume your argument in favor of the resurrection here:

I am familiar with Mackay’s book – entertaining reading, commonly cited in the skeptical literature, but containing nothing really parallel to the gospel accounts – and I have read various works, including some modern ones, on crowd psychology and hallucination. The “toxic lady” case, however, was new to me.

Again, I'm pleased there are a few things you can learn about from me, I have certainly not come close to teaching you as much as you have shown me.

I then said:

As I am sure you are aware, there are today in the US church services which take place weekly at which marvelous things are claimed to have taken place. But each skeptical investigation of them yields no necessary supernatural explanation. That this does not give you pause concerns me a bit. If you believe mass hysteria not to be a real phenomenon, perhaps you should read Mackay, ...

And you replied:

As an attempt to create a parallel to the resurrection, this is a non-starter. Show me a gathering of disspirited ex-Christians who have lost their faith and then, suddenly, collectively, maintain in the face of violent persecution that they’ve seen someone physically raised to life, and I’ll be more interested.

I can't quite come that close, but I can come pretty close.

Then I riposted:

No I suppose it's not, if you consider a book that has a talking snake and a talking donkey authoritative.

After I broke with politeness you chastised me:

What a stunning way to make your own hopeless explanation suddenly look more plausible: pull an irrelevancy out of left field, pin it on your opponent, and hope that your audience will believe that it is somehow pertinent to your case.

It does have the benefit of being something widely believed, however. I know it's a cheap shot if you think that a donkey didn't talk and a snake didn't talk. But you believe people rose from the dead and walked around whereas I rule that out prima facie unless there is extraordinary corroborating evidence. You can understand my frustration if you don't believe the snake or donkey talked. Now if you do believe they talked, we really have reached the point at which we need to move on, since we occupy different topo-maps of reality that can't be reconciled. However, I do apologize, it was poor form and not sporting. Feel free to make one reference to Hitler being an atheist at your leisure.
I said:

... Here we have had a misunderstanding. I am applying the criteria that Campbell and Douglas apply to Vespasian's miracle to the reports of the resurrection and you are still talking about Vespasian.

The sources I am referring to are the gospel accounts of the resurrection. They are poor sources, far removed, evince no direct eyewitness testimony of the presumed event (the resurrection) and they are anonymous. They are in every respect inferior to the eyewitness testimony regarding Vespasian that Tacitus proclaims.


You replied:

I did indeed misunderstand you; thanks for the clarification. To your unargued assertion I would make the same reply that Douglas makes. Since the quality of the New Testament sources is excellent, much of it coming directly from eyewitnesses, some of it being published in the very place where the events took place, the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests that there was neither time nor opportunity for significant legendary development. The gospel accounts are not anonymous (and please do read your Martin Hengel before giving a knee-jerk reaction to this claim), ...

As I have noted before. I am not really interested in reading apologists. Suffice it to say that Hengel's arguments are not wholly convincing to all readers.

... whereas Tacitus’s sources are. Interested readers who are actually working their way through Douglas’s book can find his version of the argument there. A more thorough case can be found in Andrews Norton, The Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels. For a brief, readable statement of the case by a respected 20th century scholar, see F. F. Bruce’s little book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Those looking for something more contemporary should have a look at Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Obviously these books all must deal with the lack of reference to any of the gospels in any other text until the 2nd century and the absence of any first century pagan or Jewish discussions of Jesus. You will I'm sure berate me for not reading them myself, but I am confident that if such evidence were forthcoming I would have been made aware of it by you on the 800 lb. Gorilla thread.

You then responded to my claim of ulterior motive thusly:

The only undeniable and profound motive present in the case of the apostles and the seventy was the motive to clam up and get out of dodge to save their hides. ...

What independent attestation do you have of a persecution that killed large numbers of Christians in Jerusalem circa 30 CE? I am certainly not aware of it and if you are that would be evidence you most certainly should have taken up with Dawson. In the absence of such evidence, all you have is a story written in the 2nd century.

Elvis Presley has been dead less than 45 years. Do the multiple attesations, independently asserted assure you of his continued vitality? Can you not imagine 70 years from now even more incredible claims being made with regard to him?

... That these early eyewitnesses did not do this is quite fascinating, but it hardly helps your case.

Again, besides the New Testament, what evidence do you have for this?

Finally you go back to Hengel:

There is strong, old, unanimous testimony to the authorship of the four gospels. It is doubtful, as Martin Hengel has argued, that any of them were ever published anonymously, if by that is meant “apart from any indication of authorship.” Luke’s purpose is explicit in Luke 1:1-4. We have information on the broader purpose of John’s gospel from Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.1.

Yet even Hengel admits that Matthew the disciple didn't write Matthew and John the son of Zebedee didn't write John. Even if they have single authors, we know nothing of the mindset of those persons. There is no way to know whether they thought they were telling a story or whether they thought they were telling the truth.

Then you criticize Ehrman by saying:

And even Ehrman, who makes such heavy weather out of Jesus’ “anger” in Mark (it was there anyway, so what?), the Johannine comma in 1 John 5:7-8, and the Pericope Adulterae, hasn’t managed to wring out of the Western Text any significant signs of orthodox tampering with the resurrection narratives.

I believe you are correct regarding the resurrection in regard to this. However are you arguing the resurrection is unique and is to be regarded as more important than the crucifixion?

Then you say:

I’m very willing to deal with it. I’ve read many books trying to establish it, and many more that simply assume it. In the absence of concrete evidence, it would be the first explanation I would reach for. But we do have evidence, and it points in a different direction.

I believe your evidence to be weaker than you believe it to be. It's OK, we can still be friends.

I then said:

The leaders of the proto-orthodox church in Rome, one of whom Flavia Domitilla(curiously) was related to Vespasian. (Imagine that){edited to remove typo}

This is pretty crazy. Sweeping aside all of the references to miracles in the Pauline epistles and Acts, including the resurrection, it works only if you assume that the synoptic gospels are (a) late creations, mid 80s at the earliest and (b) disconnected from earlier oral tradition.

Crazier than a man rising from the dead?

Then I said:

The leaders of the Christian church in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries were certainly benefited by the creation of the gospels.

You said:

No doubt they were a benefit. But to make this pertinent to your case, you have to argue that they were written late and not by eyewitnesses or those with access to the testimony of eyewitnesses. ...

Which is exactly what I believe the evidence shows.

... And you’d have to do this, in this context, without the benefit of the presupposition of naturalism. Have you ever even looked at the evidence Hemer amasses for eyewitness testimony in the second half of the book of Acts?

I have no idea what you are saying here. I have almost no doubt in my mind there is some history in the 2nd half of acts. There is also some history that is accurate in Gone With the Wind.

I then said:

That Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine circa 30 CE.

Another myther speaks out! We’re down the rabbit hole again ...

You tar me with a broad brush. I am open to many possibilities, including legendary accretion onto the teacher of righteousness of the DSS community and later conflation of him with the Pauline Christ. There are 1st century church fathers who place Jesus' at different points in history. Irenaeus claims at one point he lived into his 50s. However, one thing I'm not open to is that men rose from the dead. You are open to it, and Dr. Craig can't be dissuaded from it by evidence. That is the point I am making here.

You seem eager to dismiss me as "myther", but you do see there are problems with the accounts I hope.

I hope you don't think the dead walked the earth in Jerusalem. I hope you don't think that people spoke languages they'd never heard and then other people who didn't speak those languages interpreted them.

If you do, you can check that part out for yourself in just about any town in America. It's being claimed, but it's not happening.

Since I don't know whether you believe that dead people cracked out of their graves in Jerusalem, or whether people spoke Finno-Ugric and interpreted it at Pentecost, or whether you think a donkey talked, I can't really pin down how far apart we are. But to simply dismiss an argument because the author is someone you consider a "myther" is beneath your previous behavior on this board.

No matter what we disagree on, we can still be friends, Tim. My dad was a pastor and still believes, my brother teaches at a church college in the theology department. I'm not a theologian but I hear a lot about it and I have read a good deal in it. I have consciously chosen to stop reading apologists, as every time I checked out their arguments, I found they were misleading.

You can show me I was wrong, but you can't convince me to read them by pooh-poohing me.

John W. Loftus said...

Let me say that both you and Evan are doing a wonderful job here. You both are indefatigable.

Although, I think Evan clearly has won the day.

I’m arguing on a different level, a more fundamental level. With Evan and my approaches taken together, Tim, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Tim said…I would say that everyone capable of wondering about the truth of Christianity or the existence of God is responsible to follow the evidence that he can see.

I have done so. I am sincere in rejecting Christianity. I cannot believe differently than I do. It would be akin for you to tell me that the fastest way to my home includes a 20 mile detour. I cannot believe you would be correct no matter how much I may want to trust you. Again, I cannot believe that which I reject. There are no amount of books that would convince me otherwise. I have an anti-supernatural bias, just like you have a supernatural bias. I have argued for my bias. To date you have not interacted with my case and I’m wondering why. Why do you continue to argue about the individual trees? Isn’t it time you argue for the way you see the whole forest? [Start by explaining what the initial reasons were for why you first accepted Christianity and put on you “God glasses” which subsequently caused you to interpret all the available evidence through them]. It’s only at that level any progress can move forward between us. Yes, the individual trees are important to examine. But until you can argue for the way you see the forest you are not arguing your case. You and Evan can go back and forth on the evidence all you want, and I think once again you’re both doing a great job. But the difference is how you see the evidence, and that’s my point. You both are looking at the same evidence and coming away with a different understanding of that evidence. It would fall on my deaf ears for one of you to say of the other person that he is just ignorant. That is not the case at all. Tim I think you just refuse to see what he and I see based upon a need to believe. What you see in this specific example is based upon how you see the whole forest.

Tim said…As for your quotation from Craig, this is perhaps one place where, with the greatest respect, I part company with him.

I knew you would.

Tim said… A little girl who has enough sense to trust her mother, who has never led her astray, is believing rationally when she believes what her mother tells her. As she grows, she will in due course face new objections and discover new sources of evidence.

But she was raised to believe! She put on her “God glasses.” She believes because of when and where she was born. I think you really do not fully grasp that what children start out believing is based upon what their family tells them.

And being rational is not enough. Are Holocaust deniers being rational? What about the Flat Earth Society? Or 9/11 conspiracists?

Rationality? What’s that? Paranoid schizophrenics can be completely rational in arguing that the CIA is out to get them. What all of these people do wrong is that they begin with one or more false assumptions and fit all of the available evidence into the grid of those assumptions. And just like there are anomalies with any theory that cannot be totally incorporated sufficiently into the theory itself, the overall theory seems better to them than the alternatives. All theories have anomalies to them, it seems, so we simply choose which one has the least amount of anomalies. We do so based upon a non reducible personal element based upon Baysian background factors.

Why I don’t think these people are correct is because their theories do not adequately explain all of the evidence, to be sure. But the explanation of the available evidence is that which justifies seeing the evidence from a certain perspective, and that’s where the debate fundamentally takes place.

Evan said...

My apologies for the broken link above.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan you said ~ “For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.”

I understand what you’re trying to get at here but that’s not true. There are MANY rational arguments that are not universally accepted. The Life, Liberty and Pursuit of happiness is not a universally accepted concept but it yet exists. There are many things that exist without the whole of mankind’s knowledge or a nuiversal thread of agreement for it's existence. The very nature of science exists to discover what’s currently unknown. That that is unknown cannot be universally agreed upon by anyone, but yet disoceries happen because they exist. So there is a flaw with this type of thinking and I can now see why your interpretives so unbalanced and will not allow you to see or understand Christ and religion in general. That's quite revealing.

Evan~ “So you are agreeing that Tacitus could be manipulated to put things in his Annals that were there to serve the political agenda of his informants and he did not personally evaluate what he put in the Annals by any critical method?”

I’ve noticed that Tim hasn’t made that agreement or even hinted that even though try and try you do to make him or ANYONE agree with you. All of this comes from another fatal flaw of reasoning…that flaw BEGINS with the PRESUPPOSITION that Jesus is a myth…Tim has adequately put down that argument but yet you persist…

I don't know what you do but I would imagine YOU’RE probably in the wrong industry. I’ve got a sales job for you, because I know with your persistence you’ll MAKE MILLIONS. Evan, I’m convinced, you’re the ONLY person I know of that will sell A LAKE that hasn’t been dug out, to vacationers in the middle of the dessert on a 120 degree day…You’re amazing.

Evan~ “Again I believe Christianity is a myth. I think spending time reading apologists is a waste of time. I know you don't and you spend a lot of time doing it. I personally believe that the evidence for first century gospels is paper thin, and that the evidence that whatever existed in the first century is knowable to people today is demonstrably false…
But I am not alone. A sizable number of New Testament scholars place Mark as the first gospel written and agree that the authorship of Mark was NOT Mark the companion of Peter.”

Now the REAL comes out…and at least we got something to work with. Not only do you believe the worst scholarship available to mankind but you also WILL NOT RESEARCH for the TRUTH. You simply want to know enough to confirm your faulted opinions and lies that you fall for hook, line and sinker.

Well given that and since you don't read to follow evidence or really want to know the truth, then we must at least continue to let the reader know that you're off base.

The first place your absurd assertions break down is in the FACT that Jesus lived. Look,

James Tabor (Skeptic) – “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus execution by Roman Crucifixion he was truly dead” – Tabor ‘Jesus Dynasty’ 230

Gerd Ludemann (Atheist) and Bart Ehrman (Agnostic Extrodinarre) have called the crucifixion an indisputable fact…

Tacticus (who you’ve talked about here) says that Jesus suffered the extreme penalty (crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius, under Pontius Pilate.

Josephus reports that Pilate condemned him (Jesus) to be crucified. In fact the writing of Josephus practically gives Jesus entire ministry history.

Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirist, mentions Jesus’ crucifixion and further DOES NOT question that he existed (It was COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT HE DID)

Mara Bar-Serapion who was a pagan CONFIRMS that Jesus was executed
The Jewish Talmud reports that Jesus was “Hanged on a tree” CRUCIFIED

If he was crucified as REPORTED in both Biblical records and secular records in the time appropriately laid out time frames he was a REAL person…Crucifixion WAS NOT for make believe people or MYTHS. Paul in the biblical record and writing to the Corinthians as early as 55 AD confirms that Jesus DIED, was buried and RAISED AGAIN from the grave on the third day (I Cor. 15:3-7)

We have multiple witness both secular and religious written early attributing the events to the correct and proper time frame and not conflicting in the events themselves, and most importantly we have credible witnesses and in every case witnesses who have nothing to gain from reporting the events that they do…

Compare that to Alexander the Great who’s 2 BEST historical sources weren’t written until 400 years AFTER his life and Caesar Agustus arguably Rome’s greatest Emporer, generally has 5 resources that document his childhood, a brief funeral inscription written between 50 and 100 years AFTER his death and 3 sources written between 100 and 200 years AFTER he died.

Although there is worse evidence for both Alexander's and Agustus's existence, NO REASONABLE PERSON assumes their lives to be mythic or a myth.

What kinda TRIP are you on? R U on Meth?

Then you say this JUNK: “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century. Nero is reported to have blamed them for burning down Rome, but that was what he charged them with, not believing in Christ. To imagine that first century Christians faced empire-wide persecution suggests a real paucity of data on your part which sort of surprises me. Am I once again ill-informed? Was there an empire-wide first century persecution? The first empire wide persecution I can find was a perfunctory one under Maximian late in the 2nd century. So I think you miss the mark here, but I'm happy to be shown what facts I was unaware of.”

If it weren’t for the fact that HISTORY overturns your arguments I guess you could do what you’re trying to do…REVISE HISTORY for your anti-Christ benefit…but although there are many to choose from, just a couple examples refutes this garbage…

The letter of Mara bar Serapion who wrote his son from a Roman prison referring to the destruction that had come upon the Jews in 70 AD because of how they killed their “wise king”.

Suetonius reported in 120 AD in his 5th volume of ‘The Lives of the Ceasars’ that in 49 AD Claudius expelled the Christians from Rome because they “were always making disturbances because of the instigator Chrestus” (Chrestus indicating Christ which indicates Jesus. The link comes from Tacitus writings in which he refers to ‘Christus’ when speaking about Jesus being crucified under.) This story aslso confirmed by the HISTORICAL record of Luke in Acts 18:2.

The sentiment was against Christians and Jesus followers for years beyond the events of 70AD.

Even Pliny the Younger confirms this same sentiment in his writings and testimony in 110 AD.

Look...at this point, rather than refute your SILLY assertions line by line, it would probably be fair to say that you don’t believe that the HOLOCAUST happened either. DO YOU?

…(Your silliness and ridiculous assertions can wear a reasonable person out) I’ll leave you with this, because I’ll be getting ready for a BEAUTIFUL RESURRECTION SUNDAY services…

Yesterday, my wife and daughter came home saying that it was raining mud. I had just washed the car and it was sunshine when they left. I initially assumed that they were trying to cover-up for following a truck too close or parking under a tree or something like that…Then I began to think…1) What reason would they have to lie? 2) Are they normally credible when telling me what happened? 3) Did this happen recently or was it something I had to find out later and then questioned them about it? 4) My wife also gave me the testimony of her niece that had called her with the same experience…I INTENTIONALLY did not go to the car to see it for myself, but after considering the sources, circumstances, and events reported I came to the conclusion that their report was true .

I had received credible testimony within a reasonable time frame from various sources and I couldn’t deny the possibility that they were correct. I accepted it. About a half hour the NEWS reported that a MYSTERIOUS rainfall had taken place in our city and DIRT or MUD filled rain had fallen…The initial source was believed to be as far away as Oklahoma or even New Mexico.

My wife reported what she KNEW even though she didn’t know the reasons or motivations for what happened. REGARDLESS the report was accurate. I used the best techniques available to confirm the actual situation and I WAS CORRECT. I could have denied her account all day long and would have been made to be a FOOL and complete IDIOT…A word to the wise is in order Dr. Evan.

By the way here’s the link to our local paper www.pjstar.com it was front page news for us here locally. 8/22/08.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

John~ You follow the SAME pathetic path as Evan...You ONLY want to affirm your belief and anti-Christ dogma. You ARE NOT OBJECTIVE and certainly DO NOT follow the evidence trail.

Evidence DIDN'T lead you away from Christianity, YOU led you to that. The evidence is OVERWHELMING in favor of Christianity and the Christ of the bible who was not only a historical person, but lived, died and ROSE AGAIN. Your whole commentary has been absurd.

You further suggest this~ "But she was raised to believe! She put on her “God glasses.” She believes because of when and where she was born. I think you really do not fully grasp that what children start out believing is based upon what their family tells them."

TOTALLY, TOTALLY TOTALLY FALSE AND a Flat our Presuppotion that neither you or any of your anti-Christ buddies can prove.

I was NOT RAISED in a Christian home. We did NOT go to church...The gospel WAS NOT preached in my home... When I was 17 and heard the Gospel on my own, I BELIEVED...Not because of Mamma or Daddy...but because God's WORD was TRUE. I's since learned why it was true but to say that I was encouraged to believe it...You're ABSOLUTELY in a paranoid delusion.

Further, I know hiundrds of people all across the country with similar experience as mine...They were raised in Dodless environments and CHOSE Christ when they hraed the TRUTH. So your whole understanding is ONLY an excuse fro your sins...

As I said...You and your anti-Christ buddies on this site have proven to be the LEAST EVIDENCE ORIENTED people I've EVER come across...You twist history on points that were argued and put down hundreds of years before you were even born and yet you think you offer some new truth or value...That is a mental problem...Is that in your genome?

I'm out!

Happy RESURRECTION SUNDAY!
Jesus Lives and reigns!

Evan said...

DSHB, thanks for chiming in and giving an assist to Tim. He's been shouldering a fatiguing burden and it's good to have someone else to bounce things off of. Also thanks for the kind words about my ability to make it in sales if my day gig falls apart. It's heartening in this economy to know I have a marketable skill.

To start with I said:

For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.

You replied:

I understand what you’re trying to get at here but that’s not true. There are MANY rational arguments that are not universally accepted. The Life, Liberty and Pursuit of happiness is not a universally accepted concept but it yet exists.

Really I can't quite get what you're talking about here. Life is undeniable and again, I doubt there's anyone who can vouch for its lack of existence. It is pretty much the ground substance for debate to take place. Liberty to varying degrees is again undeniable. I know of nobody who thinks people have no liberty at all to make some choices however minor they may be. Again with the pursuit of happiness, there may be restrictions placed on it by circumstance but it seems to be present in all beings.

If you mean the "rights" to those things then, yes, you're in a more sticky wicket there. Of course I can't quite tell if that's what you mean or not, but history shows pretty conclusively that if there is a right to life, it is exercised as often in the breach as in the keeping.

You continued:

There are many things that exist without the whole of mankind’s knowledge or a nuiversal thread of agreement for it's existence. The very nature of science exists to discover what’s currently unknown.

In this you are correct. But look at the method a scientist follows to derive evidence. He performs an experiment, and then repeats it (often hundreds of times), and then publishes what he did exactly so that others in other laboratories can repeat exactly what he did to see if they get the same results.

If another laboratory finds different results, this is argued over and can adversely effect the reputation for truth that the initial publisher had. No fact from experiment is considered dispositive until several labs that are independent have confirmed the finding.

Even in this case, the finding is considered only tentatively correct and may need to be discarded if further experiment show it to be untrue.

Thus, if some laboratory today ran experiments that disagreed with the findings expected by quantum theory, and other labs did the same experiments and got the same results, more labs would repeat it. If the results disagreed with the theory, it would need to be adjusted to be brought in line with that evidence.

What you never see is someone saying that multiple independent labs doing identical experiments and getting identical results proves beyond a doubt that a given theory is true. It only shows that it is consistent with the results, and if further results show the theory to be false or incomplete it is revised. Data comes first.

There is no data on the supernatural. There are only stories. None of the stories of the supernatural that have happened in the last century (that has seen the largest population of humans the earth has ever seen) when investigated by skeptics have shown any observable phenomena that are not explainable by naturalistic explanations.

I live in Las Vegas. I assure you if there were people with ESP, they would be winning at poker or blackjack. I assure you that if there were psychics, they would pick sports results with greater accuracy than the population. I assure you that if there were telekinetics they would play roulette. So the existence of this city disproves most of that sort of hokum to begin with.

However there are many phenomena that are widely believed but that don't stand up to critical scrutiny. Clever Hans, ghosts, phrenology, prayer for the sick, Uri Geller, dowsing, and many other supernatural claims fail when analyzed. So on the one hand you have natural science, which is supposed to be scrupulous when it comes to verification, and on the other hand you have the supernatural, which has never been verified. That there's any trouble picking between these two surprises me, but luckily it's a free country and we can still be friends.

You go on:

That that is unknown cannot be universally agreed upon by anyone, but yet disoceries happen because they exist. So there is a flaw with this type of thinking and I can now see why your interpretives so unbalanced and will not allow you to see or understand Christ and religion in general. That's quite revealing.

I agree completely that the unknown is not universally agreed on. But I fail to see any flaw in that statement, or any lack of balance in it. You either believe that there are things that go bump in the night, or you leave them in childhood where they belong. I can't imagine you spend your life in fear of ghosts and goblins, Harvey, nor that you would see it as a positive, life-affirming step if people started believing in Unicorns and Leprechauns.

I said:

So you are agreeing that Tacitus could be manipulated to put things in his Annals that were there to serve the political agenda of his informants and he did not personally evaluate what he put in the Annals by any critical method?

And you responded:

I’ve noticed that Tim hasn’t made that agreement or even hinted that ...

Did you read through the whole thing Harvey? It is really long, but Tim does say the following:

Douglas is not saying that Tacitus was trying to put down Christianity. He is saying that Vespasians flatterers were trying to put down Christianity by mimicking a miracle ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels.

He is saying here, I believe, that Tacitus put into the annals an anecdote he did not believe to be true, and was making a sarcastic gibe at the emperor. If you agree that Tacitus will do such a thing, you are admitting that his veracity can be questionable given the proper political motive, are you not? This doesn't seem like such a hard point to accept.

You then continue:

... even though try and try you do to make him or ANYONE agree with you. All of this comes from another fatal flaw of reasoning…that flaw BEGINS with the PRESUPPOSITION that Jesus is a myth…Tim has adequately put down that argument but yet you persist…

Harvey let's reason with one another. A child is born. At the moment of birth is she convinced of the truth that Jesus existed?

I assume your answer will be no. If I am wrong -- again our topo-maps of reality are too far apart to even find an edge of contiguity.

So if you assume that child lacks that knowledge at birth, you must then assume that the natural state of life is to have no opinion on the existence or lack thereof of a historical personage until such time as you have the linguistic and thinking skills to investigate such a claim. The child is raised and taught many things that she must believe and finds out later in life that many of them are wrong. Should she simply believe everything she's ever told? Or should she, when investigating ANY new claim, revert to a position of uncertainty?

People are then free to make claims regarding that personage and if she finds them compelling she investigates it herself to find out.

The presupposition is you don't know. If you start with the presupposition that Jesus is real, it is admittedly quite hard to be argued out of that one. But there is no inherent reason for this to be a presupposition that I can imagine.

So of course I persist. I await data that is not better explained by other alternatives.

You praise my sales skills and I again thank you. Then after quoting me about the gospels you say:

Now the REAL comes out…and at least we got something to work with. Not only do you believe the worst scholarship available to mankind but you also WILL NOT RESEARCH for the TRUTH. You simply want to know enough to confirm your faulted opinions and lies that you fall for hook, line and sinker.

Name-call all you want, but all I want is some data. Data don't require books to read to understand them, they can usually be encapsulated in short, declarative sentences. Here's one: There is no first century manuscript copy of a gospel known to man.

You continue:

Well given that and since you don't read to follow evidence or really want to know the truth, then we must at least continue to let the reader know that you're off base.

Harvey I attended religious schools from first grade through post-graduate degree. If you think 20 years of school during which I had mandatory religious education the entire time was not adequate to let me address these issues what percentage of people on earth do you think have adequate training to do so? My father was a PhD and a minister and my brother teaches in a religion department. Do you really suspect I just haven't heard the facts?

Again, in short declarative sentences, truths can be put forward: There is no manuscript record of a Jesus of Nazareth until the 2nd century. There is no archeological proof there was a town of Nazareth extant in 30 CE.

You then try to get down to brass tacks:

The first place your absurd assertions break down is in the FACT that Jesus lived. Look,

James Tabor (Skeptic) – “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus execution by Roman Crucifixion he was truly dead” – Tabor ‘Jesus Dynasty’ 230


Tabor's opinion on this question is just that, his opinion. You adduce no facts to support it.

Gerd Ludemann (Atheist) and Bart Ehrman (Agnostic Extrodinarre) have called the crucifixion an indisputable fact…

You're exactly right. Yet they both agree there are no first century pagan references to Jesus. They also agree that the testimonium in Josephus is a later Christian interpolation. So you have exactly one reference to Jesus in non-Christian sources and that is circa 90 CE 60 years after his supposed death.

Tacticus (who you’ve talked about here) says that Jesus suffered the extreme penalty (crucifixion) during the reign of Tiberius, under Pontius Pilate.

But as Tim has wisely shown us here, Tacitus was a victim of his sources frequently, and would make assertions that he intended as sarcasm and not literal truth. How you can assert his importance after reading his claims about Vespasian is a bit beyond me, but there you have it.

Josephus reports that Pilate condemned him (Jesus) to be crucified. In fact the writing of Josephus practically gives Jesus entire ministry history.

I have mentioned Josephus above as a Jewish source. Christians in antiquity do not mention him as a source until the 3rd century CE, even though they have read him. The best explanation for this fact is that the accounts placed in Josephus are additions by later scribes. Do you believe that God inspired Josephus and kept his text pure as well?

Are you aware that Josephus thought that Vespasian was the messiah?

Odd how Vespasian keeps showing up here.

Here's Josephus from Jewish Wars 6.5.4 312-315:

But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle also found in their sacred writings, that:

"At about that time, one from their country would become ruler of the habitable world."

This they took to mean one of their own people, and many of the wise men were misled in their interpretation. This oracle, however, in reality signified the government of Vespasian, who was proclaimed Emperor while in Judea.


So you have Josephus who thought Vespasian was the messiah. You have Tacitus recording miracles later attributed to Jesus as ones performed by Vespasian. Odd, isn't it?

You continue:

Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirist, mentions Jesus’ crucifixion and further DOES NOT question that he existed (It was COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT HE DID)

Of course it may have been common knowledge in 145 CE ... nobody disputes that. You're 115 years out and the legend has grown. Does testimony about Paul Bunyan from 1915 prove he existed in 1830?

You go on:

Mara Bar-Serapion who was a pagan CONFIRMS that Jesus was executed
The Jewish Talmud reports that Jesus was “Hanged on a tree” CRUCIFIED


Bar-Serapion (there's Serapis again) does not mention Jesus. Yet you are correct, he may be part of the legendary development of the DSS "teacher of righteousness" and his conflation into later legendary texts. But sorry, Bar Serapion could be talking about anyone, but I think he most likely was talking about someone from the DSS community. He most certainly doesn't mention Jesus.

Here's his actual quote in case anyone wants to read it:

" What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given."

You continue:

If he was crucified as REPORTED in both Biblical records and secular records in the time appropriately laid out time frames he was a REAL person…Crucifixion WAS NOT for make believe people or MYTHS. Paul in the biblical record and writing to the Corinthians as early as 55 AD confirms that Jesus DIED, was buried and RAISED AGAIN from the grave on the third day (I Cor. 15:3-7)

Right. If you can't be correct in your premises, you can't be correct in your conclusions. I've stated my objections to your premises.

You continue:

We have multiple witness both secular and religious written early attributing the events to the correct and proper time frame and not conflicting in the events themselves, and most importantly we have credible witnesses and in every case witnesses who have nothing to gain from reporting the events that they do…

Words apologists think were written about Jesus during his lifetime: 0

Words apologists think were written about Jesus during the twenty years following his crucifixion: 0

Words written by apologists explaining this fact: Too numerous to count.

Harvey there's nothing there to hang your hat on. 20 years alone is a LONG time for things to get wrong, as we see by the variation in the gospels. There are better explanations for the data than you presuppose, but again, you presuppose facts not in evidence and this gives us little framework for discussion.

Compare that to Alexander the Great who’s 2 BEST historical sources weren’t written until 400 years AFTER his life ...

Oh this is rich. Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle, who was taught by Plato. Do you think Aristotle and Plato are mythical too? Be my guest. Plato's arguments are as strong whether he existed or not, as are Aristotle's. We have many images of Alexander created near his lifetime and we are aware of 20 books written about him during his lifetime (which I agree we have since lost). But all of that is immaterial, since nothing hinges on whether Alexander existed or not, yet you think people can only be saved by believing Jesus was real (what an odd way to be saved by the way). By the way, he left coins.

You next move to:

... Caesar Agustus arguably Rome’s greatest Emporer, generally has 5 resources that document his childhood, a brief funeral inscription written between 50 and 100 years AFTER his death and 3 sources written between 100 and 200 years AFTER he died.

As well as coins he minted. And buildings he had constructed. And did I mention the coins?

Although there is worse evidence for both Alexander's and Agustus's existence,

If you ignore the coins.

NO REASONABLE PERSON

who has seen the coins

assumes their lives to be mythic or a myth

What kinda TRIP are you on? R U on Meth?


I guess man. I just keep seeing these coins, it's really beautiful.

You quoted me regarding first century persecutions (a little unkindly) and responded:

If it weren’t for the fact that HISTORY overturns your arguments I guess you could do what you’re trying to do…REVISE HISTORY for your anti-Christ benefit…but although there are many to choose from, just a couple examples refutes this garbage…

The letter of Mara bar Serapion who wrote his son from a Roman prison referring to the destruction that had come upon the Jews in 70 AD because of how they killed their “wise king”.


I've dealt with that above. Readers can judge for themselves. It is either a reference to Jesus or it's not. If it is a reference to Jesus, it's hardly evidence for a later persecution of Christians. Which do you think it is Harvey?

Suetonius reported in 120 AD in his 5th volume of ‘The Lives of the Ceasars’ that in 49 AD Claudius expelled the Christians from Rome because

Harvey if I didn't know better I'd say you were trying to shade the truth here. As I am sure you are aware, Suetonius says no such thing. Here's what he says for people to read:

Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.

As you can see he's talking about Jews in ROME. They are making trouble at the INSTIGATION of Chrestus. So if you think that Jesus of Nazareth was in Rome during the reign of Cluadius -- you have a new theory I'd love to hear. If you think he wasn't, this doesn't really help. It especially doesn't help when you know that the Greek for Messiah is Christ. How do you know this wasn't a "false Christ" that Paul was always warning about?

Luke was not written by an eyewitness and our earliest manuscripts have been changed. Tacitus has already been shown to write things as true that he doesn't believe above.

The sentiment was against Christians and Jesus followers for years beyond the events of 70AD.

If it was you haven't shown it. There was a sentiment against Jews around 70 CE, of that I'm sure. And Josephus thought Vespasian was the Messiah. How this helps you I don't know.

Even Pliny the Younger confirms this same sentiment in his writings and testimony in 110 AD.

Pliny confirms there were Christians in the empire at that time. This says nothing about the history of Palestine in 30 CE.

Look...at this point, rather than refute your SILLY assertions line by line, ...

I'm having a blast doing it to you.

... it would probably be fair to say that you don’t believe that the HOLOCAUST happened either. DO YOU?

Of course I do, and this is a step short of Godwin's law, but I'll let it go as I did do the donkey talk thing earlier. There are eyewitnesses who wrote books at the time this was taking place. There is film. There were trials with transcripts taken directly after the events discussed. If you are willing to show me that for Jesus, I'm all ears.

…(Your silliness and ridiculous assertions can wear a reasonable person out) I’ll leave you with this, because I’ll be getting ready for a BEAUTIFUL RESURRECTION SUNDAY services…

You enjoy your celebration of pagan fertility Gods!

Then you seemed to postscript this in, and I'm not sure why:

Yesterday, my wife and daughter came home saying that it was raining mud. ....here’s the link to our local paper www.pjstar.com it was front page news for us here locally. 8/22/08.

Yes, and if someone said it was raining mud, I'd have no problem with it because I could look outside and check, or go the paper. Are you seriously suggesting that raining mud which could be formed by water and dust is equivalent to raining blood?

Tim said...

Evan,

You write:

For a category of events to be considered rational then, there must be at least one universally accepted instance of it having existed at some time.

You replied:

[Tim:] Well that’s hopeless: nothing meets that standard, since you can always find some kooks who will look into anything and disagree with the reasonable folks.

Wow. I can think of absolutely oodles of things that meet that standard. Chickens have existed. Corpses have existed. Trees have existed. It has rained, it has thundered, there have been lightning storms. I could go on ...


I take it you’ve never spent much time talking to people in a psychiatric home.

[Tim:] It is curious, though, that your standard involves depending on a consensus rather than looking at evidence.

[Evan:] No, my standard involves finding agreed-upon phenomena as the points over which one can dispute.


Is there some heavy distinction here between my term “consensus” and your term “agreed upon”?

[Evan:] The evidence is always primary, and as I pointed out -- if you could evince a single supernatural event that was more likely to be supernatural than any other explanation -- and if this event was agreed upon by all skeptics who had examined it, then it WOULD be logical to allow your explanation.

Let’s stipulate for the sake of the argument that this would be a sufficient condition. Why should it be a necessary one?

[Evan:] The category of the supernatural has many epistemic concerns, as I'm sure you are aware from reading Hume and Kant. It is arguable in fact, that it is an oxymoron, as anything knowable would by definition be natural -- but this is not the place for such a discussion.

Neither Hume nor Kant is so foolish as to make that claim.

[Evan:] You then point out that Tacitus's informants are trying to put down Christianity by making fun of Vespasian, something I think is not clearly in the text and may be argued over by scholars.

I replied:

I see this as a distinction without a difference.

You replied:

[Tim:] You can’t see the difference between a claim about Tacitus’s intentions and a claim about the intentions of the people Tacitus is using as a source!?

[Evan:] So you are agreeing that Tacitus could be manipulated to put things in his Annals that were there to serve the political agenda of his informants and he did not personally evaluate what he put in the Annals by any critical method? Or are you suggesting that Tacitus wrote his histories as wry sarcastic gibes at the imperial family?


First things first: you said it was a distinction without a difference, yet obviously there is a very clear difference here. As for your subsequent question, admitting that there is a difference, I see Tacitus as reporting a story of an event that he didn’t doubt transpired but disbelieving that a genuine miracle had taken place.

[Evan:] I then suggested:

There is no suggestion that any of the writers of the gospels had firsthand knowledge of the events depicted in them.

You respond:

[Tim:] This claim is nonsense. There is lots of evidence that the gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony. Have a look at Bauckham’s book.

[Evan:] Again I believe Christianity is a myth. I think spending time reading apologists is a waste of time.I know you don't and you spend a lot of time doing it. I personally believe that the evidence for first century gospels is paper thin, and that the evidence that whatever existed in the first century is knowable to people today is demonstrably false.


So you don’t know and don’t want to know what the Christians have to say for themselves, because your mind is already made up. Well, that’ll make quick work of any opinion you don’t hold, won’t it?

Bauckham, incidentally, is hardly an “apologist” even on the model of Craig: he is a Cambridge Ph. D. who teaches at St. Andrews.

[Evan:] But I am not alone. A sizable number of New Testament scholars place Mark as the first gospel written and agree that the authorship of Mark was NOT Mark the companion of Peter.

No question that you’re right about those scholars. So we would have to examine their arguments and, in particular, to see whether at any point those arguments assume an unargued and question-begging anti-supernaturalism.

The text of the gospel does not specify an author.

See Hengel on this.

The first manuscripts we have are from the 4th century.

Untrue. Even setting aside the controversial Qumran fragment 7Q5, Mark appears in the Chester Beatty manuscript p45, which contains portions of all four gospels and Acts and is dated to the early to mid 200s.

There is simply no way to know what the first century text said. There is simply no ability for a modern person to have any certainty regarding the gospel accounts and their accuracy.

This is complete nonsense. The very fact that we have numerous texts in multiple languages that we can sort into text families and cross-compare allows us to reconstruct the original text of Mark with a very high degree of confidence. Such textual comparisons turn up the fact that the ending of Mark in the majority text is missing in the oldest manuscripts, and for that reason it is plausibly taken to be a later addition. This is the only passage of any substantial length that is in question as far as the text of Mark is concerned, as you can verify for yourself by looking at a copy of Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

[Evan:] Consider William Shakespeare. How much was known in detail about him in 1820? Do we trust all the writings that we have from 1820 regarding Shakespeare as perfect evidence never to be doubted?

Who said “perfect” and “never to be doubted”? Not I. But of course in 1820 they knew an awful lot about Shakespeare that has not been overturned by the passage of time, as the valuable works of Tyrwhitt (1766), Ritson (1792), and Drake (1817) demonstrate.

[Evan:] Therefore the motives of the primary storytellers are suspect in each case as they had an agenda to put forward.

And you replied:

[Tim:] Who would be the primary storytellers here? If you’re referring to Tacitus’s sources, why think a thing like that? Simpler to assume they really saw the whole production being carried off but to back up the question one level and ask what was really going on.

[Evan:] All that we have are stories Tim. So the primary storytellers are whoever told the story first. Again, if you agree that ulterior motives make healing narratives unlikely, that acid dissolves the gospels as effectively as it does Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn.


Or it will, provided that you can give even a plausible case that they had ulterior motives for writing these things.

[Evan:] You then confirm my beliefs re: Vespasian.

[Tim:] It isn’t at all clear that the people who were Tacitus’s sources gained anything from Vespasian, though it probably didn’t hurt their local reputation either, since the Serapis cult was the dominant religion in Alexandria.

I then stated:

[Evan:] Those who were flattering the Christ-cult were doing so to gain favor within that cult.

And you replied:

[Tim:] ... and get crucified or thrown to the lions for their pains? Ah, right.

[Evan:] There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.


What would we expect for the proponents of a new religion that told the Jews they had crucified their messiah and the Romans that the deities in their pantheon were frauds – housewarming parties? Does Paul say in Philippians 3:6 that he was a persecutor of the church? We’ll find some way to reinterpret that: maybe he just means that he was playing the music on his ice-cream truck really loud as he drove down the road to Damascus. Does Paul speak to the Thessalonians of afflictions and strive to strengthen their faith? Well, explain that away as a severe outbreak of chicken-pox or something. Does Josephus give us a vivid picture of the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus? Must’ve been a Christian interpolation, and never mind the fact that the story, with the juicy details Josephus gives about Ananus and Albinus, somehow didn’t find its way into the New Testament. Does the book of Acts give us a detailed, believable, independently verifiable account of Paul’s journeys across the empire spreading the gospel? Well, just because we can verify dozens of details in the narrative doesn’t mean that we have to believe the one thing that is repeated over and over, which is also the one thing we could have predicted even without direct evidence – that the earliest Christians were frequently persecuted.

Whether it was “empire-wide” is not the issue; whether it was always at the hands of the Romans or often at the hands of the Jews is not the issue: what matters is whether it was recurring and severe.

Am I once again ill-informed?

It could very well be.

Was there an empire-wide first century persecution?

I didn’t say that – nor is it necessary to falsify your claim that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century” and that “any Christians in the empire living anywhere but in Rome (even those in Rome except directly after Nero's fire) practiced their religion without persecution from the state.”

But there may have been at least fairly widespread persecution of Christians under Domitian, as Irenaeus says there was and as the opening verses of 1 Clement are generally taken to suggest. Compare Pliny’s treatment of those who denied they were Christians with the language used by Juventius Celsus to clear himself from a charge of conspiracy, addressing Domitian as “lord and god” (Dio Cassius 67.13). For a review of the evidence, see Paul Keresztes, “The Jews, the Christians, and the Emperor Domitian,” Vigiliae Christianae 27 (1973): 1-28.

[Evan:] I then asked:

Also, are you suggesting that Tacitus is in some way gullible?

[Tim:] How many times do I have to point out to you that Tacitus doesn’t believe it himself – complete with references to Campbell, pp. 164-5, which presumably you read the first time, where this very point is made painfully clearly – before you will stop trying to make silly suggestions like this? I can understand your not reading Campbell the first time ’round, but also not reading what I wrote and not checking out the explicit page reference ... well, Evan, that’s the sort of carelessness that makes it a chore for people to interact with you.

[Evan:] Again I deeply apologize but I wanted to be sure what you are saying. You are saying that Tacitus reports on events that he himself believes to be fakes. Things that he has no actual belief in. This is good for me to know. In the past I had seen you rely on Tacitus for his good sense and ability to accurately report early 1st century Palestinian events. It is good to see you view him critically and I wish I had known it sooner.


Tacitus clearly believes that the event took place but pretty clearly disbelieves that it was miraculous.

[Evan:] I said:

... and I'm sure you are aware that Mark is not quoted by any church father until the 2nd century is well under way.

You said:

[Tim:] Which is not surprising, from a historical point of view, as there are very few writings of any church father before the 2nd century. I would have to look at 1 Clement to see whether he shows knowledge of Mark.

[Evan:] First, I'm glad to know there are a few things you don't know off hand, discussing things with such a polymath can be taxing.


I know irony when I see it, Evan.

I was under the impression from the 800 lb. Gorilla thread that you were familiar with Doherty.

Not much. In that thread, I expressly said that I had looked at only some of Doherty’s material and that my primary familiarity was with Wells’s material and that of earlier mythers from Volney onward.

[Evan:] If you have read him, you are aware that Clement doesn't mention the gospels, nor do Didache, Ignatius, Barnabas and 2nd Peter, as well as the pastoral Epistles.

Well, now, does he say that? How interesting.

Does Doherty also mention that Ignatius quotes from Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians? Does he mention that Polycarp quotes from all of the synoptic gospels, Acts, Romans, both Corinthian epistles, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, both of the epistles to the Thessalonians, both of the epistles to Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 and 3 John?

Does he mention that 1 Clement 13:2 contains a recapitulation of the Beatitudes, paralleling Matthew 5 and Luke 6, introduced with the words, “...remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering: ...”?

Does he mention that in 1 Clement 46:8 we find a similar reference to “the words of Jesus our Lord” followed by a recapitulation of the saying in Matthew 26:24 (cf. Luke 17:1-2)?

Does he mention that 1 Clement 47 opens with the injunction to “Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle” and continues with a description of 1 Corinthians1:10 ff?

How very, very interesting.

[Evan:] So I think it is odd that you believe Tacitus was aware of Mark's Gospel ...

Not only have I never said that Tacitus was aware of Mark’s gospel, I disbelieve it, and I cannot imagine what I have said that could have given rise to this idea on your part.

...when all those Christian writings weren't aware of him, since they never quote his gospel, but I'm sure there are very good reasons for this.

If you have represented his claim accurately, I think you need to consider getting your information regarding early Christian writings from some source other than Earl Doherty.

[Evan:] I then said:

You require additional evidence to place Mark in Alexandria before the destruction of the temple than what I see here.

[Tim:] Could be that you haven’t read the Eusebius? There is an old, multiply-attested tradition that Mark published his gospel in Alexandria after leaving Rome. It isn’t conclusive, but it is certainly evidence.

[Evan:] Yes, Eusebius is not conclusive. Eusebius had Constantine to please. If you think that pleasing Vespasian was reason enough to affirm things not held to be true, you must agree that pleasing Constantine would also give one an ulterior motive. I'm really hoping you can see the direct parallel here.


So your suggestion is that Eusebius, and Jerome, and Epiphanius, all just made up this story about the publication of Mark’s gospel because in Alexandria it somehow redounded to the glory of Constantine? There are a lot of steps missing here.

[Evan:] I followed up by saying:

If I am too stubborn to go read Huidekoper I hope you will allow me to trust you have encapsulated his data adequately above.

And you retorted:

You lose: time to do your own homework.

And I really do lose. Since I'm convinced Mark can't be dated before the destruction of the temple from multiple lines of evidence and don't care to look for any more unless I have data that suggest my belief is wrong. I am hoping that your orneriness is hiding a lack of data, but I could be wrong.


I guess you do.

Suffice it to say that an early provable date for Mark would be interesting, but evidence that he wrote in Alexandria seems quite laughable given his Latinisms.

You don’t suppose anyone who had firsthand acquaintance with Roman occupation of Palestine could pick up words like “denarius” and “legion,” do you? Or is your position that if someone did acquire such words, he couldn’t write a document using them and then go make copies of it in Alexandria? If there is an argument here, I’m missing it.

[Evan:] I let you know:

If there is additional non-speculative data regarding the dating of Mark that is not well known I am of course open to it.

And you quipped:

[Tim:] Given your extreme reluctance to look up anything for yourself, this expression of openness is not very credible.

Good thing I have a thick skin (as do you).


Yup.

You defied me to:

[Tim:] ... find a canonical statement of all of Craig’s criteria, won’t you? Otherwise, this is pretty much useless.

[Evan] I have of course encountered Dr. Craig's arguments. They are encapsulated at that link I believe.


No, actually, that is just a link to a transcript of an oral debate in which each side had severe time constraints. It would be a serious mistake to assume that under those conditions you were getting anything like a full-scale presentation of his argument.

He recites as if it were a litany that Jesus' resurrection is multiply attested in independent sources. Is there some other criteria he's ever adduced? I sure don't see it from the link you gave me.

Nobody here has thought to educate me regarding any additional criteria Dr. Craig has, yourself included. Therefore, if I am wrong, and Dr. Craig has more criteria than he brings forward in debates, the man is a paragon, holding one arm behind his back when he does battle. This is certainly an interesting trick and I may very well be suckered by it, but I doubt it.


You might try reading his 677 page doctoral dissertation on The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist Controversy. This is rather expensive, so I would suggest interlibrary loan. Oh, wait, I forgot – your mind is made up, so you don’t read the books of Christian apologists.

[Evan:] I argued you had a double standard and you took offense:

[Tim:] This sort of arrant misrepresentation is another clue that you’re not interested in discovering the truth. It doesn’t sound clever, Evan; it just sounds childish.

[Evan:] But I don't see how you can argue you don't have a double standard. You easily dismiss the multiply attested independently sourced miracles from Vespasian due to concerns about possible naturalistic explanations with greater explanatory power, source verifiability, ulterior motive, and inability to know the author's intent. Yet your skepticism flies out the window when it comes to the gospels.

I'm sure you have a double standard because of this, pique notwithstanding, unless you can generalize a principle that someone less erudite than yourself might use to differentiate a similar case, say if there were multiple independent accounts of Julius Caesar's ghost taking flight on the wings of an eagle out of his pyre and then him reappearing to his troops 20 days later (I made that up).


Let’s see.

Vespasian’s healings are reported to have taken place by eyewitnesses who had nothing to lose, and perhaps a little local fame to gain, by reporting them.

Jesus’ resurrection is reported by eyewitnesses who have their religion, their way of life, and their lives to lose by reporting them.

We don’t have Tacitus’s sources, and we have no information about their motives; we need not, however, attribute anything to them beyond a willingness to take a charade worked out to the benefit of the local deity at face value.

We actually have the gospel sources, and we have both internal statements of their purposes and old tradition, going back to those whose lifetimes overlapped those of the apostles, regarding their purposes.

Naturalistic explanations for healing a blind man who, according to the report, isn’t quite blind, and a lame man who, according to the report, isn’t quite lame, start right up front with the suggestion that the blind man wasn’t blind and the lame man wasn’t lame.

Naturalistic explanations for the resurrection of a man killed by Roman crucifixion ... don’t measure up.

Naturalistic explanations for why someone would pretend to be blind or lame in order to flatter the presumptive emperor, who is a known sucker for oracles and omens, in the first city in Egypt to line up behind his imperial aspirations, start with the expectation of a little cash and local fame.

Naturalistic explanations for why someone would try to get crucified by the Romans in order to ... oh, good grief.

[Evan] You then scolded me for not being a Craig scholar and criticizing him by saying:

[Tim:] Let’s see. You want to cast this post as a critique of Craig. But you haven’t read anything by him prior to writing it.

Yes, I have heard him (and others) say ad nauseam that multiply attested independent accounts of miracles made the miracles more likely than alternative explanations. Read his debate with Ehrman (which I have read and heard). Listen to his debate with Hector Avalos. I don't have to read the man to know he is like a broken record with this thing.

But I find nothing in his writings available to me that suggest he ever addresses this issue.


Then you definitely have to look up his dissertation.

Also, your inability to quickly dispose of this suggests that you (having read him) also can't do so.

Actually, I have only a few of his works, and my collection does not include Reasonable Faith. Debates are not in general a good place to find detailed discussions, and the most detailed work of living authors is not generally available online.

Still, one can always scrounge around for a few cluse. Here, for example, you can find what looks like the transcript of a talk Craig gave in which he talks about criteria other than sheer multiple attestation, including temporal proximity to the event, lack of characteristics of folk lore in the gospel accounts, the nature of the Jewish tradition of transmission of sacred teaching, the restraining influence of the actual presence of the apostles and other eyewitnesses on the development of legend, and the proven track record of historical accuracy in the gospels.

[Evan:] Therefore I think I am correct in asserting his position. You've had a long thread here to correct me if I'm wrong. If you didn't before now, can you see how I might be justified in thinking my attestation was accurate.

No, I can’t. I have made no pretense to being an expert on Dr. Craig’s writings; most of my own views have developed independently of my reading of any of his works, though I am naturally pleased to find that on many issues we have come to nearly the same position.

[Evan:] To quote Dr. Craig himself from "Reasonable Faith":

[Craig:] Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.

[Evan:] Therefore, Dr. Craig believes before he analyzes data, and thinks his primary purpose is not objective analysis of evidence, but apologetic efficacy. In addition, he asserts the primacy of personal experience, a thread I notice you didn't touch.


Although this is not an approach I would take, I do believe that you are misrepresenting him. See his comments in his initial contribution to Five Views on Apologetics, where he makes it plain that as far as showing Christianity to be true, the historical evidence has the primary role.

[Tim:] Then you persist in misrepresenting what I said. ... I referred you to Craig's article as evidence that he is familiar with the attempt to use the Vespasian case as a parallel to the gospel accounts. That is why I said:

Craig is of course familiar with Hume’s use of the Vespasian parallel ...

And now here you are you’re repeating it. Good grief.

If it is your mission to persuade anyone who does not already agree with you that you are either (a) terminally obtuse or else (b) so wrapped up in the fantasy of scoring points on an apologist whose works, by your own admission, you have not read that you are not serious about getting at the truth of any of these matters, this sort of repeated complaint that ignores what people actually say is a good way to do it.

[Evan:] Tim I'm really sorry but that page doesn't have what you think it does.


Evan, what part of “is familiar with” don’t you understand? What is there about the distinction between “is familiar with” and “discusses here in detail” that makes you keep conflating them and then complaining that a reference that shows that Craig is familiar with the use of the Vespasian example, which is what I said it showed, isn’t also a reference in which he discusses it in detail? The passage on that page shows that Craig knows about the Vespasian example. I said that it shows that Craig knows about the Vespasian example. How can you possible still maintain that it doesn’t say what I think it says?

[Evan:] I quoted his response already above and his response is weak. Nobody has to fight over this, everyone can read it for themselves and see that Craig never specifically addresses the issues I am addressing here, namely that Vespasian's miracle is multiply attested and independently sourced. The fact that the two sources are ones apologists fall all over themselves to promote when it helps to establish a historical Jesus is even more remarkable, but you again prove my point here. You admit of no general principle and I thought we were pretty much done with that part of the discussion and had moved on.

If there is no general principle, you hold to a double standard if you agree Tacitus and Suetonius are accurate regarding their very limited references to Christ, yet they are highly suspect when it comes to this story regarding Vespasian. I hope I am in no way misleading anyone and if anyone has any doubts about my position they are free to query me further.


See above.

[Tim:] On, now, to your attempt to make a case against the resurrection, which I mistook for an attempt to explicate Campbell and Douglas – obviously I got you wrong, for which I apologize.

[Evan:] Happens to everyone and there's no need for an apology. My clumsy wording is much more to blame I am sure than any misapprehension on your part.

You resume your argument in favor of the resurrection here:

[Tim:] I am familiar with Mackay’s book – entertaining reading, commonly cited in the skeptical literature, but containing nothing really parallel to the gospel accounts – and I have read various works, including some modern ones, on crowd psychology and hallucination. The “toxic lady” case, however, was new to me.

[Evan:] Again, I'm pleased there are a few things you can learn about from me, I have certainly not come close to teaching you as much as you have shown me.

I then said:

As I am sure you are aware, there are today in the US church services which take place weekly at which marvelous things are claimed to have taken place. But each skeptical investigation of them yields no necessary supernatural explanation. That this does not give you pause concerns me a bit. If you believe mass hysteria not to be a real phenomenon, perhaps you should read Mackay, ...

And you replied:

[Tim:] As an attempt to create a parallel to the resurrection, this is a non-starter. Show me a gathering of disspirited ex-Christians who have lost their faith and then, suddenly, collectively, maintain in the face of violent persecution that they’ve seen someone physically raised to life, and I’ll be more interested.

[Evan:] I can't quite come that close, but I can come pretty close.


Um, no. Not even remotely close. If this is of serious interest to you, I am willing to go into the numerous dissimilarities.

[Evan:] Then I riposted:

No I suppose it's not, if you consider a book that has a talking snake and a talking donkey authoritative.

After I broke with politeness you chastised me:

[Tim:] What a stunning way to make your own hopeless explanation suddenly look more plausible: pull an irrelevancy out of left field, pin it on your opponent, and hope that your audience will believe that it is somehow pertinent to your case.

[Evan:] It does have the benefit of being something widely believed, however. I know it's a cheap shot if you think that a donkey didn't talk and a snake didn't talk. But you believe people rose from the dead and walked around whereas I rule that out prima facie unless there is extraordinary corroborating evidence. You can understand my frustration if you don't believe the snake or donkey talked. Now if you do believe they talked, we really have reached the point at which we need to move on, since we occupy different topo-maps of reality that can't be reconciled. However, I do apologize, it was poor form and not sporting. Feel free to make one reference to Hitler being an atheist at your leisure.


The problem is that it is irrelevant to the discussion at issue. One can believe in the resurrection with or without believing that Genesis 1 is a literal tale of history and with or without believing that God gave the power of speech to Baalam’s ass. Why sidetrack the discussion like that?

[Evan:] I said:

... Here we have had a misunderstanding. I am applying the criteria that Campbell and Douglas apply to Vespasian's miracle to the reports of the resurrection and you are still talking about Vespasian.

The sources I am referring to are the gospel accounts of the resurrection. They are poor sources, far removed, evince no direct eyewitness testimony of the presumed event (the resurrection) and they are anonymous. They are in every respect inferior to the eyewitness testimony regarding Vespasian that Tacitus proclaims.

You replied:

[Tim:] I did indeed misunderstand you; thanks for the clarification. To your unargued assertion I would make the same reply that Douglas makes. Since the quality of the New Testament sources is excellent, much of it coming directly from eyewitnesses, some of it being published in the very place where the events took place, the multiplicity of accounts strongly suggests that there was neither time nor opportunity for significant legendary development. The gospel accounts are not anonymous (and please do read your Martin Hengel before giving a knee-jerk reaction to this claim), ...

[Evan:] As I have noted before. I am not really interested in reading apologists.


I find it perplexing that you pigeonhole everyone whose scholarly work tends to undermine your case against Christianity as an “apologist.” Martin Hengel is Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism at Tübingen. He is probably the most widely-respected New Testament scholar now living.

[Evan:] Suffice it to say that Hengel's arguments are not wholly convincing to all readers.

Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, West’s review doesn’t really give the reader any detailed idea either of the scope and subtlety of Hengel’s argument or of West’s own objections to it, except that he thinks if the gospels are all telling the same basic story then they are like the Diatessaron (huh?) and that he really likes Dungan’s 1999 book.

[Tim:] ... whereas Tacitus’s sources are. Interested readers who are actually working their way through Douglas’s book can find his version of the argument there. A more thorough case can be found in Andrews Norton, The Evidences of the Genuineness of the Gospels. For a brief, readable statement of the case by a respected 20th century scholar, see F. F. Bruce’s little book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Those looking for something more contemporary should have a look at Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

[Evan:] Obviously these books all must deal with the lack of reference to any of the gospels in any other text until the 2nd century...


Except for Clement.

[Evan:] ...and the absence of any first century pagan or Jewish discussions of Jesus.

Except for Josephus.

[Evan:] You will I'm sure berate me for not reading them myself, but I am confident that if such evidence were forthcoming I would have been made aware of it by you on the 800 lb. Gorilla thread.

I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think that my interactions there constituted a comprehensive case for the Christian side. I am, after all, not a professional apologist; I’m just a guy who takes a keen interest in this issue.

[Evan:] You then responded to my claim of ulterior motive thusly:

[Tim:] The only undeniable and profound motive present in the case of the apostles and the seventy was the motive to clam up and get out of dodge to save their hides. ...

[Evan:] What independent attestation do you have of a persecution that killed large numbers of Christians in Jerusalem circa 30 CE? I am certainly not aware of it and if you are that would be evidence you most certainly should have taken up with Dawson. In the absence of such evidence, all you have is a story written in the 2nd century.


As I have already explained, we have very little outside the New Testament that takes notice of Palestine around A.D. 30, and Christianity as a movement was not even on the radar of the major Roman historians until it surfaced in Rome during the reign of Claudius. (Probably the Nazareth Inscription reflects Jewish-Christian polemics in Rome c. A.D. 41; the grave robbing issue is a good clue.) That said, we have several accounts of the life of Christ written in the first century, recited by Clement in the first century in a manner that shows he expects the church at Corinth to be familiar with them and to acknowledge them as authoritative. The accounts as we have them display, particularly in Luke-Acts, a detailed knowledge of matters in the early and mid first century that would, frankly, defy forging in the second. We also have an account from the second century of the manner in which these accounts were written and handed down.

[Evan:] Elvis Presley has been dead less than 45 years. Do the multiple attesations, independently asserted assure you of his continued vitality? Can you not imagine 70 years from now even more incredible claims being made with regard to him?

Actually, I suspect they’ll die down to a level where they crop up only among those who have been independently identified as mentally certifiable. We can hasten the process, however, by trying to kill them for their beliefs. [For the record, no one should take this as an actual policy suggestion.]

[Tim:] ... That these early eyewitnesses did not do this is quite fascinating, but it hardly helps your case.

[Evan:] Again, besides the New Testament, what evidence do you have for this?


The explosive growth of the early church.

[Evan:] Finally you go back to Hengel:

[Tim:] There is strong, old, unanimous testimony to the authorship of the four gospels. It is doubtful, as Martin Hengel has argued, that any of them were ever published anonymously, if by that is meant “apart from any indication of authorship.” Luke’s purpose is explicit in Luke 1:1-4. We have information on the broader purpose of John’s gospel from Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.1.

[Evan:] Yet even Hengel admits that Matthew the disciple didn't write Matthew and John the son of Zebedee didn't write John.


Fair enough. The attribution of John has always been a bit trickier than that of the other gospels because of a confusing reference by Papias to “John the Presbyter,” which (mis)led Eusebius to think that Papias meant someone other than John the Apostle. I think Eusebius was probably wrong here; we can get into that if it’s a burning issue to you. As for the authorship of Matthew, I am familiar with the arguments from literary dependency that have persuaded Hengel that Matthew was not the author, but (with great respect) I differ from him here and think they are outweighed by the sorts of reasons, both internal and external, laid out by Guthrie in his New Testament Introduction. The case for Matthean authorship is stronger, in my judgment, than the case for the two-source hypothesis.

[Evan:] Even if they have single authors, we know nothing of the mindset of those persons. There is no way to know whether they thought they were telling a story or whether they thought they were telling the truth.

As I have now pointed out several times, we do have evidence, both internal and external, regarding their mindset and particularly evidence that they thought they were telling the truth.

[Evan:] Then you criticize Ehrman by saying:

[Tim:] And even Ehrman, who makes such heavy weather out of Jesus’ “anger” in Mark (it was there anyway, so what?), the Johannine comma in 1 John 5:7-8, and the Pericope Adulterae, hasn’t managed to wring out of the Western Text any significant signs of orthodox tampering with the resurrection narratives.

[Evan:] I believe you are correct regarding the resurrection in regard to this. However are you arguing the resurrection is unique and is to be regarded as more important than the crucifixion?


Again, thanks for the link. I must say, I am disappointed that there isn’t more to this. Some of the gospels say wine; others say vinegar. Aside from the fact that wine gone bad does go to vinegar (ever open a bad bottle?), what if it was vinegar but someone just got that detail wrong? To put a heavy interpretation on this and invoke scribal alteration to “protect” Matt 26:29 is, in my opinion, overreading the text. Ehrman himself introduces it in a fashion (“... one might wonder”) that indicates he wouldn’t want to go to the last barricade for this claim.

Waive all that: these are issues of minor textual variants that we have and can compare. It’s a long way from there to saying that the crucifixion narratives are not substantially historical.

[Tim:] I’m very willing to deal with it [the supposition that the whole story of Jesus' death is a fraud]. I’ve read many books trying to establish it, and many more that simply assume it. In the absence of concrete evidence, it would be the first explanation I would reach for. But we do have evidence, and it points in a different direction.

[Evan] I believe your evidence to be weaker than you believe it to be. It's OK, we can still be friends.


Sure, we can agree to disagree.

[Evan:] The leaders of the proto-orthodox church in Rome, one of whom Flavia Domitilla(curiously) was related to Vespasian. (Imagine that){edited to remove typo}

[Tim:] This is pretty crazy. Sweeping aside all of the references to miracles in the Pauline epistles and Acts, including the resurrection, it works only if you assume that the synoptic gospels are (a) late creations, mid 80s at the earliest and (b) disconnected from earlier oral tradition.

[Evan:] Crazier than a man rising from the dead?


By the time you get it all fleshed out to account for the evidence we actually have, yes, I would definitely say so.

[Evan:] The leaders of the Christian church in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries were certainly benefited by the creation of the gospels.

You said:

[Tim:] No doubt they were a benefit. But to make this pertinent to your case, you have to argue that they were written late and not by eyewitnesses or those with access to the testimony of eyewitnesses. ...

[Evan:] Which is exactly what I believe the evidence shows.

[Tim:] ... And you’d have to do this, in this context, without the benefit of the presupposition of naturalism. Have you ever even looked at the evidence Hemer amasses for eyewitness testimony in the second half of the book of Acts?

[Evan:] I have no idea what you are saying here. I have almost no doubt in my mind there is some history in the 2nd half of acts. There is also some history that is accurate in Gone With the Wind.


I know how strongly you dislike reading the work of people who disagree with you, particularly if they might be thought to be “apologists,” but I’ll make a plug anyway for your getting your hands on a copy of Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, and reading chapters 4 and 5. If that doesn’t kill the Gone with the Wind analogy for you, I doubt that anything will.

[Evan:] That Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine circa 30 CE.

[Tim:] Another myther speaks out! We’re down the rabbit hole again ...

[Evan:] You tar me with a broad brush.


I’ve no wish to misrepresent you, but the suggestion that the gospels were created to cater to this superstition raises so many more problems than it solves that I cannot see why it deserves serious discussion.

[Evan:] I am open to many possibilities, including legendary accretion onto the teacher of righteousness of the DSS community and later conflation of him with the Pauline Christ. There are 1st century church fathers who place Jesus' at different points in history.

Um, those would be 2nd century church fathers.

[Evan] Irenaeus claims at one point he lived into his 50s.

I assume you refer here to Adv. Her. 2.22.5. If you’ll read it carefully in context, it appears that what Irenaeus is actually saying is that Jesus lived into the second stage of a man’s life, between the ages of 30 and 50 – old enough to be a Rabbi – rather than that he lived to be 50.

[Evan:] However, one thing I'm not open to is that men rose from the dead.

Why should you think it incredible that God should raise a man from the dead?

[Evan:] You are open to it, and Dr. Craig can't be dissuaded from it by evidence. That is the point I am making here.

I am open to it, and I am willing to believe it provided that there is sufficient evidence for it, which I believe there is.

[Evan:] You seem eager to dismiss me as "myther", ...

It seemed to me that you were going there by suggesting that the real existence of Jesus c. A.D. 30 was a mere popular story and that the gospels were written to flatter popular sentiment.

[Evan:] ... but you do see there are problems with the accounts I hope.

I hope you don't think the dead walked the earth in Jerusalem.


Even according to that odd passage in Matthew, it would have been the formerly dead who walked the streets, not the dead.

[Evan:] I hope you don't think that people spoke languages they'd never heard and then other people who didn't speak those languages interpreted them.

If the story claimed that this happened by accident, I would dismiss it at once. In the context of the strong evidence for the resurrection, I do not find the account in Acts 1 to be incredible.

[Evan:] If you do, you can check that part out for yourself in just about any town in America. It's being claimed, but it's not happening.

That there will be counterfeits of reported miracles is not surprising. I fancy I detect a hint of glossolalia already in 1 Corinthians 14:1-19.

Since I don't know whether you believe that dead people cracked out of their graves in Jerusalem, or whether people spoke Finno-Ugric and interpreted it at Pentecost, or whether you think a donkey talked, I can't really pin down how far apart we are.

Pretty far, since I am convinced by the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, and that’s something that by your own admission you are unwilling even to consider.

But to simply dismiss an argument because the author is someone you consider a "myther" is beneath your previous behavior on this board.

Evan, there are some expedients to which people will go to avoid believing in God that are beyond the bounds of reason. If you are polite, as you have for the most part been in this last exchange, I am willing to exchange reasons with you, up to the point at which either of us has no further time to do so. But I do not feel bound to take conspiracy theories and bad history seriously.

[Evan:] No matter what we disagree on, we can still be friends, Tim. My dad was a pastor and still believes, my brother teaches at a church college in the theology department.

I hope you still have open channels of communication with them.

[Evan:] I'm not a theologian ...

Neither am I.

[Evan:] ... but I hear a lot about it and I have read a good deal in it.

That makes two of us.

[Evan:] I have consciously chosen to stop reading apologists, as every time I checked out their arguments, I found they were misleading.

You can show me I was wrong, but you can't convince me to read them by pooh-poohing me.


I can, mutatis mutandis, understand the sentiment. (And in truth, there are a lot of very disappointing works of apologetics; I actually read less of the apologetics literature nowadays than the professional literature.) But I have made a conscious choice to read at least a wide cross section of the people I disagree with in order to be better informed about the alternatives to my own position. As a friendly suggestion, I would recommend that you give it a try. If nothing else, it may at least widen your sympathies.

Tim said...

John,

You write:

Let me say that both you and Evan are doing a wonderful job here. You both are indefatigable.

Glad you’re enjoying it.

Although, I think Evan clearly has won the day.

Perhaps you’re not paying as close attention as I had thought. ;)

I’m arguing on a different level, a more fundamental level. With Evan and my approaches taken together, Tim, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

From your own point of view, shouldn’t you add “... from my perspective” to this claim?

Tim said…I would say that everyone capable of wondering about the truth of Christianity or the existence of God is responsible to follow the evidence that he can see.

[John:] I have done so. I am sincere in rejecting Christianity.


It is not up to me to pass final judgment on your sincerity. That is reserved for a higher authority.

[John:] I cannot believe differently than I do. It would be akin for you to tell me that the fastest way to my home includes a 20 mile detour. I cannot believe you would be correct no matter how much I may want to trust you.

Interesting analogy. I hear reports on the radio all the time about crashes that force re-routings of city traffic. Sometimes the reports suggest considerable detours; yet these are, in fact, faster ways to get home than the “shorter” path that leads into a zone where traffic is stalled until they pull an accident out of the way.

[John:] Again, I cannot believe that which I reject. There are no amount of books that would convince me otherwise. I have an anti-supernatural bias, ...

I do appreciate your candor in saying this.

... just like you have a supernatural bias.

Actually, you’re wrong here. Like Campbell, like Douglas, I prefer natural explanations when they are available and plausible.

I have argued for my bias. To date you have not interacted with my case and I’m wondering why.

Probably because I haven’t had time to look it up.

[John:] Why do you continue to argue about the individual trees? Isn’t it time you argue for the way you see the whole forest?

Actually, it’s probably time for me to get back to doing my day job. But it’s Easter, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, and I can probably carve out enough time to finish answering this post of yours.

[John:] [Start by explaining what the initial reasons were for why you first accepted Christianity ...

Initially? It was represented to me as true when I was a small child by people I had reason to trust.

[John:] ... and put on you “God glasses” which subsequently caused you to interpret all the available evidence through them].

I don’t believe in this kind of relativism, John.

[John:] It’s only at that level any progress can move forward between us. Yes, the individual trees are important to examine. But until you can argue for the way you see the forest you are not arguing your case. You and Evan can go back and forth on the evidence all you want, and I think once again you’re both doing a great job. But the difference is how you see the evidence, and that’s my point. You both are looking at the same evidence and coming away with a different understanding of that evidence. It would fall on my deaf ears for one of you to say of the other person that he is just ignorant.

There might be a few more differences, like the fact that Evan doesn’t want to read books by people who disagree with him, whereas I do this as a way of life; that he is unwilling to believe that a dead man came to life regardless of the evidence, whereas I am willing to consider the possibility, however remote it appears initially; that he takes seriously conspiracy theories such as that the gospels were ginned up in the 80s or 90s to please the Flavian dynasty, whereas I reject them for failure to explain the evidence without the invocation of wildly ad hoc assumptions; that he believes there was no persecution of Christians during the first century except for that under Nero (which somehow doesn’t count, since Nero trumped up an excuse for persecuting them), whereas I am aware of and take seriously both Christian and non-Christian evidence for persecution, not only under Nero but also under Domitian and from various sectors of Judaism; and that he is getting a warped view of early Christian writings from Earl Doherty, whereas I am getting mine from the primary sources and giving citations to back up my claims.

[John:] That is not the case at all. Tim I think you just refuse to see what he and I see based upon a need to believe.

Bulverism strikes again! I could just as easily — perhaps more easily — say that you refuse to see what I see because you have a need to disbelieve or a need to feel intellectually superior to the Christians you feel wronged you in the past, etc. And just how much progress would we make once we had descended to this level? No, John, this isn’t the way to move the discussion forward.

Tim said… A little girl who has enough sense to trust her mother, who has never led her astray, is believing rationally when she believes what her mother tells her. As she grows, she will in due course face new objections and discover new sources of evidence.

[John:] But she was raised to believe! She put on her “God glasses.” She believes because of when and where she was born. I think you really do not fully grasp that what children start out believing is based upon what their family tells them.


Actually, I didn’t say she believes in God; I was rather careful to phrase the illustration in a way that was entirely neutral as to what she was believing on the word of her mother. My point is simply that, in the absence of other evidence to the contrary, believing what is told us by people who have proven trustworthy is reasonable, even paradigmatically reasonable.

As for the recurring reference to “God glasses,” I repeat: though there is a natural psychological tendency to hold onto things one has been raised to believe, it is by no means impervious to evidence. I have changed my mind about things I grew up believing. So have you. Let’s be grown up about the discussion and deal with each other’s reasons instead of sniping at conjectured motives, shall we?

And being rational is not enough.

Agreed: one must also try to be well-informed, particularly when it comes to understanding the reasons of those with whom one disagrees.

Are Holocaust deniers being rational? What about the Flat Earth Society? Or 9/11 conspiracists?

I’m puzzled. These appear to be rhetorical questions. But the obvious answer is “No, of course not” — and that is not an answer that does your case any good.

[John:] Rationality? What’s that?

... said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.

[John:] Paranoid schizophrenics can be completely rational in arguing that the CIA is out to get them.

Oh dear, we really do have a very serious disagreement as to what counts as rational.

What all of these people do wrong is that they begin with one or more false assumptions and fit all of the available evidence into the grid of those assumptions.

So beginning with a false assumption and forcing everything to fit with it meets your standard of rationality? Come to think of it, that does rather describe what Evan has been doing, which may explain why you think he’s “won the day.” Yes, I think I see the pattern now.

[John:] And just like there are anomalies with any theory that cannot be totally incorporated sufficiently into the theory itself, the overall theory seems better to them than the alternatives. All theories have anomalies to them, it seems, so we simply choose which one has the least amount of anomalies. We do so based upon a non reducible personal element based upon Baysian background factors.

The question, of course, is whether those background factors are subject to rational analysis. I think they are, however difficult we may find it to do this in practice. You seem to be suggesting that they are not.

[John:] Why I don’t think these people are correct is because their theories do not adequately explain all of the evidence, to be sure. But the explanation of the available evidence is that which justifies seeing the evidence from a certain perspective, and that’s where the debate fundamentally takes place.

I certainly agree that explaining the available evidence is what it’s all about. But people who have, without adequate reason, placed the supernatural out of bounds before beginning the investigation are not being rational; and if they have done this self-consciously, perhaps are not being as sincere as they believe, either. Certainly they have lost the moral right to berate others who follow the evidence wherever it leads them — even if it leads to a cross, an empty tomb, and a risen Lord.

Tim
Easter, 2008

Evan said...

Tim thanks for your response and I am sorry about the delay in my response to you. I had a speech contest I had to give a speech in and the preparation was a distraction.

That being said, it's over and I'm eager to get back into it.

If you don't mind I'm going to try to shorten this down and only respond to your responses since we are getting pretty chatty here.

I take it you’ve never spent much time talking to people in a psychiatric home.

I worked as a phlebotomist in a hospital with a locked psychiatric ward for 2 years in college, then I spent one month working on a locked ward at the VA when I was in my third year of med school, did another month my fourth year, did a month of psychiatric inpatient work during residency, and have continued to care for the mentally ill since that time.

I don't know your experience and so if you are a psychologist and psychiatrist it might be greater than mine, but I would hardly call mine negligible.

In that time, I have never heard a psychotic deny the existence of common phenomena. Instead, they create an overarching delusional framework that explains commonly accepted phenomena in the light of their delusion. The delusional person can file any fact given them and explain it in the light of their delusion.

But they don't deny the facts exist.

In response to my question: Or are you suggesting that Tacitus wrote his histories as wry sarcastic gibes at the imperial family?

First things first: you said it was a distinction without a difference, yet obviously there is a very clear difference here. As for your subsequent question, admitting that there is a difference, I see Tacitus as reporting a story of an event that he didn’t doubt transpired but disbelieving that a genuine miracle had taken place.

Tacitus reports the facts as they were reported to him and does not take the time to give his personal opinion regarding their validity or truth. OK I can agree that this is possible. Is it then not also possible regarding Christus?

You then said:

So you don’t know and don’t want to know what the Christians have to say for themselves, because your mind is already made up. Well, that’ll make quick work of any opinion you don’t hold, won’t it?

Bauckham, incidentally, is hardly an “apologist” even on the model of Craig: he is a Cambridge Ph. D. who teaches at St. Andrews.


Tim you are acting as if I have put no effort into researching this question. I studied all the literature as coursework in school, in addition I have done some outside reading and am quite aware of developments in the field due to my conversations with believers. Suffice it to say, I consider anyone who believes a man rose from the dead is an apologist. I consider this primary sticking point to be one which separates the sheep from the goats so to speak.

Here's Bauckham from the book you recommend (p.4):

From the perspective of Christian faith and theology we must ask whether the enterprise of reconstructing a historical Jesus behind the Gospels, as it has been pursued through all phases of the quest, can ever substitute for the Gospels themselves as a way of access to the reality of Jesus the man.

Here's from page 5:

Theologically speaking, the category of testimony [i.e. the eyewitness reports recorded by the gospels] enables us to read the Gospels as precisely the kind of text we need in order to recognize the disclosure of God in the history of Jesus.

This is the speech of a pastor, not that of a scholar. I am sure you think he's definitive, but if this is his starting point, his conclusions are foregone, so you can see that I might be reluctant to view him as authoritative or even scholarly in his outlook.

You then said something that I think really puts the frosting on the cake here:

No question that you’re right about those scholars. So we would have to examine their arguments and, in particular, to see whether at any point those arguments assume an unargued and question-begging anti-supernaturalism.

There is so much here to disagree with, but let's start with the premise that there is such a thing as anti-supernaturalism. There are people who are convinced that all supernatural claims are true. You are not one of them. You doubt Vespasian performed miracles. So are you an anti-supernaturalist?

No you aren't. So what methodological difference stands between you and someone who doubts the resurrection? You doubt Vespasian healed the blind and so do I. Yet I also doubt that Jesus healed the blind. I doubt Jesus raised the dead. I doubt Elijah flew to heaven in a chariot of flame. I doubt the earth will end by the scenario described in the apocalypse. And ALL those doubts are congruent and follow the same basic method.

You have an ad hoc method that you can't explain in a clear way that leads you to doubt Vespasian but believe some of the other things that I do not. My method is simple, I believe that which there is evidence commensurate with the thing being claimed, and EVEN THEN my belief is conditional on there not appearing additional evidence which countervails the claim being made, at which time I reserve the right to abandon my previous opinion and adopt the new one.

Someone who claims to be sure God exists (which Dr. Craig does) CANNOT have this as his method. He presupposes his conclusion on the basis of personal experience and then adduces reasons for others to believe the same as he does. This is apologetics.

I am not anti-supernatural, I await a legitimate claim examined in detail by skeptics and agreed by all to be supernatural in origin. That there is no such thing suggests that the supernatural, along with leprechauns, unicorns and Paul Bunyan is in the realm of myth and legend. This is not to say it has no value, but it is to say that that value it has should be apprehended in the realm of myth and legend and NOT apprehended as proof of the existence of a deity, for that it cannot be.

Thus the story of Pandora's box, or Sisyphus still has relevance to the modern man, regardless of whether there was a Pandora or a Sisyphus who walked the earth, because these stories are used to illuminate concepts in life. So you as a "supernaturalist" (if that is a legitimate antonym to its anti opponents) accept a category of experience nowhere and never attested to by reliable means.

The only thing you have is stories you believe. Stories that were in no way unique at the time they were written down (viz. Vespasian) and that come to us today after undoubted redaction (not even the most conservative theologian doubts there has been some redaction as far as I can tell).

I said:

The first manuscripts we have are from the 4th century.

Then you pointed out:

Untrue. Even setting aside the controversial Qumran fragment 7Q5, Mark appears in the Chester Beatty manuscript p45, which contains portions of all four gospels and Acts and is dated to the early to mid 200s.

And of course you're right. I should have said "complete manuscripts". However I'm willing to accept a third century date for Mark if you are, I think the autograph was probably a bit earlier. However, you do admit that quite a bit of redaction had already taken place by the third century since the document you put forward has elements of two known "Lines" of Mark.

You went on the attack with:

This is complete nonsense. The very fact that we have numerous texts in multiple languages that we can sort into text families and cross-compare allows us to reconstruct the original text of Mark with a very high degree of confidence. Such textual comparisons turn up the fact that the ending of Mark in the majority text is missing in the oldest manuscripts, and for that reason it is plausibly taken to be a later addition. This is the only passage of any substantial length that is in question as far as the text of Mark is concerned, as you can verify for yourself by looking at a copy of Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Here my biology background may be of some help. We see existing species today and we are able to establish relationships among them and can reliably show patterns of descent from a common ancestor. Of this there is no doubt. What can't be shown are the forms that died out that were never fossilized.

So you have multiple text lines of Mark. Do you know for sure you have all of them? Do you know for sure there were none destroyed as heretical that were not more primitive? How can you possibly know this with the manuscripts that you see? You must admit to the existence of textual variants. And you must admit that "heretical" textual variants were burnt. So what method do you use to determine that the "Correct" ones are the ones that exist today and that the "Wrong" ones were the ones burnt? The only texts you have are the ones that survived as non-heretical to the 3rd century.

Yet we know there was HUGE disagreement about Christianity in the 2nd century, as the letters of the church fathers show us. How can you be sure the 2nd century church fathers who won this dispute picked the correct text? All eyewitnesses were by this time dead.

Then as an aside re: Shakespeare you posited:

Who said “perfect” and “never to be doubted”? Not I.

If we don't have perfect knowledge of Shakespeare in 1820 (and we certainly don't have it today), then nothing hangs in the balance. Like Sisyphus, the musings of Hamlet are independently valid regardless of who wrote them.

For Jesus this is not the case. I hope you can see the difference. Perfect knowledge of Jesus is pretty necessary since if these claims are false then the religion is preaching a "false Christ". The fact that Paul in the first century was very worried about this should give you some pause. How do you know that Paul, had he lived, wouldn't have been a Marcionite? What method do you use to determine this?

After discussing ulterior motive you dismissed my claims regarding persecution thusly:

What would we expect for the proponents of a new religion that told the Jews they had crucified their messiah and the Romans that the deities in their pantheon were frauds – housewarming parties?

The Roman state was very religiously tolerant. It allowed any belief system to flourish. The Romans even spent money building temples for other culture's gods. There is no evidence the Roman state was implicated in the death of Jesus in any text until Ignatius. This dates to the 2nd century. You can conjecture all you want, but this is based on a modern understanding of orthodoxy. There is no historical evidence of the Roman state taking action against Christians for their religious beliefs until the 2nd century.

Does Paul say in Philippians 3:6 that he was a persecutor of the church? We’ll find some way to reinterpret that: maybe he just means that he was playing the music on his ice-cream truck really loud as he drove down the road to Damascus.

Paul was a Roman? Paul worked for the Roman state? I was unaware of this. Where do you find this? That Jews persecuted Christians out of synagogues may very well be true. Could not those Christians simply move away from the Jews who persecuted them?

What exactly did Paul accuse Christians of when he was persecuting them? I have never seen any evidence for what this would have been. What would Paul do to Christians? Nobody ever says.

Does Paul speak to the Thessalonians of afflictions and strive to strengthen their faith? Well, explain that away as a severe outbreak of chicken-pox or something.

It most certainly could have been a plague or an earthquake, but is more likely one of those "False Christs" who he was so worried about. Ever wonder if the one Christians worship now was one of them? If not, why not? If so, what evidence do you have that it isn't?

Does Josephus give us a vivid picture of the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus? Must’ve been a Christian interpolation, and never mind the fact that the story, with the juicy details Josephus gives about Ananus and Albinus, somehow didn’t find its way into the New Testament. Does the book of Acts give us a detailed, believable, independently verifiable account of Paul’s journeys across the empire spreading the gospel? Well, just because we can verify dozens of details in the narrative doesn’t mean that we have to believe the one thing that is repeated over and over, which is also the one thing we could have predicted even without direct evidence – that the earliest Christians were frequently persecuted.

So were the earleist Mormons. What evidence do you have that the persecuted Christians who Paul writes about weren't the ones who lost the 2nd century battle for orthodoxy? You seem to be arguing that people will not allow themselves to be persecuted for untrue beliefs. Is this really what you believe?

Whether it was “empire-wide” is not the issue; whether it was always at the hands of the Romans or often at the hands of the Jews is not the issue: what matters is whether it was recurring and severe.

No, what matters is what they believed and why they were being persecuted, with what frequency, and what measures were available to them to avoid this persecution. Again, the fact remains, there was always some place for Christians to go to avoid persecution in the 1st century, and we see churches in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Italy. This argues my point effectively enough.

I then asked if you had read Doherty and you agreed you hadn't and asked this:

Does Doherty also mention that Ignatius quotes from Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians? Does he mention that Polycarp quotes from all of the synoptic gospels, Acts, Romans, both Corinthian epistles, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, both of the epistles to the Thessalonians, both of the epistles to Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 and 3 John?

First, there is widespread skepticism about Ignatius in general. Many of his writings that were accepted by Eusebius are now regarded as forgeries, and the story of his journey from Antioch to Rome to be executed strains credulity.

Second let's look at what Ignatius actually says about Jesus of Nazareth.

0

That's it.

Let's look at where Ignatius mentions the names "Matthew" "Luke" or "Acts". You have been quite clear that you believe these are eyewitness texts from the 1st century. You believe they circulated with titles as independent works that were widely read and accepted as authoritative by the early church.

So here are all the quotes from Ignatius I could find with those words in them:

Magnesians 59 "But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them."

Ephesians 106: "It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. There is then one Teacher, who spake and it was done; while even those things which He did in silence are worthy of the Father. He who possesses the word of Jesus, is truly able to hear even His very silence, that he may be perfect, and may both act as he speaks, and be recognised by his silence. There is nothing which is hid from God, but our very secrets are near to Him. Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples."

Ephesians 109: "It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. For he who shall both 'do and teach, the same shall be great in the kingdom.'"

Ephesians 110: "Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, first did and then taught, as Luke testifies, "whose praise is in the Gospel through all the Churches."

There's your list. Now what you may be arguing is there are textual adoptions. But how do you establish priority? You know redaction of the Gospels and Acts took place. How do you know what was redacted from where?

That Ignatius quotes from Paul is of course in no way surprising. But that he doesn't even mention Nazareth is a bit vexing, isn't it?

Does he mention that 1 Clement 13:2 contains a recapitulation of the Beatitudes, paralleling Matthew 5 and Luke 6, introduced with the words, “...remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering: ...”?

And this speaks to the existence of a tradition of a historical Jesus that hadn't been fully fleshed out in the early 2nd century. No doubt about that. But why doesn't he mention the authors by name? Hengel and others are sure they had names by then. Why is he so silent about crediting them?

Then you said:

Not only have I never said that Tacitus was aware of Mark’s gospel, I disbelieve it, and I cannot imagine what I have said that could have given rise to this idea on your part.

Well I apologize. I misunderstood you. You quoted Douglas as an authority. Douglas believes that the miracles attributed to Vespasian are actually miracles that Christ did and were put onto Vespasian by Tacitus to stop the spread of Christianity. So you disavow Douglas on this point and I was confused. Thank you for clarifying and I'm sorry I am so lumberheaded as to have thought you were vouching for Douglas' analysis. You recall it here:

" ... the contrivers of the pagan imposture, having it in their view to check the rapid progress of Christianity, produced by an appeal to the miracles of its great founder, fabricated similar powers for their emperors ... "

When discussing Eusebius you suggest:

So your suggestion is that Eusebius, and Jerome, and Epiphanius, all just made up this story about the publication of Mark’s gospel because in Alexandria it somehow redounded to the glory of Constantine? There are a lot of steps missing here.

Romans felt that ancient religions were more valid than novelties, as novelties sprang up all the time. The older Eusebius could make Christianity seem, and the less of a novelty, the more likely it would be appealing to the bulk of polite Roman society it would be. If you doubt this, look at the pre-Jewish war concessions the Romans granted the Jews.

Then, when discussing Mark you say:

You don’t suppose anyone who had firsthand acquaintance with Roman occupation of Palestine could pick up words like “denarius” and “legion,” do you? Or is your position that if someone did acquire such words, he couldn’t write a document using them and then go make copies of it in Alexandria? If there is an argument here, I’m missing it.

Anyone could do anything with regard to writing. Mark's writing suggests that the author learned Greek in Rome from bilingual speakers of both languages. This would argue against him being an eyewitness in Palestine. The fact that the earliest manuscripts of Mark found in Coptic to this day date from the 6th century and that his gospel was not found at Nag Hammadi do argue strongly against Eusebius here. If there is countervailing data besides church fathers, I'd love to hear it.

You then chastise me for criticizing Dr. Craig without reading his dissertation. Again, we differ.

Then we get to the nut meat:

Vespasian’s healings are reported to have taken place by eyewitnesses who had nothing to lose, and perhaps a little local fame to gain, by reporting them.

Doubtless they had much to gain, he was the emperor of the known world, and was considered to be the messiah by Josephus.

Jesus’ resurrection is reported by eyewitnesses who have their religion, their way of life, and their lives to lose by reporting them.

Here we fundamentally differ on the quality of the reports. You know my arguments and I know yours. You find mine wanting and vice versa. We have to agree to be friends on this one and let it go.

We don’t have Tacitus’s sources, and we have no information about their motives; ...

Just like with the gospels.

... we need not, however, attribute anything to them beyond a willingness to take a charade worked out to the benefit of the local deity at face value.

Couldn't have said it better.

We actually have the gospel sources ...

No we don't.

... and we have both internal statements of their purposes and old tradition, going back to those whose lifetimes overlapped those of the apostles, regarding their purposes.

Here again, we look at the same church fathers and see different things.

Naturalistic explanations for healing a blind man who, according to the report, isn’t quite blind, and a lame man who, according to the report, isn’t quite lame, start right up front with the suggestion that the blind man wasn’t blind and the lame man wasn’t lame.

Resurrections of a man suggest he wasn't dead.

Naturalistic explanations for the resurrection of a man killed by Roman crucifixion ... don’t measure up.

Yes they do. First, nobody saw his body resurrected. All we have are reports of his body being missing. The FIRST report in John is of graverobbing. How you can doubt that this is a plausible explanation when the gospels themselves give it is really beyond me.

Naturalistic explanations for why someone would pretend to be blind or lame in order to flatter the presumptive emperor, who is a known sucker for oracles and omens, in the first city in Egypt to line up behind his imperial aspirations, start with the expectation of a little cash and local fame.

Undoubtedly.

Naturalistic explanations for why someone would try to get crucified by the Romans in order to ... oh, good grief.

Who suggests Jesus was trying to get crucified? Oh wait. You do. Got it.

Then you give me the legendary Craig's other criteria finally (and there is great rejoicing). I will apply them in turn to the resurrection:

including temporal proximity to the event,

Vespasian > Gospels

lack of characteristics of folk lore in the gospel accounts,

Vespasian = Gospels

the nature of the Jewish tradition of transmission of sacred teaching

The same tradition that holds a donkey talked, a snake spoke, and a man went to heaven in a flaming chariot.

Up against Roman historical tradition?

Vespasian > Gospels

the restraining influence of the actual presence of the apostles and other eyewitnesses on the development of legend

At BEST

Vespasian = Gospels

and the proven track record of historical accuracy in the gospels.

Up against the proven track record of Suetonius and Tacitus?

Vespasian > Gospels

In not one instance is the miracle attributed to Vespasian less likely than the miraculous tales attributed to Jesus by those criteria.

The rest of our arguments are interesting but in the interests of focusing this discussion on the actual topic at hand I'll hold off on the rest of the things mentioned here.

You have now given me the exhaustive list of criteria by Craig. I have applied them. Show me how I am wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim said…Oh dear, we really do have a very serious disagreement as to what counts as rational.

Sure we do, because unlike others I am willing to grant that your beliefs are indeed rational even though they are believed based on the same kinds of evidence of many dead religions.

Tim said…The question, of course, is whether those background factors are subject to rational analysis. I think they are, however difficult we may find it to do this in practice. You seem to be suggesting that they are not.

I maintain that we are not logic nor evidence machines. I don’t see how you can deny this, so at issue is how poorly we assess evidence and I maintain in the absence of good solid evidence people will adopt the religious beliefs they were raised to accept, just like you did. Then with the strong propensity we all have to justify what we believe, smart people can justify most anything, like you do.

Tim said…I certainly agree that explaining the available evidence is what it’s all about. But people who have, without adequate reason, placed the supernatural out of bounds before beginning the investigation are not being rational; and if they have done this self-consciously, perhaps are not being as sincere as they believe, either. Certainly they have lost the moral right to berate others who follow the evidence wherever it leads them — even if it leads to a cross, an empty tomb, and a risen Lord.

I did not do this. I was indeed a believer not only of the supernatural but also in the Christian faith. When I say I have an anti-supernatural bias this is what I have come to accept based on everything I know and everything I learned. That being said, I see no reason why anyone, even you, shouldn’t start out your investigations with a healthy measure of skepticism given the history of religious beliefs spread out geographically and historically. When you get around to it you can comment on the concrete example I mentioned where I argued for this.

Tim said...

Harvey,

Before I forget -- a blessed Easter to you, my friend. I appreciate the reinforcement.

Tim said...

Evan,

On psychoses: I guess I have just met some people who are crazier than those you have met. They’ll acknowledge a lot of common phenomena ... and then suddenly they’ll deny something palpably before them. It’s quite disconcerting.

[Evan:] In response to my question: Or are you suggesting that Tacitus wrote his histories as wry sarcastic gibes at the imperial family?

[Tim:] First things first: you said it was a distinction without a difference, yet obviously there is a very clear difference here. As for your subsequent question, admitting that there is a difference, I see Tacitus as reporting a story of an event that he didn’t doubt transpired but disbelieving that a genuine miracle had taken place.

[Evan:] Tacitus reports the facts as they were reported to him and does not take the time to give his personal opinion regarding their validity or truth.


No, this blurs the distinction I am making and gives an impression incompatible with what I have said. Tacitus reports the event. His evidence for it is good; I think he believed that the event transpired. What he seems to doubt is that there was anything miraculous in the event.

[Evan:] OK I can agree that this is possible. Is it then not also possible regarding Christus?

No, because there is nothing in his report to suggest a miracle. Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate. All that there is here is the event which Tacitus reports in dry, factual terms — no miraculous interpretation for Tacitus to disbelieve. So the cases are not parallel.

[Evan:] You then said:

[Tim:] So you don’t know and don’t want to know what the Christians have to say for themselves, because your mind is already made up. Well, that’ll make quick work of any opinion you don’t hold, won’t it?

Bauckham, incidentally, is hardly an “apologist” even on the model of Craig: he is a Cambridge Ph. D. who teaches at St. Andrews.

[Evan:] Tim you are acting as if I have put no effort into researching this question. I studied all the literature as coursework in school, in addition I have done some outside reading and am quite aware of developments in the field due to my conversations with believers. Suffice it to say, I consider anyone who believes a man rose from the dead is an apologist.


Okay, that’s clarifying. So when you say, above,

I think spending time reading apologists is a waste of time

and

I am not really interested in reading apologists

and

I have consciously chosen to stop reading apologists,

we should understand you to be saying that, because you think it is a waste of time, you have consciously chosen to stop reading the works of anyone who maintains that a man rose from the dead. Right?

[Evan:] I consider this primary sticking point to be one which separates the sheep from the goats so to speak.

I couldn’t agree more — indeed, I think the metaphor is very apt.

[Evan:] Here's Bauckham from the book you recommend (p.4):

[Bauckham:] From the perspective of Christian faith and theology we must ask whether the enterprise of reconstructing a historical Jesus behind the Gospels, as it has been pursued through all phases of the quest, can ever substitute for the Gospels themselves as a way of access to the reality of Jesus the man.


You cut the quotation off a bit early, but let that pass. The fact that Bauckham is trying to explain the historical data, using an historian’s tools, but with a view to the theological significance of what he unearths, hardly undermines the historical value of his arguments.

[Evan:] This is the speech of a pastor, not that of a scholar. I am sure you think he's definitive, but if this is his starting point, his conclusions are foregone, so you can see that I might be reluctant to view him as authoritative or even scholarly in his outlook.

No, I think that’s just prejudice on your part. In this introductory chapter, he is telling you where he is going — his conclusions, not his starting points.

[Evan:] You then said something that I think really puts the frosting on the cake here:

[Tim:] No question that you’re right about those scholars. So we would have to examine their arguments and, in particular, to see whether at any point those arguments assume an unargued and question-begging anti-supernaturalism.

[Evan:] There is so much here to disagree with, but let's start with the premise that there is such a thing as anti-supernaturalism.


John has just said in this thread that there is, and presented himself as exhibit A:

[John:] are no amount of books that would convince me otherwise. I have an anti-supernatural bias

I’d say that’s a slam dunk.

[Evan:] There are people who are convinced that all supernatural claims are true. You are not one of them. You doubt Vespasian performed miracles. So are you an anti-supernaturalist?

No you aren't. So what methodological difference stands between you and someone who doubts the resurrection? You doubt Vespasian healed the blind and so do I. Yet I also doubt that Jesus healed the blind. I doubt Jesus raised the dead. I doubt Elijah flew to heaven in a chariot of flame. I doubt the earth will end by the scenario described in the apocalypse. And ALL those doubts are congruent and follow the same basic method.


I was following you up until that last sentence. “Congruent”? What I think you mean is that your mental life is simpler because you have cut a certain category of explanation out a priori. That’s certainly a simple way to make the world safe for atheism, but that doesn’t make it rational.

[Evan:] You have an ad hoc method that you can't explain in a clear way that leads you to doubt Vespasian but believe some of the other things that I do not.

I have laid out five key places where the Vespasian case doesn’t measure up to the accounts of the resurrection. I see we’ll be getting into this, below.

[Evan:] My method is simple, I believe that which there is evidence commensurate with the thing being claimed, and EVEN THEN my belief is conditional on there not appearing additional evidence which countervails the claim being made, at which time I reserve the right to abandon my previous opinion and adopt the new one.

Okay so far — but your method has additional factors, like refusing to read books by people who disagree with you about the resurrection.

[Evan:] Someone who claims to be sure God exists (which Dr. Craig does) CANNOT have this as his method. He presupposes his conclusion on the basis of personal experience and then adduces reasons for others to believe the same as he does. This is apologetics.

Nevertheless, his reasons can and should be evaluated on their own.

I am not anti-supernatural, I await a legitimate claim examined in detail by skeptics and agreed by all to be supernatural in origin.

By all skeptics? Or just by those who began skeptical? If you want a list of people who started out skeptical, looked into the gospels, and ended up persuaded that the resurrection took place, that will not be difficult to provide. John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas will both be on the list.

[Evan:] That there is no such thing suggests that the supernatural, along with leprechauns, unicorns and Paul Bunyan is in the realm of myth and legend.

A much simpler explanation is that John has told us the honest truth up above, and that he is typical of a wide class of skeptics who would not believe, though one were to return to them from the dead.

[Evan:] So you as a "supernaturalist" (if that is a legitimate antonym to its anti opponents) accept a category of experience nowhere and never attested to by reliable means.

Circular argument alert!

[Evan:] The only thing you have is stories you believe.

No. I also have the evidence for them, a bit of which we have been discussing here for a few days.

[Evan:] Stories that were in no way unique at the time they were written down (viz. Vespasian) ...

As I have pointed out, the Vespasian event, though probably crafted to mimic some gospel miracles, is hardly parallel in quality of evidence to the evidence the gospels give us for the resurrection.

[Evan:] ... and that come to us today after undoubted redaction (not even the most conservative theologian doubts there has been some redaction as far as I can tell).

But the redactions that we have good ground to believe have transpired are mostly trivial do not in any significant way undermine the core of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives.

[Evan:] I said:

The first manuscripts we have are from the 4th century.

Then you pointed out:

[Tim:] Untrue. Even setting aside the controversial Qumran fragment 7Q5, Mark appears in the Chester Beatty manuscript p45, which contains portions of all four gospels and Acts and is dated to the early to mid 200s.

[Evan:] And of course you're right. I should have said "complete manuscripts". However I'm willing to accept a third century date for Mark if you are, I think the autograph was probably a bit earlier.


This is simply a confusion between the manuscripts and the autographs. Historians realize that even a late manuscript is quite valuable, and a whole score of late manuscripts, disagreeing with each other in minor ways, translated early into Syriac and Latin, give us wonderful material for determining the original text with a high degree of fidelity.

[Evan:] However, you do admit that quite a bit of redaction had already taken place by the third century since the document you put forward has elements of two known "Lines" of Mark.

Less than you might think; but this is moot, since we are not limited to Mark alone, or to that manuscript alone.

[Evan:] There is simply no way to know what the first century text said. There is simply no ability for a modern person to have any certainty regarding the gospel accounts and their accuracy.

[Tim:] This is complete nonsense. The very fact that we have numerous texts in multiple languages that we can sort into text families and cross-compare allows us to reconstruct the original text of Mark with a very high degree of confidence. Such textual comparisons turn up the fact that the ending of Mark in the majority text is missing in the oldest manuscripts, and for that reason it is plausibly taken to be a later addition. This is the only passage of any substantial length that is in question as far as the text of Mark is concerned, as you can verify for yourself by looking at a copy of Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

[Evan:] Here my biology background may be of some help. We see existing species today and we are able to establish relationships among them and can reliably show patterns of descent from a common ancestor. Of this there is no doubt. What can't be shown are the forms that died out that were never fossilized.

So you have multiple text lines of Mark. Do you know for sure you have all of them? Do you know for sure there were none destroyed as heretical that were not more primitive? How can you possibly know this with the manuscripts that you see? You must admit to the existence of textual variants. And you must admit that "heretical" textual variants were burnt. So what method do you use to determine that the "Correct" ones are the ones that exist today and that the "Wrong" ones were the ones burnt? The only texts you have are the ones that survived as non-heretical to the 3rd century.


This is a poor analogy, for reasons that will be familiar to anyone who has read Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. But as Metzger believed that a dead man rose again, I don’t suppose you can be induced to read what he has written, despite the fact that he was, until his recent death, the world’s leading authority on the text of the New Testament.

Also, it is simply false that all we have are ones that “survived as non-heretical.” We have Marcion’s gospel, for example, a mutilated version of Luke. The analysis of the text of Marcion’s gospel actually helps substantiate some interesting things about the original text of Luke.

[Evan:] Yet we know there was HUGE disagreement about Christianity in the 2nd century, as the letters of the church fathers show us. How can you be sure the 2nd century church fathers who won this dispute picked the correct text? All eyewitnesses were by this time dead.

The textual evidence is extensive and can even be grouped into families. We know, in part from the very patterns of slight differences that crop up in widely separated places and in different languages, that these were widely disseminated quite early on. There is not a shred of evidence for the existence of any original text substantially at variance with the canonical texts. Here is a curious fact: the polemical controversies of the 2nd century are entirely missing from the gospels as we have them. That alone suggests that, whatever else the fathers in the 2nd century were doing, they were not freely rewriting the gospels.

[Evan:] Perfect knowledge of Jesus is pretty necessary since if these claims are false then the religion is preaching a "false Christ".

If by “perfect knowledge” you mean the sort of thing attainable only in mathematics and logic ... well, that’s attainable only in mathematics and logic. But I stand foursquare in the tradition of John Locke’s Essay, book 4, chapters 18 and 19 — oh, drat, I forgot, you won’t read it, will you?

[Evan:] The fact that Paul in the first century was very worried about this should give you some pause.

Obviously this isn’t what Paul was worried about. He had concrete false teachers to worry about.

[Evan:] How do you know that Paul, had he lived, wouldn't have been a Marcionite? What method do you use to determine this?

Because Marcion believed that the Hebrew deity was not the true God, whereas Paul held that Christianity was the fulfillment of the hopes of Judaism. To determine this, I read the accounts of Marcion’s beliefs in Tertullian and others and then read the letters of Paul and the book of Acts.

[Evan:] After discussing ulterior motive you dismissed my claims regarding persecution thusly:

[Tim:] What would we expect for the proponents of a new religion that told the Jews they had crucified their messiah and the Romans that the deities in their pantheon were frauds – housewarming parties?

[Evan:] The Roman state was very religiously tolerant.


Except when they were burning Christians for garden parties.

It allowed any belief system to flourish. The Romans even spent money building temples for other culture's gods. There is no evidence the Roman state was implicated in the death of Jesus in any text until Ignatius.

Haven’t you forgot Josephus again? Not to mention the gospels.

This dates to the 2nd century. You can conjecture all you want, but this is based on a modern understanding of orthodoxy. There is no historical evidence of the Roman state taking action against Christians for their religious beliefs until the 2nd century.

Since there is ample first century evidence in the gospels, and more in Josephus, I think this is just nonsense.

[Tim:] Does Paul say in Philippians 3:6 that he was a persecutor of the church? We’ll find some way to reinterpret that: maybe he just means that he was playing the music on his ice-cream truck really loud as he drove down the road to Damascus.

[Evan:] Paul was a Roman?


Yes, actually, he was a Roman citizen, though this is completely irrelevant.

[Evan] Paul worked for the Roman state? I was unaware of this. Where do you find this?

No, that is your own addition.

[Evan] That Jews persecuted Christians out of synagogues may very well be true.

Okay. Earlier you said:

[Evan:] There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.

Now you’re saying that Jews may well have persecuted Christians. Your wording is a little awkward: are you meaning to suggest that they merely tried to deny them fellowship in synagogues? That hardly squares with Paul’s own language in the epistles. If you’re admitting that the Jews persecuted the Christians more widely, then you’re effectively conceding the point.

[Evan:] Could not those Christians simply move away from the Jews who persecuted them?

Let’s stay on topic: the question on the table is whether the Christians were persecuted for their faith in the first century.

[Evan:] What exactly did Paul accuse Christians of when he was persecuting them? I have never seen any evidence for what this would have been.

In the book of Acts, Paul’s persecuting activities are those of an orthodox Jew who opposes the confession of Jesus as Messiah. From Galatians 1:23 we learn that the word in Judea was that Paul “who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy,” which makes it pretty plain that his earlier activities were designed to destroy the faith.

What would Paul do to Christians? Nobody ever says.

Then either you’ve never read your New Testament — unlikely, given what you’ve told us about your upbringing — or you have forgotten what it contains. He claims to have been responsible for imprisoning them; he went house to house searching for them in Jerusalem; heading down the road to Damascus, he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughterings.” We learn from Acts 26:10 that before his conversion he voted the death penalty for Christians. I’d say that was a man bent on doing some serious persecution.

[Tim:] Does Paul speak to the Thessalonians of afflictions and strive to strengthen their faith? Well, explain that away as a severe outbreak of chicken-pox or something.

[Evan:] It most certainly could have been a plague or an earthquake, but is more likely one of those "False Christs" who he was so worried about.


Wow: irony is dead. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 explicitly says that the Jews not only killed the Lord Jesus (hey, for the “Paul’s-Jesus-was-just-a-heavenly-being” folks out there, how did the Jews pull that one off?) but also “have persecuted us.”

[Tim:] Does Josephus give us a vivid picture of the martyrdom of James the brother of Jesus? Must’ve been a Christian interpolation, and never mind the fact that the story, with the juicy details Josephus gives about Ananus and Albinus, somehow didn’t find its way into the New Testament. Does the book of Acts give us a detailed, believable, independently verifiable account of Paul’s journeys across the empire spreading the gospel? Well, just because we can verify dozens of details in the narrative doesn’t mean that we have to believe the one thing that is repeated over and over, which is also the one thing we could have predicted even without direct evidence – that the earliest Christians were frequently persecuted.

[Evan:] So were the earleist Mormons.


But Evan, what kicked all of this off is that you wrote that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.” Are you standing by that claim, or not? If so, what do the Mormons have to do with it? If you’re giving it up, do us a favor and state explicitly that there were persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century, so that we won’t be left in suspense.

[Evan:] What evidence do you have that the persecuted Christians who Paul writes about weren't the ones who lost the 2nd century battle for orthodoxy?

Well, we know from Paul’s teaching what they believed, and it wasn’t Marcionism or Cerinthianism. The idea that there was some poor lost group of proto-Unitarians whose existence got forgotten in the 2nd century is a complete fantasy.

[Evan:] You seem to be arguing that people will not allow themselves to be persecuted for untrue beliefs. Is this really what you believe?

Huh? How did you get the idea that I believe this? I don’t, and I have never said anything that would suggest it. I’m not arguing that if they were persecuted they must have been right: I'm just contradicting your completely insupportable statement that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.”

[Tim:] Whether it was “empire-wide” is not the issue; whether it was always at the hands of the Romans or often at the hands of the Jews is not the issue: what matters is whether it was recurring and severe.

[Evan:] No, what matters is what they believed and why they were being persecuted, with what frequency, and what measures were available to them to avoid this persecution.


Until you withdraw your claim that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century,” this is just false; you’re trying to change the subject.

[Evan:] Again, the fact remains, there was always some place for Christians to go to avoid persecution in the 1st century, and we see churches in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Italy. This argues my point effectively enough.

This does nothing to support your claim that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.”

[Evan:] I then asked if you had read Doherty and you agreed you hadn't ...

Actually, what I said was that I had read only a little of Doherty’s work, not that I had read none of it. Just clarifying here.

[Evan:] ...and asked this:

[Tim:] Does Doherty also mention that Ignatius quotes from Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians? Does he mention that Polycarp quotes from all of the synoptic gospels, Acts, Romans, both Corinthian epistles, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, both of the epistles to the Thessalonians, both of the epistles to Timothy, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 and 3 John?

[Evan:] First, there is widespread skepticism about Ignatius in general. Many of his writings that were accepted by Eusebius are now regarded as forgeries, and the story of his journey from Antioch to Rome to be executed strains credulity.


The quotation from Matthew 10:16 occurs in the shorter (middle recension) text of the Epistle to Polycarp (2:2), almost universally regarded as genuine. The quotation from Matthew 19:12 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (6:1), which also contains an allusion to 1 Corinthians 13. The quotation from Matthew 12:33 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Ephesians (14:2). I could go on like this for quite some time.

[Evan:] Second let's look at what Ignatius actually says about Jesus of Nazareth.

0

That's it.


As it turns out, one of my students just finished translating the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans. Since this claim is such a spectacular blunder, I am going to quote the first three chapters of that Epistle, from the shorter version.

Chapter I

I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.

Chapter II

Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.

Chapter III

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, "Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit." And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.


Note the quotation from Luke 24:39 in that third chapter.

Evan, I don’t know any gentle way to put this: You have been deceived about what Ignatius says. Whatever your source was — your earlier comment suggests it was Doherty — do yourself a favor and get a different one. And get it fast.

[Evan:] Let's look at where Ignatius mentions the names "Matthew" "Luke" or "Acts".

Why?

[Evan:] You have been quite clear that you believe these are eyewitness texts from the 1st century.

Yep. Ignatius’s quotations from them, in the shorter versions of his letters, is pretty good evidence for this.

[Evan:] You believe they circulated with titles as independent works that were widely read and accepted as authoritative by the early church.

Nope: I never said they circulated with titles, just that we have no evidence that they ever circulated unattributed. There is a difference: a title is used to refer to a book qua book, whereas an attribution suffices to establish its authenticity and make it quotable. The latter is what I am claiming in Ignatius. Since you misunderstood me here, I’ll skip your list and move on.

[Evan:] That Ignatius quotes from Paul is of course in no way surprising. But that he doesn't even mention Nazareth is a bit vexing, isn't it?

No. Why should he make a reference, in short epistles, to a minor thing like the town where Jesus grew up? He’s busy doing important things like fighting the Docetists. Why should he recapitulate what the gospels available to his readers already say?

[Tim:] Does he mention that 1 Clement 13:2 contains a recapitulation of the Beatitudes, paralleling Matthew 5 and Luke 6, introduced with the words, “...remembering the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching forbearance and long-suffering: ...”?

[Evan:] And this speaks to the existence of a tradition of a historical Jesus that hadn't been fully fleshed out in the early 2nd century. No doubt about that.


What ...? This makes no sense. Remember, this is a response to your claim (derived from Doherty?) that “Clement doesn't mention the gospels.” The fact that Clement essentially quotes the gospels — his quotation here is no looser than his quotations from the Old Testament — and attributes the words to Jesus, and addresses this to his audience in Corinth as something they are supposed to remember, which clearly implies that they have known about it for some time already, closes the question as to whether the gospels were first- or second-century documents.

[Evan:] But why doesn't he mention the authors by name? Hengel and others are sure they had names by then.

False. Hengel maintains that they did not circulate unattributed. You repeatedly confuse this with their having names.

[Evan:] Why is he so silent about crediting them?

By “crediting” here you must mean “naming.” The answer is quite simple: this was typical practice in the second century. Ignatius doesn’t generally name the books of the Old Testament from which he quotes, either.

[Evan:] Then you said:

[Tim:] Not only have I never said that Tacitus was aware of Mark’s gospel, I disbelieve it, and I cannot imagine what I have said that could have given rise to this idea on your part.

[Evan:] Well I apologize. I misunderstood you. You quoted Douglas as an authority. Douglas believes that the miracles attributed to Vespasian are actually miracles that Christ did and were put onto Vespasian by Tacitus to stop the spread of Christianity. So you disavow Douglas on this point and I was confused. Thank you for clarifying and I'm sorry I am so lumberheaded as to have thought you were vouching for Douglas' analysis. You recall it here:

" ... the contrivers of the pagan imposture, having it in their view to check the rapid progress of Christianity, produced by an appeal to the miracles of its great founder, fabricated similar powers for their emperors ... "


No, no, no. You are simply misreading Douglas. Back up and go to p. 57 in The Criterion:

The circumstances which he expatiates so much upon, the character of the emperor, the veracity of Tacitus, the testimony of eye-witnesses, and the public nature of the facts, do indeed prove unexceptionably that the two men in question did apply to Vespasian in the manner related.

This provides the context you are missing for your quotation from p. 60: the “contrivers of the pagan imposture” are the two men who feign blindness and lameness, together with whoever put them up to it. Tacitus is not implicated.

[Tim] So your suggestion is that Eusebius, and Jerome, and Epiphanius, all just made up this story about the publication of Mark’s gospel because in Alexandria it somehow redounded to the glory of Constantine? There are a lot of steps missing here.

[Evan:] Romans felt that ancient religions were more valid than novelties, as novelties sprang up all the time. The older Eusebius could make Christianity seem, and the less of a novelty, the more likely it would be appealing to the bulk of polite Roman society it would be. If you doubt this, look at the pre-Jewish war concessions the Romans granted the Jews.


This is a non-starter. By the time Eusebius was writing in the 4th century, the origins of Christianity were well established.

[Evan:] Then, when discussing Mark you say:

[Tim:] You don’t suppose anyone who had firsthand acquaintance with Roman occupation of Palestine could pick up words like “denarius” and “legion,” do you? Or is your position that if someone did acquire such words, he couldn’t write a document using them and then go make copies of it in Alexandria? If there is an argument here, I’m missing it.

[Evan:] Anyone could do anything with regard to writing.


Then your reference to Latinisms is irrelevant, isn’t it?

[Evan:] Mark's writing suggests that the author learned Greek in Rome from bilingual speakers of both languages.

This looks like an attempt to explain the presence of Latin words. There is nothing that I am aware of in Mark’s vocabulary that requires him to have learned the terms in Rome rather than in Palestine. But this is all beside the point: the presence of Latinisms in his gospel says nothing against his having published it in Alexandria, which was your original claim.

[Evan] This would argue against him being an eyewitness in Palestine. The fact that the earliest manuscripts of Mark found in Coptic to this day date from the 6th century and that his gospel was not found at Nag Hammadi do argue strongly against Eusebius here.

Why? Mark writes a gospel in the first century. Half a millennium later, a Coptic copy was written. If there is a line of argument from this fact to the conclusion that Mark did not publish his gospel in Alexandria, I’m missing it. The fact that a copy of Mark was not found among a collection of gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi suggests (and that only weakly) only that the gospel of Mark was not an important text for an obscure gnostic community. To try to construct argument against Mark’s publication of his gospel in Alexandria from this fact is ridiculous.

[Evan:] You then chastise me for criticizing Dr. Craig without reading his dissertation. Again, we differ.

No: I criticize you for claiming that you are representing Craig’s entire set of criteria when, by your own admission, you have not made even an attempt to read through his many writings on the subject. This is careless.

[Evan:] Then we get to the nut meat:

[Tim:] Vespasian’s healings are reported to have taken place by eyewitnesses who had nothing to lose, and perhaps a little local fame to gain, by reporting them.

[Evan:] Doubtless they had much to gain, he was the emperor of the known world, and was considered to be the messiah by Josephus.

[Tim:] Jesus’ resurrection is reported by eyewitnesses who have their religion, their way of life, and their lives to lose by reporting them.

[Evan:] Here we fundamentally differ on the quality of the reports. You know my arguments and I know yours. You find mine wanting and vice versa. We have to agree to be friends on this one and let it go.


Evan, we can have a friendly disagreement, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to let you get away with making claims at variance with the evidence. And when you close your post with a statement like “Show me how I am wrong,” I reserve the right to do just that.

[Tim:] We don’t have Tacitus’s sources, and we have no information about their motives; ...

[Evan:] Just like with the gospels.


Of course you are wrong here. But you refuse to read anything on this point by anyone who believes in the resurrection that might present an argument that might change your mind.

[Tim:] ... we need not, however, attribute anything to them beyond a willingness to take a charade worked out to the benefit of the local deity at face value.

[Evan:] Couldn't have said it better.

[Tim:] We actually have the gospel sources ...

[Evan:] No we don't.


This is beginning to sound like the Monty Python Argument Clinic.

[Tim:] ... and we have both internal statements of their purposes and old tradition, going back to those whose lifetimes overlapped those of the apostles, regarding their purposes.

[Evan:] Here again, we look at the same church fathers and see different things.


Given your track record of getting the statements of the fathers wrong, including the stunner about Ignatius above, I think we might be able to explain our difference on this point in a pretty direct way.

[Tim:] Naturalistic explanations for healing a blind man who, according to the report, isn’t quite blind, and a lame man who, according to the report, isn’t quite lame, start right up front with the suggestion that the blind man wasn’t blind and the lame man wasn’t lame.

[Evan:] Resurrections of a man suggest he wasn't dead.


So here is a breakdown in the parallel. There is a naturalistic explanation for the Vespasian cases, accepting the multiple attestation (as Tacitus does) for the event (though not its miraculous nature). But there is no comparable naturalistic explanation for the resurrection. You have to go against the multiple attestation in the latter case, but not in the former.

[Tim:] Naturalistic explanations for the resurrection of a man killed by Roman crucifixion ... don’t measure up.

[Evan:] Yes they do. First, nobody saw his body resurrected.


Here again you shift the subject. You are not even trying to give a naturalistic explanation for the event of a resurrection; instead, you are trying to explain away the report — something you do not have to do in the case of the Vespasian cures.

The very point you raise, however, is a point against your theory. For if the story were being made up, who could resist giving a description of Jesus’ exist from the grave? In fact, that is what we find in the late apocryphal stories like the Gospel of Peter. The absence of such accounts from the canonical gospels is evidence of their earlier origin.

[Evan:] All we have are reports of his body being missing.

I do not know why you keep making false statements like this. Anybody can read Matthew 28, or Luke 24, or John 20 and 21, and see that what you say is untrue. Dispute the reports if you like — and I’m sure you will — but do not misrepresent the facts about their contents.

[Evan:] The FIRST report in John is of graverobbing.

No: that is merely the conclusion to which Mary jumps.

[Evan:] How you can doubt that this is a plausible explanation when the gospels themselves give it is really beyond me.

Keep reading John 20, starting at verse 11.

[Tim:] Naturalistic explanations for why someone would pretend to be blind or lame in order to flatter the presumptive emperor, who is a known sucker for oracles and omens, in the first city in Egypt to line up behind his imperial aspirations, start with the expectation of a little cash and local fame.

[Evan:] Undoubtedly.

[Tim:] Naturalistic explanations for why someone would try to get crucified by the Romans in order to ... oh, good grief.

[Evan:] Who suggests Jesus was trying to get crucified? Oh wait. You do. Got it.


Not at all. But in order to make the parallel you are trying to make with the cures of Vespasian, you have to. And it’s absurd.

[Evan:] Then you give me the legendary Craig's other criteria finally (and there is great rejoicing). I will apply them in turn to the resurrection:

Yet again you overread. I have found another link to what looks like a transcript of a talk where Craig goes into a bit more detail. I have not claimed that this represents his full set of criteria; I am not an expert on Craig’s work. And since you are not either, you should not be making such claims.

[Tim:] ... including temporal proximity to the event, ...

[Evan:] Vespasian > Gospels

This claim doesn’t make any sense. Our earliest written source for the Vespasian incident is Tacitus. The gap between the event and the writing is about 45 years. Our written sources for the resurrection are the creed embedded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (gap about 5 years, according to skeptics like Lüdemann; 20-25 year gap between the event and the epistle, by current dating of 1 Corinthians) and the gospels (gap varies; old sources place the first publication of Matthew at 8 or 15 years from the event; current liberal dating puts it at abouit 45 years; John is at about 60 years).

[Tim:] ... lack of characteristics of folk lore in the gospel accounts,

[Evan:] Vespasian = Gospels


Here I agree; there are no characteristics of folk lore in either account.

[Tim:] ... the nature of the Jewish tradition of transmission of sacred teaching

[Evan:] The same tradition that holds a donkey talked, a snake spoke, and a man went to heaven in a flaming chariot.


No: first-century protocols for the transmission of a Rabbi’s teaching, like the accolade given to Rabbi Eliezer, who is described as “a well-plastered cistern which loses not a drop.”

[Evan:] Up against Roman historical tradition?

Vespasian > Gospels


The question is whether there is room for the development of legend. The factor Craig cites closes one loophole here; that is all it needs to do. I’ll put Luke’s accuracy up against that of Tacitus, if you want, notwithstanding the genre differences in their writings.

[Tim:] ... the restraining influence of the actual presence of the apostles and other eyewitnesses on the development of legend

[Evan:] At BEST

Vespasian = Gospels


Not even close. There is no hint of hostile public reaction to the Vespasian events; there is overwhelming evidence of such hostile reaction to the faith of the early Christians. Slam dunk.

[Tim:] and the proven track record of historical accuracy in the gospels.

[Evan:] Up against the proven track record of Suetonius and Tacitus?

Vespasian > Gospels


Sorry to disappoint you, but Suetonius and Tacitus can’t even agree on whether the lame guy had a problem with his arm or with his leg. The tensions among the gospels are no greater than the disagreements that can be found between various accounts of Suetonius and Tacitus — and they had big libraries to consult, too. I’m going with the eyewitnesses at ground zero.

[Evan:] In not one instance is the miracle attributed to Vespasian less likely than the miraculous tales attributed to Jesus by those criteria.

My response to this is sufficiently clear from what I have said above.

[Evan:] The rest of our arguments are interesting but in the interests of focusing this discussion on the actual topic at hand I'll hold off on the rest of the things mentioned here.

Okay

[Evan:] You have now given me the exhaustive list of criteria by Craig.

No, I have given you a link to a talk where he applies some further criteria. I do not profess to have a comprehensive list of his criteria. You, who through deliberate choice will not even read Craig’s works, are in an even weaker position to make any claims about the matter.

I have applied them. Show me how I am wrong.

Done.

Evan said...

Tim,

Thanks for continuing the dialog. I am enjoying our back-and-forth even though we seem at cross purposes, I think you and I are beginning to see precise points of difference in our respective approaches and I appreciate your forbearance.

To put away the claim regarding psychoses, we can both agree that barring mental illness, there are few, if any people who doubt the existence of chickens, rain, thunder, clouds, rice, soil, plants, et cetera, yes?

Therefore explanations that entail only these facts are more credible than explanations that entail facts that seem incredible, such as someone being born from a god's head, or being born out of the side of a tree, or being born through some other miraculous process, or being borne up from the earth into cloud and then flying up to the heavens (I trust you believe Superman is in fact, mythical for example) is that not true?

Delusional people who are mentally ill may have hallucinations and report them as real events and I see you are aware of this. So there is needed some test to determine if a story may or may not be the product of delusion, single or multiple. I would argue that those texts which do not include events never observed by modern science to occur are magnitudes of order less probable than hallucination, which happens regularly, and this can pretty much close our discussion of universals as I'm sure you agree.

In regard to Tacitus you say I am misunderstanding you thusly:

No, this blurs the distinction I am making and gives an impression incompatible with what I have said. Tacitus reports the event. His evidence for it is good; I think he believed that the event transpired. What he seems to doubt is that there was anything miraculous in the event.

Yet you admit he in no way clearly states that he doubts there was anything miraculous don't you? He reports that after putting his spit on the man's eyes, the man could see again correct? Is this not exactly the story we see in Mark? Yet where in Mark do we have independent evaluation by physicians that the man was actually blind?

More importantly, might Mark simply be filling an old Hebrew archetype for a messianic figure? Isaiah 35:5-6 said: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy." So Mark when constructing his legend included miracles such as these. Now you can believe that the writer of Mark had never read Isaiah, but that would be quite a stretch. And you can also believe that the writer of Mark had actually witnessed these events and then read Isaiah and saw them confirmed.

But you must admit that the most probable event ceteris paribus is that Mark made up the story to conform to Isaiah.

Then when talking about the report of Christus under Pilate you say:

No, because there is nothing in his report to suggest a miracle. Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate. All that there is here is the event which Tacitus reports in dry, factual terms — no miraculous interpretation for Tacitus to disbelieve. So the cases are not parallel.

You're not quite right. You believe Jesus was executed and THEN you believe he was resurrected. You believe this story was widely circulated by Christians from the moment it happened. Yet you believe that Tacitus only heard about the crucifixion and makes no mention of the resurrection. Such friends are of little assistance. Do you think there was a large number of Christians in the late 1st century or early 2nd century who would report to Tacitus that Christus was crucified but not report he was resurrected?

We've agreed to disagree regarding my reading of apologists it looks like and you like my sheep/goat metaphor. Baaaa.

You say I/R/T Bauckham:

You cut the quotation off a bit early, but let that pass. The fact that Bauckham is trying to explain the historical data, using an historian’s tools, but with a view to the theological significance of what he unearths, hardly undermines the historical value of his arguments.

...I think that’s just prejudice on your part. In this introductory chapter, he is telling you where he is going — his conclusions, not his starting points.


I agree with you that Bauckham is telling me his conclusions, except that your opinion is that they are not foregone, whereas I believe you could present Bauckham any data and he would evince the same result.

Regarding "anti-supernaturalism" you say:

John has just said in this thread that there is, and presented himself as exhibit A:

[John:] are no amount of books that would convince me otherwise. I have an anti-supernatural bias

I’d say that’s a slam dunk.


I'd say it's more nuanced than that but not worth arguing about. If someone says they believe in gradualism and have an anti-catastrophe bias, it does not mean they rule out in advance catastrophe but that they prefer other explanations. John's statement could be read in that way. Suffice it to say whether you label it bias or "ism" both John and I reach for the supernatural as an explanation as the very last resort, as I imagine you do in your daily life at least.

In regard to explanatory paradigms you said:

I was following you up until that last sentence. “Congruent”? What I think you mean is that your mental life is simpler because you have cut a certain category of explanation out a priori. That’s certainly a simple way to make the world safe for atheism, but that doesn’t make it rational.

Congruent most definitely means I consider unnecessary entities to be just that: unnecessary. If you think about it, it's exactly what you do in your life. If someone dies, and their body is missing, you do not assume it has been resurrected. You don't assume it was resurrected even if it is never found. You don't assume it was resurrected even if eyewitnesses tell you they have seen the body alive. The only way you assume that it has been resurrected is if you see it your self or qualified skeptics who doubt the claim investigate it and find it to be accurate, and then you expect a close investigation of their findings.

Therefore, if you are not credulous, you apply a strict non-supernaturalism when you interact with your real life. You lose this when the evidence loses quality, pushed into a remote past, poorly documented. I find this incongruent, but you don't, and we have agreed to disagree.

You chastise me for not reading apologists again. I admit to not reading them. I assume you don't read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Russell and Strauss. I don't expect you to. I can give you my thumbnail of their arguments without referring you to them. That you find this process taxing is understandable, and I don't expect you to spoon feed me, but I do appreciate it when you cut through 477 page documents to at least give me a hint of the nut-meat contained in them.

As for people who start out skeptical and become believers, or people who start out as believers and become skeptics, I think we can both agree that honest people of good faith have gone to both sides. What matters is not biography, but argument and fact. You have admitted to this above and I appreciate it.

I have given you a description above of the normal human response to missing bodies. As you don't believe Elvis is alive, even though people report him to be, you admit the possibility of hallucination or mistaken identity. The story of the walk to Emmaus should make your assessment of the probability of hallucination or legend even more likely, but I'm sure it is dealt with in some Midrashic method.

In re: Vespasian you say:

As I have pointed out, the Vespasian event, though probably crafted to mimic some gospel miracles, is hardly parallel in quality of evidence to the evidence the gospels give us for the resurrection.

I can't make up my mind which you think. Do you think Tacitus was familiar with the gospels or not? Please let me know.

In addition, I completely agree with your conclusion, although I imagine we have the arrows in opposite directions.

You then talk about redaction:

But the redactions that we have good ground to believe have transpired are mostly trivial do not in any significant way undermine the core of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives.

I'm going to talk here at length a bit and I'm sorry if I run on but this takes a bit of telling.

I want you to imagine that I'm right and that the Jesus of Nazareth story was a late 1st century invention. I want you to imagine that the author of Mark is writing it after the destruction of the temple, and that he needs to write it in such a way that the legend will make sense to believers who believe in a mythic supernatural Christ who is a logos sent from the Father to the sublunar realm, and who is "crucified" in the sublunar realm and is "resurrected" after 3 days.

You now want to create a legendary tale that explains that this person was also a real human who existed on earth, but need to explain why nobody has heard of him for the last 70 years or so.

Might you not write a gospel where he kept his identity hidden?

At the end of this gospel, might you put a cryptic ending that explains that this person has on grave that is worshipped and suggests he has re-entered the sublunar realm? How might you represent the fact that nobody had ever heard of this resurrection? Might you end it this way:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


You end it there. They don't complete their duty. They don't tell anyone, and thus, nobody has ever heard of this story before. Jesus never pronounces he is the messiah, people only hint at it, and after he is crucified, nobody hears about his resurrection until Mark writes his gospel.

Is this not a plausible explanation for Mark? If it is at all plausible, is it not then MORE plausible than that a corpse rose from the dead?

I know that was long, but you need to be able to see where I think this comes from and I think your comments suggest that you don't.

It matters not whether there was a man Jesus in Palestine in the 1st century, if what Paul believed was something like this, and what Mark was doing was responding to the failed apocalyptic end of the world that Paul prophesied, does this not make sense?

You then talk about textual criticism thusly:

This is simply a confusion between the manuscripts and the autographs. Historians realize that even a late manuscript is quite valuable, and a whole score of late manuscripts, disagreeing with each other in minor ways, translated early into Syriac and Latin, give us wonderful material for determining the original text with a high degree of fidelity.

You have exactly described the technique for the reconstruction of "an original text". You cannot know that the text reconstructed was "the original text" unless you have several manuscripts published at the time the author wrote. Especially when it comes to a time where there were known heretical beliefs, and known scribal alterations, known destruction of "heretical texts", you cannot know what is not preserved and how it varies and why. This seems basic to me.

After discussing this idea above you say:

This is a poor analogy, for reasons that will be familiar to anyone who has read Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. But as Metzger believed that a dead man rose again, I don’t suppose you can be induced to read what he has written, despite the fact that he was, until his recent death, the world’s leading authority on the text of the New Testament.

Of course, nothing keeps you from summarizing his arguments. I'm sorry you don't wish to. I'm happy to summarize the arguments of people I think have good ideas to you. Then you say:

Also, it is simply false that all we have are ones that “survived as non-heretical.” We have Marcion’s gospel, for example, a mutilated version of Luke. The analysis of the text of Marcion’s gospel actually helps substantiate some interesting things about the original text of Luke.

You're right and I have to admit I was hasty in my generalization. But you do admit that there is no way to know if Marcion's gospel is anything other than one of the best gospels extant at his time. That Luke adds to what Marcion has suggests generally that Luke is the later work.

In fact there is recent scholarship to suggest this.

You then say:

The textual evidence is extensive and can even be grouped into families. We know, in part from the very patterns of slight differences that crop up in widely separated places and in different languages, that these were widely disseminated quite early on.

You know they were widely disseminated. You don't know the dates perfectly, and you can't fully tell which text variant has priority in many cases.

There is not a shred of evidence for the existence of any original text substantially at variance with the canonical texts.

Really? What about Marcion's gospel?

Here is a curious fact: the polemical controversies of the 2nd century are entirely missing from the gospels as we have them. That alone suggests that, whatever else the fathers in the 2nd century were doing, they were not freely rewriting the gospels.

They needn't freely rewrite them in the 2nd century -- they were written mostly in the 2nd century.

You then talk about perfect knowledge:

If by “perfect knowledge” you mean the sort of thing attainable only in mathematics and logic ... well, that’s attainable only in mathematics and logic. But I stand foursquare in the tradition of John Locke’s Essay, book 4, chapters 18 and 19 — oh, drat, I forgot, you won’t read it, will you?

I have read Locke. Locke is most definitely not a 20th century apologist. I doubt either of us would disagree with him:

That we want probability to direct our assent in matters where we have neither knowledge of our own nor testimony of other men to bottom our reason upon.
From these things thus premised, I think we may come to lay down the measures and boundaries between faith and reason: the want whereof may possibly have been the cause, if not of great disorders, yet at least of great disputes, and perhaps mistakes in the world. For till it be resolved how far we are to be guided by reason, and how far by faith, we shall in vain dispute, and endeavour to convince one another in matters of religion.


The primary question is who is making the mistake here. Luckily we can approach this in a friendly fashion and for that I am grateful.

In talking about Marcion and false Christs you say:

Because Marcion believed that the Hebrew deity was not the true God, whereas Paul held that Christianity was the fulfillment of the hopes of Judaism. To determine this, I read the accounts of Marcion’s beliefs in Tertullian and others and then read the letters of Paul and the book of Acts.

Your opinion of Acts remains far higher than mine. Are you sure that Paul did not believe in a demiurge though? Who was the archon of the age? Who were the principalities and powers we struggle against?

Does Paul refer to Yahweh specifically anywhere (I am ignorant on this and he may have)?

You then disagree with me vehemently regarding persecution. I will let readers judge for themselves and leave that discussion as it stands. You then say:

Then either you’ve never read your New Testament — unlikely, given what you’ve told us about your upbringing — or you have forgotten what it contains. He claims to have been responsible for imprisoning them; he went house to house searching for them in Jerusalem; heading down the road to Damascus, he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughterings.” We learn from Acts 26:10 that before his conversion he voted the death penalty for Christians. I’d say that was a man bent on doing some serious persecution.

Acts. Sigh. Acts is 2nd century. What does Paul in the non-deutero-Pauline epistles say?

Then you bring out your big gun:

Wow: irony is dead. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 explicitly says that the Jews not only killed the Lord Jesus (hey, for the “Paul’s-Jesus-was-just-a-heavenly-being” folks out there, how did the Jews pull that one off?) but also “have persecuted us.”

Scholars who consider 1 Thess 2:14-15 a scribal interpolation:

1. Birger A. Pearson: "1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation," Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971) p.79-94

2. Burton Mack: Who Wrote the New Testament? p.113

3. Wayne Meeks: The First Urban Christians, p.9, n.117

4. Helmut Koester: Introduction to the New Testament, vol. II, p.113

5. Pheme Perkins: Harper's Bible Commentary, p.1230, 1231-2

6. S. G. F. Brandon: The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, p.92-93

7. Paula Fredriksen: From Jesus to Christ, p.122

So you're on less firm footing than you may imagine.

As confirmation, please review Romans 11, where Paul indicts the Jews for killing their prophets, yet mentions Jesus nary once.

Further discussion of persecution results in you saying:

But Evan, what kicked all of this off is that you wrote that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.” Are you standing by that claim, or not? If so, what do the Mormons have to do with it? If you’re giving it up, do us a favor and state explicitly that there were persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century, so that we won’t be left in suspense.

What kicked this all off was you asserting that because people were willing to undergo persecution for their Christianity, it must have been true and therefore Jesus was resurrected. You admit later that you do not believe this. Therefore, the willingness or lack thereof of people to undergo persecution is immaterial to the facts of their belief and should not be taken as evidence in its favor, or evidence against it.

Again, I invite you to show me an EMPIRE-WIDE persecution of Christians in the 1st century. If you are merely asserting that there was bad behavior, I am sure there was. Nero was a monster who treated the proto-Christians terribly. Caligula treated the Roman Senate terribly. Was the Roman Senate persecuted throughout the first century CE?

I mention that Ignatius nowhere mentions the title of Matthew and mentions Luke only once, and was widely regarded to be a forgery. You responded:

The quotation from Matthew 10:16 occurs in the shorter (middle recension) text of the Epistle to Polycarp (2:2), almost universally regarded as genuine. The quotation from Matthew 19:12 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (6:1), which also contains an allusion to 1 Corinthians 13. The quotation from Matthew 12:33 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Ephesians (14:2). I could go on like this for quite some time.

And I could mention that all you are showing are textual tesserae, not references, I admit there is a reference to Luke. There is no reference to Matthew or Acts, and there is no mention of Nazareth. Nothing you show here changes that. Does the Golden Rule showing up in India in the 5th century BCE prove that Buddha was Jesus?

You now admit that the gospels were unattributed -- what happened to Hengel???

Your response:

False. Hengel maintains that they did not circulate unattributed. You repeatedly confuse this with their having names.

That's because I see them as synonyms. In what way were they referred to if they were attributed? Sign language? Color? Paper shape?

You try to dodge this problem with:

By “crediting” here you must mean “naming.” The answer is quite simple: this was typical practice in the second century. Ignatius doesn’t generally name the books of the Old Testament from which he quotes, either.

So ... you admit that all you have are textual tesserae of no known authorship and priority can't be established. Seems cool to me.

When it comes to Mark you say:

Why? Mark writes a gospel in the first century. Half a millennium later, a Coptic copy was written. If there is a line of argument from this fact to the conclusion that Mark did not publish his gospel in Alexandria, I’m missing it. The fact that a copy of Mark was not found among a collection of gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi suggests (and that only weakly) only that the gospel of Mark was not an important text for an obscure gnostic community. To try to construct argument against Mark’s publication of his gospel in Alexandria from this fact is ridiculous.

I leave this for readers to decide. You've summed up the evidence quite well for me.

You then say:

No: I criticize you for claiming that you are representing Craig’s entire set of criteria when, by your own admission, you have not made even an attempt to read through his many writings on the subject. This is careless.

Yes, you can't criticize me until you have read every word I've written. Wait -- I think you can. I have no problem with you criticizing me for anything I say. If I'm wrong, I'm happy to know it. Why there has to be some uber-knowledge of someone's entire life before you can criticize them boggles the mind. I hope you don't really believe this.

Finally you go through the Vespasian situation. First you say:

But there is no comparable naturalistic explanation for the resurrection. You have to go against the multiple attestation in the latter case, but not in the former.

There are multiple attestations of grave-robbing IN the gospels. This is a comparable naturalistic explanation exactly equivalent to what is in Tacitus. That you can't see it is perfectly fine. I'm glad you are honest about it. But graverobbing requires ZERO odd assumptions, even assuming there was a Jesus and there was a Joseph of Arimathea.

As I have shown above, it would be your first belief about a modern missing body.

Then you say:

The very point you raise, however, is a point against your theory. For if the story were being made up, who could resist giving a description of Jesus’ exist from the grave? In fact, that is what we find in the late apocryphal stories like the Gospel of Peter. The absence of such accounts from the canonical gospels is evidence of their earlier origin.

Read above, there is a reason Mark would give the cryptic tale he does with instructions to never tell anyone and the women following those instructions. When it comes to the Gospel of Peter, draw a line from Mark to him. Tell me that's not legendary development -- please.

Then you say:

I do not know why you keep making false statements like this. Anybody can read Matthew 28, or Luke 24, or John 20 and 21, and see that what you say is untrue. Dispute the reports if you like — and I’m sure you will — but do not misrepresent the facts about their contents.

I invite readers to look up your cites. What they will see is legendary development. What they will see is easily explained by that process, it's also explained by hallucination, psychosis or delusion, very common and frequent phenomena, additionally it's explained by conscious fiction.

You don't have pictures or video here. How you can argue the probability of the miraculous here really escapes me.

As to Mary's first reaction you say:

No: that is merely the conclusion to which Mary jumps.

Yes, the same you would. The same anyone would. Why is that? Because it is the most probable. It's the one you would believe in pretty much any case.

I leave it to the reader to read your interpolated comments between mine regarding Craig's updated list of criteria. I'm very satisfied leaving that there.

Thank you very much Tim for showing me what you think, I'm really enjoying our dialog.

Tim said...

Evan,

This exchange is getting long, so I am going to follow your lead and be selective in what I address. This may also be my last contribution to the thread. Spring break is over and I have many other commitments that I have set aside to indulge in conversations here; time to get back to paying the bills.

[Evan:] Therefore explanations that entail only these facts are more credible than explanations that entail facts that seem incredible, ...

That depends on whether they do the job well as explanations. Sub-atomic particles are not visible and are not obviously required to explain day-to-day experience; yet the best explanation of our experience does involve their existence.

[Evan] I would argue that those texts which do not include events never observed by modern science to occur are magnitudes of order less probable than hallucination, which happens regularly, ...

Not necessarily. If you have to invoke hallucination over and over again, the plausibility of your explanation goes down fast.

[Evan:] In regard to Tacitus you say I am misunderstanding you thusly:

[Tim:] No, this blurs the distinction I am making and gives an impression incompatible with what I have said. Tacitus reports the event. His evidence for it is good; I think he believed that the event transpired. What he seems to doubt is that there was anything miraculous in the event.

[Evan:] Yet you admit he in no way clearly states that he doubts there was anything miraculous don't you?


He makes his disbelief plain enough, as Campbell makes clear (pp. 164-65):

Indeed, the historian doth not say directly, whether he believes the miracle or not; but, by his manner of telling it, he plainly insinuates, that he thought it ridiculous. In introducing it, he intimates the utility of such reports to the emperor’s cause. “By which,” says he, “the favour of Heaven, and the appointment of the gods, might be urged in support of his title.” When he names the god Serapis, as warning the blind man to recur to Vespasion, he adds, in evident contempt and derision of his godship, “Who is adored above all others by the Egyptians, a people addicted to superstition.” Again he speaks of the emperor, as induced to hope for success, by the persuasive tongues of flatterers [Vocibus adulantium in spem induci]. A serious believer of the miracle would hardly have used such a style in relating it.

[Evan:] He reports that after putting his spit on the man's eyes, the man could see again correct?

“Again” here is misleading, as Tacitus is careful to report the judgment of the physicians that the blind man was not utterly blind.

[Evan:] Is this not exactly the story we see in Mark?

The affair does very much seem to be contrived to mimic the account we have in Mark.

[Evan:] Yet where in Mark do we have independent evaluation by physicians that the man was actually blind?

There are two issues here. First, there is misdirection in your question: the evaluation of the physicians in the Vespasian case was that the “blind” man still had sight. The fact that there is no set of physicians on hand in the Mark case does not prove that the man in the Markan account was blind — but the absence of a medical inquest equally does not prove, what the inquest in the Vespasian case does prove, that he wasn’t.

Second, you are having trouble staying on subject. The question at issue is not whether the even recounted in Mark was a genuine miracle but rather whether in the Vespasian case there was a deliberate attempt to imitate the account in Mark. Your comment indicates that you are sliding from one issue to the other.

[Evan:] More importantly, might Mark simply be filling an old Hebrew archetype for a messianic figure?

Very doubtful, but again, this is irrelevant to the question of whether the Vespasian case was an attempt to imitate the Markan account.

[Evan:] But you must admit that the most probable event ceteris paribus is that Mark made up the story to conform to Isaiah.

In light of the total evidence, I believe that this is not the most probable event. But this yet another departure from the question at issue, which is whether the Vespasian event was orchestrated as an imitation of the Markan account.

[Evan:] Then when talking about the report of Christus under Pilate you say:

[Tim:] No, because there is nothing in his report to suggest a miracle. Jesus was executed under Pontius Pilate. All that there is here is the event which Tacitus reports in dry, factual terms — no miraculous interpretation for Tacitus to disbelieve. So the cases are not parallel.

[Evan:] You're not quite right. You believe ...


Stop right there. What we’re looking at here are two passages in Tacitus: one in which he reports an event in Alexandria featuring Vespasian and a couple of people seeking healing, the other in which he reports the execution of Christus under Pontius Pilate. What I believe is not to the point. Once again, you are turning away from the sources and trying to widen the discussion before allowing the historical sources to speak. I can understand why you find this desirable: the public facts, including the texts of these documents, create some embarrassment for you, and you must explain them away as best you can. But ducking away from the facts is not a fair way to conduct a discussion.

[Evan:] ... Jesus was executed and THEN you believe he was resurrected. You believe this story was widely circulated by Christians from the moment it happened.

Not quite: I believe (but why are we talking about what I believe here anyway?) that it was widely circulated among Christians from the first few months after it happened.

[Evan:] Yet you believe that Tacitus only heard about the crucifixion and makes no mention of the resurrection.

Just as one would expect for a Roman who has, as far as we can tell, no first-hand knowledge of Christianity.

[Evan:] Such friends are of little assistance.

Here again, as above, you conflate two purposes for which one might invoke the famous passage in the Annals. If Christians were trying to argue directly from the account in Tacitus to the truth of the resurrection, the Annals would not be a promising place to start. But no thoughtful Christian does this. Rather, the significance of the passage in Tacitus is that it provides independent confirmation of the existence and execution of Christ under Pontius Pilate.

Now, such evidence is not really necessary. The New Testament documents provide ample evidence for these things and more besides. But there are mythers out there, and for their sakes it is useful to point out that there is adequate evidence outside of the New Testament for the existence and execution of Jesus under Pontius Pilate.

[Evan] Do you think there was a large number of Christians in the late 1st century or early 2nd century who would report to Tacitus that Christus was crucified but not report he was resurrected?

I don’t suppose that Christians were reporting to Tacitus at all. As I have pointed out, the most plausible source for his material is not Christians but rather Josephus.

[Evan:] Regarding "anti-supernaturalism" you say:

[Tim:] John has just said in this thread that there is, and presented himself as exhibit A:

[John:] There are no amount of books that would convince me otherwise. I have an anti-supernatural bias

[Tim:] I’d say that’s a slam dunk.

[Evan:] I'd say it's more nuanced than that but not worth arguing about.


Once again you’ve left out the context. I raised this to address the following statement that you made:

[Evan:] There is so much here to disagree with, but let's start with the premise that there is such a thing as anti-supernaturalism.

When someone says that no amount of books would convince him otherwise and then follows this up with the explanatory comment that he has “an anti-supernatural bias” — his words, not mine — I should say that closes the discussion on the question of whether there is such a thing as anti-supernaturalism. This is not an expression of a preference for other explanations: it is a statement that they are ruled out from the beginning. And in fact you have said something to the same effect in this discussion:

[Evan] However, one thing I'm not open to is that men rose from the dead.

That is anti-supernaturalism.

[Evan:] You chastise me for not reading apologists again. I admit to not reading them. I assume you don't read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Russell and Strauss.

Why would you assume this? Perhaps you missed this bit, from above in this thread, 11:16 PM, March 19, 2008:

[Evan:] I could just as easily demand that you go read David Friedrich Strauss, who remains in the minds of most non-evangelical Biblical scholars one of the premier Biblical historians of the 19th century.

[Tim:] Too late: I've done it already. Reading the classic attacks on Christianity is one of my hobbies.


Or perhaps you missed this bit, 11:41 PM, March 22, 2008:

[Tim:] I have made a conscious choice to read at least a wide cross section of the people I disagree with in order to be better informed about the alternatives to my own position.

In fact, Strauss is another good example of someone who exhibits anti-supernaturalism; see, for example, his Life of Jesus, §14.

[Evan:] I have given you a description above of the normal human response to missing bodies. As you don't believe Elvis is alive, even though people report him to be, you admit the possibility of hallucination or mistaken identity. The story of the walk to Emmaus should make your assessment of the probability of hallucination or legend even more likely, but I'm sure it is dealt with in some Midrashic method.

The Emmaus road case is particularly embarrassing for the hallucination theory, since the two disciples did not even recognize Jesus for the entire journey and conversation until the breaking of the bread. This is not characteristic of hallucinations.

[Tim:] As I have pointed out, the Vespasian event, though probably crafted to mimic some gospel miracles, is hardly parallel in quality of evidence to the evidence the gospels give us for the resurrection.

[Evan:] I can't make up my mind which you think. Do you think Tacitus was familiar with the gospels or not? Please let me know.


I already have, multiple times. Like here:

[Tim:] Not only have I never said that Tacitus was aware of Mark’s gospel, I disbelieve it, and I cannot imagine what I have said that could have given rise to this idea on your part.

Moving on ...

[Tim:] But the redactions that we have good ground to believe have transpired are mostly trivial do not in any significant way undermine the core of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives.

[Evan:] I'm going to talk here at length a bit and I'm sorry if I run on but this takes a bit of telling.


I think what follows is more bizarre than most of the science fiction I have read. But just this once, I’ll play along, because it turns out to be highly amusing.

I want you to imagine that I'm right and that the Jesus of Nazareth story was a late 1st century invention. I want you to imagine that the author of Mark is writing it after the destruction of the temple, and that he needs to write it in such a way that the legend will make sense to believers who believe in a mythic supernatural Christ who is a logos sent from the Father to the sublunar realm, and who is "crucified" in the sublunar realm

Bad news: the constellation Cygnus is not sublunar, even on ancient cosmologies.

More bad news: there is no trace of the existence of people in the first century who believed these nutty things.

...and is "resurrected" after 3 days.

I’d have to know what the heck they thought this could mean. Unfortunately, since they didn’t exist, they haven’t left any explanations.

[Evan:] You now want ...

Whoa there! How did I get put into this position? I’m not in the business of writing up fiction and palming it off as fact. And by an extension of the golden rule, I would need evidence before deciding that someone else had done so.

I will continue with this charade, but only under protest.

... to create a legendary tale that explains that this person was also a real human who existed on earth, but need to explain why nobody has heard of him for the last 70 years or so.

Might you not write a gospel where he kept his identity hidden?


Well, if I did, it wouldn’t look anything like Mark’s gospel. After all, Peter lets the cat out of the bag by chapter 8, where he confesses Jesus to be the Messiah. And in chapter 11 we have Jesus making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem—not exactly anonymous. I’d be sure not to include any reference to his interactions with known people in official positions like Pontius Pilate (chapter 15), and I’d make sure not to say things about there being many witnesses to his crucifixion, or to say that he would appear to his disciples in Galilee. That would be an asinine way to shield his historical existence from Christians for the next 70 years.

[Evan:] At the end of this gospel, might you put a cryptic ending that explains that this person has on grave ...

There must be a typo here.

[Evan:] ... that is worshipped ...

No; that would suggest that he should be well-known. But that would rule out Mark in any event, since there is no hint of grave worship in Mark.

[Evan:] ... and suggests he has re-entered the sublunar realm?

I don’t think the word “sublunar” means what you think it means. We inhabit the sublunar realm.

[Evan:] How might you represent the fact that nobody had ever heard of this resurrection? Might you end it this way:

[Quote of Mark 16:1-8 snipped here]

[Evan:] You end it there.


Not on your life. I know better than to finish a story with the word γαρ. There’s not a single Greek manuscript in existence that ends that way: people would be sure to say that the manuscript was broken off and incomplete.

[Evan:] They don't complete their duty. They don't tell anyone, and thus, nobody has ever heard of this story before. Jesus never pronounces he is the messiah, people only hint at it, and after he is crucified, nobody hears about his resurrection until Mark writes his gospel.

Is this not a plausible explanation for Mark?


Not even remotely. It is like “explaining” how someone hid from the Nazis by repeatedly lighting off signal flares around his hiding place.

[Evan:] You then talk about textual criticism thusly:

[Tim:] This is simply a confusion between the manuscripts and the autographs. Historians realize that even a late manuscript is quite valuable, and a whole score of late manuscripts, disagreeing with each other in minor ways, translated early into Syriac and Latin, give us wonderful material for determining the original text with a high degree of fidelity.

[Evan:] You have exactly described the technique for the reconstruction of "an original text". You cannot know that the text reconstructed was "the original text" unless you have several manuscripts published at the time the author wrote.


This has been known to be false since Bentley demolished it in his Remarks on a late Discourse of Free-Thinking. See remark 32.

[Evan:] Especially when it comes to a time where there were known heretical beliefs, and known scribal alterations, known destruction of "heretical texts", you cannot know what is not preserved and how it varies and why. This seems basic to me.

Then you need to dig in and learn something about the subject. You are greatly exaggerating the difficulties of determining the original text with a high degree of fidelity. That is not to say that the process is trivial, just that it can be done and done well by known textual means.

[Tim:] This is a poor analogy, for reasons that will be familiar to anyone who has read Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. But as Metzger believed that a dead man rose again, I don’t suppose you can be induced to read what he has written, despite the fact that he was, until his recent death, the world’s leading authority on the text of the New Testament.

[Evan:] Of course, nothing keeps you from summarizing his arguments. I'm sorry you don't wish to. I'm happy to summarize the arguments of people I think have good ideas to you.


Three things prevent me from summarizing his arguments. The first is that they require space for adequate portrayal, and this is a blog thread. The second is that I have limited time and that I do consider a reference to the professional literature to be sufficient for anyone who actually wants to educate himself about these matters. The third is that you have consistently misrepresented sources I have given you, misread and misrepresented my own position, and made ridiculous and insupportable claims about early Christianity ([Evan:] “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century”), the manuscripts of the gospels ([Evan:] “The first manuscripts we have are from the 4th centur.”) and the early Christian writings ([Evan:] “Second let's look at what Ignatius actually says about Jesus of Nazareth. 0 That's it”).

False facts, as Darwin says, are injurious things. After dealing with this sort of thing repeatedly, I am reminded of the injunction μηδε βαλητε τους μαργαριτας υμων εμπροσθεν των χοιρων.

[Tim:] Also, it is simply false that all we have are ones that “survived as non-heretical.” We have Marcion’s gospel, for example, a mutilated version of Luke. The analysis of the text of Marcion’s gospel actually helps substantiate some interesting things about the original text of Luke.

[Evan:] You're right and I have to admit I was hasty in my generalization. But you do admit that there is no way to know if Marcion's gospel is anything other than one of the best gospels extant at his time. That Luke adds to what Marcion has suggests generally that Luke is the later work.


Not at all: the case is quite the opposite, both from internal evidence and from external evidence. Irenaeus gives us a description of the things Marcion cut out not only from Luke’s gospel but also from Paul’s epistles. This was the modus operandi of the Marcionites: they were very explicit about their rejection of scriptures others accepted, including the whole of the Old Testament. Pursuing this idea, Marcion cut out all of the passages in the New Testament that had a link to the Old Testament. The mutilation provoked responses from his contemporaries and near contemporaries like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Epiphanius, Tertullian, and they refer to this mutilation not as a discovery of their own but as a notorious fact. Curiously, according to Tertullian (Against Marcion 4.2 and 4.4), Marcion erased the name of Luke from the beginning of his copy of his mutilated gospel — a fascinating comment, since it indicates quite incidentally that indicates that the gospels as they were circulating in Marcion’s time (c. 130) had the names of their authors attached.

How about the internal evidence? Well, note that Marcion’s version of Luke 17:2 has the curious interpolation ει ουκ εγεννηθη η, found also in Clement and in some Latin codices. This suggests that already by Marcion’s time Luke 17:2 and Matthew 26:24 were beginning to be combined, which entails that the texts were widely enough available to be conflated by multiple authors. Or take the way that Marcion’s gospel hacks up Luke 4:31 but preserves κατηλθεν — “he came down” — giving it the bizarre meaning of a descent of the Aeon Christus from heaven to earth. (Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 1.19: Jesus de coelo manare dignatus est.)

Independently, we can compare the passages present in Luke but omitted in Marcion’s gospel with the rest of Luke in order to determine whether the vocabulary and diction in the passages in question matches the vocabulary and diction of Luke generally. This is not a trivial point. Matthew, for example, speaks of the Pharisees and scribes (γραμματεις); Luke does not use that term but rather speaks of the Pharisees and lawyers (νομικοι). As it happens, Luke 7:30 is one of the verses Marcion’s gospel omits; in our canonical text of Luke, we find the vocabulary consonant with Luke’s usage elsewhere. This sort of evidence is pervasive across the passages in question. Luke has a distinctive, even idiosyncratic Greek style. He likes to use το to cover an entire phrase; he frequently uses του pleonastically with the infinitive (a construction found only once in Mark, over two dozen times in Luke); he uses εν τω with the infinitive (a construction found three times in Matthew, once in Mark, and over three dozen times in Luke). Each of these characteristic Lukan constructions is found repeatedly in the passages in question, such as 1:8, 1:21, 2:6, 2:27, 2:43, 3:21, 4:10, 19:48, 21:22, 22:37. Beyond doubt, these passages were part of Luke’s original text and not inserted by some later redactor.

For some time in the mid 1800s, Baur and Ritschl tried to maintain the position that Luke was an interpolated version of Marcion’s gospel. But they were shot down by Volkmar and Hilgenfeld, and by the middle of the century Baur had backed off and Ritschl had altogether repudiated this claim. After 1860, attempts to revive the view have been marginal. Cassels’s attempt was a spectacular failure, made all the more embarrassing by the fact that he had a scholar of Lightfoot’s caliber for an antagonist.

[Evan:] In fact there is recent scholarship to suggest this.

I haven’t read the article yet, but from the precis it doesn’t look promising. Anyone trying to defend the position that Marcion’s gospel is not a redaction of Luke has to overcome a mountain of evidence to the contrary. The points I have mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg.

[Tim:] The textual evidence is extensive and can even be grouped into families. We know, in part from the very patterns of slight differences that crop up in widely separated places and in different languages, that these were widely disseminated quite early on.

[Evan] You know they were widely disseminated. You don't know the dates perfectly, and you can't fully tell which text variant has priority in many cases.


We are talking about “variants” that mostly amount to leaving out “the,” or saying “scribes and Pharisees” instead of “Pharisees and scribes” — completely trivial variations. The cases where textual variation causes any doubt about the meaning are rare and do not cast any doubt on the question of whether Jesus actually walked the earth in the first quarter of the first century. Only ignorance of the actual nature of the textual variants or an overwhelming commitment to a revisionary agenda would lead someone to claim otherwise.

[Tim:] There is not a shred of evidence for the existence of any original text substantially at variance with the canonical texts.

[Evan:] Really? What about Marcion's gospel?


Sorry to have taken that toy away from you, Evan, but you can’t play with it any more.

[Tim:] Here is a curious fact: the polemical controversies of the 2nd century are entirely missing from the gospels as we have them. That alone suggests that, whatever else the fathers in the 2nd century were doing, they were not freely rewriting the gospels.

[Evan:] They needn't freely rewrite them in the 2nd century -- they were written mostly in the 2nd century.


What’s that line from Pascal’s Pensees? “Unbelievers are the most credulous persons in the world.”

[Evan:] You then talk about perfect knowledge:

[Tim:] If by “perfect knowledge” you mean the sort of thing attainable only in mathematics and logic ... well, that’s attainable only in mathematics and logic. But I stand foursquare in the tradition of John Locke’s Essay, book 4, chapters 18 and 19 — oh, drat, I forgot, you won’t read it, will you?

[Evan:] I have read Locke. Locke is most definitely not a 20th century apologist.


Must’ve been before you instituted the ban on reading people who believe in the resurrection, which Locke most emphatically did.

[Evan:] Your opinion of Acts remains far higher than mine. ...

Acts. Sigh. Acts is 2nd century.


Alas! We’re going to remain far apart on that one, since you will not go and read the evidence for the historical accuracy of Acts.

[Tim:] Wow: irony is dead. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 explicitly says that the Jews not only killed the Lord Jesus (hey, for the “Paul’s-Jesus-was-just-a-heavenly-being” folks out there, how did the Jews pull that one off?) but also “have persecuted us.”

[Evan:] Scholars who consider 1 Thess 2:14-15 a scribal interpolation:

[Evan’s list of seven people may be found above; those I have been able to check simply recapitulate Birger Pearson’s arguments, if that.]

[Evan:] So you're on less firm footing than you may imagine.


Let’s start with the manuscripts of 1 Thessalonians. What do we find in A, B, D, F, G, H, I, P, Y, 0208, 0278, and the Syriac and Coptic texts? In every case, 1 Thess 2: 13-16 is present. How about in quotations by the church fathers? Origin, Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine and Chrysostom all quote from it. There is not a shred of textual evidence that this passage is not authentic.

This leads to a fundamental methodological question. Should subjective theological presuppositions or preconceptions about the distance between Acts and the Pauline epistles — particularly preconceptions not grounded in the text of the New Testament, our only extensive first-century source on the matter, about whether the Judean church lived in complete harmony with Judaism — outweigh the unanimous textual evidence? The theological and form-critical arguments brought against the authenticity of the passage are frankly poor, even question begging. One is that it doesn’t seem to fit with “thanksgiving”; another arises from a misunderstanding of Paul’s use of μιμηται in 2:14; a third is (this is embarrassing even to summarize) the Jews didn’t persecute the Christians in Judea (we’re sure!), so any evidence that says they did must not be for real.

I have not the time to go into a more detailed critique of the interpolation claim. But you can find some good discussion in G. E. Okeke, “1 Thessalonians 2.13-16: The Fate of the Unbelieving Jews,” New Testament Studies 27 (1981): 127-36.

[Tim:] But Evan, what kicked all of this off is that you wrote that “There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.” Are you standing by that claim, or not? If so, what do the Mormons have to do with it? If you’re giving it up, do us a favor and state explicitly that there were persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century, so that we won’t be left in suspense.

[Evan:] What kicked this all off was you asserting that because people were willing to undergo persecution for their Christianity, it must have been true and therefore Jesus was resurrected.


Really? Let’s see. Here’s the original exchange, as you yourself framed it in your post timestamped 3:37 AM, March 22, 2008:

[Evan:] I then stated:

Those who were flattering the Christ-cult were doing so to gain favor within that cult.

And you replied:

[Tim:] ... and get crucified or thrown to the lions for their pains? Ah, right.

[Evan:] There were no persecutions of Christians for believing in Christ in the first century.


The best I can say for your claim about the origins of this exchange is that you must have seriously overinterpreted my sardonic comment. My point was simply that the first-century persecution of the Christians would make flattering them an unattractive career move.

[Evan:] Therefore, the willingness or lack thereof of people to undergo persecution is immaterial to the facts of their belief and should not be taken as evidence in its favor, or evidence against it.

This conclusion is false and shows your failure to understand the structure of the Christian argument. Their willingness to undergo persecution is evidence of their sincere belief in the truth of that which they believe. Although this is not, by itself, a proof of the truth of that belief, it may be strong evidence for it provided that the belief in question is one about which they almost certainly could not be mistaken. A Hindu may be willing to die for his belief that Agni will be with him for his weal, but this is not a matter directly open to the senses; his sincerity may be placed beyond all question by his willingness to die for his belief, but the truth of his belief will not. But for a witness to the risen Christ to face persecution and brave death for proclaiming what he had witnessed shows more than his sincerity, for it is extremely unlikely that he could be sincerely mistaken about this belief.

[Evan:] I mention that Ignatius nowhere mentions the title of Matthew and mentions Luke only once, and was widely regarded to be a forgery.

You were more careful the first time, when you mentioned that some of the letters attributed to Ignatius have been widely considered to be forgeries. Your present statement goes beyond that and gives the impression that the entire corpus is widely regarded to be a forgery, which is of course false — yet another in the long series of falsehoods you have unblushingly asserted in this conversation. That is why I took the trouble in my reply, quoted below, to indicate that the references I am giving are from the shorter versions of the epistles almost universally regarded as genuine.

[Tim:] The quotation from Matthew 10:16 occurs in the shorter (middle recension) text of the Epistle to Polycarp (2:2), almost universally regarded as genuine. The quotation from Matthew 19:12 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (6:1), which also contains an allusion to 1 Corinthians 13. The quotation from Matthew 12:33 is found in the shorter version of the Epistle to the Ephesians (14:2). I could go on like this for quite some time.

[Evan:] And I could mention that all you are showing are textual tesserae, not references, ...


And you would be a fool for saying so. The question is not whether Ignatius says “and in Matthew 10:16, it says ...” since this isn’t the way that he quotes from any scriptures, even Old Testament scriptures. If that is what you mean by “references,” then you’re looking for the wrong sort of thing for second century texts. But let’s see:

Matthew 10:16: Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents (φρονιμοι ως οι οφεις) and harmless as doves. (ακεραιοι ως αι περιστεραι)

Poly. 2:2: Be in all things "wise as a serpent (φρονιμος ... ως ο οφεις) and harmless as a dove" (ακεραιος ... ως η περιστερα)

Luke 24:39: ... handle me and see for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have

Smyr. 3:1: For myself, I am convinced and believe that even after the resurrection he was in the flesh. Indeed, when he came to Peter and his friends, he said to them, "Take hold of me, touch me and see that I am not a bodiless ghost."

[Evan:] You now admit that the gospels were unattributed -- what happened to Hengel???

Your response:

[Tim:] False. Hengel maintains that they did not circulate unattributed. You repeatedly confuse this with their having names.

[Evan:] That's because I see them as synonyms.


No wonder you are confused, then.

In what way were they referred to if they were attributed? Sign language? Color? Paper shape?

Early second century practice was commonly to quote from them, just like from the Septuagint.

[Evan:] You try to dodge this problem with:

[Tim:] By “crediting” here you must mean “naming.” The answer is quite simple: this was typical practice in the second century. Ignatius doesn’t generally name the books of the Old Testament from which he quotes, either.

[Evan:] So ... you admit that all you have are textual tesserae ...


Of course not; and after all of the evidence that I have given you, it is an ungentlemanly rhetorical strategy for you to make this claim about my beliefs. The texts, both in English and in Greek, line up well enough to establish that Ignatius has the gospels in mind.

[Evan:] ... of no known authorship ...

Ignatius’s authorship of the seven epistles is not in doubt. The authorship of the gospels is in dispute between us; again, it is disingenuous of you to suggest that I have capitulated to you when I have repeatedly stated and argued to the contrary and provided you references — even if you refuse to go read them because the authors disagree with your preconceptions.

[Evan:] ... and priority can't be established.

If your position is that Smyr. 3:1-2 could plausibly have been written prior to Luke 24:39, you are beyond hope.

[Evan:] When it comes to Mark you say:

[Tim:] Why? Mark writes a gospel in the first century. Half a millennium later, a Coptic copy was written. If there is a line of argument from this fact to the conclusion that Mark did not publish his gospel in Alexandria, I’m missing it. The fact that a copy of Mark was not found among a collection of gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi suggests (and that only weakly) only that the gospel of Mark was not an important text for an obscure gnostic community. To try to construct argument against Mark’s publication of his gospel in Alexandria from this fact is ridiculous.

[Evan:] I leave this for readers to decide. You've summed up the evidence quite well for me.


By all means, let’s leave readers to decide this for themselves.

[Evan:] You then chastise me for criticizing Dr. Craig without reading his dissertation.

[Tim:] No: I criticize you for claiming that you are representing Craig’s entire set of criteria when, by your own admission, you have not made even an attempt to read through his many writings on the subject. This is careless.

[Evan:] Yes, you can't criticize me until you have read every word I've written. Wait -- I think you can. I have no problem with you criticizing me for anything I say. If I'm wrong, I'm happy to know it. Why there has to be some uber-knowledge of someone's entire life before you can criticize them boggles the mind. I hope you don't really believe this.


No, Evan: I simply believe that if you are going to make statements about someone’s published arguments, you have a responsibility to put in some effort looking up those arguments in those publications in order to make reasonably sure that you are representing them fairly. This does not, however, seem to be your modus operandi.

[Evan:] Finally you go through the Vespasian situation. First you say:

[Tim:] But there is no comparable naturalistic explanation for the resurrection. You have to go against the multiple attestation in the latter case, but not in the former.

[Evan:] There are multiple attestations of grave-robbing IN the gospels.


Here is another disagreeable rhetorical trick: changing the subject in mid-argument to avoid the force of a criticism. You want to deny that the event transpired at all: therefore, you have to deny the multiple attestation that says it did. Shifting to giving an alternative explanation for the text of the gospels is going against the multiple attestation. If you want to do that, you may. But don’t pretend that the case is parallel to the Vespasian case, where one can, without invoking any Rube Goldberg assumptions about multiple hallucinations, accept that the reports come from eyewitnesses who are sane and truthful about what they saw and yet deny that a miracle took place. You cannot in the same fashion accept that the gospel accounts come from eyewitnesses who are sane and truthful about what they saw and yet deny that a miracle took place.

[Evan:] This is a comparable naturalistic explanation exactly equivalent to what is in Tacitus.

There is no parallel to the Vespasian case, where one can agree that the witnesses are reporting what they saw truthfully and yet deny that a miracle took place.

[Evan:] That you can't see it is perfectly fine. I'm glad you are honest about it. But graverobbing requires ZERO odd assumptions, even assuming there was a Jesus and there was a Joseph of Arimathea.

As I have shown above, it would be your first belief about a modern missing body.


Only if you sweep away the rest of the evidence. The grave-robbing hypothesis does nothing to account for the subsequent appearances to Mary or the various disciples: you need odd assumptions there in spades.

[Evan:] Then you say:

[Tim:] The very point you raise, however, is a point against your theory. For if the story were being made up, who could resist giving a description of Jesus’ exist from the grave? In fact, that is what we find in the late apocryphal stories like the Gospel of Peter. The absence of such accounts from the canonical gospels is evidence of their earlier origin.

[Evan:] Read above, there is a reason Mark would give the cryptic tale he does with instructions to never tell anyone and the women following those instructions. When it comes to the Gospel of Peter, draw a line from Mark to him. Tell me that's not legendary development -- please.


It’s not a legendary development. And if it were, it would be one of the stupidest ways to do it imaginable.

[Evan:] All we have are reports of his body being missing.

[Tim:] I do not know why you keep making false statements like this. Anybody can read Matthew 28, or Luke 24, or John 20 and 21, and see that what you say is untrue. Dispute the reports if you like — and I’m sure you will — but do not misrepresent the facts about their contents.

[Evan:] I invite readers to look up your cites. What they will see is legendary development.


And yet again you change the subject in order to dodge the fact that you made a false claim about all we have. We have more. The citations are above. One can dispute whether what we have should be taken at face value, but there is no good excuse for claiming that we do not have it.

[Evan:] You don't have pictures or video here. How you can argue the probability of the miraculous here really escapes me.

One argues to probability as one argues in history generally: by looking for the explanation that implies the least credulity. You think that the question of the miraculous can be settled a priori by cutting out miraculous explanations, essentially defining them as the least probable explanations. This is an instance of what Craig calls “Bart’s blunder”: assuming that because miracles are not the most probable initial explanation, they can never be the most probable explanation all things considered.

As for pictures and video, in an era of video, it would be even easier to mock up a spectacular-looking fraud. The absence of modern technology cuts both ways.

[Evan:] As to Mary's first reaction you say:

[Tim:] No: that is merely the conclusion to which Mary jumps.

[Evan:] Yes, the same you would. The same anyone would. Why is that? Because it is the most probable.


The most probable—initially.

[Evan:] It's the one you would believe in pretty much any case.

That would depend on the rest of the evidence.

[Evan:] I leave it to the reader to read your interpolated comments between mine regarding Craig's updated list of criteria. I'm very satisfied leaving that there.

So am I; indeed, that sums up well my perspective on this entire discussion.

Tim said...

Evan,

Correction: in haste, I misread this when you said:

When it comes to the Gospel of Peter, draw a line from Mark to him. Tell me that's not legendary development -- please.

In my haste, I misread this, thinking you were speaking of the other canonical gospels. The Gospel of Peter is indeed crammed with legendary elaborations. But the canonical gospels are not, and the very contrast they make with things like the Gospel of Peter is one of the evidences of their authenticity.

My apologies for the misreading.

Evan said...

Tim since I think this is where we are both happy to leave the topic I won't make any more sustained criticisms. I'm very pleased with how much light we've both been able to shed on this issue and I think a reader of any initial persuasion will find insight and new information in both of our posts.

I invite readers of both sides to read the actual text of the 2nd century apologists for themselves and draw their own conclusions. The texts are fun to read at a minimum.

Almost all of them can be found at Early Christian Writings where a lot of my links above have been to.

I think reading those texts collectively will give any supremely interested reader much to chew over regardless of what they eventually wind up believing.

Vespasian's miracle is either of a piece with general first century credulity that is totally at odd with the profound skepticism of the gospel authors, or it is not and I think you and I have done a great job of showing both sides of the argument.

Finally, Tim you are a very pleasant debating partner and I wish had the level of biblical and historical erudition you do. You have obviously put a great deal of study into your work and I commend that as it can only be of benefit to you. I hope we have more chances to interact on this board, and yes, I did make a typo -- it should read "no" grave and not "on grave". I also am using the "you" that is plural in addressing a group in the Mark analogy -- one of English's great lacks.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Tim ~ Great job in explaining and engaging every argument addressed. I have learned a great deal from your interractions here and I READ many of the resources you quote and they are ON POINT.

As I placed on my blog, these arguments seem to come around every 50 to 100 years. I guess the enemy of our warfare assumes that we will try to rebuild the faith on our own instead of looking back at the actual record of history. I also appreciate you taking the time to dig deep. Atheism loves the fringes of an argument...but to get into the detail is seemingly beyond their ability.

I won't reopen the discussion here because it was amply pointed out but if Evan represents the "other side" they are DESTINED to failure...I mean, not to read apologists or current resources??? Is the atheist AFRAID of the truth??? I mean I read Dawkins, Doherty, etc and they show how truely STUPID they can be when it comes to religion, historical narratives and other WELL FOUNDED Christian beliefs....The stuff they set forth is ridiculous, but at least I and we try to get an idea of what they're saying.

What is it? FEAR of loosing control? Fear of having to drop a false belief? Fear of finding that your position was wrong?----Wait a minute...Those are all the reasons that you (Atheists)think we Christians are so small minded, but some of your leading advocates, as evidenced by Evan in his own words, WILL NOT read ACCURATE Christian resources because...they don't want to be bothered with the TRUTH??? C-mon! Get IT TOGETHER. Confused by the truth or in this case OVERWHELMED by the Truth.

Evan ~ I've appreciated your candor, but do yourself a service and drop some of these anti-God supposed "scholars" that give you misleading and flat out wrong information. Remeber some of them don't care about TRUTH they only care about their wallets. You got issues and I believe you're wrong, but no need to be a victim to their deliberate LIES. Like I said, I'll open a sales business with you any day...It doesn't matter what we sell,we'll make MILLIONS...We may get sued afterward for all that misinformation you love to give(LOL) but we'll be RICH!

After all this debate, Jesus STILL stands infinately above any alternative and he remains the ONLY one who says' "Examine me." Keep looking, but in order to see somethin' one must OPEN his eyes....

By the way I posted The Historical Facts Of The Resurrection right here: http://dunamis2.wordpress.com/the-resurrection-a-historical-fact/

Tim don't leave me, it's just getting good! Peace Professor! God Bless!

Tim said...

Three further small corrections -- that they are needed is proof of fatigue (or impending senility):

1. The Greek of Polycarp 2:2 has οφις, not οφεις, as I mistyped: still, same stem.

2. In listing the witnesses against Marcion, I named some who were near contemporaries. Epiphanius should not have slipped into that list; he writes extensively against Marcion, but he is of course a much later figure than the others named. So that should read simply "..., Irenaeus, and Tertullian, ..."

3. Sheer wordprocessing fatigue: for "even recounted in Mark" read "event recounted in Mark." Probably there are other similar lapses.

I am actively looking for someone I can blame for interpolating these errors into my text. ;)