Xavier and the Evolution of Legendary Miracles

I regularly encounter pseudo-skepticism -- reflexive doubt in response to criticism of credulous belief -- on the question of how the legend of Jesus could have developed in the period between Jesus' death and the writing of the synoptic gospels. Many Christians just don't see how or why such fantastic inventions arose from the crushing disappointment of the crucifixion of the man they supposed the Messiah (assuming here, arguendo, the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans at around the time commonly supposed)? "Why would these people die for a lie?" goes a common retort.

That's a fair question, even if it is offered pseudo-skeptically. But I don't think it's nearly as difficult as Christians commonly suppose. Even granting the dubious claims that all of Jesus disciples except John died a martyr's death (and indeed, this is precisely the kind of narrative we might expect as a later bit of legendary embellishment), we need not suppose a deliberate, coordinated conspiracy of lies is demanded of the situation. Rather, we need only look to the social capacity and disposition toward legend-making.

Inevitably, the pseudo-skeptic demands an example. I've suggested the legend and folklore of King Arthur, and pointed to the invention of "Newton's apple" by Voltaire as casual examples of the tendency to mythologize and embellish real people and events that capture our passions and imaginations. Reading a bit about Andrew Dickson White this week, intrigued by his provocative phrase "an asylum for Science", used in reference to his ambitions for Cornell University, a school he co-founded, I came across White's book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (which title I believe is familiar to me from the words of Bertrand Russell?). In the book, White recounts the case of Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuits, patron saint of missionaries, and the man the Catholic church credits with converting more souls to Christianity than any other since Paul.

White's book (which can be read here, or at Google books complete with footnotes here) has a chapter on Xavier, in which he details the progression and development of legends -- miraculous legends -- about Xavier in the aftermath of his death. Here is why White chose to examine the case of Xavier:

"We have within the modern period very many examples which enable us to study the evolution of legendary miracles. Out of these I will select but one, which is chosen because it is the life of one of the most noble and devoted men in the history of humanity, one whose biography is before the world with its most minute details - in his own letters, in the letters of his associates, in contemporary histories, and in a multitude of biographies: this man is St. Francis Xavier. From these sources I draw the facts now to be given, but none of them are of Protestant origin; every source from which I shall draw is Catholic and Roman, and published under the sanction of the Church. " [1]

White provides his basic claim for the chapter here:

"During his career as a missionary he wrote great numbers of letters, which were preserved and have since been published; and these, with the letters of his contemporaries, exhibit clearly all the features of his life. His own writings are very minute, and enable us to follow him fully. No account of a miracle wrought by him appears either in his own letters or in any contemporary document. At the outside, but two or three things occurred in his whole life, as exhibited so fully by himself and his contemporaries, for which the most earnest devotee could claim anything like Divine interposition; and these are such as may be read in the letters of very many fervent missionaries, Protestant as well as Catholic."[2]

White continues with an example:
"For example, in the beginning of his career, during a journey in Europe with an ambassador, one of the servants in fording a stream got into deep water and was in danger of drowning. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed very earnestly, and that the man finally struggled out of the stream. But within sixty years after his death, at his canonization, and by various biographers, this had been magnified into a miracle, and appears in the various histories dressed out in glowing colours. Xavier tells us that the ambassador prayed for the safety of the young man; but his biographers tell us that it was Xavier who prayed, and finally, by the later writers, Xavier is represented as lifting horse and rider out of the stream by a clearly supernatural act. "[3]

(emphasis mine in both quotes above)

According to White, Xavier is both quite keen on identifying diving providence, but claims or even mention of miracles is conspicuously missing from his writings. Not only are miracles absent from Xavier's own accounts, the man who knew Xavier best, fellow Jesuit and historian of the order Joseph Acosta, positively denies the presence of miracles in the Jesuits' missionary enterprise of the time:

"But on the same page with this tribute to the great missionary Acosta goes on to discuss the reasons why progress in the world's conversion is not so rapid as in the early apostolic times, and says that an especial cause why apostolic preaching could no longer produce apostolic results ``lies in the missionaries themselves, because there is now no power of working miracles.'' He then asks, ``Why should our age be so completely destitute of them?'' This question he answers at great length, and one of his main contentions is that in early apostolic times illiterate men had to convert the learned of the world, whereas in modern times the case is reversed, learned men being sent to convert the illiterate; and hence that ``in the early times miracles were necessary, but in our time they are not.''[4]

Over the course of the decades following Xavier's death, admiring biographers and sponsors for Xavier's canonization produced a rapid "evolution" of miracles and supernatural works that got attached to Xavier, increasingly fantastic as time went by. Here, White recalls the situation 70 years after Xavier's death:

"In 1622 came the canonization proceedings at Rome. Among the speeches made in the presence of Pope Gregory XV, supporting the claims of Xavier to saintship, the most important was by Cardinal Monte. In this the orator selects out ten great miracles from those performed by Xavier during his lifetime and describes them minutely. He insists that on a certain occasion Xavier, by the sign of the cross, made sea-water fresh, so that his fellow-passengers and the crew could drink it; that he healed the sick and raised the dead in various places; brought back a lost boat to his ship; was on one occasion lifted from the earth bodily and transfigured before the bystanders; and that, to punish a blaspheming town, he caused an earthquake and buried the offenders in cinders from a volcano: this was afterward still more highly developed, and the saint was represented in engravings as calling down fire from heaven and thus destroying the town.

The most curious miracle of all is the eighth on the cardinal's list. Regarding this he states that, Xavier having during one of his voyages lost overboard a crucifix, it was restored to him after he had reached the shore by a crab.

The cardinal also dwelt on miracles performed by Xavier's relics after his death, the most original being that sundry lamps placed before the image of the saint and filled with holy water burned as if filled with oil.''[5]


This is just a small sample of the inventory provided by White in the chapter. What is striking is not just the breadth and depth of the body of legend associated with Xavier in the years following his death, but the "whole cloth fabrication" of the stories. For most, and possibly all of the miraculous accounts given later, there doesn't even seem to be the "seed" used for later embellishment, but a kind of ex nihilo creation of a miraculum vitae for Xavier (one can feel the account of the crab returning Xavier's crucifix resonating with Paul's miraculous survival of the viper's bite on Malta in Acts).

The import of the example of Xavier, and the spontaneous appearance and evolution of miracles attributed to him should be obvious to the Christian, to the pseudo-skeptic; given a couple decades, and a cult following, the invention and development of miracle accounts -- accounts of fantastic miracles -- isn't implausible, or even novel, and relevant examples are found right inside the history and culture of Christendom itself.

I do note that White's book is now well over a hundred years old, and as science proves, a lot can be discovered over the course of a hundred and more years. I've done some googling on this, but have not found anything that indicates that White's claims in the book have been overturned by the discovery of new evidence from Xavier's writings or reports by his contemporaries that substantiate the miracles later attributed to him. If readers are aware of such a case, I stand to be corrected. But as it is, I commend the case of Xavier and his admirers to the pseudo-skeptic, as a vivid historical example of "legendation" in action, the kind of inventions and embellishments we see accounting for the death of Jesus circa 30CE and the legend of Jesus emerging over the next 50-60 years.

[1] Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (Prometheus Books, 1993), lib ii, cap XIII, p. 5.
[2] ibid., p. 6.
[3] ibid., p. 6.
[4] ibid., pp. 9-10.
[5] ibid., pp. 14-15.

47 comments:

BahramtheRed said...

The answer is really simple. People want miracles. They prove there's a god, when in reality. Hell even jesus is an example. Son of god and all but direct trnaslations from the orginal "bible" show quite a few curious examples or rewrites that happened during who knows which of it's translations

(the english bible has undergone 23 translation, one to another and so on, with only one attempt at a direct translation which drew hell from the right. Seems it was sacriligous or something)

I honestly think there's a great old west line that explains it. Unfortunatly I can't think at this dark hour (Getting use to a new shift).

Basically the line goes; when the legend out performs the fact, Report the legend.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Touchstone. Interesting.

Toby said...

Bahramthered wrote:

"...but direct trnaslations from the orignal "bible" show quite a few curious examples or rewrites that happened during who knows which of it's translations

(the english bible has undergone 23 translation, one to another and so on, with only one attempt at a direct translation which drew hell from the right."

Apparently the making up of "legend" happens on our side as well. ;) While I agree with the idea behind this quote, that there are some serious problems in modern Christian theology resulting from translation, I do not believe most of the "facts" reported by bahramthered to be accurate.

Bahramthered, I hope you take this as an intellectual challenge, rather than an insult (because its not an insult. I would love for you to back your claims above with references (with page numbers). But I don't think you can. I believe it is absolutely critical that when skeptics make criticisms of Christianity, that skeptics do so in an honest and scholarly fashion, which is the reputation of the contributors of this site. That doesn't mean that they never make mistakes, but they minimize the likelihood of their mistakes by citing the sources from which they derive their argument.

So, here is a reiteration of my challenge to you: can you substantiate any of the claims you made in your previous post?

Der Geis said...

You cannot, of course, forget the "miracle" of Elvis. Not long after Elvis Presley's death in 1977, stories began to circulate that Elvis was still alive. Gas station sightings were popular. Even with clear documentation of the events and an actual dead body, the story of Elvis's survival persists. (Watch "Bubba Ho-Tep"). Who knows what the story of Elvis might evolve into in the next century.

A modern phenomenon such as this clearly illustrates how the true story of Jesus could be conflagrated into the resurrection and miracle-laden myths we know today.

Touchstone said...

bahramthered, toby,

While translation of the text has problems to address, once the process is reduced to "translation", the size and scope of errors and inventions is quite constrained, I think. Translating Isaiah's almah as 'virgin' rather 'young woman' has huge theological implications, but falls into "misinterpretation" rather than "fabrication" as matter of changing the message.

My point here was to give an example of what they dynamics may plausible have been in the aftermath of Jesus' time, given the observable dynamics of the decades after Xavier's death. The problem was NOT creative or sloppy translation of the many contemporary writings of and about Xavier. What arose was a body of what appear to be invented miracles, some quite spectacular, if something short of bodily resurrection*.

In the case of Xavier, we have a whole lot of his own writings, and contemporary accounts of his life from others, all of which have a conspicuous absence of miracle claims. This is the basis for identifying the miracles later attributed to Xavier as inventions.

The bottom line of this is that without the primary sources, words from the subject himself and his contemporaries, which we do not have in the case of the synoptic gospels, the biographies of Xavier become "evidence" in the hands of, say, William Lane Craig, that must be explained over against his pseudo-skepticism.

You can just hear Craig holding forth: "It's not enough to say 'bilocation is impossible', that a man cannot be in two places at once. What the atheist needs to do is provide an account for this evidence, the reports of Xaviers simultaneous presence in places hundreds of miles apart, attested to by multiple, independent witnesses. My suggestion, then, failing the demonstration of how these accounts arose naturalistically, is that we understand Xavier's supernatural bilocation as the answer that best fits the evidence."

Of course, in the case of Xavier, that's not available to Craig as a position, but ONLY because of the testimonial baseline we have from Xavier himself (and peers). We don't have this in the case of Jesus, and this provides the "cover" for claims that the fabulous accounts are prima facie historical. If you can avoid contemporary accounts that are problematic as baselines, and adopt written accounts of the man or the event decades later as your starting point, you can make your starting point quite fabulous, without too much effort at all, it seems.

-TS

[* Catholic recollection has it that Xavier's body was, at least for a period of months "incorruptible" in its initial grave, resisting decomposition as is common of the bodies of saints]

Ty said...

Touchstone,

Your post was absolutely great! I'm sorry I didn't make a better distinction that my post was directed at bahramthered's comments only. I wholeheartedly agree with your entire premise of how religious legends are born. You cited credible references to substantiate your claims, and I am positive you could have easily wrote an entire book on evidences behind Christian beliefs being fabricated into legend alone.

Actually, none of my previous post was directed at you. It was only for bahramthered. You know, I don't think everything that is said needs to be documented either. It's just the bahramthered's post had some hefty claims that I've never heard before. Granted I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Thus, my challenge to him to back up his claims with some evidence.

Toby said...

Whoops, Ty is my middle name. That last post is from me. When I first started posting here I was just in the process of adopting my new belief system and I didn't want my family to find out. Now they all know, so I am switching to posting under my first name, Toby.

Sincerely,
Toby Ty!

klas_klazon said...

Excellent post, Touchstone! I think the existence of stories like these, where we can clearly see how they have become more and more fantastic over the years, is one of the strongest reasons for rejecting Christianity.

BahramtheRed said...

Touchstone; I thought I was making the same point as you, revsionists make miracles after the fact. Sometimes deliberatly, sometimes accidently.

Toby; Backing my points with hard facts has proved a little harder than I thought. I have a good memory for facts but not sources and I've been reading about this stuff for years.

I also learned that the number of actual translations was off (my orginal number seems to have included rewrites in english). I want to specify that I mean from orginal source to today. Anyway these sites mostly match my point about the possiblity of translation errors. (I think there's more of a debate than either list from what I already know)

http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/cot/t0w05bibleversions.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translations_of_the_Bible

The best examples I have I can't find. I'll share them anyway and hope someone else find them, I'm still looking:

somewhere a translator confused snake and satan so for the last 1500 years snakes have been getting the garden wrap. I think I saw this one again in the God Delusion, but that was a libary book so I can't check at the moment.

My personel favorite is the little fishing story. Jesus walked to a boat. The bible says he walked along the water, someone assumed he walked on water. A better translation suggests he walked along the side of the water. Like the shore. Both cases he walked along the water but one is a miracle and the other is a stroll.

I don't have time now to do more digging, but I'll try sometime in the near future.

Toby said...

bahramthered,

I guess I'm humored on your first source. In the second paragraph the author wrote, "These versions start with the very first English Bible translated and hand written by John Wycliffe during the 1980s AD."

I realize its a typo, but funny. I really don't mean to be taking any of this too seriously. However, I do feel bad for the lies Christians have been sucked into believing and I don't want to perpetuate any false beliefs if I can help it. I'm sure I did plenty of damage as a Christian by not carefully citing sources, twisting a fact here or there. I don't remember intentionally misleading, but I know human nature all too well. So, when I read your original post, rather than seeing the thought and intent of the post, I was hypercritical and was looking at it how a amateur Bible scholar would look at it.

Really there is no need for me to continue, but for some reason I gotta say it. You wrote, "the english bible has undergone 23 translation, one to another and so on, with only one attempt at a direct translation which drew hell from the right. Seems it was sacriligous or something"

Almost (all?) every Master of Divinity major is required to study either Greek or Hebrew, many study both. Even conservative scholars have always been proponents of studying the Bible in its original languages. There are numerous interlinear translations dating back hundreds of years. Extreme scholarship has gone into refining the translations of the Bible, though many people use crappy versions. However, I still believe that there are legitimate criticisms of that scholarship and some of the conclusions (such as Dr. Craig's) are steeped in believing bias. Another criticism is that in spite of the corrections of translation errors, erroneous beliefs continue, such as the one you mentioned about the snake and satan.

For me, if I am going to throw something out there that I can't immediately back up, I try to do it like this:

I've heard that a translation error of the Hebrews words in Isaiah of "Morning Star" into "Lucifer" is how we have erroneously come to believe Satan's name is Lucifer. Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?

I hope this is helpful rather than me just being a jerk.

oli said...

Excellent and fascinating post. Its very interesting to see how these legends begin and grow, becoming far more than they were.

My favourite examples are from more modern times, Joseph Smith and the founding of the Mormon church and L Ron Hubbard of the scientologists. Both of these men were, according to historical sources, of deeply dubious character. Smith was a convicted fraudster, Hubbard a delusional mental patient. And they both founded religions. Both of them are believed to have displayed miraculous powers by their followers but of course, no actual credible witnesses exist to either of them. Given how recent both these figures are it is possible to track down a great deal of information about them from official sources. Contrast for instance the US Navy's records of Hubbard (he was removed from command due to irrational decision making during WWII, inlcuding firing on a small Mexican island and claiming to have destroyed a submarine. The sub turned out to be a ferrous deposit on the ocean floor that was marked on Navy maps, but Hubbard always claimed a kill) to what the church of scientology claims about his military record (decorated war hero).
It should further be noted that the people that join scientology or the church of the Latter day saints have 2000 years of scientific, social and educational progress over the ancient jews. If people from the most advanced nation on the planet can be convinced to believe this tripe, how much easier for illiterate farmers and fishermen 2000 years ago?

GordonBlood said...

I"f people from the most advanced nation on the planet can be convinced to believe this tripe, how much easier for illiterate farmers and fishermen 2000 years ago?"

Well firstly at the very least St. Paul was obviously not an illiterate farmer to say the least, but what you say dovetails so well with the point id like to make that I couldnt resist emphasizing it. The reason, Touchstone et al, that scholars believe this to be a much more complex situation then you suggest is embedded clearly in the fact that the early Christians were obviously deeply religious and conservative Jews. (Before someone states that to be an argument from silence if you are a Palestinian in Jew in the first century and you arent fabulously wealthy, you are a conservative Jew). But why then did these very regular Jews change their own religious understandings fantastically and, as at least some of them did, die in the process? This is especially the case given the universally recognized fact that the tradition concerning Jesus ressurection is indeed very early and was held by those who were eye-witnesses (no, I am not talking about the gospels here, I am referring to Pauls letters concerning his visits with James and Peter). The Saint analogy is loaded with problems, the most obvious one being that it would be highly acceptable and indeed honorable to glorify a man like Xavier (I attend a nominal Catholic university named in his honor so it still happens all the time).

Touchstone said...

bahramthered,
Touchstone; I thought I was making the same point as you, revsionists make miracles after the fact. Sometimes deliberatly, sometimes accidently.

I understand. I think you were using 'translation' a bit more flexibly than I was, which may account for the misunderstanding.

GordonBlood,

You're quite right that 16th century Paris and Rome were not the same as 1st century Palestine; the Xavier case is useful by way of suggestion of traits and dynamics that are common in the wake of cultic or just dramatic events and lives. I'm sure we could list a number of differences between the two settings, some of which may be problematic for the "mapping" I'm suggesting.

But I don't see the religious transformation of Jesus' followers as a problem for this analogy, but support for why the "legend" explanation has gravity, here. Jesus was a remarkably charismatic eschatological prophet. For his inner circle, they'd passed a point of no return well before Jesus' death. His death was a disconfirming dissonance, and this dissonance I think easily explains the disposition toward creative license and embellishment of visions and "apparitions" that were innocent enough, originally, but which made the leap from "Jesus came to me [in my head] and offered messages of peace and reassurance" to "I saw Jesus!"

With respect to the timing and early traditions of the resurrection, by "early" here we mean several *years*, or possibly as close as 18 months, if I recall correctly. But the "legendizing" of the resurrection I imagine was well on its way just weeks after Jesus' death -- visions of Jesus' comforting his followers start circulating immediately. Like Xavier -- way more than Xavier, this was a Messiah, after all -- the urge to glorify and honor is strong, but in Jesus' case, it's also... redemptive in the sense that it assuaged the cognitive dissonance of Jesus' death for his followers, grasping victory and cosmic triumph from the jaws of defeat. That's plausibly a very powerful catalyst from taking the reports from another who related a "vision" of Jesus appearing to him, and passing that on -- joyously! -- as Jesus appearing in person to your friend!

All of which I think would be expected immediately, happening within days, weeks, or just a small number of months after Jesus' death. The point of my article was a counterfactual for the idea that people don't just make stuff up like that. There are substantial differences to consider, some of which you've raised here, but as a "baseline", the miracles of Xavier are a good example of how little weight "people just don't make stuff up like that" carries as a matter of critique.

As for "highly acceptable and indeed honorable to glorify", I think that demands a distinction between "honoring" Xavier, and just making stuff up about him. Xavier, by even the most skeptical, critical analysis, was a man who achieved a lot, even (especially!) without adorning his biography with invented miracles. It seems your nodding at some unspoken understanding in the Catholic church that embellishing and fabricating miraculous features of a saint's history is OK. That may be, but I'm not aware of that understanding. Catholics I've talked to believe the miracles of the saints were actual, historical events.

And that's precisely the problem. The urge to invent, adorn, and embellish is strong, and the discipline to apply skepticism and criticism in those situations is weak. It's an asymmetry that explains the accumulation of credulity in the wake of powerful and influential men.

Thanks for the comments!

-TS

Robert_B said...

Great Post Touchstone. Thanks.

Touchstone said...

Thanks, Robert_B. Just to touch on a point emphasized to me by email, for those interested in this point, there's a LOT more in White's book, available online through the links in the post. I just picked a couple examples for my post, but if you read the full review, the scale and "daring" of the inventions are striking.

Here's a blurb from the above-mentioned email (thanks, Tom), which "closes the loop", showing how the inventions get "consecrated" by the masses, and invoked as historical fact:


ST. FRANCIS XAVIER (d. 1552) is regarded as one of the Church’s most illustrious missionaries. He was born of noble parents and was by nature refined, aristocratic and ambitious. He was for a time professor of philosophy at the University of Paris, where he met St. Ignatius Loyola and became one of that Saint’s original seven followers. His missionary career began in 1540, when he journeyed to the East Indies. Within ten years he had made successful visits to Ceylon, India, Malaya and Japan. He performed many miracles and exercised many mystical gifts, including that of bilocation. He is reported to have been at several places at the same time preaching to the natives. So carefully witnessed were these bilocations and so numerous were they that one biographer admits that the “bilocations which are related in the story of St. Francis Xavier would seem to be of quite ordinary occurrence.”


http://tanbooks.com/doct/mysteries_marvels.htm

-TS

Rachel said...

Touchstone,

I don't quite follow your logic here. You say that sometimes, Christians will attempt to refute the idea that Jesus was an ordinary human whose story was embellished by the gospel writers with the question, "why would these people die for a lie?" You then say that making an ordinary Jesus into what we have today didn't need a "deliberate, coordinated conspiracy of lies", but simply a desire or tendency to embellish.

The part I am unclear on is what practical difference exists between lying and embellishing when providing an answer to the question? The same question could be asked, "why would these people die for an embellishment?" The point would be, why would the disciples of Jesus die for something they knew wasn't true? If the stories were simply embellished or "legendized", we still have the disciples dying for things they knew to be untruths, indeed, untruths they made up themselves.

Beyond that, in your account of Xavier, the person closest to Xavier who knew him best actually reported truthfully about him, while it was later followers and admirers who embellished his stories. This is different from what you are claiming about Jesus, which is that his disciples, those closest to him and who knew him best, were the ones who embellished his story for future (hopeful) followers to read.

Another significant difference I see between what you are claiming about Jesus and the Xavier story you've produced here is that no one was tortured and killed for their intentional and knowing embellishments of Xavier. It is one thing for a person's story to be unknowingly embellished and changed as time goes on by future admirers who never knew him, with no negative consequences. It is something else entirely for a person's closest friends to deliberately and knowingly embellish a person's story from the very beginning, embellishments which not only completely ostracized them from their natural community, but ended with their torture and death.

So could you explain how the story of Xavier you've given here answers the question posed by Christians ("why would [the disciples] die for a lie?") considering the major differences I've discussed above?

Touchstone said...

Hi Rachel,

I don't quite follow your logic here. You say that sometimes, Christians will attempt to refute the idea that Jesus was an ordinary human whose story was embellished by the gospel writers with the question, "why would these people die for a lie?" You then say that making an ordinary Jesus into what we have today didn't need a "deliberate, coordinated conspiracy of lies", but simply a desire or tendency to embellish.

I don't think the desire is overt in embellishing or inventing, generally, in either case. For the admirers of Xavier, there's the desires to glorify. So, too, with Jesus, but even that I think is overridden by the crisis of disconfirmation that was Jesus' death. Here was acute, devastating cognitive dissonance. Given a credulous worldview pre-disposed to magical thinking in both cases, legend happens.

A follower of Jesus reports several days after Jesus' death that she had a vision of Jesus in a dream. Relayed to another follower, that becmes just a vision. Passed on once again, it morphs from 'vision' to 'appearance'. At this point, passed along in passionate retelling to others sympathetic to the legend, credulous in their worldview, Jesus has now 'appeared', isn't that miraculous???


The part I am unclear on is what practical difference exists between lying and embellishing when providing an answer to the question? The same question could be asked, "why would these people die for an embellishment?" The point would be, why would the disciples of Jesus die for something they knew wasn't true? If the stories were simply embellished or "legendized", we still have the disciples dying for things they knew to be untruths, indeed, untruths they made up themselves.

Assuming facts not in evidence, your honor! If the accounts of the martyr deaths of the disciples are THEMSELVES legendary inventions, then we've got nothing to resolve, save for how legends arise and evolve. That is, if I asked you to substantiate the Biblical claims that the disciples a) were witness to the resurrection/reappearance of Jesus and b) went to martyr's deaths in defense of a), I think you'd have great difficulty, save for relying on the self-attestation of the followers of Jesus.

Beyond that, in your account of Xavier, the person closest to Xavier who knew him best actually reported truthfully about him, while it was later followers and admirers who embellished his stories. This is different from what you are claiming about Jesus, which is that his disciples, those closest to him and who knew him best, were the ones who embellished his story for future (hopeful) followers to read.

I think that's where we are crossing wires. I can't find grounds for the conviction that the disciples were party to the resurrection/reappearances of Jesus at all, let alone later martyrs in witness to that claim.

We don't have the reliable autobiographical or contemporary accounts in Jesus' case, like we do with Xavier. If we did, I believe it parallel Xavier's in many respects: fairly plausible biography that has fantastic legends grafted on later. Rather than 'turning sea water to freshwater', Jesus is 'resurrected', and the legends of the witnesses emerges along with the adornment of tales of their deaths as martyrs as well.


Another significant difference I see between what you are claiming about Jesus and the Xavier story you've produced here is that no one was tortured and killed for their intentional and knowing embellishments of Xavier. It is one thing for a person's story to be unknowingly embellished and changed as time goes on by future admirers who never knew him, with no negative consequences. It is something else entirely for a person's closest friends to deliberately and knowingly embellish a person's story from the very beginning, embellishments which not only completely ostracized them from their natural community, but ended with their torture and death.

My hypothesis, not the only one, but mine, is that the accounts you are relying on here are themselves either wholly fictional, or "theologized" to fit the legend. For example, if I recall correctly, Josephus has narrative on the stoning of James. This account is controversial in its own right, but the account as it is recounts the *stoning* of James, the result of charges brought by the sanhedrin by breaking the law.

This does NOT inform us, even if we accept the reliability of this bit from Josephus, that James died claiming that Christ was resurrected, or made those claims at all. It's not in the words of Josephus. I, like most Christians, was given to interpolating the claim. But if James was done in as part of the Jewish backlash against the Jesus cult -- the payback for all the offense Jesus caused -- there need be no claims of resurrection posited to make sense of the story.

Of course, if the followers of Jesus *were* persecuted and killed afterwards, then this would be a most excellent hook upon which to hang some serious legend. If you are part of the growing sub-sect that is harboring the fantasies of resurrection, and you hear James was brought in and stoned by the Romans, why of *course* it would be because he was preaching the resurrection! It might have been, so you think, therefore it was.

So could you explain how the story of Xavier you've given here answers the question posed by Christians ("why would [the disciples] die for a lie?") considering the major differences I've discussed above?

The differences only obtain if you grant the claims and accounts of the disciples regarding the resurrection, and the accounts (and implications) of their deaths. If 'dying for resurrection claims' is itself a part of the evolved legend, then it very much matches the pattern we see with Xavier.

-TS

Rotten Arsenal said...

I'd like to bring up something that has bothered me about DB for awhile. This is not directed at anybody in particular (bahramthered just brought it to my attention, but I've seen others do this as well).
Please, please, PLEASE get away from citing Wikipedia as a source.
I just finished my Master's Degree in Library Science and one of our hot topic issues is the value of Wikipedia and other electronic sources that allow open access to add information.
I'll be honest, I use Wikipedia almost daily, but only as an overview or "first look" for information. Some of the information is accurate but sometimes it isn't. There are very few editorial constraints involved in Wikipedia and that can make information unrealiable.
If you want to look at Wikipedia and get some initial info which gives you an idea of where to go next, that's fine. But don't use it as a source. Check the sources cited in the Wikipedia article and go find them, read them, and cite them. Find sources that have some Academic and Editorial credibility.
If we really want to have good arguments backed up by details that are presented by (presumed) credible sources, we need to use sources with names attached (authors, editors, etc). Wikipedia does not give us that. By using sources such as Wikipedia, we can easily fall into the same trap as those we disagree with who use a limited amount of sources that lack real academic content but sound good to those who want to believe.
An additional benefit to going beyond Wikipedia is that you will learn more by having to search through more information.

Just my 2 cents...

Jon said...

Jason Engwer has responded to some of Touchstone's comments at Triablogue. I would respond at Triablogue, but I was banned, along with Touchstone. Partly because of Touchstone in my opinion. Thanks a lot, Touchstone. :)

He writes:

Do people normally believe whatever they want to believe in the manner Touchstone is suggesting? Does a person who wants to make more money believe that his paycheck for $500 is actually a paycheck for $5000? No, and, if he did, his desire would soon come into contact with the contrary desires of the bank, his employer, etc.

In response to Jason's first question I would suggest that he read the blog entry that Touchstone has offered. He shows that in fact people do believe what they want in the manner he's suggesting. Is what he's suggesting tantamount to hallucinating a $5000 paycheck when you really only got $500? Of course not, and I've already responded to this analogy from Jason before.

Historians and courts of law, for example, frequently accept the testimony of people engaging in "self-attestation". Do we dismiss all reports of Roman history coming from Roman sources, similar to Touchstone's dismissive approach above?

In my opinion the most frequent fallacy that Jason engages in is the straw man. For example, note this thread, where Jason mis characterizes John's argument terribly, suggesting that because he claims that the ancients were generally more superstitious and gullible that he also believes that ancients would never consider evidence. Or note this thread where Jason misrepresents the position of some skeptics on hallucinations, claiming that skeptics would argue that when a group hallucination occurs this means that the group is seeing the exact same thing within their own mind.

What we have here is another case of straw man argumentation from Jason. Has Touchstone suggested that we should dismiss all reports of people engaging in "self-attestation"? No. What he has shown is that there are cases where the attestation of devoted followers is unreliable. That seems so obvious that no argumentation is even needed to justify it, which is why Jason doesn't respond to that claim, but instead replies to a different claim that Touchstone hasn't made.

Touchstone is disagreeing with the vast majority of scholars, then, both Christian and non-Christian.

This is more fallacious reasoning. The vast majority of scholars are conservative Christians (see DagoodS's comments under my own blog entry here.) Conclusions about the beliefs of the majority of scholars are based upon studies by Christian apologist Gary Habermas. Habermas further informs us that a full 75% of these scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I'm not interested in getting into the motivations that they may have, or even some liberal scholars may have, for accepting certain conclusions about Jesus, because I like to avoid irrelevancies. These issues need to be decided on the merits, not on the nose counts.

Touchstone said...

Jon,

Yeah, the Triabloggers are cowards. Easier to deal with uncomfortable criticism by huffing, puffing and banning.

Jason asks "Do people normally believe whatever they want to believe in the manner Touchstone is suggesting?"

As a matter of course, no, even if we forgive Jason for the silly, irrelevant example here offers (the, uh, "paycheck" thing). That wasn't my suggestion. A reasonable question, one that isn't so patently self-serving as the one he offered, is "do we have cases which show followers and admirers embellishing and inventing stories?"

I've said nothing about that being the day-in-day-out operating procedure for people. Rather, I am saying that precedence does exist for this kind of development. It happens. It is not be the default behavior for everyone everywhere, as Jason's red herring rejects, but we have cases in view that undercut Christian claims that that kind of thing "doesn't happen", or is somehow implausible. It's manifestly plausible -- it's *actual* in the case of the admirers of Xavier.

And of course, Jason's quite enamored of levying the burden of impossible precision, in the glorious tradition of Triablogue. My post, which offers Xavier and friends just as an example of the social dynamic that shows legendary evolution of the Jesus legend as plausible, is conveniently transformed in Jason's post into a claim that this was what the *evidence* showed. He even calls it a "reconstruction" in the title.

Oh, well. All we have here is a visible example of the *dynamic* that plausibly explains the fantastic claims of the resurrection and attending claims, without resorting to magical thinking. When a theist demands that magical thinking is all that's plausible here -- plausible doesn't mean "proven", or "empirically verified", which is a distinction Jason either has missed or conveniently ignores -- we can quite reasonably deny it, and identify endorsement of the miracle claims as the special pleading and rejection of parsimonious alternatives that they are.

As for Jason's appeal to authority here, that's just another transparent bit of self-indulgent caprice by Jason. What do the "vast majority" of historians conclude about the resurrection? Jason hides behind the skirts of sympathetic and compromised witnesses here. You know, the vast majority of creationist scholars affirm the truth of special creation!

Go figure.

-TS

Evan said...

Sounds like Triablogue is up to their old tricks. Straw-man, ignore, delete posts that make them look bad ... all the usual stuff.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

Andrew Dickson White - the source of the information for this post - is famous for another reason: he was responsible for promoting the "flat earth myth."

Prior to 1830, no one "believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat."

White promoted this bit of historical revisionism because it fit his thesis.

Is there any lesson to be learned from this example of anti-religous propoganda about the credulity of atheists when it comes to beliefs that conform to their worldview?

Rotten Arsenal said...

Hmmm... reading that story in Peter's comment, I thought several things:

1) I didn't realize I was supposed to think that the flat-earth theory wasn't debunked by Columbus. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure that the spherical nature of our home planetoid was know, at least by educated folks, for quite some time.

2) You'll note that the "earliest" mentions of spherical Earth theories were around 6BCE... which means that even if it was known in the time of Jesus that the Earth was "round", there's a a whole lot of time before that, when the OT was being written, that we don't have much mention of general knowledge of the correct shape of the planet

3) Again, this fact of the spherical Earth is known among "educated" peoples:

"It must first be reiterated that with extraordinary few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat."

The term "educated" is not well defined here and somehow I doubt that carpetenters and fisherman were "educated" much, if at all, outside what little education the received outside of their religious society.

Further, Russell even says:

"A few--at least two and at most five--early Christian fathers denied the sphericity of earth by mistakenly taking passages such as Ps. 104:2-3 as geographical rather than metaphorical statements."

So... it could be gleaned that some people, even after 6BCE, still believed in a flat-earth, at least in part based on a passage from the OT.

While it may be disingenuous to try and paint the majority of Common Era Christians through the Dark Ages as "flat-earthers", it is not wrong to say that the OT was written by MEN who do not show the same certainty of a spherical Earth. Either the OT is God's literal word and God isn't sure about basic geometric concepts, or the OT was written by fallible men who either got God's word wrong or it was never God's word to begin with.

Touchstone said...

Peter,

Is there any lesson to be learned from this example of anti-religous propoganda about the credulity of atheists when it comes to beliefs that conform to their worldview?


As ever, distortions of the facts in service to furthering a worldview -- any worldview -- is anti-knowledge, and is liable to be found out, overturned, and replaced with knowledge, to the discredit of those misrepresenting the facts.

If this applies in White's case with respect to the prevalence of flat earth beliefs, he's not done himself or his readers any benefit by such misrepresentations. I'm not familiar with the case you raise, but it doesn't matter either way; distortion is distortion.

-TS

Rachel said...

Touchstone,

I don't think the desire is overt in embellishing or inventing, generally, in either case.

Overt or not, a deliberate embellishment by the disciples themselves, and then being killed for it later, is incongruent.

A follower of Jesus reports several days after Jesus' death that she had a vision of Jesus in a dream. Relayed to another follower, that becmes just a vision. Passed on once again, it morphs from 'vision' to 'appearance'. At this point, passed along in passionate retelling to others sympathetic to the legend, credulous in their worldview, Jesus has now 'appeared', isn't that miraculous???

But again, this is not what you are claiming about Jesus and his disciples. Here you have the story being slightly changed each time a different person tells it. That is substantially different from Jesus' disciples dramatically changing the story themselves, and then being killed for it.

Assuming facts not in evidence, your honor! If the accounts of the martyr deaths of the disciples are THEMSELVES legendary inventions, then we've got nothing to resolve, save for how legends arise and evolve.

Actually, I'm only assuming what you have already assumed for the sake of argument. In your original article you said, "Even granting the dubious claims that all of Jesus disciples except John died a martyr's death...". So I have no need to prove that the disciples were martyred because you have granted it already for argument's sake.

That is, if I asked you to substantiate the Biblical claims that the disciples a) were witness to the resurrection/reappearance of Jesus and b) went to martyr's deaths in defense of a), I think you'd have great difficulty, save for relying on the self-attestation of the followers of Jesus.

Actually, "a)" has nothing to do with the point at hand. Whether or not they truly witnessed the resurrection is irrelevant to answering the question of why they would have died for something they knew to be untrue.

The differences only obtain if you grant the claims and accounts of the disciples regarding the resurrection, and the accounts (and implications) of their deaths.

Once more, you already granted those claims at the outset in your article. You claimed that your information held sway even if you grant the above. Yet here you have acknowledged that in reality, this information regarding Xavier as a response to "why would the disciples die for a lie" simply fails.

Let me try to make it more clear.

Question: Why would Jesus' disciples die for something they knew to be a lie?

Answer: Because sometimes followers of a person embellish that person's story in the years after the person dies.

I hope you can see how this is a complete non-answer. The real answer is, "they wouldn't". Most skeptics actually realize this, which is why the usual answer is to negate parts of the question, such as saying that the disciples didn't really die for those claims, or that they didn't really make those claims, or that the stories aren't true but the disciples thought the stories were true for whatever reason. These things, while I do not think they provide sufficient answers, are at least logical answers to the question. Your article, however, is not.

Rotten Arsenal said...

Rachel,

We don't have outside corroborating sources to verify the deaths of the disciples as martyrs. We don't have original copies of the gospels. In short, we have the Bible to tell us how things went down. One source isn't enough. So, to point at the disciples martyring themselves as a sign of Jesus's death and resurrection is not a good argument. This is a pretty poor and old apologist argument that relies on those needing reassurance of faith that the unprovable stories give themselves self-validation. I thought this was a dumb argument when I read it in McDowell's terrible "More Than A Carpenter" and I think it's a poor argument now.

Even beside that point, people die for lies or falsehoods all the time. David Koresh is an example. Would you burn for a lie? No? Well I guess Koresh really was Jesus come back to save us. Oops! Screwed the pooch on that one! All those people surely wouldn't have allowed themselves to die if Koresh wasn't telling the truth... right?

And while the Islamic suicide bombers weren't first hand witnesses to Mohammed's deeds, that doesn't stop them from blowing themselves up in his and Allah's name. But I guess they are killing themselves and others for a lie, but that's okay because their religion is fake.... isn't it?

I said...

"Jon,

Yeah, the Triabloggers are cowards. Easier to deal with uncomfortable criticism by huffing, puffing and banning."

From what I understand, "DCers" lost the right to make these kinds of judgments when it joined the ranks of blogs who have bannned people (and a bit of huffing and puffing went on here too, I might add!). Such is the price: you pay when you also ban people you can't complain if you get banned.

John W. Loftus said...

Jon, Touchstone and I have all been banned from Triablogue (me, with regard to Paul Manata's specific postings), not because we were belligerent or offensive or rude, but because they hate apostates and skeptical questioners, just like their Calvinist God does, or so they claim. [Okay, I’ll admit I was a bit offensive with Manata, but he is one of the most obnoxious and demeaning Christian Bloggers around, and I fought fire with fire in his case. He provoked it.]

There is no parity at all with the people banned on our respective blogs. Read our comment policy and you'll see the precise criteria we adhere to. Evan's posts were simply deleted from Triablogue.

Try now to think critically about this. Try to make the needed distinctions here.

End of story. Interact with the arguments now, if you would please.

Jon said...

Rachel, there is a key assumption involved in your question that the skeptic does not grant. Your question assumes you know what the disciples believed and what they were willing to die for.

But you don't know what they believed. At 1 Pet 3:18 we're told that Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit. Paul says in I Cor 15 that flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God. I'm not arguing that Peter and Paul held to a spiritual view of the resurrection, but what I am saying is that we don't know that they believed Christ was physically raised and a tomb was physically empty. They don't say that. They never say they saw a physically resurrected Jesus. Even the earliest gospel (Mark) never asserts that the disciples had experiences with a physically resurrected Jesus. It is only in our very latest NT texts that this claim is made.

So, granting they were willing to die for their beliefs, since we don't know what those beliefs were they are not relevant for the apologist. For all we know they genuinely believed Christ was in some spiritual way raised from the dead and they were willing to die for it. Or they may have held to any of a myriad of other beliefs about Jesus.

Evan said...

Hey I.

Good to see you.

I wonder what you think about Dinesh D'Souza's recent remark that anyone who doesn't accept the old earth and evolution is an "ignorant fundamentalist."

Jon said...

One additional point regarding Touchstone's suggestion about the accounts of martyrdom as themselves legend. The earliest account of Paul's martyrdom is contained in the Acts of Paul. Milk squirts out as he is beheaded, and following his beheading he's approaches Ceaser to inform him that he's next. Paul's disciples approach his grave and find him present there and raised from the dead. This is our earliest account of Paul's martyrdom.

Touchstone said...

Rachel,

Maybe the best way to draw this out is just to "sit on the shoulder" of, say James, in a hypothetical.

James gets word some days after Jesus' death that some of the women have claimed to have seen Jesus. In talking with a friend that had recently talked with two of those ladies, you learn that he also had a strange experience, in talking with a man who he thought a complete stranger outside the village the evening before, but who left the conversation with the distinct impression of talking with Jesus himself. He was strangely comforted by the words of this stranger, and his grief seemed to just melt away as they talkd. At the end, he even did a double take as the parted ways and went different direction: the stranger he thought even *looked* like Jesus as he waved goodbye over his shoulder.

Later that night, James has a visceral, vivid experience, dreaming of a visitation of Jesus.

The next morning in talking with some of the other disciples, he is confronted with a growing number of reports from them and others of visions, apparitions and even sightings of Jesus! Something is going on here, and the community is abuzz, coming out of a grief-stricken shock to now frantic exchanges about the numerous visions and even appearances of Jesus to his followers. In talking with one disciple, he learns this disciple had been meditating in silence for hours and hours the evening before and had an ecstatic experience of Jesus; he was no declaring that this vision was no simple imagination, but Jesus in body and flesh come to him to offer comfort and encouragement to carry on Jesus' work and message!

A couple of things in the relating of that story were electrifying. A phrase and a gesture described *exactly* matched James' dream! James has a 'eureka' moment, there, talking to the other disciple. "Jesus appeared to me, too! Last night. I thought it was a dream, but now I know..." In a moment, James' grief and sorrow and disillusionment evaporate, replaced by joy, relief, and a missionary zeal to spread the news of this amazing story!

The more James thinks about it, and talks with others, who have now incorporated James' emphatic accounts of being visited by the risen Jesus into support for the interpretation that they, too, had actually seen a risen Jesus, rather than just having a vision or a dream. Others among them who had no vision or dream are similarly swept up in the fervor. Here, their brothers, compatriots, are testifying to a risen Jesus. Why would they lie? Hallelujah! They are transformed into zealous missionaries, never having seen the risen Jesus themselves, but believing firmly in the convictions of their fellow disciples who did.

James, propelled by these conviction, carries forward the message of a risen Jesus along with his fellow believers, and over time, the legend of Jesus grows, as they spread the word. Someone, James never found out who, recalled the time when Jesus actually walked on water. Did Jesus really do that? James hadn't see that, but others had, it seems, and we are talking about Jesus, the son of God, the Messiah, here! If he could be resurrected, walking on water was surely no problem.

Amazing accounts of Jesus healing the blind, casting out demons etc. begin to appear, and many make the leap from colorful recounting and speculation to established elements of the oral legend of Jesus, part and parcel of what drives the zeal and mission of James and the other disciples.

Sometime later, James is hauled in and stoned by the authorities, killed for continuing efforts to promote the message of Jesus as risen Messiah. He dies proclaiming and believing that Jesus really did appear to him after his crufixion. He never decided to make anything up, but rather just let dubious connections hold up -- he really, really wanted to believe that Jesus was resurrected, after all, and who knows? It may seem like a dream in some aspects, but it *could* have been real, he supposes. Given the words and reports of others in the group, that was the 'truth' he embraced.

The point is, in case its not clear, that it's quite easy to use the dubious reports and conjectures of others to support ideas and convictions you would not invent directly yourself.

And, because it's apparently necessary to point out, this hypothetical is not the recounting from some ancient diary I happen to have on my shelf, the long lost account of James. I am not advancing this notion as my claim of how things went down. Repeat: this is not my claim of what happened. Rather, this is a scenario that's *plausible*, and depicts a path to belief for James that he is willing to pursue and cling to unto death, all without having any *actual* experiences of a risen Jesus.

There's an observed tendency in some quarters to equate plausible hypotheses with concrete claims. This is not a concrete claim, but a plausible path that connects the endpoints for James, and one that doesn't need to make hash out of physical law and our observations of the behavior of physical law to do it.

-TS

I said...

John W. Loftus,

I expected that answer. What, were you supposed to admit to unbalanced standards? I suppose the Triabloggers would just say what you said about them. That you were banned for your attitude (you even admit that you acted like a beligerant with Manata). Once one does the "banning" thing, all bets are off when you get banned. No one is buying the special pleading remarks about how you were banned because of your stellar arguments and those you banned were banned because they acted like idiots. So, you must understand John and - TS, to complain about "banning" when this blog has banned plenty of people, is a dog that won't hunt.


Evan,

I'd say, "So what?" But, not only do I fail to see any relevance whatsoever to your question, I'd simply point to Plantinga's (humorous) linguistic analysis of the term "fundamentalist." (Look it up.)

Evan said...

I, I imagine Plantinga is aware of the original linguistic term fundament meaning the fleshy area around the buttocks.

Noun 2. The fleshy part of the human body that you sit on; "he deserves a good kick in the butt"; "are you going to sit on your fanny and do nothing?"

Thus a fundamentalist would be someone who used that area to come up with arguments. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Jon said...

What's really silly is that Jason and I have to debate across two different blogs because (from what I can gather) I cited Wikipedia and performed a google search and was therefore banned. Or maybe the problem is here where I talked about some of Clement's silly opinions? Who knows. Perhaps I should have stuck with insults and ridicule since these don't seem to be a problem at Triablogue.

In response to my comments towards Rachel Jason says that early Christian martyrs like Peter and Paul must have believed that Jesus was raised physically because a physical view of resurrection was "popular" amongst Jews. He also says that if they held to a spiritual view this would have left more traces in the historical record. But there are traces of a whole range of views in the historical record. The Gnostic Acts of Peter, which contains the account of Peter being crucified upside down, specifically says that Peter claimed Jesus was raised spiritually, not physically. The contents of the documents at Nag Hammadi show a whole range of views about Jesus from earliest Christians, including views that Jesus was the reincarnated Seth or Zoroaster. And here we are talking about the documents that fortunately survived the Christian purges. How many additional views are we unaware of due to Christian censorship?

As Jason has argued previously he asserts that if the opinions of the gospels about the disciples views had been novelties all of these myth buster types would come out of the woodwork to denounce the misrepresentation. "No way. Peter never claimed Jesus was raised physically." Eyewitnesses and contemporaries are still alive to rebut these claims. But where were the myth busters when it was necessary to correct either Matthew or Luke regarding the timing of Jesus birth? Where were the myth busters when Matthew and Luke disagreed about Jesus' genealogy? How about the day Jesus died? How about when the eyewitnesses first met Jesus? Did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb, find it empty, return to tell the disciples, and meet Jesus on the way as per Matthew, or did she not meet him on the return to the disciples and only meet Jesus when she returned to the tomb a second time as per John? Where were the myth busters when a spurious document like Ephesians was written and attributed to Paul or when the Ignatian epistles were written? These questions have been asked of Jason before. Jason did not attempt a rebuttal.

Like Touchstone I feel it necessary to point out that I'm not arguing that there definitely were tons of additional views in addition to the ones expressed in the texts at Nag Hammadi. It's just that we are limited due to the constraints of historical research. So to say "Nobody believed this, everybody believed that" is just presumptuous. Maybe everyone did believe in physical resurrection. Unfortunately if that's true it's hard to know. And if you don't know it, you can't claim they died for belief in the Protestant view of the resurrection.

But I could even grant the point from Jason and assume they did hold to a physical resurrection of Jesus and this still wouldn't help the Christian. Because even if Paul believed that Jesus was physically raised, this wouldn't show that he claimed to be an eyewitness to a physical resurrection. Pentecostals believe Jesus is raised physically, and some of them likewise believe that they've seen Jesus. They might be willing to die for this belief. They are sincere in this belief. But this proves nothing. Neither Peter or Paul ever tell us they saw a physically resurrected Christ. Paul's letters strongly suggest that the appearances he experienced were visionary. So it's not that they are dying for what they know to be untrue. They could conceivably die for what they believe to be true, but do not have first hand knowledge is false.

Toby said...

"I",

I have been reading the DC Blog for a couple of months now. I have known John to only be respectful. Sometimes he is challenging to his opposition, even on the skeptics side (see his discussion with goprarie in a recent thread). On the other hand, I only spent one a few days over on the Triablogue's site several weeks back and I still remember both Peter Pike and Steve were incredibly rude. I read every post Evan posted in a discussion about Moses and Sargon with the triablogue members and Evan never once was posted anything insulting, despite being inappropriately ridiculed by several of their contributors. In fact, they were such assholes over there that I decided not to go back and read anything from them. I, personally, am no where near as tolerate as John or Evan.

So, in short, yes there is always two sides to a story and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, but I'd side with both John and Evan any day of the week over the Tribalogue group.

Sincerely,
Toby Canning, PhD

Rachel said...

RA,

David Koresh and Muslim suicide bombers are not relevant examples here because the question is, "why would the disciples die for what they know to be a lie?" Koresh and the Muslim bombers did not think they were dying for a lie, they actually believed what they died for.

Touchstone,

Let me see if I understand you better now. In my last comment I listed 3 common ways that skeptics attempt to negate the question of "why would the disciples die for a known lie?"

1. The disciples weren't really martyred.

2. The disciples didn't really make those claims, they were added on by later followers.

3. The stories aren't true but the disciples thought the stories were true for whatever reason - in this case you seem to be positing the "reason" as a kind of embellishment w/o realizing it as a result of group pressure/desire for such stories to be true.

In this thread it sounds like you are claiming 1 and 3, but your article is presented as some sort of evidence for 3, is that right?

If so, I see three main problems. One, which I mentioned earlier, is that the legendization of Xavier occurred several decades after he died, and is contradicted by the one who was closest to him. This is quite different from claiming that those who were closest to Jesus embellished claims about him immediately or within a few short years after his death - embellishments which they came to believe in so strongly that they were willing to die for.

Two, again, no one in your Xavier story had to die for any of their claims. I see this as a huge difference. You can go to Snopes and read legends about a bunch of people that are still living. Many people believe these legends, but would they be willing to DIE for such things?

And finally, for us to accept that the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection were merely embellishments and legends spun off a main, ordinary story, you need to provide much, much more than this one example from a time and culture FAR removed from 1st century Jews. Simply saying they "could have been" legends isn't enough to be considered with the best possibilities. Otherwise, all this story is is an example of how people can take factual stories about someone and turn it into something more grand. But such is not noteworthy; heck, I have family members who can "embellish" a simple agreement into me owing them thousands of dollars in just a couple of years!

Rotten Arsenal said...

Rachel,

David Koresh and Muslim suicide bombers are not relevant examples here because the question is, "why would the disciples die for what they know to be a lie?" Koresh and the Muslim bombers did not think they were dying for a lie, they actually believed what they died for.

I think it is relevant because if the disciples died as martyrs, then the most likely did believe and did not die for a lie as far as they were concerned. My point is that just because they believed it to be true doesn't mean it was true. Other than the Bible (one source) we don't really have records of what presumably happened and so we don't for sure know what these disciples actually believed or understood about whatever the Jesus person said and did.
So, saying that the disciples wouldn't have died for something they knew to be a lie is most likely true, but it is inadequate to use as proof of Jesus actually returning from the dead.

And finally, for us to accept that the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection were merely embellishments and legends spun off a main, ordinary story, you need to provide much, much more than this one example from a time and culture FAR removed from 1st century Jews. Simply saying they "could have been" legends isn't enough to be considered with the best possibilities. Otherwise, all this story is is an example of how people can take factual stories about someone and turn it into something more grand. But such is not noteworthy; heck, I have family members who can "embellish" a simple agreement into me owing them thousands of dollars in just a couple of years!


You could use much of this to argue that there is no significant proof for Jesus as well.

Peter Sean Bradley said...

It seems that White was not only gullible and negligent in supporting his "conflict thesis" with the myth that people prior to the Enlightenment believed in a "flat earth" - a myth that still holds many in its grip - but he appears to have been wrong in his claim that there was no contemporary evidence of Xavier's miracles.

Thanks for raising this issue; it gve me the opportunity to look at both sides of the issue.

Touchstone said...

Hi Rachel,

If so, I see three main problems. One, which I mentioned earlier, is that the legendization of Xavier occurred several decades after he died, and is contradicted by the one who was closest to him. This is quite different from claiming that those who were closest to Jesus embellished claims about him immediately or within a few short years after his death - embellishments which they came to believe in so strongly that they were willing to die for.


I don't understand why you say the legendization occurred decades later for Xavier. The books and reports we have as documentary evidence of those legendary accounts came out later, but so did the the synoptics. If you are thinking that the miracule legends just arrived in the nick of time to make it into print for books about Xavier, I'd ask why you are thinking that. The books distill the legend, but they form organically over time, don't they, as mini oral traditions. I imagine that if we had the data in front of us, we would find some signigicant legendization happening *immediately* upon the circulation of news of Xavier's death, and in celebration of the man. The tall tales synthesized just shortly after his death may not be captured until decades later in print, but that's what we see with the Gospel of Luke, for example.

If I'm missing some constraint you're aware of that pushes the legendizing process back for decades, rather than happening cumulatively throughout the period between death and writing down the legends, please let me know what that constraint is.


Two, again, no one in your Xavier story had to die for any of their claims. I see this as a huge difference. You can go to Snopes and read legends about a bunch of people that are still living. Many people believe these legends, but would they be willing to DIE for such things?

The example of Xavier's miracles wasn't offered as an example of commitment to an idea unto death. So far as I know, no one was ever persecuted for embracing the legends of Xavier, let alone killed for it. If that's your objection, I would instead look at a different example, like the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Jr. in the Carthage jail, and his fellow witnesses who also died clinging to the testimony of the plates and the Mormon Prophet.

But that account doesn't illustrate nearly as well what I was aiming for here - the tendency of some groups to synthesize fantastic accounts and aggressively embellish actual ones in the wake of passed hero.


And finally, for us to accept that the stories of Jesus' death and resurrection were merely embellishments and legends spun off a main, ordinary story, you need to provide much, much more than this one example from a time and culture FAR removed from 1st century Jews. Simply saying they "could have been" legends isn't enough to be considered with the best possibilities.

Well, if there are more plausible accounts, I'd be interested in hearing them. There may be -- I've not said this anything more than a plausible thread that connects a historical Jesus with the claims we find in the NT.

If you are going to suggest that Jesus coming back to life after being dead for days is MORE PLAUSIBLE, I think that would be a very difficult assertion to take seriously. We would have to digress into what is meant by 'plausibly', I guess.

In any case, I'm open to more plausible accounts between the crucifixion of Jesus and the claims we find in the NT, if you have them.

Otherwise, all this story is is an example of how people can take factual stories about someone and turn it into something more grand. But such is not noteworthy; heck, I have family members who can "embellish" a simple agreement into me owing them thousands of dollars in just a couple of years!
Well, maybe that *is* all this story is. I've had many people complain to me that there's "no way" people back then would make stuff like that up. The NT *must* be true, in other words, because embellishment and and invention on that scale just doesn't happen.

You may be right to suggest I should just dismiss that with a shrug. I think it's reasonable to dismiss such disbelief as obviously naïve, and demur on even defending the idea. But in reading a bit about White, and his book, I thought the section of his on Xavier was a vivid example of the kind of dynamic that plausibly connects a group of devastated followers of an Jesus dealing with his execution, and the arrival of the claims we find in the NT some decades later.

-TS

goprairie said...

i am no biblical scholar obviously, but i was taught that the writers of the books of the NT were the disciples. but that is not true or not entirely true, is it? can someone provide a quick tutorial - who were the disciples? who were the authors and when? who of those 2 groups was allegedly martyred?

klas_klazon said...

I think these for miracle stories about Sri Sathya Sai Baba at least have some relevance to this disussion: http://www.saibaba.ws/miracles/fourgreatmiracles.htm

klas_klazon said...

It'd be nice with a comment on the article Peter Sean Bradley posted a link to. Not that it helps Christianity, but it seems to me that there actually were contemporaries to Xavier who claimed to have seen him performing miracles.

DingoDave said...

I recall reading about a Catholic missionary, who's name escapes me for the moment, who was credited with being able to miraculaously speak the various languages of the natives to whom he was preaching.

This was despite the fact that in his own letters, he admitted that he struggled to understand their languages, and that most of the time he needed a translator to understand anything that they were saying.

If I recall correctly, all this happened within his own lifetime.

It appears that Catholics have the monopoly on the manufacture of spurious miracles. It's their "stock in trade" so to speak.

klas_klazon said...

dingodave,

it was Xavier. Scroll up to Peter Sean Bradley's last post to get a link to an article discussing this, among other things. I'd say it's a rather silly defense (of the supposed gift of tounges).

DingoDave said...

klas_klazon wrote:

-"Dingodave,
It was Xavier. Scroll up to Peter Sean Bradley's last post to get a link to an article discussing this, among other things."

Thanks Klas, I just read the article which Sean linked to, and I agree that it is a very weak and unconvincing defence of the Xavier legends. I can't help but wonder whether these apologists even believe their own rationalisations most of the time.

Contrary to the intent of the article, it just serves to demonstrate how quickly and easily legends can accumulate around a charismatic religious leader such as Francis Xavier.

faithless said...

I recommend The Bible: A bibliography, by Karen Armstrong.
She shows that the Old Testament was invigorated by the period in which the Israelites were in exile and denied their temple, and how the response was to develop the theory that YHWH was not actully *in* the temple, as such, but everywhere. This produced a veritable flood of theological inspiration and stories.
She draws comparisons between the period after the death of 'Jesus', which was followed shortly by the destruction of Israel, including the temple, at the hands of the Romans.
The strength of the need to find comfort amongst the exiled and stateless accounts in large part for the vigour of the development of the messiah myth in the 200 years following the events recounted in the four gospels.