Saturday, January 17, 2015

Where are they now, the Ari edition.

It has been some time since I last published to this blog and my irritation with conspiracy theorist brought me back in a reactionary mood. But it is a new year - so by way of update, what am I doing now? I have put a hold on further academic endeavours in the field of ancient history and New Testament scholarship and am currently practicing as a Barrister. Yes, those British/Australian lawyers who wear the olden day clothes and wigs. I look hilarious.

Yes, I walk around in public and present in court dressed like this.
For those unfamiliar with a Barrister, in Australia (and the UK) the legal profession is split into two types of practitioners. Barristers are the small group of lawyers who are specialists in court room advocacy and the rules of evidence.

My role as a barrister is no different to my ancient history scholarship. I evaluate evidence and base a theory on it and then I argue it against an opponent in peer review. The only difference is it is oral and you need to deal with witnesses who constantly change their evidence. Maybe it is fluid history.

Review: The Christ Conspiracy, Acharya S

See also: Conspiracy as History? An easy to follow pictorial destruction of Acharya S' historical dishonesty.

I love a good conspiracy theory and I don't think I am alone in that. When they premiered that documentary questioning the moon landing a number of years ago everyone was watching and talking about it, myself included. But no matter how interesting a conspiracy theory is, there is a reason why it is a conspiracy. The theory simply lacks the evidence that mainstream theories do. With this in mind, this is the hermeneutic with which one should approach Acharya's book. It is a book about a conspiracy theory and it should not be confused with rigorous or even accurate historical inquiry.

Before tackling this book, a note should be made about the author. Acharya S, also known as D.M. Murdock, is a new-aged conspiracy styled author over at her long running website While she often refers to herself as a highly educated scholars, this is only a self-perception with little real value. She seems to grasp at straws to increase her credentials in the most amusing ways. She tells us of her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts, which is intrinsically superior because it is from the "17th oldest college in the United States" which appears "in the "highly selective" category in guides to the top universities and colleges." She recounts her time in Greece where she had an exam that took "several hours to complete." She has been under the impression that counting footnotes is a sign of scholarship, conveniently missing out the fact that her footnotes are generally references to 19th century works such as those by poet Gerald Massey who argued the Book of Revelation was written over 4000 years ago. But without going ad hominem, lets see what Acharya has to say.


As an indicator for the rest of the book, the preface tells us that we should expect conspiracy and not history. It is written by conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas author of some interesting works such as Mind Control, Oswald & JFK (1997), NASA, Nazis & JFK: The Torbitt Documents; the Kennedy Assassination (1996) and Maury Island UFO: The Crisman Conspiracy (1999). Thomas pans from Acharya's apparent "impressive set of academic credentials" to her website discussing "conspiracy and UFO/alien realities"

Thomas introduces Acharya's thesis:
The thesis of her work, that Christianity was created artificially out of older religions to consolidate Roman state control over those religions, as well as various mystery schools and secret societies, is a wellspring of awareness for students of conspiracy. Acharya S also makes a clear case for the existence of an ancient global civilization. (4)

Chapter 1: Introduction

The chapter begins negatively branding religion as the cause of "extreme racism, sexism and even speciesism."(3). I assume Acharya envisions that the world would be some sort of utopia without religion. Her arguments do not appear to be sound at all. She quotes Hitler as being a Catholic, and maintains Stalin was an Eastern Orthodox. What is the result? All Christians are militant madmen. While historians hold that Jesus and movement was in no way a militant revolution, Acharya views Jesus' preaching as "exhorting his followers to violence" (7)  while Paul was a terrorist terrorising the pagans. Note that here for Jesus to exhort violence he must have existed as a historical figure, something Acharya attempts to take apart later in the book.

The chapter moves on to the issue of martyrdom and the early Christian persecutions. However, Acharya gives it her conspiracy twist - it is now "the myth of martyrdom" (8). She takes on the historicity of the persecutions against Christians by challenging a single reference by Tacitus. Although in honesty, the challenge is actually an assertion that it is "a forgery" fitting it into her conspiracy theory theme as "one of many made by the conspirators in the works of ancient authors." She makes no argument against authenticity. She then ends the sections claiming Christians weren't persecuted, and it was the Christians who started persecuting non-Christians.

Interestingly enough, there is nothing about Pliny's letter to Trajan (Letters 10.96); no mention of the Deciun persecution or the numerous edicts under the Great Persecution. Having read the book, in hindsight I suggest two equally plausible solutions. First of all, it may be that Acharya simply did not know about them. The engagement with ancient sources is almost non-existent and the best source she could come up with here was G.A. Well's Jesus Did Not Exist. The second case would be that she simply did not include it as it would destroy her conspiracy theory regarding Christian origins. I am not a mind reader so I leave it to the reader to make their own decision.

She also calls the spread of Christianity a myth. I will not bother dealing with it here but those interested should look up the work by Rodney Stark.

Chapter 2: The Quest for Jesus Christ

In this chapter she turns her attention to the person of Jesus, noting him as Christianity's "legendary founder" (13). After a few legitimate comments about many people finding the historical Jesus they want, she moves onto the question of Jesus' historicity. Obviously enough, she truly misrepresents the argument:

Indeed, the majority of people are taught in most schools and churches that Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure and that the only controversy regarding him is that some people accept him as the Son of God and the Messiah, while others do not. However, whereas this is the raging debate most evident today, it is not the most important. Shocking as it may seem to the general populace, the most enduring and profound controversy in this subject is whether or not a person named Jesus Christ ever really existed. (emphasis hers, p.14)
The most enduring debate about the person of Jesus is whether or not he really existed? Among whom? Her select sources from the 1800's? Here references to German language scholar G.A. Wells? Mark Allan Powell summarises the position of Jesus' historicity rather well:
A hundred and fifty years ago a fairly well respected scholar named Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical person Jesus never existed. Anyone who says that today--in the academic world at least--gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat. ( Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. p. 168)
 She furthers her misrepresentations of the debate. Now, the "popular bookstores" are the ones responsible for misrepresenting the debate. She raises Wells as an example. Ironically enough, Wells works are popular press in popular bookstores. The facts of the matter are that historians do not argue that Jesus did not exist.

In proving the popularity of the argument she uses some dubious logic. Regarding a written response to Wells, she states "It should be noted that no such book would be needed if the existence of Jesus Christ as a historical figure were a proven fact accepted by all." Anything can categorically be argued by such dubious means.

She then proceeds to separate the school of thought on Jesus' historicity into interesting categories. Those who believe Jesus existed are "the believers and the evemerists." The believers are those who "take the Judeo-Christian bible as the literal “Word of God,” accepting “on faith” that everything contained within it is historical fact infallibly written by scribes “inspired by God”" (15) that authenticate Jesus. The second group, the Evemerists, are non-Christians who falsely believe that Jesus existed for no reason other than "mental programming." She goes on that such an "opinion [is] usually based on the fact that it is commonly held, not because its proponents have studied the matter or seen clear evidence to that effect." (16).

We then come to the final group, the enlightened mythicists. For some reason or another, this groups conclusions need not be backed up, as they are so overwhelmingly obvious. As if there is no debate surrounding her claim, Acharya remarks, "not only is there no proof of his existence but virtually all evidence points to him being a mythological character." (19). This statement is rather paradoxical. There is no evidence of Jesus' existence, yet there is evidence and that points to him not existing.

She then goes on to paint the picture of historical Jesus scholarship. She doesn't agree with the scholarly norm that finds overwhelming evidence for Jesus but argues that "the mythicists’ arguments have been too intelligent and knifelike to do away with." In fact, the works of these guys are "fearfully suppressed because they are somewhat irrefutable." (19). Other than asserting the Christ myth position as being correct and unchallengable, she moves onto the next chapter.

Chapter 3: The Holy Forgery Mill

This chapter begins with nothing much other than a few pages other than demonising the history of Christianity. She then goes to some very convincing authorities such as Joseph Wheless, a 19th-early 20th century lawyer who states, "The gospels are all priestly forgeries over a century after their pretended dates." She backs this up with Barbara Walker (The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets)  who contends that the "discovery that the Gospels were forged, centuries later than the events they described, is still not widely known even though the Catholic Encyclopedia admits." (22). I would love to see the Catholic Encylopaedia admit that the gospels were forged centuries after Jesus. Evidently, instead of turning to even an introductory text on the dating of the gospels, Acharya S prefers non-historians/biblical scholars to support her conspiracy theory.

In the fashion of the Da Vinci Code, she contends that it was after the Council of Nicaea that the "autographs" were destroyed; they were again "revised" and "retouched" in "506 CE under Emperor Anastasius." She cites a 19th century work on this point, obviously unaware of a few important details. (1) We have numerous text types by the 6th century; (2) it would have been impossible for a 6th century Emperor to modify all these independent pre-6th century manuscripts and, (3) the existence of Codex Sinaiticus among other important 4th/5th century codices.

These great discoveries that the gospels were forged centuries after Christ, is followed by a  number of quotes by people I have never heard of before. Following her usual pattern, I have assumed they are 19th century public domain sources available online and composed by non-scholars. While failing to demonstrate anything but her uncritical eye and unschooled understanding, she concluded the chapter stating, "We have established the atmosphere of the foundation of Christianity: conspiracy, forgery and fraud, the result of which are its sacred texts, falsely alleged to be infallible accounts by eyewitnesses to the most extraordinary events in human “history.”"

Chapter 4: Biblical Sources

In this chapter she begins with the contention that their was no sort of Christian canon at all for 1000 years. Here she is apparently unaware of the reception of the proto-orthodox documents by orthodoxy. We have works which were consistently accepted as authoritative such as the four gospels (Irenaeus, the Muratorian fragment, early codices cf. Gamble, Hengel and Stanton); etc. No closed canon is not equal to no uniformity on accepted texts. She continues under the Da Vinci Code impression - that is, the Christian documents were forcefully chosen at a council "from some 200 admitted forgeries called Gospels" (here citing Wheless, p.26).

She turns to the Pauline epsitles claiming they "never discuss a historical background of Jesus...any person in the gospel account of the Passion" and "never quotes from Jesus’s purported sermons and speeches..." (27).  Anyone with an understanding of the Pauline epistles knows that Acharya is more than stretching the truth here. Paul places Jesus in recent past, and quotes his words and events a few times. For example, Paul recounts the narrative of the last supper including the words of Jeuss in 1 Cor 11:23-26 (compare to Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22.) Paul is aware of Jesus' teachings on divorce in 1 Cor 7:10-11 ("not I, but the Lord") as reflected in Matthew 5.

Similarly, any argument exploiting Paul's relative silence demonstrates a complete ignorance of the genre of the Pauline epistles. Marcus Borg summarises this rather well:
"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32)
Ironically enough, after arguing that the Pauline epistles are not evidence of Jesus' existence, she goes on to claim (through extensive quoting of the unknown Wheless) that "there are none of them by Paul...They are all, without distinction, pseudographia. (sic)" (27). That she believes all the Pauline epistles to be "pseudographia" or as those who know what they are talking about would say, "pseudepigrapha", really questions the extremes which she goes to to argue a conspiracy. Once again, after demonstrating nothing but her ignorance of the issues she concludes, "It is clear that the epistles do not demonstrate a historical Jesus and are not as early as they are pretended to be, written or edited by a number of hands over several decades during the second century, such that the “historical” Jesus apparently was not even known at that late point." (28)

She turns her attention towards the gospels, opening with something completely ridiculous. She claims they "were forged at the end of the 2nd century, all four of them probably between 170-180." She appears to be completely unaware that we have quotations of the gospels as well as physical manuscript evidence from before that time. For exaple, P52 is a fragment of the Gospel of John generally dated to the first half (or even quarter?) of the second century. While arguing that the canonical gospels were late 2nd century (a date no scholar I know of affirms) she goes on to claim that the four were chosen by Irenaeus in the 2nd century, not because they were previously accepted, but because  it is "Masonic, and these texts represent the four books of magic of the Egyptian Ritual." (29)

She dates the Gospel of Luke to 170 (30), Mark to 175, John 178 (while arguing an outdated Gnostic John hypothesis) (31) and Matthew to 180 (32). Following the delusion of her late second century date, she argues that the Gospels were based on Marcion's gospel, which dates to around the 150s, "[The Gospel of the Lord] predated the canonical gospels by decades." (29) As there is no evidence to support this (well, we do have evidence against it such as manuscripts above) such a position is rejected by all scholars I know of. It is generally held that Marcion's gospel was a version of the Gospel of Luke without a birth narrative as well as references to the Hebrew scriptures. This mutilation of the text was for theological reasons, namely, Marcion rejected the Israelite God and to have Jesus (or Paul) in that tradition was theologically detestable. While she discusses Marcion's gospel (which only survives through literary fragments), she claims that it demonstrates "the conspiracy" of Jesus' non-existence. (29) To Acharya, not containing the birth narrative necessitates Jesus was a Gnostic redeemer who came down from heaven. A logic which is flawed to the core and, ironically enough, doesn't apply to Mark.

She attempts to dabble in textual criticism and bases her argument, again, on Wheless who is neither a historian or biblical scholar. Quoting Wheless, she contends that "Of the 150,000 variant readings which Griesbach found in the manuscripts of the New Testament, probably 149,500 were additions and interpolations." (33) Other than the fact her source is a hundred or so years outdated regarding the number of variants, the claim that 99.7 of them are malicious interpolations is simply false. The vast majority of textual variants are unintentional scribal mistakes, or changes in word order. The conspiracy of mass textual corruption is simply fanciful fiction. (See Daniel Wallace's review of Misquoting Jesus for more information on textual criticism.)

Despite having already argued (well, asserted as no argument was presented) that Jesus didn't exist, it is still odd that she entertains Jesus existing just to attack him. For example, in chapter 1 she claimed Jesus was exhorting people to violence. Now, we find that Jesus was mythical. We find this out while Acharya attempts to dabble in theology. She doesn't appear to recognise the consistent theological theme of Jesus ministry which Paul summarises as "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16).

Having achieved nothing in this chapter, she moves on to the  Non-Biblical Sources.

Chapter 5: Non-Biblical Sources

She begins, noting her achievement of arbitrarily assigning a late second century date to the gospels that "We have seen that the gospel accounts are utterly unreliable as history and cannot serve as evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed." (38)  In this chapter, Acharya asserts that we have no non-Christian evidence for Jesus. She begins with Josephus, who she claims "they have been dismissed by scholars and Christian apologists alike as forgeries, as have been those referring to John the Baptist and James, “brother of Jesus.”" (39) However, most Josephan and historical Jesus scholars agree that Josephus made mention of both Jesus and John the Baptist. Regarding the longer reference of Jesus, most scholars agree on embellishment, while none that I know of dispute the second reference. From The Missing Jesus (Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans and Jacob Neusner):
"In the part of this embellished text that virtually all regard as authentic Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor." (p.21)
Evidently, Acharya's claim that everyone agrees they are forgeries is very far from true scholarly opinion summarising it as "virtually all". A similarly dishonest assertion is made for Tacitus and other non-Christian sources. Evidently, to support her conspiracy she needs to employ utter deception and msirerpesentation. This is continued in chapter 6.

Chapter 6: Further Evidence of a Fraud

She opens by summarising her baseless assertions, "There is basically no textual evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ, other than forged biblical books and epistles." (42). However, in reality we have seen that there is evidence - Christain and non-Christian. Similarly, her claims disputing the authenticity of such appear to be nothing but fanciful deception. However, let us entertain her thesis.

She tries to argue that Christians saw Christianity as nothing new - but, like her conspiracy, simply a rehash of pagan religions which they copied. In this case, she attempts to raise primary evidence for the argument - something very rare in the book. She quotes Eusebius in chapter 4 of his church history as stating that Christianity and its core principles were "built on the natural concepts of those whom God loved in the distant past . . ." (42) However, as an honest reading of Eusebius demonstrates, he was referring to God's knowledge from creation in the Jewish tradition. For example, he names the continuous tradition in which he identifies, stating that "the Hebrews are not a youthful people, but are respected by all men for their antiquity and are known to all." Indeed, a far cry from Acharya's misrepresentation - and one which anyone acquainted with early Christian apologetics would know (e.g. Origen in Contra Celsum.).

She goes onto the topic of Gnosticism, claiming that "the fact is that Gnosticism was proto-Christianity."(45) In fact, she also pinpoints a date - Gnosticism "eventually changed into orthodox Christianity around 220" (46). A position thoroughly at odds with our evidence of Christianity which arose from a Jewish mileu, based on torah, etc. She now argues that everyone was a Gnostic. Irenaeus, who she earlier demonised for being orthodox, is now a Gnostic. (45). Regarding Augustine, "after the Council of Nicea, when he was “converted,” i.e., promised a prominent place in the newly formed Catholic Church, such that he then excoriated his former sect." (45) A pity such fanciful claims are unreferenced. Or even plausible. Augustine was born a good 25 years after the Council of Nicaea, so I do not know why he would have converted because of it. Similarly, why promise a "prominent place" to a heretic for converting? In essence, an absurd and unreferences claim at the logical and chronological level. A final note is that she is of the opinion that Augustine converted from Mandaenism, when in fact he was a Manichaeism.

The rest of this chapter is mostly massive block quote, followed by massive block quote of non-scholars such as Gerald Massey and Kersey Graves.

This is a repost of an old review. Why? Because Ms Murdock seems to have spent a lot of money promoting articles on Facebook which appear to serve no other purpose than personally attacking Bart Ehrman. I do not know what I did wrong to have them appear on my feed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Christology and Authority in the Gospel of Mark

By coincidence I independently came across two articles by Daniel Johansson in the space of a few minutes. Obviously, a divine sign that I must share these articles both from the Journal for the Study of the New Testament:

Daniel Johansson,  "Kyrios in the Gospel of Mark",  Journal for the Study of the New Testament September 2010 33: 101-124.

He writes: "The thesis is, in short, that the ambiguous use of κυριος [in Mark] is intentional and serves the purpose of linking Jesus to the God of Israel, so that they both share the identity as κύριος." (102-3, emphasis in original.)

Against the common view that the title κύριος  plays a relatively insignificant role in the Gospel of Mark, this article argues that Mark uses κυριος to set out important aspects of Jesus’ identity. The first instance of κύριος, which refers to both God and Jesus (Mk 1.3), is seen as the key to Mark’s κύριος Christology. The difficulty of determining whether κύριος refers to God or Jesus in many of the following passages should be understood in light of this. Mark used κύριος ambiguously to link both God and Jesus to the title. While the evangelist maintains that there is only one κύριος , he also claims that Jesus shares the identity of being κύριος with the God of Israel.

Daniel Johansson  "‘Who Can Forgive Sins but God Alone?’ Human and Angelic Agents, and Divine Forgiveness in Early Judaism" Journal for the Study of the New Testament June, 2011 33: 351-374.

Was forgiveness of sins viewed as a divine prerogative, uniquely reserved for the God of Israel in early Judaism? While some scholars think this was the case, others have questioned or qualified such a view, arguing that other figures, such as priests, prophets, various messianic figures, or angels, could forgive sins in the place of God. This article surveys and critiques the main evidence that has been put forward to demonstrate this. The outcome is mainly negative. With the possible exception of one or two passages which may ascribe the authority to pardon sin to the Angel of YHWH, no firm evidence can be found which demonstrates that other figures than God forgave sins. Various strands of early Judaism conceived of human and angelic agents who interceded on behalf of others, expiated sin and mediated forgiveness from God, but they all seem to have shared the view that forgiveness is divine prerogative.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Review)

Craig, William Lane. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2000. ISBN: 1-57910-464-9. 156 pp.

In this short book William Lane Craig tackles the question of the resurrection of Jesus as a historical problem.  Craig is currently Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, having received doctorates in philosophy and theology. In addition to his academic work, Craig is a prominent Christian apologist having engaged in many debates from the existence of God to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Craig makes no secret of his evangelistic aims – the preface notes the intended audience as “those who may believe in some kind of God or Supreme Being, but doubt whether He has revealed Himself to us in any decisive way.” (7) To Craig, God has been revealed in history through the resurrection of Jesus. Craig writes that there are two ways in which the Christian can affirm the resurrection of Jesus. The first is the historical evidence and arguments; however, the failure of the historical evidence does not mean the resurrection did not happen. The second ‘evidence’ is the “assurance that Jesus is risen because God’s Spirit bears unmistakable witness…that it is so.”(8) While I was initially critical of the inclusion of this argument from the historical perspective, Craig’s purpose is not just the “historical evidence” but the confession that it is the “son” that rises. 

Chapter 1: Death and Resurrection is relatively brief. Craig tackles post-enlightenment thinking on the place of humans in the universe. Are we really just an insignificant product of natural selection? What are our options in this world? What is the meaning of life without resurrection? Craig proposes four which I will leap frog to the fourth as I did not pay close attention to the non-historical arguments. The final position is that an affirmation that there is God and immortality which gives life significance and value.  This idea of immortality is a segue into the crux of the chapter from a historical perspective, that is, the concept of “resurrection from the dead.” (20) Again we find a list of four but in terms of what resurrection is not. The biblical view of Resurrection is not : “immortality of the soul alone” but a state where “body and soul [are] in unity.” (20);  reincarnation but that “a man lives only one lifetime and then is raised from the dead and judged by God.”(21); resuscitation where an individual returns to earthly life to die again, but resurrection is to “eternal life, and a person raised from the dead is immortal.” (21); and finally resurrection is not translation – a Jewish view  of immediate assumption into heaven. Resurrection is the “raising up of the dead man in the space-time universe, and the resurrected man is still part of the created world.” (21) For the Christian, the resurrection is an end times event where God will “raise up all those who have died and so reconstitute them as whole men of body and soul in union.” (21). Craig presents the backdrop of resurrection as a physical concept of both body and soul. This understanding is important for an orthodox defence of the resurrection, and is one that accurately represents the resurrection belief in the time of Jesus and, as Craig and I would argue, the earliest Christians. 

Chapter 2: Some Blind Alleys deals with the alternative theories to historical resurrection that may be popular among skeptical treatments but are “unanimously rejected by contemporary scholarship.” (23) Craig deals with the “conspiracy theory” that the disciples stole the body (cf. Matt 28:13-15) as logically and ethically implausible. He goes on to cite 18th century scholar William Paley to provide an unsatisfying positive case – with some good and some bad arguments – for the reliability of the gospel accounts.  He briefly deals with the “apparent death” and “wrong tomb” theories which do not have much going for them in contemporary debate. Finally, he comes to the “legend theory”, that which is widely known in New Testament studies. The purpose of the following three chapters are to argue the positive evidence for the resurrection accounts as history in favour of the legendary theory. 

Chapter 3: The Empty Tomb is where Craig finally gets to the historical arguments. There are three lines of evidence for the resurrection: “the empty tomb of Jesus, the appearances of Jesus to his disciples, and the origin of the Christian faith. If it can be shown that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, that He did appear to His disciples and others after His death, and that the origin of the Christian faith cannot be explained adequately apart from His historical resurrection, then if there is no plausible natural explanation for these facts, one is amply justified in concluding that Jesus really did rise from the dead.” (45) 

In establishing the empty tomb, Craig begins with the burial of Jesus: “If it can be shown that the story of Jesus’ burial in the tomb is basically reliable, then the fact that the tomb was later found empty is also close at hand.” (46) He discusses the burial in 1 Cor 15, Acts 13:28-31 and Mark 15:37-16:8 while demonstrating a common Christian tradition on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances. Craig contends that the burial account is very early and shows no signs of legend, widely attested and the witness of the women to it is “historically probable.” (59) Craig’s sober use of historical criteria on the NT sources has him conclude that “If one denies this [the burial], then one is reduced to denying the historicity of one of the most straightforward and unadorned narratives about Jesus…”(63) On an aside, for an excellent short study on the burial of Jesus within his historical context I highly recommend Craig A. Evans’ essay in Jesus, the Final Days (ed. Troy A. Miller). However, this sound method comes to a temporary halt when Craig controversially defends the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. (63-7) I do not have the relevant knowledge to delve into the issue, but my understanding is against the authenticity of the Shroud.

Having firmly established the likelihood of Jesus’ burial Craig presents 9 arguments in favour of the discovery of the empty tomb. He begins with the early pre-Pauline creed of 1 Cor 15 stating that “When Paul then says “He was raised,” he  necessarily implies that the tomb was left empty.” (67) This is the best way to understand the linguistic choice, especially in the context of  physical resurrection expectations.  The gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb are pre-Markan and it is early and historically likely due to – Aramaic expressions, lack of legendary development, the discovery by the women, etc. He notes that both Luke 24:11-12, 24 and John 20:2-10 contain independent witness to the “investigation of the empty tomb by Peter and John”  (78), with special attention being given to the Gospel of John as having access to the eyewitness testimony of the beloved disciple who Craig identifies as John the son of Zebedee. (81) Craig defends the historicity that some of the disciples investigated the tomb (78), and that the Matthean apologetic  Matt 28:11-15 evidences that polemics against Christians acknowledge that the tomb was in fact empty. If it was not, we would expect Christian’s to partake in tomb veneration. Craig believes that these (and other) points “constitute a powerful case for the fact that Jesus’ tomb was actually found empty on Sunday morning by a small group of His women followers” and that objections to this are not on historical grounds, but theological/philosophical ones.(85-6)

Chapter 4: The Appearances of Jesus is the next piece in the puzzle for the historical argument in Craig’s positive argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  He follows the “testimony of Paul” in 1 Cor 15 in order to demonstrate that the disciples had appearances of Jesus. He notes the appearances to Peter and the twelve which are also attested to in the gospels. He discusses the appearance to the 500 – Craig speculates it does not appear in the gospels as it took place in Galilee, and there appears to be no reason to make up such a large number if it simply did not happen. Significance is found in the evidence related to James and Paul who were both transformed by their experience to join the Jesus movement. Following these more scanty appearances he turns his attention to the gospel accounts contending that they are “fundamentally reliable historically.” (100) His first contention in this regard is that there was insufficient time for legends to develop, citing Muller’s critique of Strauss and more recently A.N. Sherwin-White. By arguing an early date for the Gospels as well as authoritative control by the apostles and presence of eyewitnesses within the Christian communities Craig tries to squeeze out any plausible opportunity for legendary developments.

Craig defends the view that the appearances were physical appearances, beginning with Paul.  While many in favour of Jesus’ physical resurrection will separate Paul’s experience as visionary, Craig contends that unlike Stephen’s vision of Jesus (Acts 7:54-58), Paul’s was an appearances manifested by light and sounds. But this aside, Craig’s view of resurrection was one that was physical in nature balancing the whole 1 Cor 15 future body debate. Similarly, “the gospels prove that the appearances were bodily and physical.” (110)

Chapter 5: The Origin of the Christian Faith draws on the explanatory power of the resurrection in light of the fact that “even the most sceptical scholars admit that at least the belief that Jesus rose from the dead lay at the very heart of the earliest Christian faith.” (127) The resurrection of Jesus explains how the disciples came to see him as Messiah (and re-imagine the role) and Lord (e.g. Acts 2) Craig believes that the onus is on those denying the resurrection to provide a satisfactory origin for the Christian faith from Jewish precedents. The argument is that the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection is a mutation of the expectations held by the Jews (such as Jesus’ resurrection being separate from end times resurrection of the Jewish people). While it has been argued elsewhere that it was the empty tomb that lead to the belief that Jesus was resurrected, Craig believes that this would have simply lead the disciples to believe Jesus was translated such as with Enoch and Elijah.(132)

Craig concludes the chapter summarising his conclusion from the three sets of historical evidence. He writes, “Each of these three great facts – the empty tomb, the appearances, the origin of the Christian faith  - is independently established. Together they point with unwavering conviction to the same unavoidable and marvellous conclusion: Jesus actually rose from the dead.” (134)

Chapter 6: Finding the Resurrection Faith acts as an epilogue for those who have been convinced by the historical evidence. Citing 1 Corinthians 15 Craig notes that a Christian faith without the resurrection would have been “simply false” (135) and the proclamation that Jesus was Lord, Messiah and Son of God would have been “stupid” for he would have been simply another Jewish prophet meeting an unfortunate end. The resurrection is a necessary truth to the Christian message and Christian life where (1) God acted in time resurrecting Jesus from the dead, (2) confirmed Jesus’ claims about his unique relationship with the Father and divine authority and (3) shows “Jesus holds the key to eternal life”(141ff). The last 11 pages are essentially an alter call bringing the work back to the evangelistic aims noted earlier on.

Apologies for the Apologist: This book was first published in 1981 and according to my constructed chronology of Craig’s life this was relatively early in his doctoral study on the resurrection. It was not for another 8 years that his 400+ page Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. (Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press. 1989.) was published. I suggest that this may explain a number of the drawbacks in this book regarding Craig’s critical engagement with the gospel tradition. For example, in my opinion Craig failed to adequately defend his assumption on the reliability of the gospel tradition, or at the very least the historical reliability of the resurrection narratives he was working on. 

That said, the work is adequate and is representative of what I would view as a standard historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus. Those with an interest in the resurrection will find it easy to understand and follow, while those with a background in critical Gospel studies will find themselves disappointed at times.More thorough treatments for those with a lot more time on their hand include N.T. Wright's  The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3) and Michael R. Licona's recent The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach 

Note: This review was mostly written in July last year so I have not been able to remember any errors in need of proof.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fallacies in Dating the Gospel of Thomas

Just a few thoughts on dating the Gospel of Thomas.

1. A sayings Gospel and Q

The reasoning behind this argument is to draw a similarity between the genre of the Thomas and the hypothetical Q document. There are a few forms of this argument as follows:
The result is a date for Thomas comparable to Q, capped by the date of Matthew and Luke.
 Both arguments attempt to draw a similarity between the genre of the Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical Q source. Yet when the argument is broken down the fatal flaws become blatantly obvious.

While it can be persuasively  argued that there was some sort of sayings genre of which texts like Thomas and Q may have belong to (e.g. Robertson), it does not necessarily follow that such broad a similarity as structural genre necessitates belonging to the same period. If we were to follow this argument to its logical conclusion, all sayings texts (Thomas, Proverbs, Sayings of Ahiqar, etc) must belong to the same period as Q and Thomas.

2. Developing Gnosticism

This next argument is as follows:
P1: Thomas represents mild Gnosticism
P2: Second century Gnostic texts have a more developed Gnosticism
C: Thomas must be early
I initially found this as one of the most persuasive arguments for some sort of early date for Thomas. On face value the logic is sound - over time the ideas were developed. However, it makes a number of assumptions.

First of all, the argument assumes a direct and continuing relationship between Thomas and later Gnostic texts. That is, it assumes that Thomas is an early text and over time these ideas were developed within a community using Thomas to produce later more developed Gnostic texts. However, except for notably later collections (e.g. Nag Hammadi) there is no evidence to suggest this direct relationship in the formative stage.

To demonstrate the point on a spectrum of proto-orthodoxy to Gnosticism:

Thomas could be contemporary with these "more developed" Gnostic texts, but as part of a completely independent school of thought, just as other proto-orthodox texts were composed independently of other gnostic texts. Alternatively, Thomas could have originated within the same stream as more developed texts and simply not included all aspects that we see as fundamental to 'Gnosticism'...

That is all for now as it is no longer peaceful and quiet here.

The Abhorrent Void: Robert Price and Historical Method

One of the most frustrating essays within Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (ed. R Joseph Hoffman) is Robert M. Price's "The Abhorrent Void: The Rapid Attribution of Fictive Sayings and Stories to a Mythic Jesus." Through bad analogy and questionable premises the self-proclaimed leading authority on the Bible presents another reason to believe in an historical Jesus.

Beginning from the premise that there was no single historical founder of Christianity (i.e. Jesus), Price attempts to argue that it is plausible that the sayings attributed to Jesus were wholly fictive. In a nutshell, Price's underlying argument seems to be:

As the latter is a necessary conclusion of the former you would assume the emphasis should be on proving the first, which Price does not do. This makes us wonder-  what exactly is Price trying to prove? 

Price assume that there is no "single historical founder of Christianity" and that the founding of the movement/figure cannot be dated to the "4 and 6 BCE". In effect, we find the entire origins of the Christian movement uniquely removed from the constraints of a historical context. The implication is that Christianity has a pre-history long before the first century, and by the time we begin to receive our earliest sources there was no control over the Jesus tradition (or whatever we would call the tradition for a figure that didn't exist) by eyewitnesses or communities connected with eyewitnesses. Price then  reveals to us that there was "all the time in the world" to create spurious "myths, legends and rumours."

Of pressing importance is:
  1. Why should we believe there is no "single historical founder of Christianity" when all of our historical sources are clear on this point?
  2. Why should we abandon the first century origins of Christianity in order to pursue an indefinitely long development of Jesus tradition, when all our historical sources place the movement in the first century?
With the cart in front of the horse Price leapfrogs any justification and ambitiously proposes "three models, three analogies, to help us understanding the plausibility of positing a wholesale and rapid growth of a vast body of inauthentic Jesus traditions and even that it might have been expected." (110, emphasis mine)

(i) Kid Stuff
Price begins with the assertion that "many or most early Christians" believed that Jesus initially appeared "as a deity in adult form." (111) While I am not precisely sure about why Price believes this I suspect it may have something to do with his rejection of everything Paul says about Jesus and possibly a peculiar  reading of the Gospel of Mark. However, Paul in our earliest sources makes it clear that Jesus was "descended from David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3), "born of woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4) and had a brother named James (Gal 1:9/Josephus/Gospels). And I cannot imagine how Mark beginning with John the Baptist followed by Jesus' baptism necessitates an early predominate Christian belief that Jesus only existed as an adult. Mark did believe Jesus to be a son, with brothers and sisters: "the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”" (Mark 6:3)

Suddenly and without any specified reason, Price informs us that the early Christian's departed from this view and began to write infancy gospels and narratives about Jesus. Price then argues that by analogy, if this happened regarding the infancy stories then we can only assume that the same thing happened with the adult stories of Jesus (he was one day not assumed to be a person but then suddenly was?). Central to Price's argument is the immediacy at which Christian's began to create stories of Jesus. He writes, "Christian curiosity rapidly went to work filling the newly apparent gap" and "There was an immediate flood of stories." What evidence does Price have for this overwhelming flood of material as analogous to wholesale creation of the Jesus tradition? Two canonical stories (Luke 2:41-51 and John 2:1-10) and substantially later infancy gospels (Infancy Gospel of Thomas, etc). However, John clearly presents the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-10) not as an infancy story, but Jesus with his disciples.

(ii) The (Growing) Beard of the Prophet
Apple and Orange [source]
The next "analogy/model" is the "explosion of (universally spurious) hadith tradition of what the Prophet Muhammad said and did".(112) Price believes that the rise of inauthentic hadith traditions about Muhammad in the first few centuries of the Islamic era are the best analogy to the creation of the Gospel tradition. In fact, this model is a superior fit to that of near contemporary Judaism and early Rabbinic traditions developed by Riesenfeld and Gerhardsson which he rejects as "apologetics."

Price asks, "Why not consider the analogy of the Muhammadan hadith?" (116) There are many reasons, most simply that  the better analogy would be to compare near contemporary teachers and their disciples in a similar geographical, religious and cultural context and not with the informal traditions  associated with a 7th century political and military prophet collected over 200 years later from a completely different geographical and cultural context. Does this really need to be said?

(iii) From Muhammad to Nag Hammadi
Price suddenly blockquotes F.F. Bruce stating that evidence such as 1 Corinthians 7:19 demonstrates that "early Christians were careful to distinguish between sayings of Jesus and their own inferences and judgements." (The New Testament Documents:Are they Reliable? 33.) Price rejects this interpretation of what was happening in the mid first century  by pointing to the "deadly boring" Gnostic texts citing the Books of Jeu (3rd century), Gospel of Mary (late 2nd?) , etc. Again, Price is rejecting the relevant sources and context in favour of a strained analogy with a later and very different thought world.

On an aside, does the title of this section imply that Price has a "Muhammad-existed-before-the-Nag-Hammadi-texts conspiracy theory or is his chronology simply out of whack?

Did Price demonstrate the plausibility of "a wholesale and rapid growth of a vast body of inauthentic Jesus traditions and even that it might have been expected"? I cannot for the life of me see it, and I made sure I wore my glasses while searching.

Price's analogies barely make sense even if his improbable premises are assumed as true.  Placing the origins of Christianity in some timeless and relative realm allows Price to draw on any improbable analogy for the Jesus tradition, irrespective of their context.  It allows him to reject any forms of control that the historical context provides, whether it by relevant analogies or the question of eyewitness and informed communities. It is a rejection of the basic principle of analogy - similarity. "Maybe the first century was really like 3rd century Gnosticism" or "maybe it was really like this 7th century example" simply don't cut it in the realm of history, especially when it involves ignoring all of the first century evidence. The essay, like most of what Price has to say in recent times, is a first class exercise in polemics against "conservative scholars, apologists, and rank-and-file Gospel readers" (109) which in the process extends to undercutting mainstream scholarship.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exploring Our Matrix has not been deified

Dr McGrath has not joined the Pantheon but has moved his blog to Patheos. I apologise for the inconvenience my earlier revelation may have caused.