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.

Update your Feeds!

Two excellent biblioblogs have moved joining Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight and others at Patheos:
Feed is the correct word, right? Or is it feed subscription? Either way, just do it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bauckham on Divine Identity & Orthodox Christology

After a lengthy summarising of Richard Bauckham's thesis (including some snazzy tables) I came across his own:
In my view much work on New Testament christology has employed categories of thought that are certainly no less appropriate than those of the patristic definitions. In particular, much damage has been done by the standard distinction between functional christology and ontic christology. The former means that Jesus performs divine functions (such as saving and judging) but only as an agent of God, while ontic christology goes further in claiming that Jesus shares the being of God or is divine by nature. A widespread assumption has been that in the Jewish monotheistic context in which the earliest christology developed only functional christology is conceivable. Ontic christology is possible only to the extent that early Christianity moved outside a dominantly Jewish framework of thought, and the more scholars have come to think that most, if not all of the New Testament writings belong within a Jewish framework of thought, the more ontic christology has been pushed to the margins of the New Testament. There has been a strong tendency to read New Testament christological texts in as 'low' a way as possible on the grounds that their original Jewish context requires this. Obviously, the gap between the Christ of the New Testament and the Christ of later patristic orthodoxy grows deeper and wider.

While I entirely agree that Jewish monotheism was the context of thought within which early christology originated and developed, I think that the relationship of early christology and Jewish monotheism has been profoundly misunderstood. It is vital to work with categories that are appropriate to the texts we are considering, and it seems to me that the category most helpful for characterizing both Jewish monotheism and New Testament christology is that of divine identity. Jewish theology was much more concerned with 'who God is' (divine identity) than with 'what divinity is' (divine nature). Jewish monotheism defined the unique identity of God - what it is that constitutes God the only God - in a number of ways, of which the most prominent are that the God of Israel is the only creator of all things and the only sovereign ruler of all things. These were ways of distinguishing the one God absolutely from all other reality. The exclusive worship of only this one God was the appropriate way of recognizing his unique identity. When we read the New Testament with these ways of characterizing the unique identity of the God of Israel in view, it becomes very clear that the New Testament writings use precisely these uniquely divine characteristics to include Jesus within the unique identity of the God of Israel. When Jesus is pictured as seated at God's right hand on the cosmic throne in heaven from which God exercises his sovereign rule over all things, Jesus is being included in the unique divine identity. It is not that Jesus is exercising a divine function which God may delegate to someone other than God. Sovereignty over all things is a uniquely divine relationship to the world and belongs to who God is. Similarly, and even more unambiguously, when the New Testament portrays the pre-existent Christ participating in God's work of Creation, there could be no clearer way, in Jewish theological terms, of claiming that Jesus belongs - eternally - to the unique identity of the one God, the God of Israel, the Creator and Ruler of all things. This is why early Christians worshipped Jesus without supposing that they were abandoning Jewish monotheism. In terms of the definition of Jewish monotheism, the worship of Jesus as included in the unique divine identity made sense, whereas the worship of Jesus as someone other than God, to whom God merely delegated divine functions, would have been idolatry and effectively polytheism. Early Christianity remained monotheistic precise because it attributed divinity in the fullest (and only true) sense to Jesus, not because it made Jesus some kind of lesser divinity distinguished from God.

From this perspective all christology in the New Testament is equally 'high' since at least Jesus' status as exalted to the divine throne of the universe - the symbol of God's uniqueness - is everywhere presupposed and in this basic sense the New Testament writings share a common christology. Against the background of twentieth-century study of New Testament christology, I find rather astonishing to be able to say that, from Pentecost onwards, there was never a stage at which Christians did not consider Jesus to share in the unique divine identity, but I think this is true. In the New Testament there is christological development in the sense of drawing out the implications of this, but there is no development from 'low' to 'high' christology. New Testament christology is already the highest possible christology - but developed and expounded in Jewish theological terms. What made the difference for the Fathers was, first, a context in Hellenistic philosophy which highlighted divine nature rather than divine identity, and, secondly, the temptation to understand monotheism in a non-Jewish way, such that the uniqueness of the one God (the Father) could be maintained by attributing subordinate divinity to Christ. These problems required the Fathers to work through the issues of trinitarian and christological doctrine in order to reach definitions that adequately re-stated the claims of New Testament christology in a different intellectual context. These definitions are Hellenistic insofar as they give prominence to notions of divine and human nature (what it is to be divine, what it is to be human), but they also correspond to the New Testament's Jewish thinking about God insofar as the idea of divine nature is subordinated to a trinitarian understanding of God and a hypostatic (personal) understanding of incarnation. The Trinity is the Christian statement of God's identity (who God is) and the statement that the eternal divine Son made human nature his own in incarnation effectively includes the man Jesus within the identity of the one and only God.

And more...