Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Best Scenario for the Christian Claim of the Resurrection of Jesus based on the Evidence

I thought it would be interesting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from the orthodox/conservative/evangelical Christian stand point, excluding, however, baseless assumptions.  I am excluding fundamentalists in this discussion because fundamentalist Christian views are so extreme that it would be hopeless to try and reconcile them with the actual evidence.  Some fundamentalists would probably believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down and wrote their gospels within ten minutes of the Ascension.

A.  The Gospel of Mark

So, let's start with the first gospel written, as almost all scholars agree:  the gospel of Mark.  Most scholars believe that it was written sometime between 65-75 AD.  So let's accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel:  mid 60's, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

1.  Who wrote Mark:  the gospel itself does not tell us.  No clear assignment of authorship is given until Irenaeus in the late second century. Yes, Papias in the early second century mentions that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel, but Papias does not identify the gospel.

2.  Where was Mark written?  We don't know.  Most scholars do not believe that Mark was written in Palestine, but let's just say that it was.  So the gospel is written 30-35 years after Jesus' death in 30-33 AD.  Historians tell us that the average life span of people in the first century was age 45.  How many people would still be alive in 65 AD who had been old enough to witness the crucifixion of Jesus?  If you were fifteen in the year 30 AD, you would now be fifty in 65 AD, above the average first century life span.  And I would bet that even most fundamentalist Christians would believe that the disciples were older than fifteen at the time of the crucifixion.  So let's say that the disciples of Jesus were between twenty and thirty years old in 30 AD.  That would make them fifty-five to sixty-five years old in 65 AD, if they were still alive!  We have no proof that any of the disciples were still alive in 65 AD.

3.  Even if Mark were written in Palestine, 30 years after the death of Jesus, and there were still people alive who witnessed the resurrection, how soon was the gospel put into public circulation?  Maybe the author wrote it for just one wealthy benefactor.  Maybe he wrote it just for his small group of Christians, none of whom were old enough to remember the crucifixion.  Maybe the gospel was not put into public circulation until after 70 AD.  If true, the entire city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, most of its inhabitants are dead or carried off.  If there had been a tomb of Jesus, who would now be alive to point out where it was.  Remember, all this is assuming that the gospel was written in Palestine or at least circulated in Palestine in the 60's or 70's.  For all we know, the gospel of Mark was written in Rome and copies of it did not arrive in Palestine until after 100 AD or later!  Who would still be alive to say, "Hey, that's not what happened!"?

4.  Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.

Even if Jesus did prophesy/predict the destruction of the Temple, is this proof that he is God?  If someone living in Europe in the mid 1930's had predicted that Europe would be devastated by a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would we believe that this person was God?  Just because someone predicts something that comes true is not proof that they are divine.

5.  Was the author of Mark an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

The author of Mark never claims to be an eyewitness.  He even writes in the third person.  This doesn't necessarily mean that the author was not an eyewitness but to say he was is simply a guess.

B.  The Gospel of Matthew

1.  Who wrote Matthew?  The author does not tell us.  The assignment of the apostle Matthew as author of this gospel is not mentioned until the late second century by Irenaeus.

2.  Most scholars believe that Matthew was written after Mark and that one can find 70% of the content of Mark within Matthew, often word for word.

3.  Where was Matthew written?  We have no idea.  Again, for all we know, it could have been written in a foreign country, far away from any eyewitnesses to the crucifixion.  We have no idea when it was first circulated in Palestine for any elderly eyewitness to say, "Hey.  That isn't what happened!"

4.  Was Matthew an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

The author of Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness.  He writes in the third person.  Again, not proof that he was not an eyewitness but to say he was is no better than a guess.  The author of Matthew could simply have been writing a story he had heard third, fourth, or twentieth hand.

C.  The Gospel of Luke

1.  Who wrote Luke?  The author of Luke does not say.  No clear assignment of authorship of this gospel is given until the late second century by Ireneaus.

2.  Where was Luke written?  We have no idea.

3.  The author of the Gospel of Luke also borrows heavily from the Gospel of Mark.  Approximately 50-55% of the content of Mark can be found in Luke, frequently, word of  word.

4.  Was the author of Luke an eyewitness?

Luke very clearly states in the first few verses of chapter one that he is not an eyewitness.  He states that he carefully investigated the writings of others (Mark and "Q"?) which he didn't seem to find satisfactory, and that his sources had given him eyewitnesses testimony.  However, he does not identify his sources.  Were his sources eyewitnesses themselves or were his sources associates of eyewitnesses giving him "eyewitness" testimony from their source or sources, which would make Luke's information, at best, second hand information.

D.  The Gospel of John

Many conservative Christians believe that the author of John infers that he is John, the son of Zebedee, by using the term "the beloved disciple".  I personally (and many scholars) do not think that the author of John is referring to himself as the beloved disciple but is claiming to be recounting the story of the beloved disciple.  But let's assume that the author of the Gospel of John does claim to be John, the beloved disciple.  What evidence do we have to determine if his claim is true?  Do we have any contemporary Christian or non-Christian testimony that states that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John?  No.  We do not. The assignment of authorship of this gospel is not made until the end of the second century, again, by Ireneaus.  Papias makes no mention of this gospel.

So just because someone claimed to be John, the beloved disciple, recounting an eyewitness account of the life, death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus, should we take him at his word??  Many, many "gospels" were floating around the Mediterranean world in the late first and second centuries.  The non-canonical Gospel of Peter may have been written even earlier than Mark!  Yet, no one, including fundamentalists, believes that the apostle Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter.  So, how do we know that the author of the Gospel of John, if he really was claiming to be John, was really John, the beloved disciple, son of Zebedee??  The fact is, that we have no more evidence that John wrote the Gospel of John than we do that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter, other than Irenaeus' declaration in 180 AD, in France, one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion, that the four gospels we have today were written by the persons that he asserts, based upon evidence, that he never gives!

E.  What Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus do we have so far?

We have four first century books describing the alleged facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but only one, (maybe), claims to be an eyewitness testimony. 

Dozens of Romans senators claimed that the first Roman king, Romulus, was snatched up into heaven right in front of their eyes...but no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony. 

Thirteen men living in the early nineteenth century signed legal affidavits, swearing under oath, that they personally had seen the Golden Tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni with their own two eyes, and three of these men signed affidavits that they had seen the angel Moroni himself with their own two eyes...but yet no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

Thousands upon thousands of devout, pious Roman Catholics have claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, alive, often many hundreds or even thousands together in the same location, at the same time...but no Protestant or evangelical Christian denomination believes this eyewitness testimony to be true.

Yet, Protestant/evangelical Christians will believe as absolute fact, that a first century dead man walked out of his tomb after three days of decomposing, ate a broiled fish lunch with his friends, and then levitated into outer space based on the testimony,possible, eyewitness' testimony!

F.  But what about the Apostle Paul?

The testimony of Saul/Paul of Tarsus is used by Christians as secondary proof of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Christians do not allege that Paul saw a resurrected Jesus prior to his Ascension into Heaven.  In I Corinthians Paul makes this statement, "Have I not seen the Christ?"

But when Paul says he has "seen" the Christ, what did he see actually?  Well, Acts chapter 26 tells us exactly what Paul saw, in his own words:  Paul saw a talking, bright light that told him that it (the talking, bright light) was Jesus.  And, Paul very specifically states, that he saw this talking, bright light..."in a heavenly vision".

Talking bright lights are not resurrected bodies and visions are not reality.

Yes, Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, but there is no evidence that Paul believed this due to seeing a resurrected body.  Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, so if Paul believed that the talking, bright light speaking to him on the Damascus Road was the executed Jesus, then he would of course believe that he had seen the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even if he had actually not seen a body, but only a bright light!


The belief that a first century dead man, named Jesus, walked out of his tomb with a new, superman-like body that could teleport between cities (Emmaus and Jerusalem), could walk through locked doors (the Upper Room), and could teleport into outer space (the Ascension) is based on one alleged eyewitness who wrote a book 40-60 years after the alleged event, whose authorship was not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian until 150 years later, at the end of the second century, when it was finally called the Gospel of John...and...on the "heavenly vision" of a vision prone Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul of Tarsus (who also said that he was teleported to the "third heaven".  What other writer of the Bible refers to the concept of multiple heavens?)

And we are asked to believe that based on this "evidence", Jesus of Nazareth now sits on a throne in the far reaches of outer space, ruling as our Almighty Lord and King of the Universe??

The Romans and Mormons have better evidence for their supernatural tall tales than this tale!  It is an ancient legend, folks.  A fantastic, supernatural superstition.  The chances that it is true are infintisimal. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Did Roman Law allow the bodies of persons accused of High Treason to be buried?

Think about it:  The accusation against Jesus of Nazareth was that he claimed to be the King of the Jews.  This is the crime for which he was crucified.  This particular crime is treason---High Treason.

Was it the custom of the Romans to release the body to family or friends of a person who had been crucified for High Treason?  Here is an excerpt from Roman Law, known as the Digesta:

The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and the Divine Augustus, in the Tenth Book of his Life said that this rule had been observed.  At present the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason.  Even the bodies of those who have been sentenced to be burned can be claimed, in order that their bones and ashes, after having been collected, may be buried.  (Digest 48.24.1)

Some Christian apologists have used this statement as evidence that it was frequently the Roman custom to release the body of one who had been crucified to his family or friends, lending credence to the gospel accounts of Jesus burial by Joseph of Arimethea.  Note, however, that this statement says exactly the opposite.  Yes, some executed criminals were allowed burial, but not those convicted of high treason.

Jesus was convicted and executed for high treason.

Therefore, the likelihood of Jesus' body being released to family and friends would be extremely unlikely.  If the Romans executed Jesus for being a threat to their rule, as the leader, the King, of the Jews, why would they turn around and allow his body to be buried with dignity in a rich man's tomb, in a known location, which could very easily become a future shrine for Jewish nationalism and independence??

The overwhelming probability is that Jesus' body was tossed into an unmarked grave and unceremoniously covered over; and that is where his remains rest today.

That he was buried in a rich man's first century equivalent of a mausoleum is a highly, highly improbable tall tale, my friends.

Can the Contradictions in the Bible really be Harmonized?

It is true that Christians can give a harmonization for every alleged error and discrepancy in the Bible. But so can the Muslims for the errors in the Koran, the Hindus for the errors in the Hindu holy scriptures, and the Mormons for errors in the Book of Mormon.

However, I’m sure that you would not accept the harmonizations for the alleged errors in the holy books of these other religions. You would not accept their harmonizations because you don’t believe that their supernatural claims are at all probable. The assertions that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammad and that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith seem absurd. The Mormons claim to have thirteen signed affidavits of known men who swore under oath that they saw the Golden Tablets of Moroni and three of those men also swore that they saw Moroni himself! But I doubt you believe these claims. (In a court of law, thirteen nineteenth century affidavits would be far more convincing than the four anonymous, first century documentary “witnesses” that Christians claim to have.)

So yes, Christians have harmonizations for every alleged error and discrepancy in their belief system, but what is the standard used to accept a harmonization? If you use the standard that any harmonization to an alleged discrepancy eliminates the allegation of discrepancy, and you allow for the supernatural in your argument, then ANYTHING can be harmonized. The problem is, you would never allow a person of another religion to use this same level of evidence for a harmonization in HIS supernatural belief system.

Here is one example: The Book of Mormon claims that the ancient, sea-faring Hebrews brought horses with them on their boats to the New Word. Scientists, however, say that this is impossible. There is no evidence of horses in the western hemisphere until the Spanish arrived. So based on this do the Mormons admit that the Book of Mormon is wrong? No! The Mormon harmonization for this dilemma is this: “the evidence just hasn’t been found yet” or “when the Book of Mormon says “horse” it wasn’t really referring to what we would call a horse today:”

Ridiculous, right?

However, Christians do the exact same thing! The overwhelming majority of archaeologists have determined that there is zero evidence for the alleged Hebrew slavery in Egypt as described in the Bible, nor the forty years in the Sinai. How is it possible that a couple million Hebrews spent several hundred years in Egypt as slaves, then wandered the Sinai for forty years, but there is zero archaeological evidence of these alleged events? What do conservative/evangelicals say about this:

“The evidence has not yet been found, but since God said it in the Bible, the evidence IS there…somewhere.”

“Well, we have found ONE house in Egypt which MAY have belonged to Joseph…”

“Well, the word ‘600,000 Hebrew fighting men and their families” doesn’t really mean 600,000…”

So, the Christians make up the same feeble excuses as used by the Mormons, and the Muslims, and the Hindus to maintain their belief in the accuracy of an ancient holy book that was written by superstitious, scientifically ignorant people.

Yes, Christians can harmonize every alleged error and discrepancy in their belief system. They have had 2,000 years to come up with these harmonizations. Mormons have had only 200 years, and they have harmonizations for every alleged error in their Holy Book too.

Harmonizations do not prove that your belief system is true. My challenge to you is this: Use the same standard of evidence and of believability for YOUR belief system that you would use for the supernatural claims of another religion.

Why would the Romans let the crucified "King of the Jews" be buried in a Tomb?

Excerpt from Bart Ehrman on his blog:

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.  

My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).   Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of planning to supplant the Roman governorship of Judea in order to set himself up as king.

(article continues on Bart Ehrman' blog)

Are Atheists and Skeptics biased against the Supernatural?

"I want to stress this point because conservative Christian apologists, in order to score debating points, often claim that this is the case. In their view, if historians did not have anti-supernaturalist biases or assumptions, they would be able to affirm the historical “evidence” that Jesus was raised from the dead. I should point out that these Christian apologists almost never consider the “evidence” for other miracles from the past that have comparable – or even better – evidence to support them:

There were dozens of senators who claimed that the first Roman king Romulus was snatched up into heaven from their midst, for example; and there are many thousands of committed Roman Catholics who can attest that the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared to them, alive – a claim that fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians roundly discount, even though the “evidence” of it is very extensive indeed. It’s always easy to scream “Anti-Supernatural Bias” when someone does not think that the miracles of your own tradition can be historically established; it’s much harder to admit that miracles of other traditions are just as readily demonstrated. In any event, my view is that none of these divine miracles, or any others, can be established historically.”     

                                                                                                      Dr. Bart Ehrman

Monday, February 23, 2015

Are there really prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament? Answer: No

If you take a good look at all the prophecies that Christians assert point to Jesus, you will find evidence they are not talking about him at all. I did this when I was in the throes of losing my faith one year ago. I looked at all the “prophecies” and here are a couple of examples of what I found:

The Suffering Servant prophecy is Isaiah: If you just yank the one chapter out of Isaiah, it certainly sounds like Jesus. But, anytime you read a book or a letter, if you jump into the middle of that book or letter and start reading about “he” and “him”, wouldn’t it be a good idea to go to the preceding sentences, paragraphs, and if necessary, the preceding chapters, to see who the author is referring to when he uses the pronoun “he”? If you do that for the “suffering servant” (and you have to go back quite a few chapters), you will be given the answer: the suffering servant is “Israel”. The nation of Israel is suffering.

The “I will rescue my son from out of Egypt” prophecy: Again, if you go back in the preceding verses and chapters, the author is speaking about: Israel.

And finally, the biggest one of all: The virgin birth prophecy. If you read the entire chapter it is very clear that this prophecy was to occur in the time of Hezekiah as a sign that God was going to rescue his people from the foreign armies besieging them. And in the original Hebrew, the word “alma” simply meant a young woman. The translators who wrote the Septuagint, the Bible “Matthew” would have used to find this “prophecy”, used a Greek word which could mean “virgin” or “young woman” and Matthew chose to translate it as “virgin”. There is no virgin birth prophecy in the OT.

There are zero prophecies of Jesus in the OT. That is why Jews do not believe that the Christian claims of Jesus prophecies have any merit. It is not because the Jews are “hard hearted”, it is because the Christian claims are based on sloppy scholarship.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bart Ehrman has a Blog...Skeptics and Christians should read it!

Bart Ehrman has a blog.  It is an excellent and fascinating source of information about the New Testament.  I strongly suggest that skeptics and Christians read it.  Christians might be surprised that Ehrman is not the Christianity-basher than some evangelicals have made him out to be.  Bart has a public section to his blog and a "members only" section in which goes into more depth on each subject and in which he accepts comments and responds to them.  He charges for access to the "members only" section.  The charge is only about $3.00 per month. Some may find this annoying but as a blog author I understand why he does it.  In order to pay this small amount you must give your credit card information.  This cuts down on the anonymous rants as he knows exactly who you are.  All proceeds are donated to charity.

Here is just one tantalizing intro to a discussion by Dr. Ehrman on the lack of a virgin birth story in the Gospel of John:

I have pointed out that our earliest Gospel, Mark, not only is lacking a story of the virgin birth but also tells a story that seems to run precisely counter to the idea that Jesus’ mother knew that his birth was miraculous, unlike the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  It is striking to note that even though these two later Gospels know about a virgin birth,  our latest canonical Gospel, John, does not know about it.   This was not a doctrine that everyone knew about – even toward the end of the first century.

Casual readers of John often assume that it presupposes the virgin birth (it never says anything about it, one way or the other) because they themselves are familiar with the idea, and think that John must be as well.  So they typically read the virgin birth into an account that in fact completely lacks it.

As is well known, John’s Gospel begins …

(to read the rest of the article you must be a member.)

Gary:  I strongly suggest you become a member of Dr. Ehrman's blog!  Here is the link:  Bart Ehrman blog

Does the Bible mean what it says?

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says.

                                                     He is always convinced that it says what he means.
                                                                                                              ---George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Do you need to read another Book to know if the Bible is True?

It never fails.  Whenever I get into a debate with a Christian regarding the Bible, they refer me to some other book to understand why the Bible is true.  So let me get this right:  I need to read some man's book to understand what the Creator of the World is saying to me??

I don't buy it.

Dear Christian:

Let's imagine that you are in a discussion with a Mormon regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the Mormon tells you this:  "If you really want to understand the truths of the Book of Mormon you need to read books X, Y, and Z, written by highly educated Mormon scholars."  What would be your response?  I would bet that you would say something like this:

"I don't need to read anyone's book to know that the Book of Mormon is nothing more than a superstitious tall tale."

And I have the same response for you, dear Christian friend.  I don't need to read some Christian apologist's book to see for myself all the errors, contradictions, scientific inaccuracies, and supernatural tall tales in the Bible.  The Bible is an ancient book full of the silly superstitions of ancient, scientifically-ignorant people.  Nope.  I don't need to read some man's book to know that the Bible is false.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Two Questions that Christians have Failed to Answer

By now I have asked at least a hundred Christian bloggers the following two questions and to this date, none have been able to answer them:

1.  Is there any first century evidence or testimony that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses?

2.  Is there any passage in the Bible where Paul says that he saw, with his own two eyes, a real flesh and blood resurrected body, or does he only claim to have seen a talking, bright light that he believed to be the bodily resurrected Jesus?