Thursday, 5 April 2018

Habermas and the Minimal Facts

New Testament scholar Gary Habermas has produced what he calls his "Minimal Facts" theory. the idea is that there are certain claims about the Easter story that pretty much all scholars agree on, and he claims that Christianity can be proved from them. Lists seem to vary with from five to twelve supposed facts. Most of them are not controversial - to me at least - such as Jesus was crucified. However, there is one...

The Empty Tomb

The situation for the Empty Tomb "fact" is rather more dubious. From here:
This is a fact that is not supported by the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars as the other four facts are, however it is still considered to be historically reliable by 75% of New Testament scholars (Habermas and Licona 2004, 70). While this is not an overwhelming percentage, it is still a rather high percentage. There are good reasons for why three out of four scholars advocate for this fact. The evidence for why the tomb was empty on the third day is certainly compelling enough to still be considered a fact for this minimal facts argument.
These people must have a different idea of what a "fact" is, if they admit 25% of scholars disagree with it. Worth noting that over 99% of biologists accept evolution, but Habermas nevertheless rejects it. Seems a little inconsistent to me!

But when we look at the 75% figure, even that is dubious. Habermas tells us.
A second research area concerns those scholars who address the subject of the empty tomb. It has been said that the majority of contemporary researchers accepts the historicity of this event.[39] But is there any way to be more specific? From the study mentioned above, I have compiled 23 arguments for the empty tomb and 14 considerations against it, as cited by recent critical scholars. Generally, the listings are what might be expected, dividing along theological “party lines.” To be sure, such a large number of arguments, both pro and con, includes very specific differentiation, including some overlap.

Of these scholars, approximately 75% favor one or more of these arguments for the empty tomb, while approximately 25% think that one or more arguments oppose it. Thus, while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.
This statement by Habermas gets quoted a lot, for example here.

But note that Habermas says:  "Generally, the listings are what might be expected, dividing along theological “party lines.”" What he is conceding is that Christian scholars accept the Empty Tomb, and non-Christian scholars reject it. And who do you think has published more on that topic? His figure of 75% is not an insight into how certain the claim is, but is an indication of the type of scholar who publishes about the Empty Tomb.

Apparently 75% of scholars who publish about the Empty Tomb are Christian.

See also:

As an aside, if the Empty Tomb was real (which is very unlikely), the most likely explanation is that Joseph of Arimathea had the body moved as soon as the Sabbath was over, i.e., the evening before the women visited the tomb. As Mark states, Joseph just put the body there temporarily because the Passover Sabbath was approaching, and so we would expect the body moved as soon as the sabbath was over.

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Kalam Argument

Kind of odd Christians would so embrace a Muslim idea, but the Kalam argument is very popular with some apologetics. WL Craig is probably the biggest proponent; here is a lecture of his from 2016.

Here is the Discovery Institute's take on it - just the same as all the other Christian apologists, note!

For this post, I will focus on Craig's argument, which he summarises:
  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its beginning.

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning

1. Something cannot come from nothing. To claim that something can come into being from nothing is worse than magic. When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician, not to mention the hat! But if you deny premise (1'), you’ve got to think that the whole universe just appeared at some point in the past for no reason whatsoever. But nobody sincerely believes that things, say, a horse or an Eskimo village, can just pop into being without a cause.
Quantum mechanics has proved that our every day experiences are a very bad guide to how matter behaves at the quantum level. In the same vein, it would seem bizarre to use how horses and Eskimo villages behave as a guide to how time and/or the universe behaves.
2. If something can come into being from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything or everything doesn’t come into being from nothing. Think about it: why don’t bicycles and Beethoven and root beer just pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing? What makes nothingness so discriminatory? There can’t be anything about nothingness that favors universes, for nothingness doesn’t have any properties. Nor can anything constrain nothingness, for there isn’t anything to be constrained!
As far as I can tell, this is the same as point 1!
3. Common experience and scientific evidence confirm the truth of premise 1'. The science of cosmogeny is based on the assumption that there are causal conditions for the origin of the unuiverse. So it’s hard to understand how anyone committed to modern science could deny that (1') is more plausibly true than false.
And again, this would seem to be the same again.

All three points are saying that our experience of things in general can be extrapolated to the universe itself. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between the universe on the one hand and horses, Eskimo villages, bicycles, Beethoven and root beer on the other.

As an analogy, consider this argument:
  1. All minds that we know of are rooted in an organic substrate
  2. God supposedly has an immaterial mind
  3. Therefore God does not exist
The first two premises are clearly true. Can we extrapolate from human minds, and say we know all minds must be similar? I suspect Craig would reject this argument for exactly the same reason I reject his.

It is also worth pointing out that the net total of the universe may well be zero. Zero total energy, zero total charge, etc.

Thus this is a case of nothing from nothing.

2. The universe began to exist.

Craig spends a lot of time saying that infinity cannot exist, starting with:
Ghazali argued that if the universe never began to exist, then there has been an infinite number of past events prior to today. But, he argued, an infinite number of things cannot exist. Ghazali recognized that a potentially infinite number of things could exist, but he denied that an actually infinite number of things could exist.
He later looks at Hilbert's hotel, among other things.

He is wrong. Infinity is counter-intuitive, and so we get apparent paradoxes like Hilbert's hotel, but it is not impossible, and in fact it looks increasingly likely that we live in a spacially infinite universe. If infinity really was impossible, cosmologists would immediately reject an infinite universe.

Craig's second argument:
Ghazali has a second, independent argument for the beginning of the universe. The series of past events, Ghazali observes, has been formed by adding one event after another. The series of past events is like a sequence of dominoes falling one after another until the last domino, today, is reached. But, he argues, no series which is formed by adding one member after another can be actually infinite. For you cannot pass through an infinite number of elements one at a time.
This feels more reasonable to me at first glance. But this is the case for anything that has existed for eternity... including God! And it is the fact that this is a problem for any scenario that makes me wonder if it is a problem at all.

Craig's third argument:
The standard Big Bang model thus predicts an absolute beginning of the universe. If this model is correct, then we have amazing scientific confirmation of the second premise of the kalam cosmological argument.
This is just wrong. The Big Bang only says there was a brief period of very rapid expansion; it does not say the universe started at that point. Scientists have tried to extrapolate back as far as possible, but cannot see anything abot the first instant of the Big Bang, or what was before.

That the universe started then seems reasonable, but it is not at all certain, no matter how much Craig would like it to be.

This article proves cosomologists are taking the idea seriously.

See also here:
Because of confidence that a correct theory of origins needs to incorporate quantum theory, hardly any twenty-first century physicist believes our universe arose from a singularity, nor even that the first event, if there was one, was at t = 0, but nearly every physicist agrees that the universe once had an extremely tiny volume.
Craig also offers:
As if this weren’t enough, there is actually a second scientific confirmation of the beginning of the universe, this one from the Second Law of Thermodynamics. According to the Second Law, unless energy is being fed into a system, that system will become increasingly disorderly.
The science is fine, but it misses at least one possible scenario; the universe existed in an eternal, static, compacted form until the Big Bang (a constant, extremely low entropy state), and it was only since the Big Bang that entropy has been increasing - prior to that it remained constant.

We have to wonder what would cause the Big Bang after infinite time, but this is a problem with any scenario. What prompted God to create the universe after an eternity?

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its beginning.

Let us suppose that Craig's claims are correct, what can we conclude?
What properties must this cause of the universe possess? This cause must be itself uncaused because we’ve seen that an infinite series of causes is impossible. It is therefore the Uncaused First Cause. It must transcend space and time, since it created space and time. Therefore, it must be immaterial and non-physical. It must be unimaginably powerful, since it created all matter and energy.
Well, no.

For one, the cause of our universe could have a cause which was in turn uncaused. As an example, God could create angels, which in turn create the universe. Thus the angels caused the universe, but were not uncaused. But let us suppose Craig is here talking about the ultimate cause.

Transcend space and time? I think that is a given. The multiverse (in the sense of a container for all the universes) transcends space and time. It would therefore be immaterial and non-physical.

Unimaginably powerful... What does that mean? Or more specifically, powerful in what way? Is there anything that indicates the First Cause must be powerful within our universe? No. None at all. By using this vague term, Craig is slipping some big assumptions in to the discussion.

The Craig says:
Here’s the problem: If a cause is sufficient to produce its effect, then if the cause is there, the effect must be there, too. For example, the cause of water’s freezing is the temperature’s being below 0 degrees Celsius. If the temperature has been below 0 degrees from eternity, then any water around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. Now the cause of the universe is permanently there, since it is timeless. So why isn’t the universe permanently there as well? Why did the universe come into being only 14 billion years ago? Why isn’t it as permanent as its cause?

Ghazali maintained that the answer to this problem is that the First Cause must be a personal being endowed with freedom of the will. His creating the universe is a free act which is independent of any prior determining conditions. So his act of creating can be something spontaneous and new. Freedom of the will enables one to get an effect with a beginning from a permanent, timeless cause. Thus, we are brought not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe but to its Personal Creator.
This is a real problem, but is "free will" a solution?

Does it make sense that God existed for eternity, and, after an infinite amount of time, suddenly decided to create the universe? Does calling it "free will" make that sound any more reasonable? No, it really does not.

A partial solution comes from saying time itself started when he universe was created. So now we have an entity outside of time suddenly deciding to create the universe. But wait, If the entity is outside time, then "suddenly" makes no sense. There was no time prior to the sudden decision.

This is a real problem for any scenario we can imagine, but wishing it away with "free will" is not a solution.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Birth of Christianity 8: John and Beyond

The Gospel of John is quite different to the other gospels. It is dated to 90 to 130 AD, so is later, but it has been suggested that it had multiple authors, or to put it another way, it got revised several times before it achieved (more or less) its final form.

This might suggest it is the work of a community somewhat in isolation, and while mainstream Christianity has the passion narrative, which was edited to became Mark, which was itself edited to become Matthew, in John we only have the product of a similar development process.

In John we see a somewhat different theology, which may be due to the time it was written, or could represent the theology of the isolated community - or a mixture of the two. Either way, in John it was believed that Jesus had existed even before his birth, and perhaps for that reason the author felt a nativity story was not needed. Like Luke, John has Jesus appearing in Jerusalem subsequent to the resurrection, indicating some familiarity with Luke or the stories Luke used.

John has Jesus crucified on the Thursday, and there are some indications in other gospels that this is right, and that Mark got it wrong - or was misunderstood. Mark says before the Sabbath, but as this was the Passover, both Friday and Saturday would have been Sabbaths. That might suggest John had access to other sources, such as the pre-Markan passion narrative.

In John we see the most embellishment, for example with Jesus body drowned in 75 or 100 pounds of spices, even before burial, and when he appears to the disciples, we see the most thorough examination of him in the incident with Thomas. The former, of course, is giving as much honour as possible to Jesus death, whilst the latter is clearly to counter attacks against the resurrection claims.

John 21

For this this series of posts, the most interesting part of John is Chapter 21. This is an obvious later addition; 20:30-31 are signing off the original story. Usually this would be good reason to just ignore the later addition (as with the second half of Mark 16). However, John 21 is a sighting of Jesus in Galilee. Could this be an account of the actually sighting?

The gospel writers for the most part were compiling what was known about Jesus into a coherent narrative, and it is certainly plausible that a story about the original Galilean sightings was still circulating, and was later added to John.

If we suppose Luke chose to omit the Galilean sightings for political reasons, it is possible the original author of John did so too. Perhaps the political wind changed, and it became acceptable to acknowledge the Galilean sightings, and so they got appended to the text (and John 21:1 is an attempt to meld the two together).
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus[b]), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Note that in the context of John, this makes no sense. Why would the disciples be fishing in Galilee, when Jesus has told them to proclaim the good news?

But if the Empty Tomb and Jerusalem sightings were all made up, this makes perfect sense. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples fled Jerusalem in fear and despair, and returned to their old lives. Thus, we find them fishing in boats here, which agrees exactly with the fragment of the Gospel of Peter:
(58) Now it was the final day of the Unleavened Bread; and many went out returning to their home since the feast was over. (59) But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and sorrowful; and each one, sorrowful because of what had come to pass, departed to his home. (60) But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. And there was with us Levi of Alphaeus whom the Lord ...
This account puts Peter very much to the fore, which also agrees with the account Paul gives us, with Peter seeing Jesus first. We have to wonder if it was opponents of Peter within the Christian community who causes Luke to omit the Galilean appearances. Could they also have removed the original ending of Mark?

Worth noting that the account is very like that in Luke 5 in parts, the latter recounting when Peter first met Jesus. It may be that the two somewhere along the way, before being added to John (some time after 90 AD presumably).

Beyond John

It was only decades later that the idea of the trinity appeared. This seems in part in response to Arianism in the third and fourth centuries. Christians pondered the nature of Jesus, and Arianism held that Jesus was created by God, and hence not God. Eventually it was denounced as heresy.

Later the Holy Spirit was added to form the trinity, based on the common occurance of the three in scripture. It was highly controversial until ratified by the Nicene creed in 381 AD.

Friday, 23 February 2018

The Birth of Christianity 7: Luke and Acts

While the Gospel of Matthew might be seeking to redress the loss of Judaism in Christianity, the Gospel of Luke veers the other way. It too is based soundly on Mark, and likely shares another source with Matthew (or draws on Matthew), in particular a book of sayings, called Q. Unlike Matthew it makes no attempt to link the narrative to prophecies of the Old Testament.

Traditionally the author is Luke, a physician and traveling companion of Paul, but the evidence is not convincing either for or against. It is, however, pretty much agreed the same author wrote both Luke and Acts.

Luke has the virgin birth, but the nativity he tells is quite unlike that of Matthew, and the census puts it about six years later!

In Luke we see an elaboration of the Jerusalem appearances, after the very brief appearance in Matthew. He was writing sufficiently long after the event that such stories could start to circulate in the community without the people who were actually there refuting it. Luke diligently recorded these fabricated stories for his patron.

Galilean Appearances?

Indeed, there is no mention of Jesus appearing in Galilee,

Why are the Galilean appearances absent? We have no way to know. There might have been some political reason, and Luke wanted to play down Peter's role in the events. For whatever reason, the events in Galilee - the real sightings - get reduced to an off-hand comment that Jesus has appeared to Peter buried in the Emmaus account:
Luke 24:33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.”

This is frankly bizarre. These two men saw Jesus, and Luke goes into detail about how it happened, but the first thing they say is how Jesus appeared to someone else, and event Luke chose to omit!

Nature of the Resurrection

By this time the concept of the resurrection had changed. There is no suggestion in Luke that Jesus was just the prototype as Paul had believed - perhaps because by now claims that the apocalypse was here were growing stale.

No longer was Jesus resurrected in a new body shining bright as a star. Now the resurrection is Jesus in his original body, and Jesus is at pains to establish he is not a ghost - undoubtedly to counter the claims of Christianity's opponents.
Luke 24:37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

The Ascension

While the Galilean appearances are missing, we do get the Ascension for the first time. This may have been inspired by Elijah being taken up to heaven (2 Kings 2).

It is curious that in Luke it reads as though the Ascension happened later in the day that Jesus was resurrected, but Acts has them forty days apart. Given they had the same author, this illustrates how the author was happy to modify the story to make a good narrative, and was less concerned with being historically accurate.

Blame the Jews

As a gentile, the author of Luke shifts all the blame for Jesus death squarely on the Jews.
Luke 23:13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” [17] [a]
18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand.
The reality is that Pilate was cruel and ruthless, and had far more reason to crucify Jesus as a rebel leader than the Jews did. But Luke was trying to sell Christianity to the Romans, so it was expedient to twist the truth.

Sadly this has led to a strong anti-Semitic current in Christianity which culminated in the Holocaust, by way of numerous pogroms. It is worrying how the movie "The Passion of Christ" has so embraced this lie.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Birth of Christianity 6: Gospel of Matthew

The author of the Gospel of Matthew was not the tax collector that Jesus knew.

The author probably wanted to create an updated version of the existing gospel, one that included the birth of Jesus among other things that Mark had omitted. He also wanted to show how Jesus' life followed the prophecies of the Old Testament. Thus, he started with the text of Mark, but added much to it, to create what today is considered another gospel. The work is quite Jewish in nature, but reflects how the religion has very much moved away from Judaism.

Paul's missionary work had established Christianity in the gentile world, whilst the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD following the Jewish revolt had seriously reduced the Jewish side of Christianity. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, many pagan idea had influenced the new religion.

Virgin birth

One of the most significant of these ideas was the virgin birth. That this is in Luke too indicates it predates Matthew by some several years, but it appeared subsequent to Mark.

Virgin births were popular in pagan mythology, and so this was borrowed for Jesus. Note that this contradicted the Jewish Messianic belief, that Jesus was a direct male-line descendant of David, so we see Matthew trace Jesus' genealogy via Joseph and then say Jesus was born of a virgin! We can only suppose the author felt the need to include both, as both were part of the narrative. There is a view that each gospel is a product of its community (albeit with one individual doing the writing), and a contradiction like this is easier to understand in those terms.

The virgin birth indicates a change in how Jesus was perceived. Jesus was no longer the adopted son of God that Mark had believed him to be, now Jesus was divine from birth! Some Christians maintain that Jesus' virgin birth was quite unlike that of the pagan gods and heroes, but that was because it was added to an existing myth, and so had to be modified to suit that.

The Resurrection Appearances

What we see in Matthew is the start of the appearances in Jerusalem, but at this stage it was still very minor - and indeed may be a later redaction. In fact, what we see is the original story in Mark, with Jesus meeting the disciples in Galilee, and a clear statement that Jesus was not there in Jerusalem when the Empty Tomb was found, promptly followed by Jesus been seen there!

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
It is not clear, but it reads as though Jesus appeared only to the women, and in this telling the women are afraid but do tell the disciples. This is a clear contradiction of Mark, who states clearly that the women told no one. Presumably the author wanted to tidy up the Markan account, which leaves us wondering how anyone else knew about the Empty Tomb.

This paved the way for later accounts to have Jesus wandering around Jerusalem.

Appearances  in Galilee

Matthew then has the disciples go to a mountain in Galilee to see Jesus after the resurrection. This s rather different to the account in Peter, which suggests it was on a boat, but the Matthew account has very few details, and does not even tell us who say Jesus first.

After an exhaustive 28 chapters, this event feels very rushed. This is the culmination of the gospel, and it is all done in four quick verses; a single paragraph. I can only imagine the ending in Mark gave the author little material to work with.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Note that Matthew has only eleven disciples at this point, as Judas supposedly hung himself in Matthew 27:5, despite Paul saying Jesus appeared to all twelve disciples. Was the betrayal by Judas a later addition? It seems likely.


Matthew's account of the resurrection takes Jesus' crucifixion as the start of a new era, the apocalypse, following the Jewish belief of the time. Hence we read about the darkness (which was also in Mark), the earthquake and dead saints walking around:
Matthew 27:45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
 Curiously, while these events are enough to convince the centurion, they are not enough to convince anyone else in Jerusalem to become a Christian, and of course we have no historical record outside Matthew that these events happened. Why did no Jew convert to Christianity after the dead saints appeared to them? Why did Mark not record these amazing events?

Because Matthew made them up.

His source was almost certainly this OT passage:
Ezekiel 37:7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Bear in mind that the passion account was already partly derived from scripture, rather than historical memory, and if scripture indicated dead saints walking around, it would have been perfectly reasonable to include them.

And of course by the time Matthew was written anyone who was actually there was likely dead.

The rending of the temple veil is symbolic of the old temple being abolished to make way for the new one (and was also in Mark, of course).

Guards on the Tomb

The author of Matthew also invented the guards on the tomb, clearly in response to claims by those opposed to Christianity:
Matthew 28:12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
When Matthew was written, the story that the body had been stolen was widely circulated, and so it was necessary to counter them. Unfortunately, he does a poor job, and still allows for the possibility of the body being stolen the first night after the burial.
Matthew 27:62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
Note that in all the gospel accounts the women approach the tomb wonderinghow to move the stone... but never concerned about any guards. Why would that be if the guards were hostorical? Furthermore, how did the Jewish authorities know Jesus had said he would rise, if his own followers failed to understand?

The non-canonical Gospel of Peter would later resolve the issue. As discussed in part 5, Peter is considered to be earlier than Matthew, but to have undergone significant later modifications, and in all probability this is one.

(28) But the scribes and Pharisees and elders, having gathered together with one another, having heard that all the people were murmuring and beating their breasts, saying that 'If at his death these very great signs happened, behold how just he was,' (29) feared (especially the elders) and came before Pilate, begging him and saying, (30) 'Give over soldiers to us in order that we may safeguard his burial place for three days, lest, having come, his disciples steal him, and the people accept that he is risen from the death, and they do us wrong.'
Note that it also references the signs of the apocalypse that were invented by Matthew, indicating these verses build upon the account in Matthew.

Blame the Jews

In Matthew we start to see the shift in blaming the Jews for the crucifixion - he was trying to sell Christianity to the gentiles, and hasd to play down the role of the Romans.
Matthew 27:24–25 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'
This is probably a reference to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, but has been used to justify anti-Semitism for centuries.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Birth of Christianity 5: Gospel of Mark (and Peter)

The Gospel of Mark is undoubtedly the most important work we have with regards to Jesus life, as it is the earliest gospel (and Paul does not discuss Jesus' life at all). It also gives us a snapshot of the beliefs of that moment in time.

It was written around 60 to 80 AD; mention of the fall of the Temple suggests after 70 AD. Even if it was written by St Mark - which is by no means certain - this is not an eye witness account; St Mark joined the movement after the events recorded in the gospel.

Jesus was adopted

When Mark was written, the early Christians believed Jesus was adopted as the son of God at his baptism, following the precedent of earlier Jewish Kings. This is discussed at length here.

Mark's beliefs were very similar to the Ebionites (allowing that we do not know quite what they believed for certain), a group of Jewish Christians considered heretical who survived for some centuries.

The Resurrected Jesus

The gospel originally ended at verse 8, and even some modern Bibles make this clear. Thus, the gospel ended:
Mark 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Note that Peter (aka Cephas) is singled out from the other disciples; this is like the creed in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.
Mark has no mention of Jesus in Jerusalem after the resurrection, and to the contrary, states that Jesus has gone ahead, and will be seen in Galilee. The Jerusalem appearances were a later invention.

Women in the Tomb

Note that in Mark's telling, only three people saw the tomb was empty -  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome - and Mark states that none of them told anyone about it:
Mark 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
The most likely scenario is that the Empty Tomb was an earlier invention. Mark was writing a new account, based on the earlier passion narrative, and wanted to include the Empty tomb, but also the appearances in Galilee. He therefore invented the women who found the Empty Tomb to forge a link between the two. They were introduced as a literary device.

He used women specifically because women were considered unreliable witnesses, and so could plausibly be said to tell no one. This was necessary because previously no one had heard anything of them seeing the Empty Tomb.

It seems likely that all three were dead by the time of Mark's Gospel (Mary the mother of James would be getting on for a hundred), and so not in a position to refute the claim.

Compared to the Gospel of Peter

There is some evidence that the Gospel of Peter is older than Mark, or at least draws independently on the earlier passion narrative, and so the argument goes that material in Peter must necessarily be earlier than Mark.

The reality is that we do not know what happened to Peter in the way of revisions and additions, and while it may well draw on the passion narrative, it also draws on later gospels.

The gospel finishes abruptly (the only extant copy is missing the end):
[58] Now it was the final day of the Unleavened Bread; and many went out returning to their home since the feast was over. [59] But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and sorrowful; and each one, sorrowful because of what had come to pass, departed to his home. [60] But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. And there was with us Levi of Alphaeus whom the Lord ...

This is clearly the Galilean sightings that Mark alludes to, and this fragment is the best we have about what really happened.

It is possible Mark had another ending that included the Galilean sightings, and this has since been lost. Perhaps the endings of both were  deliberately removed?

The Women at the Tomb In Peter

The text:
[50] Now at the dawn of the Lord's Day Mary Magdalene, a female disciple of the Lord (who, afraid because of the Jews since they were inflamed with anger, had not done at the tomb of the Lord what women were accustomed to do for the dead beloved by them), [51] having taken with her women friends, came to the tomb where he had been placed. [52] And they were afraid lest the Jews should see them and were saying, 'If indeed on that day on which he was crucified we could not weep and beat ourselves, yet now at his tomb we may do these things.
It is significant that the women are afraid of "the Jews". This tells us that these verses are relatively late. If the women did visit the tomb, then it is the Romans they would be afraid of; it was the Romans who were charge and the Romans who had crucified Jesus. It is just not credible that three Jews would be afraid of "the Jews".

This then is consistent with Mark making up the women. The Gospel of Peter originally had no mention of the women at the tomb, but a later version copied the story from Mark, adding the anti-Semitic slant of the time.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Birth of Christianity 4: Passion Narrative

The passion narrative was a text that described the last few days of Jesus from his entry to Jerusalem, up to and possibly including the Empty Tomb. It was one of numerous texts used by the very early church that are now lost. Although I have placed this after Paul, it may well have pre-dated Paul's epistles.

Although today the gospels are "carved in stone" this was very much not the case back then, and the texts were subject to frequent modification. The Passion Narrative was a text that developed over time, and much of it was devised from scripture rather than history.

Why think it changed?

We do not know what the original passion narrative was, let alone its version history, so why suppose it changed? We can look at the way other texts have changed. The second half of the last chapter of Mark is absent in the earliest manuscripts. The verses that are in the Bible today were a later addition - and some Bibles even acknowledge this:

This Bible page notes an additional verse in some manuscripts.

It could be argued that the authors of Matthew and Luke were not writing new gospels, but were independently updating the one gospel. Matthew is really Mark 2.0. Or rather Mark is Passion Narrative 2.0, and what we see in the Bible is 2.1, whilst Matthew is 3.0.

The narrative was not scripture to the Christians of the time, and so would not have been considered inviolate. If new information came to light, whether from a new witness, personal revelation or mere rumour, it was considered appropriate to update the record, to make it more complete.

Why think it came from scripture?

After Jesus' arrest, the disciples fled Jerusalem, so there was no one around to actually see what happened. This is alluded to in Mark (see also Peter and John 21):
Mark 14:27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered.’[d]
28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
However, if Jesus was the messiah, it would have seemed reasonable to use scripture to learn what had happened. The practice of Midrash was well established, and would have seemed very appropriate.

Jesus' last words come from Psalm 22:1, whilst his last drink comes from Psalm 69:21. It was usual for crucifixion victims to have their legs broken, but Jesus was excused because of Psalm 34:20. Jesus was resurrected after three days from Jonah in the whale. Why did Jesus say nothing to defend himself when accused? Isaiah 53:7. The soldiers gambling for Jesus clothing comes from Psalm 22:18, and putting a spear in his side comes from Zechariah 12:10.

Many of these details only appear in later accounts (the last two are from John for example). Clearly someone later read the text and realised that of course that must have happened to Jesus - look it says so in scripture. And so that gets added to the narrative.

How much came from scripture? We cannot tell. It is likely the disciples were familiar with Roman practices and that may well have informed the narrative. Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea was well known for being the guy who would ask the Romans to take the body down from the cross - something that he would likely do every time a Jew was crucified, maybe several times a month (assuming that even happened, of course).

The Empty Tomb

The early Christians did not care where Jesus was buried; Jesus had a new body, who cared what happened to the old? Furthermore, they had not been in Jerusalem for the crucifixion, so had no idea were the body was.Nevertheless, somehow the idea of an Empty Tomb appeared.

However, it is very significant that the Empty Tomb is absent from Paul's creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6. It had clearly not been invented at that point. It is also worth noting that the disciples make no mention of it whilst preaching, as described in Acts.

There is some evidence it was in the pre-Markan passion narrative, based on the idea that Peter and John seem to draw on that source, and both include the Empty Tomb, however John is certainly later, and could have used both the passion narrative and Mark (and the other gospels too) as sources, and Peter was heavily redacted later, so may have had the empty tomb added.

While plenty of scholars believe it did not include the Empty Tomb, I tend towards thinking the Empty Tomb was in  the passion narrative, but added relatively late.

My feeling is it was invented between Paul and Mark.

More on the passion narrative here: