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The Freezer is a section of pasted articles pending permission from the author to publish - just so I don't forget about them:
The Case Against The Case for Christ A response to Christian apologetics literature This review and analysis is of the book The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel First Edition paperback, published 1998 (ISBN 0310209307), by Harper-Collins Zandervan
I often get letters from Christian apologists and evangelicals of the fundamentalist stripe. They often challenge me to read some apologetic literature and then decide for myself. I've always challenged them in response, telling them to send me some, saying that I would read it. The apologists almost never respond to that offer. So I was surprised, one day, when a Christian actually did just that - he sent me a copy of the book he was recommending. Well, I'm a man of my word, so I read it. In the process, I decided to write this essay from my notes.
This book consists largely of "interviews" of prominent Christian apologists - no secular scholars of any note, just apologists. Written in a narrative style, designed for easy, laid-back reading that is familiar to readers of apologetic literature, it is intended to build a case that the historical record of the New Testament is accurate and believable. Its case is most powerfully made to those who already accept unquestioningly the authority of the gospels. In this sense, it is really preaching to the choir. For the rest of us, the author tries to get us hooked by demonstrating that authority early on - right in the first part of the book, in fact.
The book is very cleverly crafted. It is often claimed by the proponents of this book that the author wrote it when he was an atheist, and was undergoing the conversion process. This is not true. From a careful reading (see the last two paragraphs at the bottom of page 14), he makes it quite clear that he wrote it as a fully committed Christian, "retracing" his spiritual path an indeterminate period of time after the fact. As such, it is yet another ordinary piece of apologetic axe-grinding.
It has a logical sequence of interviews, ostensibly by a skeptical journalist, yet never once does he interview even a single skeptic, either first-line such as Michael Shermer or Steven Jay Gould, or any of the many more obscure, such as Thomas Mack, Earl Doherty or Dan Barker, any of who could have easily and quickly demolished the points raised by the apologists he so eagerly interviewed.
This is not the product I would expect from someone trying to faithfully recount the details of his conversion, having gone through more than one conversion process myself. Rather, this is precisely the structure that I would expect to see from a "market" book, one written for a specific market by or with a skilled propaganda ghost writer. For example, each part is prefaced with a captivating story, ostensibly drawn from the journalist-author's "experience," that is designed to underscore the methods the subsequent chapter uses as being valid. It then proceeds to the interview, bringing up each point to reinforce that "experience."
I am quite familiar with the ghostwriting process, having been interviewed extensively for a book written by a ghostwriter that eventually became a New York Times best seller. Ironically enough, it was also a religious book - cleverly designed to sell Mormonism by selling its doctrine in the guise of "personal experience." It, too, was a market propaganda fake. The market Strobel's book was written for, is clear: it is written for the Christian evangelical market. It is really preaching to the choir; it is so blatantly one-sided that I can't imagine any thinking skeptic being taken in by it, and I'm sure that Strobel realized that. But he's not selling the book to skeptics. He's selling it to Christians who either want to reinforce their faith, or think they're going to convince their skeptic friends with it.
The book begins by first seeking to establish the reliability of New Testament documents, then trying to show that they were accurately transmitted down to us. It then tries to show that they are corroborated first by historical evidence and then by recent archaeological evidence. Finally, it ends in trying to make the case that Jesus was (is) who Strobel claims him to be and the doctrines surrounding Jesus are reliably justified by scripture.
The manner in which the book is constructed is clearly intended to first convince, then reinforce that conviction and finally by taking on the more popular objections, squelch any doubt. If this process sounds familiar, it may be because you have read of this before in my essay on Christianity as a meme complex. This persuasion method is typical, not just of propagandistic literature, but also of religious meme complexes in general and Christianity in particular.
The essay you are reading has been widely discussed in Christian apologetic circles. There are several responses to it posted on the web. I'm reasonably certain that Strobel has become aware of it, but I have never had a response from him with regards to the assertions I have made above. Most of the responses from various Christians have been along the lines of, "What's the matter with Bidstrup? Doesn't he realise that Strobel was an atheist when he wrote it? Doesn't he understand that?" Well, Strobel clearly states that the book was written long after the fact of his conversion, and the book certainly has neither the structure nor the style I would expect of a book written by an atheist, especially a skeptical atheist. Rather, it has the structure of a book written after the fact, to color the events in a way specifically intended. Not surprising, given that he makes this is clear from what he says on page 14.
If you are a Christian and happen to have a copy of The Case For Christ, I would suggest you get it out and follow along. You'll find that the book is very interesting for what it does not say. If you are not a Christian, or don't happen to have a copy of The Case for Christ, I would suggest that you read two of my other essays first, the essay on the origins of the Bible and Christianity, and the essay on what the errors and inconsistencies in the Bible. It would also be helpful to read my essay on Christianity as a meme complex. It will help you understand why this book is organized the way it is. Print all of them out, and then come back to this essay. I will make frequent references to both essays in this analysis. You'll get a good flavor for how Christian apologetics, written by some of the field's best authors, can be deliberately and very cleverly misleading.
Part One - Examining the Record Chapter One - the Eyewitness Evidence The First Interview - Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
The first interview in the book is with Craig Blomberg, PhD., whose doctorate is in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland. He has been a senior research fellow at Tyndale House at Cambridge University, and is currently at the Denver Seminary.
Page 21-24 - Authorship of the Gospels Blomberg's claim that Matthew, Mark and Luke, all apostles of Jesus, were the authors of the gospels attributed to them is entirely unsupported, and the journalist author fails to follow up on that obvious problem. His assertion is contraindicated by many other scholars, both apologetic and secular. The claim that "Papias, writing in 125 AD" verifies the authorship of Mark, and that Mark recorded events accurately, is fundamentally without merit. It's as meaningful and as useful as my personally telling you, more than a century after the time of Joseph Smith, that "yeah, the guy really did dig up some golden plates, and yeah, the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation of them." Papias is as distant from the events he's verifying as I am from the events of Joseph Smith's time. So why should we believe him? Just because he's the only author we have? That question actually undermines his validity rather than underscoring it; why weren't there other witnesses? Joseph Smith, after all, had eleven who signed affidavits.
Page 26 - The Gospel 'Q' The mystery of Q isn't so mysterious as Blomberg would have you believe. The etymology of the Q material has been well worked over by scholars, both apologetic and secular, for two centuries now, and most are in agreement on it, regardless of their viewpoint. The quotation he cites as part of the Sayings Gospel Q, intended to show that the author of Q accepted Jesus' healing powers is not included in Q by other authors that I have. So his attribution that "even Q" has an awareness of Jesus' healing powers is not correct.
Page 29 - Reliability of the ancient Greek Blomberg is saying, of Matthew 14:22-23 and Mark 6:45-52, that "Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, 'Fear not, it is I.' Actually, the Greek literally says, 'Fear not, I am.'" The difference in meaning is profound - it paints a wholly different picture of our understanding of the nature of who the speaker (i.e., Jesus) is. Therefore, it is vital that this be cleared up.
The most reliable translation I have found from Classical Greek into modern English is the Richmond Lattimore translation. Lattimore is widely regarded as one of the greatest scholars and translators into English of Classical Greek who ever lived, and probably the greatest of the contemporary scholars and translators into English. He is a non-practicing religionist who does not hold religious views with any particular fervor, and therefore can be trusted as an objective translator. He has done us a great favor with his translation of the New Testament in to English - it was undertaken with great care, as in all his work, to present in English to the fullest extent possible the original meaning and flavor of the Greek. Here is how he renders the quotation in both gospels: "Take heart, it is I; do not fear." So the English translations we traditionally used are fairly close to the Greek original. Blomberg's understanding of Classical Greek apparently leaves a little to be desired.
Page 33 - Chronology of the gospel writings Blomberg's apologetics for the timing of the writing of the gospels in this section of the interview conveniently overlooks the fact that the gospels are directly contradictory on many facts (see my essay on Biblical errancy for some of them). While pointing out that the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the warrior's death, are considered quite accurate, there is no reason to believe that they were written with propagandistic purposes in mind - hence there would have been no motive for the authors to write propaganda. In the case of the gospels, however, we know without question that they were, because all the elements of propaganda are there. Indeed, one of the gospel writers ("John" in John 20:31) even admits that he's writing propaganda - for the purpose of "building faith" as he puts it.
Well, that explains why the gospels are so contradictory. They were written as propaganda and are as reliable as propaganda usually is. Else, if they were written as objective histories, why are they so contradictory when the biographies of Alexander the Great, written four hundred years after the events they record, are so consistent? It's simply because each gospel author is writing from a specific motivation, for a specific audience and is mythmaking to get his point across - just as I have pointed out in my essay on Biblical origins.
Chapter Two - Testing the Eyewitness Evidence (The "interview" with Blomberg continues)
Page 40 - Accuracy of gospel histories Blomberg is saying that the gospels are an accurate record because, in essence, their authors say they are. Isn't the intent of all propaganda writers that their writings be believed as truth? So what is remarkable about Luke saying, in essence, 'hey, I'm telling you the truth here'?
Blomberg's comment that you don't see the "outlandish flourishes and blatant mythologizing that you see in other ancient writings" is quite clearly without merit. Virgin birth? Resurection? Miracle working? Son of God? These are all myths with antecedents in other writings of the period. By act of the Roman Senate, for example, Julius Caesar was declared to have been born of a virgin and to have been resurrected. The very coinage of the realm says he was the "Son of God" right there on it. How could a 'divine' Jesus have been any less? That's why those myths are in the gospels - to make him at least as divine as Julius Caesar.
Then there's the whole problem of Jesus ben Pantera. A known historical figure, known from secular historical records, who was an illegitimate son of a woman called Mary, who was a social reformer who caused quite a stir. He was declared a heretic and was stoned to death by temple decree, and his body was hung from a tree on the eve of passover in the year 88 BCE. Do those events sound vaguely familiar?
Page 45 - the Consistency Test. Blomberg is quoted as saying, "If the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses. People would say that we really have only one testimony that everyone else is parroting."
This acknowledgement of the inconsistencies reveals a problem for the inerrantists; i.e., that there are in fact inconsistencies. For the non-inerrantist apologetics, there's a different problem - it's the porridge problem - they can't be too inconsistent, they can't be consistent, they have to be like the porridge - just right. If they're too inconsistent, they call into question each other's testimony. If they're not inconsistent, then Blomberg's comment would apply to them. So they have to be just right. Of course, how inconsistent is just right? Well, Blomberg says that the inconsistencies they exhibit are just right.
Clearly the problem is how inconsistent is just right to enhance their veracity? As I pointed out in the example above in the biographies of Alexander the Great, the two principal biographies written four hundred years after Alexander's death that are widely accepted as accurate are considerably more consistent with each other than are the gospels.
So it would appear that the gospels flunk Blomberg's own "consistency test." Blomberg foresees this problem by trying to explain away a few of the easier problems. The problem is that his explanations aren't always very accurate. In explaining the contradictory genealogies, for example, he says that "the problem is made greater by the fact that some names are omitted, which is perfectly acceptable by ancient standards." The problem with this reasoning is that one gospel writer is known to have altered the genealogy for a different reason - he wanted the numbers of generations to come out to powers of seven, so he could show divinity based on the magical number seven.
Page 49 - The Cover Up Test Blomberg is saying here that if writing the Gospels were an exercise in propaganda, the writers would have made an effort at covering up some of the embarrassing or difficult problems, but they did not do so. He goes on to cite some examples.
The problem with this claim is that a propaganda piece, to be successful, has to include some embarrassing or difficult material so as to look objective. The writers of the gospel propaganda would clearly not have been successful if they simply knocked out some slick, clean stuff. No, they were much too clever for that and knew that adding just the right amount of embarrassing or difficult material would lend credibility to their overall product. So they wrote what they did - a few "hard" sayings, a comment here and there that made Jesus look more human. They were no fools, they knew exactly what they were doing, just like modern propagandists.
Page 50 - The Corroboration Test Here Blomberg concedes that the Gospels, if accurate, would be corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence. He says that there is some, but doesn't say what it is. I am left to wonder why.
Page 51 - The Adverse Witness Test Blomberg says here that if the gospels were wrong, why don't we see contemporary witnesses coming forward to contradict the gospel accounts?
That's really quite easy to explain. The gospels were written quite later than the dates Blomberg assigns to them, and by then there are plenty of other, contradictory gospels around which didn't happen to make it into the Canon. In fact, the Nag Hammadi Library is a complete book full of contradictory gospels, many of which appeared at about the same time as has generally been accepted that the canonic gospels appear. Many of the works in the Nag Hammadi Library take strong exception to even some of the basic claims of the canonic gospels. So Blomberg's thesis rides entirely on his own dating, which he does not support.
Chapter Three - The Documentary Evidence The Second Interview - Bruce M. Metzger, Ph.D.
The second interview in this book is with Bruce M. Metzger, PhD., a professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary and chairman of the New Revised Standard Version Bible Committee.
Page 58 - Copies of Copies of Copies and page 60 - A Mountain of Manuscripts The underlying assumption here that Metzger seems to be making is that because we have thousands of early copies of the gospels, that we know they're accurately recorded.
And that's easy to concede. I'll freely admit that the gospels we have that are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are quite likely very accurate copies of the originals.
But so what? If the gospel writers were inaccurate in the history they wrote, or wrote with a deliberate bias, all the copies in the world aren't going to make up for those biases and inaccuracies.
Page 67 - The "Secret Sayings" of Jesus Here Meztger takes up the case of the Gospel of Thomas, and makes the case that it is a later gospel (written AD140), and contains some evident interpolations.
What he doesn't bring up is that the dating of the Gospel of Thomas is as much subject to dispute as is the dating of the Canonic gospels, and that there is no particular reason, other than religious bias, to say that the canonic gospels are any more accurate or reliable than are the Nag Hammadi gospels of which the Gospel of Thomas is one.
Eliane Pagels, in her commentary on the Gnostic Gospels from the Nag Hammadi library, said it best: "History is written by the victors - their way!" Clearly she understood that the canonic gospels were selected with a doctrinal axe to grind, and the Gospel of Thomas was written from a similarly biased perspective. Any objective scholar would have to be a fool to not accept that. So what? It only means that the canon we have came to us through the victors. It certainly doesn't mean it's any more reliable than the writings of the vanquished.
Chapter Four - The Corroborating Evidence The Third Interview - Edwin M. Yamouchi, Ph.D.
Here we come to the testimony of Edwin M. Yamouchi, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University, and teaches at Miami University in Oxford, OH. His "evidence" is historical, and outside the Bible itself.
Page 77 - Testimony by a Traitor Yamouchi here refers to Flavius Josephus as a traitor to the Jews, because he surrendered to and became an ally of the Romans during the Jewish Rebellion. He quotes the second of the two passages in Josephus that refer to Jesus. The first passage and the most famous, is called the Testimonium Flavium. It is widely acknowledged by scholars, both secular and apologetic, as a later Christian interpolation, and Yamouchi is wise enough not to defend it without acknowledging its problems. The most glaring problem with the Testimonium Flavium, as it is called, is that the paragraph is entirely absent from the passage in a quotation from the work which comes to us from Bishop Origen, which is the earliest copy of that passage we have. There are also some clear stylistic and grammatical problems with that passage as well.
The second passage in Josephus is a very brief mention: "He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned." Yamouchi claims that no scholar has successfully disputed this passage.
Yet Yamouchi fails to acknowledge the obvious problems with this passage. First, it would have been blasphemous for Josephus to even acknowledge that Jesus was called Christ, because Josephus was a devout messianic Jew who never converted to Christianity. Because he was writing at the end of the first century, at a time when the schism between Judaism and Christianity was becoming very deep and very emotional on both sides, it's unlikely that he would have committed this blasphemy by even acknowledging that some Jews referred to Jesus as the Christ. Even more damning is that Hegesipus, a Christian Jew who wrote a history of the church in AD 170, wrote that James, the brother of Jesus, was killed in a riot, not by sentence of the Sanhedrin, and Clement, as quoted by Eusebius, confirms this.
Page 81 - "A Most Mischevious Superstition" Yamouchi then goes on to claim that the Testimonium Tacitum, written by the Roman historian Tacitus in AD 115, is "the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament." Well, the problem with the Testimonium Tacitum is that it was written when it was - nearly a century after the fact and well after the gospels had been written and the myths surrounding Jesus had been in circulation. So the Testimonium Tacitum really is worth nothing more than the testimony of a modern Christian.
Page 83 - Chanting "As If To A God" Again, Yamouchi makes the mistake of assuming that a testimony by Pliny the Younger written in AD 111 is important. Christianity is well known from the secular historical record by this time, so what is said at this point again means nothing. Pliny's reference could easily have incorporated the many Christian myths that are clearly widely circulated by now.
Page 84 - The Day the Earth Went Dark Here Yamouchi is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. He quotes (without saying who he is quoting) a ninth-century Byzantine writer named George Syncellus, who quotes Julius Africanus, writing in AD 221, who is allegedly quoting Thallus, who wrote in AD 52 about the day the sun went dark on the day of the crucifixion. Well, I'm sorry, but a ninth-century, third person quote doesn't carry much weight with me, considering that every person in the chain of quotation had a doctrinal axe to grind.
Page 85 - Other Jewish Accounts Yamouchi then goes on to talk about the Talmudic references to Jesus from AD 200 and beyond. Again, since these are nearly two centuries after the events they talk about, they can hardly be considered independent, objective evidence. There's every reason to believe that they could have been very easily influenced by the widespread myths of Christianity that were in circulation by then.
Page 86 - Evidence Apart From the Bible This section is unbelievably unscholarly! Here, Yamouchi simply is quoted, without any references or corroboration whatsoever, as claiming that we have independent evidence apart from the Bible that corroborates five major historical points of Jesus' life: that he was a Jewish teacher; he engaged in healings and exorcisms; that people believed he was the Messiah; that he was rejected by Jewish leaders; and that he was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. I would challenge Mr. Yamouchi (or Lee Strobel, for that matter) to document any of those claims outside the Bible or outside any reference that could easily have been influenced by the Bible or works within it, or outside of any secular references that are not known or strongly suspected of being later Christian interpolations.
Chapter Five - The Scientific Evidence The Fourth Interview - John McRay, Ph.D.
John McRay, Ph.D. teaches at Wheaton College in suburban Chicago. He studied at Hebrew University and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem (an institution funded by the Vatican that for many years kept the Dead Sea Scrolls locked away from serious secular scholarship - see The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, by Michael Baighent and Richard Leigh for the story of the sequestration and how it was finally broken). McRay purports to bring us to an understanding of Biblical archaeology and how it supports the New Testament story.
Page 97 - Luke's Accuracy as a Historian McRay claims that the veracity of a historian is increased by finding that he is right in archaeological evidence. That may well be true, but the problem here is that the evidence that McRay offers to bolster Luke as a historian is simply trivial. It is detail that may easily be well known to people of Luke's time, but not necessarily known to us today - such as the Roman titles of minor political officials. No one disputes that Luke and the other gospel writers may have gotten some things right - Luke, after all, was a highly educated scholar - but there are no significant details of the life of Jesus that get verified by archaeological evidence here.
In one case he misuses archaeology to resolve a contradiction between Mark's and Luke's accounts of the healing of Bartimaeus in Jericho. Mark says Jesus was coming out of Jericho when he met Bartimaeus, and Luke says he was entering Jericho. McRay tries to resolve this by saying that because Jericho is an extremely ancient city and was built on several different sites that were all within a mile of each other, it would have been quite possible for Jesus to be leaving a presently constructed Jericho while at the same time entering an ancient site for Jericho! Such tortured logic, while technically correct, certainly flies in the face of logic. Why would one author refer to a contemporary construction while another author refers to an ancient one, and ignores the contemporary one? The incredulousness of such apologetics certainly doesn't lend any credibility to McRay's claim to be an archaeologist. A true scientist proceeds from the evidence (the obvious contradiction in the accounts) to the most logical conclusion (that one of the authors simply has it wrong).
While McRay makes the point that Luke was wholly accurate on his place names, this is not surprising given that Luke was a highly educated scholar and doubtless had been schooled in geography.
Page 99 - the Reliability of John and Mark In this section, McRay points out that the description that John gives of the Pool of Bethesda as having five porticos has been recently corroborated by the archaeological discovery of the pool and its excavation. It does indeed have five porticos, just as John said. But all that means is that the author of John had been there. That's all. It doesn't lend any particular credence to anything else that author says about Jesus turning water into wine or raising someone from the dead.
McRay claims that a papyrus fragment of John 18 has been found in Egypt and been dated to AD 125, but doesn't say how the dating was done except it was done by "leading papyrologists." This evidence is simply no stronger than the methods used by the "papyrologists," whatever those methods were. And it says that even if one accepts that date, the gospel of John was written no later than AD 125. No real problem there. It could have been written as late as AD 120 and still had plenty of time to be copied and a copy circulated to Egypt, where Christian communities are known to have existed at the time. This is hardly a revelation of any magnitude. I am not unwilling to accept that John could have been written as late as AD 120, and that's roughly the date I give for it in my essay on the origins of the Bible.
Page 101 - Puzzle 1: the Census McRay says in this section that the practice of sending entire families back to their town of paternal nativity is one that is well established by archeological evidence. In support of this contention, he produces an official Roman document from AD 104 that includes the reference: "...who for any cause are residing outside of their provinces to return to their homes that they may carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments..." This reference does not speak to paternal nativity, but rather to current ownership and cultivation of land. It clearly means that you're supposed to go back home and tend to your farm as well as be counted in the census. Nowhere does it say anything about returning to the village of paternal nativity as does the reference in the birth narratives of Jesus.
The problem of Herod dying in 4 BC and Quirinius not ascending to the governorship of Syria until AD 6, has always been a problem. McRay tries to solve it by saying that a recent archaeological find of a coin, names, in "micrographic letters" a Quirinius as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BCE. He says they could be two different men having the same name. While this is possible, it seems a bit unlikely - these "micrographic letters" sound a bit suspicious, given the crude minting practices of Roman coinage. I've never heard elsewhere of "micrographic letters" on Roman coinage, and I've read a great deal about archaeology from this period. Besides, the history of the proconsulship of this region is quite well known from other historical sources, and it simply doesn't fit his theory.
Page 102 - Puzzle 2: The Existence of Nazareth McRay claims that skeptics are wrong in insisting that Nazareth didn't exist as a town during the time Christ presumably lived. This is a half-truth. The town existed. There's no doubt about that. It was a tiny rural hamlet. The problem is that it wasn't known by that name. It was actually a tiny, unnamed collection of about a dozen huts near the town of Gat-Hyefer, and was never known by the name of Nazareth until it was picked by a fifth-century Christian Roman emperor to be Nazareth, because he was embarrassed by the fact that no town by that name actually existed. Anyway, McRay says there is recent archaeological evidence (without citing it) that shows that after the destruction of the Second Temple, some of the temple priests were relocated there. Whether that is true doesn't matter. In any event, what is known is that it certainly was a very small and inconspicuous settlement that wasn't called Nazareth. And neither was any other town in Galilee at that time.
Page 105 - Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls Here McRay says that the Dead Sea Scrolls offer support for the Messianic claim of Jesus in Matthew 11:4-5 where Jesus quotes Isaiah 61, and includes the phrase "the dead are raised" which does not appear in modern texts. A copy of Isaiah 61 including that phrase has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. All this really means when you stop to think about it, however, is that the copier of the Isaiah text at Qumran and the author of Matthew had similar copies of Isaiah - not difficult to imagine, since they were roughly contemporary and situated not far from each other.
Page 107 - "A Remarkably Accurate Source Book" While McRay cites The Book of Mormon as an example of a scriptural book for which not one shred of archaeological evidence has ever been found, he cites the New Testament as having been shown by archaeological evidence as clearly having had a historical basis. This is really a "straw man" argument, since no serious scholar doubts that its major authors were writing in times and in places not very distant from the events and locations they purport to record. Because of this, it's not surprising at all that a lot of the geographical and even historical detail would be accurate. It would be far more surprising for the Book of Mormon to be shown to be accurate, since it was produced by a New York farm lad in the early 1800's, a time hundreds to thousands of years distant and hundreds to thousands of miles separated from the times and places it purports to document.
Chapter Six - The Rebuttal Evidence In this section, Strobel takes on the Jesus Seminar, a group of highly controversial scholars who dispute critically much of the content of the canonic gospels. They have released a controversial book entitled "The Five Gospels" which includes the four canonic gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas, discussed above. In it, they mark out what they insist Jesus definitely didn't say, what he probably didn't say, what he didn't say but was like what he would have, and what he did say. The result, as Strobel explains it, is that the Jesus Seminar book shows Jesus as not saying 82% of what is attributed to him, most of the remaining 18% as being doubtful, and only 2% as being confidently authentic. Well, of course, our "atheistic journalist" will have none of this, so he's going to another group of committed apologists to get it refuted.
The Fifth Interview: Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D.
Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D. holds a doctorate from the Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at Bethel College and is also a pastor at Woodland Hills Church.
Page 113 - Writings from the Radical Fringe Boyd dismisses the Jesus Seminar by saying that one must accept their "seven pillars of scholarly wisdom" in order to accept their work. He simply discredits them by implying that since they don't think like himself or in traditional ways, they must be wrong. This presumes, of course, that he's right, and the inability to work from the presumption that he may not be, is, of course, the mark of a closed mind.
Page 117 - Critiquing the Criteria Boyd's critique begins in a quote making an astonishing statement: "Historians usually operate with the burden of proof on the historian to prove falsity or unreliability, since people are generally not compulsive liars. Without that assumption, we would know very little about ancient history." This statement flies directly in the face of the scientific method. In true science, the scientist proceeds from the evidence to the conclusion - and the evidence may include, but certainly is not limited to, the testimony of the ancients. Also, when a contention is clearly controversial, you can't simply accept it because someone said it. If we did, we'd all be expected to believe in UFO's, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. So to prove a contention as controversial as, say, the resurrection, you can't simply rely on the testimony of those who say they were there and then try to disprove it. You must start by collecting all the available evidence, and then see what conclusion that evidence points to. This is not limited to the testimony of the commentators. It must include all available evidence, whether we agree with the conclusion it points to or not. In doing so, the Jesus Seminar is simply applying the scientific method to the evidence for Jesus. And the conclusions they come to are derived honestly, not by grinding endless doctrinal axes. That's why they're controversial.
Where Boyd does score some valid points is in the critique of the "seven pillars." While some of the critique is valid, though, the critique is limited in fairness. He presumes, for example, that since much of ancient history is based on single sources, and that he considers the gospels reliable, that we can therefore rely on their accounts. Well, we have lots of reasons for questioning the reliability of the gospels, but that doesn't enter into his equation. Hence, he discounts the "second pillar," that of requiring more than one source to corroborate the sayings of Jesus.
Page 118 - Jesus the Wonder Worker Boyd implies the absurd claim that Jesus' miracles must have been real because they were radical. Unlike the other miracle workers of Jewish history, he says that "the radical nature of his miracles distinguished him." This implies that because he supposedly multiplied fish, raised sons and daughters from the dead, cured blindness, deafness, and leprosy, that he was different. What he fails to acknowledge is that many other "miracle workers" both of that time and now are able to carry off convincing illusions of a similarly "radical" nature. He also says that because he did it in the name of a deity, that also made him unique. Didn't he read Exodus, and read about Pharaoh's sorcerers matching Moses' deeds in the name of Egyptian religion? They were equally "radical." Such a statement is meaningless.
Page 119 - Jesus and the Amazing Appolonius Here Boyd tries to show how the biography of Appolonius of Tyana, written by Philostratus, which also contains stories of a miracle worker, was clearly not as reliable as the gospels. He makes this claim in several ways - Philostratus was more removed in time form the life of Appolonius than were the gospel writers, and therefore couldn't have had such good access to the events he was writing about. He was writing during the Christian era and could have borrowed from Christian sources.
The problem here is that the gospel writers were also living in a "magical" era. There were lots of magicians, illusionists, miracle workers and religious reformers working the crowds in the time of Christ. He's hardly unique. Josephus describes lots of them in his Antiquities. The gospel writers could have borrowed just as easily as Philostratus could have. As has been pointed out, many of the major points of Jesus' life had antecedents in other myths and religions that were popular in the Mediterranean basin at the time.
Page 120 - Jesus and the Mystery Religions In this section, Boyd takes on just this problem of the magical era in which the gospel writers lived. But he deals with it in a most astonishing way - by simply dismissing that the gospel writers could have borrowed from the mystery religions and the conjurers and healers of the time. He says "...if you're going to argue for borrowing, it should be from the direction of Christianity to the mystery religions, not vice versa"! So why couldn't it have been vice versa? He simply doesn't say! He simply presumes the priority of Christianity! He dismisses the legends and myths of the mystery religions as "once upon a time stuff" and says that Christianity was very contemporary. And of course, completely ignores the problem of the virgin birth and resurrection of Caesar as being also contemporary, and the myth of the death and resurrection of Osiris as also contemporary.
He tries to dismiss the borrowing of baptism from other religions by comparing it to the ritual slaughter of the bull by the Mithrans, who stood under the bull to be bathed in its blood and guts as it was slaughtered. He says this couldn't be the source of the baptism ritual. And of course, he's right. But what he doesn't tell you is that the Essenes practiced baptism for at least a century and a half before the Common Era, and John the Baptist is believed to have been an Essene by some scholars. In addition, the Essenes were right there - they weren't in far off Rome.
Page 122 - Secret Gospels and Talking Crosses Much of this section is fair, if polemical, until he gets to the Gospel of Thomas. Then he proceeds with a hatchet job. "Most scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to the mid-second century, in which it fits well into the cultural milieu. Let me give you an example: Jesus is quoted as saying, 'Every woman who will make herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.' That contradicts the attitude that we [who are "we"? McRay? His doctrinal allies? -sb] knew [how does he know? -sb] Jesus had toward women, but it fits well with the Gnostic mindset.
"However, the Jesus Seminar has arbitrarily latched onto certain passages of the Gospel of Thomas and has argued that these passages represent an early strand of tradition about Jesus, even earlier than the canonical gospels.
"Because none of these passages include Jesus making exalted claims for himself or doing supernatural feats, they argue that the earliest view of Jesus was that he was only a great teacher. But the whole line of reasoning is circular. The only reason for thinking these passages in Thomas are early in the first place is because they contain a view of Jesus that these scholars have already believed was the original Jesus. In truth, there is no good reason for preferring the second century Gospel of Thomas over the first century gospels of the New Testament."
The problem with this is that there actually is reason to believe that the earliest Jesus was not considered a miracle worker or divine. As I have pointed out in my essay on the origins of Christianity, there is the whole problem of the writings of the Jesus Movements, which Boyd is conveniently forgetting about. In those writings, nowhere is Jesus depicted as anything other than a mortal, ordinary social reformer. So there is in fact a good reason to consider as likely more authentic a body of literature that depicts him so.
Page 124 - History Versus Faith Here Boyd is making a case for faith based on a mere presumption of history. He takes up the case of the Nicean Creed, saying without any support whatever that "theological faith is based on historical truth." Couldn't a Buddhist make a similar claim? Or a Confuscianist? What makes Christianity unique in that regard? As for the Nicean Creed, he conveniently forgets the history that brought it about - a Roman emperor, Constantine, getting tired of listening to his bishops squabbling about history and doctrine, and ordering them to Nicea to hash out a consistent doctrine and history. History and doctrine by committee. Sounds like a great way to arrive at the divine revealed truth!
Page 125 - Combining History and Faith This section has Boyd "on the very edge of his chair" making a case for believing in what you love to believe in because you love to believe in it! If that isn't a surefire recipe for bias and prejudicial error, I don't know what it is! Love of belief has absolutely nothing to do with what's real out there, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a fool's paradise.
By now it is assumed that the reader is thoroughly convinced that the gospels are real, reliable and accurate. So this section is really the payload of this book, attempting to convert the reader to the author's point of view.
Chapter Seven - The Identity Evidence The Sixth Interview - Ben Witherington III, Ph.D.
Ben Witherington holds a doctorate from the University of Durham in England and teaches at the Ashbury Theological Seminary in Willmore, Kentucky.
The whole tone of the Witherington interview seems to proceed from the assumption that the reader is by now convinced. The material seems to proceed from the assumption that the gospels are accepted as genuine and truthful, and therefore useful to disprove alternative theories.
Page 134 - Exploring the Earliest Traditions In the "interview" Witherington is asked about a 1977 book, unnamed, written by "a British theologian John Hick and a half-dozen like-minded colleagues" in which it is alleged that Jesus never thought of himself as a god incarnate, and that the concept was written into the gospels, so as to make it appear that Jesus was making these claims himself.
The crux of the Hick hypothesis is that if one goes to the earliest Christian sources, those that predate the gospels, one can find evidence supporting this theory. Indeed, this is what I found in my own researches, and it became a significant part of my essay of the origins of Christianity.
Witherington, however, does not go to these early sources. He simply uses the gospels to defend the theory that the gospels themselves are presenting! Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the gospel writers are going to make their product as convincing as they can - after all, they're writing, in an effort to convince as the author of John admitted!
If Witherington were the scholar he is portrayed as being, he'd understand that simple fact and realize that to understand the historical context of the gospels, he'll eventually have to go outside the gospels themselves to whatever other historical evidence is available. He has not done that in this "interview." If he did, it would quickly become apparent, as it did to me when I examined this evidence, that the Hick hypothesis has a great deal of merit.
Page 135 - By the Finger of God through page 142 - In the Very Place of God The author here is wielding doctrinal axes, convincing the reader of his point of view to the exclusion of others. What's interesting here is that the supposedly atheistic journalist is again using the subtleties of ancient Hebrew etymology to generate leading questions - more evidence that this book was ghostwritten.
The one item of note in these sections, is the comment on page 141, where the "journalist author" asks, "We have to ask, Why is there no other first century Jew who has millions of followers today? Why isn't there a John the Baptist movement? Why, of all the first century figures, including the Roman emperors, is Jesus still worshiped today, while all the others have crumbled into the dust of history?"
The book has Witherington answering with: "It's because Jesus - the historical Jesus - is also the living Lord. That's why. It's because he's still around, while all the others are long gone." Just the answer you'd expect from a Christian apologist.
Well there's a far more prosaic explanation, too. And that is that a highly successful meme complex was created around the Jesus myths, and that meme complex has managed to perpetuate itself. The other figures of the first century didn't have anyone such as the gospel writers and Paul working together to create such a meme complex. See my essay on this subject.
Chapter Eight - The Psychological Evidence This chapter seeks to demonstrate that Jesus was not crazy. It is based on the presumption that modern psychology has a precise definition of that term, which it clearly does not. And using apologetic psychologists to answer the question doesn't help matters either. Again, the reader is presumed by this time to already be convinced of the accuracy and reliability of the gospels, so they're taken as a given by the interviewees. The material is intended to be reinforcement, since it clearly presumes a conversion has taken place by now.
Interview Seven - Gary R. Collins, Ph.D.
Dr. Collins has a doctorate in psychology from Purdue University and teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, which might offer a clue as to what he's going to say about the sanity of Jesus.
Page 147 - Raving Mad Collins makes the claim that people in Jesus' time thought him mad (John 10:20) because he went around doing miracles. What an astonishing claim! If an individual could go around doing miracles and claimed that he did so because he was the son of God, wouldn't his supernatural powers be evidence of his assertion? This flies in the face of logic. If someone said they could do miracles but couldn't, they'd be far more likely to be considered mad, wouldn't they? I think Collins has his logic backward here.
Page 149 - Jesus the Hypnotist Collins makes the claim here that Jesus' miracles could not be accounted for by mass hypnosis, because first, mass hypnosis doesn't work, and second, the descriptions of the miracles don't fit the phenomenon of mass hypnosis. The problem is that the reliability of the accounts in the gospels is a given here - an assumption I'm not willing to make.
Chapter Nine - The Profile Evidence Here we are introduced to the attributes of God that the author would have us believe are met by Jesus. Here we are instructed as just what to believe about the nature of Jesus, his position within the trinity, and the nature of his godhood. This chapter consists of a single interview.
Interview Eight - Donald A. Carson, Ph.D.
Dr. Carson has a PhD in New Testament studies from Cambridge University. He is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at Deerfield, Illinois.
Page 158 - Mystery of the Incarnation While the author asked questions above that displayed a knowledge of Classical Hebrew etymology, here he's asking questions that appear to be hopelessly naive. In one case, he asks, "Lets admit it, the Bible itself seems to argue against Jesus being God." Actually, this question is a leading one, designed to draw out evidence for the concept of Jesus as God.
Again, this whole section is based on Biblical evidence supporting contentions that are subject to dispute if the Bible itself is not accepted as evidence. It is clearly intended, therefore, to reinforce a tentative conversion.
Page 161 - Creator or Created? Carson, like Blomberg, apparently doesn't know his Classical Greek all that well, or has trouble accepting the meaning for what it is. He says of Colossians 1:15 that "...the very expression 'firstborn' is slightly misleading"
"What would be a better translation be?"
"I think 'supreme heir' would be more appropriate."
Well, going back to Lattimore, we see that Richmond Lattimore renders this phrase in a manner not dissimilar to the New Inspired Version that Carson is quoting from: "He is the beginning, first born from the dead, to be first himself in all things..." Clearly, the meaning as rendered by Lattimore falls directly in line with the classical interpretation of this scripture. Here's another case of an apologist bending the scriptures to fit his preconceived meaning or simply not understanding the Greek he claims to be authoritatively interpreting. I suspect the former.
Page 166 - Jesus and slavery through page 167 - Overthrowing Oppression Here Carson attempts to gloss over the obvious condoning of involuntary servitude in the New Testament by saying, in essence, that it wasn't that bad, it was a means of survival, etc. In doing so, he defends the attitude of Jesus by quoting the words of Paul - a very dangerous business fraught with all kinds of logical questions.
Carson goes on to say that the impetus behind the anti-slavery movement was an "evangelical awakening in England." The reality is that in England, slavery was ended by a court decision by a very courageous judge who ruled that slaves are people and are therefore entitled to the same protections as all British subjects. He wrote, "let justice be done though the heavens fall." In America, the abolitionist movement was spearheaded by the secular humanists - a fact he conveniently ignores. Also, another fact he conveniently ignores is that the church actually fought the abolishionist movement - that's how the Southern Baptist Convention came into being. It broke with the American Baptists over the issue of slavery when the latter adopted an abolitionist stance in 1847.
Carson quotes Galatians 3:28 as evidence of Paul's egalitarianism, but quietly forgets to quote Paul elsewhere when Paul tells slaves to be obedient to their masters. And if Jesus is equal to God, he had to have been responsible for the numerous references in the Old Testament that clearly support the institution (see Exodus 21).
Chapter Ten - the Fingerprint Evidence This chapter attempts to establish that Jesus is the Messiah that is prophesied in Jewish scripture.
Interview Nine - Louis S. Lapides, M.Div., Th.M.
Mr. Lapides, born Jewish, has two master's degrees, both from Talbot Theological Seminary and now is apparently the pastor of a ministry teaching Christianity to Jewish college students.
The interview begins with Mr. Lapides explaining the anti-Christian teachings with which he was brought up. This continues with his experience in Vietnam, and then he gets serious with the interview by explaining how he was taken aback to discover Christians familiar with Jewish prophecy! He was either a very naive or a very protected Jewish child who seemed to be very unfamiliar with the contents of the Old Testament.
This interview I found to be almost unbelievably naive. Lapides quotes Isaiah, having never read it before converting to Christianity apparently, but seems to have understood the basics elements of Jesus' life better than Jewish scripture. While I suppose it is possible for a Jewish child to be raised in such a manner, I find it rather unlikely based on what I understand from my own Jewish acquaintances.
Lapides also feigns being taken aback at how Jewish Jesus was! Like he was plunked down in Palestine from a spaceship? Of course he was Jewish! Christianity got its start as a Jewish sect, and everyone, including Jews and Christians alike know and accept that fact.
Lapides' naivety doesn't end there. He's supposedly astonished at how the Jewish prophecies seem to be fulfilled in the advent of Jesus. Again, it never seems to cross his mind that the myths of Jesus could have been written after the fact for the purpose of appearing that way!
From there, the interview continues with descriptions of Lapides' rather typical conversion experience, his marriage and his maturing in his conversion. He then proceeds to answer some of the author's questions.
Page 182 - The Coincidence Argument Lapides claims that the chances of Jesus fulfilling the prophesies of the Old Testament are simply too small to be realistic. He fills half a paragraph with trillions, at one point, without ever venturing even a hint of an explanation of how those probabilities were arrived at.
Page 183 - The Altered Gospel Argument Here Lapides tries to explain that the gospels couldn't have been altered or fabricated because there were too many people alive at the time they were written who could have set the record straight.
The problem with this logic is that it assumes that the events did happen in the time frame that is set down by the gospel writers, and as I have pointed out in my essay on the origins of the Bible, this is not at all certain. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the prototype for the Jesus myth died a century and a half before the gospel writers wrote their gospels. In addition, if they had simply fabricated the story of Jesus (beginning with Mark, and the remaining gospel writers elaborated on his myths), there wouldn't be anyone around who could say that they were wrong. Remember also, that the gospels weren't necessarily written in Palestine. We know that at least two were probably written in Rome and tradition has it that John was written on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. So the witnesses, if they had existed, wouldn't have been around to object.
Part Three - Researching the Resurrection
Chapter Eleven - The Medical Evidence Interview Ten - Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Metherell holds a medical doctorate from the University of Miami in Florida, and a doctorate in engineering (no discipline specified) from the University of Bristol, in England.
Page 194 - The Torture Before the Cross through page 203 - A Question for the Heart In all these sections, Dr. Metherell discusses in great detail his speculations about the methods of torture and crucifixion used by the Romans, without any scriptural or documentary support. The whippings of the Romans he describes are so horrific it is unlikely that anyone would have remained conscious from them, though he does not say this. He discusses the effects of the loss of blood, but does not discuss the shock or loss of consciousness that would likely result. Again, he talks about specific locations of injuries on Jesus' body without any scriptural reference or other supporting evidence.
Of course, when one makes up the details to one's own liking, it is possible to make the case for the crucifixion in any manner one pleases. And being a physician, one can easily add detail that will add graphically to the story. But as for hard evidence, the story here as related by Metherell comes up a bit short. There is nothing offered that would tend to support traditional interpretations over any other interpretation. Metherell has simply told a story that is consistent with the desired outcome - in which Jesus died on the cross as the result of pre-crucifixion injury and the trauma of crucifixion itself.
Again, all the arguments in this chapter presume that one has already accepted the authority of the gospels in the first place.
Chapter Twelve - The Evidence of the Missing Body Interview Eleven - William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D.Th.
The credentials of William Craig include a doctorate from the University of Birmingham and a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich.
This section again presumes an existing conversion, and seeks to indoctrinate with regards to the resurrection myth. It is essentially explanation until page 214.
Page 213 - The Contradictions through page 223 See my essay on the story of the resurrection in the essay on biblical errancy for a complete analysis of the contradictions in the accounts. Here, Craig is given the challenge of reconciling these contradictions.
He does so by the device of saying that the contradictions don't matter! His defense begins by saying that the "core" of the story is the same in all four gospels. Well, if you read my essay, you'll discover that it is up to a point. Beyond that, they diverge so wildly one cannot correlate them any further.
Well, it's not really surprising that the core story is the same, since it is widely acknowledged by both secular and religious scholars that both Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels with Mark in hand, and John wrote his with all three of the others in hand. So it's hardly a surprise that the core of the story would be the same.
Craig then goes on to make the astonishing assertion that the rest of the details differ, but it doesn't matter! He justifies this by saying that if they were all the same, it would be evidence of plagiarism, and since they differ, one wouldn't expect that they were plagiarized from each other!
The problem with this thesis is that the detail diverges so greatly, far more than the examples he uses, that it is clear that there were some differences in the motivations of the writers. It's also been accepted by even the most conservative scholars that Mark wrote the first gospel and each of the others had his writings in hand when they wrote. So the issue of plagiarism is hardly at issue. It's agreed that Luke, Matthew and John took as inspiration the writings of Mark. So the use of the plagiarism argument is specious.
The arguments he raises against plagiarism all revolve around the assumption that the motives of the authors were pure - a contention he nowhere supports. Hence, if one cannot accept without question the sincerity of the authors of the gospels following Mark, his arguments become worthless. Nowhere does he support the assumption that the gospel writers were sincere. The assumption is simply taken as a given.
Chapter Thirteen - Evidences of the Appearances Interview Twelve - Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.
Habermas holds a doctorate in divinity from Emmanuel College in Oxford, England. His Ph.D. is from Michigan State University, where he wrote his dissertation on the Resurrection. He is currently the chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell's school for evangelical fundamentalists.
Page 229 - Convince Me It's a Creed This rather remarkable little section is an attempt by Habermas to prove that the portion of the Nicean Creed quoted from I Corinthians is in fact a creed of the early church. He relies on primarily linguistic evidence to claim that I Corinthians 15:3-8, drawing on the use of an Aramaic word, and the use of technical rabbinic terms indicating a holy tradition being passed on, etc.
Yet nowhere does he bring up the possibility that this section of Corinthians is a later interpolation, nor attempt to disprove such a possibility.
The fact that the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the crowd of 500 is not mentioned anywhere in secular historical records, nor even in the gospels themselves, does not bother Habermas. He simply dismisses the problem, and the doubt it casts on Paul as "plain silliness," claiming that it's the "earliest and most authenticated passage of all" without saying how it is authenticated or what evidence there is for it being early. His only justification is that Paul wrote while many of the 500 were still alive, claiming that he wouldn't have the courage to do so if the account were not accurate. Well that presumes two things: first, that Paul wrote the account and it's not a later interpolation, and second that it would be easy to verify. Habermas underestimates the difficulty of travel and research in the ancient world. And as I've said, he offers no support for his assertion that it's not an interpolation.
Page 237 - Are There Any Alternatives? Here Habermas takes on the problems of the apparent development of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, beginning with the disputed appearance at the end of Mark (16:9-20 which does not appear in the earliest manuscripts of Mark that we have), and continuing with more appearances in Matthew, even more in Luke, and the most of all in the last gospel to be written, John. Habermas dismisses this by saying simply that there is no proof that the gospels were written in that order! Well, there may not be proof, but there is certainly plenty of evidence. This is not the only myth set that seems to develop this way. There are others, the virgin birth, the baptism of Jesus, etc., all progressively develop in detail in this order. It's hard to discount what this says about the writing of the gospels.
In the section on hallucinations, Habermas quotes Gary Collins as saying that hallucinations are, by their nature, never a mass phenomena. Yet confusing or misunderstood phenomena often are misunderstood by masses of people. Take, for example, the "UFO" seen by hundreds of people in Phoenix on an August night in 1997. Many who saw them swore that the five lights were attached to a huge wing-shaped object. Yet it was later proven by photographic analysis of the videos and still photographs shot that night that they were simply illumination flares lit off over the Goldwater Gunnery Range in southwestern Arizona by the Maryland Air National Guard on maneuvers. There's no question of what they were. But that doesn't stop the hundreds of people in Phoenix from believing that they saw a huge UFO that night. Similarly, it's quite possible for many people to misinterpret a phenomenon with a simple, rational explanation as something supernatural.
Again, there is nothing in Habermas' comments to prove that this is not a fabrication by gospel writers. He simply assumes the authority of the gospels and proceeds from there.
Chapter Fourteen - The Circumstantial Evidence Interview Thirteen - J.P. Moreland, Ph.D.
J.P. Moreland holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Southern California and is a professor at the Talbot School of Theology.
Page 246 - Exhibit One - The Disciples Died For Their Beliefs. Mr. Moreland makes the rather remarkable assertion here that the martyrdom of the disciples of Jesus is fundamentally different from the martyrdom of the early Mormons and Muslims, in that they died for something they actually saw and witnessed first-hand. Well, there are two problems with that. First, if someone died for something they did not see first hand, does it show any less commitment to the facts perceived by the mere believer who also died for his beliefs? Hardly! And second, the assertion that the early Mormon martyrs died for something they didn't actually see would certainly be disputed strongly by the Mormon Church. Its early history is replete with examples of first-hand witnesses who died for what they believed in. Including the founder of the faith, Joseph Smith himself. He responds that martyrs wouldn't have submitted to such torture as they did had they not been first-hand witnesses. Well, tell that to the Mormon pioneers, who submitted to many years of incredible hardship, starvation, privation of all kinds, in simple response to their faith. Try pushing a handcart across thousands of miles of road-less prairies, enduring arctic winters and blazing summers without steady food supplies or any shelter worthy of the name and submitting to hostile Indian attacks, knowing full well that you might not come out alive. All in the name of faith. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy Moreland's assertion. Faith can be a very powerful motivator, right up to and including torture and death, regardless of whether one was a first hand witness or not. How does he explain the pre-Constantine Roman Christians who willingly submitted to torture, but had never even been to Palestine, much less have seen Jesus?
Page 248 - Exhibit Two - Conversion of the Skeptics Moreland here presents the "hardened skeptics" that were allegedly converted after Jesus' death and resurrection. The problem here is that he assumes that the accounts in the gospels are accurate and reliable. He also points to the passage in Josephus (discussed above) which refers to James, the brother of Jesus being stoned to death. As has been pointed out earlier in this essay, this account in Josephus is highly questionable, as it contradicts the claims of at least two early church leaders as to how James met his demise. The only other evidence that Moreland cites is from the gospels themselves, which as we have seen, cannot be considered as unquestionably authoritative.
Page 250 - Exhibit Three - Changes to Key Social Structures through Page 253 - Exhibit Four - Communion and Baptism Here, Moreland is again assuming the accuracy of the gospel histories. If one accepts the account I give in my essay on the origins of Christianity, some of the changes he talks about are not remarkable at all; in fact, they are well accounted for. The others can be questioned on the basis of the accuracy of the gospel histories.
Page 254 - The Emergence of the Church Moreland is arguing in this section that the early church was extremely successful because it was true. I think there's a more rational explanation, and that is given in my essay on Christian origins and my essay on Christianity as a meme complex.
The remainder of the book is a summary of the preceeding material and will not be reviewed here, as that review would be redundant.
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