bookmark_borderGary Habermas Shows Why the ‘Minimal Facts’ of Jesus’ Death Can’t Establish the Resurrection

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.
 

Gary Habermas is a New Testament scholar and philosopher of religion at Liberty University who has devoted much of his career to defending a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. For over 30 years now, Habermas has collected and analyzed scholarly materials published on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, distilling them down to a core set of trends. His work has been cited by numerous Christian apologists, perhaps most notably in The Case for Christ and the debates and writings of William Lane Craig.
Recently, Dr. Habermas appeared on the Unbelievable radio show and podcast in dialogue with James Crossley on whether the “minimal facts” surrounding Jesus’ death support the resurrection. Crossley is an agnostic New Testament scholar at the University of Sheffield and the author of a book called Jesus and the Chaos of History. The minimal facts are intended to be general points of agreement acceptable even to skeptics, and the two criteria Habermas gives are that they be facts with multiple lines of argument supporting them, and they share in a consensus made up of the “vast majority” of New Testament scholars.
Habermas identifies 6 minimal facts in the show, which are as follows:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. The disciples had experiences they believed to be of the risen Jesus.
3. Some among the disciples died for their belief.
4. James, a skeptic, was converted.
5. Paul, a skeptic and persecutor of Christians, was converted.
6. The earliness of the proclamation of the risen Jesus.
One immediately noteworthy thing missing from this list is the empty tomb. To his credit, Gary concedes that the empty tomb is not a minimal fact because of the many biblical historians who dispute it. As the host, Justin, remarks, this seems contrary to what some apologists, like William Lane Craig, have attempted to cull from Dr. Habermas’ work. In his book God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, co-written with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor Craig writes: “There are at least four facts about the fate of the historical Jesus that are widely accepted by New Testament historians today.” (p. 22, italics mine) Dr. Craig then goes on to articulate some of the reasons that “most scholars” accept the empty tomb.
Of course, it could be contended that this is just another way of saying that the majority of scholars favor the empty tomb as a historical fact. However, 1/3 to 1/4 of experts dissenting from a given viewpoint is not a negligible difference. Things get even sketchier when you look at the methodology behind Dr. Habermas’2005 study and discover how that figure is calculated. The survey is not a comprehensive one of thousands of New Testament scholars, it’s a survey of select literature published in German, French and English since 1975. While Gary’s work offers important insights, he also has not released his data, despite requests for it, and the closest we get to an idea of how many sources he’s surveyed is “more than 1400” in that 2005 study of his. Break that down over 30 years and that’s a ballpark average of 46.7 studies examined per year. It’s hardly a robust amount of data from which to assess the opinions of New Testament scholarship on the whole.
This methodological problem has implications beyond the empty tomb, too, for all of the six minimal facts mentioned above, as well as any other facts that could be conjured up on the same basis. So whether Dr. Habermas wants to single out 4 facts, 6 facts, 12 facts, or his exceedingly generous 21 facts, the fatal flaw remains present in all cases. Statistical analysis is only as good as your data and the method you use to analyze that data, and a study like the one published by Dr. Habermas in a religious studies journal would not pass in an introductory level Stats class (I say this from experience). Granted, it was probably not Gary’s intent to do a rigorous statistical analysis, but the limitations of this research need to be noted when attempts are made at extrapolating certain trends from it. For more on this specific concern, see Richard Carrier’s article, Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix.
But what real use is a list of even roughly calculated minimal facts when it requires another list of supplementary philosophical assumptions in order to support the resurrection? Near the end of the discussion on the podcast, Habermas explains that the way he sees of moving from the death of Jesus and the reports of his postmortem appearances to the involvement of the supernatural is by bringing in “worldview aspects.” This is, in fact, something he notes early on in the show. Among these assumptions are conclusions about the character and identity of Jesus, and the continuation of life after death, though I would argue there are additional assumptions about the existence and nature of god. In a chapter from The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert Greg Cavin outlines still more hidden assumptions in the standard resurrection story of Jesus, which is not just revivification, but has to do with Jesus being raised as a living supernatural body sometime after his death.
At one point in the episode, Dr. Habermas refers to the resurrection allegedly supported by the minimal facts as “mundane,” saying that the gospels depict the postmortem appearances as if seeing a dead friend at the supermarket, acting as normal. Yet the point by Cavin above reveals this to be naive. A mundane resurrection in that sense would be as easily dismissed as any incident of a grieving loved one hallucinating their dearly departed. There is nothing especially impressive about it. The minimal facts are where many apologists say that the resurrection differs from other allegations of resuscitation or revivification of a corpse. If the transformation of the disciples is a stand out feature of the resurrection story, it would seem to play a part in discounting the mundane nature of events as Habermas portrays it. After all, we’re often told, people might see the dead after they’re gone, but they generally don’t go to be martyred for them. If this famous image of the disciples valiantly accepting death having seen the risen lord is as true as apologists claim it is, then the resurrection simply can’t be a mundane occurrence by their own reasoning.
Does this not also say something about the exceptional kind of assumptions that are required to make a minimal facts case for the resurrection function at all? We are not talking about spotting someone in the supermarket, alive and apparently well when they’d been dead the day before. We are talking about something much less “mundane,” and it’s the reason why the case for the resurrection has been turned into an argument for the existence of god by an apologist like William Lane Craig. There is an element of the supernatural, a “worldview aspect,” as Habermas called it. It isn’t simply that Jesus appeared again to his followers, like in a daydream, it’s that he miraculously rose from the dead, in a way that his followers took as a vindication of their ideas about his teachings and his identity. It meant, for them, that god not only existed, but that he was the god represented by Jesus, and Jesus was the sort of person god not only had the power to raise back to life, but wanted to raise, did raise, and had the power and will to raise into something more than just a reanimated earthly form.
The miracle of the resurrection is the saving grace of many Christians. To Paul it gave hope for a life beyond death and for a righting of the wrongs faced in this life. Entertaining the historicity of the resurrection without the supernatural and metaphysical assumptions behind it is practically unimaginable, not only for atheists and skeptics but for believing Christians, too. This brings us to the awkward position of either asking each other to buy into our philosophical presuppositions, or leaving things at a set of bare minimal facts that is by itself incapable of showing anything except what it already contains. The minimal facts are, one might say, minimally interesting. Even if we put aside the troubling concerns with the methodology that undergirds them, they aren’t what’s really doing the work in winning minds. Rather than minimizing background assumptions and asking us to buy into some ample facts, the apologetic case for the resurrection minimizes the facts and asks us to buy into some ample assumptions.

bookmark_borderMatthew Ferguson: Knocking Out the Pillars of the “Minimal Facts” Apologetic (2013)

I have only skimmed this article, but it appears to be a very comprehensive rebuttal to the “minimal facts” apologetics favored by several Christian apologists, including Licona, Habermas, and Craig.
LINK
Note: as always, links do not necessarily constitute endorsement.
We’d love to know what you think of the article. Please feel free to debate in the combox below.

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

In When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler presents eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. In my previous post on this subject I argued that six of those reasons should be quickly set aside as weak or defective reasons. In my view, only two reasons out of the eight reasons are worthy of serious consideration.
Both of the remaining two reasons are related to various alleged wounds and injuries of Jesus that supposedly occurred just prior to or during the crucifixion. First let’s consider the third reason:
3. When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death. The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around the heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids. Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. … The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).
(When Skeptics Ask, p.121)
The quick-and-dirty objection to reason (3) is that the story about the spear wound to Jesus’ side is found ONLY in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel (John 19:31-37). This fact gives us good reason to doubt that the spear wound story is true. But there are other problems with the spear wound story, and since reason (3) is widely used in Christian apologetics, I’m going to take a bit more time to beat this particular deceased horse.
First, there are some general reasons to doubt the spear wound story:
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
GR4. The Passion narrative of the Fourth gospel is historically unreliable
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
(GR1) is a big topic that would take a book, or at least a few chapters in a book, to cover properly. But I’m just going to quote from a leading N.T. scholar, to show that this is more than just the opinion of a skeptical atheist with an ax to grind against the Christian faith.
According to N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders is “Probably the most influential NT scholar in the English-speaking world.” (The Original Jesus, p.155). If you look up “Jesus Christ” in the Encyclopædia Britannica, you will find an article written by E.P. Sanders. So, I think it worthwhile to give serious consideration to Sanders’ view of the gospels and of the effort to figure out what Jesus actually said and did:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom obtained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.
Recognizing these difficulties and many others, New Testament scholars spent several decades – from about 1910 to 1970 – saying that we know somewhere between very little and virtually nothing about the historical Jesus. Excess leads to reaction, and in recent decades we have grown more confident. Confidence, in fact, has soared, and recent scholarly literature contains what I regard as rash and unfounded assertions about Jesus – hypotheses without evidence to support them.
My own view is that studying the gospels is extremely hard work. I sympathize with the scholars who despaired of recovering much good evidence about Jesus. I also think, however, that the work pays off in the modest ways that are to be expected in the study of ancient history.
(from the Preface to The Historical Figure of Jesus[hereafter: HFJ], p.xiii)
Sanders is not a skeptic, nor is he an atheist looking for a way to attack the Christian faith. He is a leading mainstream N.T. scholar who warns us of the historically problematic nature of the gospels and that only with “extremely hard work” can we expect even “the modest” sort of results common to investigations of ancient history, and that there will unavoidably be “a good deal of uncertainty” concerning the words and deeds of the historical Jesus.
I am not as optimistic as Sanders is about discovering the historical Jesus through hard scholarly work. I am more of a Jesus agnostic, who has serious doubts about the possibility of “knowledge” about the words and deeds of Jesus and the events that he experienced (if he in fact existed). But Sanders view of the gospels is much more sane and reasonable than that of Norman Geisler.
Geisler simply makes all sorts of speculative claims about the crucifixion of Jesus based on the assumption that every detail found in the Fourth gospel is absolutely true, historical, and accurate. In doing so, Geisler shows that his views are completely outside of the mainstream of N.T. scholarship, and even outside of any resemblance of scholarship of any sort that deserves to be called such. E.P. Sanders would gag upon reading the crap that Geisler spews in his case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, although I am more skeptical than Sanders, my views are much closer to those of mainstream N.T. scholarship than are the views of Geisler (and other Christian apologists who make similar naive bible-thumping arguments).
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
Again, it would not be difficult to write an entire book on this one issue. So, I cannot do this topic justice here and now, but I will simply quote E.P. Sanders once again, to show that my skeptical views about the Fourth gospel are closer to mainstream N.T. scholarship than the naive and unreasonable views of Geisler.
Here is Sanders’ conclusion concerning the use of John as a source of information about Jesus:
The synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] are to be preferred as our basic source of information about Jesus. Yet their authors too were theologians and were capable of creativity. …There are no sources that give us the ‘unvarnished truth’; the varnish of faith in Jesus covers everything. Yet the synoptic authors did not homogenize their material, as John did. The joints and seams are visible, and the contents are quite diverse. There is nothing like the sameness of the Johannine monologues. The synoptic authors, that is, revised traditional material much less thoroughly than did John.
(HFJ, p.73)
Sanders discusses some differences between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Fourth gospel (John):
1. Narrative Outline/Framework
2. Contents – Jesus’ activities
3. Contents – Jeasus’ teaching
Sanders says these differences “are very substantial” (HFJ, p.66). After spelling out some differences in the narrative outlines, Sanders sums up his view about these differences between the synoptics and John:
The synoptic framework is at least as plausible as John’s, and it may have a slight edge.
This discussion may seem to imply that we must accept one or the other: either John (three Passovers; early cleansing of the Temple; informal trial) or the synoptics (one Passover; late cleansing; semi-formal trial). It is tempting to alternate between them on the basis of plausibility or intrinsic probability, while compromising on the question of duration: a ministry of eleven to twenty-five months (compromise); cleansing of the Temple near the end (synoptics); informal trial (John). We must, however, entertain another possibility altogether: perhaps none of the authors knew what took place when (except, of course, the trial and crucifixion). Possibly they had scattered bits of information, from which they constructed believable narratives that contain a fair amount of guesswork. Or perhaps they did not care about chronological sequence and arranged the material according to some other plan (for example, by topic). This would have resulted in chronological clues being scattered at random, and we could not draw good inferences from them.
(HFJ, p.69)
Both the synoptic gospels and John have somewhat plausible narrative frameworks. There is no clear winner here, and as Sanders admits, it might well be the case that neither narrative framework is based on actual history; the frameworks might be largely “guesswork” by the authors, or might be based on non-historical considerations, such as arranging events by topic.
The specific contents of the synoptics vs. John are what drives the judgement that the synoptics are a better source of information about Jesus. Sanders notes a couple of significant differences in terms of Jesus’ activities:
(1) In the synoptics many of Jesus’ healings, in fact some of those on which the story turns, are exorcisms. In John there are no exorcisms. …
(2) In the synoptics, when asked for a ‘sign’ of his authority, Jesus refuses to give one (Mark 8:11f). Among the most prominent aspects of John is a series of ‘signs’ of Jesus’ status and authority (John 2.11, 23; 4.48, 54; 6.2, 14; 7.31; 9.16; 11.47; 12.8, 37; 20.30).

(HFJ, p.69)
Although Sanders does not say this explicitly, N.T. scholars favor the historical reliability of the synoptics over John in terms of the above two significant differences in the activities of Jesus.
Sanders goes on to point out several significant differences between John and the synoptic gospels concerning the content and style of Jesus’ teaching (HFJ, p.70). Sanders then draws the following conclusions:
It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and that there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said, and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps.
Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.
(HFJ, p.70-71)
Sanders then argues that in at least some cases, the narrative outline in the gospel of John is “as strongly determined by the author’s own theology as its discourse material…” (HFJ, p.72). He concludes that, “…we can say neither that John was creative only with the teaching material, nor that he had a good source for his narrative and that he followed it faithfully.” (HFJ, p.72)
To be continued…

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus

Let me cut to the chase: Geisler’s case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” is crap. It might be marginally better than William Craig’s case, but it is most definitely a hot steaming pile of crap. As with Craig’s case, part of the reason Geisler’s case fails is that he tries to make his case in just a few pages. (This appears to be a common form of mental illness among Christian apologists.)
I’m tempted to work my way slowly through Geisler’s case, as I did with Craig’s case, going sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, exposing each instance of ignorance, credulity, bias, and bad reasoning. But that seems to be giving his pitiful effort too much respect and credibility. So, I will be a bit more quick-and-dirty in my critique of Geisler’s case for the death of Jesus.
Geisler has quite correctly stated a necessary condition for a successful case for the resurrection of Jesus:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that he really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120)
It would not be enough, of course, to simply show that Jesus died at some time or other in some way or other. Showing that Jesus drowned when he was just twelve, for example, would be of NO USE for proving the resurrection of Jesus. One must show that “Jesus actually died on the cross” on Good Friday, as an adult (in Jerusalem around 30 C.E.).
I agree with this criterion for a successful case for the resurrection. Let’s call this Geisler’s Criterion. On the basis of Geisler’s Criterion, I judge William Craig’s case for the resurrection to be a failure, because Craig has utterly and completely failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross. But Geisler has also failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross, so his case for the resurrection is also clearly a failure.
Geisler gives eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. We can set aside three of those reasons immediately, because they are clearly NOT evidence for this claim:
1. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged. …(WSA, p.120)
This is an objection to one specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. But raising a weak objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. I have almost never been drugged, and yet somehow I have managed to avoid dying day after day for many decades. Also, the fact that I have rarely been drugged does not indicate that it is likely that some day I will be crucified nor that I will die while on a cross. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
5. Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages… . He could not have unwrapped Himself, rolled the stone back up the side of its carved-out track, overcome the guards, and escaped unnoticed…(WSA, p.122)
This “reason” is not only based on various dubious historical claims, but it is also just another objection to a specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. A weak objection to one particular version of an alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”. The difficulty of escaping from being wrapped up in spices and bandages on a Sunday morning has no relevance to whether the person in question had previously died on a Friday afternoon. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
7. If Jesus had managed all this, His appearance would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Saviour. It is not likely that it would have turned the world upside down. (WSA, p.123)
This is probably the most common objection to the Apparent Death Theory, an objection that comes from David Strauss. I call this the “Sickly Jesus Objection”. There are many problems with this objection, but the main problem in this context is that an objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does NOT provide positive evidence in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. The Apparent Death Theory has many implications, and specific versions of it have additional implications. Showing that one or more such implications is false or questionable, does not provide positive evidence for the death of Jesus. This reason should be immediately flushed down the drain.
In fact, in some instances, refuting an implication of the Apparent Death Theory would also refute the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead. For example, the Apparent Death Theory assumes that Jesus was crucified. If someone could show that Jesus had NOT been crucified, or that it was doubtful that Jesus had been crucified, this would refute or cast doubt on the Apparent Death Theory. But such an objection would ALSO refute or cast doubt upon the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead (after being crucified). So, raising objections to the Apparent Death Theory does not necessarily provide support for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
Three down, five more reasons to go.
Two other reasons are relevant but are clearly weak reasons, and should both be quickly tossed aside:
4. The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs… Yet the Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking his legs (v.33). There was no doubt in their minds. (WSA, p.122).
6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead before releasing the body for burial. (WSA, p.122)
Both of these reasons are based on questionable historical assumptions, historical assumptions for which Geisler has provided either no historical evidence or dubious historical evidence. Geisler points us to an alleged event (the breaking of the legs of the other crucified men but not Jesus) that is found only in the Fourth Gospel, a Gospel which is considered to be an unreliable historical source by most leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Gospels cannot be relied upon to provide accurate details about what Pilate said on any specific occasion. We don’t know that Jesus was buried, nor do we know that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, nor do we know whether Joseph of Arimathea actually went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. We certainly do not know Pilate’s specific words and actions in relation to the release of Jesus’ body.
But even if we assume that Pilate did ask a Roman officer “for assurance that Jesus was really dead” this does not mean that Pilate actually received such assurance, and if he did receive assurance from a Roman officer that Jesus was already dead, this is still weak evidence. We don’t know the name of this officer. We know almost nothing about the intelligence, character, and background of this Roman officer. What we do know is that scientific medicine would not come into existence until more than a thousand years later, and that the Roman officer was supremely ignorant about the biology and physiology of the human body, as was everyone else in that period of time.
We have weak evidence for the claim that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident on Friday afternoon that Jesus had died on the cross (on the same day that he was crucified), and the assumption that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident that Jesus had died on the cross provides only weak evidence for the conclusion that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, although these reasons are relevant to this conclusion, they provide only weak support for it.
Five reasons down, three more to go.
Reason number eight can be set aside, because it reflects the same sort of ignorance and credulity that Geisler displays in the two other remaining reasons. Also, the content of reason number eight overlaps the content of the other two reasons, so if I can show that the other two reasons are weak or defective, that will also suffice to show that reason eight is weak or defective.
8. In the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded: “Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted…” (WSA, p.123)
Setting aside the purely medical assumptions and claims in this article, it is clear that this article is based on naive, ignorant, and credulous views of the New Testament. In other words, the historical scholarship in this article sucks. It is almost on the level of William Craig’s childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus. In any case, if I can show that there are serious problems with the remaining two reasons given by Geisler, this will also serve to show that this Journal article from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 256) has serious problems. So, we can set this reason aside and focus our attention on the two remaining reasons given by Geisler.
Six down, two more to go.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderThe Case for the Death of Jesus

I have written several posts about William Craig’s “case” for the death of Jesus in his book The Son Rises. In those posts I showed that Craig made about 81 historical claims, but failed to provide any historical evidence for 85% of those claims, and provided only weak and dubious historical evidence for the other 15% of claims. In short, Craig provided solid historical evidence for ZERO of the 81 historical claims he makes in his “case” for the death of Jesus. He completely failed to show that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and thus his case for the resurrection is also a complete failure.
However, I can imagine a response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
You are right. William Craig has generally ignored the issue of whether Jesus died on the cross, and his case for the death of Jesus in The Son Rises is pathetic. But the problem here is that Craig does not take this issue seriously, and so he does not make a serious effort to prove that Jesus died on the cross. In his view, the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross was settled long ago, and there is no need to re-hash the issue.
However, other Christian apologists take this question more seriously, and they make a more serious effort to build an historical case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, defeating Craig’s half-hearted effort in The Son Rises is something bordering on a Straw Man fallacy. You need to consider the cases made by other apologists. There are other Christian apologists who do a better job on this issue, such as Norman Geisler, Michael Licona, and Gary Habermas. Until you consider the cases made by these apologists, you have only refuted one of the weakest cases available.
I think this is a reasonable response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection. So, I plan to move on to examine cases for the death of Jesus by Geisler, Licona, and Habermas. I believe they in fact do a better job building a case for the death of Jesus than Craig has, so their cases deserve serious examination and consideration.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 8

In the first three paragraphs of William Craig’s “case” for the claim that Jesus died on the cross, Craig makes 60 different historical claims, but provides only ONE piece of actual historical evidence for just ONE of the 60 historical claims. Furthermore, the one piece of historical evidence provided by Craig is irrelevant to the historical claim it was supposed to support, based on a modern scholarly translation of the Major Declamations.
In paragraph four, Craig makes 22 historical claims, nearly half of which are supported ONLY by the historically dubious Fourth gospel:
although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, [claim 2]
they did not break Jesus’ legs [claim 3]
because [claim 4]
they saw that [claim 5]
He was already dead. [claim 6]
…one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side [claim 8]
to ensure that He was dead, [claim 9]
…blood and water flowed out. [claim 11]
wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices, [claim 19]
in Jesus’ case about seventy-five pounds of them. [claim 20]
Based on the assumption that claims (8) and (11) are true, Craig asserts some related medical claims, even though he has no medical expertise:
This flow [of blood and water] could have been a serum from the pericardial sac, mixed with blood from the heart,[claim 12]
or a hemorrhagic fluid in the pleural cavity between the ribs and the lungs. [claim 13]
No historical evidence is given in support of the remaining historical claims, except for claim (25):
According to procedure, […one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side] [claim 7]
Jesus was taken down from the cross [claim 14]
and buried in the customary Jewish manner. [claim 15]
This included [claim 16]
binding the hands and feet [claim 17]
and [also included wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices] [claim 18]
the body was then laid in a tomb carved out of rock, [claim 21]
and a great stone was laid across the entrance. [claim 22]
This was then sealed, [claim 23]
Claim (25) is supported only by the gospel of Matthew:
a guard was set around the tomb. [claim 25]

But, as Craig is well aware, the story in Matthew about guards watching the tomb of Jesus is doubted by many N.T. scholars, so simply pointing to the gospel of Matthew is not sufficient, not to mention that there are dozens of critical background questions about the gospel of Matthew that Craig has not even attempted to answer.
Craig has published an entire article defending the historicity of this one story found only in Matthew: “The Guard at the Tomb.” New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 273-81. You can read the article for yourself on Craig’s website:
The Guard at the Tomb
If simply citing the passage from Matthew was sufficient, then there would be no need for such an article. But, as the first sentence of the article states:
Matthew’s story of the guard at the tomb of Jesus is widely regarded as an apologetic legend.
Since many N.T. scholars doubt or reject the historicity of this story in Matthew, it is intellectually dishonest for Craig to assert this event as an historical fact and to simply point to the gospel of Matthew as his evidence.
Since claim (7) is a duplication of a claim from paragraph three, there are just 21 new historical claims in paragraph four, bringing the total number of historical claims in paragraphs one through four to 81.
No historical evidence was provided for 69 out of the 81 historical claims. For ten claims Craig points to (or could point to) passages in the Fourth gospel that describe events or details found ONLY in that gospel, a gospel considered to be historically unreliable by most of the leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries. For one claim Craig points to a story found only in the gospel of Matthew, a story that many leading N.T. scholars doubt or reject as being unhistorical. For one claim Craig provided the very poor historical evidence of the passage from Major Declamations (which he did not even bother to quote).
Thus, of the 81 historical claims that Craig makes in his “case” for the death of Jesus:
85% are simply asserted to be true with NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE being provided.
14% of those claims are supported by pointing to historically dubious passages about events or details that are found in ONLY ONE of the four gospels, mostly the historically unreliable Fourth gospel.
And one remaining claim is based on the weak and pathetic evidence of a passage from a book of fictitious courtroom speeches written by one or more unknown authors as an exercise to entertain others and to show off their fancy speech-making skills.
The fifth and final paragraph of Craig’s case merely repeats and summarizes previous claims, and provides no additional historical evidence in support of any of the many claims he has made. So, it should come as no surprise that Craig has not persuaded me that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday.
The only thing that Craig has managed to prove, is that it is simply NOT POSSIBLE to make a reasonable case for the death of Jesus on the cross in just two or three pages. It was just a bad idea from the start.
If one needs to make dozens of historical claims, as Craig has done in just a few paragraphs, then since each of those claims needs to be supported with historical evidence, and since each piece of historical evidence requires a significant amount of clarification, explanation, and justification as to how and why it is relevant and provides strong evidence for the claim in question, it will require at least two or three pages for EACH PIECE of historical evidence (recall that Craig wrote an entire article defending the historicity of the one passage in Matthew about the guard at the tomb), and since dozens of pieces of evidence will be required, we are talking about the need for one or two hundred pages to lay out a reasonable case for the death of Jesus on the cross.
I conclude that in Craig’s book The Son Rises, his very short “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross is a failure, and therefore I conclude that Craig’s case for the resurrection is indeed a complete failure, because he has failed to establish a basic assumption that is needed to prove the resurrection, namely the claim that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 7

In the first three paragraphs of William Craig’s “case” for the claim that Jesus died on the cross, Craig makes 60 different historical claims, but provides only ONE piece of actual historical evidence for just ONE of the 60 historical claims.
Furthermore, in part 6 of this series we saw that the one piece of historical evidence provided by Craig was CRAP. Based on a modern scholarly translation of the passage in question, the evidence is simply irrelevant to the historical claim it was supposed to support, and even given a more favorable alternative translation, the passage is at best weak and questionable evidence for only a part of the historical claim.
It is now time to move on to paragraph four, in which Craig makes a number of historical claims, about 25 claims by my count:
The gospels report that [claim 1]
although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, [claim 2]
they did not break Jesus’ legs [claim 3]
because [claim 4]
they saw that [claim 5]
He was already dead. [claim 6]
According to procedure, [claim 7]
one of the soldiers took his spear and stabbed Jesus in the side [claim 8]
to ensure that He was dead, [claim 9]
and, John reports, [claim 10]
blood and water flowed out. [claim 11]
This flow could have been a serum from the pericardial sac, mixed with blood from the heart,[claim 12]
or a hemorrhagic fluid in the pleural cavity between the ribs and the lungs. [claim 13]
Jesus was taken down from the cross [claim 14]
and buried in the customary Jewish manner. [claim 15]
This included [claim 16]
binding the hands and feet [claim 17]
and [also included] [claim 18]
wrapping the body in linen and aromatic spices, [claim 19]
in Jesus’ case about seventy-five pounds of them. [claim 20]
the body was then laid in a tomb carved out of rock, [claim 21]
and a great stone was laid across the entrance. [claim 22]
This was then sealed, [claim 23]
and, according to Matthew, [claim 24]
a guard was set around the tomb. [claim 25]

The very first claim Craig makes in paragraph four is FALSE. Furthermore, it is clearly false to anyone who is familiar with the Passion narratives in the gospels. The Fourth gospel (attributed to John) is the ONLY gospel of the four canonical gospels that reports the story about the breaking of the legs of the two criminals. So, it is simply FALSE to say that “The gospels report that although the Roman guards broke the legs of the two men…”. This does not inspire confidence in Craig as a careful historical scholar.
The claims about the stabbing of Jesus with a spear, are also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel, and the flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side is also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel. The claim about the use of seventy-five pounds of aromatic spices is also found ONLY in the Fourth gospel. So, Craig is relying heavily on the Fourth gospel for information about the death and burial of Jesus. Claims (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (8), (9), and (11) all rest on the Fourth gospel alone, as do claims (19) and (20). Claims (12) and (13) are proposed explanations for the “fact” asserted by claim (11), so claims (12) and (13) are relevant only if claim (11) is true.
Also, claims (12) and (13) are medical claims, but Craig is not a medical doctor, nor is he an expert in human physiology. So, he has no relevant expertise, and thus no authority upon which to simply assert such medical claims. Since there is no end note or reference to someone who does have relevant medical expertise, we can set those two claims aside as having no basis.
Three of the claims in paragraph four concern the contents of various gospels. The remaining 22 claims are concerned with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Of the 22 substantial historical claims, about half are based ONLY on the Fourth gospel.
As with the passage from Major Declamations, Craig fails to address dozens of questions that a reasonable person would need to have answered before accepting a passage from one or more gospels as being solid evidence for an historical claim about Jesus.
For example: Who wrote the gospels? What do we know about the authors? Did they have first-hand knowledge about Jesus’ crucifixion or burial? If not, how did they come by the information and stories about Jesus that they wrote down? Are they persons of honesty and integrity? Do the authors have any religious, political, or philosophical beliefs or values that might influence or bias what they wrote? When were the gospels written? What sort of genre are the gospels? Are they historical/biographical works? How old are the oldest manuscripts of the gospels that currently exist? How well preserved is the text of each gospel? Are there lots of significant differences and variations between existing manuscripts or only a few minor differences and variations? Are there textual issues or issues of translation or interpretation with any of the relevant passages? Etc., etc….
It is absurd and question-begging for Craig to draw any historical conclusions simply on the basis that “the gospels report…” certain events or details. Any critical thinker who is not already a committed Christian believer ought to have some doubts about the historical reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
Any one who is aware of the views of mainstream biblical scholars and Jesus scholars will know that such historians and scholars generally view the “reports” of the gospels with a good deal of skepticism and doubt. This general skepticism and doubt about the gospel accounts is even stronger when it comes to “reports” of events and details that are found exclusively in the Fourth gospel.
Many leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st Centuries have rejected the view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable historical source of information about Jesus:
• Gunther Bornkamm
• Joachim Jeremias
• James Robinson
• Norman Perrin
• E.P. Sanders
• Geza Vermes
• Ben Meyer
• Marcus Borg
• John Meier
• Gerd Theissen
• James Dunn
http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/2009/02/mcdowells-trilemma-argument-part-4.html
Gunther Bornkamm, E.P. Sanders, and Joachim Jeremias on the Fourth Gospel.
http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/2009/02/mcdowells-trilemma-argument-part-5.html
Norman Perrin, James Robinson, Geza Vermes, Ben Meyer, and Marcus Borg on the Fourth gospel.
http://crossexamination.blogspot.com/2009/03/mcdowells-trilemma-argument-part-6.html
John Meier, Gerd Theissen, and James Dunn on the Fourth gospel.
William Craig is well aware of the fact that mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars have rejected the view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable source of information about Jesus. Craig is perfectly within his rights to disagree with mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars on this question, but he has no right to simply ASSUME that the Fourth gospel is a historically reliable source. This is a view that most N.T. and Jesus scholars have rejected, so Craig ought to caution his readers on this point and provide some significant evidence and argumentation in defense of the highly controversial view that the Fourth gospel is a reliable source of information about Jesus. It is childish and pathetic to simply point to the Fourth gospel as “historical evidence” for claims about Jesus, especially for claims that are supported ONLY in the Fourth gospel and nowhere else.
Craig might have been blissfully ignorant of the serious problems with his use of the Major Declamations as historical evidence for claims about the crucifixion of Jesus, and his readers were no doubt also blissfully ignorant about those problems, but Craig knows better when it comes to using the gospels as historical evidence, and so do many of the skeptics and doubters that Craig is attempting to persuade and evangelize. He knows that mainstream N.T. and Jesus scholars are skeptical about the reliability of the gospels, and have generally rejected the Fourth gospel as a reliable source of information about Jesus. Thus, the offhand use of the gospels as historical evidence (“The Gospels report that…”) is completely unacceptable. This is NOT a serious attempt to provide historical evidence in support of historical claims about Jesus.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 6

William Craig claims that Jesus rose from the dead. In making this claim, Craig takes on a heavy burden of proof, including the burden to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday. However, in most of his books, articles, and debates, Craig simply ignores the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross. So, it appears to me that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
However, in The Son Rises (hereafter TSR), Craig does make a brief attempt, in just five paragraphs (consisting of 35 sentences), to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, before we can completely toss Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus aside as a failure, we need to consider his case for the death of Jesus in TSR. In previous posts, I have shown that in the first three paragraphs of his “case” for the death of Jesus, Craig makes dozens of historical claims, but provides almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence.
One exception to this absence of evidence in the first three paragraphs is a single end note (the only end note for the entire five-paragraph “case”) that points to a passage in an actual historical (i.e. ancient) document. The end note is provided as evidence for the following historical claim:
21. The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.
This historical claim is supported by the following end note:
Quintillian Declamationes maiores 6. 9.
In Part 5 of this series of posts, I pointed out that there are dozens of questions (at least three dozen) left unanswered by Craig concerning this bit of evidence, questions that a reasonable person would need to have answered before accepting this historical evidence as being relevant and as providing strong support for claim (21).
I’m not going to try to answer all of the dozens of questions here, but will provide answers to some of them, in order to show that there are in fact several RED FLAGS, several issues that raise doubts and concerns about this passage as evidence for claim (21). In other words, if Craig was doing actual honest historical investigation and argumentation, he would need to deal with even more questions than the basic three dozen that I have pointed out, because in answering some of those questions, RED FLAGS would be raised and new questions would therefore need to be answered before a reasonable person would accept this passage as relevant and strong evidence for claim (21).
Who the hell is Quintilian?
(Note: I’m shifting to what appears to be the more common spelling of this name).
Looking at the end note, one might guess that Quintilian was a Roman historian who wrote about the activities and practices of Roman soldiers or the Roman military. Perhaps Quintilian even had some personal experience as a Roman soldier or an officer in the Roman military that would give him first-hand knowledge of how crucifixions were carried out. But these guesses about Quintilian don’t match up to reality.
Quintilian was born in Spain around 40 C.E., shortly after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, so he lived in the first century, which is the best century for a source of information relevant to the crucifixion of Jesus. So far, so good.
But Quintilian was not a Roman soldier, nor an officer in the Roman military, nor was Quintilian an historian. Quintilian was a famous and highly regarded teacher of rhetoric and orator; in addition to teaching rhetoric, he would take on clients to argue for their position in a legal dispute. This is a RED FLAG. Quintilian was neither a Roman soldier nor an officer in the Roman military nor an historian of the Roman military. So, it is not clear why he should be considered a reliable source of information about the practices of Roman soldiers in carrying out executions by crucifixion.
What the hell is Declamationes maiores?
Since Quintilian was an expert in rhetoric and was not an historian, his writings might not include historical writings but rather consist of persuasive speeches and instruction concerning the creation and delivery of persuasive speeches.
As it turns out, the title of the book that Craig has cited is Major Declamations, which means, roughly: long speeches, and the content is basically fictitious courtroom speeches. The creation, perfection, and delivery of such speeches was a basic exercise of rhetoric in the days of the Roman Empire.
This is another RED FLAG. The work that Craig has cited is not only NOT a work of history, but is a work involving fictional characters and fictional stories, which were created NOT to present factual historical data, but as academic exercises used to develop and show off one’s rhetorical skills.
Worse yet, a common criticism of declamations as an educational exercise is the tendency of such exercises to stray from reality:
A common criticism leveled at declamation by contemporary and later observers concerned the subject matter of declamation and its separation from reality. Surprisingly, some of the sharpest censure is expressed by declaimers and rhetoricians themselves. The most famous is Quintilian…(The Major Declamations Ascribed to Quintilian: A Translation, by Lewis Sussman, p.v)
Furthermore, the actual content that we find in the Major Declamations provides a good deal of support for this criticism:
Indeed, in the Major Declamations we do find a sorcerer, an astrologer, a few wicked stepmothers, a tyrant, and the like. We could easily concoct the basis of a classic mystery thriller from MD 2, about a blind son apparently framed by his stepmother for murdering his father. A rather lurid set of circumstances occurs in MD 12, where the population of a city is reduced to cannibalism and its grain procurement agent is charged subsequently with dallying during his mission to secure provisions. One wonders how MD 18 and 19 could find room in a school curriculum: these paired controversiae deal with a handsome son suspected of committing incest with his mother. One finds further room for such speculation about MD 3 where a soldier in Marius’ army is on trial for the murder of a superior officer who tried to rape him. We even have a ghost story: in MD 10 a woman sues her husband for maltreatment because he hired a sorcerer to prevent his son’s spirit from visiting her. The common criticism therefore is that cases such as these are unnatural and far removed from the world of reality. (Major Declamations, p. v)
The translator, Lewis Sussman, worries that the reputation of declamations as “being totally unrealistic” has prevented historians from taking declamations seriously as a source of historical information:
Such a view causes scholars to disregard the information found in these collections and to relegate them to an inferior status among our ancient sources. (Major Declamations, p.vi)
Perhaps we can find some useful historical data in these ancient fictitious courtroom speeches, but clearly we cannot simply take the content of such speeches at face value. Extreme caution and careful analysis will be required to separate fact from fiction in these speeches.
Another important fact that Craig neglected to mention is that Quintilian was probably NOT the author of the passage to which Craig points, and may not be the author of ANY of the courtroom speeches found in Major Declamations:
The most widely held view now is that, indeed, Quintilian is not the author of the Major Declamations. (Major Declamations, (p.viii)
Sussman gives his own view on the authorship of this work:
Perhaps the key to the authorship question may be that someone at some time, perhaps in late antiquity, compiled a collection of notable declamations, among which were, in the larger collection at least, one by Quintilian (or perhaps someone bearing the same name). The power of Quintilian’s name was such that it eclipsed the lesser known rhetoricians represented and soon extended over the entire collection.
(Major Declamations, p.ix)
This is a RED FLAG. We don’t know who wrote the fictitious courtroom speech to which Craig points as historical evidence. So, we don’t know, for example, that this speech was composed in the first century (during the lifetime of Quintilian). It may have been composed in the second or third century, and thus could be from two hundred years after Jesus’ was crucified. Also, since we don’t know the author of this speech, we don’t have any external information about the beliefs and values and experiences and character of the author. The author might have been a person of great integrity and honesty, or the author might have been a lying, cheating, thief, who had almost no knowledge of the practices of Roman soldiers (not a huge leap considering we are talking about a rhetorician or a lawyer).
Another RED FLAG is that declamations were full of rhetorical pyrotechnics and emotional appeals, making them less than straightforward prose, and making them difficult to translate and to understand. These speeches included
“…a conclusion, emotion-filled and often overdone.”(MD, p.iii) “Special attention is paid…to achieving emotional effects, especially pathos.” (MD, p.iii).
Showing off of rhetorical skills often involved sacrifice of clarity:
Frequently interspersed within the arguments in an attempt to crystallize and clinch the declaimer’s point are short, pithy, epigrammatic utterances (sententiae). But instead of helping to achieve clarity through such summarization, these sententiae are often so enigmatically constructed that confusion and ambiguity result.
(MD, p.iii)
…one constantly finds, often to the point of excess, all the flourishes and stylistic devices expected from a professional master of rhetoric during the Silver Age. Alliteration, assonance, anaphora, and asyndeton are especially common, along with every other kind of trope and figure. Prose rythm is carefully observed. Rhetorical questions abound…. Superlatives are freely and excessively used… Antithetical and exaggerated utterances abound. The use of sententiae, previously mentioned, is a marked feature of the declamatory style;…Irony, sarcasm, and hyperbole are essential ingredients of the argumentative style.
(MD, p.iii & iv)
Overall, the impression…is one of poetic coloring….Yet the pervasive flavor throughout the majority of the Major Declamations is one of verbosity, pomposity, affectation, and bombast…. Surely the style is one of an expert exulting in and displaying for an audience his mastery of every device in the rhetorician’s repertoire. The effect is to render comprehension difficult indeed, either through excessive prolixity or terseness.
(MD, p.iv)
In other words, translation and interpretation of this work is difficult and tricky.
What the hell is the content of Major Declamations 6.9?
As if the previous RED FLAGs weren’t enough, the biggest, reddest flag concerns the actual content of the passage to which Craig points us, but which Craig did not bother to quote. Prior to Lewis Sussman’s translation of MD, the most recent translation into English was done three hundred years ago by John Warr. So, if you want a modern translation, a translation which takes into account “the subsequent advances in scholarship, our understanding of the textual tradition of this work, and…the recent appearance of a superbly done Latin text by Hakanson” (MD, p.i), then you will want to consult the translation created by Sussman.
Here is the relevant portion of MD 6, section 9, translated by Sussman:
But bodies are cut down from crosses, executioners do not prevent executed criminals from being buried, and the pirates did no more than throw the corpse into the sea.
(MD, p.75)
Do you see anything about Roman soldiers using their lances to stab victims of crucifixion here? No. How about Roman soldiers using their lances in any way? No. How about stabbing a victim of crucifixion with any sort of weapon or tool? No. What about the idea that victims of crucifixion would often be left to rot on a cross? No. If anything, this passage indicates that the normal practice was to allow burial of the crucified person. So, if you use the modern English translation of MD, then the passage to which Craig points provides NO SUPPORT AT ALL for claim (21)!
In fairness to Craig, there is an ambiguity in the Latin here. The word ‘percutio’ is translated as ‘cut down’ by Sussman, but some others translate this as ‘strike’ or ‘pierce’. So, it is possible that this passage provides some degree of evidence for the practice of stabbing victims of crucifixion, depending on how the passage is translated. But there is no reference to a ‘lance’ being used in this passage, so striking might not refer to ‘stabbing with a lance’. It might mean striking with a fist, or striking with a club, or stabbing with a nail, or stabbing with a needle, or stabbing with a small knife. There is a whole lot of room for alternative translations and interpretations of this passage.
But given the scholarly advantages of the Sussman translation, the best bet is that the passage says NOTHING about striking or stabbing a victim of crucifixion.
In view of the many RED FLAGs that have been raised by answering a few of the three dozen questions that Craig failed to answer, I conclude that the historical evidence that Craig has provided in support of claim (21) is crap. It appears to be irrelevant to claim (21) or at the very best to provide only weak and questionable support for claim (21).
This outcome demonstrates the importance of doing a careful job of explaining, clarifying, and defending the relevance and significance of a piece of historical evidence in relation to a specific historical claim. Craig did not address even ONE of the three dozen questions that he ought to have touched upon. But when we take it upon ourselves to dig up the answers to some of those critical questions, it turns out that his historical evidence is either irrelevant or is insignificant as support for claim (21).
P.S. Note that answering and reflecting upon just a few of the three dozen basic questions about this bit of historical evidence has required me to write well over the five skimpy paragraphs that compose the entirety of Craig’s “case” for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
Clearly, if Craig had taken the task of presenting historical evidence for the death of Jesus seriously, if he had attempted to answer and take into consideration even one-third of the three dozen questions that he should have addressed concerning this piece of historical evidence, then he would have written more on this ONE piece of evidence than he wrote for his ENTIRE “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross. This is further evidence that it is absurd to try to make an historical case for the death of Jesus in just two or three pages.

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 5

William Craig’s case for the resurrection is a failure because he does not make a solid case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday”. In most of his books, articles and debates, Craig usually just ignores the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross, but in The Son Rises (TSR), he does make a brief attempt to prove this claim in just five paragraphs, consisting of 35 sentences.
In the first three paragraphs of this “case”, Craig makes dozens of historical claims about Jesus and the crucifixion, but he provides ZERO historical evidence to support these claims, up until the final two sentences of paragraph three. Near the end of paragraph three Craig provides an end note that points to actual historical evidence. The main historical claim at the end of paragraph three is this:
21. The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.
This historical claim is supported by the following end note:
Quintillian Declamationes maiores 6. 9.
Although Craig is to be commended for (at last) providing some actual historical evidence in support of a relevant historical claim, this end note is a nearly perfect example of how NOT to support an historical claim.
There are many questions that need to be answered before a reasonable person will accept the evidence here as a solid justification for claim (21). But Craig has merely pointed in the general direction of the historical evidence, and provided almost no information or reasoning that is needed to connect the evidence to claim (21), or to evaluate the relevance and strength of the evidence in relation to establishing this claim.
Who the hell is Quintillian?
1. When did Quintillian live?
2. Where did Quintillian live?
3. What did Quintillian do for a living?
4. What do we know about Quintillian’s culture and values?
5. What do we know about Quintillian’s education and intelligence?
6. What do we know about Quintillian’s character and integrity?
7. What do we know about Quintillian’s travels and life experiences?
8. How did Quintillian get his information about Roman crucifixion practices?
9. Was he a Roman soldier or officer who participated in crucifixions?
10. Did he personally witness any Roman crucifixions?
11. How many crucifixions did he witness?
12. Did he know any Roman soldiers or officers who participated in crucifixions?
13. Did he get his information by reading books or documents written by others?
14. Are there other claims made by Quintillian about Roman military practices which can be independently confirmed or disconfirmed?
15. What is Quintillian’s general track-record in terms of the reliability of his historical claims?
These are the sorts of questions that a reasonable person would need answers to in order to evaluate Quintillian as a source of historical information.
What the hell is Declamationes maiores?
16. Was this entire work authored by Quintillian?
17. Was this work originally written in Latin?
18. If not, then in what language was it written?
19. Is this work available in English translation?
20. What does the title mean, translated into English?
21. When was this book written?
22. Where was this book written?
23. What sort of work is this? (A play? A book of poetry? An instruction manual? A book of science or mathematics? A book of history? A book of legends?)
24. What are the specific topics and themes of this work?
25. How is the work organized?
26. For what audience was this work originally intended?
27. How good is the text of the available copies of this work?
28. Were the existing copies made soon after the original, or centuries later?
29. Do the existing copies have only a few minor differences and variations, or are there numerous significant differences and variations between existing copies?
30. Is the text complete, or are there missing words or missing pages or missing sections?
What the hell is contained in section 6.9?
31. What sort of writing is contained in 6.9? (a poem? a play? a biographical sketch? a personal anecdote? a personal account of a crucifixion?)
32. Are there any doubts about whether Quintillian is the author of this passage?
33. Are there any significant textual issues with this passage?
34. Are there any significant translation issues with this passage?
35. Are there any significant issues concerning the interpretation of this passage?
36. Does the passage clearly and explicitly assert that “The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body of a victim of crucifixion on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim of crucifixion with a lance.”, or does it say something very similar to this, but in slightly different words, or does it say something very different, but from which Craig believes we can legitimately infer claim (21)?
37. What, precisely, does that passage say (translated into English)?
These are all fairly basic and common sorts of questions to ask when a reasonable person is trying to evaluate the relevance and significance of a bit of historical evidence from an ancient historical document. But Craig does not answer a single one of the above questions. So, a reasonable person has no way to determine whether this bit of historical evidence is in fact relevant to claim (21) or whether it provides any significant support for claim (21).
Furthermore, when most of the above questions have been answered, the answers may result in raising a RED FLAG, a reason for doubting the relevance or significance of this bit of evidence. If the answers to any of the above 37 questions raises a RED FLAG, then a reasonable person will have further questions to ask that also need to be answered before this evidence is accepted as being relevant and as providing significant support for claim (21).
As a matter of fact, the answers to a number of the above questions do raise RED FLAGS, and so there are several more questions that need to be considered and answered before a reasonable person would accept the evidence from this passage as being relevant and as providing strong support for claim (21).
Other than to point in the general direction of a specific passage in an ancient work, Craig has failed to provide any of the information and reasoning required for a reasonable person to properly evaluate the relevance and significance of this bit of historical data. This is a clear example of what NOT to do when presenting historical evidence in support of an historical claim.
I hope that this helps to show why it is absurd to try to prove the historical claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday” in just two or three pages. Craig has made dozens of historical claims in the first three paragraphs of his “case”, but failed to provide historical evidence to support any of those claims, other than claim (21) of paragraph three, and although he does point us to a passage in an actual historical document, he fails to provide any information or reasoning to show how that this passage is relevant to claim (21) or that it provides strong evidence in support of claim (21). He leaves dozens of basic questions unanswered concerning the value of this bit of historical evidence.
In order to answer most of the above basic questions about the one piece of historical evidence to which Craig points as support for just one historical claim, one would need to write at least three or four pages, which would be, by itself, longer than Craig’s entire case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”.
But Craig has made dozens of historical claims, and needs to provide one or more pieces of historical evidence in support of each of those claims. Even if some bits of evidence can support more than one claim, there will still need to be many different pieces of evidence provided. Each piece of historical evidence will require some information and reasoning to show that the evidence is relevant and provides significant support for the historical claim made. Such information and reasoning can easily require a number of pages of text for each piece of evidence. So, assuming that Craig does need to make dozens of historical claims, he will also need to provide many different pieces of historical evidence and each piece of evidence will need to be described, clarified, explained, and shown to be both relevant and significant in relation to the historical claim being supported.
One simply CANNOT make dozens of historical claims, provide dozens of pieces of historical evidence, and properly describe, clarify, and explain each of those dozens of pieces of evidence and their relevance and significance in just two pages. This simply is not possible, unless Craig wants to publish his books and articles in microscopic font (so that 50 pages worth of text can be fit onto two pages in a book).

bookmark_borderCraig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 4

William Craig asserts that “Jesus rose from the dead”. In making this claim, Craig takes on a burden of proof. A crucial part of this burden is to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, since a person can rise from the dead ONLY IF they have previously died. Unfortunately, in most of his books, articles, and debates, Craig simply ignores this issue.
However in The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (hereafter: TSR), Craig does make a brief attempt to prove that Jesus did actually die on the cross.
Craig’s case for the death of Jesus is made in a little more than just two pages of text, in five paragraphs, consisting in a grand total of 35 sentences. I have reviewed the first 24 sentences (about two-thirds of Craig’s case) and the results are as follows: Craig has made about 53 historical claims related to the crucifixion and alleged death of Jesus, but he has provided ZERO historical evidence to support the dozens of claims he has made. So, it looks like Craig’s case for the death of Jesus is a complete failure, and thus that his case for the resurrection is a complete failure as well.
There are 11 more sentences left to consider, so perhaps Craig can pull off a miracle of his own and prove the death of Jesus in just 11 sentences (but I’m not going to hold my breath over this). In today’s post, I will only examine the last two sentences of paragraph three.
These sentences assert several historical claims, and potentially they represent a complex logical structure, and this is also the one and only place in Craig’s case for the death of Jesus where he provides an End Note, citing a passage from a document as historical evidence for an important historical claim. I have a few things to say about this End Note and the evidence to which it points.
In the last two sentences of paragraph three, I believe that Craig asserts about seven historical claims:
It is interesting to note that because [claim 19]
it is difficult to determine just when the victim dies [claim 20],
the Romans, if they did not simply leave the body on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim with a lance. [claim 21]
The Roman executioners were aware that [claim 22]
death might be apparent [claim 23]
and [thus for that reason] [claim 24]
had a method of ensuring that the victim was really dead. [claim 25]
NOTE: The numbering of claims starts over with each paragraph, so “claim 25” above is the 25th claim in paragraph three (not the 25th claim overall).
One could argue that the last sentence in this paragraph merely re-iterates in different words what was already asserted in the second-to-last sentence. This is a plausible interpretation, but there are some subtle differences between the claims made in the two sentences, and it seems to me that these various specific claims can be put together in a logical structure that is relevant to the question at issue, so I’m inclined to think that all (or most) of these claims should be taken as separate historical claims.
Here are the seven historical claims from the end of paragraph three, spelled out a bit more clearly:
19. Because it is difficult to determine just when the victim [of a crucifixion] dies, the Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.
Claim 19 is a causal historical claim that implies or presupposes two other historical claims:
20. It is difficult to determine just when the victim [of a crucifixion] dies.
21. The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.
22.The Roman executioners were aware that death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual].
23. Death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual].
24. Because the Roman executioners were aware that death [for a victim of crucifixion] might be apparent [but not actual], the Roman executioners had a method of ensuring that the victim [of a crucifixion] was really dead.
25. The Roman executioners had a method of ensuring that the victim [of a crucifixion] was really dead.
I can make use of all seven of the above claims in a logical structure that seems somewhat plausible:

Claim (20) does seem to be a reason supporting claim (23), and claim (23) does seem to provide support for claim (22). Claim (21) does provide a reason supporting claim (25). However, I don’t think the above analysis accurately captures the meaning of the last two sentences of paragraph three.
One problem is that a key inference in the reasoning, according to this proposed interpretation, is that claims (22) and (25) work together to support claim (24). Claim (24) is a causal or explanatory historical claim. While it is true that (24) presupposes the truth of claims (22) and (25), these two claims are merely necessary conditions for (24), and they don’t really provide a solid reason for believing (24) to be true. This inference would border on the post hoc fallacy.
For example:
(S) John was smoking in bed last night (in his own home).
(F) John’s house caught on fire and burned to the ground last night.
Therefore:
(C) John’s smoking in bed last night caused John’s house to catch on fire and burn to the ground.
Claim (C) does presuppose the truth of (S) and (F), but (S) and (F) provide only a very weak reason for believing (C). The truth of (S) and (F) merely show that it is a plausible or reasonable hypothesis that (C) correctly explains why John’s house burned to the ground last night. There are still many other possible explanations that ought to be considered and investigated (unless someone actually saw John’s burning cigarette ignite the bed sheets and the fire on the bed sheets ignite the curtains, etc.). We cannot immediately conclude that John caused the fire simply because smoking in bed is dangerous and could potentially lead to a fire.
I’m not inclined to accuse Craig of a post hoc fallacy at the end of paragraph three. Also, it seems to me that claim (21) is at the heart of the matter, and that the other claims play a much less vital role. I don’t think Craig cares much about WHY the Roman soldiers had various practices and techniques related to crucifixion. What he cares about is THAT they did have a specific method for ensuring that a victim of crucifixion was really dead.
So, I think a more charitable, and more plausible, interpretation of the last two sentences of paragraph three would be that Craig is mainly ASSERTING claim (21), and that the other claims merely serve to show that (21) is a plausible historical claim: it makes sense that the Romans would have a method to ensure the death of a victim of crucifixion, given that death could (in some cases) be merely apparent but not actual.
But showing that (21) is plausible is not the same as showing that (21) is true. The truth of (21) is supported by the one-and-only end note that Craig provides for his five-paragraph “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross:
Quintillian Declamationes maiores 6. 9.
I have a few comments and objections concerning this footnote and the historical evidence to which it points, and that will be the topic of my next post in this series.