bookmark_borderDid Jesus Die on the Cross? Part 2: Finishing Off Geisler’s Case

It is springtime! The sky is blue, and the sun is shining again here in the great and green Northwest.
Every year Easter brings life back into me.  I feel born again, inspired and energized to once again attack the beast (i.e. Christianity/religion/superstition).  I might be tilting at a windmill, but I’m delighted to be back in the saddle, fighting the good fight, crusading against Christianity.
(Although he probably despises me right now, I’m feeling a bit like the energetic and aggressive atheist, Mr. John Loftus.  Happy Easter John!)
The Christian claim I’m currently examining is this:
(JDC) Jesus died on the cross on the day he was crucified.
I have finished reviewing the rest of Geisler’s case for (JDC) in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA), and I’m going to (***SPOILER ALERT***) give you my conclusion right up front:
Geisler’s case for (JDC) is a complete failure.
Recently after working my way through most of Geisler’s case for the existence of God in the same book (WSA), I concluded that his case for God was a complete failure.  So, in WSA Geisler has presented us with at least two key cases in support of Christianity, both of which are of the same unbelievably poor intellectual quality.
================================
To Dr. Geisler:
If you are reading this post, why not try building a real case for (JDC)?
I’ve tried to get Dr. Craig to do this, but he refuses to budge.  Since Craig has no interest in building an intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus, you have an opportunity to step up to the plate and do the job.
Please consider my challenge to you.  I’m sick of reading the sort of intellectually shoddy apologetic cases that you wrote in When Skeptics Ask (and that William Craig wrote in The Son Rises), and I would love to read an intellectually serious case for the resurrection, to sink my teeth into.   Just Do It!
================================
The section of WSA that I’m looking at starts on page 120, and has this title:
JESUS ACTUALLY DIED ON THE CROSS
Geisler makes eight points in this section:

  1. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged.
  2. The heavy loss of blood makes Jesus’ death highly probable.
  3. When Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out.
  4. The professional Roman executioners declared Jesus dead without breaking his legs.
  5. Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages.
  6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead.
  7. Jesus’ appearance [on Sunday] would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Saviour.
  8. A JAMA article concludes that “interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with medical knowledge.”

Three of these points (1, 5, and 7) are objections to specific versions of the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter: ADT).  At best, those objections cast doubt on some specific versions of ADT, so they do NOT rule out ADT in general.  The only way to rule out ADT in general is to PROVE that (JDC) is true. (At least, that is the only way a Christian apologist can rule out ADT.  A skeptic could rule out ADT by proving that Jesus never existed, or by proving that Jesus was never crucified, or by proving that a Jesus look-alike was crucified and mistaken for Jesus.) We can thus set aside points 1, 5, and 7 as irrelevant to the task of proving (JDC) to be true.
Let’s also set aside point 8, because that is a dubious appeal to authority.  Geisler quoting from that JAMA article is very similar to Donald Trump quoting Fox News commentators to “prove” that Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wire-tapped.  The “authorities” who wrote that JAMA article have about as much intellectual credibility as the Fox News commentators.  The authors of the JAMA article are clearly biased and are incompetent for the task of careful and objective analysis of historical evidence.  Anyway, a serious intellectual case for (JDC) should focus on ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVIDENCE and should not rest on dubious arguments from authority.
Now we are left with the real heart of Geisler’s case for (JDC): points 2, 3, 4, and 6.
In Part 1 of this series, I showed that point 2 was a complete failure, so we now only need to examine the three remaining points (3, 4, and 6).
3. When Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out.
Here is a fuller quote from Geisler on this third point:
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 his 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).  (WSA, p.121)
In that paragraph, Geisler makes ten relevant claims:
(3a) Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear (while he was hanging on the cross).
(3b) Water and blood flowed out of the wound in Jesus’ side (from the spear).
(3c) The thrust (of the spear into Jesus’ side) given by a Roman soldier (was intended) to insure death.
(3d) The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced Jesus’ right lung.
(3e) The spear pierced the sack around Jesus’ heart.
(3f) The spear pierced Jesus’ heart itself.
(3g) The spearing of Jesus’ side resulted in releasing both blood and pleural fluids.
(3h) Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross.
(3i)  Jesus was probably dead before the spear wound was inflicted.
(3j)  The spear wound to Jesus’ side would have been fatal in itself.
Each of these ten claims is an historical claim, so each of these claims needs to be established on the basis of historical evidence.  But Norman Geisler has no clue about how to make a case for an historical claim:

  • Dr.Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3c)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3d)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3e)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3f)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3g)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3h)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3i)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (3j)

Although Geisler comes close to providing ZERO historical evidence in relation to his third point, he narrowly avoids making this point completely free of any historical evidence by dropping a tiny little morsel at the end of the paragraph:
(v.34)
You would think that an Evangelical professor of theology would know how to give a proper reference to a passage in one of the Gospels, but Dr. Geisler cannot be bothered to strain himself to the extent of writing out the name of the Gospel, and the relevant chatper.  So, I will have to fill in the missing information for him:  John 19:34.  This is the entire extent of Dr. Geisler’s historical evidence in support of claims (3a) and (3b), the only claims out of his ten claims (in this third point) that he supports with historical evidence.
There are so many problems and weaknesses with this bit of historical evidence that it is hard to know where to begin.  Because Dr. Geisler makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to interpret, explain, or defend this small scrap historical evidence, I’m not going to put much effort in here to debunk this weak and questionable bit of evidence.
I will quickly point out some of the problems, and then move on to point 4.  If Dr. Geisler decides someday to make a serious attempt at proving (JDC), then I will respond in kind and make a more serious effort to refute or cast doubt on his historical claims.
Here are some of the many points that I would make (and support with arguments and evidence) if Dr. Geisler ever puts forward an intellectually serious case that makes use of claims (3a) or (3b):

  • The Fourth Gospel was NOT written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four canonical gospels.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the spearing of Jesus in his side.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the blood and water coming from Jesus’ side.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the doubting Thomas story (where Thomas is invited to touch the wound in Jesus’ side, see John 20:24-29).
  • The flow of blood and water from Jesus’ side is very rich in terms of theological symbolism, suggesting that this detail was invented for theological reasons.
  • The author of the Fourth Gospel believed that there was an Old Testament prophecy that the messiah would be stabbed with a spear (John 19:37), so this detail may well have been based on the OT prophecy rather than on testimony about the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • There are several conflicts between the Synoptic gospels accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and crucifixion and death and the accounts of those events found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel.
  • There are conflicts between the doubting Thomas story in the Fourth Gospel and events described in other gospels.
  • Most of the events and details found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel are historically dubious, and probably fictional.

I conclude that point 3 is as much a complete intellectual failure as was point 2.
Now we will move on to point 4 of Dr. Geisler’s case for (JDC):
4. The professional Roman executioners declared Jesus dead without breaking his legs.
Here is a fuller quote of the paragraph on this point:
The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs so that he could not lift himself to exhale.  The victim would then be asphyxiated as his lungs filled with carbon dioxide.  Be clear on this: they broke everyone’s legs.  Yet the professional Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking his legs (v.33).  There was no doubt in their minds.  (WSA, p.122)
In that paragraph on point 4 Geisler makes nine historical claims:
(4a) It was standard procedure for crucifixion (by Romans in the first century) to break the victim’s legs (while the victims were hanging from the cross).
(4b) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) the intention of this action was to prevent the victim from lifting himself to exhale.
(4c) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) this IN FACT prevented the victim from lifting himself to exhale.
(4d) When the legs of a victim of crucifixion were broken (by Romans in the first century) the victim would then be asphyxiated as his lungs filled with carbon dioxide.
(4e) When Roman soldiers crucified people (in the first century), they broke the legs of every victim (while the victims hung on their crosses).
(4f) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus were professional executioners.
(4g) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus declared Jesus to be dead (before removing him from the cross).
(4h) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus did NOT break Jesus’ legs (before removing him from the cross).
(4i) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus had no doubt in their minds that Jesus was dead (before removing him from the cross).
Each of these nine claims is an historical claim, so each of these claims needs to be established on the basis of historical evidence.  But Norman Geisler is oblivious to this simple and basic intellectual requirement:

  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4a)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4b)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4c)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4d)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4e)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4f)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4g)
  • Dr. Geisler provides no historical evidence in support of claim (4i)

Once again, Geisler provides only one small scrap of evidence for only one of the nine historical claims in point 4:
(4h) The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus did NOT break Jesus’ legs (before removing him from the cross).
Once again, Geisler doesn’t even provide a proper biblical reference to the relevant gospel passage; instead what we get is this:
(v.33)
Once again, I will have to provide the missing information for Dr. Geisler:  John 19:33.
Some of the problems with John 19:34 that I mentioned above apply to John 19:33 as well:

  • The Fourth Gospel was NOT written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus.
  • The Fourth Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four canonical gospels.
  • There are several conflicts between the Synoptic gospels accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and crucifixion and death and the accounts of those events found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel.
  • Most of the events and details found in Chapter 19 of the Fourth Gospel are historically dubious, and probably fictional.

As with the spear wound to Jesus’ side, the Fourth Gospel is alone in mentioning the breaking of the legs of the crucifixion victims:

  • The Fourth Gospel is the ONLY gospel that mentions the breaking of the legs of the (other) victims of crucifixion.

One other specific reason to doubt the historicity of John 19:33 is that the alleged failure of the soldiers to break Jesus’ legs was believed by the author of the Fourth Gospel to be a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy:
These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  (John 19:36)
The Old Testament reference is to Psalm 34:20.  Most NT scholars believe that many of the details in the Passion Narratives were derived from OT passages that the authors of the gospels believed to be prophecies about the promised messiah.
The ONE small scrap of evidence that Dr. Geisler provides in support of just ONE of his nine claims, is a very weak and dubious bit of evidence.
I conclude that point 4 is a complete intellectual failureand thus we have seen, so far, that at least three out of the four main points in Dr. Geisler’s case for (JDC) are complete intellectual failures.  That is sufficient to justify the conclusion that his case for (JDC) is a a complete intellectual failure.
Statistics:  
For points 2, 3, and 4, Geisler makes 28 historical claims:

  • For 0 of those historical claims (0%),  he provides strong historical evidence.
  • For 4 of those historical claims (14%), he provides only weak and dubious historical evidence.
  • For 24 of those historical claims (86%), he provides no historical evidence.

 
Point 6 of Geisler’s Case for (JDC)
Point 6, it should be no surprise, also turns out to be a complete intellectual failure:
6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead.
Here is the full quote from Geisler on this point:
Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead before releasing the body for burial. (WSA, p.122)
That is the sum total that Dr. Geisler wrote on this point.  Notice that he provides no historical evidence to support his claim.
If a professor of an undergraduate course in Christian apologetics asked his/her students to write a short essay defending (JDC), and if one of the students in that course turned in the assignment having written just one single sentence on a single piece of paper, namely the sentence above, then that student ought to receive an “F” for that assignment.
If the professor was feeling particulaly kind and generous, the wayward student might be given the opportunity to have the grade bumped up to a “D” by providing at least a reference to some Gospel passage that supports this claim.  But I’m not feeling particularly generous towards Dr. Geisler, because he already has three stikes, based on the fact that each of his previous three points was a complete intellectual failure (not to mention that he has a doctoral degree and is a professor of Christian apologetics and philosophy, so ought to be held to a much higher standard than undergraduate students).  So, Dr. Geisler gets and “F” for point 6.
But suppose that Geisler had provided some historical evidence to support this historical claim by citing an appropriate Gospel passage, such as Mark 15:42-45?   That would have at least shown a modicum of respect for the basic requirement to provide historical evidence in support of historical claims.
But there are many serious problems with the historicity of Chapter 15 of Mark, and there are specific reasons to doubt the historicity of the specific passage related to point 6, so this is, once again, weak and dubious historical evidence, in addition to the fact that Geisler did not bother to provide any reference to any Gospel passage.
I am tempted to walk through the dozen or more historical problems with Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark, but since Dr. Geisler has provided such a thoroughly lousy defense of (JDC), I don’t feel any obligation to provide a thorough refutation of point 6.
If you want more information about why we should be skeptical about Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark and about the specific passage that relates to point 6, then read the commentary on Chapter 15 of Mark in The Acts of Jesus (by Robert Funk and The Jesus Seminar), pages 149-161.
======================
P.S.
The idea that a solid case could be made for (JDC) in just two or three pages is ridiculous.
Yet William Craig, Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, and Michael Licona have all embraced this absurd assumption, which is a large part of the reason why each of their cases for (JDC) are complete intellectual failures.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Die on the Cross? Part 1: Geisler’s Case

According to the Christian philosopher Dr. Norman Geisler:
Before we [i.e. Christian believers] can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that he really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120)
William Lane Craig does not understand this basic principle concerning the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and as a result his case for the resurrection is a complete failure, because he makes no serious attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.
However, there are Christian apologists who do understand this principle, and they, unlike Craig, do attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.  Geisler himself, makes this attempt in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA) on pages 120 to 123.  Gary Habermas and Michael Licona also understand this principle, and in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, they also make a brief attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross (see pages 99 to 102).
It is pathetic that Geisler’s case for this crucial claim is presented in less than two pages of text (the relevant content begins in the bottom 1/3 of page 120, a full page out of the four pages is taken up with illustrations, and three of the eight points on those pages are irrelevant to showing Jesus’ death on the cross).
It is pathetic that Habermas and Licona devote only about two pages of text to this crucial issue (the text starts at the bottom of page 99 so there is hardly any content on that page, and more than half of page 101 is taken up with a diagram, and the bottom 1/4 of page 102 moves on to a different issue).
If someone could prove that Elvis Presley was alive today, then I would immediately conclude that Elvis had NOT actually died back in 1977, as is commonly believed.  If someone then tried to persuade me that Elvis had risen from the dead, I would insist that they provide me with a rock-solid case showing that Elvis had actaully died on August 16th in 1977 AND that Elvis remained dead (no heartbeat and no breathing) for at least 24 hours (to rule out resuscitation by human or other natural means).
If the person who claimed that Elvis had risen from the dead then handed me two pages of typed text and claimed that those two pages contained a rock-solid case showing that Elvis had truly died on August 16th in 1977, I would laugh loudly, wad the peices of paper into a ball, and toss them in the nearest garbage can. I would tell this person to come back and see me when they had published a full-length book proving the death of Elvis.
I’m inclined to treat Geisler’s two-page case and the Habermas/Licona two-page case with the same contempt, but since they have at least shown some tiny crumb of respect for logic and for the principle stated by Geisler above, I’m going to pretend, at least temporarily, that they have made a serious attempt to show that Jesus actually died on the cross.
Let’s look at Geisler’s “case” first.
Geisler’s first point is an argument against a particular version of the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter: ADT), and his point does nothing to show that Jesus actually died on the cross.  So, the first point is irrelevant to this issue.
Geisler’s second point is clearly relevant:
The heavy loss of blood makes death highly probable.  (WSA, p.120)
The phrase “heavy loss of blood” is VAGUE.  How many cubic centimeters of blood did Jesus lose that day?  Geisler does not say.  Geisler does not provide an estimate of the number of CCs of blood lost by Jesus.  Geisler does not even provide an estimated range of the number of CCs of blood lost by Jesus.  Geisler does not even attempt to provide an estimated range of the number of CCs of blood lost by Jesus, because any such estimate would be pure speculation without any solid factaul basis.
Millions upon millions of people have experienced “heavy blood loss” without dying, so in order to make this point stick, Geisler needs to provide more precise information than this very vague claim.  Yes, IF Jesus experienced a “heavy loss of blood” on Good Friday, THEN that increases the likelihood that Jesus died on the cross.  But, we are not talking about a high probability here.
At the most, the VAGUE claim that Jesus experienced “heavy blood loss” only makes it more probable than not that Jesus died on the cross, and this probability applies ONLY without taking into consideration the assumption that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday.  Once we take into consideration the assumption that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, this overwhelms the fact of “heavy blood loss” on Friday, and leaves it HIGHLY probable that Jesus did NOT die on the cross.
Suppose you read in the newspaper that a friend of yours was killed in a horrible car crash on Friday, and an eyewitness of the crash whom you trust as a very reliable person tells you that your friend experienced a “heavy loss of blood” from the accident.  Now suppose that on Sunday morning, your friend comes knocking at your door and you have a conversation with that friend, proving to you that your friend is indeed now alive.
Do you conclude that your friend has risen from the dead?  Not if you are a sane person.  What you would conclude is that the newspaper account was wrong, that your friend did not die in the crash, and that although your friend did experience a “heavy loss of blood” that did NOT prove to be fatal.  People frequently survive a “heavy loss of blood”.
Geisler also fails to show that Jesus IN FACT experienced a “heavy loss of blood” on the day Jesus was crucified.
Here are the claims Geisler makes in support of the conclusion that Jesus experienced a “heavy loss of blood” (WSA, p.120):
(2a) While praying in the Garden, Jesus’ extreme emotional state caused him to “sweat, as it were, great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
(2b) Jesus had been beaten repeatedly the night before his crucifixion.
(2c) Jesus had been whipped repeatedly the night before his crucifixion with a Roman scourge.
(2d) The Roman scourge used to whip Jesus was a three-lash whip with pieces of bone or metal on the ends.
(2e)  The whipping of Jesus tore the flesh of the skeletal muscles and set the stage for circulatory shock.
(2f) A crown of thorns had been pushed into Jesus’ skull.
(2g) Jesus was probably in serious to critical condition before they crucified him.
(2h) Jesus suffered five major wounds between nine in the morning and just before sunset.  
(2i) Four of the wounds that Jesus suffered from his crucifixion were caused by nails used to fix him to the cross.
Note that all of these claims are historical claims.  In order to PROVE an historical claim, one must provide historical evidence.  But Geisler is oblivious to this basic intellectual requirement:

  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2b).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2c).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2d).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2e).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2f).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2g).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2h).
  • Geisler provides no historical evidence for the historical claim (2i).

NOTE: The Gospel passage referenced by Geisler concerning (2h) only supports the assumption that the crucifixion began about 9am and ended before sunset (Mark 15:25 & 33).
This is how an intellectually incompetent writer “proves” that Jesus died on the cross in just two pages.  You simply don’t bother with sophisticated intellectual stuff like: historical facts and evidence.
I am very familiar with these claims, and I am familiar with the relevant available historical data, and so I know, unlike the ignorant Christian sheep who read Geisler’s books, that the evidence for these claims is very weak and sketchy.  One reason why Geisler and other apologists often don’t bother to provide historical facts and evidence to back up their historical claims is that if they did, it would become painfully obvious that their case is weak and that these claims are all very shaky and speculuative in nature.
I’m not going to thoroughly debunk each of these points by Geisler, because he has not stepped up to the plate to take a swing yet.  In fact, Geisler hasn’t even driven to the baseball field yet.  He is still sitting at home watching the game on TV.
Geisler did provide a bit of historical evidence for (2a), so we can see at least one example of how such evidence and arguments fall apart upon closer inspection.  Although Geisler does not state this explicitly, it seems likely that he is implying that Jesus lost some blood “in the Garden” on the night prior to his crucifixion by sweating blood.  But this conclusion involves a questionable interpretation of Luke 22:44.
Geisler should have consulted his fellow Evangelical New Testament scholar Darrell Bock about this verse:
It is important to note that this is metaphorical, not a description that says Jesus sweat blood.  (Luke Vol.2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p.1761)
Another problem is that there is good reason to believe that this particular verse was NOT in the original Gospel of Luke:
Verses 43-44 were evidently added by some scribe to a manuscript of Luke; they do not appear, however, in the best–the oldest and most reliable–ancient manuscripts.  (The Acts of Jesus, Robert Funk and The Jesus Seminar, p.351)
So, that is two major strikes against Geisler’s one-and-only piece of historical evidence for the historical claim (2a).
But, lets suppose that the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of Luke are defective and that this verse really was part of the original text of that Gospel.  Let’s also suppose that Bock and several other major NT scholars are wrong to read Luke 22:44 as metaphorical, and that the author intended to assert that Jesus literally sweated blood.
There are other reasons to doubt this historical claim:

  • First, this detail is only mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, so there is no corroboration of this detail in the other Gospels.
  • Second, Luke was not a disciple of Jesus, so this is NOT something that Luke himself observed.  This is NOT an eyewitness report.
  • Third, Luke does not indicate that this story about Jesus in the garden or that the specific detail of sweating blood came directly to him from an eyewitness.  So, we have no particular reason to believe that this account was based on the report of an eyewitness.
  • Fourth, there is good reason to believe that the whole story is fictional.

Luke is getting the information for the story about Jesus praying in a garden from the Gospel of Mark, and Mark’s story appears to be a fictional creation:
The scene on the Mount of Olives (Luke does not mention Gethsemane) was inspired originally by the story of David’s flight across the Kidron when his son Absalom revolted (2 Samuel 15-17).  Luke may not have been aware of this connection, however.  Nevertheless, the sequence of events depicted in Mark, Luke’s source, follows the sequence of that earlier story. …Since Luke’s source is a fiction, Luke’s version belongs to the same category. (The Acts of Jesus, Robert Funk and The Jesus Seminar,p.352-353)
NOTE: The details about the parallels between Mark’s story and the O.T. story of David’s flight are presented on pages 150 and 151 of The Acts of Jesus.
OK.  We are well past three strikes for Geisler’s historical evidence for (2a).
The moral of the story is this:
If you are an intellectually incompetent Christian writer, and if you are writing a book for ignorant Christian sheep, then you can make a “case” for the death of Jesus on the cross in just two pages of text by including only one tiny bit of historical evidence for your least significant historical claim, and that evidence can be as full of holes as a five-pound chunk of Swiss cheese, while you provide ZERO historical evidence in support of your other much more significant historical claims.
Unfortunately, there is more mindless fact-free writing for me to cover in Geisler’s case for the death of Jesus on the cross.
TO BE CONTINUED…

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exist? Ehrman’s Complete Failure – Part 1

I was recently asked to participate in a public discussion/debate about the question “Did Jesus Exist?”.  I don’t plan to argue in favor of the mythicist position, just because I don’t think I would do it justice.  I’m not a mythicist, and I have not studied any mythicists in recent years (I read some of G.A. Wells books years ago, and I read Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle some years ago).  But I do have significant doubts about the existence of Jesus, and especially about the strength of the historical case for the existence of Jesus.
In order to prepare for the discussion,  I pulled out my copy of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? (hereafter: DJE) and began to re-read his positive case for the existence of Jesus.  I have criticized part of his case previously, so I began reading with the assumption that his case was weak and problematic, at least the initial argument that he makes based on seven allegedly independent Gospels, in Chapter 3.  Upon re-reading this Chapter, my conclusion is that this important part of his case is not just weak, it is a complete and utter failure.
I’m reminded of William Lane Craig’s argument for the claim that “Jesus died on the cross” in his book The Son Rises.  I went through Craig’s argument, line by line, and showed that while he made dozens of historical claims, there was not one single historical fact in the entire passage (there was one reference to one passage from one historical document, but upon examination of the document, the passage, its authorship, and its content, there was no real evidence for the specific historical claim being asserted).
I realize that Ehrman is not a Christian believer, and so obviously he is not a Christian apologist.  But there is a clear parallel between Chapter 3 of Did Jesus Exist? and WLC’s argument for the claim “Jesus died on the cross” in his book The Son Rises.  In both instances, we are set up with the expectation and promise that a strong historical case will be made for a basic Christian belief, but the case includes arguments that are virtually FACT FREE.  I suspect that Ehrman’s thinking was corrupted by exposure to Christian apologetics, and this has, sadly, led him to construct arguments for historical claims without bothering to mess with those inconvenient little things known as historical facts.  Jesus Freaking-H-Christ! (… an historically relevant curse for this occasion).
I respect both WLC and Ehrman.  They are both intelligent men and knowledgable about their fields.  They are both hard-working scholars.  I have learned much from both Craig and Ehrman.  I don’t claim to be smarter than they are, or to have more knowledge than they have, nor do I claim to work harder than they do.  They are scholars and I am not a scholar.
Nevertheless, I could do a better job defending these basic Christian beliefs with one hand tied behind my back while blindfolded.  I am very confident that I could do a better job, because I would make use of actual historical facts to make my case.  I may not be a brilliant scholar, but I know better than to make a fact-free case for an historical claim.  WLC and Ehrman evidently missed that memo.
Here is how Ehrman characterizes himself and his view on the question of the existence of Jesus:
But as a historian I think evidence matters.  And the past matters.  And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist.  (DJE, p.6, emphasis added)
Apparently evididence matters to Ehrman, except when he is laying out a key argument in his case for the existence of Jesus, because he doesn’t bother to provide ANY historical evidence for his key historical premise, though many dozens of pieces of historical evidence would be required to properly support that premise.
Here is how Ehrman characterizes his main goal in the book:
My goal, however, is neither to please nor to offend.  It is to pursue a historical question with all the rigor that it deserves and requires and in doing so to show that there really was a historical Jesus and that we can say certain things about him.  (DJE, p.37, emphasis added)
Making an argument for an historical claim without presenting any historical evidence in support of the key historical premise of a key argument means that Ehrman not only fell short of fully realizing this goal, it means that Ehrman completely and utterly failed to even partially acheive this goal, at least in terms of the argument about corroboration between seven Gospels that he presents in Chapter 3 (he does manage to do a somewhat better job with the argument presented in Chapter 4).
Ehrman’s positive case for the existence of Jesus is given in Part I, which encompasses Chapters 1 through 5.  But Chapter 1 just introduces the mythicist viewpoint, and Chapter 2 basically dismisses all of the non-Christian writers/sources.  So, the positive case for the existence of Jesus is given in just three chapters:  Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.  The title of Chapter 3 indicates the content of the argument in that chapter: “The Gospels as Historical Sources”.  Craig miserably failed to prove that “Jesus died on the cross” largely because he made the absurd assumption that he could do this in just a few short pages.  Ehrman makes bascially the same mistake in Chapter 3 of DJE.
The basic principle used in this key argument was spelled out in Chapter 2, but is nicely summarized in Chapter 3:
…historians,  who try to establish that a past event happened or that a past person lived, look for multiple sources that corroborate one another’s stories without having collaborated.  And this is what we get with the Gospels and their witness of Jesus.  (DJE, p.75)
There is more than one argument presented in Chapter 3, but a key argument is summarized by Ehrman at the end of Chapter 3:
We are not dealing with just one Gospel that reports what Jesus said and did from sometime near the end of the first century.  We have a number of surviving Gospels–I named seven–that are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions.  These all attest to the existence of Jesus.  Moreover, these independent witnesses corroborate many of the same basic sets of data–for example, that Jesus not only lived but that he was a Jewish teacher who was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.  (DJE, p.92, emphasis added)
One could summarize the key premise of this argument in one sentence (about: Agreements Between Seven Independent Gospels):
(ABSIG) There are seven Gospels which were written within “a hundred years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death” (DJE, p.78) that are “either completely or partially independent” from each other (DJE, p.78) and yet they “agree on many of the basic aspects of Jesus’s life and death” (DJE, p.86).
The agreement on “the basic aspects of Jesus’s life and death” is asserted by Ehrman about the written sources that were allegedly used in the composition of the seven Gospels.  But we know of the content of the alleged written sources of these seven Gospels only by carefully studying the content of the seven surviving Gospels;  we don’t have manuscripts of the alleged written sources (with the exception of the Gospel of Mark, which was one of the sources used in the composition of Matthew and in the composition of Luke).  We only have manuscripts of the seven surviving Gospels. So, any alleged agreements between the written sources behind the seven Gospels must be discernable in the existing texts of the surviving Gospels.
In the above quotations, there is a subtle clue that indicates Ehrman has failed to do his homework on this argument. The word “many” in the phrase “agree on many of the basic aspects of Jesus’s life and death” points to a fundamental flaw of Chapter 3.  The word “many” is vague.  If Ehrman had actually investigated the evidence on this issue “with all the rigor that it deserves and requires”, then he would have provided a specific number here, instead of the vague quantifier “many”.  But he did not do his homework, and so he was unable to provide a precise quantity.
Agreement on three or four characteristics of Jesus or events in Jesus’s life might qualify as “many” agreements, but that would not be very impressive as an argument for the existence of Jesus.  Presumably, a strong case would involve something on the order of one or two dozen agreements on “basic aspects of Jesus’s life”.  But let’s just consider a conservative and round number of agreements that could potentially constitute a strong case: TEN.
Since we are talking about seven “independent” Gospels, a perfect argument for ten basic aspects would involve about 70 pieces of historical evidence, in which each of the seven Gospels has at least one passage that confirms each of the ten “basic aspects of Jesus’s life”.  But some of the “Gospels” are not very extensive, so those Gospels would probably only confirm a few of the ten basic aspects.  Even the more extensive Gospels might not confirm all ten basic aspects of the life of Jesus, and yet the overall argument could still be fairly strong.
It seems to me that a fairly strong argument could potentially be made if an average of five out of seven Gospels confirmed each of the ten basic aspects.  Then we could justifiably say that “Each of the ten basic aspects of the life of Jesus is confirmed by most of the seven Gospels”.
A matrix diagram is the obvious way to present an overview of the relevant historical data.  An ideal matrix, one that represents what is potentially a fairly strong case, would look something like this, where an “X” means that there is at least one passsage in that Gospel that confirms the basic aspect of Jesus’s life (click on the image below for a better view of the matrix diagram):
Ideal Matrix
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In order to support this ten-aspect matrix, one would need to provide about 50 separate pieces of historical data, i.e. fifty different specific passages from the various seven gospels.  In some cases, a single passage from one gospel will support two or three basic aspects, reducing the required number of pieces of data.  But in some cases, one gospel will have two or three passages confirming just one aspect, increasing the number of pieces of data supporting the diagram.  So although this diagram does not require exactly 50 pieces of historical data, the number of pieces of historical data supporting this diagram would probably be close to 50.
If only two or three out of the seven Gospels support a given basic aspect, on average, then the argument for the existence of Jesus would be pretty weak, and the matrix diagram would look something like this:
WEAK Case Matrix
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that even to make this very weak argument for the existence of Jesus, one would need to provide about 20 to 30 pieces of historical data (quotations from about 20 to 30 passages from the seven “independent” gospels).
Does Ehrman’s matrix look like the first one, with lots of X’s and very few blanks? Or does his matrix look more like the second one, with only a few X’s here and there and lots of blanks?  Neither.  Ehrman has no matrix diagram at all.
OK, that is not a deal breaker.  We can fill out a matrix diagram for Ehman, based on the historical evidence that he provided in Chapter 3.  How many pieces of historical data does Ehrman provide that we could use as the basis for constructing such a matrix?  Does he provide 50 passages from the seven Gospels? No.  Forty passages from the seven Gospels? No.  Thirty passages? No.  A measly twenty passages?  Nope.   Ehrman provides exactly ZERO passages from the seven “independent” Gospels to support his key premise (ABSIG).
So, here is the appropriate matrix diagram representing Ehrman’s argument from the agreement between seven “independent” Gospels (ABSIG):
No Case Matrix
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I am not impressed, and I am certainly not convinced.
Ehrman does sometimes quote a Gospel passage in Chapter 3, but not for the purpose of showing how that Gospel supports a specific “basic aspect” of the life of Jesus.  In Chapter 3, Ehrman quotes Luke 1:1-3 on pages 73 and 79, but not to show that this Gospel confirms a specific basic aspect of the life of Jesus that othere Gospels also confirm.  The quotation of Luke on page 79, for example, is to support the general claim that “the Gospels…were based on earlier written sources…” (DJE, p.78).
Ehrman quotes three passages from the Gospel of Mark and one passage from the Gospel of John on pages 87-89, but the point of that evidence was to show that these Gospels include written sources that ultimately were “based on oral traditions” (DJE, p.86) that were “originally spoken in Aramaic, the language of Palestine.” (DJE, p.87).  The purpose of these quotes is to support the claim that the Gospels can be traced back to early oral traditions, traditions that existed shortly after the standard date for the crucifixion of Jesus.
On page 90 of DJE, Ehrman quotes a passage from the third chapter of the Gospel of John, but the purpose of that quote is just to illustrate how Aramaic can be used to determine that some Gospel passages (like the one quoted from John) are NOT based on early oral traditions about Jesus (which were in Aramaic).
There are no other quotations from the four canonical Gospels in Chapter 3 of DJE.  There are also no quotations in Chapter 3 from the Gospel of Thomas, or from the Gospel of Peter,  nor are there quotations from “the highly fragmentary text” called Papyrus Egerton 2.  Therefore, there are ZERO quotations (from any of the seven “independent” Gospels) that are given in support of the key historical premise (ABSIG) of a key argument in Ehrman’s positve case for the existence of Jesus.
If Ehrman had provided twenty to thirty different passages, some from each of the seven “independent” Gospels, showing that two or three of the Gospels support each of ten “basic characteristics” of the life of Jesus, then I would conclude that he had presented an argument which was potentially, at best, a very weak argument for the existence of Jesus. But Ehrman has in fact provided ZERO relevant quotations from the seven “independent” Gospels, so this argument is a complete and utter failure.  It should persuade nobody, because there is no historical evidence provided to back up the main historical premise of this argument.
In Chapter 3 of DJE, Ehrman has presented a FACT FREE argument for the existence of Jesus, which is completely contrary to his claim that he thinks “evidence matters” and completely contrary to his goal to pursue the historical question of whether Jesus exists “with all the rigor that it deserves and requires”.  Ehrman promised devotion to evidence and he promised scholarly rigor, but what he delivered is pure BULLSHIT, at least with his argument concerning Agreements Between Seven Indendent Gospels (ABSIG).
There are other serious defeciencies with this argument in Chapter 3, but I will save discussion of those for another post.

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.