bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 9

I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection).

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Excerpts from my post

The Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection:

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[…]
According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.

[…]

Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.

In the first 347 pages of Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:

Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)

There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.

[…]

Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.

[…]

Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
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 An excerpt from my post

An Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig:

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Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:
1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday? 
2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?
Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.
Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).
I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.
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An excerpt from the INDEX article for this series of posts:

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[…]
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.
My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
[…]
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In Parts 2 through 8, I have discussed Luke Johnson’s views about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, arguing that Johnson does not think that the claim that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday can be established as an historical fact on the basis of historical evidence.   Johnson does believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but his belief in Jesus’ resurrection is based on religious experience and is NOT based on historical evidence.
So, Johnson does not share the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified. Thus, Johnson’s judgment that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is IRRELEVANT to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus, because Johnson rejects a crucial background assumption held by Craig, the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after being crucified.
Furthermore, I have argued that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels make it so that his “method of convergence” fails to show that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  Given Johnson’s skeptical assumptions, his high level of confidence that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is not rationally justified.  Johnson’s conclusion that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is the result of faulty reasoning and factual mistakes, and it seems likely that these flaws in Johnson’s thinking are the result of religious/theological BIAS in favor of Christian dogma, and thus reflect a failure to analyze and evaluate these issues logically and objectively.
In the next post of this series I will begin to develop a similar critique of the views of Robert Funk about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 8

I have one final objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence”.  I have been using the phrase “the devil is in the details” to summarize a number of problems with, or objections to, Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to establish some key claims about Jesus.  But there are some specific DETAILS about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that I have not yet mentioned but that represent more such details that raise doubt about the claim that “Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.”
First of all, we don’t know how crucifixion CAUSES a person to die.  There are various theories, of course, but it would be unethical to put those theories to a full scientific test, because it would be unethical to crucify human beings and to carefully observe their deaths in order to answer this historical/medical question.  However, one popular theory is that crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation, but actual scientific tests of crucifixion (where subjects were strapped, not nailed, to crosses) have indicated that, contrary to the asphyxiation theory, people can breathe without difficulty while hanging from a cross.  The subjects, of course, were only attached to the crosses for a few minutes, not for several hours, so the asphyxiation theory has not been disproved, but it has been cast into doubt.
Because we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, we can hardly be certain that it caused Jesus to die in a matter of just a few hours (Jesus was crucified around 9am according to the synoptic Gospels and around noon according to the Gospel of John.  The  Gospels agree that Jesus was buried before sundown on the day he was crucified, around 6pm, so his apparent death would have been sometime in the late afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm).  If Jesus had been on the cross for several days, that would make his death highly probable because people usually died after three or four days.  But since Jesus was allegedly on the cross for between about three hours (noon to 3pm) and eight hours (9am to 5pm), the fact that he was hanging from a cross for a few hours is not sufficient to confidently conclude that he died on the cross.
One important detail is the use of NAILS.  Most paintings and sculptures of the crucifixion show Jesus as nailed to the cross, but the synoptic Gospels do not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing.  The synoptic gospels only say that Jesus was crucified, and crucifixion was often carried out by binding the victim to the cross, without using nails.  The Gospel of John also does not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, in the story of Doubting Thomas, which is found ONLY in the Gospel of John, we are told that the risen Jesus had marks in his hands/wrists from nails.  Since nails are mentioned ONLY in the Gospel of John and in the dubious story of Doubting Thomas which also occurs ONLY in the Gospel of John, the evidence for the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion is weak and questionable. (Note: The Doubting Thomas story says nothing about nail wounds in Jesus’ feet, only in his hands.)
If Jesus had been bound to the cross rather than nailed to the cross, then that would mean that instead of having a serious wound in each hand/wrist and in each foot/ankle, he would have had no serious wound in each hand/wrist and no serious wound in each foot/ankle, meaning that four of the serious wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus, might be fictional rather than factual.  If  Jesus had been bound rather than nailed to the cross, this would significantly reduce the probability that he would die after just a few hours of hanging on the cross.
One other very important wound that Jesus allegedly received while on the cross is the SPEAR WOUND to his side.  The story of the spear wound, however, is found ONLY in the historically dubious Gospel of John.  None of the synoptic Gospels record this event, and none of the other Gospels ever mentions a wound in Jesus’ side.
Furthermore, there is good reason to suspect that this spear wound incident was created on the basis of an O.T. prophecy, which is specifically mentioned in the Gospel passage that relates this story (John 19:36 & 37):
36. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  
37. And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The author of this Gospel might have accepted these scripture passages as divinely inspired prophecy which MUST be fulfilled, and on this basis INFERRED that Jesus MUST have been stabbed with a spear while on the cross, and then created the story about the spear wound, without any thought or intent to deceive the readers of this Gospel, being fully confident in the inspiration of the O.T. and in his interpretation of these ‘prophetic’ passages.
I, however, am quite confident that the O.T. was NOT inspired by God, and even if it were inspired by God I have no good reason to trust or rely upon the interpretation of these O.T. passages by an unknown first-century Christian author.  Since there is a good chance that the story was created on the basis of the O.T. passages, there is a good chance that the spear-wound story is fictional and false.  If the spear-wound story is fictional and false, then one of the most serious and important wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus was NOT actually inflicted on Jesus.   If there was no spear-wound to Jesus’ side while he was hanging on the cross, then that would significantly reduce the probability that Jesus would die after just a few hours on the cross.
Within the general constraints of the Gospel accounts, but allowing for some dubious details to  be fictional, it is quite possible that Jesus was merely tied to the cross (not nailed), that he hung from the cross for just a few hours (from noon to 3pm), and that there was no serious spear-wound inflicted on Jesus while he was on the cross.  Given that we simply do not know how crucifixion causes death (other than by dehydration, starvation, and exposure over a period of days),  the fact that Jesus was crucified fails to show that the death of Jesus on the cross is highly probable.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 7

I have another objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to support the reliability of the Gospels or the “historical framework” of the Gospels (emphasis added by me):
As I have tried to show, the character of the Gospel narratives does not allow a fully satisfying historical reconstruction of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, certain fundamental points on which all the Gospels agree, when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outsider testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded with a high degree of probability.  Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and condintued to have followers after his death.  These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history.  But they do enjoy a very high level of probability.    (TRJ, p.123)
This paragraph contains a common logical fallacy concerning probability.   This logical fallacy is of great practical importance as well as theoretical importance.  In the field of project management, one important practical application of logic and probability is that of constructing realistic, accurate, detailed schedules, and evaluations of the probability that a project will be completed on time.
There is a common tendency to overestimate the probability of completing a project on schedule.  One reason for this tendency is the failure to apply the logic of probability by committing a particular logical fallacy.  For example, lets say that we have a very simple and short project that consists of just five tasks, with a one-week duration for each task.  Suppose that each task has a very good chance of completing on schdule, specifically, each task has a probability of .8 completing in the planned duration (being completed in one week or less).  Furthermore, suppose that these tasks must be worked in a particular order, and one task must be completed before the next task can be started.  Project managers create charts to display the logic of project schedules, and the chart for this simple project would look like this:
Simple Gant Chart
Suppose that this project had to complete in five weeks in order for the project to make a profit.  What is the probability that the project will complete on time?  Because each task in the project has a high probability of being completed in one week (or less), it is tempting to infer that there is a high probability that the project as a whole will complete on time, in five weeks (or less).  But this is a logical fallacy.
Although each individual task has a high probability of being completed in the planned duration (of one week), this does NOT mean that the entire project has a high probability of being completed in the planned duration (of five weeks).  If just one of the tasks takes longer than estimated, that could make the whole project take longer than planned.  The probability that this project will complete in five weeks (or less) is NOT .8, but rather approximately  .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =  .64 x .64 x .8 =  .32768  or aprox. .33  or one chance in three.  In other words, it is more likely that this project will fail to complete on time than that it will complete on time.
This common logical fallacy concerning the probability of a chain of tasks completing on schedule is a particular form of the more general fallacy known as the FALLACY OF COMPOSTION:
What is true of the part is not necessarily true of the whole.  To think so is to commit the fallacy of composition.  
(With Good Reason, 4th edition, by S. Morris Engel, p.103)
Reasoning of the following form is invalid:
1.  It is highly probable that A is the case.
2. It is highly probable that B is the case.
3. It is highly probable that C is the case.
4. It is highly probable that D is the case.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that A and B and C and D are the case.
But in the paragraph quoted at the begining of this post, it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  In the paragraph quoted at the start of this post, Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 6

In Part 4 of this series, we saw that in a table (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts (and allegedly supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings), that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the evidence from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
In Part 5 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s view that claim (15) is supported by converging lines of evidence from FIVE different writers  (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) in addition to the Gospels, does not hold up when we look into the details behind this claim.  It turns out that two of the “insider” writings and both of the “outsider” writings fail to provide any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for claim (15), leaving us with only ONE “insider” writer (Paul) to provide support for the Gospel claim (15).
Now we need to look into the details about the alleged converging lines of evidence for claim (13).
In this case there is only ONE “insider” source, namely the letters of Paul.  But there are, as with claim (15), two “outsider” writers that supposedly back up claim (13).
One of the “outsider” (non-Christian) sources in the famous Testimonium passage from Josephus in his work Antiquities.  But as previously discussed, this passage was tampered with by Christian copyists, so what we actually have here is evidence showing it to be somewhat probable that Josephus wrote that “Pilate condemned him [Jesus] to the cross.”  Furthermore, even if we assume that Josephus wrote this sentence just as it reads now,  this passage still fails to provide any significant support for (13), because Antiquities was composed about 93 CE, more than two decades after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, there is at most one good “outsider” source that supports (13).
The second “outsider” source that Johnson points to is the Annals by the historian Tacitus:
Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate...
(from Annals 15.44, quoted in The Real Jesus, p.115)
The problem is that Annals was written even later than Antiquities:
…the account [in Annals] of Nero’s persecution of Christians after the fire in Rome given by the historian Tacitus (early second century) contains valuable evidence concerning Jesus…   (The Real Jesus, p.115)
 So this information about Jesus in Annals is probably dependent on the Gospel of Mark or on some other Gospel, as Bart Ehrman has pointed out:
…the information [in Annals] is not particularly helpful in establishing that there really lived a man named Jesus.  How would Tacitus know what he knew?  It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writing some eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly  telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example)…  (Did Jesus Exist? p.55-56)
Ehrman gives the date of composition of Annals as 115 CE (Did Jesus Exist?, p.54).  If Annals is worthless as evidence that Jesus existed, then it is also worthless as evidence that Jesus appeared before Pilate.  Thus references to Jesus in Annals do NOT provide any significant support for the historical reliablity of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).  We are thus left with ZERO good “outsider” sources that support claim (13), and only ONE “insider” source: the letters of Paul.
When we look for references to “Pilate” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts (a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke), we find only ONE such reference:
1 Timothy 6:13-14 (New Revised Standard Version)
 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The problem is that most scholars do NOT believe that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, and most scholars date this letter to near the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century:
In varying ways the factors just listed have contributed  to a situation where about 80 to 90 percent of modern scholars would agree that the Pastorals [which includes 1 Timothy] were written after Paul’s lifetime, and of those the majority would accept the period between 80 and 100 as the most plausible context for their composition.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.668)
While a small and declining number of scholars still argue for Pauline authorship [of the Pastoral letters], most prefer to see the author’s modesty and his admiration for Paul behind his pseudonymity; he was passing on Pauline  tradition and the credit was due to Paul rather than to him.   (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1220)
Thus the Pastoral Epistles provide important evidence for the ongoing life of churches at the turn of the first century A.D.  (Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, p.1430)
The world of the Pastoral Epistles is more readily explicable in the light of 1 Clement, the Acts of Paul, and the Letter of Polycarp than from Paul’s career.  A probable date is ca. 100-125.  (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.1015)
Most scholars now conclude that these letters [1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus] were not written by Paul, but by someone writing after Paul’s death who, following a custom of his time, borrowed Paul’s name and adapted Paul’s theology to bring an authoritative word to bear on a crisis emerging in the second-century church.  (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p.1137)
Since most scholars believe that 1 Timothy was composed near the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century, references to Jesus and Pilate in 1 Timothy are worthless for providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels, or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for supporting claim (13).
Once again, we find the devil lurking in the details.  The ONE “insider” writing that Johnson points to in support of claim (13) is no good, and both of the “outsider” sources that Johnson pointed to in support of claim (13) are also no good.  So, on closer examination there are not THREE additional sources that back up claim (13) but ZERO.
At this point, it is becoming fairly obvious that Johnson’s case for it being highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is CRAP.
His case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
Yes, Johnson is clearly a learned and accomplished biblical scholar, but it appears to me that his religious prejudices are fully operational in his reasoning on this issue, because his argument is CRAP from start to finish.  If we apply Johnson’s method of convergence with intelligence and with accurate factual assumptions, the result is NOT that the crucifixion of Jesus and his death by crucifixion are shown to be highly probable, but that these events are shown to be somewhat probable or moderately probable.  For some reason, Luke Johnson finds such a weak conclusion too difficult to swallow, so he exaggerates and distorts the evidence to try to make the outcome more congenial to his beliefs and desires.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – INDEX

The well-known Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig has read at least two of my posts from 2014 criticizing his case for the resurrection of Jesus, and he responded to some of my objections:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus

Here are the blog posts of mine that Dr. Craig addresses:

https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/05/23/the-failure-of-william-craigs-case-for-the-resurrection/

https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/06/01/an-open-letter-to-dr-william-lane-craig/

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 After discovering (completely by accident) that Dr. Craig had read and commented on my blog posts, I have written a number of posts responding to his comments and objections.  
Here are my responses, so far:
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In Part 1 of this series, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:

The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.

My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In Part 3 of this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter. We saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In my post called Note to Dr. William Lane Craig, I thank him for reading and responding to my criticisms of his case for the resurrection, point him to the first two posts in this series (which reply to his comments and objections), and make the following comments to Dr. Craig:
I hope that you will someday take the time to read these additional posts, and respond to them.  If it makes any difference, these posts are written with a more respectful tone, in part to show my appreciation for your taking the time to read and respond to some of my previous skeptical posts. 
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
In Part 5 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to two of the more significant claims from his list of claims about the historical Jesus:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
By examining the details concerning the two “outsider” writings that Johnson puts forward in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus, we see that both of the writings are worthless as far as providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  This means that out of the five writers (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) that Johnson claimed support claim (15), only ONE (Paul) has the potential to provide some support for the reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, and that this is not sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
In my post on Luke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus  I make a correction to a mistaken claim about Luke Johnson’s view of the resurrection contained in my first main response to William Craig, and argue that the point of my objection still holds up in spite of this mistake.
In Part 6 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to this claim:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
I argue that the THREE sources (outside of the Gospels) that Johnson points to as additional support for claim (13) are worthless for providing any significant support for the reliability of the Gospels, or the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).
Luke Johnson’s  case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
In Part 7 of this series, I raise another objection to Luke Johnson’s reasoning about the historical Jesus in his book The Real Jesus:
… it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  …Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
In Part 8 of this series, I make a final point about how Luke Johnson’s skepticism about the details in the Gospels undermines the view that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence to establish such details:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection). 
In Part 10 of this series, I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 5

Although biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the Gospels (than Evangelical Christian biblical scholars) do sometimes make general statements about the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross being highly probable, when we look into the details of their views about the Gospels and about the stories about Jesus being crucified, we see that they don’t  actually have adequate grounds for their confident judgments that Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross are firmly established historical facts.
I am in the middle of examining Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” and his application of this method to some key claims about Jesus from the Gospels. 
In Part 3 of this series, we saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
Claim (15), however, is also supported by two “outsider” writers, according to Johnson.  So, let’s take a closer look at the evidence from those “outsiders”.  Here, again, we will find the devil lurking in the details.
Johnson points to the famous Testimonium Flavianum passage (from Antiquities 18.3.3), composed by the Jewish historian Josephus.  The paragraph-length passage includes this sentence:
And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him [Jesus] to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.  (quoted in TRJ, p.114)
The first thing to note here is that Josephus was NOT an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, nor to the trial of Jesus before Pilate, nor of the crucifixion of Jesus, as Johnson clearly admits:
The biggest deficiency in the outsider accounts concerning Jesus is that…they are not the result of direct observation.  The outsiders are either observing the movement that was associated with Jesus after his death, or relating what they have heard about the movement; what they say about Jesus in connection with that movement must therefore have been filtered through either other observers or the accounts of insiders as they were related to others.  (TRJ, p.113)
So, at best, an outsider account provides non-eyewitness testimony in support of Gospel accounts which are also written by non-eyewitnesses (who do not identify which events or details, if any, are based on testimony of eyewitnesses).
The second thing to note about this passage in Antiquities is that this very paragraph was tampered with by Christian copyists, as Johnson himself points out:
The passage clearly contains Christian interpolations, and many critical scholars formerly regarded the entire passage as spurious.  (TRJ, p.113)
Johnson goes on to state that scholarly opinion about this passage has recently shifted:
Recent scholarship, however, …has been more favorably disposed toward the hypothesis that the passage contains the nucleus of a passage about Jesus written by Josephus himself.  (TRJ, p.114)
Given just what Johnson says about scholarly views on this passage, it seems clear that it is, at best, only somewhat probable that Josephus wrote the sentence quoted above.  Many scholars formerly believed the whole passage was inserted by a later Christian copyist.  Even though scholars are now “more favorably disposed toward the hypothesis” that part of this passage is from Josephus, that does NOT make it certain that the hypothesis is correct.  At best is it moderately probable  (say, a probability of  .7 ) that the hypothesis is correct.
But EVEN IF the hypothesis is correct, that does NOT imply that the specific name “Pilate” appeared in the original, nor that the phrase “condemned him to the cross” was in the original.  Those could still be pieces inserted by a later copyist EVEN IF part of this passage about Jesus was from the original text written by Josephus.  Thus, if it is moderately probable that parts of this paragraph were written by Josephus, it would only be somewhat probable (say, a probability of  .6 ) that the specific details we are interested in were written by Josephus.  Rather than having evidence consisting of a claim by the Jewish historian Josephus that Jesus was crucified by order of Pilate, what we have is evidence that makes it somewhat probable that Josephus made this claim.
But on closer examination, even if Josephus did indeed write the sentence in question this passage is worthless as evidence to provide some significant support for a Gospel claim about Jesus.   In making an historical case for the existence of Jesus, the biblical scholar Bart Ehrman tosses aside this famous passage from Antiquities:
My main point is that whether the Testimonium is authentically from Josephus (in its pared-down form) or not probably does not ultimately matter for the question I am pursuing here.  Whether or not Jesus lived has to be decided on other kinds of evidence from this.  And here is why.  Suppose Josephus really did write the Testimonium.  That would show that by 93 CE–some sixty or more years after the traditional date of Jesus’ death–a Jewish historian of Palestine had some information about him.  And where would Josephus have derived his information?  He would have heard stories about Jesus that were in circulation.  There is nothing to suggest that  Josephus had actually read the Gospels (he most certainly had not) or that he did any kind of primary research into the life of Jesus by examining Roman records of some kind (there weren’t any).  But as we will see later…there were stories about Jesus floating around in Palestine by the end of the first century and much earlier.  So even if the Testimonium, in the pared-down form, was written by Josephus, it does not give us much more evidence than we already have on the question of whether there really was a man Jesus.  (Did Jesus Exist? p.65)
To be more specific, the Gospel of Mark was composed about 70 CE, so stories circulating about Jesus in the last decade of the first century would probably have included events and details that derived from the Gospel of Mark (or one of the other canonical Gospels), including events like Jesus being on trial before Pilate, and like Jesus being crucified by Roman soldiers.
Just as we tossed aside the “insider” accounts of Hebrews and 1 Peter because they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, and AFTER the Gospel of Mark, so we ought to do the same with every reference to Jesus by Josephus in Antiquities, because that work, as Johnson himself admits, was composed about two decades AFTER the Gospel of Mark:
Josephus was a participant in and observer of the events leading to the disasterous war against Rome in 67-70 C.E., and wrote the Antiquities close to the end of the first century.  (TRJ, p.113)
Because Antiquities was composed many years after the Gospel of Mark began circulating among Christians, it cannot be used to provide any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
The second “outsider” writing that Johnson points to for support of claim (15) is even more pathetic than Antiquities.  Johnson quotes from The Passing of Peregrinus written by Lucian of Samosata:
…whom they [Christians in Palestine] still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced a new cult into the world.  (The Passing of Peregrinus 11-13, quoted in TRJ, p.116)
Lucian of Samosata was born nearly a century after the traditional date for the death of Jesus, so obviously Lucian could NOT have been an eyewitness to the life or the death of Jesus.  The Passing of Peregrinus was written not too long after 165 CE, probably about 170 CE, so Lucian wrote this satire on the life of the cynic philosopher Proteus Perigrinus a full century AFTER the Gospel of Mark was composed and began to circulate.    Therefore, any references to Jesus in The Passing of Peregrinus are worthless for providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
In fact, this work by Lucian of Samosata is so late that in his case for the existence of Jesus, Ehrman does not even bother to quote from, or even to mention, this work when discussing non-Christian sources of information about Jesus:
I start with a brief survey of sources that are typically appealed to as non-Christian references to Jesus.  I will restrict myself to sources that were produced within about a hundred years of when Jesus is traditionally thought to have died since writings after that time almost certainly cannot be considered independent and reliable witnesses to his life but were undboutedly based simply on what the authors heard about Jesus, probably from his followers.  (Did Jesus Exist?, p.50)
Just as we tossed aside Hebrews and 1 Peter because they might well have been written AFTER 70 CE, and just as we have tossed aside Antiquities because it was clearly written AFTER 70 CE, we very definitely ought to also toss aside The Passing of Peregrinus because it was written a full century AFTER 70 CE, a full century AFTER the Gospel of Mark was composed and began to circulate.
Let’s review what we have discovered from looking into the details of Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to claim (15).
We started out with three “insider” authors, and two “outsider” authors providing confirmation of claim (15), in addition to the four canonical Gospels.  It was because of there being multiple “insider” and multiple “outsider” writings that support claim (15) that Johnson concluded that this central Gospel claim was highly probable.
But as we look into the details of this argument, we find that there is, at most, just ONE good “insider” author who confirms (15) NOT three “insiders”, and there are ZERO good “outsider” writers that confirm (15).  Given Luke Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, we cannot assign a high probability to (15) just on the basis of the Gospel accounts of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.  But instead of having FIVE different  writers, consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”,  who confirm this element of the Gospels, the devil in the details shows that we actually have ONLY ONE good “insider” source, the letters of Paul, and NO good “outsider” writings, to support the Gospel accounts on this point, and that does not seem sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderLuke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus

In my second post responding to William Craig on his point that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars, I focused in on the first two biblical scholars that he gave as examples: Robert Funk and Luke Johnson:
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Many Biblical Scholars Do NOT Believe that Jesus was Alive and Walking Around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday
It is interesting that the first two examples of biblical scholars that Craig points to are scholars who DON’T BELIEVE that Jesus rose from the dead.  More specifically, neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.  So, neither Johnson nor Funk believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”  Funk makes it clear that he does not believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY came back to life:
The Jesus Seminar decided not to duck this issue [of whether Jesus rose PHYSICALLY from the dead]: The fellows reached  a fairly firm consensus: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on what happened to his corpse. They are supported in this by the judgment of many contemporary scholars.  Jesus’ resurrection did not involve the resuscitation of a dead body.  About three-fourths of the Fellows believe that Jesus’ followers did not know what happened to his body. (HTJ, p.259)
Luke Johnson is more vague and less straightforward (than Funk), and it is harder to pin down his beliefs about the resurrection,  but in his book The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, Fortress Press, 1999: hereafter: WONT) he seems to hold a view that is similar to that of Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar…
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My statement that “neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.” is wrong.  While this is a true statement about Robert Funk, it is a false statement about Luke Johnson.
My belief that Johnson rejected the traditional Christian view that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead was based on reading what Johnson says about Jesus’ resurrection in The Real Jesus (especially, Chapters 4, 5, 6 and the Epilogue) and in The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, especially Chapters 4 and 5).  Although Johnson did not explicitly state that he rejected the traditional Christian belief in the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus, he did say many things that seemed to point in that direction.
However, Joe Hinman objected that I had misunderstood Johnson’s views and pointed me to Johnson’s book Living Jesus.  I found that on pages 11 through 22 of Living Jesus,  Johnson provides a clearer explanation of his views about Jesus’ resurrection, and Johnson makes it clear there that he believes Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.  So,  I have to conclude that my interpretation of his views in The Real Jesus and in The Writings of the New Testament was mistaken.
You can read the relevant passages on the Google Books preview of Living Jesus.
Although my description of Johnson’s view of Jesus’ resurrection was mistaken, this does NOT show that my objection was wrong.
First of all, the main point of my objection is that many biblical scholars who judge the death of Jesus by crucifixion to be nearly certain or highly probable DO NOT BELIEVE that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”  This generalization can still be true, even if Luke Johnson doesn’t fall into this category of biblical scholars.
Second, although Luke Johnson does believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead, he DOES NOT BELIEVE that this is an HISTORICAL FACT.  Johnson repeatedly asserts that the resurrection of Jesus transcends history and is not subject to historical investigation or historical proof or historical disproof.  So,  Jesus being alive after the crucifixion is NOT an HISTORICAL FACT that can be considered and weighed in the careful and objective historical judgments made by an historian.  Therefore, for Luke Johnson, unlike for William Craig,  Jesus being alive on Easter Sunday is not an historical fact that can operate as historical evidence against the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  So, my original objection holds.
Furthermore, although Luke Johnson believes that Jesus’ physical body was transformed into a new supernatural resurrection body at some time and at some place after the crucifixion,  it does NOT follow that Johnson believes that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”
In fact, although it is hard to be certain, it seems to me that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels, and particularly about the empty-tomb stories and the appearance stories in the Gospels, are such that  Johnson has significant doubts about the accuracy of the time and place of Jesus’ appearances to his gathered disciples, despite the clear indications in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John that such appearances occured in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.
My impression is that Johnson has significant doubts about the Gospel claims that Jesus appeared to his gathered disciples in Jerusalem and on Easter Sunday.  Thus, Johnson might well doubt, or even reject, the key historical claim for which Craig strenously argues, and which was the focus of my objection: “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 4

I have criticized William Craig’s case for the resurrection on the grounds that he fails to show that Jesus died on the cross, and that apart from proving this to be a fact, his case for the resurrection of Jesus is a complete failure.
Craig’s primary response to this criticism is that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus  (viewed 11/11/15)
Craig then quotes two biblical scholars in order to support his point:  Luke Timothy Johnson and Robert Funk, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.
In the second post in this series, I presented my main response to this point by Craig: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In the third post in this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter.   I argued that Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gosopels is such that he does not think that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus are sufficient to show that it is nearly certain or highly probable that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.
However, Johnson still asserts that these historical claims are highly probable on the basis of converging lines of evidence from historical sources other than the Gospels that support key points in the Gospel accounts, such as that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross:
Sober consideration of such difficulties ought to reduce expectations of how much real historical knowledge can be gained about the year (or few years) of Jesus’ ministry and the circumstances of his death.  Complete historical skepticism, however, is equally unwarranted.  A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events. …But they can speak to the most basic and important questions concerning the historical existence of Jesus and the movement deriving from him, as well as to some sense of his characteristic activity.  (The Real Jesus, 1st paperback edition, p.111-112; hereafter: TRJ)
Here is how Johnson explains his method:
The method used to establish the historical framework [of historical claims about Jesus] is one of locating converging lines of evidence.  It is a simple method, based on the assumption that when witnesses disagree across a wide range of issues, their agreement on something tends to increase the probability of its having happened.  When ten witnesses disagree vehemently on whether the noise they heard at midnight was a car backfire,  a gunshot, or a firecracker, it becomes highly probable that a loud percussive sound occurred about that time.
Likewise in the case of Jesus, the convergence on one or two points by witnesses who disagree on everything else is all the more valuable.  This is the case especially when the testimony comes either from outsiders or from insiders who are not creating but rather are alluding to narrative traditions.  In the following pages, then, I will suggest some of these lines of convergence and the kinds of historical assertions about Jesus they allow.  (TRJ, p.112)
The example of ten different “witnesses” disagreeing about the specific cause of a loud noise, but agreeing about the time and place of the loud noise makes sense, but this example is misleading and does not correspond well with the “converging lines of evidence” that Johnson has to offer for historical claims about Jesus.  In the case of the loud noise the “witnesses” are eyewitnesses, or more specifically, earwitnesses, and their “testimony” concerns direct observations of the event in question.  But this does not fit with the case of evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus, as another skeptical bible scholar, Bart Ehrman, makes clear:
…we do not have a single reference to Jesus by anyone–pagan, Jew, or Christian–who was a contemporary eyewitness, who recorded things he said and did.  (Did Jesus Exist? p.46)
As far as I can tell, Luke Johnson would agree with Ehrman on this point.  I quote Ehrman here because he makes this point very clearly and succintly.  There can be no “agreement” between eyewitness accounts of the life or death of Jesus, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS of the life or death of Jesus, period.
Apparently, Johnson is using the word “witness” to mean any writer who makes a comment about Jesus around the first or second century, and by “testimony” he means whatever such writers say about what Jesus did or said or experienced, no matter how the information was obtained in the first place.  It is not clear how this is analogous to a comparison of eyewitness accounts of an event where the “witnesses” related what they directly observed concerning that event.
After reviewing examples of “outsider” (i.e. non-Christian) writings from the first and second centuries that mention Jesus and that relate to some key claim or event found in the Gospels, and after reviewing examples of “insider” (i.e. Christian) non-narrative writings in the New Testament that mention Jesus and relate to some key claim or event found in the Gospels, Johnson provides a table that summarizes the evidence used in his “method of convergence” to evaluate the probability of those events.
The table has seventeen claims, and indicates the various writings and types of writings other than the Gospels that support each particular claim.  The items in parentheses refer to “insider” (i.e. Christian) non-narrative New Testament writings, and the asterisk indicates that one or more “outsider” (i.e. non-Christian) writing supports the claim:
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1. Jesus was a human person  (Paul, Hebrews)*
2.  Jesus was a Jew  (Paul, Hebrews)*
3.  Jesus was of the tribe of Judah  (Hebrews)
4.  Jesus was a descendant of David  (Paul)
5.  Jesus’ mission was to the Jews  (Paul)*
6.  Jesus was a teacher  (Paul, James)*
7.  Jesus was tested  (Hebrews)
8.  Jesus prayed using the word Abba  (Paul)
9. Jesus prayed for deliverance from death (Hebrews)
10.  Jesus suffered  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)
11.  Jesus interpreted his last meal with reference to his death  (Paul [by implication in Tacitus and Josephus])
12.  Jesus underwent a trial (Paul)*
13.  Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
14.  Jesus’ end involved some Jews  (Paul)*
15.  Jesus was crucified  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
16. Jesus was buried  (Paul)
17. Jesus appeared to witnesses after his death  (Paul)
(The Real Jesus, p.121-122)
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Many of these claims seem trivial and insignificant:

1. Jesus was a human person.  –  Just like every other religous leader who has ever lived, and just like every other supposed prophet or messiah!
2.  Jesus was a Jew. – If someone claims to be “the messiah” or is believed by others to be “the messiah”, then being a Jew seems like an obvious requirement.  So if someone heard that “Jesus claimed to be the messiah” or “Jesus’ followers claimed he was the messiah”, then they could easily infer that Jesus was a Jew, since the concept of a “messiah” was a Jewish concept, and since the Jews hoped for and expected the messiah to be a Jew.
Furthermore, one need not even have heard that “Jesus claimed to be the messiah” in order to infer that “Jesus was a Jew”  because the very name “Jesus” gives this fact away.  The Jewish prophet from Galilee was not actually named “Jesus” because “Jesus” is a name in ENGLISH, and the English language did not exist two thousand years ago.  The Gospels were written in Greek, and the Gospels give his name as Iesous, which is  “the Greek translation of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua.’ “ (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p.366).  The actual name of the prophet from Galilee was Yeshua, which is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name that we translate into English as “Joshua”.
So, Jesus was apparently named after the famous military leader of the Israelites who led the army of Israel in the conquest of the “promised land” after Moses died.  Jesus was named after a very famous Jewish leader, as were many of his fellow Jews in Palestine.  “Jesus” (or Yeshua) was a very common name for Jewish males in Palestine in the first century, so anyone familiar with common Jewish names, and common Roman names, and common names of other groups, could easily infer that a man named “Jesus” was probably a Jew.
4.  Jesus was a descendant of David. – How could anyone KNOW whether this was true or not back in Jesus’ day?  The only thing that someone could actually know along these lines is that Jesus CLAIMED to be a descendant of David, or that Jesus BELIEVED himself to be a descendant of David, and this is precisely what we would reasonably expect any Jew of that time who claimed to be the messiah to say or to believe.
7.  Jesus was tested.  – I suppose this means that Jesus was tempted.  Has any normal adult human being ever lived for a year or longer and NOT been seriously tempted to do something wrong?  This claim applies to virtually every adult human being.
9. Jesus prayed for deliverance from death.  – Has any normal adult who believes in God ever NOT prayed for deliverance from death when their life was in danger?  Even atheists are thought to make such prayers when their lives are put into serious danger.  This claim applies to virtually every adult human being (who believes in God).
10.  Jesus suffered.  – We all suffer at one time or another in one way or another.  This is like a vacuous “fortune” from a fortune cookie: “You are going to suffer.”  This claim applies to virtually every human being.
12.  Jesus underwent a trial.  – I just recently went on trial for a traffic violation.  I prepared my own defense, argued my case, and the charge was dismissed by the judge.  Lots of people experience being on trial.  This is a very common experience.
14.  Jesus’ end involved some Jews.  – Perhaps Johnson was just being a bit too vague here, but given that person X is a Jew, it is only to be expected that person X’s end would likely have “involved some Jews”.  If someone is sick or dying, then we would expect friends or family members to care for or visit that person.  If someone dies, we would expect friends or family member to bury that person.  Jews are usually from Jewish families, just like mexicans are usually from mexican families (nationality/ethnicity), and just like Christians are usually from Christian families (religion/culture).  And people generally form friendships with others of similar ethnic backgrounds and similar religious beliefs as themselves.
16.  Jesus was buried.  – Like nearly everyone else who has ever died, particularly at that point in history, when a proper burial for the dead was considered to be of great importance.
Perhaps Johnson could fix some of these trivial claims by sharpening the claims up and making them less vague, but as they stand, many of these claims are vacuous or trivial.  It looks like about half of the “claims” in Johnson’s list are either vacuous or very vague or are easily inferred from little or no factual data.  Providing “evidence” for such claims does very little to provide support the “historical framework” of the Gospel accounts.
Claims (13) and (15), however, are more specific and more significant.  So, let’s focus on these claims to see how well Johnson’s method of convergence does in supporting these two claims:
13.  Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15.  Jesus was crucified  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Note that most of the claims in Johnson’s chart only have one or two “insider” sources, and that only two claims have three insider sources: claim (10) and claim (15). Claim (15), the claim about Jesus being crucified, also has an asterisk, indicating that one or more “outsider” sources support this claim.  No other claim in the chart has three “insider” sources and also one or more “outsider” sources.  Furthermore,  Johnson reviews the “outsider” sources for (15), and there are multiple such sources.  Since there are three “insider” sources and multiple “outsider” sources supporting (15), Johnson draws the conclusion that (15) is highly probable:
…certain fundamental points on which all the Gospels agree, when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outsider testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded as historical with a high degree of probability.  Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus…was executed  by crucifixion under the prefect Pontious Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death.  These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history.  But they enjoy a very high level of probability. (TRJ, p.122-123)
Johnson goes on to say that some claims about Jesus have “only slightly less probability”, for example, claim (14) that “Jesus end involved some Jews”, and claim  (5) that “Jesus’ mission was to the Jews.”  Note that these claims have support from both “insider” and “outsider” sources, but that there is only one “insider” source (Paul) for each of these two claims, as compared with three “insider” sources for the claim that “Jesus was crucified”.  It appears that having just one “insider” source (as opposed to three) makes these two claims less probable than claim (15) about Jesus being crucified.
Although Johnson does not spell this out explicitly, it seems fairly obvious that he is basing his probability judgments here on something like the following assumptions:
A claim about Jesus that has support from all four canonical Gospels and both good “insider” sources and good “outsider” sources should be considered to be probable, and the more good “insider” and good “outsider” sources support the point, the stronger the probability.  A claim about Jesus that is supported by all four canonical  Gospels plus three good “insider” sources and two or three good “outsider” sources should be considered to be highly probable.
I have used the vague word “good” to qualify the sources, because it is obvious that not just any source would be acceptable to provide significant historical support for a Gospel claim about life or death of Jesus.
For example, Johnson quotes sources that are early, sources that date to the first or second centuries.  A source from the fourth or fifth century would clearly not provide any significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus.  In fact, in the paragraph immediately following his table of seventeen claims about Jesus, Johnson does indicate the importance of the earliness of a source, in a comment about “insider” (i.e. Christian) sources used to support Gospel claims about Jesus:
To repeat, non-narrative New Testament writings datable with some degree of probability before the year 70 testify to traditions circulating within the Christian movement concerning Jesus that correspond to important points within the Gospel narratives.  Such traditions do not, by themselves, demonstrate historicity.  But they indicate that memories concerning Jesus were in fairly wide circulation.  This makes it less likely that the corresponding points in the Gospels were the invention of a single author or group.  (TRJ, p.122)
Why does Johnson focus on “the year 70”?  He does not say, but it seems fairly obvious that this year is significant because it is the year that most biblical scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written (plus-or-minus a few years).  The Gospel of Mark is believed by most biblical scholars to have been the first Gospel to be composed.  Presumably,  “insider” sources that were written BEFORE the year 70 CE would not have been influenced by the Gospel of Mark, and thus would provide a source of information that was INDEPENDENT of the Gospel of Mark (as well as the other canonical Gospels).
If a person read about the (alleged) crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and then later wrote a letter that mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus, this letter would NOT provide information about Jesus crucifixion that was INDEPENDENT of the Gospel of Mark (or at least it would be reasonable to assume that this information came from the Gospel of Mark).  Therefore, it is very reasonable to use the year 70 CE as a cutoff point, and to generally presume that “insider” sources written after 70 CE are DEPENDENT on one or more of the canonical Gospels.  One requirement for something to be a GOOD “insider” source is that it was written BEFORE 70 CE.
This is one point at which we find the devil in the details.  The three “insider” sources shown for claim (15) in Johnson’s “method of convergence” table are:  Paul, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.  The problem is that we don’t know when Hebrews was written, so by Johnson’s own assumptions, this is NOT a good “insider” source of information that can be used to provide significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus:
It is therefore virtually impossible to suggest a date for Hebrews…  (Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.1453)
Thus the most frequent range suggested for the writing of Heb [i.e. Hebrews] is AD 60 to 90, with scholars divided as to whether it should be dated before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (hence to the 60s) or after (hence to the 80s).
…Nothing conclusive can be decided about dating, but in my judgment the discussion about the addressees into which we now enter favors the 80s.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.696-697)
The general range within which Hebrews was written runs from ca. A.D. 60 to ca. 95.  The earlier date is suggested by the author’s reference to himself and his community as second-generation Christians (2:3-4). …The upper end of the date range  is often anchored in the use of Hebrews by 1 Clement. …That letter from the leadership of the Roman church to Corinth is normally dated to A.D. 95-96, although that date is hardly secure, and the work could have been written anytime between A.D. 75 and 120.  This provides an upper end for the date of Hebrews of about A.D. 110.  ( HarperCollins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p.1149)
In addition to the biblical scholars who wrote commentaries on Hebrews that I have quoted above, there is another biblical scholar that Luke Johnson will have difficulty arguing against, namely himself:
Hebrews was composed early enough to be quoted extensively by 1 Clement, written to the Corinthian church around 95 C.E. …The sermon [i.e. Hebrews] could therefore have been written any time between 35 and 95 C.E.  (The Writings of the New Testament, revised edition, 1999, p.461)
We don’t know that Hebrews was written BEFORE 70 CE, so we don’t know whether Hebrews is INDEPENDENT from the Gospels.  So, there are, at most, only two good “insider” sources that support claim (15): Paul and 1 Peter.
Another point where the devil is hiding in the details is that the date of composition of 1 Peter is as problematic as Hebrews, so it also cannot be considered to be a good “insider” source for use to confirm claims about Jesus from the Gospels:
 All this points to a date [for 1 Peter] somewhere between 70 and 100 CE (so Best 1971; Balch 1981; Elliot 1982; on the inconclusiveness of some of this evidence, however, see Achtemeier 1996).  (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1263)
The date of the letter [i.e. 1 Peter] cannot be settled readily, but it is more likely to have been written shortly after the beginning of Domitian’s reign in AD 81 than either earlier or later.  (Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.1495)
If Peter wrote the letter [i.e. 1 Peter], the possible date range would be 60-65.  If the letter is pseudonymous, written by a disciple, the range would be 70-100. …the two ranges can be reduced to 60-63 and 70-90.  Pastoral care for Asia Minor exercised from Rome would be more intelligible after 70.  Similarly the use of ‘Bablylon’ as a name for Rome makes better sense after 70, when the Romans had destroyed the second Temple…; all the other attestations of this symbolic use of the name occur in the post-70 period.  The best parallels to the church structure portrayed in 1 Pet 5:1-4 are found in works written after 70… . All this tilts the scales in favor of 70-90, which now seems to be the majority scholarly view.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.721-722)
 In summary, 1 Peter is a general letter, probably written from Rome around the end of the first century, by follower(s) of the apostle Peter… (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, p.1168)
Many scholars…believe that the letter [i.e. 1 Peter] is pseudonymous, coming from a ‘Petrine circle’ in Rome in the last quarter of the 1st century. (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.1037).
Another biblical scholar that Luke Johnson could learn from is a scholar named Luke Johnson:
An even greater problem [than the problem of establishing dates for the Gospels] is presented by writings that are occasional in nature but cannot be fitted within the Pauline chronology.  There is simply no way to date Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation with any certainty.  (TRJ, p.91)
Most scholars, however, consider it [1 Peter] to have been written near the end of the first century.  (TRJ, p.164)
In that case we cannot determine “with any certainty” that 1 Peter was composed before 70 CE, and thus we cannot determine “with any certainty” that 1 Peter is a good “insider” source to use as evidence to confirm events or claims from the Gospels.
There are various arguments against Peter the apostle being the author of 1 Peter, and Johnson raises objections to these arguments to show that it is POSSIBLE that Peter is the author (see The Writings of the New Testament, revised edition, p. 479-484), but Johnson never argues that it is PROBABLE that Peter wrote this letter.
Given that there are many biblical scholars who date 1 Peter to the “last quarter of the 1st century” we can hardly be confident that this is a good “insider” source that can provide significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus.  So, because of the devil in the details, we are now down to just one good “insider” source supporting claim (15): the letters of Paul.
To be continued…
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 3

I have criticized William Craig’s case for the resurrection on the grounds that he fails to show that Jesus died on the cross, and that apart from proving this to be a fact, his case for the resurrection of Jesus is a complete failure.
Craig’s primary response to this criticism is that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus  (viewed 11/11/15)
Craig then quotes two biblical scholars in order to support his point:  Luke Timothy Johnson and Robert Funk, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.
In the previous post in this series, my main response to Craig is to point out that (a) the judgment of Evangelical Christian biblical scholars on this question does not carry much weight, and that (b) biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the reliablility of the Gospels, such as Luke Johnson and Robert Funk, DO NOT BELIEVE that it is an historical FACT that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday,  less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”
Because Johnson and Funk (and other scholars who are skeptical about the historical reliability of the Gospels) don’t believe this to be a fact, their judgment that is it highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is NOT RELEVANT to William Craig’s case for the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus.   Because Johnson and Funk DO NOT BELIEVE that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, they (unlike Craig) don’t have a strong reason to doubt Jesus’ death on the cross on Friday.  Craig, on the other hand, believes it to be an historical FACT that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so Craig (unlike Johnson and Funk) has a very strong reason to doubt that Jesus was crucified on Friday and that he died on the cross that same day.
A second response to Craig’s main point is that given the skeptical assumptions made by biblical scholars like Luke Johnson and Robert Funk, it is doubtful that their great confidence in the crucifixion of Jesus and in the death of Jesus on the cross is rationally justified.  I will now focus my attention on the development of this second response to Craig’s main point.
The Devil is in the Details
Although biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the Gospels (than Evangelical Christian biblical scholars) do sometimes make general statements about the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross being highly probable or nearly certain, when we look into the details of their views about the Gospels and about the stories about Jesus being crucified, we see that they don’t  actually have adequate grounds for their confident judgments that Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross are firmly established historical facts.
Since Craig has quoted from Luke Timothy Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who is very confident that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross,  I will begin by taking a closer look at Johnson’s evidence and reasons for his great confidence about these historical claims in the light of Johnson’s own skeptical assumptions about the Gospels.
First of all, the typical Evangelical Christian will think that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus are sufficient to prove that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.  But Johnson would not agree with this assumption, because he has a more skeptical view about the historical reliability of the Gospels.  Johnson compares the Gospel accounts about Jesus with the accounts that we have of Socrates, and he finds the Gospels to be more questionable and problematic than the accounts we have of Socrates:
The problems facing the seeker of the historical Jesus are even more severe [than the problems facing the seeker of the historical Socrates].  Although the biographies of Jesus…were composed within forty to sixty years of Jesus’ death, that is still greater than the memoirs about Socrates composed by Xenophon and Plato.  Socrates, furthermore, was remembered by disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses.  Although the Gospels undoubtedly bear within them evidence of firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses, such material is not identified as such, and the narratives as a whole were most probably composed by authors of the generation after that of Jesus’ immediate followers. (The Real Jesus, 1st paperback edition, p.107)
According to Johnson, the Gospels were NOT written by “disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses” of the life or death of Jesus.
Johnson allows that the authors of the Gospels might well have used some information from “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, but he points out that we don’t know when they are doing so.  Suppose that half of the information contained in one of the Gospels was based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”.  That could be true even if the passion narratives (which tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross) in all four Gospels were pure fiction.  
If we knew that half of the information in a particular Gospel was based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, then we might infer that at least half of the events or details in the Gospel were historically reliable (although without knowing anything about the personality, character, history, mental health and intelligence of the persons who were the supposed eyewitnesses, this would be a questionable inference), but since we don’t know which events or details have such backing, it would be the toss of a coin as to whether a given event or detail had such eyewitness evidence behind it.  But we don’t even know this much.  We don’t know whether 10% of the events and details of a particular Gospel are based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses” or  whether 30%  or 50% or 70% of events and details are based on such evidence.  Thus, the weak concession that Johnson makes here is of little significance.
Johnson goes on to note further problems concerning the historical reliability of the Gospels:
As for the Gospels themselves, the critical problems they pose the historian are notorious.  The most obvious and fundamental difficulty is that they are all written from the perspective of faith, a perspective that affects not just one part of the story or another, but the entire narrative from beginning to end.  Depsite sharing a faith perspective, the four Gospels dramatically disagree in their accounts.  The greatest difference is between John and the three Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
All critical scholars agree that the reason for the strong similarity among the three Synoptics is that they are literarily interdependent.  According to  the majority scholarly opinion concerning this interdependence, Matthew and Luke both use Mark in the construction of their narratives…the synoptic interdependence means that, for strictly historical purposes, these three Gospels in reality represent a single source.  (TRJ, p.107-108)
The content of the Gospels is shaped by ideology and theology, and the Gospel don’t provide us with four independent accounts of the life of Jesus, but only one or possibly two accounts, since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke use Mark as a primary source of their information about Jesus.
Johnson goes on to point out several significant inconsistencies between the Synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John, and then comes to a skeptical conclusion:
So many and fundamental are the discrepancies between John and the Synoptics that one of the earliest decisions made by the first “questers” for the historical Jesus was to abandon John as a historical source altogether. …Further research has shown that elements of John’s Gospel may well have value as historical evidence; equally significant, the confidence of earlier scholars in the bedrock solidity of the synoptic story line has yielded to the recognition of authorial creativity there as well. …The point I want to make is that the present shape of the canonical Gopsels is not such as to encourage the historian. (TRJ, p.108)
The Gospel of John was previously believed to be completly unreliable, but now scholars think there may be some historical nuggets here and there in that Gospel, and there is also a “recognition of authorial creativity” in the other Gospels, so all four Gospels are believed to contain some degree of fiction and falsehood, with John being the most historically unreliable of the bunch.
Let’s summarize Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels:  they were not written by eyewitnesses; some events and details might well be based on firsthand or eyewitness sources but there is no clear indication as to which events or details are so grounded; they were composed forty to sixty years after the (alleged) crucifixcion of Jesus; the contents of the Gospels are thouroughly shaped by Christian ideology and theology;  there are several significant inconsistencies between the Gospels;  the three Synoptic gospels consitute only ONE historical source, because Matthew and Luke used Mark as a primary source; the Gospel of John is historically unreliable, and although the Synoptics are not as unreliable as John, their authors did sometimes make stuff up (“authorial creativity”).
Given this skeptical view of the nature of the Gospels, it should be clear that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are NOT SUFFICENT to prove that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, nor are they sufficient to show that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.  Yet, Johnson claims that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.
Johnson reaches this conclusion on the basis of “converging lines of evidence”.   He reviews evidence from “outsiders” (non-Christian authors) as well as “non-narrative New Testament” writings in order to show that some key points of the Gospel accounts are supported by other historical sources.   Some key points, such as the crucifixion of Jesus, are mentioned by various “outsiders” as well as in various “non-narrative” N.T. writings, and according to the “method of convergence” the additional support from these other writings makes the crucifixion of Jesus, and some other key Gospel claims about Jesus, highly probable.
The Gospels by themselves are not sufficient to make it highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross,  but with the addition of “outsiders” evidence and “non-narrartive” N.T. evidence,  Johnson believes we can show these claims to be highly probable.
It is now time to dive into the details of Johnson’s thinking, the details supporting his view that the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross are nearly certain or highly probable.  It is in these details that, I believe, we will find the devil lurking.
To be continued…
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.