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

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

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

Three of these points (1, 5, and 7) are objections to specific versions of the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter: ADT).  At best, those objections cast doubt on some specific versions of ADT, so they do NOT rule out ADT in general.  The only way to rule out ADT in general is to PROVE that (JDC) is true. (At least, that is the only way a Christian apologist can rule out ADT.  A skeptic could rule out ADT by proving that Jesus never existed, or by proving that Jesus was never crucified, or by proving that a Jesus look-alike was crucified and mistaken for Jesus.) We can thus set aside points 1, 5, and 7 as irrelevant to the task of proving (JDC) to be true.
Let’s also set aside point 8, because that is a dubious appeal to authority.  Geisler quoting from that JAMA article is very similar to Donald Trump quoting Fox News commentators to “prove” that Obama had ordered Trump Tower to be wire-tapped.  The “authorities” who wrote that JAMA article have about as much intellectual credibility as the Fox News commentators.  The authors of the JAMA article are clearly biased and are incompetent for the task of careful and objective analysis of historical evidence.  Anyway, a serious intellectual case for (JDC) should focus on ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVIDENCE and should not rest on dubious arguments from authority.
Now we are left with the real heart of Geisler’s case for (JDC): points 2, 3, 4, and 6.
In Part 1 of this series, I showed that point 2 was a complete failure, so we now only need to examine the three remaining points (3, 4, and 6).
3. When Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out.
Here is a fuller quote from Geisler on this third point:
When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death.  The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around his heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids.  Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. …The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).  (WSA, p.121)
In that paragraph, Geisler makes ten relevant claims:
(3a) Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear (while he was hanging on the cross).
(3b) Water and blood flowed out of the wound in Jesus’ side (from the spear).
(3c) The thrust (of the spear into Jesus’ side) given by a Roman soldier (was intended) to insure death.
(3d) The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced Jesus’ right lung.
(3e) The spear pierced the sack around Jesus’ heart.
(3f) The spear pierced Jesus’ heart itself.
(3g) The spearing of Jesus’ side resulted in releasing both blood and pleural fluids.
(3h) Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross.
(3i)  Jesus was probably dead before the spear wound was inflicted.
(3j)  The spear wound to Jesus’ side would have been fatal in itself.
Each of these ten claims is an historical claim, so each of these claims needs to be established on the basis of historical evidence.  But Norman Geisler has no clue about how to make a case for an historical claim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderThe Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry – Part 1

In this series I will discuss a recently published book called The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry (hereafter: TRACI).  It is not my intention to DO a critical inquiry into the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus in these posts.  Rather, I will be describing and commenting on the efforts of Michael J. Alter, the author of TRACI, to do a critical inquiry into the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus.
I often complain about the intellectual laziness of Christian apologists.  I have dozens of books by Christian apologists where they present a “case” for the resurrection of Jesus in just one short chapter, or in a few short chapters, or in a short book.  Nearly all of these “cases” for the resurrection are complete and utter CRAP.  They are crap not only because of logical errors and questionable premises, but also because they are simply too short and skimpy to provide a serious rational case for the resurrection of Jesus.  Christian apologists are, in most cases, too intellectually lazy to work up a serious rational case for anything, even for one of the most important doctrines of their faith.
Most Christian apologists write articles and books for a popular audience, and their target seems to be primarily Christians who might have some questions or doubts about the resurrection, rather than writing for an audience of well-informed skeptics and atheists.   They don’t have to work very hard to convince their target audience that Jesus really did rise from the dead.  Because their target audience is largely Christian believers who are ignorant about the New Testament, and about ancient history, and about philosophy, Christian apologists who write for this audience do not have to face serious and intelligent challenges, so they become intellectually fat and lazy.
Although Michael Alter is not a biblical scholar or theologian, his book on the resurrection appears to accomplish what nearly all Christian apologists fail to accomplish: a serious, detailed, and in-depth examination of the question at issue.
So far, I have only examined the table of contents and quickly scanned TRACI, so I cannot recommend it as a good and solid book yet.  However, judging from the table of contents and a quick glance at a few sections,  it seems likely that Alter has done an intellectually serious critical inquiry into the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus.   As I make my way though the 745 pages of text in TRACI,  I will attempt to confirm or disconfirm whether (and to what degree) Alter succeeds in carrying out an intellectually serious critical inquiry into the resurrection, which would put his book head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of intellectually inferior books and articles on this issue written by Christian apologists.
Michael Alter is not an atheist.  He is motivated by the desire that his fellow Jews not be taken in by weak and questionable arguments presented by Christian apologists:
Alter’s interest in the field of Jewish apologetics began in the 1980s when he was a member of Havurah of South Florida. The spark was a class taught by Rabbi Norman Lipson, a guest teacher. Among the topics that Lipson discussed were Key ’73 [The avowed objective of Key ’73 was “to confront every person in North America more fully and forcibly with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”] and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. An important object of these efforts was to convert Jews to the Christian faith. Alter became concerned over Christian attempts to witness, evangelize, and proselytize Jews; his concern prompted him to research this topic.  (Biography)
Michael wants to prevent Jews from converting to Christianity on the basis of weak and questionable arguments.  As an atheist, I’m sympathetic with this aim; I just have a bit more general aim in mind, namely that NOBODY should be taken in by weak and questionable arguments for the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus.  Jews should not be taken in by such arguments, and Muslims should not be taken in by such arguments, and Buddhists should not be taken in by such arguments, and of course atheists and non-religious people should not be taken in by weak and questionable arguments for the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus.
In addition to his concern about Christian attempts to convert Jews,  Alter was partly inspired by a long debate that he was involved in over this issue with a Christian believer:
Alter’s resulting text, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, was a direct challenge raised by Anthony Buzzard, a prolific Biblical Unitarian. They corresponded over a lengthy period of time. Although they agree that Jesus is not God and that there is no such thing as the Trinity, Buzzard adamantly maintains that Jesus is the Messiah, a theological position that Alter totally rejects. It was during several communications that Alter was challenged by Buzzard to refute Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection – supposedly the ultimate proof that Jesus is the Messiah (and also God for mainline Christianity). During a decade and more, Alter worked to meet Buzzard’s challenge, that Jesus was not physically, bodily resurrected. (Biography)
Alter has an interest in taking a close skeptical look at the arguments and evidence relevant to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  He wants to help his fellow Jews to avoid being taken in by weak and questionable arguments for the (alleged) resurrection of Jesus, and he wants to defend the Jewish position that Jesus was NOT “the Messiah”.   So, it is no surprise that Alter’s conclusion is a skeptical one:
However, the pertinent question that must be asked relates to the evidence of Jesus’s death and claimed physical, bodily resurrection: is the evidence overwhelmingly conclusive to any honestly objective seeker of the truth? This book reveals certainly that this is not the case. (TRACI, p.745)
Although Alter clearly has motivations for reaching a skeptical conclusion on this question, that does not mean that his analysis is biased or unfair.  I will need to read his treatment of several of the questions and controversies that he covers in TRACI in order to determine whether, and to what extent, his analysis is fair and objective.
TRACI is organized chronologically in keeping with the Gospel stories about the trials, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Here are some of the chapter titles:
Chapter 3: From Crucifixion to Death
Chapter 5: Friday Afternoon until Saturday Morning
Chapter 6: Saturday Evening until Sunday Morning
Chapter 7: The Guard’s Report and the Bribe
Chapter 8: Easter Sunday: Travels, Angelic Encounters,
and an Appearance of Jesus
Chapter 9: Mary Magdalene’s Travels
Chapter 10: The Judas Episodes
Chapter 11: The Two Travelers on Their Way to Emmaus
Chapter 12: Easter Sunday Evening to Peter’s Recommissioning
Chapters contain sub-sections that deal with specific “Issues”.  Each issue is numbered, and by the end of TRACI, Alter has covered 113 different issues.  The “Issues” sections are often further divided into sub-sections concerning “Contradictions” and “Speculations”.  Each such sub-section is numbered, and by the end of TRACI a total of 120 contradictions have been discussed, and 217 speculations have been covered.  Here is an example of one “Issue” that contains subsections that are about “Contradictions” and subsections about “Speculations”:
Issue 15: The Actions of Jesus’s Followers during the Crucifixion and His Death

  • Contradiction #20 The Forsaking of the Disciples
  • Contradiction #21 The Differing Accounts of the Women at the Cross during the Crucifixion
  • Speculation #30 Those Present during Jesus’s Death—the Acquaintances in Luke 23:49
  • Speculation #31 Improbability of the Presence under the Cross
  • Speculation #32 The Theological Agenda of John Regarding “the Beloved Disciple”
  • Speculation #33 Could John Have Possessed a Home?

Atheists and skeptics are familiar with the problem of the existence of numerous apparent contradictions between the four canonical Gospels (sometimes even within the same Gospel). Many such apparent contradictions are discussed by Alter.
What about the “Speculations”?  These appear to be any other topic, besides a contradiciton, that is relevant to the issue of whether Jesus rose from the dead.  Some of the “Speculations” clearly involve skeptical objections or challenges to the resurrection claim (e.g. “Speculation #31 Improbability of Presence under the Cross”), while others deal more with matters of interpretation (e.g. “Speculation #32 The Theological Agenda of John Regarding ‘the Beloved Disciple’ “).

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 15

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
In order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Parts 10 through 14 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Robert Funk also fails to support his point.  Given the skeptical views and assumptions of Luke Johnson, his great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross is NOT rationally justified, and the same goes for Robert Funk.
However, it is not just Luke Johnson and Robert Funk who have very skeptical views about the Gospels and yet who have great confidence in the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of Jesus on the cross.  The biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar hold similarly skeptical views about the Gospels and they too are confident about the crucifixion of Jesus and his death on the cross.  So, in this post I will take a closer look at this seemingly paradoxical view of Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
Given the skeptical views and assumptions of Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar concerning the Gospels, the only canonical Gospel that could provide significant evidence for the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross the same day that he was crucified is the Gospel of Mark.  But in Part 14 of this series, we saw that Funk and the Jesus Seminar believe that the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable, and that the Passion Narrative in Mark is extremely unreliable.  
Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark contains the crucifixion scene, and here is how Funk and the Jesus Seminar scholars view that passage:
All the ingredients of the Markan scene are present in the Psalm [Psalm 22].  All Mark had to do was to let his imagination roam in constructing the scene he did.
The picture of the crucifixion in Mark was constructed out of firsthand knowledge of crucifixions and scripture.  There may be traces of historical reminiscence in it, but it isn’t likely.  Anecdotes about Jesus’ execution had not been developed during the oral period, so whatever memories there may have been were not kept alive.  Four decades or more later, Mark and the other evangelists had to reinvent the scene.  As a consequence, the Jesus Seminar was unable to verify any of the details in this scene as a report of actual events.  A black designation was the result.      (The Acts of Jesus, p.156)
Recall the meaning of the use of black font in The Acts of Jesus:
black:   This information is improbable.  It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.  (The Acts of Jesus, p.37)
Despite this conclusion about the events and details related to the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, Funk and the Jesus Seminar agree that Jesus was in fact crucified in Jerusalem:
In the collective judgment of the Fellows,  the details of the crucifixion scene were inspired largely by Psalm 22 and related prophetic texts.  In spite of that firm conviction, none of the Fellows doubts that Jesus was crucified (v.24a).  They are confident that he was crucified in Jerusalem, at a site outside the old city walls.  Just about everything else in the story was inspired by some scripture.  (The Acts of Jesus, p.155)
So, in spite of the view that the Passion Narrative of Mark is extremely unreliable, and in spite of the fact that the Jesus Seminar believes that nearly every detail of the crucifixion scene was an invention of the author of Mark (i.e. nearly every detail of the crucifixion scene is fictional), the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar “are confident” that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.
This appears to be a case of special pleading.  It looks like Funk and the Jesus Seminar are simply too timid to question the very basic Christian belief that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.  But, what OBJECTIVE REASONS do the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar have for making an exception of this specific claim from the extremely unreliable Passion Narrative of Mark?  If all of the details of the crucifixion scene are fictional, then why not also doubt the crucifixion itself?  Where does the great confidence of Funk and the Jesus Seminar about Jesus’ crucifixion come from? Amazingly, no reason is given for this confidence that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.  At least no reason is given in the section of The Acts of Jesus that deals with the crucifixion scene (see pages 155 & 156).
However, in a section that covers the opening verses of Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Mark, there is a justification given for a closely related judgment of the Jesus Seminar.  The second half of verse 15 of Chapter 15 of Mark was put into red font by the Jesus Seminar:
had Jesus flogged, and then turned him over to be crucified.  (The Acts of Jesus, p.152)
The use of red font here means that the Jesus Seminar was confident in the historicity of this part of the verse:
red:   The historical reliability of this information is virtually certain.  It is supported by a preponderance of evidence.  (The Acts of Jesus, p.36)
Most of the rest of the opening verses of Chapter 15 were put into black font by the Jesus Seminar, meaning that the other events and details were “improbable” and were “largely or entirely fictive”.  Given that Funk and the Jesus Seminar view the Passion Narrative of Mark as extremely unreliable, and given that they view most of Chapter 15 as “improbable” and “fictive”, where does this great confidence about the crucifixion come from?  What is it based on?
In this case, three reasons are given for their confidence about the crucifixion of Jesus:
The only completely reliable piece of information in this segment is that Jesus was executed on the authority of Pilate (the vote was virtually unanimous).  Both Josephus, the Jewish historian, and Tacitus, the Roman historian, attest to the reliability of this piece of information, as does 1 Tim 6:13.  The relevant part of v. 15 was accordingly voted red.  But the Fellows were almost as certain that no such trial took place as Mark represents it.  A majority of Fellows considered the notion that Jesus was put “on trial” before “rulers” as a story generated by the suggestions in Psalm 2, where kings and rulers array themselves “against the Lord and his annointed” (Ps 2:2). …The credibility of the Christian account of Jesus’ death required that there be a Roman trial and that it be presided over by Pilate, who was the governor or Procurator or Prefect (26-36 C.E.) at the time of Jesus’ execution.  For that reason Mark invented the story that appears in his gospel.   (The Acts of Jesus, p.152, emphasis added by me)
If the three reasons here seem vaguely familiar, that is because these three bits of evidence were also cited by Luke Johnson in defense of the historicity of key events in the Gospels.  I have already argued that these three sources fail to provide significant support for the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion or the execution of Jesus by order of Pilate.  For my criticism of the Josephus evidence, see Part 5 of this series.  For my criticism of the the Tacitus evidence and the evidence from I Timothy, see Part 6 of this series.
It should be noted that ONLY the passage from Josephus mentions crucifixion; neither the passage from Tacitus nor the passage in I Timothy mentions crucifixion.  Although the passage from I Timothy does mention Pilate, it does not even indicate that Jesus was condemned to die or that Jesus was executed.
The main problem with all three of these sources is that each of them was written a decade or two (or three, in the case of Tacitus, and possibly also in the case of I Timothy) after the Gospel of Mark and they are probably based on information/stories from early Christians who might well have been familiar with the Gospel of Mark and the story of Jesus’ trials and crucifixion as told in that Gospel.  In other words, these sources are probably NOT independent sources of information, but are rather derivative from the Gospel of Mark (or from the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke, which were in turn based on the Gospel of Mark).
In short, these three reasons provide only very weak evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus, and this evidence is clearly insufficient to rationally justify the great confidence of Robert Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar in affirming the traditional Christian belief that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem and that Jesus died on the cross.  Because of the obvious problems with these three reasons, I can only conclude that the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, like Luke Johnson, were blinded by some sort of prejudice which prevented them from being more consistent in their skepticism about the Passion Narrative of Mark, and from seriously entertaining doubts about the historicity of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem and his alleged death on the cross.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 14

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
In order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims.
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.
In this post, we shall see that the Gospel of Mark is viewed as an unreliable source of information about Jesus, and that the Passion Narrative in Mark is even more dubious and more unreliable than the rest of the Gospel of Mark, based on Robert Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel.  Therefore, the canonical Gospels fail to provide solid evidence for the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
The Gospel of Mark has many of the same basic problems as the other Gospels, according to Funk in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ):

  • It was not written by one of the original disciples of Jesus  (HTJ, p.116)
  • It was not written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus (HTJ, p.50)
  • It was written between 70CE and 80CE, forty to fifty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.38)
  • Most of the sayings and teachings ascribed to Jesus in Mark are not from the historical Jesus (HTJ, p.41)

Funk and the Jesus Seminar examined all of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and many of these sayings were judged to be probably unhistorical.  I looked at the Jesus Seminar evaluations of these sayings from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Mark and they judged 34 verses to be black or gray, and 16 verses to be pink, and 0 verses to be red (see The Five Gospels, pages 54-67).  The colors can be interpreted as follows (The Five Gospels, p.36):
red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.
pink: Jesus probably said something like this.
gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.
black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.
Thus out of a total of 50 verses from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Mark, only 16 of those verses were judged to be such that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  The remaining 34 verses were judged to be either probably or definitely NOT something that was said by the historical Jesus.  This means that the Jesus Seminar judged that only 32% or about one out of three verses in these chapters of Mark were probably historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as pink), and that about two out of three verses (in these chapters) were probably NOT historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as gray or black).  In other words, the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings that it ascribes to Jesus.
Given the specific skeptical beliefs of Funk about the Gospel of Mark, and given the view that the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Gospel of Mark is probably also very unreliable in terms of the actions attributed to Jesus and the events related to the life and death of Jesus.
The Jesus Seminar has also investigated the specific actions and events portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, and evaluated the historicity of those actions and events.  It should come as no surprise that the Jesus Seminar determined that the Gospel of Mark was also very unreliable concerning claims about the actions of Jesus and the events related to his life and ministry.
I looked over the evaluation of the “acts of Jesus” by the Jesus Seminar in the first 13 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, prior to the Passion Narrative (see “Inventory of Events” in The Acts of Jesus, pages 558-561) .
The Jesus Seminar evaluated 64 different acts or events from those chapters and judged that 20 of them were either red or pink.  The remaining 44 acts or events were judged to be either gray or black.  Here are the meanings of those color categories (The Acts of Jesus, p. 36-37):
red: The historical reliability of this information is virtually certain.  It is supported by a preponderance of evidence.
pink: This information is probably reliable.  It fits well with other evidence that is verifiable.
gray: This information is possible but unreliable.  It lacks supporting evidence.
black: This information is improbable.  It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.
Thus, according to the evaluations of the Jesus Seminar, only about 31% of the events in Chapters 1 to 13 of the Gospel of Mark are probably true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either red or pink) and that about 69% of the alleged events in those chapters of Mark are probably not true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either gray or black).  This confirms the previous reasonable inference that the Gospel of Mark is also very unreliable concerning the actions of Jesus and the events in his life.
Given all of the above skeptical assumptions and conclusions about the unreliability of the Gospel of Mark, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Passion Narrative (hereafter: PN) found in this Gospel was also very unreliable.  Thus, it should be no surprise that Robert Funk has a very skeptical view of the PN in Mark.  In fact, Funk appears to believe that the PN in Mark is even LESS reliable than the rest of this Gospel:
The use of tales that circulated in oral form prior to Mark ceases with the beginning of Mark’s account of the passion, which reaches its climax, of course, with the arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Most of these elements are products of Mark’s narrative imagination, although he may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  (HTJ, p.131)
Since Funk believes that the PN in Matthew and Luke is based primarily on the PN in Mark, his skeptical comments about the PNs apply to the PN in Mark:
The story of Jesus’ arrest, trials, and execution is largely fictional; it was based on a few historical reminiscences augmented by scenes and details suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms. (HTJ, p.127)
So, Funk believes that “most of these elements” in Mark’s PN are “products of Mark’s narrative imagination” and that scenes and details in Mark’s PN were “suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms.”
Funk throws a bone to believers in saying that the author of Mark “may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances”; he does not say that the author of Mark is certainly drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances; he also does not say that the author of Mark is probably drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  This implies that the author of Mark MIGHT NOT “be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances” and that the entire PN in Mark might well be purely a product of the author’s “narrative imagination”.
Not only was the author of Mark not an eyewitness to the events of the PN, but most of Jesus’ disciples fled after his arrest and thus were not present for the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed the narrative reflects any eyewitness observation at all. (HTJ, p.220)
Notice that there are two layers of doubt expressed here:  (1) there might have been no followers of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and (2) even if there were a few followers of Jesus who were alleged eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, the PN in Mark might not reflect any observations or testimony from those eyewitnesses.
Funk has serious doubts about the historical reliability of the story of the Last Supper, which is reported in Mark 14:12-26:
The words spoken by Jesus at the last supper…do not fit with the Passover celebration. …The breaking of the bread and the common cup were elements introduced into the meal by Christian interpreters who took it as a memorial to the death of Jesus rather than as a reminder of the exodus. …The counterpart in Mark 14:22-25, in which Jesus speaks of his own body and blood as a sacrifice, is thus not a part of the original passion story.  (HTJ, p.226)
Funk doubts that there was a Jewish trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (14:53-65):
It is entirely probable that the trial before Jewish authorities was a fiction.  (HTJ, p.220-221)
Funk doubts that there was a Roman trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (15:1-15):
It is not likely that a Roman trial was held.  (HTJ, p.221)
 
As previously noted, Funk believes that many of the details in the PNs were derived not from memories or stories from eyewitnesses, but from the Old Testament and other sacred texts:
Many details of the passion story were suggested by the Psalms, particularly Psalms 2, 22, and 69.  Other sources include prophetic texts such as Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9-14, together with stories of David (2 Samuel 15-17) or the suffering righteous martyr (Wisdom of Solomon 2 and 5).  Christian scribes searched the Greek scriptures diligently for proof that Jesus had died in accordance with God’s will. (HTJ, p.232)
Examples of this are given by Funk (HTJ, p.232-233) :
Casting of lots for the clothing of Jesus [see Mark 15:24] was inspired by Psalm 22:18…
Crucifixion between two theives [see Mark 15:27] was based on Isaiah 53:12…in conjunction with Psalm 22:16…
Striking, insulting, and spitting on Jesus [see Mark 14:65 & 15:16-20 & 15:29-32] were prompted by Isaiah 50:6….
Disrobing and rerobing in mock coronation [see Mark 15:16-20] were prompted by Zechariah 3:1-5.
Funk approvingly references John Crossan’s very skeptical views about how the PNs were thoroughly shaped by Jewish scriptures:
In his brilliant study, John Dominic Crossan has shown that virtually every detail connected with the passion was based on some scripture.  That prompted him to conclude: We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.  The stories of the arrest in the gospels are themselves fictions; we only infer that he was arrested because we know he was executed.  About the trial, or trials, we have no historically reliable information at at all. (HTJ, p.233)
Funk appears to agree with Crossan that “We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.”
Thus, Funk has serious doubts about the stories and details in the PN of the Gospel of Mark concerning the Last Supper, Jesus’ arrest, the Jewish trial, the Roman trial,  and many of the details related to Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
In addition to fictional events and details generated on the basis of the O.T. and other sacred writings, Funk points to other events and details in Mark’s PN that are fictional:
In addition to events and details suggested by scripture, the passion story contains a number of pure fictions. Judas Iscariot the betrayer [see Mark 14:17-21 & 43-46] is in all probabilty a gospel fiction. (HTJ, p.234)
Joseph of Arimathea [see Mark 15:42-47]is probably a Markan creation. (HTJ, p.234)
Barabbas (son of “Abba,” the Father, or “son of God”) in Mark 15:7 is certainly a fiction, as is Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus in Mark 15:21. (HTJ, p.235)
It is clear that not only does Funk believe that the Gospel of Mark is in general very unreliable, but that Funk believes that the PN in the Gospel of Mark is even more unreliable than the rest of this gospel.  The PN in Mark is filled with fictional characters, fictional events, and fictional details, according to Funk.
Therefore, because the Gospel of Mark was the ONLY canonical gospel that could possibly provide solid evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus and for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, given Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel, and particularly about the extreme unreliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark, one cannot rationally conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross, and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, at least not on the basis of the canonical gospels.
Given Funk’s skeptical beliefs and views concerning the unreliability of the canonical gospels, great confidence in the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is rationally unjustified.
===================
UPDATE  (3/3/16):
I took a look at the Jesus Seminar evaluation of the historical reliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark.  The Jesus Seminar divides the PN in Mark into 18 events.  It categorized 3 of these events as gray, and 15 of them as black.  It categorized 0 of these events as red, and 0 of these events as pink.   Thus, according to the Jesus Seminar 0% or 0 out of 18 events in Mark’s PN provide information that “is probably reliable”, and 100% or 18 out of 18 of the events in Mark’s PN provide information that is either unreliable or  improbable.  Clearly, the Jesus Seminar judged the content of Mark’s PN to be  extremely unreliable, and to be significantly LESS reliable than the contents of Chapters 1 through 13 of the Gospel of Mark, in terms of the events described in those chapters.
However, the Jesus Seminar also evaluated a few “Core Events” in the PN of the Gospel of Mark more favorably (as pink or red), including the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of Jesus.  So, I plan to examine  (in a future post) those judgements of the Jesus Seminar about “Core Events” in Mark’s PN.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 13

In Part 10, I argued that Robert 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, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke 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 or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are very unreliable.  
So, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.  That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In this and future posts, I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Specifically, in this post I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Matthew must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Matthew was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50), according to Funk.
Second, the Gospel of Matthew was written about 80-90 CE, according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Matthew’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Matthew used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Matthew (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Matthew agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon the use of Mark as a source by the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
Fourth, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Matthew’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I have checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Matthew (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 133-152), and only three in ten verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus).  So, according to the Jesus Seminar, the Gospel of Matthew is correct only about 30% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Matthew).   Thus, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Matthew was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Matthew to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.  Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Matthew to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and details that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew, that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Matthew as usually being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or details it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First,  the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Matthew adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42).  According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Matthew is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Matthew begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, and there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Matthew adds new events and details to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  In Mattew 27:51-54, an earthquake is added to the account of the opening of the tomb from the Gospel of Mark.  This is a “mythical element” added by the author of Matthew, according to Funk (HTJ, p.26).
The Gospel of Matthew also adds the story of the bribing of the guards (who had previously been guarding the tomb of Jesus) by the priests and elders (Matthew 28:11-15).  Funk believes that the guarding of the tomb, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew but not in Mark or Luke, is “a Christian fiction designed to ward off the criticism that Jesus’ disciples stole his body.”  (HTJ, p.236).  Thus, Funk must also believe that the story of the bribing of those fictional guards is also a fictional story.
The Gospel of Matthew also adds two  stories about appearances of the risen Jesus, thus going beyond the narrative framework provided by Mark.  Matthew 28:9-10 reports that Jesus appeared to three women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning and who left after finding the tomb empty.  Funk rejects the historicity of the empty tomb story: “…the empty tomb does not reflect the historical memory of an actual event.” (HTJ, p.259).  Thus, Funk must also reject the historicity of an appearance of the risen Jesus to three women as they were walking away from the empty tomb.  The Jesus Seminar comments on this passage that “Since the empty tomb tale is probably Mark’s invention, the appearance to Mary at the tomb also has a dubious basis.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.475).  The Jesus Seminar marks this passage as black, meaning “This information is improbable. It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.37).
Matthew 28:16-20 reports an appearance of the risen Jesus to his gathered disciples in Galilee.  Funk does not explicitly reject the historicity of this appearance, but he does explicitly reject the historicity of the words attributed to Jesus in that story: “The great commission, as it has been termed, was of course composed by Matthew.  It does not stem from Jesus.”  (HTJ, p.261).  If the author of Matthew invented the words of Jesus for this event, then it is reasonable to suspect that other aspects of this passage are also fictional.  Did all eleven disciples really experience an appearance of Jesus at the same time? Probably not, according to the Jesus Seminar (The Acts of Jesus, p. 484).  Did some of Jesus’ disciples experience an appearance of the risen Jesus on a mountain top in Galilee?  Funk makes comments that suggest this location was likely invented by the author of Matthew (HTJ, p.261. See also The Acts of Jesus, p.484). The Jesus Seminar also evaluated this  entire passage, not just the words of Jesus, as black, and comments that “In any case, Matt 28:16-20 is a composition created by Matthew; it probably does not rest on historical reminiscence…” (The Acts of Jesus, p.485).
On Funk’s vew, the additional details and events added by the author of Matthew to the end of the Markan narrative framework are fictional.  The Gospel of Matthew thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and various fictional details and stories to the back-end of Mark’s account, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the Passion Narrative in Matthew follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The death of Judas: Matthew 27:3-10, and the guard at the tomb: Matthew 27:62-66).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226 & 236. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.257 & 265).
Fourth, the author of the Gospel of Matthew also, most unfortunately, added some details to the story of the trial before Pilate that was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, details which were intended to shift blame for the death of Jesus away from Pilate and the Romans and onto the Jewish people:

  • Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns Pilate against condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:19)
  • Pilate washes his hands at the trial and proclaims “Don’t blame me for this fellow’s blood, Now it’s your business.”  (Matthew 27:24)
  • The Jewish crowd then proclaims its own guilt for the killing of Jesus: “So, smear his blood on us and on our children.”  (Matthew 27:25)

The Jesus Seminar judged all of these added details to be fictional, marking the passage as black:
At this point Matthew makes another fateful addition to the Markan story: He has Pilate wash his hands as a way of declaring his own innocence in the death of Jesus…. Thus Matthew has further aggravated the tragic fiction…by having Judeans embrace collective guilt for themselves and their children, although many of them had been followers of Jesus and many others probably knew little or nothing about him.  The blame that was supposed to last only for two generations has been extended by Christians for two millennia.  Matthew has blatantly exonerated Pilate, the truly guilty party…  (The Acts of Jesus, p.260)
Thus the author of Matthew not only invented fictional details to exonerate Pilate and the Romans from the death of Jesus, but also invented fictional details to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on his fellow Jews, which helped to bring about two thousand years of Christian anti-semitism, and the slaughter of millions of Jews by German Christians.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Matthew adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional events or details are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in 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 since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Matthew aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Matthew, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and one must set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being too unreliable to provide additional information (going beyond the accounts in the the Gospel of Mark) about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 12

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
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 William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 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 this post I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Specifically, I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Luke must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Luke was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50).
Second, the Gospel of Luke was written about 80-90 CE according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Luke’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Luke used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Luke (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Luke agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon Luke’s use of Mark as a source.
In general, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Luke’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in Luke for chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Luke (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 278-299), and only one in four verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus).  So, according to the Jesus Seminar the Gospel of Luke is correct only about 25% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Luke).   Thus, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Luke was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Luke to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.  Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Luke to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and events in the Gospel of Luke that are unique to Luke, that go beyond what Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Luke as being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or events it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First,  the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Luke adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42).  According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Luke is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Luke begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, but there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Luke adds new stories to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  Luke has the risen Jesus appear to his disciples in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.  But according to Funk, Jesus’ disciples had already left town and were headed back to Galilee (HTJ, p.40).  So, on Funk’s vew, the additional stories added by the author of Luke to the Markan narrative framework are fictional.
The Gospel of Luke thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and fictional appearance stories to the back-end of Mark’s account.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the unique narrative elements in Luke that occur after Jesus’ birth and before the resurrection appearances are also, according to Funk, largely fictional or non-historical:
The so-called “L” narrative segments in Luke are listed in Table 7. … All of them appear to have been created by Luke or his community, with perhaps a few exceptions.  (HTJ, p.133)
According to Funk, when the author of Luke adds new stories or events that don’t derive from Mark, the stories or events are usually fiction.
Fourth,  the Passion Narrative in Luke follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The incident of the two swords: Luke 22:35-38, and the Hearing before Herod: Luke 23:6-16).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.351 & 359).
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Luke adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional stories or events are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what the author of Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke 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 since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and as being too unreliable to provide any additional information about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 11

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
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 William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 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 this post I will point to some more specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the historical Jesus.
Although Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar look beyond the four canonical gospels for data about the historical Jesus, the four canonical gospels are still our primary souce of information about Jesus, especially about his alleged arrest, trial(s), crucifixion, death, and burial.  If the four canonical gospels provide historically unreliable information and stories about Jesus, then we simply cannot be certain that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified.  We also cannot conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified, if the four canonical gospels are historically unreliable sources.
Funk clearly views the Gospel of John as a highly unreliable source of information about the historical Jesus:
For all these reasons [see pages 125-127], the current quest for the historical Jesus makes little use of the heavily interpreted data found in the Gospel of John.  (Honest to Jesus, p.127)
For one thing, Funk and the Jesus Seminar have examined every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, and there is only ONE SINGLE SENTENCE attributed to Jesus in the entire Gospel of John that the Jesus Seminar thought was probably from the historical Jesus:
A prophet gets no respect on his own turf.  (John 4:44, The Five Gospels, p.412)
So, according to the Jesus Seminar, not only does the Gospel of John fall short of providing reliable information about the words and teachings of Jesus, but rather it is a very reliable source of FALSE information about Jesus.  Almost all of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John were marked as “black” by the Jesus Seminar, meaning:
black:  Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.  (The Five Gospels, p.36)
In layman’s terms, the Gospel of John’s accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are bullshit.  They are almost completely fictional.  Since, the Gospel of John is filled from start to finish with fictional accounts of what Jesus said and taught, we have very good reason to believe that the other aspects of this Gospel are also historically unreliable and are in most cases fictional.
Funk puts the nail in the coffin of the Gospel of John, with the following comment:
The crucifixion of Jesus must have been a disappointment to his first followers.  It certainly frightened them, to judge by their response.  With his arrest and crucifixion they fled from Jerusalem, returned to Galilee, and resumed their humble lives as fishermen and peasants. (Honest to Jesus, p.40)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples remained in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified, and the risen Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples, minus doubting Thomas, in Jerusalem on Sunday two days after his crucifixion, and he appeared to them again in Jerusalem a week later, with doubting Thomas present (John 20:19-29).  Thus, Funk believes that two very important stories about Jesus in the Gospel of John, namely two of his resurrection appearances to his gathered disciples, are FICTIONAL stories.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, almost all of the words and teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are FICTIONAL and unhistorical, and according to Funk, two very important stories in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ resurrection appearances are also FICTIONAL and unhistorical.  This gives us good reason not only to have doubts about information in the Gospel of John, but to infer that other events and details in this Gospel are probably FICTIONAL and unhistorical too.
Furthermore,  our degree of certainty about the death of Jesus on the cross depends to a significant degree on historical claims that are supported ONLY by the Gospel of John.  Specifically: (1) the use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus (as opposed to binding Jesus to the cross), and (2) the alleged spear wound to Jesus’ side.  Since these important details about the crucifixion are only provided in the Gospel of John, Funk’s view that the Gospel of John is historically unreliable seriously undermines the case for Jesus’ death on the cross (especially his death on the same day that he was crucified).
So, Funk’s skeptical view of the Gospel of John could BY ITSELF provide sufficient reason to have serious doubt about the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and thus make it very difficult, if not impossible, to establish that it is very probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
However, Funk’s skepticism about the Gospel accounts is not limited to the Gospel of John, so there are futher reasons that cast significant doubt on the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 10

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
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 William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I have argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  I will now argue that the same is true of the biblical scholar Robert Funk.
Craig quotes a part of a comment by Robert Funk:
In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion of Jesus was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians nor their opponents could deny.
The footnote for this quoted three-word phrase is rather vague:  “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”  The Jesus Seminar was in operation from 1985 to 1998, so a Jesus Seminar videotape could have been produced anytime in that fourteen-year window.  I have little hope of locating the particular Jesus Seminar videotape that this quote was taken from, so I have no way to either confirm the accuracy of the quote or to determine the meaning of the three-word phrase in the context of what Funk was talking about at that point.  I do not find this to be convincing evidence that Funk believed that the crucifixion of Jesus is a certain or nearly certain historical fact.
Furthermore, based on Funk’s comments in his book Honest to Jesus (published in 1996, hereafter: HTJ), it seems to me that although Funk believes that it is probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Funk believes that this claim is less than certain, and that there can be reasonable doubt about this claim:
There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question….We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows….Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)
The crucifixion is NOT “beyond question” according to Funk.  Even the very existence of Jesus as an historical person is NOT beyond question according to Funk.
This openness of Funk to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus is in keeping with Funk’s general skepticism.  In Chapter 1 of Honest to Jesus, Funk proposes seven ground rules for the quest of the historical Jesus.   Three of Funk’s seven ground rules clearly support a skeptical outlook in the study of Jesus:
Rule One
Human knowledge is finite.  It is fallible, limited, subject to correction.  If it were not, study and learning would be unnecessary.  This applies, willy-nilly, to the Bible, to the pope, to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and contemporary preachers alike.  And to scholars. (HTJ, p.24)
 Rule Five
In spite of the sciences, impressive methodological advances, and the knowledge explosion, we still cannot be certain that we can tell the difference between illusion and reality.
Aspects of what we think we see and hear, of what we believe we know, are almost certainly illusory.  The social world we inhabit as human beings was created for us by our historical and social contexts and by our own imaginations.  We are products, to a greater or lesser extent, of our own creative activity….One consequence of this arrangement is that we are constantly being deceived….illusion and error are a part of the human condition.  (HTJ, p.26)
Rule Seven
No matter how many illusions we dispel, no matter how firm the conclusions we reach this time around, we will turn out to be wrong in some way, perhaps in many ways, down the road.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will have to come along and correct our mistakes while adding their own. (HTJ, p.26)
Given this skeptical outlook, it is no surprise that Funk is open to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus and even to doubt about the existence of Jesus.  Funk rejects the view that the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus are beyond question.
It is not merely this general skeptical outlook that casts doubt on the crucifixion, but a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk that cast significant doubt on the crucifixion of Jesus and the on the claim that Jesus died on the cross.  I will argue that if one accepts Funk’s various skeptical assumptions, then one cannot rationally conclude that it is nearly certain that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.
Before I discuss Funk’s specific skeptical assumptions, however, I would like to touch on another aspect of Funk’s general viewpoint:  his cynicism.  I appreciate Funk’s cynicism.  Though Funk believes in God, and has some sort of very liberal belief or faith in Jesus, he is a kindred spirit, as far as I am concerned.   I appreciate Funk’s skepticism and his cynicism.
My own skepticism, I believe, arises out of cynicism, at least in part.   I suspect the same is true for many other skeptics, and it appears to me that Funk’s skepticism might also arise out of cynicism, at least in part.  So, I would like to share a few selected quotes that reflect Funk’s cynicism.
In the Prologue of Honest to Jesus, Funk lists ten of his personal convictions.  Two of them embody cynicism about human thinking:
8. I believe in original sin, but I take original sin to mean the innate infinite capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.
9.  I have come to see that the self-deception inherent in “original sin” prompts human beings to believe that what they want is what they are really entitled to and what they will eventually get–things like unending life in another world and absolute justice in this.  I doubt that it will work out that way.  (HTJ, p.11)
Funk experesses cynicism about his own conversion experience (and about other Christian believers):
…in the exuberance of youth, I thought it extremely important to hold the correct opinions.  I didn’t really know what the correct opinions were, but friends and others around me seemed to know, so I embraced theirs when I could understand them and sometimes when I couldn’t.  Among them was the good confession.  In response to prompting, I said Jesus was my personal savior.  Nobody explained to me what that entailed.  It has taken me several decades to get even a hint of what it could mean.
Most of us cling to opinions received secondhand and worn like used clothing. … (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Americans in general:
I am happy to report that I am the victim of a good education.  I would undoubtedly have grown up opinionated, narrow-minded, and bigoted like many Americans, but I had the misfortune, or the good fotune, of having excellent teachers. (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Christian ministers:
I started out to be a parish minister but soon learned that passion for truth was not compatible with that role.  In self-defense I became a scholar. (HTJ, p.5)
Funk expresses cynicism about churches and seminaries:
In Jesus as Precursor, a book I wrote while teaching in the Divinity School, I concluded that theologians should abandon the cloistered precincts of the church and seminary  where nothing real was on the agenda.   I soon followed my own advice.
The longing for intellectual freedom drove me out of the seminary and into a secular university. … the university had become my church and learning my real vocation. (HTJ, p. 5)
… I discovered that by and large what my students learned in seminary did not get passed on to parish memebers; in fact, it seems to have little or no bearing on the practice of ministry at all.  I was chagrined to learn that I was investing in an enterprise with no prospect of return. (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about universities and academia:
The University of Montana taught me another hard lesson:  universities are much like churches, replete with orthodoxies of various kinds, courts of inquisition, and severe penalties for those who do not embrace mediocrity and the teacher’s union.  Preoccupation with political trivia and insulation from the real world eventually pushed me to abandon that final sanctuary.  (HTJ, p.5)
…my academic colleagues and I were trapped in a perpetual holding pattern dictated to us by a system of rewards and sanctions in the university.    That system prevented us, or at least discouraged us, from entering the public domain with learning that mattered.  In their book, The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman define intellectuals as experts whose specialized knowledge is not wanted, is not even tolerated, by the general public.  (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about the general level of knowledge about religion and the Bible:
In our time, religious literacy has reached a new low in spite of our scholarship, in spite of the remarkable advances in research and publication our academic disciplines have made. (HTJ, p.5-6)
Jesus is a topic of wide public interest, and the ancient gospels are the subject of profound public ignorance. (HTJ, p.7)
All of this cynicism from Funk is found in the short Prologue of Honest to Jesus, and there is much more of this cynicism expressed in Chapters 1, 2, and 3, but I will spare you from any further cynical comments, and move on (in the next post) to taking a closer look at a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

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.