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 4

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

Many of these claims seem trivial and insignificant:

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

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 1

Jehovah, the god of the Old Testament, is cruel, unjust, and evil.  Jehovah, therefore, is NOT God, because God is, by definition, a perfectly morally good person.  Since Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus promoted worship of a false god and thus Jesus was a false prophet.  But if Jesus was a false prophet, then it is very unlikely that God, if God exists, would raise Jesus from the dead.  God would not be involved in a great deception, and raising a false prophet (who promotes the worship of a false god) from the dead would mean being involved in a great deception. (Perhaps Jehovah would have wanted to raise Jesus from the dead, but such an event would have no theological significance, because Jehovah is NOT God.)
There are many reasons for thinking that Jehovah is cruel and unjust, but one of the most glaring and obvious reasons is that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites living in Palestine and take their land.  Jehovah’s command appears to be a command to commit genocidal killing of thousands of people:
Deuteronomy 20:10-17 American Standard Version (emphasis added)
10 When thou drawest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that are found therein shall become tributary unto thee, and shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 and when Jehovah thy God delivereth it into thy hand, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take for a prey unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which Jehovah thy God hath given thee.
15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16 But of the cities of these peoples, that Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth;
17 but thou shalt utterly destroy them: the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee;
There are three main Christian responses to this disturbing Old Testament passage:
1. The Conservative Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is FACTUAL, but Jehovah was morally justified in commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in Palestine.
2. The Liberal Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is FICTIONAL, so Jehovah did NOT actually command the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites, nor did such massive slaughter of the Canaanites actually occur.
3. The Moderate Christian response:
The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is partly historical but is greatly EXAGGERATED in some Old Testament passages. The Israelites did fight with and kill some Canaanites in Palestine, but Jehovah did not command the wholesale slaughter of all Canaanites (men, women, and children) in Palestine.
 
The conservative approach is taken by the Christian apologist Clay Jones:
We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites
Killing the Canaanites
Clay Jones (blog)
 
The liberal approach is taken by the biblical scholar Peter Enns:
The Bible Tells Me So…
Blog Posts by Peter Enns on Canaanite Genocide
The Bible for Normal People (website)
 
What I have called the moderate approach has been taken by  the Christian apologists Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan:
Did God Really Command Genocide?
Is God a Moral Monster?
Interview of Matthew Flannagan on Did God Really Command Genocide? 
Interview of Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan on Did God Really Command Genocide?
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I (blog post by Matt Flannagan)
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II (blog post by Matt Flannagan)
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part III (blog post by Matt Flannagan)

To be continued…
 

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene – Part 2

I have put forward part of a case against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead”.  This case is based on the controversial claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.  Eugene has raised an objection to my case, and that objection comes in the form of an argument, an argument with a bit of logical complexity, which I have attempted to analyze and clarify.
I have left some of the statements or premises of Eugene’s argument as they were originally stated, but most of the statements I have revised two or even three times, in order to clarify the meaning of those statements and/or the logic of his argument.
Here is my most current version of Eugene’s Objection:
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Eugene's Objection Rev 3
 
(1) To say that a thing partakes of too much inaccuracy is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.
(2) When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.
(3) One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.
(4a) Three theological beliefs that God would want humans to get right are: (i) God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and (ii) God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and (iii) God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.
(5a) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.
(6b) IF a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), THEN we cannot reasonably say that the prophet’s God-model is too inaccurate.
(7b) IF Jesus’s words (according to the Gospels) communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii), THEN (based on the evidence of the Gospels) Jesus God-model is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(8b) Jesus’s words (according to the Gospels) communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii).
(9) According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.
(10a) When we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the [Gospel] record is equally positive.
(11a) While the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering” isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present [according to the Gospels], at least implicitly.
(12b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, Jesus’s God-model is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(13b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate.
(14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.  
(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
(C1) IF the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, THEN Brad’s argument against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.
(A3) Brad’s argument against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.
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I’m going to start with the conclusion, and work my way backwards through the logical structure of the argument.
(B1) and (C1) provide an argument of the form modus ponens for the conclusion (A3).  Modus ponens is a simple deductive form which is clearly valid:
P
IF P THEN Q.
THEREFORE:
Q
So, the logic of the final argument is fine, and we just need to evaluate the truth of the premises (B1) and (C1).
Obviously, I disagree with Eugene about (B1).  But (B1) is supported by an argument, so we need to consider the argument he has given in support of (B1).
I also, however, obect to premise (C1), at least as it is currently formulated.  (C1) is false.  Even if Eugene is correct that the available evidence does not support my claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, this is NOT my only reason for the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.
Three of my reasons for the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet” are related to Jesus’ promotion of Jehovah (worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah).  But the Gospels provide other reasons supporting the claim that “Jesus was a false prophet”.
For example, Jesus (according to the Gospels) taught that God was planning to eternally torture many people who were (on some occasions) lacking in kindness and generosity.  Jesus (according to the Gospels) taught that God was planning to eternally torture many people who have doubts about some theological claims about Jesus.  These are also reasons that show that “Jesus was a false prophet”.
Although Eugene’s objection, if correct, would put a big dent in my case, it would not destroy my case or cause it to “fall apart”.  But we can revise (C1) to qualify it a bit, and this will also require that we make a similar change to qualify the conclusion:
(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
(C2) IF the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”, THEN some of Brad’s arguments against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” are based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.
THEREFORE:
(A4) Some of Brad’s arguments against the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” are based on a claim that is not supported by the available evidence.

Given the qualification in (C2), I would accept that premise, and given the similar qualification in (A4), I also accept the inference from (B1) and (C2) to (A4) as logically valid.
Eugene believes (B1) to be true, but I do not.  Eugene knows that I would resist and challenge (B1), so he has provided an argument to support this premise:
(13b) Based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate.
(14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
THEREFORE:
(B1) The available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
This argument is not sufficient by itself, because premise (13b) is also controversial.  Eugene believes (13b) is true, but I do not.  And once again, Eugene is aware of the controversial nature of (13b) and so all of the rest of his argument, the premises prior to (13b), all work together as an argument suporting (13b).  Look at the argument diagram and you can see that every statement above premise 13 works to provide support for it.
Before we get into the question of the truth of (13b) and whether Eugene’s argument for (13b) is a solid argument, I want to take a look at the other premise of the argument for (B1):
 (14c) IF based on the evidence of the Gospels, we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is too inaccurate, THEN the available evidence does not support the claim that “Jesus promoted worship of a false god”.
Eugene does not provide an argument in support of this premise, so presumably he thinks the truth of this premise is self-evident or that it is at least fairly obvious that (14c) is true.  Since it is not obvious to me that (14c) is true,  I will not accept this premise unless and until some sort of explanation or clarification reveals it to be true.
First of all, the antecedent speaks of the “evidence of the Gospels” while the consequent refers to the broader concept of “the available evidence”.  Strictly speaking, the Gospels do NOT exhaust all of the available evidence about Jesus.
However, the historical materials relevant to Jesus outside of the Gospels are either more historically questionable than the Gospels or else are of very limited help in determining the beliefs and teachings of Jesus.  So, I’m inclined to accept the assumption that, for all practical intents and purposes, the Gospels are the best information we have about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, and that we can safely ignore other currently available historical sources, at least for the present issues about Jesus’s beliefs and teachings.
This is especially the case in this context, because we are not really trying to get to a scholarly view of the beliefs and teachings of the historical Jesus, which would likely involve setting aside a great deal of the content of the Gospels as being historically questionable.  Rather, we are assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, but not necessarily 100% accurate and reliable.
One open question (in my mind) is whether the Gospel of John should be considered to contain a reliable account of the words and teachings of Jesus.  Most Jesus scholars view the synoptic Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, & Luke) as much more reliable sources of information about the words and teachings of Jesus than the Gospel of John.  I agree with the majority of Jesus scholars on this point, and I believe John to be an unreliable source of the words and teachings of Jesus.
But I do want to be generous to the Christian viewpoint, and I also prefer to avoid going deeply into the maze of attempts to re-construct the historical Jesus.  So, we need to come to some sort of understanding about whether John will be acceptable as a source of information about the words and teachings of Jesus, or if we will focus on just the synoptic Gospels for answers to such questions.
Because Jesus was a devout Jew with a firm belief in the inspiration and authority of the Jewish scriptures, I assume that the content of the Old Testament is part of the relevant background evidence to be used in interpreting and understanding both the Gospels and Jesus’s beliefs and teachings.  The Old Testament, of course, was written before Jesus came on the scene, so it says nothing (of historical value) about the specific content of Jesus’s beliefs or teachings.
Another concern that I have about premise (14c) is the meaning and scope of the phrase “Jesus’s God-model”.  Does this mean “Jesus’s concept of God”?  If not, then how does a person’s “God-model” differ from that person’s “concept of God”?
Also, a key question is whether a person’s “God-model” can contain contradictory beliefs.  Can someone have a “God-model” that includes the characteristics “perfectly just” and “sexist” and “racist” and “pro-slavery” ?  Can someone have a “God-model” that includes the characteristics  “perfectly loving” and “bloodthirsty” and “cruel” and “pro-genocide”?  If such contradictions are ruled out a priori, because a “God-model” is necessarily a logically coherent set of characteristics or beliefs, then it looks to me like the game is rigged, and that the messy and often ugly reality of actual illogical human thinking about God is being ignored in favor of a much-too-tidy view of human thinking about God.
Unless Eugene insists otherwise, I will assume that a “God-model” can contain logically contradictory ideas or characteristics.  This means, by the way, that showing that Jesus believes that Jehovah is a perfectly loving and merciful person is NOT sufficient to show that Jesus’s God-model does not include the characteristics “bloodthirsty” and “cruel” and “pro-genocide”.
One final concern that I have about (14c) is that it may be too narrowly SUBJECTIVE in nature; it may place too much weight on Jesus’s personal beliefs and not enough weight on certain objective, publicly available facts.
Consider, for example, Hans, who is a promoter of the worship of Adolf Hitler.  It should come as no surprise that Hans has a very positive view of the character of Hitler.  Hitler was “wise, and just, and good”.  In fact Hitler, according to Hans, was perfectly wise, perfectly just, and perfectly good.  Hans adores Hitler and prays to Hitler each and every day, morning and evening.   Each year on April 20th, Hans and his fellow Hitler worshippers gather together to feast and to celebrate the birth of baby Adolf.
Does Hans “promote the worship of a false god”?  I’m inclined to think that Hans does promote the worship of a false god.  Furthermore, I’m inclined to believe this to be so, even if his conception of Hitler is of a perfectly wise, perfectly good, and perfectly just person.  I’m inclined to think this because the facts that show Hitler to be a cruel and unjust and evil person are publicly available facts, and Hans is simply an idiot for failing to recognize those facts and/or their implications.  Even if Hans is a holocaust denier, and loudly proclaims that Hitler would never be involved in killing an innocent human being, I would still be inclined to say that Hans “promotes the worship of a false god”.
One might want to argue that Hans does not INTENTIONALLY “promote the worship of a false god”, because Hans does not believe that Hitler did the evil things that the rest of us (who are not idiots) believe Hitler did.  So, perhaps Hans is not as guilty or as blamewothy as somone who promotes Hitler worship but who is fully aware of the fact that Hitler planned and ordered the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children.
Nevertheless, Hans should not be completely let off the hook, and in any case, since Hans is promoting the worhip of an evil person, where publicly available facts show the person to be evil, it seems clear to me that God, if God exists, would never accept Hans as a messenger of  God’s  important theological teachings.  God, if God exists, would not use Hans as a prophet, because Hans promotes the worship of a false god.
Unless and until the apparently too-narrow focus of (14c) on purely subjective aspects (i.e. Jesus’s beliefs about Jehovah) is removed or justified, I do not accept (14c).  Premise (14c) is NOT obviously true; it is a dubious claim that stands in need of either  justification or qualification.

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Response to Eugene

Before I go on to  Part 4 of this series, I’m going to take time to respond to a defense of Jesus put forward by Eugene (see comments by Eugene on my Part 3 post).
I am arguing that it is very unlikely that God would raise Jesus from the dead, because Jesus was a false prophet.  Some key reasons supporting my claim that Jesus was a false prophet are that Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, obedience to Jehovah, and prayer to Jehovah, and that Jehovah is a false god.  Jehovah is a false god because Jehovah is NOT a perfectly morally good person.  Jehovah promoted slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, cruelty, intolerance, and totalitarianism.  Jehovah is a cruel and bloodthirsty deity, so Jehovah is a false god.
I have not yet defended my most controversial claim, which is that Jehovah is a false god.  I have only summarized my thinking (as in the previous paragraph).  But Eugene was impatient with my slowness in getting around to that key question, so Eugene began a defense of Jesus and the “Jehovah-concept” of God, in anticipation of my forthcoming criticism of Jehovah.  Eugene’s objections are thoughtful and clear, and have some initial plausibility; so I view Eugene as a worthy opponent who deserves a response that is as thoughtful and clear as his objections, and that will, hopefully, show that his objections are not as plausible as they initially seem to be.
Knowing Where to Draw the Line
“But how much inaccuracy is too much from God’s perspective?  Do you know?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t know where an utterly perfect Being would draw the line on acceptable imperfection.  Perhaps it is better not to pretend that we know.”
– Eugene
I admit that a perfectly good God might allow some degree of imperfection in how humans conceive of or represent God, and that God might allow some degree of imperfection in the concept of God held and promoted by a “prophet”; that is, by a messenger whom God uses to communicate important truths to groups of humans or to humankind in general.  Eugene is arguing that since I admit that a perfectly morally good God might allow a small degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God, that a perfectly morally good God might allow a large degree of imperfection in how one of his prophets conceives of or characterizes God.  Thus, even if Jehovah as characterized in the O.T. was cruel, bloodthirsty, and evil, this “imperfect” concept of God might be tolerated by God in the thinking and teaching of one of God’s prophets or messengers, and thus God might tolerate the promotion of the “Jehovah-concept” of God by Jesus, and God might still consider Jesus to be his prophet or messenger.
First, there appears to be a logical fallacy here, used by ancient Greek philosophers in the paradox of the heap.  If you start out with a heap of grains of sand (with say 100,000 grains), and remove just one grain of sand, that will not reduce the remaining sand to something less than a “heap” of sand.  But since removal of just one grain of sand must always leave us with a “heap”, we must still have a “heap” of sand even if we remove one grain of sand at a time until only one single grain of sand remains.  The final one grain of sand, it is concluded, must still be a “heap” of sand.
The fact that it is difficult (or even impossible) to “draw the line” on when a heap of sand becomes something less than a heap does NOT show that a single grain of sand constitutes a “heap” of sand.  Clearly one grain of sand is not a heap of sand.  The assumption is that all concepts must have absolutely clear and precise boundaries.  This assumption is false.  It may represent an ideal of clarity and precision, but this assumption does not represent how words and concepts actually function.  Concepts often have fuzzy boundaries, grey areas, that make it difficult or impossible to KNOW the precise location of the edge of the concept, to know, for example the exact number of grains of sand required to form a “heap” of sand.  The existence of borderline cases does not rule out the existence of clear cut cases.  One grain of sand is NOT a “heap” of sand, and 100,000 grains of sand clearly constitute a “heap” of sand (at least if they are gathered together into a roughly conical pile).
A second and more important problem with this defense of Jesus, is that it fails to take into account a critical distinction, the distinction between important and unimportant theological beliefs.  Inaccuracy in theological beliefs is no big deal, if we are talking about unimportant or insignificant theological beliefs, but inaccuracy in theological beliefs can be a big deal, if we are talking about important or significant theological beliefs.  My admission that God would tolerate a degree of inaccuracy in a person’s theological beliefs is based on the assumption that many (perhaps most) theological beliefs are unimportant or insignificant.
For example,  Christians have slaughtered each other over the theological doctrine of transubstantiation.  This was massive stupidity on the part of Christians because this theological belief is of very little significance.  A perfectly morally good God would never severely punish belief in transubstantiation, even if that belief was false.  Nor would a perfectly good God severely punish doubt or rejection of transubstantiation, even if that belief was true.  Transubstantiation is an insignificant theological belief, and God (if God exists) couldn’t care less whether humans accept or reject that theological belief.
But not all theological beliefs are as trivial and unimportant as transubstantiation.  What sort of theological beliefs would God be concerned about?  What sort of theological beliefs would God strongly desire for humans to get right?  Since God (if God exists) is a perfectly morally good person, we can reasonably infer that God would care most about theological beliefs that had significant implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.
One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.  Such theological beliefs have implications for how humans treat each other and how humans treat non-human animals.  If humans got the WRONG IDEA about God, and formed false theological beliefs, such as that God does not care about fostering human happiness and well-being, and that God is pleased when humans are cruel and violent towards each other, and that God is pleased by cruel treatment of non-human animals, then such inaccurate theological beliefs would have serious negative impact on human and animal happiness and well-being.  So, these are the sort of theological beliefs that God would care about, assuming that God exists.
In characterizing the “Jehovah-concept” of God as being “inacurate”, and in insisting that we do not know whether the “Jehovah-concept” of God is “too inaccurate” to be tolerated by God, Eugene is suggesting that God does not care about the accuracy of important and significant theological beliefs, that God does not care about the accuracy or correctness of human theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other or treat non-human animals.   In other words, Eugene is implying that God would tolerate a mistaken conception of God which characterized God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice.   The “Jehovah-concept” of God is a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, and so such a concept would never be tolerated by God, if God exists.  Any prophet who promotes a concept of God as being a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice, is clearly a false prophet.  Jesus promoted the “Jehovah-concept” of God, so Jesus is a false prophet, and it would be very unlikely that God would raise such a false prophet from the dead.
Finally, this comment by Eugene seems to have some similarity to the view called “skeptical theism”.  Skepticism has sometimes been used as a way of defending religious beliefs.  The problem with this approach is that skepticism is a two-edged sword.  If we really do not know whether a perfectly morally good person (who was also omnipotent and omniscient and eternal) would tolerate a prophet who promoted a false conception of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice (when God is actually opposed to violence, cruelty, and injustice), then that would take the wind out of my argument against Jesus’ resurrection, but it would ALSO have very negative (skeptical) implications for the case for God and for divine revelation.
If proclaiming a concept of God as a promoter of violence, cruelty, and injustice is something that, for all we know, a perfectly good God might find acceptable in a prophet, then we are in no position to judge whether the creator of the world (assuming such a person exists) is good or evil, and even if we (somehow) decide that the creator is perfectly good, and that the Bible is a message from the creator, we have no reason for any degree of confidence in the messages in the Bible, given that God, on this view, tolerates false theological beliefs EVEN WHEN we are talking about IMPORTANT theological beliefs, theological beliefs that have significant implications for how humans should treat each other and non-human animals. 
Relatively Less Inacurate Theological Beliefs
“And so long as the Jehovah-model (in its various iterations) was still relatively less inaccurate than other models available in the same cultural milieu, my argument can function.” – Eugene
In the Ancient Near East (hereafter: ANE), one could argue, as Eugene does, that the god of the Israelites, Jehovah, was no worse than the gods of other peoples and tribes, and that Jehovah was, in some respects, a better person, morally speaking, than those alternative deities.  Eugene has not actually made the case for this claim, but let’s suppose that a plausible case could be made that Jehovah was a morally better person than his competitors in the ANE.  So what?  One might also argue that Hitler was a morally better person than Stalin, but that could only mean that Hitler was the lesser evil of two very evil men. So what?  That does NOT make Hitler worthy of being worshipped.
I admit that a perfectly good God might well allow humans to worship a deity that was characterized in a way that implies the deity was less than perfect.  But being less than perfect is different than being evil, than being a god who promotes violence, cruelty, and injustice.  God would never give his blessing to worship of Hitler, even if Hitler was the very best human leader that ever existed (i.e. even if all other human leaders did things worse than lead and command the genocidal slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children).  God, if God exists, is a perfectly morally good person, and such a person would never approve of the worship of an evil person like Hitler.  Jehovah is very similar to Hitler and Stalin.  Jehovah is an evil person who promoted slavery, sexism, intolerance, war, cruelty, genocide, and totalitarianism.  God would never approve of the worship of such a person.  Being the least evil person among various horribly evil persons does not make a person “good enough” to be worshipped.
Furthermore, Eugene’s view here seems to involve the same sort of implication as the “progressive revelation” apologetic move:  God must be an incompetent fool.  Contrary to Eugene’s view, God would settle for the lesser of evils ONLY IF there was no possibility of a good alternative.  One good alternative to worshipping Hitler (or Jehovah) would be to not worship anyone.  That might not be the most ideal situation (if God existed) but at least it would avoid the absurdity and depravity of worshipping a very evil person.
Not only could God figure out that obviously better alternative, but God could, unless God was an incompetent fool, figure out and communicate alternative conceptions of God that would be much better than Hitler or Jehovah, because the alternative conception would be of a good person rather than an evil person.  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to come up with an improved concept of God (one that humans can learn and understand), then God WILL do so (if God exists).  God is omnipotent and omniscient, so if God wants to teach and communicate a new-and-improved concept of God to humans, then God WILL do so (if God exists).
Eugene is assuming that God is somehow limited to only the concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a given point in time.  But that assumption implies that either God is unable to come up with a better concept of God than the “Jehovah-concept” or that God would be unable to teach and communicate such a concept to humans who lived in the ANE.  Suppose we could gather together Aristotle, Plato, Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, and Swinburne into one room, and ask them to come up with three alternative concepts of God besides the “Jehovah-concept”, concepts of a person who was a morally good person who was morally better than Jehovah.  Could they do this?  Of course they could.  Is God less capable, less creative, less intelligent, than these great thinkers?   Of course not.  God could come up with dozens or even thousands of improved concepts of God, without any help from Aquinas, Kant, or Swinburne.
If our gathered philosophers came up with three alternative concepts of God that were concepts of a person who was morally better than Jehovah, could God teach and communicate one of these alternative concepts effectively to Moses or to Joshua or to some other person in the ANE?  Of course God could do so.  So, as with proponents of “progressive revelation” Eugene’s view implies that God is either stupid or incompetent.  Since God is by definition omnipotent and omniscient, Eugene’s view implies something that is a self-contradiction.  A person who is stupid or incompetent cannot be God.  God, therefore, is not, and cannot be, limited to the meager and defective concepts of God that were available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history.
Finally, if for some reason (unknown to us) God was limited to only the concepts of God available to people in the ANE when he (allegedly) revealed himself to Moses, and if the “Jehovah-concept” was the least evil among the available concepts at that point in time, then the instant that God communicated the “Jehovah-concept” of God to Moses, God would begin to work on changing and improving that extremely defective concept of God.  And one of the very top priorities that God would have is to eliminate the violence, cruelty, and injustice contained in the “Jehovah-concept” of God.  Yet, when Jesus appears on the scene more than a thousand years later, we don’t hear any condemnation of slavery, wars of aggression, genocide, or other cruelty and injustice promoted by Jehovah.  Jesus shows no sign of revulsion at the evils of Jehovah.  Jesus fully embraced and worshipped Jehovah, and encouraged his followers to join him in worship of, obedience to, and prayer to Jehovah.
God would not have waited more than a week to begin correcting the perversion of worshipping an evil person.  The idea that God would sit around for over a thousand years and tolerate continued worship of Jehovah, and then send us Jesus as the penultimate revelation of theological truth, and have Jesus perpetuate this perversion of worship and obedience to an evil person, is absurd.
God is no fool.  If God exists, God would not approve of the worship of an evil person as God.  If God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE at a particular point in history, then God would simply discourage worship of any person, rather than bless the worship of an evil person.  But God was limited to only the existing concepts of God available to people in the ANE only if God was either incompetent or a fool.  Since God, if God exists, is neither incompetent nor a fool, God had plenty of other alternative concepts of God available to communicate to Moses and Joshua, and to any other person in the ANE.
====================
Update on 7/21/15
In response to the above post, Eugene has put forward an argument (see comments by Eugene).  As a first step to take before evaluating Eugene’s argument, I have attempted to analyze the logical structure of his argument.  Here are the key claims (I have left out the evidence provided in support of the main factual claims about Jesus in order to maintain focus on the basic logical structure):
(1) To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.
(2) When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.
[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: If (1) is true, then that leads to the conclusion (13).  So, (2) might not play a role as a premise in this argument.]
(3) One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.
(4) One theological belief that God would want humans to get right, is that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.
So, presumably…
(5) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.
and [thus]…
(6) We cannot reasonably then say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate.” [if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey this belief (or not to overthrow it)].
If that’s the case [if (6) is the case], then…
(7) It’s simply a matter of turning to Jesus’s words and investigating them to discover if they communicate that “God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and that God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and that God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.”
When we do that, though…
(8) Jesus’s understanding of God, his own particular version of the Jehovah-model of God, passes the test.
(9) According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.
(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.
(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.
It seems then that…
(12) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, satisfies your proffered criteria for being sufficiently accurate.
(13) We really have no good grounds for thinking that Jesus’s God-model was inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”
(14) And if that’s the case [if (13) is the case], then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
 
Here is my interpretation of the logical structure of the argument:
Eugene's Objection
 
 
UPDATE on 7/22/15
In trying to clarify the premises of Eugene’s argument, I have come to see the logical structure a bit differently.  Here are the re-worded statements:
(1)To say that a thing partakes of “too much inaccuracy” is really just to say that a thing is inaccurate to the point of frustrating a given agent’s purposes for utilizing that thing in the first place.
(2)When we apply that understanding to God and his presumptive purposes for engaging prophets, we can see quite readily that the identification of the Jehovah-model (quite specifically Jesus’s own version of it) as something partaking of too much inaccuracy is simply unwarranted given your already-stated concessions.
[I think that (2) is an overarching summary statement: “If (1) is true, then that leads us to the conclusion (13).”  So, (2) probably does not play a role as a premise in this argument.]
(3)One of the primary purposes God might have for endorsing prophets is to convey through them correct ideas about God.
(4a) Three theological beliefs that God would want humans to get right are: (i) God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and also of non-human animals, and (ii) God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being, and (iii) God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.
So, presumably…
(5a) As long as a prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them), then it doesn’t frustrate God’s purpose for using the prophet in the first place.
and [thus]…
(6a) We cannot reasonably say that the prophet’s God-model is “too inaccurate” if the prophet’s model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(7a) If Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii), then Jesus model of God is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(8a) Jesus’s words communicate the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii).
(9)According to the gospels, Jesus was emphatic that God cares about the happiness and well-being of humans and animals too.
(10) Moving on, when we consider the extent to which Jesus endorsed the idea that “God wants humans to get along with each other and to help each other to achieve happiness and well-being,” the record is equally positive.
(11) Finally, there is the matter of the belief that “God wants humans to avoid causing needless animal suffering.” While this isn’t a major element of Jesus’s message, it is still present, at least implicitly.
It seems then that…
(12a) Jesus’s model of God, his own particular variant of the Jehovah-model, is accurate enough to convey the beliefs (i), (ii), and (iii) (or not to overthrow them).
(13a) We cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god.”)
(14a) If we cannot reasonably say that Jesus’s God-model is “too inaccurate” (i.e. inaccurate to the point that we could call it simply “a false god”), then your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
(A) Your wider argument against the resurrection falls apart.
Here is my revised analysis of the logical structure of Eugene’s argument:
Eugene's Objection Rev1

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 3

I am arguing that it is not possible for Christian apologists to make a solid rational case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).  My argument is based on the controversial claim that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP):
1. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
2. Jesus was not a prophet.
3. IF a person P claimed to be a prophet but was not a prophet, THEN person P was a false prophet.
Therefore:
4. Jesus was a false prophet.
5. IF a person P was a false prophet, THEN it is not the case that God raised person P from the dead.
Therefore:
6. It is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.
In the previous post, I showed that if we grant, for the sake of argument, the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then they provide a lot of evidence that premise (1) is true.  If the gospels are reliable, then it is very probable that (1) is true.
But Christians believe that Jesus was a prophet, and they are also inclined to believe (1) to be true, so (1) is not controversial.  The controversial premise, the main point of disagreement between Christians and me is premise (2).  If I can show that (2) is true or that it is very probable that (2) is true, then that will get me very close to showing that Jesus was a false prophet, and that it is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).  In other words, whether a good case for the resurrection can be made depends on whether premise (2) is true or very probable (on the assumption that the gospels are reliable).
Three key reasons in support of (2) are as follows (there are other good reasons as well, but these are ones I will focus in on):
7.  Jesus promoted obedience to Jehovah.
8.  Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah.
9.  Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah.
These reasons are relevant as evidence for (2) because Jehovah is a false god:
(JFG)  Jehovah is a false god.
In other words, either Jehovah does not exist, or else Jehovah exists but is NOT God.
From these assumptions, one may draw the following conclusions:
10. Jesus promoted obedience to a false god.
11. Jesus promoted worship of a false god.
12. Jesus promoted prayer to a false god.
 
So, some key arguments for premise (2) are as follows:
 
Obedience Argument
10. Jesus promoted obedience to a false god.
13. IF a person P promoted obedience to a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
 
Worship Argument
11. Jesus promoted worship of a false god.
14. IF a person P promoted worship of a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
 
Prayer Argument
12. Jesus promoted prayer to a false god.
15. IF a person P promoted prayer to a false god, THEN person P was not a prophet.
Therefore:
2.  Jesus was not a prophet.
In my view, anyone who is familiar with the Bible will agree that given the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, it is very probable that (7) is true, and very probable that (8) is true, and very probable that (9) is true.  Based on the gospel accounts, Jesus promoted obedience to, worship of, and prayer to Jehovah.
However, many Christians are ignorant about the Bible, and so may not be aware that the gospels clearly imply that (7), (8), and (9) are true.  Furthermore, some Christians who are familiar with the Bible are inclined to deny clear and obvious facts about the contents and implications of the Bible.  Therefore, although the gospels clearly support premises (7), (8), and (9), I am going to go ahead and lay out the evidence supporting these premises, in order to silence Christians who are ignorant about the contents of the Bible as well as Christians who are inclined to deny obvious facts about the contents of the Bible.
After I lay out the case for (7), (8), and (9), I will get into making the case for the more controversial claim that Jehovah is a false god (JFG).
The evidence of the gospels concerning (7), (8), and (9) must be understood in terms of a couple of general assumptions:
(JDJ)  Jesus was a devout Jew.
(JGJ)  Jehovah is the god of devout Jews.
The term “Jew” is somewhat unclear and ambiguous, because it can refer either to a person’s  ancestry, or ethnicity, or religion.  So, I am going to define what I mean by the term “devout Jew” at least in relation to the above two general assumptions:
A person P was a devout Jew IF AND ONLY IF person P generally and consistently tried to properly obey, worship, and pray to the god of the Israelites in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites.
Thus the question at issue becomes: Did Jesus generally and consitently try to properly obey, worship, and pray to the god of the Israelites in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites?  Another key question, with an obvious answer is: Was Jehovah the god of the Israelites?  If Jehovah was the god of the Israelites, then (JDJ) implies that Jesus generally and consistently tried to properly obey, worship, and pray to Jehovah in accordance with the religious traditions of the Israelites.
If (JDJ) and (JGJ) are both true, then the case for (7), (8), and (9) will be easy to make, based on the assumption that the gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.
Was Jesus a devout Jew?
PBS Frontline has a website called “From Jesus to Christ”, and that site includes some scholarly commentary on this question.
Shaye C0hen (Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University) does a nice job of summarizing the evidence:
Was Jesus a Jew? Of course, Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible. He celebrated the Jewish festivals. He went on pilgrimage to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where he was under the authority of priests…. He lived, was born, lived, died, taught as a Jew. This is obvious to any casual reader of the gospel text. What’s striking is not so much that he was a Jew but that the gospels make no pretense that he wasn’t. The gospels have no sense yet that Jesus was anything other than a Jew.
(from webpage titled He was born, lived, and died as a Jew,  viewed 6/27/15)
Let’s consider each of the claims put forward by professor Cohen on this question:
A. He was born of a Jewish mother….
B. He was born…in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world.
C. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews.
D. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues.
E. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible.
F. He celebrated the Jewish festivals.
G. He went on pilgrimage to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where he was under the authority of priests…
There are more reasons than these supporting the claim that Jesus was a devout Jew, but this will be a good start.
 

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 2

There are three main areas of evidence required to build a rational case for the resurrection of Jesus, for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ):
I. General Background Evidence
II. Prior Historical Evidence
III. Posterior Historical Evidence  
A key claim that Christian apologists need to support in relation to Prior Historical Evidence is that Jesus was a true prophet (JTP).  But the evidence we have, on the assumption that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, clearly supports the OPPOSITE conclusion, namely that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP).  If I am correct that the Gospels provide evidence that makes it very probable that Jesus was a false prophet, then the Prior Historical Evidence part of the case for the resurrection of Jesus is a failure, and thus it will NOT be possible for Christian apologists to build a good case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead (GRJ).
1. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
2. Jesus was not a prophet.
3. IF a person P claimed to be a prophet but was not a prophet, THEN person P was a false prophet.
Therefore:
4. Jesus was a false prophet.
5. IF a person P was a false prophet, THEN it is not the case that God raised person P from the dead.
Therefore:
6. It is NOT the case that God raised Jesus from the dead.
I have dropped explicit references to probability, but the premises are not necessary truths nor is the truth of the premises certain, with the exception of premise (3), which I believe to be an analytic truth.  We don’t know with certainty that Jesus claimed to be a prophet, because there is NOTHING that is certain about Jesus.  Even the existence of Jesus is subject to reasonable doubt.  But to be generous towards the Christian viewpoint, I will grant, for the sake of argument, that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.  Given that assumption, it is very probable that Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
Given the assumption that the Gospels provide reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, there are six reasons supporting premise (1):
(i) Jesus said things that clearly implied he was a prophet:

  • Mark 6:1-6 (see also: Matt. 13:56-58, Luke 4:23-24)
  • Luke 13:32-34
  • Matthew 10:40-42
  • John 7:14-17
  • John 8:23-28 & 39-47
  • John 12:44-50
  • John 17:1-19

(ii) Jesus made several bold and confident predictions about the future, speaking as though he was a prophet:

  • Mark 1:14-15
  • Mark 9:30-32
  • Mark 11:1-3
  • Mark 13:1-8 (see also Luke 19:41-44)
  • Mark 13:9-23
  • Mark 13:24-31
  • Mark 14:12-14 (see also Luke 22:7-13)
  • Mark 14:17-21 (see also Luke 22:19-23)
  • Mark 14:26-31 (see also Luke 22:31-34)
  • Mark 14:61-65

(iii) During his ministry, some of his fellow Jews characterized Jesus as a prophet, and Jesus never objected to this:

  • Mark 6:14-16
  • Luke 7:11-17
  • Matthew 21:10-11
  • Matthew 21:43-46
  • John 7:40-52
  • John 9:16-18

(iv) Jesus was aware that some of his fellow Jews viewed him as a prophet, and Jesus never objected to this view:

  • Mark 8:27-28
  • Matthew 16:13-14
  • John 4:16-26
  • John 6:13-15

(v) Some of Jesus’ disciples called him a prophet:

  • Luke 24:13-24

(vi) The author of the Gospel of John viewed Jesus as a prophet:

  • John 3:31-36

The book of Acts is not a gospel, but it was a companion volume to the gospel of Luke, written by the same author.  So, if we assume that the gospel of Luke provides an historically reliable account of the life of Jesus, then it would be reasonable to assume that the book of Acts was also historically reliable. According to the book of Acts, Peter, one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, characterized Jesus as a prophet (Acts 3:11-26).
Assuming the historical reliability of the Gospels, it is very probable that Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
================
One more reason….
(vii) Like many of the O.T. prophets, Jesus called his people to repent: 

  • Mark 1:14-15
  • Mark 6:7-13
  • Matthew 4:12-17
  • Matthew 11:20-24
  • Matthew 12:40-42
  • Luke 5:31-32
  • Luke 10:12-14
  • Luke 11:31-32
  • Luke 13:1-5

 

bookmark_borderJesus: True Prophet or False Prophet? – Part 1

In his book The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Richard Swinburne argues that the case for the resurrection of Jesus must include three major components:
I. General Background Evidence – evidence for and against the existence of God, and evidence about whether and why God would be likely to perform a miracle, especially raising someone from the dead.
II. Prior Historical Evidence – evidence for or against claims that Jesus had certain characteristics, characteristics which based on the purposes and motivations of God would make it likely that God would raise Jesus from the dead.
III. Posterior Historical Evidence – evidence for or against historical claims directly about the resurrection of Jesus:  (DOC) Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  (JAW) Jesus was alive and walking around about 48 hours after he was crucified.
I think Swinburne is correct to emphasize (I) and (II) as important and essential components of any reasonable case for the resurrection, but I also believe that Christian apologists will fail to produce solid evidence concerning components (I) and (II), in addition to their past failure to produce solid evidence in terms of component (III).
One big problem for Christian apologists concerning Prior Historical Evidence, is that there are good reasons to believe the following claim about Jesus:
(JFP)  Jesus was a false prophet.
If (JFP) can be shown to be true (or to be probably true), then it can be used in a powerful argument against the resurrection of Jesus:
(1) Jesus was a false prophet.
(2)  If Jesus was a false prophet, then it is very unlikely that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Therefore:
(3) It is very unlikely that God raised Jesus from the dead.
From my point of view it seems quite clear that Jesus was a false prophet, based on the evidence of the Gospels.  The Gospels do claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified (DOC), and they do claim that Jesus was alive and walking around about 48 hours after Jesus was crucified (JAW).  However,  the Gospels also provide plenty of evidence that Jesus was a false prophet.
So, if we accept the Gospels as providing evidence in terms of the Posterior Historical Evidence component of the case for the resurrection, then we must also accept the Gospels as providing evidence in terms of the Prior Historical Evidence component of that case.  It would be logically inconsistent and involve the fallacy of special pleading to accept the Gospel accounts as evidence for (DOC) and for (JAW), but reject the Gospel evidence that supports (JFP).
One could, of course, avoid the conclusion (JFP) by rejecting the Gospel accounts as fictional or as historically unreliable accounts, but then one would have to also reject the Gospel evidence put forward in support of (DOC) and (JAW).  One must either reject the historical reliability of the Gospels and reject most of the Posterior Historical Evidence for the resurrection, or else accept the historical reliability of the Gospels and accept a great deal of Prior Historical Evidence for the view that Jesus was a false prophet.  Either way, the case for the resurrection of Jesus fails (i.e. the case for the claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead” fails).
Before I get into an examination of the evidence for (1), which is the obvious point of contention between myself and Christian believers, let’s briefly consider the uncontroversial premise (2).  Why would it be very unlikely that God would raise Jesus from the dead if Jesus was a false prophet?  First, we must answer the question: What is a “false prophet”?
Most simply, a “false prophet” is someone who claims to be a prophet, who is NOT actually a prophet.   A prophet is someone who receives messages from God and who passes those messages on to others, especially to a group audience, or to the public in general.
I am not a prophet, but that does not make me a “false prophet”, because I don’t claim to be any sort of prophet.  I don’t claim to have received any messages from God, nor do I proclaim to others any messages that are supposedly messages from God.  Since I don’t claim to be a prophet and don’t claim to provide others with messages from God, I’m not a “false prophet”.
One sort of false prophet is basically a con artist, a deceiver.  Such a person does not believe he or she has received messages from God, but lies to others claiming to have received messages from God, and then provides made-up messages to others, especially groups of other people, either to obtain fame or admiration or money or favors from other people.
Another sort of false prophet is a delusional person who honestly believes that he or she has received messages from God, but in fact is either just mentally imbalanced (hearing voices in his or her head) or is receiving messages from some person other than God (from a hypnotist, from a telepathic psychic, from the spirit of a dead person, from a demon,  from a demi-god, etc.).  Such a person is not lying to others when claiming to have received messages from God, but those messages are NOT in fact from God, and thus such a person is NOT actually a prophet.
First, according to the Gospels, Jesus claimed to be a prophet:
Matthew 13:56-58 (NRSV)
56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”
57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”
58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Mark 6:3-5  (NRSV)
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
Luke 4:23-25 (NRSV)
23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.
25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;
Luke 13:32-34 (NRSV)
32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.
33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
If a false prophet were to be executed or killed, why would it be very unlikely that God would raise such a person from the dead?  Some false prophets are con artists or deceivers, and it would obviously be a bad thing for God to raise a lying con artist from the dead.  That would involve God in a great deception.  But God is, by definition, a perfectly morally good person, and such a person would clearly NOT become involved in a great deception.
But what about false prophets who are sincerely mistaken?  They believe that they are receiving messages from God, and that they are passing those messages from God to others in accordance with God’s will, but they are mentally imbalanced or deceived or at least mistaken, and in fact are not receiving messages from God.  Should God raise such a false prophet from the dead?
Again, although the intentions of this sort of false prophet are good intentions, the effect on others is much the same.   Purely human messages are being represented to other people as if those messages were from God.  If God were to raise such a prophet from the dead, then God would be validating the teachings and messages of the false prophet as being messages from God, when those messages were NOT from God.  This would be a great deception, even though the intentions of such a false prophet are good intentions.  So, God would clearly not become involved in such a deception of others by raising such a false prophet from the dead.
But Jesus was NOT a prophet.  Jesus did not receive messages from God and pass those messages on to others.  Since Jesus claimed to be a prophet, but was NOT a prophet, it follows that Jesus was a false prophet.
The Gospels are full of evidence for the view that Jesus was NOT a prophet.    According to the Gospels, each of the following claims is true:
1. Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah.
2. Jesus promoted obedience to Jehovah.
3. Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah.
4. Jesus promoted the belief that the Old Testament was inspired by God.
5. Jesus promoted the belief that Moses was a prophet.
6. Jesus promoted the belief that Isaiah was a prophet.
7. Jesus promoted the belief that Elijah was  a prophet.
8. Jesus promoted the belief that Jeremiah was a prophet.
9. Jesus promoted the belief that Jonah was a prophet.
10. Jesus promoted the belief that Daniel was a prophet.
11.  Jesus promoted the belief that his god planned to condemn many people to eternal suffering and misery for disobedience to his god’s commands.
12.  Jesus promoted the belief that his god planned to give an eternal life of happiness to some people and an eternity of suffering and misery to others based on whether people believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God.
But any of the above claims is sufficient to show that Jesus was a false prophet.  So, even if only one or two of these claims is correct, then Jesus was a false prophet.  If we assume (for the sake of argument) that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable, then each one of the above claims is probably true.  Each of the above claims would have a probability of about .8, assuming that the Gospels provide historically reliable information about the ministry and teachings of Jesus.
In general, the truth of one of the above claims would increase the probability of the other claims also being true.  For example, if it is true that Jesus promoted worship of Jehovah, then that makes it more likely that Jesus also promoted prayer to Jehovah and obedience to Jehovah.  If we knew that Jesus promoted the belief that Isaiah was a prophet, then it is more likely that Jesus also promoted the belief that Moses was a prophet, and that Jeremiah was a prophet.  Similarly, if one of these claims was known to be false, that would decrease the probability of the truth of the other claims.  If Jesus did NOT promote worship of Jehovah, then that decreases the probability that Jesus promoted prayer to Jehovah and obedience to Jehovah.  So, there is no simple probability calculation possible here, because the probability of the truth of each claim depends on the truth of the other claims.
But given that each of the above claims has a probability of about .8 (on the assumption of the reliability of the Gospel accounts), the probability that at least one of these claims is true is very high, significantly higher than .8.  Let’s be very conservative and estimate the probability that at least one of the above claims is true as being .9.  That means that the probability that Jesus was a false prophet is aproximately .9, assuming that each of the above claims would be sufficient to show that Jesus was a false prophet.
Of course, none of the above claims logically entails that Jesus was a false prophet (JFP).  I must provide a line of argument showing for each of the above claims how it provides powerful evidence for (JFP).  If I can do this, that still will only yield some sort of probability that (JFP) is the case, given the truth of one of the above claims.  If I can show that (JFP) is highly probable (P = .9) given either the truth of claim (1) or the truth of (2) or the truth of (3) or…, then the overall probability will be .9 x .9 = .81 or about .8 that (JFP) is the case (assuming the reliability of the Gospel accounts).
Thus, either the Gospel accounts are NOT reliable, and thus the case for (DOC) and (JAW) will fail, or else the Gospel accounts ARE reliable and the case for (JFP) will succeed.  Either way, the case for the resurrection of Jesus fails.  Either way, Christian apologists will fail to show that “God raised Jesus from the dead” (GRJ).