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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reasonable Doubt About the Resurrection

I will not be so bold as to say that I can prove the resurrection didn't happen but I will argue that it has not been proven that it happened and there is no reason to believe it happened based on the evidence. There are three other plausible hypotheses two of which are introduced in the Bible itself for what might have happened to the body of Jesus. It might have been stolen, or since Jesus was only on the cross for about six hours, he might not have been dead at all. The Koran tells us that he wasn't. Another plausible explanation is that the story of the resurrection might have been Folklore.

"Folklore whether oral or written is characterized by multiple existence and variation. The variation may be reflected in such details as different names, different numbers, or different sequences of lines" (Dundes, 7). This would also account for the different stories between Paul and the Gospels.

The argument as I understand goes like this.
Premise1: The Gospels are a testimony that the resurrection happened
Warrant1: We would expect testimony for something this important

Premise2: The gospels support each others testimony within reason
Warrant2: We would expect there to be variation in different testimonies.

Premise3: There is no body
Warrant3: There would be no body if he was taken up to heaven.

Premise4: People suffered and died to defend the idea of the resurrection
Warrant4: People would not suffer and die to defend if it were not true.

Conclusion: The resurrection happened.

There are strong and weak forms of evidence and argument. Testimony is regarded as weak evidence because it is based on a presumption of the honesty of the speaker. Presumptions from testimony are defeasible because they are not based on objective 'hard' evidence. They can be overturned by the introduction of new information. Corroboration can make testimony stronger. Expert witness testimony is stronger based on the presumption that the expert is in a "position to know". Objective or 'hard' evidence can make testimony stronger. First hand testimony is more plausible than second hand testimony. One way to test testimony is cross-examination. Cross-examination checks for consistency and plausibility. In a legal case, witnesses are required to swear to the truth of their statements introducing pressure on them to tell the truth under penalty of law (Walton). In the case of the Gospels, there is no clear pressure from consequences to tell the truth and the length of time from the source make it unlikely that a challenge would be issued among believers.

In the case of the scriptures, Paul (50-60CE) was the earliest account of the resurrection. His details don't match with the Gospels. Mark was second (65-80 CE), his don't match with what the other three said even if Matthew (80-100CE) and Luke (80-130 CE) copied Mark heavily to make their own. John (90-120CE) is farthest away from the incident, up to 90 years after the fact (Home). This is not corroboration, this is plagiarism and it would not have been a violation of the principles of canonization since they were not canonized yet. It is unlikely that the apostles or even eyewitnesses wrote any of the Gospels. That makes them at least second hand testimony.

Since Mark was probably not an eyewitness, he must have put his Gospel together from a source such as 'oral tradition'; stories he heard, collected and wrote down and/or other writings. He may not have realized that the major points of his resurrection story came from Daniel, especially chapter 6. The irony is that Daniel in the Lions Den is similar to Aesops Fable "The Lion and the Slave" written up to 500 years before (Aesop). Another characteristic of the Book of Daniel is that according to Tim Callahan, "in general the history in Daniel is so corrupted that it must be (written) by someone who lived much later and was unfamiliar with the specifics of a far-off time (Callahan, 335).

The points of similarity to Daniel 6 are as follows.
* The leader of a nation opposed to the spokesman for Gods people (Darius of Persia, Joseph of Arimathea)
* Yet one who reveres that spokesman (Daniel, Jesus)
* Though greatly distressed, feels obliged to place the spokesman into a pit in the ground and cover it with a stone (Lions Den, Tomb).
* An act that clearly means a permanent end.
* The Death of the spokesman is required by Law (Law of the Medes and Persians, the Law of Rome)
* The executor is reluctant to enforce it (Darius, Pilate)
* Despite reluctance and delay, late in the afternoon, both are placed in the pit
* Both are covered by a stone
* In both stories the one who put the stone in place has hope in the providence of God
* Early on a subsequent morning the pit is approached by those who care for the hero,
* Next comes joyful news
* The stone is removed
* death is miraculously overcome
* and deliverence is assisted by another entity
(Helms, 135)

Years later, Matthew and Luke evidently realized the source and modified Marks to create their own and make it match the Old Testament better. (Helms) Marks Gospel presented a problem because he had the women going to anoint the body and finding the body gone, a more plausible explanation than a resurrection would be that the body was stolen. Matthew 27:64 fixed this by having guards placed at the tomb to prevent that. This is called Redaction and typical of Folklore so this was not something necessarily deceitful.

So Paul was first, years after the fact. Mark was second even further after the fact. He said a youth told the women that Christ was risen, but they didn't tell anyone. Matthew Addresses the possibility that the body had been stolen, but changes the facts in his story to make that implausible, and changing the youth to an angel having the guards fall prostrate. Mark says that Jesus could not do miracles in home town because of their unbelief. Many of the best psychics have had that experience, especially in the midst of skeptics. Mark makes Jesus sound normal, and that his body was stolen. Mark was the closest to the event. There is no corroboration for Mark. Mark is unique. The most significant thing they agree on is that there was no body.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was on the cross for six hours or a little more. In fact, Pilate was surprised he was dead (Matt. 27). It appears to be unusual for six hours of crucifixion to kill a man. The historian Josephus wrote about pleading for a reprieve for two of his crucified friends and reports that one of them lived. Roman-style crucifixions usually resulted in the victim dying of suffocation after days. Ritual crucifixion happens in the Philippines, even in some cases using nails through the hands not resulting in death (Crucifixion). A New Scientist magazine article says that in some cases the time it takes to die could be short but overall the intent of crucifixion was torture till death and in some cases, the legs were broken to hasten death (Cross). The Bible tells us Jesus legs weren’t broken. Joseph of Arimethea went to ask for the body and got it. The Koran may be right in saying that Jesus wasn't dead yet:

4:157 And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger - they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain.

This would explain sightings after the fact, but it is not clear if he went straight to heaven, to Galilee or if he hung out in Jerusalem for a little while. It would make sense if he went straight to Galilee (Marks version) if he survived and was making an escape.

He was in the tomb less than 48 hours. Friday evening to Sunday morning is not 48 hours. Three days is seventy two hours. They were at least 24 hours short of seventy two hours. The sign of Jonah was three days not one day and two nights. To say that Jesus was in the tomb for three days requires a bit of equivocation on the meaning of "three days".

The Gospel of Mark is similar to Daniel in the Lions den, and Daniel in the Lions den is similar to Aesops "The Lion and the Slave". The characteristics of Folklore are multiple existence and variation

Premise1: The Gospels are a testimony that the resurrection happened
Warrant1: We would expect testimony for something this important
Rebuttal: The Gospels were not eyewitness testimony. The Gospels have characteristics of Folklore. They could just as well be folklore.

Premise2: The gospels support each others testimony within reason
Warrant2: We would expect there to be variation in different testimonies.
Rebuttal: The stories are all inconsistent in the details, show signs of significant plagiarism, and were written at least a decade apart from each other. This is a characteristic of Folklore.

Premise3: There is no body
Warrant3: There would be no body if he was taken up to heaven.
Rebuttal: Jesus could have survived the crucifixion and had help getting out of the tomb. The story could also have been folklore.

Premise4: People suffered and died to defend the idea of the resurrection
Warrant4: People would not suffer and die to defend if it were not true.
Rebuttal: People suffer and die for Islam all the time.

Conclusion: The resurrection happened.

I think anyone would be justified in having a reasonable doubt about the resurrection.


"Aesop". Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2007. 31 Mar. 2007.

The Bible

Callahan, Tim. 2002. Secret Origins of The Bible. California. Millennium Press.

"Cross Examination". 1995. Richard Forrest Nottingham.

"Crucifixion." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2007. 31 Mar. 2007.

Dundes, Alan. Holy Writ as Oral Lit: The Bible as Folklore. Lanham, Maryland. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

"Home".Early Christian Writings. Early Christian Writings, 2007. 31 Mar. 2007.

Helms, Randel. 1988. Gospel Fictions. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books.

The Koran 4:157.

Walton, Douglas N. 1992. The Place of Emotion in Argument. University Park, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State University Press.
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