Friday, May 06, 2016

Why I think skeptics need the hallucination theory

Let me explain, as best I can, what the skeptic has to deal with in this debate. According to the accounts, Christ was executed by crucifixion, dead and buried. The crucifixion was instigated by people in the Jewish leadership, and carried out by the Romans. Yet, within a short time, you have a bunch of people, starting in Jerusalem, and working their way outward to the rest of the empire. Peter, in Acts, makes this statement at the Gate of Jerusalem:

If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

In other words, he is telling the people responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus that Jesus had been resurrected, and therefore vindicated. Even if these accounts are were not completely accurate, the presence of people so firmly convinced that Jesus was resurrected that they were willing to risk a similar fate needs explanation. It is extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that the people who promulgated this message were profoundly convinced of the resurrection, because they were literally betting their lives on it.

Of course, there are people who think there was no historical core to the Christian message, and that Jesus never even existed. But this is an extreme position that most skeptics find don’t find defensible, and it makes it even more difficult to explain the spread of Christianity through the Empire.

Unless the extreme skeptical position is defensible, how do we explain the spread of Christianity? If the body was stolen, who would do it, and why would they. Some people have tried to say Jesus survived his crucifixion, but that seems really implausible. To say everyone forgot where Jesus was buried and went to the wrong tomb doesn’t make much sense either. Hallucination theory explains the Christian movement without making the movement and out and out fraud.


59 comments:

Miguel said...

There's also the fact that the body was never found. Nothing was found. And it seems like even those who "deconverted" (as a result of the heavy persecutions, say) never seemed to say anything about it being a lie or a hoax. It just didn't happen. Somehow these people really came to believe what they were proclaiming.

I also find it curious how some of Christianity's earliest critics (like Celsus or Sossianus Hierocles) actually seemed to have taken for granted many of Jesus's miracles, even if they didn't believe in the Ressurrecion for whatever reasons. Celsus said Jesus performed his miracles through "sorcery". This kind of accusation makes it seem like the overall context of the whole situation was indeed somewhat extraordinary, to say the least. Something strange was going on.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "It is extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that the people who promulgated this message were profoundly convinced of the resurrection, because they were literally betting their lives on it."

What do you think is the evidence (from non biblical sources) that Christians were persecuted for their belief in the resurrection in the 1st Century?

Do you know that Roman rule was largely forgiving of local, long-standing religious belief so long as it did not subvert the unity of the state?

Do you think it's possible that exaggerating the risks taken (and thus the fervency of belief) by early Christians would be useful as a proselytizing tool?

Miguel said...

Seriously?

1- Requiring that evidence must come from "non-biblical sources" already betrays a bias against the numerous documents collected in the New Testament. One simply cannot dismiss them outright as unnacceptable historical sources.

2- Paul himself used to persecute christians! To say christians were exaggerating the persecutions they were facing as a "proselytizing tool" is one thing (already a bold and quite strange claim; for one thing it might be good to appear "heroic" but you don't want to give the impression that converting to your religion will get you in serious risks of torture or death, not a good "proselytizing tool" to win converts I would say), but to imply Paul would've faked his biography to the point of portraying himself as a radical persecutor who actually presided over the killing of martyrs (not something that would win much sympathy with christians, I would say!) is another, one even weirder. Paul himself recouts of how he used to persecute christians.

3- Biblical evidence shouldn't be discriminated against, but as a matter of fact there is extra-biblical evidence that supports that christians were persecuted for their belief in the 1st century. The heavy persecutions by Nero (mentioned, for instance, by historians like Tacitus) are well known, for example.

Miguel said...

The "skeptic doubts" some atheists present against historical christian claims (even some very mild ones) really makes me think they should read something like "Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte"

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Cal: "What do you think is the evidence (from non biblical sources) that Christians were persecuted for their belief in the resurrection in the 1st Century?"

Miguel: "1- Requiring that evidence must come from "non-biblical sources" already betrays a bias against the numerous documents collected in the New Testament. One simply cannot dismiss them outright as unnacceptable historical sources."

If I may engage in a bit of shameless self-promotion, I think my recent blog post, "How to Think about Historical Evidence about Anything, Part 1: The Credibility of Testimony" is extremely relevant to both comments.

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

As a person who rejects claims of a resurrection, I don't "need" any such theory.
While I do reckon that a hallucination is far more probable than the resurrection (that and the rest is an epistemic probabilistic assessment based on the info available to me), I don't reckon that a hallucination is actually probable. By the way, many people sincerely believe that Satya Sai Baba came back. Others believe they speak in tongues. Others believe they've seen ghosts, spirits, gods, etc., in accordance to their religion. And so on. I don't think "hallucination" is the right word for that. It's likely that they see something and they misinterpret it. But the point is that the phenomenon is widespread among religions, regardless of what one calls it.
But there are plenty of other alternatives, each of which is improbable, but vastly more probable than a resurrection.
One of them is the hypothesis that Jesus never existed. I haven't looked at the arguments in detail, but based on what I've read, that's very improbable. Yet, that's also vastly more probable than a resurrection.
Another hypotheses is that people right after his death only believed they had seen him in dreams, etc., not that he appeared in the flesh or that the tomb was empty (the first reference to the empty tomb we know about is from Mark, decades after Jesus's death). That's far more likely than a resurrection, and it's similar to the Sai Baba accounts.
Even if the tomb was empty, there are other individually very improbable hypotheses that are far more probable than a resurrection. One is Ehrman's "wild hypothesis" (from "Jesus Interrupted"), which holds a couple of followers decided to take Jesus's body to a more appropriate place of rest (not among the apostles), but they ran into a couple of Roman soldiers who saw them carrying a body. They resisted and got into a sword fight, and the Romans killed them. Now the soldiers have three bodies in their hands, and they get rid of them by dumping them into a mass grave out of town. The corpses deteriorate beyond recognition, and no one would ever know.
Improbable? Very. But far more probable than a resurrection.
And so on.

But perhaps the most important point to make is that as a person who rejects claims as a resurrection, I don't need to offer an explanation about what happened. Nor would it even be epistemically proper of me, given the info available to me, to have a belief that some specified event happened. I should not have an explanation. That was like two thousand years ago, so I do not and should not expect that we could ever find out. There are - as always - infinitely many scenarios consistent with observations, but much more importantly in this context, there are plenty who are individually very improbable but also individually far more probable than a resurrection.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor: I see your point, i.e,, I understand where you are coming from when you say that you think (non-extreme) skeptics need the hallucination theory. I disagree with you for at least two reasons.

First, you assume that the Resurrection hypothesis explains the data, but that's merely an assumption on your part. You give no good reasons to believe that assumption is true and there are good reasons to doubt it. The Resurrection hypothesis does not entail an empty tomb, Jesus' alleged postmortem appearances, or the origin of the Christian faith. You are implicitly combining the Resurrection hypothesis with several extra, add-on, 'auxiliary' hypotheses. But then it follows that you are not making an apples-to-apples comparison when you compare the Resurrection hypothesis to its competitors.

Second, as it stands, in your post you fail to consider the full set of mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive alternative explanations.

This is the case even if we set aside positions based upon 'extremely skepticism', such as Robert Price's suggestion that 1 Corinthians 15 is a post-Pauline interpolation or the mythicist hypothesis (i.e., "Jesus never existed"). You cover all of the traditional bases, such as the theft hypothesis ("the body was stolen"), the survival hypothesis (aka the "swoon theory, i.e., "Jesus survived his crucifixion"), and the wrong tomb hypothesis.

(Part 1 of 2)

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

(Part 2 of 2)

What is left? Here are two alternative explanations.

1. In my book, The Empty Tomb, I defend a hypothesis I call the "relocation hypothesis." As explained here, the relocation hypothesis is the view that Jesus' body was stored (but not buried) in Joseph's tomb Friday before sunset, and moved on Saturday night to a second tomb in the graveyard of the condemned, where Jesus was buried dishonorably.

From a logical perspective, what is significant about this hypothesis is that it entails an empty tomb. In other words, if the relocation hypothesis is true, there is a 100% probability that Jesus' female followers discovered his (first) tomb empty on Sunday morning. In contrast, the resurrection hypothesis does not entail an empty tomb. (See the paper I just linked for a defense of my last sentence.)

I do not claim that the relocation hypothesis, all by itself, explains Jesus' alleged post-mortem appearances. The relocation hypothesis would have to be combined with an auxiliary hypothesis to explain the alleged postmortem appearances, just like the Resurrection hypothesis has to be combined with an auxiliary hypothesis. The combination hypothesis of relocation + hallucination is certainly an option, but it's hardly the only option. One could also combine with the relocation hypothesis with a hoax hypothesis, according to which the hoaxer was neither Jesus nor his early followers.

2. A second alternative explanation is the Twin hypothesis, according to which Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who faked the Resurrection by walking around pretending to be Jesus, after the real Jesus had died. This possibility was identified by Christian historian Paul Maier -- note I said "identified" not "defended" -- and then defended by Robert Greg Cavin in his Ph.D. dissertation. Unlike the Resurrection hypothesis, the Twin hypothesis entails all of the data to be explained. It has an overall higher balance of prior probability and explanatory power. According to Bayes Theorem, that's all one needs to show that the Resurrection is not the best explanation.

Christians will often object to both hypotheses by pointing out that there is no direct textual evidence for either scenario, i.e., there is no passage in the NT or in extrabiblical sources which say either of these things happened. That's true. They don't. But a moment's reflection will reveal that, if we approach the topic not as a believer in the Bible but the same way we would approach any historical question, we often believe historical claims on the basis of other kinds of evidence besides direct textual evidence. It's a fallacy to dismiss a historical claim merely on the basis of direct textual evidence.

I don't claim that either explanation is true. But I do claim it is far from obvious why the Resurrection hypothesis is a better explanation than either the relocation or twin hypotheses.

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Cal Metzger said...

Here's what demands an explanation:

If Jesus existed (in the way described in the bible), and his contemporaries came to believe everything that the New Testament says, THEN WHY ISN'T THERE RELIGIOUS SITE AT THE LOCATION OF THE EMPTY TOMB?

Christians, and the religious throughout time, have sanctified holy places, and maintained them continuously.

Perhaps nothing demands a greater explanation than, IF THE FIRST, EARLY CHRISTIANS TRULY BELIEVED WHAT THE NEW TESTAMENT SAYS THEY DID, THEN WHY DID THEY NOT REVERE THE SITE OF THE EMPTY TOMB?"

We are supposed to believe what apologists tell us now -- that from the very beginning, followers of Jesus believed that he was bodily (not spiritually) resurrected, and that it happened at the site of an empty tomb. And yet, oddly, and without explanation, there is no evidence that this site was ever sanctified or revered or visited in the same ways that all other religious sites are.

I honestly can think of nothing more in need of an explanation than that one. And there is no better explanation than that the legend of Jesus, and his bodily resurrection, grew only after decades (not weeks and months) had transformed Christianity from whatever historical roots it had into a legendary and mythical religion.

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "Seriously?"

Yes, seriously.

Miguel: "1- Requiring that evidence must come from "non-biblical sources" already betrays a bias against the numerous documents collected in the New Testament. One simply cannot dismiss them outright as unnacceptable historical sources."

Requiring that evidence must come from non-Mormon sources already betrays a bias against the numerous documents collected in the Book of Mormon.

Miguel: "2- Paul himself used to persecute christians! To say christians were exaggerating the persecutions they were facing as a "proselytizing tool" is one thing (already a bold and quite strange claim; for one thing it might be good to appear "heroic" but you don't want to give the impression that converting to your religion will get you in serious risks of torture or death, not a good "proselytizing tool" to win converts I would say), but to imply Paul would've faked his biography to the point of portraying himself as a radical persecutor who actually presided over the killing of martyrs (not something that would win much sympathy with christians, I would say!) is another, one even weirder. Paul himself recouts of how he used to persecute christians."

Citing the conversion of a critic is a standard religious ploy. Paul wasn't the first, nor the last, to employ it. Have you ever read the writing of an apologist? It's a regular trope to trot out the "I used to be an atheist, but then..." It's almost a rite of passage.

Miguel: "3- Biblical evidence shouldn't be discriminated against, but as a matter of fact there is extra-biblical evidence that supports that christians were persecuted for their belief in the 1st century. The heavy persecutions by Nero (mentioned, for instance, by historians like Tacitus) are well known, for example."

Yeah, the myth of early Christian persecution is common not only among apologists but among the general population as well. But its not supported by those who actually study Roman history from this period (as opposed to Christian legends). Outside of churches and home-schooling, you'll find that Roman History is taught in ways that are consistent with this:

"According to Tacitus, alone, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire in Rome. Annals, XV. This passage is not referred to in any other pagan, nor Christian writings until 400 CE. The Fantastic details of the sufferings of the Christians - dressed in animal hides and torn apart by dogs, crucified, and used as human torches - fits the pornographic masochistic obsession of the early Church. The sordid details of flesh torn and blood copiously shed is repulsive to the modern mind. For some reason the early Church wallowed in graphic descriptions of virgins violated and gored to death by bulls, old men crucified suffering horrific tortures and not to mention the over-fed lions of the Colosseum. By the way, the Romans did not feed their lions exclusively on Christians, any old mal-content would do; and more often did." (This passage isn't definitive, but in my experience it's much more consistent with the Roman History taught by those who spend their careers studying that period. Passage copied form this page: http://carrington-arts.com/cliff/Nero.htm )


Edgestow said...

If Jesus existed (in the way described in the bible), and his contemporaries came to believe everything that the New Testament says, THEN WHY ISN'T THERE RELIGIOUS SITE AT THE LOCATION OF THE EMPTY TOMB?

Uhh... Haven't you ever heard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

In the link, you'll find the following: "The early Christian community of Jerusalem appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection." (my emphasis)

I honestly can think of nothing more in need of an explanation than that one.

Done and dusted. Next?

Cal Metzger said...

Edge: "Uhh... Haven't you ever heard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?"

Yup.

But a later church making claims to draw pilgrims doesn't really get around the real (archaeological, historical, documentary) problem now, does it?

The more you research this topic the more curious the problem becomes. It's a real question, and one that just doesn't jive with the stories told in the New Testament.

Miguel said...

Cal: "Yes, seriously".

Seriously?

"Requiring that evidence must come from non-Mormon sources..."

But to simply reject everything in the Book of Mormon without good reasons would also be biased. You don't even want to give any credence to the documents of the New Testament considered even as simple historical documents (if you want to subtract "supernatural elements" from it for whatever reason), and that is biased and absurd. "Oh, we have a number of very ancient documents, some manuscripts dating back to the second century... and besides that, quite a number of serious scholars even argue that the origin of these documents would be eyewitness testimony from the first century... these documents all attest to the persecution of christians in the first century. But they're compiled under the New Testament, they're biblical! So we simply can't accept them! Where's the evidence that christians were persecuted in the first century, besides, you know, all those ancient documents coincidentally reporting the same thing?"

"Citing the conversion of a critic is a standard religious ploy"

There's a difference between someone saying "hey, I used to be an atheist, now I'm a christian" and a jew from first-century Palestine saying "I used to persecute and kill your fellow christians, now I want to be one of you". There's no comparison whatsoever. And again, you just want to cast doubt on Paul's testimony of the persecution of christians (something which he himself engaged in, much to his embarrassment in later life). And you also didn't answer my other point: it would be a pretty illogical and ineffective religious ploy to try to bring converts by saying they'll have heavy persecution, torture and death if they convert. If you want to convert someone to a certain cause, you don't want to make it seem like they'll have a lot to lose in such a conversion. The idea that the early christians were "faking" their persecutions to bring new converts is incredible, it doesn't make sense.

"According to Tacitus, alone, ..."

Oh, alright. We have a passage by an ancient historian (or "attributed" to him) that has been extensively quoted at least since the 4th century that attests to something that has also been extensively attested to by earlier documents (some of which you don't want to consider) and that never brought any controversies until modern atheist critics started applying their selective "skepticism" to it. Therefore it is no good. Right? "Historic doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte" all over again. The extreme skepticism with which some atheist critics want to apply to christian claims (even mild ones) is untenable.

Miguel said...

There is some evidence for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being located in the site of Jesus's burial tomb. And there is some evidence that Christians used to visit the tomb, and that Hadrian even tried to stop it by building a pagan temple in its place.

It's not something we can simply ignore.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

That the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is Jesus's burial place is controversial, even among Christisn scholars. I could be wrong, but IIRC the evidence in favor is quite weak and even WLC doesn't buy it. But please feel free to correct me: what is the evidence that that IS the burial location?

Wildebeest said...

Not exactly. Jews and Christians were persecuted often because they refused to accept the worship of Caesar as a god. Their practices often caused antagonism amongst their Roman overlords. They also tended to resist the taxation policies which caused a backlash. When Roman politicians needed scapegoats it was often the Christians who bore the brunt of that. Nero, Claudius, and Domitian were especially notable in this.

Romans were tolerant to a point. Once you reached that point they could be brutal.

There are numerous extra-Biblical accounts of intentional campaigns to round up the "troublesome" Christians for a variety of different reasons - most commonly for heresy against the Roman Pontifex Maximus (aka Caesar)

B. Prokop said...

"what is the evidence that that IS the burial location?"

The geography of the site matches the Biblical descriptions (the requisite distance from the 1st Century walls of Jerusalem, the slope of the terrain, the underlying rock structure, the suitability for burial excavations as customary among Jews of the time, the probability of there having been a garden nearby), the antiquity of the site (a Christian church having been there since the time of Constantine), and the siting of the original church on the exact spot where the Emperor Hadrian had in A.D. 130 ordered a Temple to the goddess Diana built expressly in order to obliterate the site of Christ's tomb. This proves that already in the early 2nd Century, the site was already long revered among Christians as the precise location of the Empty Tomb. So we can be confident that the site was well known long before Hadrian, for him to be so concerned about it. This already brings us back to just a few years after the Crucifixion itself! There seems to be little justification for overturning 2000 years of well-grounded tradition for... what? Sheer speculation? Publish-or-perish academics desperate to get tenure? Professional skeptics whose default position is to trust nothing that they themselves haven't observed (and then to disbelieve their own lying eyes)?

I think we're safe in accepting The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the authentic site of Christ's burial and Resurrection.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: " You don't even want to give any credence to the documents of the New Testament considered even as simple historical documents (if you want to subtract "supernatural elements" from it for whatever reason)..."

This is false.

Miguel [quoting who?]: "Oh, we have a number of very ancient documents, some manuscripts dating back to the second century... and besides that, quite a number of serious scholars even argue that the origin of these documents would be eyewitness testimony from the first century... these documents all attest to the persecution of christians in the first century."

Asserting that the bible says what the bible says doesn't really make it any more credible. You should understand this, because the claims made by other religions with historical roots (Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, etc.) all make claims that make complete and utter sense IF YOU ONLY ACCEPT WHAT THOSE RELIGIONS SAY WITHOUT COMPARING THEM TO WHAT THEIR CONTEMPORARIES SAID (AND DIDN'T SAY) AS WELL AS WHAT HAPPENS TODAY.

My religion is the special one is not a unique, nor persuasive argument.

Miguel: "And again, you just want to cast doubt on Paul's testimony of the persecution of christians (something which he himself engaged in, much to his embarrassment in later life)."

Right. He was so embarrassed about it that he includes it in his letters.

Miguel: "it would be a pretty illogical and ineffective religious ploy to try to bring converts by saying they'll have heavy persecution, torture and death if they convert. If you want to convert someone to a certain cause, you don't want to make it seem like they'll have a lot to lose in such a conversion."

Quote Paul saying that if followers become Christian they'll face (from the Romans?) "heavy persecution, torture and death."



Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

B Prokop -- That's very interesting. Do you have a book or link you'd recommend which goes into further detail? Thanks.

Miguel said...

I am not saying that asserting that the bible says what the bible says makes it more credible. I have no idea how you're interpreting my post like that. I said that your rejection of biblical documents is biased and unjustified, and you haven't responded to it. i've argued that we have very old manuscripts of the gospels, some dating to the 2nd century, and that there's even serious arguments put forward by scholars that attempt to show that the gospels are based on eyewitness testimony. Of course I can't go into all the specifics here since that would involve a whole different discussion in itself, but you can just check stuff like P66 or works by scholars such as Bauckham or Pitre, among many.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural elements described in the biblical text, the documents of the New Testament have their own historical value, which is why they're treated with relevance even by non-Christian scholars. We have reasons to hold that many of their claims are credible. Or, at the very least, we should not completely dismiss all of them as unhistorical, useless or whatnot.

We should not outright dismiss everything in the Book of Mormon (or other religious texts) as providing information about certain historical facts, unless we have good reasons to do so. How you interpreted all that I've said as a case of "my religion is special" or "the bible says so therefore the bible is credible" is beyond me.

We have a question about first century christianity, yet you want to outright dismiss the information presented about this subject by ancient independent documents that are (at the very least) close to the first century, and which serious scholars have defended that are based on eyewitness testimony of the first century.

That's the problem, Cal.

"Right. He was so embarrassed about it that he includes it in his letters".

Because it was true? As we should assume? Why would he invent such a dark past only to slander his own reputation in front of suspecting christians, or -- if, as you claim, all the persecutions could've been an elaborate hoax somewhat designed to attract masochists willing to convert to a religion that could supposedly put them at risk -- lie and put his reputation at risk if the truth surfaced? Either Paul persecuted christians, or he didn't persecute christians. For whatever reason, you imply we shouldn't trust his testimony about his past.

So we have to doubt Paul's testimony and all other information in the New Testament that mentions persecutions, according to you. Oh, and Tacitus's report on the persecutions also shouldn't be given credit, according to you.

And somehow the idea that christians would invent and exaggerate the hardships and tortures and deaths they were facing would be a good thing to attract converts, according to you. This case isn't about quoting Paul, it's about the sheer implausibility of the hypothesis that ancient christians were inventing stories about persecutions to "win converts" or whatever. It makes no sense. "I'm being hated and persecuted because of my faith, and numerous others have been tortured and died because of it. But hey, you should convert, it's the truth, join us".

Not only are you arbitrarily rejecting the most relevant historical documents concerning the question you've raised, but the whole idea that the persecutions were "fake" doesn't make much sense. It goes against the data and documents we do have, and also goes against common sense. It's absurd.

Once again, it really does amaze me how some atheists can be ridiculously skeptical with regards to certain Christian claims. If you actually apply the same degree of skepticism to other historical cases, you'll end up with pretty bizarre results. Whately's book on Napoleon makes this point.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I need to make a correction to a previous comment. My memory of WLC's position was wrong. It turns out that he believes that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the probable location of Jesus' burial. See, for example, here.

I had mixed up his skepticism regarding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with his skepticism regarding the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. In his academic book, ASSESSING THE NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE FOR THE HISTORICITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS, he cites radiometric dating of the shroud as conclusion evidence that the Shroud is a medieval forgery. But that obviously has nothing to do with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and so I was wrong to suggest that WLC was skeptical of that being the location of Jesus' burial.

Legion of Logic said...

"Quote Paul saying that if followers become Christian they'll face (from the Romans?) "heavy persecution, torture and death."

Off the top of my head, 2 Timothy 3:12. All who will live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, or words to that effect. In context I don't recall who is doing the persecuting, though.

B. Prokop said...

Jeffery,

I got most of my info about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from Jesus, A Pilgrimage by James Martin - admittedly, not a scholarly work, but a travelogue, nonetheless crammed full of detail about the various places he visited in the Holy Land. The bit about the Emperor Hadrian appears to be "common knowledge". Google "Hadrian Holy Sepulchre" and you get 84,800 hits.

WLC's skepticism about the Shroud of Turin is understandable. (I myself am mildly skeptical, but willing to be convinced.) There's been so much misinformation on the subject, and Protestants in general are fairly hostile to the idea of "relics". In any case, the results of the radiometric dating have subsequently been shown to be in error. Apparently, they tested a fragment, not of the original shroud, but of a section that had been repaired during the Middle Ages. Not that that proves the shroud's authenticity, but it is nevertheless evidence against its being a Medieval forgery. The shroud almost certainly predates the Middle Ages, but I doubt we'll ever know for sure at this point when, where, or how it originated.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

Let no one be moved by these afflictions. You yourselves know that this is to be our lot. For when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction.

2 Thessalonians 1:4

Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "I said that your rejection of biblical documents is biased and unjustified, and you haven't responded to it."

I have pointed out that your accusing me of giving no credence to the New Testament whatsoever is false.

If you get that much wrong, I don't know why I should even respond to your silly assertions about a bias affecting something you imagine (incorrectly) that I think.



Miguel said...

Why, then, do you insist that the ancient historical documents compiled under the New Testament cannot be used as evidence that christians faced persecution in the 1st century? You've provided no reason for it other than that they are christian sources and we should likewise dismiss mormon or islamic sources on everything or whatever (remember this is a purely historical question and not a matter of doctrine). How am I not to interpret that as a bias, especially after, as I've argued, these are some of the closest documents we have to the period, and that the idea that they would be faking persecution stories would not only be gratuitous but also implausible?

If you start stating your reasons and arguments more clearly, then perhaps I won't have to "imagine" them.

Regarding the new testament documents and the persecutions, I've argued that:

1) they are very ancient historical documents from the first century, or, at the very least, close to the first century (see some of the earliest manuscripts we have), so we should presume (until we have evidence of equal or stronger force to the contrary) that they give us relevant historical data about that matter in the 1st century;
2) besides that, a number of serious scholars have even argued that many of these documents are based on eyewitness testimony of the first century (Bauckham, Pitre, etc);
3) in addition, the idea that Christians would fake or exaggerate the persecutions is not only baseless, but implausible, as it could hurt the spread of their religion in numerous ways.

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "Why, then, do you insist that the ancient historical documents compiled under the New Testament cannot be used as evidence that christians faced persecution in the 1st century?"

I'm saying that they shouldn't be used alone, and authoritatively. The same way that the Book of Mormon shouldn't be used alone, and authoritatively.

Are you an inerrantist?

If you're not an inerrantist, what do you think the New Testament probably exaggerated, embellished, or got wrong? What is the approach you use to determine this?

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "///the idea that Christians would fake or exaggerate the persecutions is not only baseless, but implausible,..."

It's not baseless; it's based on the fact that the stories exist almost entirely in the works of Christian proselytizers (and none that I've seen yet here indicate, not even Paul, that Romans were the ones persecuting Christians -- it's almost entirely Jews, reacting to what they no doubt considered a heretical attack on their religious beliefs and political authority). Which is what you'd expect in a sectarian fight, which is how Christianity began.

Miguel: "... as it could hurt the spread of their religion in numerous ways."

By this logic no leader would ever exhort his group to weather sacrifices on behalf of a goal. But we know that this is not the case for all other movements, so why should Christianity be the one exception?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor:
"... they were willing to risk a similar fate ..."
" the people who promulgated this message were literally betting their lives on it."


What is the evidence for that?

B. Prokop said...

This denial of the Roman persecutions of Christianity is absolutely incredible. Have you people never read the letters of Ignatius of Antioch? Or The Martyrdom of Polycarp? These are just a sampling of the mountain of existent contemporary documentation concerning the very real murderous persecution of 1st and 2nd Century Christians by the Roman state.

To deny the Roman persecutions is akin to Holocaust denial, and (although it pains me to sound like Ilion) can only be explained by an irrational fear and/or hatred of God. Those who espouse to this denial are, in Dante's all too accurate description, "those who have lost the good of the intellect" (i.e., the damned).

The Roman persecutions are infinitely better documented than the Peloponnesian War (which I hope no one out there believes is fictional). Why is it that "skeptics" have no difficulty in accepting the historicity of Alexander the Great, Pericles, Cincinnatus, or Brutus: all of whom we have less, indeed far less, evidence for than for the Roman persecutions of Christianity? (Rhetorical question - I know the answer.)

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "This denial of the Roman persecutions of Christianity is absolutely incredible."

It's been mainstream History (in Antiquity) for decades and decades now. I don't suppose you'll ever grasp that fact, but eventually popular understanding will catch up with scholarship. It almost always does.

In my experience, the less evidence an apologist has, the higher the shrieking. Which explains the level of shriek around the question -- what exactly is the evidence for Roman persecution of the Christians in the 1st Century?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

B. Prokop -- Yes, you do sound like Ilion, but I forgive you.

I chose my words very carefully. Asking the question, "What is the evidence for that?," is NOT the same thing as making the denial claim, "Early Christians did not risk their lives to proclaim the Resurrection." The question was genuine.

I haven't read the historical documents you cite. All you had to do was to answer a straightforward question by saying, "Hey! The evidence is right over here, in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch and the Martyrdom of Polycarp."

I'm not berating Victor for failing to mention the evidence for their persecution or even provide a reference to that evidence. All I ask in return is that be allowed to ask a question (which gives him the opportunity to fill that gap) without being berated myself.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

BTW, before anyone had answered my question, I did some research on the Internet. I'm not taking a position on this source, but in my research I found the following skeptical article by Robert M Price.

LINK

Here's the money quote:

"But let’s go back a step. In fact we do not know that the earliest preachers of Christianity were martyred for their faith. The New Testament does not tell us for sure. Acts 12:2 doesn’t tell us whether James had the chance to recant before being axed, and John 21:18 is so vague that verse 19 has to tell the reader that v. 18 somehow refers to Peter’s death, perhaps a reinterpretation. Our earliest “information” comes from unreliable second- and third century documents, starting with the anonymous but so-called First Epistle of Clement, which says, vaguely, that Peter and Paul “witnessed” to their faith in Rome (apparently implying their martyrdom) because of “jealousy.” This in turn seems to be a reference to the Apocryphal Acts of Paul, Peter, Andrew and others, which have the apostles martyred at the instigation of jealous pagan husbands whose wives, having been converted to Christianity, would no longer sleep with them. These Acts abound in legends, such as Paul baptizing a talking lion. Tertullian (late second century) says the Apostle John survived being boiled in oil. Thus we have no real reason to believe the earliest preachers, whoever they may have been, were martyred for their faith."

B. Prokop said...

Sorry Jeffery, I had assumed that anyone who had even the least interest in First Century Christianity would have read the most important documentation from that era. I'm going to say the following as diplomatically as I possibly can: Anyone who has not read (slowly and thoughtfully) the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, of Polycarp of Smyrna, of Justin Martyr, and of Irenaeus of Lyon (as an absolute minimum), has no business commenting on Early Church history. To do so would be like a person holding forth on the American Revolution without having read the Declaration of Independence or the writings of Thomas Paine.

I do hope you check these totally available source documents out. In my experience, most people who encounter them for the first time are blown away by how much we actually do know about the Early Church. All too many people just assume that there's some sort of vacuum separating the New Testament from the rest of history, when that isn't the case at all. There is no gap whatsoever in our knowledge of the first generations of Christianity. There is an unbroken continuity between Saint Peter and Pope Francis.

Amazing when you think about it. As one revolution after another, each with its own ideology, swept across Europe in the years since Napoleon, there was the Church - the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. When the heretics and schismatics tore at the Body of Christ in the Protestant Revolt, there stood the Church, unbowed and undefeated. When the Barbarian Hordes demolished the classical world, who stood as an island in the flood but the Church? When Charlemagne stood crowned as the first Holy Roman Emperor, the Church was already 800 years old - four times as old as the USA is today! History has no parallel to this story. All by itself, the existence of the Catholic Church in the 21st Century ought to convince the most hardened skeptic. And the fact that it is expanding today at a greater rate than ever before (conservative estimates count several thousand new converts every day in Africa and China), should make them rethink their own ideas.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

There is an unbroken continuity between Saint Peter and Pope Francis.

I don't have a dog in the fight between Catholics and Protestants, but I do wonder what Protestants would say about that. ;-)

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

I just discovered this by historian / PhD candidate Matthew Ferguson:

LINK

At first glance, this would appear to be an epic take-down of the kind of argument Victor defended in his OP...

Victor Reppert said...

My argument did not concern actual martyrdoms, but rather martyrdom risk behavior. There's a difference. Let's assume that we don't have overpowering evidence that all the apostles were martyred. If you say "You people crucified Jesus, and now God has raised him," (which is what the Acts passage says), then you have to face the fact if you don't persuade those responsible for the crucifixion, they at least have the power to get someone crucified, since they did exactly that to Jesus.

Arguments from martyrdom risk behavior establish sincere conviction, not truth. However, it eliminates a number of options, though not the hallucination theory.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "My argument did not concern actual martyrdoms, but rather martyrdom risk behavior."

What?

VR: "There's a difference. Let's assume that we don't have overpowering evidence that all the apostles were martyred."

Um, yes, an understatement if ever there were. But go on.

VR: "If you say "You people crucified Jesus, and now God has raised him," (which is what the Acts passage says), then you have to face the fact if you don't persuade those responsible for the crucifixion, they at least have the power to get someone crucified, since they did exactly that to Jesus."

That's it? Um, by this logic, history doesn't happen, because those with the power to oppress can oppress, and none would ever act in ways that threaten the situation.




Victor Reppert said...

The powers that killed Jesus had means, motive, and opportunity to get rid of disciples as well. Why would anyone spread the message of the Resurrection unless they were really convinced that it happened?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Why would anyone spread the message of the Resurrection unless they were really convinced that it happened?"

Since when is the conviction of zealots an indication that their belief is based in fact?

Also, doesn't it even matter a little that the stories of early Christian persecution are invariably a kind of bunk?

----------

Believer: "Don't you know that the apostle Paul died a defiant martyr's death defending the resurrection?!"
Skeptic: "How did he die exactly?"
Believer: "He was devoured by a gigantic sandworm!"
Skeptic: "I love sandworms."




Andrew W said...

I don't think willingness to be persecuted alone proves much. It's not that hard for a charismatic leader to gather a die-hard group of disaffected around himself, even to the point of death.

The critical difference lies in the presentation. Since it was mentioned above, consider the book of Mormon. Or indeed the prophecies of Muhammed. In both cases the locus is divine revelation given to a very small inner circle (perhaps one). The experience of the "truth" is mediated by only a few individuals.

In contrast, the critical claim in the New Testament writings is "you saw". Multiple semi-independent sources put their own retelling on events that the writings assume are historically observable (and, in many cases, observed). There is a claim to special knowledge in the interpretation, but the events themselves are spoken of as being in the public sphere. From a historical perspective, this is a big deal.

(For that matter, pilgrimages to a place 100 years after the fact demonstrates the existence of the belief but doesn't assert to it's truth. Even 5-10 years after the fact wouldn't prove much unless accompanied by a credible appeal to witnesses)

Eric Sotnak said...

Here is a very short non-hallucinative theory. I'm not saying it is true, but only that I don't see why it should be dismissed, and since it doesn't involve any supernatural elements, it has a higher prior probability than resurrection.

Jesus died. His followers were very distraught, since they fully expected him to bring about great events and were deeply committed to this. How could he do that if he was dead? Someone suggests that perhaps he isn't really dead after all. A spark of hope appears among the followers. Yeah, maybe he'll come back. Someone has a dream that Jesus has come back and tells this to other followers. Ah, yes! Jesus himself has appeared in a dream, and surely it was no dream, but a miraculous vision of a risen Christ! The story is passed around the community, and the dream part drops out. So-and-so saw the risen Christ! Skeptics at the time challenge the narrative, so the story is defensively modified to include details that avoid the skeptics' objections (this need not be a matter of deliberate fabrication, but rather subconscious confabulation). Within a few years, no one remembers that it all began as a dream and the community as a whole is sincerely convinced of a physical resurrection. Different versions proliferate and are integrated with one another, etc.

The point is that as a general rule, there are plenty of possible answers to questions of the form, “How do you account for x in the Gospel narratives?” that don't have to include the hallucination hypothesis. Since we know from plenty of other examples that distortions and false elements creep into narratives as they are retold and passed around, it is at least not implausible that known non-miraculous psycho-social factors like these explain the emergence of widespread belief in the resurrection better than the supposition of miraculous events.

B. Prokop said...

"since it doesn't involve any supernatural elements, it has a higher prior probability than resurrection"

That's a rather curious going-in premise. Why should that be so? It seems to be a classic case of begging the question.

Cal Metzger said...

Eric: "Here is a very short non-hallucinative theory.... non-miraculous psycho-social factors like these explain the emergence of widespread belief in the resurrection better than the supposition of miraculous events."

Exactly.

What apologists always seem to conveniently forget is that when it comes to the New Testament, we don't need to explain events --we need to explain stories. Yes, sometimes stories are best explained by events that preceded them. But so long as there are stories that a) people come to believe, and b) didn't actually happen in reality, then we have a perfectly mundane explanation for the stories in the New Testament that we can drive a freight ship through.

SteveK said...

Suddenly the need for evidence has vanished. Stories explain everything.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "[since it doesn't involve any supernatural elements, it has a higher prior probability than resurrection is] a rather curious going-in premise."

It's not a premise; it's an observation.

Unless you think actual supernatural events (whatever that means) are more common than stories about supernatural events.

Me, Paraphrasing Prokop Thinking: "That there is a higher probability that there is a horse instead of a unicorn behind the barn door is a rather curious going-in premise."

Mkay.

Cal Metzger said...

Steve: "Suddenly the need for evidence has vanished. Stories explain everything."

Tell me about it.

Miguel said...

"I'm saying that they shouldn't be used alone, and authoritatively. (...)"

Why not? What do you mean by "auhoritatively"? They do have some historical auhority, especially considering that they are very ancient documents that go back to the 1st century (or at the very least are very close to it) and some scholars even regard them as being based on eyewitness testimony. Why on earth shouldn't we give them historical authority on this matter? Why must we require non-christian sources to establish this fact (the persecution of early christians)? Again, it just seems like bias to me. And shouldn't we, *at the very least*, hold that the fact they present is true unless we have evidence for doubting it?

If we had numerous documents from the time period t that agree that a certain fact X (even more, a plain, non-supernatural fact) happened at t, should we doubt it only because the documents were written by mormons or muslims (and X concerned muslims or mormons)? And should we doubt it even if we have no other documents from t that contend that X is a lie?

Again, it just seems like a very, very weird and stubborn bias to me. We have ancient documents that could even be based on eyewitness testimony from different locations all attesting to the persecution of Christians, and you just want to reject them by saying we also somehow need "non-biblical sources".

I also don't see why you're asking me abo inerrancy. Inerrancy is a theological question and we're not discussing theology, but history.

"It's not baseless; (...)"

It's based on the fact that the stories exist almost entirely in very ancient documents close to the events that could've been written by eyewitnesses... but those documents were written by Christians. Therefore you should doubt them? Again you haven't moved beyond asserting what I am asking you to defend. I've argued, by 1, 2 and 3 that we should accept the persecutions described in the Gospels as fact. You just keep saying that we can't because, well, they were written by Christians. Again I don't see how rejection of the credibility of ancient documents solely based on the religion of their authors wouldn't be a case of bias that should not be used in historiographical study.

And you didn't ask for evidence that Christians were persecuted by ROMANS. You asked for evidence that Christians were persecuted, that's all (look it up). I'm not necessarily doubting that romans also persecuted Christians (especially after the mid 60s AD), but for an overall argument that Christians sincerely believed in the Resurrection because they were willing to die for such a belief (as you see in Reppert's post) it doesn't really matter all that much whether only jews persecuted them in the first decades. Being tortured or murdered by a jew isn't necessarily lighter and more comfortable than by a roman. If jews were persecuting Christians e point still stands that very early Christians were willing to be ostracized, attacked, persecuted and even killed by their beliefs.

Miguel said...

"By this logic (...)"

Again, I just don't see it. Yes, some group leaders sometimes exhiort their members to undergo sacrifices on behalf of the group or their cause or whatever. But overall it's still a fact that if you want to convert someone to a given cause or belief, you *really* don't want to make the prospective convert feel like he'll have to face serious danger of persecution and death, or even ostracism and whatnot. Most people would have serious difficulties with that. One can expect that some cult members who are ALREADY dedicated cult members would be willing to endure hardships for their beliefs, but that's very different from trying to persuade new people into joining your cause/group by telling them that they'll face persecution and death. It just doesn't make sense. You want to make prospective converts willing to join your cause/group, not stress the hardships they'll have to endure. It makes even less sense to think that someone would INVENT imaginary threats that would just scare away potential converts and make the spread of religion more difficult, as you're suggesting.

Besides, not only would it be a bad "marketing ploy" overall, but it could also harm the spread of the religion in different ways. If the early Christians really were lying or exaggerating about the persecutions, those around them (or at least a great many people) would eventually realize that and would call them out on it. It's not particularly easy to go around tellig everyone that you and your friends are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs without that actually happening sometimes, it's not something that can be easily made up in any convincing manner, and nobody seemed to call out Christians on that.

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "Why not? What do you mean by "auhoritatively"?"

I mean definitive, and accurate, and to be taken without modification or revision. Authoritative means that something is pre-eminent, and is commanding of the facts.

Miguel: "Why on earth shouldn't we give them historical authority on this matter?"

Because they make supernatural claims. Because they claim some things that we know from other and more varied sources to be otherwise. Because the writers have an agenda, and we can see changes to the story that track the the intent of the authors. This is all basic, basic stuff.

Miguel: "I also don't see why you're asking me abo inerrancy. Inerrancy is a theological question and we're not discussing theology, but history."

Inerrancy is about accuracy -- it's about, among other things, the extent to which the events in the bible are meant to have happened in reality (as opposed to metaphorically, or are legends, etc.).

But if you think the question is irrelevant, why didn't you answer my question?

Specifically, I asked: "If you're not an inerrantist, what do you think the New Testament probably exaggerated, embellished, or got wrong? What is the approach you use to determine this? "

Cal Metzger said...

Miguel: "You want to make prospective converts willing to join your cause/group, not stress the hardships they'll have to endure."

Well, as evidenced by Christianity and other religions, promising eternal life after death and a world of bliss in exchange for some sacrifice in this life is very tempting to many. We're talking about religious proselytizing, so let's not pretend that this is about getting people to join your co-op.

But the opportunity to face adversity, and the chance to overcome it, is also a winning proposition for many of us. Most of us don't just want comfort -- we want meaning, human connection, to belong to something that seems bigger than just us. This yearning explains much of human history.

Are you seriously trying to say that Paul and the other early Christians were not trying to win converts?

Miguel: "It's not particularly easy to go around tellig everyone that you and your friends are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs without that actually happening sometimes."

The early Christians competed for convert -- amongst themselves, and from the established Jewish hegemony. Of course there was friction, infighting, and suppression. But the stories of 1st Century Roman persecution, and the later tales of martyrdom, are best explained as stories made to embellish the credibility of the Christian message. Again, this is very, very basic stuff.

Andrew W said...

Miguel writes:
"But overall it's still a fact that if you want to convert someone to a given cause or belief, you *really* don't want to make the prospective convert feel like he'll have to face serious danger of persecution and death, or even ostracism and whatnot."
Not necessarily. Some people are attracted to the tribal identity of being in a minority with a cause, even (or sometimes especially) if this minority suffers persecution. Alternatively, once being convinced of a cause, some people are willing to suffer anything for it.

We know the Jews had a history of being troublesome subjects and of non-integration with Roman customs, even to the point of rebellion or persecution. It's not inconceivable that Christianity appealed strongly to those agreeing with Jewish non-integration and Messianic hopes but with a more pacifist bent. In such a situation, potential persecution might be a plus rather than a minus.

Yes, humans have a bias towards comfort, but this is easily over-ridden by other considerations. While I agree with your other arguments, this one strikes me as quite weak.

Cal Metzger said...

"Of course, there are people who think there was no historical core to the Roman Gods message, and that Zeus never even existed. But this is an extreme position that most skeptics find don’t find defensible, and it makes it even more difficult to explain the spread of the Roman Gods through the Empire."

B. Prokop said...

GREAT NEWS!!!

Loftus is running up the White Flag of surrender. He's throwing in the towel! He is admitting defeat! (drums and trumpets)

Next!

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Loftus is running up the White Flag of surrender. He's throwing in the towel! He is admitting defeat! (drums and trumpets) / Next!"

FYI, Loftus declared victory.

Fewer and fewer would disagree. In fact, I think the only people who notice what Loftus thinks at this point are those who imagine that what he rails against still has truck.

B. Prokop said...

"I don’t really care to convince them anymore" (Loftus)

Translation: Their arguments are better than mine.

"This will probably be the last book I’ll write on the topic of religion." (again, Loftus)

Translation: I finally admit that I'll never be as famous as those other guys.. you know, Dawkins and Harris. Nobody takes me seriously. They won't even buy my books! Time to give up, and find some useful (and more lucrative) occupation.

Ilíon said...

"... although it pains me to sound like Ilion ..."

That makes no sense. Why would it pain you to speak the truth, openly, directly, like a man?

And by the way, the post immediately above is also an instance of "sounding like Ilíon".

SteveK said...

"I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it."

Nothing left of it? LOLz!