Friday, February 24, 2017

The minimal facts argument for the Resurrection

Here. 

These are the minimal facts:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion
2. The disciples of Jesus were sincerely convinced that he rose from the dead and appeared to them
3. Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus), who was a persecutor of the Christians, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
4. James (brother of Jesus), who was a skeptic of the Christian faith, suddenly changed his beliefs towards Christianity
5. The Tomb of Jesus was found empty three days after the crucifixion of Jesus (Habermas and Licona 2004, 48-76)

36 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Arriving at a set of undeniable historical facts helps to answer the fundamental question of "Can we trust the Gospels?" You can re-phrase that question a number of way, such as "Are the Gospels reliable?" or "Are the Gospels accurate depictions of actual events?"

Once that all-important question has been answered (one way or the other), all else falls into place. If they are indeed accurate records of real world events, then we know a great deal about the Resurrection and everything that led up to it. The minimalist construction as posited in the linked article becomes a valuable piece of the puzzle, directing us to a positive conclusion.

Accepting as fact the Crucifixion throws out any and all theories of Jesus being a mythical figure.

The sincerity of the Apostles sticks a giant pin in any idea that they just "made it all up" as part of some monstrous conspiracy.

The conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus makes the notion of "wishful thinking" untenable.

This last point is extremely interesting to me personally. I recently read through all the letters of the various Apostles (Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude, and whoever wrote Hebrews), wondering what sort of Christianity we would have today, were those the entirety of the New Testament (i.e., no Gospels). My conclusion was there wouldn't be much (if any) difference. The skeptics who ignore the witness of Saint Paul (and the other letter writers) do so at their peril, because you don't need to Gospels to discover that:

- Jesus existed from all eternity, and is the creator of the universe.
- Jesus is God.
- Jesus became a human being at a very specific time and place, "born of a woman" and "a descendant of David".
- Jesus experienced all the trials and tribulations common to all Men.
- Jesus was gloriously transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
- Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
- Jesus was tried before Pontius Pilate.
- Jesus was crucified, died, and was laid in a tomb.
- Jesus, after his death, visited the spirits of all who had died prior to His Crucifixion.
- Jesus rose from the dead, as witnessed by more than 500 persons.
- Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.

And that's just for starters (I don't want to make this posting too long). And every point I listed can be found in the letters alone. You don't need to refer to the Gospels for any of them.

Aron Zavaro said...

For what's it's worth, Licona doesn't regard 4 & 5 as "facts." He personally thinks they are true, but he thinks they are controversial enough that they should be regarded as "second order facts."

B. Prokop said...

Just in case anyone doubts that all those above points can be found in the letters alone, I will cite the relevant passages:

- Jesus existed from all eternity, and is the creator of the universe.
"For in [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16-17)

- Jesus is God.
"[Jesus] reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power." (Hebrews 1:3)

- Jesus became a human being at a very specific time and place.
"born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4) and "a descendant of David" (2 Timothy 2:8).

- Jesus experienced all the trials and tribulations common to all Men.
"[Jesus] in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

- Jesus was gloriously transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
"We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1:16-18)

- Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
"the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

- Jesus was tried before Pontius Pilate.
"Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate" (1 Timothy 6:13)

- Jesus was crucified, died, and was laid in a tomb.
"And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:1)
"We were buried therefore with [Jesus]" (Romans 6:4)
"[Jesus] was buried" (1 Corinthians 15:4)

- Jesus, after his death, visited the spirits of all who had died prior to His Crucifixion.
"being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19)

- Jesus rose from the dead, as witnessed by more than 500 persons.
Too long to quote here, but see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

- Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
"when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

And these citations are by no means exhaustive. I limited myself (mostly) to one per point.

Cal Metzger said...

1. Arthur was made King of England when he received the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.
2. Arthur is celebrated by thousands for his feats in defeating witches, giants, and vast armies many times greater than his own.
2. Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and his entire court all came to know that a shapeshifting magician, Merlin, who aided Arthur, was begotten by an incubus and kept dragons in his tower.

These are the minimal facts about King Arthur.

B. Prokop said...

You forgot the battle of Badon Hill.

B. Prokop said...

I am extremely grateful to Stardusty for bringing up the Arthurian Legend, because it allows us to examine the radical differences between mythological development (as in the Arthur story) and the strict adherence to "Just the facts, Ma'am" that we observe occurring in the history of Christianity. As we will see, the two are polar opposites.

Arthur was almost certainly a historical figure of the late 5th/early 6th Century. He was likely a Roman cavalry officer had had some localized success in delaying the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in England and Brittany. The earliest extant account of his life was penned by Nennius, a monk of the 9th Century. He writes:

"Then Arthur fought against [the Saxons] in those days, together with the kings of the British; but he was their leader in battle.

The first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein. The second, the third, the fourth, and the fifth were on another river called the Douglas, which is in the country of Lindsey. The sixth battle was on the river called Bassas. The seventh battle was in Celyddon Forest, that is, the Battle of Celyddon Coed. The eighth battle was in Guinnion fort, and in it Arthur carried the image of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was a great slaughter upon them, through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the holy Virgin Mary, his mother. The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion. The tenth battle was fought on the bank of the river called Tryfrwyd. The eleventh battle was on the hill called Agned. The twelfth battle was on Badon Hill."

And other than a few extraneous details, that's it. But through the centuries, the story spread and was told and re-told in different countries with their own national heroes. And like the Borg, the Arthurian Legend assimilated them all. By the time we get to the 15th Century and what we today recognize as the Story of Arthur, he has incorporated the lives of Charlemagne, El Cid, the Emperor Constantine, and even William the Conqueror. Of equal importance is the vast net that gathered in an increasingly diverse cast of supporting characters: Lancelot from France, Tristram from Cornwall, Merlin from Ireland, Taliessin and Morgan le Fay from Wales, Galahad from Germany.

But the main point is the legend never stopped growing and developing (It still is today!), and seldom rejected any new addition or embellishment. So we now have the Sword in the Stone, the Quest for the Holy Graal, Lancelot and Guenevere, Tristan and Isolde, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, etc., etc.

In total contrast, the Early Church resolutely and steadfastly rejected any and all "innovations" to the Gospel narrative. That is why all the Gnostic and other "Gospels" were never canonical. Even more striking is the utter inability of any of the pious Medieval inventions (such as the names and biographies of the Magi, the fanciful stories of Barabbas, Longinus, Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail, etc.) to work their way into the story. There was always a bright line between the Apostolic story of Christ and everything else.

The two stories (of Arthur and Christ) serve as a case study in the contrast between faithfulness to fact (the Gospels) and fanciful invention (the Arthurian Legend).

Legion of Logic said...

So I'm assuming that this means Cal is a myther, a position rejected by the vast majority of knowledgeable historians, archaeologists, scholars, and sundry people who know what they are talking about. Yet another crushing indictment of the common New Atheist mind trap of strict reliance on nothing but repeatable scientific evidence as "real" knowledge. The methods of historians don't count, obviously.

Scientism loses yet again. Such a shame that people who are likely otherwise intelligent have chosen to be rendered incapable of thought by falling into the tar pits of such blinding philosophical worldviews, as evidenced in other recent threads.

B. Prokop said...

Legion,

I wish I could give Stardusty as much credit as you're giving him here, in thinking that his posting implies any sort of adherence to a methodology, or even was the result of honest skepticism. But alas, I strongly suspect it was nothing more than Stardusty thinking he was being clever and cute, imagining he was somehow sending a zinger across our bows - the intellectual equivalent of making fart jokes in the middle of Swan Lake. It was likely made in the same spirit that gnus so often giggle and titter about invisible pink unicorns or orbiting teapots.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "So I'm assuming that this means Cal is a myther...."

My position is nuanced regarding the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth. I find it telling that apologists will not tolerate consideration of their religion having mythical / legendary origins. This intolerance is not consistent with those who like to pretend that they have reached their beliefs based on careful and considered examination -- which includes a level of detachment that considers all options.

Legion: "...a position rejected by the vast majority of knowledgeable historians,..."

Historians understand that the bible is a religious document, written by cultists, who are competing against other sects and religious groups for converts, authority, and hierarchy. Historians universally agree that the magical elements of the Gospels did not in fact occur. Only the home-schooled should believe otherwise.

Legion: "... archaeologists..."

Bullshit. Name one piece of archaelogical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Legion: "...scholars, and sundry people who know what they are talking about."

Anyone trained in the study of history instantly recognizes the obvious problems (that require explanation) regarding the claims of early Christian cultists and the facts as otherwise known. A reasonable explanation is that the character of Jesus was at least partially aggrandized from pre-existing legends and myths.

Legion: "Yet another crushing indictment of the common New Atheist mind trap of strict reliance on nothing but repeatable scientific evidence as "real" knowledge. The methods of historians don't count, obviously."

You obviously don't understand my position, or the study of history.

B. Prokop said...

I sincerely apologize to Stardusty for confusing him with Cal. I was rather surprised to see such a comment coming from what I erroneously thought was you, because from experience in interacting with you, I knew you were much better than that. From Cal, however, nothing surprises me.

So again, my deepest apologies. I wish I could edit the above comments to change "Stardusty" to "Cal".

B. Prokop said...

"Name one piece of archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth."

The Pool at Siloam. Described in detail in the Gospel According to John, buried under rubble after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and not seen again until 2005 (!), in the course of laying sewer lines in contemporary Jerusalem.

The now-excavated site precisely matches was was recorded in John.

B. Prokop said...

"Historians universally agree that the magical (sic) elements of the Gospels did not in fact occur."

Unanimous? Hmm... that means all, without exception, right?

Well, historian Marcus Borg writes, "Despite the difficulty which miracles pose for the modern mind, on historical grounds it is virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist."

Historian A.M. Hunter writes, "For [Jesus's] miracles the historical evidence is excellent."

Historian A.N. Sherwin-White writes, "For the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be unbelievable. More generations would be needed," and thus concludes that the events recorded in the Gospels are historical fact.

So there goes "universally"! All it takes is one exception, and I just produced three - without breathing hard.

Cal Metzger said...

Me: ""Name one piece of archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.""
Prokop: "The Pool at Siloam. Described in detail in the Gospel According to John, buried under rubble after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and not seen again until 2005 (!), in the course of laying sewer lines in contemporary Jerusalem. / The now-excavated site precisely matches was was recorded in John."

No. This would be archaelogical evidence for a pool.

B. Prokop said...

Cal, you do understand what "cumulative evidence" means, right?

No one piece of evidence is decisive, but they all add up. You challenged us to present one piece of archeological evidence for Jesus. I just gave you one. Agreed - all by itself, it proves nothing. But it's still evidence, so your claim is refuted.

"Your Honor, the prosecution has submitted my client's fingerprints at the crime scene as evidence. But I object, because all by themselves, they do not prove the defendant murdered the old man. So they're not evidence!"

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop:
"Well, historian Marcus Borg writes, "Despite the difficulty which miracles pose for the modern mind, on historical grounds it is virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist." "

If Borg is stating that Jesus was regarded to be a healer and exorcist, then he is making a historical claim. If Borg is stating that Jesus did in fact perform magic, then he is not making a historical claim (which eschews all explanations that refer to magic, etc.). This is basic stuff.

Prlkop: "Historian A.M. Hunter writes, "For [Jesus's] miracles the historical evidence is excellent." / Historian A.N. Sherwin-White writes, "For the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be unbelievable. More generations would be needed," and thus concludes that the events recorded in the Gospels are historical fact." "

Sure, there are lots of apologists and religious believers who probably do sincerely believe that magic is real, etc. But those personal beliefs are not available to them as explanations for historical facts. When they try and say as much, they are most often politely ignored, like the experimenter who insists he's developed cold fusion even though no one can replicate his experiment.

History can never reveal magical events, only because there is always a better and more mundane explanation than "and thus, magic occurred" for the historical evidence -- and that's because we have constant, uninterrupted, and concurrent evidence for human fallibility and gullibility, and we have 0 evidence of concurrent magical events. Thus, the attempt to bootstrap belief in magic through the study of history is a doomed experiment.


Legion of Logic said...

It seems pretty clear to people approaching the topic with reason and an open mind, that if multiple other names, locations, or events in the gospels are verified, then the likelihood that Jesus is a fiction becomes increasingly diminished.

As the vast majority of experts believe the man Jesus existed, I will just wait for the mythers to present a good case, which has yet to be done.

B. Prokop said...

Cal: No historian believes that miracles ever occur.

Me: Here are three that do.

Cal: Well, no true historian believes in them.

I call No True Scotsman!

B. Prokop said...

"and we have 0 evidence of concurrent magical events"

And I agree 100%. Miracles are NOT magic.

I call Category Mistake!

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "No one piece of evidence is decisive, but they all add up. You challenged us to present one piece of archeological evidence for Jesus. I just gave you one. Agreed - all by itself, it proves nothing. But it's still evidence, so your claim is refuted."

I asked for archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. You cited evidence for a pool.

Your citation is asinine; I could just easily cite the unearthing of a castle in Cornwall as archaeological evidence for King Arthur.

B. Prokop said...

"I could just easily cite the unearthing of a castle in Cornwall as archaeological evidence for King Arthur."

And it would be - just not decisive evidence. But... maybe tied in with all sorts of correlating non-archaeological evidence, it could contribute to a positive conclusion.

John Mitchell said...

Prokop: "The Pool at Siloam. Described in detail in the Gospel According to John, buried under rubble after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and not seen again until 2005"


I honestly dont see how this is meaningful evidence for anything

I also wonder whether Price/Carrier type mythicism would entail it to be likely for the author of John to be ignorant of specific facts about Jerusalem.

B. Prokop said...

John,

It's admittedly a peripheral issue.

But for quite literally centuries, skeptics have cited the supposed non-existence of the Pool of Siloam in their attacks against the historical reliablity of the fourth Gospel. If John could be so wrong in such an obvious way, they said, how can we trust anything he wrote? And yes, all through the 20th Century, the apparent fictional nature of a prominent scene in John's Gospel was, let's admit it, problematical. Then lo and behold, it turns out that not only was John writing about an actual locale, but he had described it in perfect detail. (Dare I say it? Just like an eyewitness would have done.)

My point is that, just as John has now been proven to be reliable in mere peripheral details, ought we not to (if not take him at his word) at least conclude he's not simply making stuff up?

John Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Mitchell said...

To be fair, yes it is a small piece of evidence.
If one accepts that a false historical claim in one of the gospel counts as evidence against Jesus's existence/ressurrection, then one has to agree that the verification of one of the gospels historical claims counts as evidence for Jesus's existence/ressurrection

But i am not so sure that this is the case.

Does Jesus having existed make it more probable the author of John would know about the pool than if he did not existed?
I don't know.

Carrier/Price claim that Jesus was a figure that was previously only known through visions of the heavens that was later historiczed and placed into (recent) history.
It says very little about the historical knowledge of the gospel authors concerning Jerusalem.

B. Prokop said...

John,

How can Carrier and Price claim any such thing in the face of what I posted above about what can be know about Jesus solely from the Apostolic letters? Both Carrier and Price will affirm that the letters likely predate the Gospels, having been written only a few short years after the crucifixion. How then, can the letters speak of Jesus having been born of a woman, a descendant of David, of having been baptized, of having said various sayings, of having been tried before Pontius Pilate, of having been crucified and then buried - all things that a real life, physical person would have done, if He was only a thing of visions?

These mythers need to look beyond just the Gospels!

Cal Metzger said...

FWIW, I think that the best explanation for the documents assembled in the New Testament is an amalgamation of mythical / legendary / mystical elements pretty much grafted onto several offshoots of Jewish apocalyptic cults (among whom John the Baptist was probably the best known, but the group that claimed legitimacy through a Jesus of Nazareth gained ascendency).

While I do think that Paul's accounts are highly problematic for those who want to deny the mythical / legendary / spiritual elements prevalent in the mystical religions around the period, there are just as many problems for the straight-mythicists, such as the accounts needing to reconcile Jesus' origins from Nazareth (Bethlehem alone is much less complicated).

So I'm not a mythicist per se, but at the same time I think that most Christians stick their heads in the sand when they fail to consider the mere possibility, as well as recognize how the mythical explanation does help resolve some very real problems presented by a straightforward reading of the NT -- such as, why would someone who never met Jesus (Paul) be so easily able to gain primacy when there were so many who supposedly knew Jesus personally, or were related to him? Why the lack of confirmation from outside sources? Why the narrative evolution based on the probable dates of the Gospels? Why the borrowing of so many elements found in pre-existing narratives? Etc.

John Mitchell said...

I dont know that much about Carrier. I cant stand the dude.
But if you want to know about Carrier's mythicism, he lays out the basics of his case here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwUZOZN-9dc

Price's views are completely fringe. He thinks all of the epistles are second century forgeries (Carrier does not), he thinks Gnosticism predates mainstream Christianity (Carrier does not), he would date the gospels extremely late (Carrier does not)

But Price is a really really nice guy.

B. Prokop said...

"why would someone who never met Jesus (Paul) be so easily able to gain primacy"

Umm.. Peter had the primacy, not Paul.

That was easy! Next? (Considering your frequent errors, why do you even bother commenting on matters about which you clearly know nothing?)

By the way, who says that Paul never met Jesus? Saul (Paul) began his studies in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel in A.D. 30 (i.e., three years before the Crucifixion), so there was plenty of time for their paths to have crossed. (source: The Navarre Bible Commentary)

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Umm.. Peter had the primacy, not Paul."

I thought we were talking about a scholarly analysis of the documents of the bible, not Catholic theology.

Prokop: "That was easy! Next? (Considering your frequent errors, why do you even bother commenting on matters about which you clearly know nothing?)"

Because I do know something about the topic, because discussing it helps motivate me to learn more, and because I can't help myself from speaking out when I see nonsense.

Prokop: "By the way, who says that Paul never met Jesus? Saul (Paul) began his studies in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel in A.D. 30 (i.e., three years before the Crucifixion), so there was plenty of time for their paths to have crossed. (source: The Navarre Bible Commentary)"

Paul never claims to have met the living Jesus; a reasonable reader would think that he would have made mention in the many documents attributed to him. That Paul had never met Jesus is the most likely explanation that the strongest claim he could reasonably make for speaking on behalf of Jesus was that he had a vision of Jesus.

B. Prokop said...

"a scholarly analysis of the documents of the bible"

And I am (not so sure about you). The Primacy of Peter is clearly demonstrated in more places in the Gospels and Acts than I can count. He is clearly and demonstrably superior to Paul.

"Paul never claims to have met the living Jesus"

An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Besides, I'm not claiming they did - I just think there was plenty of opportunity for them to have done so. Jerusalem was really quite a small city, and considering that a devout Jew like Saul would have spent a lot of time at the Temple, where Jesus did most of his teaching while in Jerusalem, it becomes probably (although admittedly not certain) that they did see each other.

One explanation for Paul's silence on the subject is he most likely considered it unseemly to do so. Remember, Paul always emphasized that he was "the least of the Apostles" and did not want to make it look like he was putting himself on the same level as the Twelve.

"the many documents attributed to him"

And you probably think that John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence is only "attributed" to him.

John Mitchell said...

"An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

It can be if given the truth of something you would expect there to be evidence.


" Jerusalem was really quite a small city"

Interesting. Do you think that Acts 4:4 exaggerates the number of Christians?

"and did not want to make it look like he was putting himself on the same level as the Twelve"

Many people believe there was indeed some tension there given Galatians 2:1-10 “They Added Nothing To Me”

B. Prokop said...

Me: "Jerusalem was really quite a small city"

Sorry, john, I was less clear than I could have been. By "small" I meant small in size, not population. Jerusalem was less than one square kilometer (about 1/3 square mile) in area in the 1st Century. My own neighborhood of Fells Point in Baltimore is larger than that. It's hard to not run across somebody in an area that small over the space of 3 years, especially when there are a limited number of likely places to be. It would actually take quite a bit of purposeful scheduling to keep Saul and Jesus apart, considering they're both frequenting the Temple.

B. Prokop said...

"Many people believe there was indeed some tension there"

Indeed there was. Paul was beyond question a "hot head". Luke more than hints at such throughout Acts, and Peter's reference to Paul's writings in 2 Peter appear (to me, at least) to have been written after a blow up and subsequent reconciliation.

Legion of Logic said...

Peter was also very stubborn at times, so there was definitely room for friction there.

B. Prokop said...

"Peter was also very stubborn at times"

Exactly. I don't know why even Christians sometimes find it surprising that the Apostles were "real people" with quirks and foibles of their own, including some not so edifying. After all, in the Gospels (especially Mark, it seems) they're often portrayed as rather slow on the uptake, and quick to misinterpret just about everything Jesus is telling them. And of course there are those rather baffling disputes about "who is the greatest?" that they more than once engage in. In John, we hear Nathaniel asking "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" - not a very open-minded attitude, I'd say. And don't get me started on Judas.

Peter is a special case. Clearly the Chief Apostle and spokesman for the group, he is nevertheless impulsive and just a tad too eager at times. (I could cite a dozen examples, but I'll let the lurkers here read the Gospels for themselves.)

But Christ obviously chose these 12 specifically, despite their many flaws (and maybe even because of them). Perhaps to encourage people like us, who (like me) have far more shortcomings than they ever did - so there's hope even for us. I know for certainty that if I were ever written into The Bible, it would not be a pretty picture!

B. Prokop said...

My final posting on this subject, before signing off for Lent.

If one accepts the Resurrection as historical fact, then all the following make perfect sense:

- Christ is worshiped as Lord by billion of people all over the world today, whereas the multitude of self-declared messiahs we're always being told were running around Judea in the 1st Century are dust and utterly forgotten. (Go ahead, just try naming one of them without resorting to Google.)

- A handful of followers, so frightened out of their wits when Jesus was arrested that they all (except John) fled for their lives and even denied they ever knew Him, suddenly became powerhouses of energy and courage, embarking on hazardous journeys to "spread the word" and even accepting martyrdom (again, all except John) for the Faith. (Hmm.. I wonder whether John was spared martyrdom as a "reward" for not running away?)

- A hostile empire, despite centuries of murderous persecution, was ultimately converted to Christianity.

- The Apostles left behind a storehouse of wisdom (the New Testament) unmatched by any work of literature ever, which unlike every other self-declared "holy book" is intensely and instantly relevant to every last nation, language, culture, and historical era on the globe.

- Faith in the Resurrection has survived 2000 years of non-stop attempts to undermine, or even physically annihilate, it. Christianity has overcome the best efforts of the Temple Authorities, the Roman Empire, the Arian heresy, the barbarian invaders, Attila the Hun, the Islamic hordes, the Northsmen, the Albigensians, the Ottoman Empire, the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, Nazis, Maoists, and the New Atheists to destroy it.

If all this sounds "triumphalist", well... maybe it's because the Resurrection itself is the Ultimate Triumph - over sin and death itself.

Tomorrow begins Lent, when Christians take 40 days to fast, reflect on their lives, admit where they have fallen short in following Christ, and do penance. Because there is no Easter without Good Friday. Repentance comes before forgiveness, and a brutally honest examination of conscience comes before repentance. But following Lent comes triumph - the Resurrection.

Starting midnight tonight I will, as has been my custom, turn away from the internet for the next 40 days. See you all again on Easter Sunday.