Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jason Pratt responds to Keith Parsons Part II

Keith's thought-experiment concerning finding a body today, consequently, is completely not to the point. Keith is looking at things as a sceptic on
the other side of religious claims altogether; he isn't thinking in
terms of the historical situation of the Sanhedrin (a different kind of
unbelieving group altogether), and what _they_ would chiefly expect to
accomplish by providing any (even a fake) body, _in that historical

Jesus's execution was an official act of the Roman authority. Joseph
of Arimathea had to ask for Pilate's permission to take down and bury the
body (Matthew 27:58). Wouldn't the Jewish authorities have had to ask permission
to dig it up again and display it? What would the Romans have thought of
such a bizarre request?

Assuming the Romans thought anything at all about the Sanhedrin
exuming a body that had been given back to a member of the Sanhedrin by petition
to the governor from that member (as Keith is willing to allow being an historical story detail), I think we can reliably suppose they would havethought either:

'So what? Not our concern anymore; we gave it back to the Sanhedrin--why
are you even bothering asking us about this?' (an answer similar to
what Pilate may arguably be saying in GosMatt about providing guards on the

or else

'Great! Part of our job here is to nip dangerously unstable religious movements in the bud; and we know from experience that Messianic movements can lead to military rebellion; and whatever our personal opinion may have been about that Joshua guy, his followers are clearly deranged and practically begging to be strung up next themselves as rebels against the Empire!'

That's the historical situation, as given. The body is no longer a Roman
concern, except insofar as it may be helpful quelling potential rebellions.
Either way, not a problem _from_ them concerning it.

The argument assumes that the authorities could have gotten hold of the body, but, even if we assume that they knew the site of Jesus's tomb, the body could have been missing for non-supernatural reasons.
Aside from those non-supernatural reasons (whatever they are) needing
to fit into a whole coherent theory; this rebuttal assumes that a fake
body wouldn't do just as well. Which, to me, seems historically implausible.

To the Jewish authorities, if they even noticed the Apostles' preaching, yet another ragtag band of loudmouthed preachers (and Jerusalem had
plenty of those) would hardly create an intellectual problem, one that would
have needed confutation with argument and empirical evidence.

This would look better as a rebuttal, if the Romans (not to say the
Sanhedrin itself) hadn't previously thought enough of the leader of
this ragtag bunch to execute him as a potentially dangerous rebel. A problem
that would have been compounded by any fear that the Romans were always
looking for a political excuse to pay the material (and somewhat political)
costs of stamping Israel flat instead of bothering with them any more.
Plus compounded (and complicated) still further, if (as GosJohn relates,
though a tad obscurely) significant numbers of the Pharisee party even within
the Sanhedrin had previously been backing Jesus. The man was _not_ executed to solve an intellectual problem; the sufferance, or otherwise, of his followers subsequently, wasn't going to be any merely intellectual problem, either.
(Again, Keith is coming to the issue from a non-historical perspective.

To _him_, and to most people today, it's primarily an intellectual question.
It was _NEVER_, and _could never have been_, any mere intellectual question
to the people, including to the authorities, _in_ question.)

To put it in perspective, since Keith brings up the Branch Davidian:
no, the US government didn't bother trying to refute them. But they _did_
bother to wipe them off the face of the earth; and I'd be willing to bet a
Coke that any sufference they may allow people connected to the Branch
Davidian today, isn't some merely intellectual question. Nor do I expect
they still let those people get very far without keeping a suspicious
(where not outright hostile) eye on them.

(And this is _without_ "King David" regularly visiting the Capitol
Building where he had some tacit heated internal support, to snipe at various
corruptions of people in charge there to great public acclaim--all while
under the heel of the godless pagan Soviet Union overlords who would like
some political excuse to muster an army and relieve themselves of the
hassle of dealing with the Senate and House at all.)

Who knows how many crucified bodies, roughly similar to Jesus's,
would have been available at that time?

An excellent point. {g}

Further, exhuming and displaying the decayed body of a victim of
crucifixion would have been an intensely shameful and repellent task
for a first century Jew, an act far beneath the dignity of the distinguished
members of the Sanhedrin.

They don't have to do it; they only have to officialy _sanction it_. (Hire
some sabbath goyim to do it, if the Romans won't agree to do it themselves.)

Or, better yet, turn the shame and repellance into a positive thing. 'Yes,
we don't want to do this--we delayed in fact partly in the hope we
wouldn't have to. But: _this_ is how bad we think these cretins and their claims
are--we'd rather do _this_, and suffer the shame of it, than see our
beloved people of Israel led astray from God by the followers of this
deceiver. Blah blah, rend our garments, insert similar rhetorical
counterpunch here, anyone wanting to stone these people now will have
our blessing. Stones are free of charge in case anyone was worrying, having
gone to the Temple in recent years...'

Such an act would have so scandalized the Jewish community (most of
no doubt pitied Jews executed by the Romans)...

But most of whom, no doubt, _didn't_ generally have much pity for
freaking blaspheming pretender Messiahs executed at the behest of their own
God-sanctioned religious authorities (even if the pagans were the ones
to pull the trigger). The popular notion (as, again, the Gospels quite
realistically report) was always that Jesus was going to save them from
the oppressors. The reported reactions of the crowds when it looked like he
had no intention of doing that, are again quite realistic. And he did worse
than merely fail. The end. (Except, it wasn't: here are his damned
followers again--_why_ are they here? Shouldn't they be crawling into a
hole in shame??)

I will, however, add and emphasize: I would _not_ use the (apparent)
non-report of the Sanhedrin producing a body, as evidence for a
conclusion that the body was gone. On the contrary, in a way I go in the _other_
direction: if they weren't producing "a body", it was for some reason other
than that couldn't "produce one". Probably a far more complex reason.

Nor would the Pauline epistles be my first choice of where to start. But,
since Keith brings them up...

But there is no evidence that the empty tomb story was even a part
of the earliest Christian preaching. Paul never mentions it.

'Etaphe_' implies burial _in_ something, covered over. (Kind of like rice
buried in crawfish etouffe... {g}) _Was_ buried, _was_ raised; handed
down by Paul _before_ his letter to the Corinthians, as being an
authoritative kerygma of first importance. Where _else_ was a body of a beloved rabbi
going to be buried?? In a compost heap??--and if _that_ had happened,
why wouldn't it have been part of the story? (Especially for Paul, and his
strong 'reckoned with the transgressors' theology.)

This insistence on 'no tomb before Gospels' is becoming increasingly
tedious, the more I hear it repeated. At _most_ what it comes down to
is, we have no (surviving) record before the Gospels of the story _of
Joseph of Arimathea_ (not to say the adventures of the women). Without _that_ (or
those), there's hardly any point mentioning a tomb at all, since a tomb would be considered a matter of normal course for a rabbi cared for by
his followers (crucified or not). And there's no reason for Paul to mention
those, even if he did know about the details; he wasn't writing

Now, if Keith wants (and indeed sooner or later will need) to set up a
theory about how the 'Joseph of Arimathea story' came about, he's
welcome to go for it; but even the proposal of fictional development of that
kind _presumes the normativity of a tomb_ in the understanding of the
"burial" Paul mentions as kerygmatic information.

Further, Richard Carrier argues at length in his contribution to The
Empty Tomb that the earliest Christians, including Paul, held a view of
resurrection that was compatible with the earthly body having been left
behind in the tomb.

I _might_ pretty easily accept textual (and similar archaeological)
evidences about this (assuming Richard can provide any), for purposes
of establishing an option of general belief during that time and place.

But once Paul is on the table--well, I'm _very_ familiar with _those_
arguments. They're selective again about what they allow to count as
evidence; and the one Pauline statement which counts heaviest as
positive evidence for this notion (1 Cor 6:13a), doesn't fit into its own
very well with _that_ interpretation.

(Whereas, it fits in extremely well, and helps pull together all first
six chapters into a unified topical progression, if v.13a is considered to
be a quote familiarly used by the unnamed church leader being judged against
back in chp 5, _which Paul is opposing_. We know from chp 15, the main
Res chapter of 1 Cor itself, that Paul could easily throw out
non-scriptural quotes pro and con without making any reference to them _as_ quotes.)

I'd have to be pretty desperate, in short, to think Paul _wasn't_
talking about a resurrection of the body (in general _and_ of Christ). Though,
I _would_ be ready to believe pretty easily (since Paul _is_ opposing it)
that the Corinthian church thought the resurrection of the body (generally
and of Christ) to be either wrong, or at least disposable as doctrine.

In any case, it's frankly a moot point. The place to begin isn't with Paul, and whether his analogy of a seed coming up from the ground (in 1 Cor 15) somehow presents a notion of a bodily resurrection without a body (though the new plant is hardly leaving the seed behind at all, much less exactly as it was when it was buried. Paul's subsequent analogies are about the differences in _glory_ each has--and he goes right from that to descriptions of the _same_ body being sown and raised.)

The place to begin, is with the counter-polemic at the end of
GosMatt--and maybe with that young man at the tomb in GosMark. One of them cannot be
plausibly explained without an agreement between opponents about the vanishing of a body; and the other points toward the author tactfully trying to correct what he thinks is a mistaken detail--_as_ an eyewitnessat the tomb on that Sunday morning.

Even simply given the existence of the GosMatt polemic, though, a vanished body is on the table (so to speak {g}), as an historical fact agreed to by the traditions of two completely antithetical _opponents_ (at the time GosMatt was finally compiled) differing on what the fact _means_. That's a key kind of evidence analysts of ancient texts look for, in putting together reliable historical conclusions. After that, it's pure moonshine to be trying to tease out variant beliefs from Saul of Tarsus
(ex-prosecutor _for_ the Sanhedrin) about whether he needed to have a body
out of the ground or not to believe in a resurrected body.

Jason Pratt


Steven Carr said...

Jason writes 'In any case, it's frankly a moot point. The place to begin isn't with Paul, and whether his analogy of a seed coming up from the ground (in 1 Cor 15) somehow presents a notion of a bodily resurrection without a body (though the new plant is hardly leaving the seed behind at all, much less exactly as it was when it was buried.

Paul's subsequent analogies are about the differences in _glory_ each has--and he goes right from that to descriptions of the _same_ body being sown and raised.)'


'same body being sown and raised'??

Incredible. Paul says flat-out 'you do not plant the body that will be'.

Paul says the seed dies, and God gives it a body.

Paul would have known, that a seed is discarded. The whole point of separating the wheat from the chaff is to keep one and discard the other.

Presumably , Jason is now going to rewrite what Paul says by adding words not found in the Greek.

He is now going to say that Paul wrote 'it is sown a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body'.

But there is no 'it' in the Greek.

If you change the Bible , it is easy to get it to say whatever you want.

Paul never, ever, in fact never, says the same body is sown and raised.

What Paul does say is 'You do not plant the body that will be'.

None of the early Christian creeds found in Paul have a resurrected Jesus walking the earth or having a flesh and bones body.

The creeds summarised what they believed.

If they had believed in a resurrected Jesus walking the earth, or having a flesh and bones body, they would have said so.

Steven Carr said...

Jason writes 'Even simply given the existence of the GosMatt polemic, though, a vanished body is on the table (so to speak {g}), as an historical fact agreed to by the traditions of two completely antithetical _opponents_ (at the time GosMatt was finally compiled) differing on what the fact _means_.)

More nonsense.

We have not one word from Jews saying this unbelievable story that the Roman guard agreed to say that they were sleeping on duty (so consigning them to the death sentence).

Recently on, we have had Christians saying that sceptics were circulating the story that Pilate did not exist, until an inscription featuring his name was found in 1961.

When asked which sceptics circulated that story, we were met with silence.

Jason just doesnt understand religious polemic.

Christians often agree that Muhammad was visited by a supernatural being. They just claim it was a demon or Satan, or anybody except the Angel Gabriel.

Does this mean that these Christians have historical evidence that Muhammad really was visited by a supernatural being.

Of course not. They are just making up stories.

In short, there is no historical fact agreed to by both parties.

It is far more likely that the author of Matthew was lying (just as he lied about a Roman guard none of the other Gospels have), or the Jews simply gainsayed anything Christians were saying/

Jason Pratt said...

A bit of a formatting error in this portion: somehow the bold-off tag wasn't reproduced after "could have been missing for non-supernatural reasons." That phrase ends the quote from Keith. The next sentence is mine ("Aside from those non-supernatural reasons [...] seems historically implausible.") The next sentence is a quote from Keith again. ("To the Jewish authorities [...] with argument and empirical evidence.") After that, the formatting straightens out.

It should be noticed that the paragraph beginning this portion of my letter, really belongs to the end of the previous one. I would prefer for it to not be read out of context with the end of the previous portion of the letter.

I will be working up a new Part 3, to address some things I edited out of the letter I sent to Victor for posting; and also to address comments in the meanwhile. Thanks in advance for your patience. (Though be aware that I have no intention of addressing every point, all at once, of macro-spams that get plopped in the comments.)


Jason Pratt said...

As promised, here is a summary of where I thought Keith Parsons did okay (sometimes rather better than okay) in his debate against William Lane Craig (the abstract of which, written by Jeff Lowder if I recall correctly, Victor has posted here on the site in the past.)

I will qualify that this is based on Jeff's _abstract_; I might draw better-or-worse opinions based on a transcript with more detail, but I have reason to believe this is still pretty close to what I would credit Keith with.

In regard to his "weak aim" (in his opening statement):

If he means that scepticism about Christianity can be (and a particular scepticism of this-or-those claims is) logically valid, I have no objections. Some scepticisms of particular claims made by some Christians, are quite logically valid, and should be accepted; though they need to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

If he means that a sceptic can be (and/or is, in particular cases) acting _responsibly_ to disbelieve or refuse to believe particular claims; again, I have no problem with this. Indeed, I may actually affirm this _more_ strongly than _he_ does (when it finally comes down to brass tacks).

If he means that a sceptic can be (etc.) acting morally _right_ to disbelieve (etc.); again, I not only have no problem with this, I suspect I affirm this _more_ strongly than _he_ does.

If he means that what _I_ understand to be the true propositions of Christianity (largely shared with WLC and other conservative Christians, though not altogether identifiable with them) can be deductively concluded to be false; then of course I (currently) do not agree--because if I did, I would disbelieve them myself! But I doubt he means this, because that wouldn't be a "weak aim".

In regard to his "strong aim", I'm inclined to agree that the evidence _as presented by WLC in this debate_ (reported by Jeff's summary anyway) does not _sufficiently_ support the claim--it wouldn't for me, anyway. (Strictly speaking the evidence presented by WLC 'supports' the claim, just not very well. The evidence WLC presents doesn't _support_ _another_ claim _instead_, though it may support another claim _also_ with x-strength compared to WLC's attempted conclusion.)

As to whether _none_ of the evidence at all (since this is from Keith's opening statement I am supposing he means all purported evidence possible, not simply what WLC presents later), or in any combination, supports the claim--obviously I disagree, both on a strictly technical level (as noted above), and at the level of (in my judgment) sufficiency. But it might not be sufficient for KP's belief. As a responsible thinker, that's his call to make, and I have no problem with that.

In the "Christianity is Not Good" category:

While I could launch into numerous criticisms (both colorful and dull) about the various things Keith brings up here, I also perceived pretty quickly (which WLC never managed to do) that Keith was opposing, in effect, the doctrine of Churchianity: that the Church is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that being in the Church is what saves us from... whatever. In short, Keith was opposing various prevalent variants of gnosticism. (A similar position seems to be defended later concerning the salvific importance of scripture.) I have zero problem with that. (And it was embarrassing to watch WLC try to defend it.) Beyond this, I think Keith scored huge points (ultimately where I gave him the solid edge in the debate) concerning (WLC's defense of) the doctrine of hell, leaving WLC to flounder around with schisms in the Trinity and Ockhamism.

In the "Christianity is Not True" category:

While I don't have a whole lot here that I can call in Keith's favor, I do think there is an important "shred of truth" in Keith's principle that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". The _claim_ of Jesus being alive, dead, and coming back to life, is being integrated (not unreasonably) with _philosophical_ positions which Keith is in no position to accept without (in effect) calling dark what he sees to be light and vice versa. At best, that would be a bad habit to lead him into. (I don't think Keith put or developed the point very well--not as reported in the abstract anyway--but that doesn't mean I can't find something there to appreciate in his favor.)

While I think Keith's attempts at synching the genre of NT Res and UFOlogy don't pan out very well, I suspect he may be making a good point to a reply of WLC when asking "How is the Resurrection hypothesis NOT ad hoc, but the UFO hypothesis ad hoc?" (Can't quite tell from Jeff's notes.)

In the Response to WLC's Arguments for the Empty Tomb:

While I think it's untrue that 1 Cor 15 doesn't support an empty tomb (it certainly supports an empty _something_), I am entirely willing to agree that apologists have an embarassing habit of putting too much weight on the kerygma of 1 Cor 15, for purposes of _our_ acceptance today. (The typical apologetic mention of the 500 witnesses is especially cringeworthy.) The evidential value of what's written in that chapter (including in the kerygma) _is_ important in Resurrection apologetics; but in a rather different (even roundabout) fashion than anything that could be easily plopped on a debate table.

On the Origin of the Christian Faith:

I was originally unable (from Jeff's notes) to figure out what Keith's point was concerning Jesus' teaching being heretical and apocalyptic. I've already written at length about this recently; but I'm also willing to add that _if_ part of Keith's point was to parry against a simplistic Christian contention that a paradigm shift of this magnitude requires a supernaturalistic explanation (and I've seen contentions to this effect), then insofar as that goes he gives a good rebuttal.

On the Presence of God:

While I certainly join WLC to encourage sceptics (including Keith) to keep on seeking, asking, knocking; the fact of the matter is that Keith is correct about his experiences (or lack thereof) weighing just as much in a rational evaluation as WLC's experiences.

During the "Crossfire" Period:

Actually, so long as KP's prior philosophical convictions hold up under his own scrutiny, then why _would_ anyone expect any evidence to convince him? More importantly (from an ethical perspective of fairness to the opposition), why _should_ anyone, anyway??

It will be noticed that I listed almost nothing to call in Keith's favor regarding the specifically Resurrection oriented portion of the debate (per se). So, why did I give Keith a win by a solid edge?

Basically, it comes down to this: I expect more from a Christian apologist. Especially when it comes to ethics. What does it matter, ultimately, if Keith did markedly less well than WLC in trying to account for the Resurrection narrative? Keith stood up (in the tradition of Lewis' judgment of Shelly's atheism vs. Paley's theism) _for_ God, in essence and in character, against an overt attempt (hinging on various heretical positions!) to claim that Might Makes Right (so long as it's Divine might).

Besides, I expect schisms of the Trinity and that sort of thing to be what the orthodoxy-challenging unbeliever throws up. He doesn't know any better. The Christian proponent _is_ supposed to know better.

But of course, my estimate of the debate might change by some degrees when-if-ever I hear the record, not just read fast outline notations. (Plus, doing a live debate is much different, and far more difficult, than writing and editing responses. {s!})

Jason Pratt