Saturday, July 24, 2010

The New Passover Plot

When I was redating the last post I found this comment by Ed Babinski:

Secondly, the high priest Ciaphas who condemned Jesus probably couldn't care less what happened to his body, so long as the disciples left town, and got out of his jurisdiction. And to make sure, he could (for all anyone knows) have had the body moved, and had a man in white wait at the empty the tomb to tell the scared ladies that morning, "He has gone before you to Galilee, for THERE ye shall see him." BECAUSE THEN THE JESUS MOVEMENT WOULD BE THE PROBLEM OF THE RULER OF GALILEE.

Charels Freeman argues the probability of just such an hypothesis in his new book, A NEW HISTORY OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY.

Interestingly, the priests did have white garments, and interestingly the earliest Gospel does mention a young man in white at the tomb telling the women to tell the apostles to go elsewhere to see Jesus (get out of town). And in Galilee they probably had "appearances" as Paul says, and even the ones who didn't actually "see" anything probably said they did because otherwise they would lose status and feel left out. And stories of a physical bodily resurrection with Jesus saying he has "flesh and bone" and "eating," and denying he was a "SPIRIT" at all came LAST in such late works as Luke-Acts, and the Gospel of John.

Interestingly, the earliest Gospel, Mark, has a young man in white at the tomb, and also has a young man following after Jesus at his arrest whom the soldiers try to capture, but who flees away naked into the night. Then a young man appears dressed at the tomb, the first to arrive. This young man thus is the last to leave Jesus at his arrest, leaves naked, then is the first at the tomb, dressed in white. He is probably employed as a sort of ideal follower, an example to Mark's readers. But if Freeman is correct, he's a real person, and the body was moved, and for a reason, to get the apostles and Jesus' followers out of Ciaphas' hair and so others would have to deal with them way off in Galilee.

Note that the later Gospels, the ones composed after Mark all change the young man at the tomb into an angel and even TWO angels! And they also drop the story about the young man following Jesus on the night of his arrest and then fleeing away naked. They drop that story of the young man, and change the young man at the tomb into an angel.

There are a lot of things you can say about Caiaphas. Stupid isn't on the top of the list. Wouldn't Caiaphas have learned from experience that movements that start in Galilee might have a tendency to find their way back down to Judaea? As Bilbo noted on that thread:

Caiaphas et al deliberately start the resurrection story of Jesus in order to get rid of his followers? You think that once Jesus was dead the movement would come to a grinding halt on its own. Was there any indication that the disciples would continue causing trouble? Did they mount an uprising to save Jesus either at his trial or crucifixion? No. Why give them new hope? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose? There's no guarantee that they would stay in Galilee. If Acts reflects actual history, the movement becomes centered in Jerusalem. In Galatians Paul goes to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles. I believe Josephus said that James was killed there.

The only question I have is why Babinski, who does read a lot of modern biblical scholarship, would tout such a theory. Are skeptics that desperate? Why are there so many just awful theories out there to explain away the events surrounding the founding of Christianity? Why not go back to the swoon theory? It's more plausible.

"I will never believe that an error against which so many and various weapons was deemed necessary was, from the outset, wholly lacking in plausibility. All this 'post haste and rummaging in the land' obviously implies a respectable enemy."  -C. S. Lewis, "On Obstinacy of Belief"

Or is the passion for the sensational at work here? The Da Vinci Syndrome.

But, I suppose someone will say "At least he's not saying that the Sky Daddy revived a corpse. I mean, how do you know it wasn't the Flying Spaghetti Monster?"

Of course, skeptics are too sophisticated to say that. No?


Anonymous said...

Rabid skeptics? Sophisticated?

Oh, Reppert. You card. If you ever tire of philosophy, there's a career in comedy awaiting you.

Bilbo said...

Hi Anon,

Who used the term "rabid"? And are skeptics too sophisticated to use the FSM argument?

Victor Reppert said...

I am just wondering why someone like Babinski would recommend this kind of a thesis. It's only "virtue" seems to be that it avoids the supernatural. Why all the half-baked theories?

Tim said...

Maybe they're just bored with reissuing Venturini?

Edwardtbabinski said...

@Victor Reppert Charles Freeman is not among the "new atheists/skeptics." His book was published by Yale University Press as a serious study of Early Christianity. If I did not do justice to his argument in this case, I suggest you peruse his book. I don't believe he was saying that was the only explanation. As for anyone's explanation or counter explanation as to what Ciaphas may or may not have been thinking, neither of us knows for sure. So your counter arguments are merely moot points, not disproofs. Fact is THERE IS NO PROOF IN THE FIRST PLACE.

We've been over this before. No proof of any early testimony that Jesus was buried in a "tomb" that was later found "empty." Paul says Jesus died and was buried. Nothing about a tomb.

And all that Paul ever said was that Jesus "appeared." APPEARED. What does that mean? Neither does the list of appearances in Paul agree with later Gospel stories.

And all that the earliest two Gospels say is that "He has gone before you to GALILEE, for THERE YE SHALL SEE HIM." Nothing about a first appearance in Jerusalem.

Luke-Acts is later than all of the above, with a raised Jesus who first appears in Jerusalem eats fish, and convinces the apostles he is "not a spirit" at all, and "led them out to Bethany" and "rose" into the air.

Are Christians such as yourself so desperate as to try and rewrite what your own holy books actually say, harmonizing things inside your mind, no questions asked?

And do you really believe that people who DO ask questions are going to eternal hell? Anyone in fact who asks such questions and would like a little proof? All doubting Thomases are going to eternal hell. How convenient that Jesus showed up for that ONE doubting Thomas, leaving millions more of all different religions or agnostics, nor atheists in the lurch.

See my letter to Habermas, my blog entry on the increasing number of words attributed to the raised Jesus over time. A legend was building. Not history, a legend. Same with Luke-Acts.

If God is God he'll know why a lot of people find such stories legendary. And God will also recognize how nonsensical it is to damn people for having questions.

Do the questions stop with the resurrection story? No.

Fact is, the metaphysical curtain is something neither of us has seen behind, but you're the one still attempting or implying that we need to be afraid of hell if a person guesses wrong.

One of the few questions I recall you asking, and a very good one, is why God with infinite wisdom and power at his disposal seems to be less able to demonstrate the truth of all the so-called holy truths that must be believed in for salvation, while Satan, with far less wisdom and power at his disposal is "winning more souls than God."

Victor Reppert said...

1) "Proof" is a red herring here. What does that word mean? Proof beyond a reasonable doubt? Proof like we have of the Pythagorean Theorem? People are going to come at these things with different intellectual predispositions. What is enough evidence for one person is not enough evidence for someone else.

In the O. J. Simpson trial the jurors decided that while there was evidence of O. J.'s guilt, there wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and so they voted to acquit. Whether they were right to render such a verdict, or whether they were unduly influenced by the defense's "race card" is beside the point here. The point is simply that you can have some evidence that supports a claim, which might be sufficient to persuade some rational persons but not all, and I think in the case of Jesus' resurrection that is what we have. We have testimony pretty close in time to the events in question, compared to what we have for a lot of ancient history. But we are being asked to believe a miracle. So the issue is complicated.

I went by what you presented out of Freeman's book. Of course he's not going to say that is the only possible explanation. But as a naturalistic explanation of the beginnings of the Christian movement, which it sounded like to me coming from you, it sucks. It made it look as if Caiaphas was part of a "Passover Plot" to make the followers of Jesus think he had been resurrected. That's the theory you presented, and it's just awful. Now if that isn't what Freeman is arguing, fine. It does seem to me that no matter what absurd theory you come up with about Jesus, so long as it contradicts Christian orthdoxy, someone will publish it, and you can get your 15 minutes of fame by propounding it.

I still wonder, if Christianity is so easy to refute, and so clearly and obviously wrong, why are there so many half-baked theories (swoon, theft, wrong tomb, evil twin, etc.) about how it all got started?

Charles Freeman. said...

Found this on a Google alert. You need need to read the six pages of my A New History of Early Christianity on this topic to find my full argument . I am a historian and, as with most subjects from this period, I don't know what happened. As a historian I am trained to look at possible explanations of the very limited and contradictory evidence that we have on the accounts of resurrection appearances. I should stress that i believe the evidence is pretty conclusive that the tomb was empty but there was,as all the accounts suggest, one,or two,people, in the tomb chamber when the disciples arrived. It is extraordinary how these are completely neglected in many conventional accounts.
Nowadays in our 'scientific' age, we understand that the barriers between life and death are normally absolute. There is lots of evidence that this belief was not the case in the ancient world -why did Herod Antipas think that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected if such ideas were not common.
I don't know what happened but as a historian I explore possibilities. Theology is a different world where certainties about what happened appear much easier to achieve. Charles Freeman.

Brad Haggard said...


Regarding what Paul said, in 1 Co. 15:4 the words are "buried" (etaphe) and "raised" (egegertai), and then he "appeared" (ophthe). I'm really not sure why all the howling over semantics, because it's pretty clear in the text what Paul thought happened.

Tim said...

Charles Freeman writes:

... but there was,as all the accounts suggest, one,or two,people, in the tomb chamber when the disciples arrived. It is extraordinary how these are completely neglected in many conventional accounts.

I think Mr. Freeman has misspoken here. Someone is in the tomb when the women arrive (Matthew 28:5-8; Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:4-8); someone is there when Mary Magdalene comes back alone (John 20:11-18). But when Peter and John go running to the tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:2-10), there is no record that anyone was there.

I have read the relevant passage (the beginning of chapter 4) in this book, and I am sorry to have to say that I think the hypothesis is a non-starter. Details that Freeman takes to be advantageous to the Caiaphas hypothesis -- a young man or two dressed in the garb of the junior priesthood -- actually tell nearly decisively against the hypothesis, as Caiaphas could hardly have hoped to carry out this deception by sending his own young men to direct people to Galilee.

Freeman makes the extraordinary claim that

The earliest New Testament sources make no mention of a physical appearance by Jesus on earth between his apparent resurrection to life and the ascension to heaven.

But as the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars concur, the early creed embedded in 1 Corinthians 15 is perhaps the earliest source we have in the whole of the New Testament, dating to within a few years of the crucifixion, and it is all about the appearances of Jesus between his resurrection and ascension.

Victor Reppert said...

Charles: I have had the chance to look at the relevant passage from your book. But let's start with the last sentence of your comment here.

"Theology is a different world where certainties about what happened appear much easier to achieve."

I'm primarily a philosopher, and we're looking at historical evidence, so we have to deal wtih probabilities. The first fact that has to be recognized is that because this deals with a purported miracle, some people are going to come at this with more skepticism than others. Any miracle claim should meet with some initial skepticism, but how much is going to differ from person to person depending upon worldview.

The idea that Christians, as opposed to skeptics, are all about some absolute certainty is certainly a mistaken idea. Richard Dawkins, for example, says "there is almost certainly no God," but believe me, he is appealing to the desire for certainty just as strongly as does Lee Strobel.

Freeman: "Nowadays in our 'scientific' age, we understand that the barriers between life and death are normally absolute. There is lots of evidence that this belief was not the case in the ancient world -why did Herod Antipas think that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected if such ideas were not common."

VR: It can't be too common, or else you would not have been able to found a major religion on the belief that someone had risen from the dead. If people back then thought that that sort of thing happened all the time, it wouldn't have been thought miraculous at all. The miracle of the Resurrection requires that we believe, to begin with, that normally, dead people stay dead. I suspect that they believed more in an absolute barrier between life and death than did an enthusiastic seance participant from the earlier part of the last century, or New Ager of today.

In any event, I have to concur with Tim that the Caiaphas theory is wildly implausible. Having Jesus crucified would have put his followers on notice that the same thing could happen to them if they persisted with this nonsense. If you really persuade them that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, even if he is supposed to meet them in Galilee, why should they not come back and tell you that God has vindicated Jesus over those who crucified him, which is exactly what Peter does. Why would Caiaphas assume that what happens in Galilee stays in Galilee?

Now if you follow David Hume in thinking that ANY account of what happened is more probable than an account that involves the miraculous, then this account meets that requirement.

I do see that you raise the possibility of hallucinations, which does have to be taken seriously in explaining the appearances, but the idea of Caiaphas carrying off a hoax which would only give false hope to the otherwise discouraged disciples has zero plausibility.

Anonymous said...

Freeman: "Nowadays in our 'scientific' age, we understand that the barriers between life and death are normally absolute.

Anonymous: Minor quibble here, but there are most likely many more people alive today than in the first century, who believe that at least one person was raised from the dead, just by virtue of the fact that Christianity has spread all over the world. Further, Judaism believes in miraculous resuscitations. I am always shocked to see these appeals to a primitive "unscientific" mindset where these kinds of beliefs are allegedly more common than they are nowadays.

Steven Carr said...

Can Freeman find one person who named himself as seeing an empty tomb,with Jesus laid in it? (not buried in the ground)

Christian converts were openly scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses, hence Paul's reassurance that their Jesus had become 'a life-giving spirit'.

'Mark', writing 30 years after the event, says the Jesus followers were planning to access the body, and gives no account of any guard.

If a body had gone missing, then for 30 years Christians would have been hammered with charges of grave-robbing, and the first Novel would never have claimed the body was just left lying for people to access if only some big, strong men (perhaps fishermen?) could be found to move the stone.