Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some further exchange between McGrew and Babinski

The title link goes to Babinksi's response to McGrew at his own site, this is Tim's response.  Tim's new comments are in blue, those from Ed are in black.

Ed has taken the time to explain some of his thoughts on the first couple of points of our initial exchange, and I have, today, a bit of time to respond. Since the semester has begun and I have various other commitments, I cannot promise to keep up an exchange in a timely fashion. I say this, not out of a desire to avoid discussion, but to give fair warning that it isn’t something I anticipate being able to carry on indefinitely. I would not want to give anyone a pretext for inferring anything from silence.

EB [FURTHER REPLY]: What does the word "appeared" mean exactly? I read in Carnely's book on the resurrection that the term can apply to something less than physical.

Ophthe comes from optanomai, which means simply “to appear.” Further shades of meaning cannot be squeezed out of lexical entries alone; we must look at the context, both textual (how does such a claim function in a creed?) and socio-cultural (what would a Jewish audience have understood by a resurrection?). The suggestion that an early creed would be taken seriously if its point were that lots of people had experienced purely subjective “appearances” is bizarre; in the Jewish context, Jesus’ rising again could only have been understood as a physical rising again, a point argued in extenso in Licona’s forthcoming book. To read ophthe here as “to have a purely subjective appearance-experience with no objective physical correlate” is, in face of these considerations, insupportable.

As for appearing to Peter first of all, that's not in the Gospels. Neither is a lone appearance to James. (Neither is an appearance to over 500. But more on that below.)

This sounds like an argument from silence in the making. In any event, though an appearance to Peter is not described in the Gospels, it is alluded to in Luke 24:34.

Let's say that Jesus' core group of initial followers returned to Galilee, mourning the loss of their leader, and Peter had a post-mortum appearance-experience (not unheard of), and the rest of the apostles WENT ALONG with it, saying, "Oh yes, the Lord appeared to Peter and the rest of us also." And perhaps by saying such a thing they originally only meant that THEY BELIEVED that the Lord had appeared to Peter and he was their leader? And suppose other followers of Jesus tended to view James as a leader at least equal to Peter, and they saw how the notion of an "appearance" to Peter rallied the Jesus movement round him, and so a story arose that James saw the Lord too--"and then the apostles," just as in the case of Peter, making them equal. In other words I'm suggesting that an early story grew, prompted by questions of leadership. As for the idea of miracle stories growing, an examination of the NT itself provides prima facie evidence of the addition, growth and change of miracle stories over time. If TM wishes to disavow my case and instead conduct his own based on harmonizing tales, that's his prerogative. But I'd say from my perspective that the prima facie evidence and each question raised by such evidence, comes first.

This chain of perhapses and supposes is pure fabrication; I cannot imagine why you think that it is supported by the evidence of the texts. There is no power struggle recorded between Peter and James. Most of the conditions requisite for this sort of post-mortem experience are missing. Any misunderstanding of an initial claim to have believed that Peter hallucinated something would have been easily quashed by those who had made the initial claim. To suppose that the misunderstanding arose and took over in the first years, to the point that the truth had disappeared within five years of the events of Easter and the creed reported only the misunderstanding, is not credible.

The simple explanation for why there are no more details in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is that this is a creed, not a Gospel. Virtually all scholars agree that it was composed and circulated at a time when the majority of the principals were alive, in the 30s. The suggestion that because this creed, which is by its very nature streamlined and structured for easy memorization, does not contain further details, none were known, is extremely puzzling. Does anyone seriously maintain that an inquirer in Jerusalem who had heard the claims in this creed and came to the disciples asking what had happened would have been sent away no wiser than when he first came? Or that he would have been told only stories of “pneumatic ecstasies”?

As for the helter-skelter nature of the resurrection reports we have, I think any candid reader will agree that it is just the sort of evidence we might expect if events happened more or less as they have traditionally been thought to have happened. We have a good number of accounts, narrated by different persons, of different appearances in different places, complete with the loose ends that accompany all sincere eyewitness testimony. By far the simplest explanation for this is that the first Christians had complete conviction that Jesus, after His resurrection, had been seen so often and by so many persons that there was no real dispute about the central fact of the matter. The discrepancies in the accounts are no greater than—indeed, rather less striking than—those in the accounts of the death of Callisthenes, or Caesar, or Caracalla.

Dr. Robert M. Price also notes that a host of questions have been raised by theologians concerning the above passage in 1 Cor.  [A long quotation from Price follows.]

It does seem reasonable to suppose that the creed was composed to give a list of prominent males in the early church who could give testimony to having seen the risen Lord. Price’s question about the absence of an explicit Gospel reference to the 500 is actually awkward for him, since he must then try to argue that it wasn’t present in the original text of 1 Corinthians 15. I am deeply unimpressed by such arguments from silence.

Another paragraph from Price follows; the only portion that could be construed as a gesture toward an argument is this:

“[I]f such an overwhelmingly potent proof of the resurrection had ever occurred it would have been widely repeated from the first.”

There are multiple problems here. If the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 was, as most scholars grant, circulated in the 30s, then it was widely repeated from the first, and we have it, in the very words in which it was repeated. Paul, in quoting the creed to the Corinthians, reminds them that this is what they received at the first—reminds them, that is, of their own catechesis. The suggestion that it wasn’t widely known unless it was mentioned twice is absurd; the assumption that it must post-date the Gospels is just another argument from silence and deserves no further notice.

Regarding that line in 1 Corinthians 15 and the description of Pentecost in Acts 2, Price writes:

In fact, would it not be far more natural to suppose that if any connection existed between the two passages, the relation must be just the opposite? That, rather, an originally subjective pneumatic ecstasy on the part of a smaller number at Pentecost has been concretized into the appearance of the Risen Lord to a larger group on Easter? But then we are simply underscoring more heavily the apocryphal character of the result. Lüdemann unwittingly confirms this: "The number 'more than 500 brethren' is to be understood as 'an enormous number', i.e., not taken literally. (Who could have counted?)" It is just this sort of detail that denotes the fictive character of a narrative. It is like asking how the narrator knew the inner thoughts of a character: he knows them because he made them up! No more successful is the suggestion that the appearance to the 500 be identified with Luke 24:36ff. The same question presents itself: if there were as many as 500 present on that occasion, how can the evangelist have thought this "detail" unworthy of mention? And if we suppose he did include it, what copyist in his right mind would have omitted it?

In a word, no. It is not more natural to suppose that the appearance to over 500 brethren at once is a legend growing out of Pentecost, for many reasons, one of which is that no appearance of Jesus is even hinted at in Acts 2. As for the question about counting I hope that we can get beyond the sort of chronological snobbery that suggests ancient people could not or would not count. Price’s attempt to parlay the numerical reference into a piece of evidence that the story is fictional looks suspiciously like an attempt to affirm the consequent.

The argument from silence regarding Luke 24:36 would be worth puncturing if it were not for the fact that the hypothesis that there were 500 people present at that time is not itself particularly plausible (see verse 33). Matthew 28:16-20 is a better candidate; here we simply have another argument from silence, and Price has not provided any compelling line of argument for the inclusion of that detail. If anyone feels a need for a further explanation for Matthew’s brevity, I have already remarked on the fact that Matthew’s final remarks are quite condensed, a fact that has led competent commentators (e.g. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 698) to suggest that, like Josephus in Contra Apion 1.320, Matthew was running out of scroll. The omission of a detail in writing that could be supplied by a living witness to anyone who asked is not a serious ground for erecting an elaborate theory of legendary embellishment.

I cannot for the life of me see why anyone should take the view that the reference to the 500 is an interpolation seriously. And, in fact, apart from Price, virtually no scholar does. There is no shred of textual evidence against its authenticity, and it makes (pace Price) perfectly good sense in the context. I am deeply suspicious of the kind of historical fantasy that would permit us, if it were not reserved exclusively for the Scriptures, to deconstruct all history.

For literalists, let me add that when Paul states that Jesus "appeared" to "over 500 brethren at once" (1Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a greater number of "brethren" than were mentioned at the time of Jesus' alleged bodily ascension into heaven because Acts 1:9,14-15,22 mentions only "120 brethren" meeting together in Jerusalem just prior to Jesus' bodily ascension. Acts also limits the number of people who saw the body of Jesus ascend into heaven to just the apostles (Luke 24:49-53 & Acts 1:2-9 ). But I don't want to rush to discussing Luke-Acts since we still haven't discussed Mark and Matthew's tales of the post-resurrection Jesus yet, which most scholars would admit were probably composed sometime between 1 Cor. and Luke-Acts.

Here we have another argument from silence. The bulk of Jesus’ ministry was in Galilee, and it is widely acknowledged that he had a larger body of followers there than in Jerusalem. So the reference to 120 brethren gathered together in Jerusalem does not cast any doubt on whether Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once. It is generally and, I think, reasonably conjectured that the reference to the 500+ is an allusion to the same event as the one mentioned in Matthew 28:16-20.

TM: It isn’t the point of a creed to give a lengthy description of all that Jesus did and said after his resurrection. This one circulated in the 30s; one of the purposes, plainly, was to list the people of whom one might inquire.

EB [FURTHER REPLY]: The point is not that it was an "early creed," the point is HOW CAN WE KNOW FOR SURE HOW SUCH A CREED ORIGINATED? We can't know, we don't have any evidence BUT this early creed. And it is sparse evidence indeed. So unless you are assuming a harmonization stance to begin with, you don't know either. My view considers the evidence in chronological order, and the most obvious questions that come to mind -- prima facie evidence of what appears to be legendary additions, growth, changes in the story over time. For further reading along such lines I suggest:

I await any account of its origin apart from the obvious one—that people who were convinced they had seen Jesus alive again after his death set down a compact record of notable witnesses—that is remotely plausible. Regarding priority, I will just note en passant that Joachim Jeremias, who agrees that the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 is very early, argues that the report in Luke 24:34 represents a tradition that predates that creed. (“Easter: The Earliest Tradition and the Earliest Interpretation,” in New Testament Theology (New York: Scribner’s, 1971), p. 306) Dodd and Bultmann also note the connection between Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Thanks to Vic for his willingness to post this.