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More on the Historical Problem of Miracles

I continue my reflections on the historical problem of miracles with another “blast from the past”:

 

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Yesterday I started to talk about why historians cannot demonstrate that a miracle such as the resurrection happened because doing so requires a set of presuppositions that are not generally shared by historians doing their work. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this question, and have tried to explain on several occasions why a “miracle” can never be shown, on historical grounds, to have happened — even if it did. Here is a slightly different way of approaching the matter, as I expressed it in an earlier publication on the historical Jesus:

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People today typically think of miracles as supernatural violations of natural law, divine interventions into the natural course of events. Miracles, by definition, are events that contradict the normal workings of nature in such a way as to be virtually beyond belief and to require an acknowledgment that supernatural forces have been at work.

This understanding is itself the major stumbling block for historians who want to talk about miracles, since the historian has no access to “supernatural forces” but only to the public record, that is, to events that can be observed and interpreted by any reasonable person, of whatever religious persuasion. If a “miracle” requires a belief in the supernatural realm, and historians by the very nature of their craft can speak only about events of the natural world, events that are accessible to observers of every kind, how can they ever certify that an event outside the natural order — that is, a miracle — occurred?

Still, some people think they have “evidence” of a miracle having happened. But what evidence could there be? Here is where we get into our problem.

One way to approach the question is by …

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Bruce Metzger and Me: Finding a Dissertation
History is not the Past! Proving Jesus’ Resurrection and Other Miracles

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Comments

  1. talmoore
    talmoore  July 31, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m reminded of that point that Sam Harris made when you were on his podcast. He paraphrased the idea from Hume that one can only entertain a miracle if all other non-miraculous explanations would be just as, if not more “miraculous” than the miracle. Of course, the resurrection account in the gospels is so far from meeting this criterion that it’s pretty much absurd to conclude that the “only” reasonable explanation is that the resurrection is historical. Indeed, the most “reasonable” explanation — that is, the one that most closely fits with human nature — is that the empty tomb accounts are confabulations. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply engaging in wishful thinking.

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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 31, 2018

      Well, historians don’t establish whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. They can only say that there were some who believed he resurrected from the dead. Since most people in the modern world believe in life after death, why assume the most reasonable explanation is that the empty tomb accounts are confabulations? Looking at it from a global perspective, I see nothing wrong with saying it’s reasonable to think that Jesus rose from the dead.

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      • Rick
        Rick  August 1, 2018

        While most, or many, may have faith in some spiritual existence (beyond earthly evidence) post mortem, do you really think “they” would view such “life after death” the same as the reanimation of a corpse?

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  August 2, 2018

          When I was Pentecostal, we believed in a bodily resurrection. I know of other faiths that do too, although I’d say most people don’t believe in reanimation.

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        stevenpounders  August 2, 2018

        Given that the gospel empty tomb tales are highly contradictory, it would defy logic to claim that they are all correct.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  August 3, 2018

          My point is that I don’t view those who believe in the resurrection or tomb stories as unreasonable people.

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            godspell  August 5, 2018

            I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t believe something that can’t be proven, or even something that doesn’t make any sense.

            So maybe there’s no truly reasonable people at all, which would explain a lot, but “judge not lest ye be judged” strikes me as the epitome of reason.

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      godspell  August 1, 2018

      Everybody engages in wishful thinking sometimes, of course. Even Hume. He argued that it’s impossible to prove the physical world around us exists, rejecting Descarte’s ‘cogito ergo sum’ argument. However, he concluded, it is so pervasive and persuasive an illusion that we go on trusting in it, even though we have no logical reason to do so.

      Yeah, you probably don’t want to turn to a philosopher in matters like these. Their entire stock in trade is the unreal.

      People tell stories. Stories that are entirely realistic and credible that could happen to anyone–where’s the fun in that? You want a story about an ordinary whale that gets killed and butchered by whalers? When in fact sperm whales do seem to have wrecked a few of the large sailing ships that came after them, which isn’t miraculous, but might well have seemed so the first time it happened.

      You start with a core of something out of the ordinary, and eventually it turns into something impossible. There probably was a Trojan War. The story we have about it is full of magical events, but it began with very real ones, which were probably quite remarkable (or why would that particular war have been remembered, out of so many the Myceneans fought?)

      If Jesus died on the cross, he stayed dead. Except he didn’t. He went on living in the minds of dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions, now billions. His words, his deeds, his ideas, lived on after him, will live as long as humanity does. To me, that seems more miraculous than physical reanimation. But you know, I’m a romantic. My psych prof told me so. 😉

      (PS: As a philospher, Sam Harris isn’t much. Not enough imagination. Though he did come up with that scenario where we’d have to nuke the Islamic world proactively. Thought experiment, he called it.)

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      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 1, 2018

        Well, since you don’t seem to understand what Harris was talking about when he warned about a potential “preemptive nuclear strike” then it should be no surprise that you don’t seem to understand what he means here either. There’s a convention in dialectics that one always try to be as charitable as possible to an opponent’s position. The first step in being charitable is earnestly seeking the understand the other side, to the point where you can articulate the other person’s argument just as well as, if not better than they can. The second step is to seriously consider the possibility that you might be wrong, and, if necessary, to change your views on the matter. We are all naturally inclined to think that what we currently believe is the correct thing to believe, because otherwise we wouldn’t believe it (because who wants to believe wrong things?) but simply believing it doesn’t make it correct. It’s actually possible for a person to believe things that they sincerely believe are correct, but that in reality are incorrect. That is the essence of wishful thinking.

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          godspell  August 2, 2018

          “I don’t want this to happen, it would be truly horrible, but we might someday have to kill tens of millions of innocent people on the supposition that a handful of zealots who got control of nuclear weapons are going to kill us first, and this is religion’s fault. Even though the last time we had this conversation, the enemies were Marxist atheists, and they had enough nukes to destroy the entire planet, but of course they were white.”

          I read between the lines a lot. Which is much of what we’re doing here, so what’s your beef? And how is this even a defensible strategic policy in theory? If we nuked an entire country without being attacked, obviously other nations armed with such weapons would start wondering if they had to nuke us before we got around to them. Harris is not exactly an expert on geopolitics or military strategy, so what’s his real point? “Religion is evil, buy my books!”

          Evil comes in many forms, and you only want to see the forms that offend you. And that, to me, doesn’t sound like somebody willing to consider that his position might be wrong.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  August 5, 2018

            Again, I refer you back to my original reply. I have read many of Sam Harris’ books, and while I don’t agree with everything Harris says (e.g. I don’t agree with Harris on the issue of guns and police brutality against blacks, for one), I do, at the very least, try to hear him out, and to understand what it is he’s actually trying to say. So in this case, where his critics are claiming that Harris is somehow enthusiastically advocating nuclear war, I have to wonder how nominally intelligent people can be so disingenuous. His critics are being either willfully ignorant of Harris’s actual argument, or they are fully aware of what Harris is actually trying to say, but they don’t care, because, alas, they are the people with an “evil” agenda.

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            godspell  August 6, 2018

            Your original reply made no argument I could respond to. It just said “You clearly didn’t understand what Sam Harris was saying.” I believe I understood him perfectly.

            If you want to argue otherwise, you’ll have to explain why someobody would even bring this up, if he didn’t think it was something worth seriously considering–the fact that he doesn’t consider obliterating millions of lives a happiest possible scenario is hardly proof of anything. Nobody considered Hiroshima and Nagasaki the happiest possible scenario, but the decision was made that those bombs had to be dropped to save American lives (and possibly to prevent a Russian invasion of Japan). And today, there are ample reasons to think that the reasoning behind those two events was deeply flawed, motivated in part by racism, and possibly also by mistranslation of some Japanese responses to American demands for a surrender.

            Sam Harris likes being controversial. It’s good for book sales. It gets him noticed. Does he really want to preemptively nuke Islamic countries? He would say he hopes that never happens. Do I really need to explain to you that by saying he hopes this never happens, he’s also saying “It might someday have to happen?”

            Again, by publishing rot like this, he is providing an intellectual groundwork for future decision makers to consider proactive nuclear attacks on the basis of religion. He can’t be so stupid as not to know what he writes might be used this way. Whether he’s tactless enough as to fail to recognize how deeply hurtful and frightening (and provocative) his words might be to Muslims in some parts of the world (and here) I could not say, never having met the guy.

            I must confess, my knowledge of his positions is out of date. I wasn’t aware he was also advocating against gun control and defending police brutality. But again, this is good for him. He knows people like you will go on buying his books, because you feel like he’s one of the few prominent people who will openly attack religion. In the meantime, he gains new adherents among conservatives and libertarians, with his attacks on liberal positions. He comes across as an equal opportunity offender.

            But in all cases, whether I agree with his positions or not, I find his arguments tendentious, facile, and sloppy.

            He’s not really a philosopher at all. He’s a pundit. And a bit of a con artist. Very much a man of our times.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  August 3, 2018

        I like Sam Harris much more now than I did even a year ago. He has made some monumental mistakes, (like publishing a private email correspondence that backfired on him big time) but at least he’s willing to speak his mind at the risk of major fallout. I don’t agree with him on some issues, but I like that he thinks for himself and doesn’t fall into a groupthink mentality.

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          godspell  August 3, 2018

          Being willing to speak your mind without heed to the consequences is your idea of a good thing? Today?

          Sam Harris is what I’d call brand-conscious. He has his fans. He caters to their likes and dislikes, and they buy his books. He’s not what I’d call a serious scholar. He’s a professional philosopher, whose job is to promote atheism, and give it an intellectual gloss. He’s not really an expert on anything, and in serious philosophical circles, he’s not taken all that seriously. But he’s good at self-promotion, and part of that (as we should all know by now) is saying controversial things to get attention. Most living philosophers get about as much ink as your average county clerk. Less, maybe.

          So like him, don’t like him, but imagine for a moment being a young Muslim woman in college here, and you have to discuss the validity of his musings on whether we might theoretically have to wipe out the entire country her family came from because they got a handful of nuclear weapons?

          This is not just a thought exercise. This could happen. We are already having this discussion at a policy level. And what happens when somebody says “Hey, this atheist the liberals like says it’s okay to just nuke them. I mean, it’s sad and all, but what else can we do? We have our consensus!”

          And do you really think Harris is dumb enough not to know his words might be used that way? Just as the late Christopher Hitchens let himself be used to justify the Iraq War.

          I’m as bothered by religious fundamentalism as anyone alive, but not enough to contemplate obliterating whole nations on spec. Particularly since my nation has quite a few fundamentalists of its own.

          You should demand more of a professional thinker than just saying what you want to hear. You don’t need to shell out $29.95 for what you already know. Or think you know.

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    flcombs  July 31, 2018

    And criticisms that historians “deny the existence of god” are really bogus if you are consistent with history. The existence of a god is irrelevant to history. Events happened or didn’t happen or are to some degree likely or unlikely. It doesn’t really matter if god made a mountain fall on a town or gravity. First, is there enough evidence that the mountain fell? Second, what caused it to fall, which is a problem because if god used gravity, how would you know the difference or which god did it?

    Even assuming there is a god, we can observe that the dead aren’t rising, sinking boats aren’t miraculously picked up and placed on land, amputees don’t instantly regain limbs, etc. We observe god doesn’t do those things and is either unwilling or incapable. So, claims such as the dead rising are beyond our knowledge and experience of how god acts and requires evidence to support the extraordinary claims. If I say I drove to work, no one challenges it.
    But if I say I prayed and angels lifted me to work no one will likely believe me. Yet it is just my word and witness either way. Fair or not, extraordinary claims require extraordinary claims to support them.

    God’s existence doesn’t really matter to proving the events and claims and historians don’t have to assume either way if they go by facts.

    Of course, I’m sure most of us are willing to witness god’s ability to raise the dead and do other miracles anytime someone wants to demonstrate the power. Instead of all the arguing and accusing people of not believing, just demonstrate it! After all, a god that wants people to believe would give clear and convincing evidence to us and not rely on our ability to figure out events from 2000 years ago. Well, if he was truly omniscient he would know how hard that is not to mention WHICH god he is!

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      godspell  August 3, 2018

      I have no idea what a supremely powerful transcendent being would or wouldn’t want to do. People mean a billion different things when they say the word ‘God’ and I don’t see how anything could be so powerful as to satisfy all of them.

      I agree with most of what you said, but didn’t people know all this from the start?

      They wanted to believe, maybe needed to, and they did, and they still do. And if you were fighting every day, just to stay alive, looking for something to bring a little order into your reality, maybe you would as well. A lot of people have to live that way, and if we keep going the direction we’re on now, we’ll all end up that way, and modern secularism will snuff out like a candle. No atheists in foxholes. Or bomb shelters.

      I honestly don’t know how to explain the universe around me if there is nothing but meaningless chaos behind it. But that doesn’t mean the specific explanations of any given religion convince me much. So that makes me an atheist to some, and a believer to others, but I’m just saying that’s how it looks to me.

      The idea of miracles is very powerful, because we are all oppressed by the basic laws of nature. Nature is the source of everything we love, and everything we hate about life. Nature is a god that really does exist, and She is the cruellest deity of all. If you want to feel how cruel, read ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’ sometime. Maybe we dreamed up other kinds of gods just to counterbalance Her a bit.

      She can also be very kind, and I do worship Her, but then again–where’d She come from? Life didn’t always exist, if science is right.

      There’ll always be more questions than answers, and while there are still questions, there’s room for faith.

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        flcombs  August 5, 2018

        Personally I’m not against the idea there may be magic or miricles or other fantastic things. But they require good evidence. The history of humans with religion and these things is that many false claims and stories are used to support beliefs.

        Drugs and modern medicine are magic to primitive people, yet they are true and not magic. So I’m open but just want evidence and don’t need to start with an assumption that only a god could be responsible. I knew people in college that believed in pyramid power, power of crystals, etc. Just show me the proof! I was also involved in evaluating an ESP test over a few years. The ESPers certainly believed in their powers yet their claims were wrong compared to the specific evidence. It doesn’t mean ESP can’t happen, but no evidence of it to me and no reason to assume it is true.

        There are ways to physically influence people to think they’ve seen ghosts or had a spiritual experience (infrasound, magnetic fields on areas of the brain etc.). It doesn’t mean that all spiritual events are false. But with potential non fantastic explanations, there is no reason to assume the fantastic without good evidence.

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          godspell  August 6, 2018

          Personally, I don’t believe anyone has ever performed a literal miracle. But a literal miracle, by its nature, would be a violation of the known laws of science. How could anyone prove it?

          Science fiction stories routinely have miraculous events in them, which are explained by virtue of there being things about the physical universe we don’t understand yet. Is telepathy a miracle? Telekinesis? Teleportation? Time travel? Faster than light travel? Science continues to try and find some basis for these things. There may not be any, but if any were proven to be real, would that be proving a miracle, or just expanding our knowledge? “Sufficiently advanced science will appear to be magic.” Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction author, who was also a scientist (he was the first to come up with the idea of geostationary orbit, which would have seemed like magic to our ancestors) came up with this law. Much of what we can do now would seem miraculous to our ancestors.

          A true miracle could not be explained, ever. Because it’s a matter of faith, and where there is proof, there is no need for faith. And where there is no explanation, there is no true scientific proof. There is merely a fact that people can explain any way they like.

          We are never going to have undeniable facts about what Jesus did or did not do.

          People can believe what they like, but should not try to convince others that Jesus’ miracles are proven facts, because by saying this, they are in fact saying he never did any miracles, but simply used some unexplained paranormal ability. Maybe he was a mutant. They’re very popular now. 😉

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    Silver  July 31, 2018

    In recent days, I have twice encountered (in the writings of Vernard Eller re ‘The Beloved Disciple’) the following assertion:
    “It is only a minor variant reading of Luke that agrees with the Fourth Gospel in placing Peter at the garden tomb on Easter morning.”
    Is it, in fact, the case that Peter’s appearance at the tomb is not strongly attested in Luke, please?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      He’s referring to the textual variant in Luke 24:12, which is missing from one important early manuscript and several latin witnesses. It is certainly not a minor variant, but I agree with him that it probably is not original to Luke, even though its attestation is sparse.

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    jrhislb  July 31, 2018

    “The historical disciplines are not like the natural sciences, in part because they are concerned with establishing what has happened in the past,”

    That is not quite true. There are several branches of the natural sciences that deal mainly with past events. In biology the origin and development of life is a question of what happened in the past, in cosmology the history of the universe is studied and most of geology is about the Earth’s past. In none of these areas do they feel there is a problem of miracles, even though miracles are of course a common explanation historically for what they are studying.

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    fishician  July 31, 2018

    All of Jesus’ miracles were “over and done with,” as you say. The only remnants are stories passed along by believers. But, he could have performed miracles with more staying power. Instead of healing a few lepers he could have wiped all leprosy off the earth, so that we would have worldwide records of the event (although it wouldn’t absolutely prove Jesus was responsible). He could have recited the value of the mathematical symbol pi to 50 places – that would get my attention. He could have accurately described the workings of the submicroscopic world, like bacteria and viruses (instead of demons), or how genetics works, or even the structure of the solar system. He could have lopped the top off of a mountain and deposited it in the sea, which he suggested was possible through faith, and would be observable even today. He could have inscribed a cross on the face of the moon, so that people all over the world would see it for all time. But he prefers us to operate by faith, which is believing the most important thing in the world without the kind of evidence we require for much more mundane things.

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      Hormiga  August 1, 2018

      > He could have recited the value of the mathematical symbol pi to 50 places – that would get my attention.

      Yes, it wouldn’t have taken more than a paragraph of stuff like that in Genesis to change the conversation. Like revealing that the Earth is a sphere with a mean diameter of 27,869,600 cubits, the moon is 840,928,000 cubits away and the sun 328,000,000,000 cubits away.(*) Alas, getting pi = 3 is about as good as we have.

      (*) Actually, there does seem to be a story like this in circulation about the Quran containing an encoded value for the speed of light.

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    DavidNeale  July 31, 2018

    I do wonder, sometimes, what kind of evidence I would be willing to accept to establish that a miracle really did happen. Obviously, a few mutually contradictory two-thousand-year-old literary sources don’t really cut the mustard (contra Tom Wright).

    But imagine for the sake of argument that Jesus had reappeared on Earth last week. Suppose that he were recorded on camera physically descending from the heavens and alighting in the middle of Times Square. Suppose that he allowed scientists to carbon-date his flesh and clothing, and it really did date to first-century Palestine, and they published their results. Suppose that a team of linguists interviewed him and concluded that he spoke perfect first-century Aramaic, and published a detailed report. Suppose that he then went to a morgue and resurrected twenty different people who had all been previously certified dead by doctors, and that all of this was filmed, and that you could review the death certificates and autopsy reports of the deceased together with live post-resurrection TV interviews. And suppose that he turned water into wine, and it was chemically analysed before and after to verify that the change had taken place, and again the process was filmed and all of the scientific observations were published. This is the sort of evidence it would take to convince me that a miracle had actually happened.

    Of course it would be possible that all of this was some very elaborate scam. And it wouldn’t prove the existence of God, because it would be equally consistent with the intervention of very powerful (but non-divine) aliens, or something similar. (It certainly wouldn’t prove Christianity to be true, in part because it wouldn’t be at all consistent with anything prophesied in the New Testament.) But in those circumstances, I’d be content to conclude on the balance of probabilities that a “miracle” (so to speak) had occurred.

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    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      Yes, that’s right. That would change things. But the point is that this sort of thing NEVER happens! Never!

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        Hormiga  August 1, 2018

        > this sort of thing NEVER happens! Never!

        I agree, but doesn’t the Catholic Church require carefully researched and documented attestations of miracles as a prerequisite for elevation to sainthood?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2018

          Well, there’s careful research and then there’s careful research.

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            Hormiga  August 2, 2018

            > Well, there’s careful research and then there’s careful research.

            And there’s also motivated research, somewhat like motivated reasoning.

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            godspell  August 3, 2018

            Mrowr! 😉

            As a lapsed Catholic, let me say, they really don’t let just anybody into that club. The miracles in question are almost invariably faith healings, where somebody prayed to the prospective saint, and reported some form of spontaneous recovery that modern medicine couldn’t explain. This is carefully researched and documented (in the modern era, at least), but you’re still dealing with very subjective experiences.

            This kind of spontaneous recovery also happens, I’m quite aware, to some people who don’t pray at all. But it is not at all hard to believe that such prayers could help an ailing person recover, if only by force of belief. We’ll never fully understand how our own bodies work, or the relationship between mind and body. I know I’ll never understand mine (body or mind.)

            And once we acknowledge this fact–that the mind (or soul) can heal the body, in ways science can’t explain–why can’t we acknowledge that Jesus might have made some people feel better, by force of personality, charisma, faith, compassion–or even, dare I say it, love.

            And since he himself is quoted as saying, more than once, that he wasn’t really the one healing them, that they had healed themselves through faith…..

            So that really could be where it all began. With a man, a mortal man, wanting to help people in pain, having some exceptional gift for reaching out to them, helping them heal themselves. So much of what ails is us psychological–ailments of the spirit. But how would people back then explain it? How would those stories grow, and lead to ever more amazing stories, until nobody knew true from false?

            I can believe a lot of things, disbelieve a lot of others, but the notion that Jesus never even attempted a faith healing or exorcism, when we know for a fact that such things were commonplace in that place and time, and indeed all over the world?

            The ‘Wonder Rabbi ‘was a thing before Jesus was ever born.

            So were sorcerors, which he was accused of being as well.

            Everybody believed in that kind of thing, but not if you never attempted it. So to me, the stories of his miracles prove that he did, in fact, attempt to perform miracles.

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      Lactantius  August 1, 2018

      Wow! This is similar to an elaborate scenario that Licona gave me attempting to convince me miracles can be proven. He asked me to consider if I witnessed him getting beheaded and pronounced dead by medical experts on the scene, and miraculously he comes back to life (with head attached) would I believe it was a miracle? Oh, and he had a story only I would know from one of my dead relative he meets while in heaven! I reminded him David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on live Television. I have also witnessed illusion artist appear to cut people in half. Licona’s point was if miracles could be proven, specifically if the scenario he gave actually happened, wittiness would believe Christianity is true. Right, or Islam is true, or it’s a hoax, depending on the person.

      • Bart
        Bart  August 2, 2018

        The point is that hte miracle that he wants you to witness so as to believe miracles are possible is precisely a miracle that has NEVER EVER HAPPENED. That’s the point.

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        DavidNeale  August 3, 2018

        Indeed. It doesn’t really help Licona, because we don’t have evidence of that quality for any of Jesus’ miraculous deeds. We only have various literary sources of doubtful reliability.

        Indeed it’s ironic when Protestants try to make a case for the historicity of the miracle stories, because (consistently with Hormiga’s observation above) many of the miracles, apparitions etc claimed by Catholics in modern times are far more comprehensively evidenced than any of the miracles allegedly performed by Jesus are. Yet most Protestants, rightly, don’t believe that any of those are genuine.

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    HenriettePeterson  July 31, 2018

    The problem is that when you as a professional say that “this or that is not historical” most people hear – “It didn’t happen!!” It’s simply caused by the fact that words have multiple meanings; most people understand the word “history” as “this happened in the past.” I think you should be more honest and vocal about this; historians should say, “We’re sorry, but our scientific field is it too shitty to say whether resurrection happened or not.” That would be honest. Your scientific field simply does not possess an instrument to show whether it happened, therefore you have no right whatsoever to claim it did not (I think). Furthermore, the field is also unable to prove anything above our current scientific knowledge. Let’s say the world burns, only few survive and live in caves like savages. Henriette comes and claims that in the past people were able to fly in the air in big iron boxes. (don’t take this personally) One of the guys called Bart is a “local historian” and records stuff as drawings on the walls of the caves. What would Bart tell Henriette?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      I think I disagree. We certainly can say some things happened in the past. If you say that someone other than Tiger Woods won the Open two weeks ago, you’d be stating a historical fact.

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    Leovigild  July 31, 2018

    The historical disciplines are not like the natural sciences, in part because they are concerned with establishing what has happened in the past, as opposed to predicting what will happen in the future, and in part because they cannot operate through repeated experimentation.

    I am not sure I fully agree with this.

    First off, if historians are only concerned with what has happened in the past, and their findings will have zero effect on the future, then the field of history would seem to be a nullity. In point of fact, though, how we see the past helps shape the future, and part of what historians do is to provide useful data on the past. Presumably historians feel that knowledge of the past is of some general use to the present and future.

    Nor is it true that natural scientists are only interested in the future. Consider paleontology or geology, for example. Moreover, all experiments, by their nature, have happened in the past, so in many ways they are engaged in a similar inquiry: extrapolating from the past to a more general understanding that can help us better prepare for the future.

    For example, we know that drastically reducing the supply of money during an economic downturn will tend to make the economic recession worse. We know this in part because of historical examples that help establish the general principle. Malthus, through the study of the past, established that human communities will tend to expand in population until they reach the carrying capacity of the land, and that also seems to hold generally (though we have, for a variety of reasons, currently overcome that general rule). Study of past climate change can help us better understand how climate may respond to different natural and anthropogenic events in the future.

    So, rather, I would say that the problem with miracles from a historical point of view is that they are not repeated. If we have a famine in some part of the world, we can’t look to manna from heaven as a solution. Thus, no general principles or patterns can be divined from them. This is true of the present as much as the past — modern physicians don’t send patients to Lourdes, simply because it can’t be established as a reliable and effective treatment. This is no more nor less than methodological naturalism extended to the study of history.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      Yes, of course you’re right about science also dealing with the past.

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      prestonp  August 1, 2018

      “So, rather, I would say that the problem with miracles from a historical point of view is that they are not repeated.” Leovigild

      That isn’t true. Read about what Bart has to say when he found how Jesus responded to him when he prayed to Him. “For me, at the time, it felt like an enormous relief, a lifting of burden, a sense of connecting with the universe in a way I never had before. Very powerful!” “At that point Jesus became not only my Lord and Savior, but also my best friend and closest ally.” “Jesus was my model of self-giving love…”

      Ditto here and dittos from 2 millennia and from around the world, folks from every nation, educational background, male and female, young and old, black and white, poor and rich, sick and well. Multiple millions have stated the exact same kinds of rebirth experiences, renewal and connection with the Source of Love. Study the testimonies of those who prayed to the same Jesus. Many have passed on and joined Him in the world to come and yet they still speak. This has nothing to with any sect, denomination, specific church, Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, race or ethnicity, just Jesus Christ.

      Spin back down through the ages and examine what His kids have been shouting to all with ears to hear what He means to them, what He has done for them. There’s a long parade of miracles He’s accomplished in our lives, just like Bart’s born-again experience, and this can be yours too, Leovigild. It is free and available to all who call upon Him, even right now. Who doesn’t want a best friend? Who doesn’t want to be inspired to love as Christ loves? Bart still encourages Everyone to base their lives on His teachings, His ethics.

      “Jesus’ teachings of love, and mercy and forgiveness, I think, really should dominate our lives,” he says. “On the personal level, I agree with many of the ethical teachings of Jesus and I try to model my life on them.” Bart (Even after abandoning Him, He still encourages others to model their lives on this God-man.)

      Repeatable? It is repeatable. He is beyond your wildest dreams.

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    SidDhartha1953  July 31, 2018

    Do you have anything to do with the Westar Institute? I just got an email from them promoting a book on “affective theology.” A brief Google search yielded some crazy sounding stuff. Is affective theology done by any theologians you know?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      No, I”ve never been involved with them. They are more famously known as the Jesus Seminar.

  10. Telling
    Telling  July 31, 2018

    The Master’s words, in every case provide the answer: If you truly believe something will happen then it will happen. A “miracle” is only a word, one which denies the underlying philosophy of the teacher.

    We create our reality individually and en mass via our imaginations. We literally drive our own future presents. A miracle we define as something good happening that we don’t believe can or will happen. When you cut your finger it is a miracle that it quickly heals. But it is not, because we believe in the miracle of a cut finger healing itself, so it is not a miracle.

    We are perpetually in such situation where we define our reality and call it a miracle when the event happens outside of our group belief. We don’t wonder why the heart beats, lungs inhale, blood flows, all very normal and perfect. These things just happen, we don’t question. So they are not miracles.

    All cells being living and having consciousness explains such mysteries. This is mysticism, metaphysics, Gnosticism, etc.

    To say the world is composed of inanimate matter is to (logically) deny the above. No life would exist, there would be nothing driving it. But the miracle of life is present and is all around us. This should be the starting point of the scholar.

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    bobnaumann  July 31, 2018

    From a historical point of view, why not say something like “Jesus allegedly performed such and such miracle” or, “It was reported that Jesus did…”? This would be historically accurate without confirming that a miracle actually happened.

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    JamesFouassier  July 31, 2018

    So, Professor, how is the criterion of historical probability different from the criterion of contextual credibility? Doesn’t the latter effectively do the same thing, but in a narrower, more fact specific context?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      I wouldn’t call historical probability a criterion. The criteria are how we establish histoircal probability.

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    forthfading  July 31, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    How good are our sources for the life and death of Jesus really? I think it would only be fair to compare it with other ancient sources of someone’s life and death. I hear fundamentalist scholars and theologians talk like their is no better sources in ancient history. What is your scholarly conclusion on this?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      We are far better situated for Jesus than for 99.99% of the people from antiquity! Even from his day and time.

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        Tony  August 1, 2018

        A wild unsubstantiated statement. The only undisputed historical fact is that you have published extensively on your version of an historical Jesus. That makes you a biased observer, with a vested interest and a need to perpetuate a weak hypothesis.

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        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2018

          Seriously? There were 60 million peopel in the Roman empire at the time (not speaking of the rest of the world). Make a list of those who have had accounts written about their lives. It will not be even .01% of those who were alive.

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            Tony  August 2, 2018

            Yes, the likelihood that a nobody from Palestine would have an account written about his his life would be exceedingly small. On the other hand, a Son of God mythical figure prayed to by Jewish diaspora groups and Gentile followers, might be noticed and recorded.

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      • galah
        galah  August 2, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman, I strongly agree. I agree that Jesus was historical as a historian like yourself sees it. But… Oh boy, here we go. Having said that, I’d like to make a calculated prediction. In the near future, perhaps the next few years, far more details about the historical Jesus will to come to light. And, no, I’m not drunk. 🙂

  14. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  August 1, 2018

    Excellent explanation of the well defined limits of historical scholarship. Limits that are there for practical reasons. Like Carl Seagan said “Extraordinary Claims Requires Extraordinary Evidence” and miracles have a low probability quotient and there isn’t much evidence does past the test of historical verification.

    In past blog entries you spoke of the death of Judas and that despite conflicting accounts of how he died history can be garnered from the text, namely, that it is plausible Judas died shortly after the death of Jesus himself.

    So now I turn to the resurrection. What can be historically known from the text? Despite conflicting reports on who arrived first at the empty tomb, and who people saw, each Gospel does report an empty tomb where Jesus once was buried. So is this a similar case to how history is extrapolated in regards to the death of Judas, within the text therevis agreement that the tomb was empty and that may meet the criteria of a plausible explanation that there was an empty tomb, or does the fact that outside Biblical sources demonstrate that crucified criminals were not given a burial making the claims of an empty tomb less plausible explanation despite the four gospels being in agreement that it did occur?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2018

      I’d say we can know that later followers claimed they saw Jesus alive after his death and at some point (maybe not Jesus’ own disciples) started saying (much later?) that the tomb was empty. We can also say with certainty that some of his disciples, including Peter, and others known to him, including his brother James, believed, soon after his death, that he had actually been physcially raised from the dead.

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        tompicard  August 1, 2018

        Peter believed Jesus physically rose from the dead ?

        i doubt it.

        how can a historian put any kind of probability (much less with certainty) on a statement like that?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 2, 2018

          Well, Paul knew Peter and says that he got the information about Jesus’ resurrection appearances from those who “came before him” and he lists peter as the first to whom Jesus’ appeared. So it’s not an eyewitness report, but it’s pretty darn close. That makes it pretty probable.

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            Tony  August 2, 2018

            Paul and Peter’s information about the burial and resurrection of Jesus came from scripture and not from a person. Paul provides no information on where and when the burial and resurrection took place.
            The phrase “came before him” simply refers to those who had visions of Jesus before Paul. It does not refer to a report by Peter on the resurrection

          • Rick
            Rick  August 2, 2018

            Professor, you may have covered this in How Jesus Became God (been a while since I read it).. but, in the earliest tradition (per Paul – the litany in 1st Corinthians) Jesus appeared first to Peter? So, is it not more likely Peter really was the first to have a vision of Jesus? If so, do you make anything of Peter, in the Gospels, being notorious for three times denying Jesus? Its multiply attested and if you link the two (perhaps) more likely set of events (Peter denies, Peter first “sees”) it could indicate Peters remorseful state of mind was particularly “open” to such a vision. Speculation no doubt but…..?

            Thanx again for all you do

          • Bart
            Bart  August 3, 2018

            Yes, by “appeared to Peter” I would mean something like “Peter had a vision” Was he particularly primed for this by some kind of betrayal? Maybe so.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  August 9, 2018

            here you are equating Paul “getting information of resurrection appearances” of Jesus by Peter to (one prior comment up) Peter’s “belief, . . that Jesus had actually been physcially raised from the dead”

            I don’t think that is a valid inference,
            Even if you quote Pauls understanding of resurrection for example in 1 For 15, that does not imply Peter identical belief

            it no more provides information than if a today person says they dreamed or saw a vision of their dead grandmother, (which you claim is common) to ascribe to the modern that they also believe their grandmother has risen.

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        prestonp  August 3, 2018

        I’d say we can know that later followers claimed they saw Jesus alive after his death and at some point (maybe not Jesus’ own disciples) started saying (much later?) that the tomb was empty. We can also say with certainty that some of his disciples, including Peter, and others known to him, including his brother James, believed, soon after his death, that he had actually been physcially raised from the dead. B

        Bruce Metzger, “The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming. Nothing in history is more certain than that the disciples believed that, after being crucified, dead, and buried, Christ rose again from the tomb on the third day, and that at intervals thereafter he met and conversed with them.”

        Bart, was Bruce an historian as well as a world renowned giant in textual criticism?

        “According to Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, writing between 130 and 140 A.D., the Apostle Matthew compiled a collection of Jesus’ sayings in Aramaic, which Papias says many people later translated into Greek. Papias also testifies that the Apostle John told Papias that Mark composed his gospel on the basis of information supplied by the Apostle Peter himself.”

        “,,,we have the Apostle Paul’s testimony in his own letters, which are among the earliest of all New Testament writings. Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been dated as early as 48 A.D. *{Paul had a personal confrontation with the risen Lord shortly after He died, right after Steve was rocked} The dates of his other letters may be established as follows: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 50 A.D.; 1 and 2 Corinthians, 54-56 A.D.; Romans, 57 A.D.; and Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, around 60 A.D. Many scholars, including more liberal ones, believe that Paul’s description of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 can be traced back to an ancient catechism from the early to middle 30s A.D.!…Top scholars, historians, and experts have repeatedly confirmed that the Bible is the most historically and intellectually reliable ancient text in the whole world, including the Bible’s account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ…” including “C.S. Lewis, Gary Habermas, F.F. Bruce, William Lane Craig, John A.T. Robinson, John Warwick Montgomery, Bruce Metzger, Simon Greenleaf, Stuart C. Hackett, J. Gresham Machen, Ronald Nash, Edwin Yamauchi, Craig Blomberg, John Wenham, Lee Strobel, Paul Maier, Michael R. Licona, and N.T. Wright.” Tom Snyder PhD
        *me

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          prestonp  August 3, 2018

          If you thought you saw a dead man walking and talking, wouldn’t you think it more likely that you were hallucinating than that you were seeing correctly? Why then not think the same thing about Christ’s resurrection? Here are thirteen reasons the disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus were not hallucinating:
          (1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, and subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his “brother” or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses—he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources, and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.

          (2) The witnesses were qualified. They were simple, honest, moral people who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

          (3) The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private “hallucinations” at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched, and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)

          (4) Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. This one hung around for forty days (Acts 1:3).

          (5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people (Jn 20:19-21:14; Acts 1:3).

          (6) Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9)—like a real person and unlike a dream.

          Dr. Peter Kreeft professor of philosophy at Boston College, Catholic apologist and philosopher.

          more later

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            Iskander Robertson  August 18, 2018

            “If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it. The Roman soldiers and their leaders were on their side, not the Christians’.”

            the question is, after killing of jesus, why would they have cared ? they just destroyed “the messiah”
            “king of the jews”
            so why would they be bothered ?
            even if they did drag out jesus across the streets, the church would have said that the jews LIED and that the body they pulled out was not jesus .

            how would dragging out a body would have “nipped” anything ? people know where elvis is buried, yet they STILL will testify that they SAW ELVIS .

        • Bart
          Bart  August 3, 2018

          It’s not clear to me that you know what the field of textual criticism is.

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            prestonp  August 5, 2018

            If the resurrection was a lie, the Jews would have produced the corpse and nipped this feared superstition in the bud. All they had to do was go to the tomb and get it. The Roman soldiers and their leaders were on their side, not the Christians’. If there had been a conspiracy, it would certainly have been unearthed by the disciples’. Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:1-14)

            The apostles could not have believed in the “hallucination” if Jesus’ corpse had still been in the tomb. This is a very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed. If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body. Peter Kreeft

            “This understanding is itself the major stumbling block for historians who want to talk about miracles, since the historian has no access to “supernatural forces” but only to the public record, that is, to events that can be observed and interpreted by any reasonable person, of whatever religious persuasion.” Bart

            The New Testament is about as public a document as you can get. Jim Carter is an extremely bright and very reasonable, former nuclear engineer and successful business man and the one responsible for the Camp David Accords. He accessed the information that historians can’t and found his Savior.

            In the meantime the Sanhedrin are freaking out and killing believers even rocking them into bloody, broken piles of garbage. What had Steve done to deserve death by the Sanhedrin?

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        Amy  August 24, 2018

        Professor- I’m catching up on a few missed post so forgive my asking a delayed question on this, but it gets to the heart of what I am struggling with.
        “Claimed they saw” – seems like a reasonable idea (I can believe that from your lifelong work and study you can say that they “claimed they saw” with certainty.)
        “Started saying they saw the empty tomb”— again, seems like a reasonable idea (I can believe that in your lifelong work you can point to evidence that they “started saying they saw the empty tomb”with certainty.)
        “We can also say with certainty that some of his disciples believed, soon after his death, that he had actually been physcially raised from the dead.”- How can we move from “saying that” or “claimed they saw” to “believed”? How can we have certainty that they actually believed this? (Not just claimed that they saw.)
        Thanks for your generous spirited willingness to engage with us on these questions!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 24, 2018

          Well, “certainty” is still a subjective judgment, I suppose. But in my mind I certainly don’t think they were lying about it. Maybe that’s a “relative” certainty. But the old view that maybe they just made it up for what they could get out of it never struck me as at all likely.

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            Amy  August 25, 2018

            “the old view that maybe they just made it up for what they could get out of it never struck me as at all likely”

            It actually is quite meaningful for me to know that with your degree of knowledge and through all your years of scholarship, it doesn’t strike you as at all likely that they were making it up. I think my heart will rest a little bit easier on this subject now.
            I haven’t been allowing myself to let go of the possibility (I didn’t know it was an “old view” )that they made it up (for reasons they believed honorable perhaps).
            I feel like a person needs to have such a deep scholarly understanding of writings from early Christianity to be able to get a sense of the “truth” of those people. It’s like (perhaps) when a person lives in a foreign country a very, very long time and becomes very fluent in that language and committed to learning about their way of life. At some point the expat realizes there are so many subtle things they have come to know and understand and just “get” about the character and behaviors of those people — that even the expat can’t articulate how they understand certain things about the culture.
            Based on my encounters reading and listening to you, I have trust in your ability to “get” or at least be able to discern the likelihood of a question like this. So, truly I do thank you for sharing your thoughts on it.
            Have a good weekend!

  15. Avatar
    godspell  August 1, 2018

    Rereading Mark this week, I was struck by his use of miracles. They all seem to be done to get a point across, and not just “Jesus is Messiah.” And Jesus himself seems convinced that anyone can do the same miracles as him if he believes enough. At times, I almost get the feeling he’s trying to convince himself.

    The story about him cursing the fig tree. Now I’ve always thought that was kind of petty. Figs aren’t in season, why is it the tree’s fault? Why can’t Jesus just conjure up food for himself if he’s hungry? Why can’t he make the fig tree miraculously bear fruit out of season?

    If you want to explain it, it’s not that hard. Jesus is hungry, after a long walk, as he makes his final trip, to Jerusalem. He sees a fig tree in the distance, with green leaves, and walks toward it. No figs. He makes what could be taken as a joke–“May no one ever eat from you again.” His disciples hear him. Later, they walk past a withered fig tree. Jesus tells his disciples that you can do anything, even move mountains, with sufficient faith. But they’re strangers to the area, unfamiliar with the terrain. Doesn’t sound like there’s any recognizible structures by this tree (or Jesus couldn’t just walk up to it and pick from it). Maybe it’s not even the same tree!

    A point is being made. First by Jesus, perhaps. Then reshaped by Mark. I know, without looking, that many writers have tried to explain the allegory. While others, believing in the literal miracle of arborcide, try to explain why Jesus would do such a mean thing. But the core of the story makes sense–Jesus would have been hungry. He might well have walked towards a fig tree he saw in the distance. He would have been disappointed to see it without fruit. And he would have used this to make a point to his disciples, because he did that habitually. Everything in life is a teaching moment to him. But as Mark points out, his pupils often misunderstand the lesson. And probably so do we.

  16. Avatar
    prestonp  August 1, 2018

    Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

    Why? Why did Paul say he was ready to die for Christ? He’d been imprisoned and beaten and shipwrecked. Why was he willing to suffer so? Some estimate he was one of the great minds of all time. Surely he could have parlayed his talents into a place of prominence or at least made some serious denari, but he chose instead suffering (fulfilling the Lord’s prophecy) for an unknown, radical, mysterious, murdered nut. Why Bart? Why anyone? And Pete, too, and Jimbo the Lord’s bro. endured hardship, for what? Steve was rocked to death after preaching to the Sanhedrin how Christ was the Son of God even before Saul became Paul. Many others who had followed Him were running around pleading with everyone they met to recognize, to come to terms with, to comprehend, to realize Who He was. If He had not risen from the dead, why would that be the central theme of their lives and their preaching? Assuming that these eyewitnesses were making up nonsense, what was it specifically they wanted to achieve? What motivated them to lie, to create bull, to spread it, and to suffer for doing so? It is one thing to die for a cause, even a cause that isn’t noble, and it is quite another to create fiction and to be willing to sacrifice everything for what you know is not and can not be true.

    Historical criticism fails to take into account that the gospel as we know it is accurate. H.C. makes unending assumptions about how the NT is not what millions believe it to be, but never considers from a historical perspective that it could be the historical truth as stated. It cannot. It is a limited and restricted attempt to look at history from its own admittedly biased point of view.

    Until proven otherwise, and no one has ever proven otherwise, it is accurate. Although it has been dissected and analyzed and studied and reexamined with microscopic intensity for hundreds of years by the best and the brightest, its truths remain completely intact. How is that possible? I’ll tell you a little secret: it was inspired.

    • Avatar
      fishician  August 1, 2018

      Paul, Peter and the others sincerely believed, and we know throughout history that believers of various religions will go to extraordinary lengths based on their beliefs. Why did the 911 terrorists sacrifice their lives (and others)? Because they believed, not because what they believed was true.

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      godspell  August 1, 2018

      Then I’ll tell you another little secret–so was the Book of Mormon. Because Joseph Smith and a bunch of other people died for that. And we know that really happened. It was in the newspapers, right after it did. There’s still a lot of debate as to what really happened to Paul, but I would tend to think the Romans killed him. They killed a lot of people. Not one of the more exclusive honors one could claim. They killed a lot of other people for their beliefs who were about as far from being Christian as you could imagine. Were they inspired too?

      Just tell me you believe the Book of Mormon was divinely inspired, that there really were golden disks, that Jesus preached to a lot of confused-looking Indians out on the western prairie, and that polygamous marriage is blessed by God (because that’s what they believed then, even if they mainly don’t now), and we have no problems. We just disagree on the nature of faith.

      Faith shouldn’t be “This is what is written in this book, and I believe it.” People have believed in a lot of very different books. Faith is much more than that. Jesus would say to you “If you have ears, hear!” And you’re just refusing to listen.

      When Jesus told people who had never read any Christian book (because none existed), and who were themselves pagans that they had faith, what did he mean? That they believed in something deeper, something people anywhere, of any faith or none, might believe. In treating people decently. In the power of belief to change the world. In something that would exist if no books had ever existed.

      You have confused the text with the truth.

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      flcombs  August 2, 2018

      Prestonp: “Until proven otherwise, and no one has ever proven otherwise, it is accurate. ”

      Quite a standard even if you are trolling. I haven’t seen you prove the Quran as not accurate. Therefore you must accept it as accurate. The Quran says Jesus was a human prophet, not a god. Therefore we know that Jesus was not god. (Any argument you use to support the Bible against criticism is allowed for Muslims in support of the Quran as well.) It is written, therefore it is so.

      For that matter even the Harry Potter books must be accepted as accurate since you haven’t proven they aren’t. We have proof witchcraft works and wizard society coexists with our own. We have many miracles documented in the books too! Wizards influenced and inspired J K Rowling to document their story and struggles. Harry’s story is an inspiration to us all and witnessed by the books and the people mentioned in them that witnessed the events. They have been proven to be inspired! Why would Harry and his friends go through so much pain and risk of death if it wasn’t true? Wouldn’t they really have believed and had those powers? Why would their stories have been documented if not true and inspired? Of course there are those that won’t accept that the books are accurate. They won’t accept witchcraft and wizards exist and are blind to accepting their stories because of their bias.

      prestonp: “… its truths remain completely intact.”

      Obviously you haven’t read much on this blog or anything outside your church circle. I get it that you don’t understand a lot of it, but if you read or research much at all it should be obvious there is a lot of debate and criticisms about bible accuracy. With over 40,000 Christian sects, there are a lot of “truths” in the bible even Christians disagree about. Not very intact at all, even among Christians.

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        prestonp  August 4, 2018

        Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. The attack was so violent that they ran out of the house, naked and wounded. This became known to all the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, and fear came over all of them. So the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Many who had believed now came forward, confessing and disclosing their deeds. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books and burned them in front of everyone. When the value of the books was calculated, it came to fifty thousand drachmas. So the word of the Lord powerfully continued to spread and prevail.…

        “Obviously you haven’t read much on this blog or anything outside your church circle.” fl
        And you thought I could read!
        “I get it that you don’t understand a lot of it…”
        True. Much debate about Christ. Zillions of theories. So?
        40,000 sects you say? Wrong again, fl. Every Believer is a sect. Lots of freedom to believe as we see fit.

        “We have many miracles documented in the books too! Wizards influenced and inspired J K Rowling to document their story and struggles. Harry’s story is an inspiration to us all and witnessed by the books and the people mentioned in them that witnessed the events. They have been proven to be inspired! Why would Harry and his friends go through so much pain and risk of death if it wasn’t true? Wouldn’t they really have believed and had those powers? Why would their stories have been documented if not true and inspired? Of course there are those that won’t accept that the books are accurate. They won’t accept witchcraft and wizards exist and are blind to accepting their stories because of their bias.” fl

        See, now you’re talking. I have been contemplating switching over to Harry’s team. The money is better and the latest reviews of the scholarship looks positive. Haven’t heard of anyone getting flogged for the little trooper, yet, or going to prison, or giving up everything to follow the little dude, nor dying, either. I am sure that will come any day. In the meantime on a hunch I’m headed for Zeus and Heracles. Word on the street has it that at this very moment Old Bart is finishing his first volume of textual and higher criticism on those two. Should be a smash hit.

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          flcombs  August 5, 2018

          At least you see how your logic applies to other books the same way.

          You are right to believe in miracles! They are proven to be magic as shown by Harry Potter!

  17. tompicard
    tompicard  August 1, 2018

    I am surprised at the emphasis you place on Jesus ‘physical’ resurrection.and infer from biblical accounts of visions after his death.

    • tompicard
      tompicard  August 1, 2018

      but if you are satisfied only critiquing modern day fundamentalist/biblical literalist christians, without delving deeper into how other early christians may have understood “resurrection”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2018

      Paul is quite explicit that it was a physical resurrection. The legedns in the Gospels have him eating fish and doing many signs to prove it. I’m not saying he *was* physically raised, but that was definitely what the earliest Christians of record believed.

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    mannix  August 1, 2018

    I like to compare the Resurrection with the concept of extraterrestrial life (EL). Neither has been proven despite multiple attestations (UFO sightings for EL) that suggest the reality of such. There are differences, however. A true resurrection (a person actually dead returning to life) would require a supernatural force, which by definition is not accessible to science or history. However EL only requires a planet in a “Goldilocks” zone, the existence of which has already been proven (Earth) With the billions of stars in the universe, the probability of multiple such planets is high. An atheist may say “I don’t believe in a God because you can’t prove His/Her/Its existence”…but I will bet that atheist won’t say “I don’t believe in EL because it hasn’t been proven” . A true resurrection has never been scientifically or historically documented, but it is obvious the universe can support life. Therefore EL can be scientifically hypothesized, whereas the supernatural cannot. The former is believable due to probability, but the latter depends solely on faith.

    Perhaps someday Theism and Science/History will come to a rapprochement and include each other in their thinking…Science will accept the supernatural, which would allow a God to set off the Big Bang with subsequent evolutions of cosmology and life. Historians could include a God as a probability when faced with claims of miracles. Religion would accept evolution and the concept of historical and scientific myths and errors in Scripture. Otherwise, I won’t believe it until I see it!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2018

      Billions of chances in the universe indeed. Current count appears to be 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, and two trillion — count them, two trillion — galaxies in our universe. And that, of course, is just *our* universe….

      • Avatar
        godspell  August 6, 2018

        Bart, here’s a thought experiment:

        Suppose you could travel bodily back in time and communicate with the leading minds of the Roman world in Jesus’ general era?

        Educated men (and women–Cleopatra was notably brilliant, if a bit before Jesus’ time). The cream of the crop. Those who probably had many doubts about the silly superstitions of the hoi polloi, who perhaps didn’t take their own religious beliefs very literally, who may have been skeptical about the gods their society worshipped, even if not atheists in the present-day sense.

        Which proposition do you think would be harder to convince them of?:

        1)There are people who can work genuine wonders; heal the sick, cast out demons, divine the future, communicate with the dead?

        2)There are 100 billion stars just like our sun (you’d have to explain our sun is a star) in just our galaxy (you’d have to explain galaxy), and two trillion (maybe explain trillion) galaxies in our universe? Oh, and you might have to bring up Copernicus, and cast some shade on Ptolemy.

        It would be a much more involved conversation than 1). If you had time, you could throw in black holes, neutron stars, white dwarves, the Big Bang (sounds a bit like that crazy story the Jews tell), and tell them comets are just giant dirty snowballs in space that have nothing to do with the death of kings.

        But in essence, which of the above two assertions do you think would be most likely to get you clapped in a Roman madhouse?

        Isn’t 2), in fact, the more unbelievable by far? And no one here has ever seen the proof of this, not being astronomers, lacking the training to properly interpret the data. And yet we believe. (some of us)

        And I’m not saying this is an argument for 1). It isn’t. But I’m kind of relishing the irony.

        😉

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    DavidNeale  August 1, 2018

    “If He had not risen from the dead, why would that be the central theme of their lives and their preaching? Assuming that these eyewitnesses were making up nonsense, what was it specifically they wanted to achieve?”

    This is a straw man. One doesn’t have to posit that any “eyewitnesses” were “making up nonsense”. It’s very likely that both Peter and Paul had visions which led them to believe, honestly but wrongly, that Jesus had risen from the dead. There’s no reason to think they were lying about that. People frequently experience hallucinations which feel very real to them. Sometimes large groups of people experience mass hallucinations (Bart outlines some examples from the last few decades in his books). There’s every reason to think that Peter and Paul honestly believed they had seen the risen Jesus, and that others honestly believed them. But that doesn’t imply that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

    Lots of people have honestly believed in things that were untrue. And lots of people have been willing to suffer death or extreme hardship for those beliefs. That doesn’t make the beliefs true. (For instance, plenty of Mormons have been martyred for their faith; you and I would probably agree that Mormon theology is untrue.)

    And it certainly doesn’t follow that the Gospels are accurate. The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. And we know that some later Christians did make up stories about Jesus which were not true. Lots of stories about Jesus were circulating in the decades after his death, and many of them were pure fantasy. (Everyone agrees with this; as far as I know, no one thinks that the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Thomas are completely historically accurate, for instance.) So it’s not surprising that some untrue material ended up in the four Gospels that eventually became part of the New Testament. Especially in John, which is the last of the canonical Gospels and which reflects a developed, late-first-century theology not found in the others.

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    Tempo1936  August 1, 2018

    Are there fewer discrepancies in manuscript supporting Paul’s epistles?
    Is that the reason you haven’t writen a book on “misquoting Paul”?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2018

      There are lots of differences, but most of them are not widely seen as significant as those found in the Gospels. Still, I do talk about them in the book, the title notwithstanding.

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