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Who Was Jesus? -Skeptics Debate Without Agreement

Adam: Christian agree on just one thing: Jesus is Lord.

Who was Jesus?

Edward: Great, they agree on a religious belief whose truth lay in an invisible realm. Concerning everything else they are just like everyone else. That proves that religion makes no provable major difference. Hereʼs more evidence, a list of all the most recent sex crimes committed by clergy.

How Different Are Most “Converted” People?

Were it true that a converted man as such is of an entirely different kind from a natural man, there surely ought to be some distinctive radiance. But notoriously there is no such radiance. Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from normal men… By the very intensity of his fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than a superficial “carnal” man would be in the same situation.
—William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Christianity Can Magnify Harmless Actions Into Deadly Offenses

One of Christianityʼs chief offenses is not that it has enlisted the services of bad men, but that it has misdirected the energies of good ones. The kindly, the sensitive, the thoughtful, those who are striving to do their best under its influence, are troubled, and consequently often develop a more or less morbid frame of mind. The biographies of the best men in Christian history offer many melancholy examples of the extent to which they have falsely accused themselves of sins during their “unconverted” state, and the manner in which harmless actions are magnified into deadly offenses.
—Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

Professor Drummond used to address his class, “I knew a student, an avowed atheist. He roomed with a man who contracted typhus. What do you think the atheist did? He neglected his classes to nurse his chum, who after a severe struggle, recovered. What of the nurse? He contracted the disease and died. The atheist died and went to heaven and received the ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” Drummond thought it worthwhile to point out that an atheist did what hundreds, probably thousands of people are doing every week in some form or another. Of course, in the majority of cases it is not advertised. Men and women help each other, nurse each other, take risks for each other, and sometimes pay the cost of the risks they run. It is only advertised when it happens to be done in the name of Christ, while the larger number of cases are known only to an immediate circle of friends. Clearly, if Christians had lied less about their opponents, if they had slandered them less, if they had been brought up with a healthier appreciation of the qualities and capabilities of normal human nature, Professor Drummond would not have needed to inform his class that an atheist might be a decent human being. The author from whom I have taken the Drummond anecdote tells the story as illustrating the latterʼs liberality of mind. It is quite clear that had his hearers really understood the nature of morality, had they been taught that morality springs from, and has sole regard to the social relationships, there would have been no point in the story and no need for its telling. The atheist does not need an anecdote to inform him that a Christian may act in a human manner. He knows that human nature, like murder, will out, and the moral promptings which are expressions of so many thousands of generations of associated life cannot be prevented expressing themselves by the most anti-social religious teachings.
—Chapman Cohen, Essays in Freethinking

Itʼs frustrating that the skeptics, and Iʼve read 50 of the their books, canʼt seem to agree on who Jesus was.

He didnʼt exist! (Price)

Edward: Adam, Iʼm the one who is frustrated. Iʼm beginning to think that you have a selective reading problem. For all of the books youʼve supposedly read, your mind seems to draw a blank when it comes to specific arguments and you revert to sappy song lyrics instead. Price doesnʼt say what you claim. He says that he sympathizes with the “Jesus is a total myth” scholars but he is not one himself. He says that we know very little about the historical Jesus to know much for sure about him or how accurately the stories represent him. Thereʼs only a couple thousand words of Jesus in the Gospels, enough to fill a 16 page booklet, and not even a bodily description of him. Paul certainly revealed little, never having met Jesus, and only citing one or two lines apparently from him, but mostly citing O.T. verses in ways that make rabbis, who know better, belch.

He was merely an observant Jew! (Vermes)

Edward: Vermes compared the growing stories about Jesus to stories of other first century wonder-working Jews like Honi the Circle Drawer (who prayed and controlled the weather) and some other guy who also worked miracles and called God “abba."

He was a wonder/working magician! (Smith)

Edward: Certainly the idea of being able to cure blindness with magical spit was common back then, and Jesus is depicted as using that same magic spit method to heal a blind guy.

As for what attracted people to Jesus, probably a bunch of reasons, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that so many Jews were poor and paying taxes, and with dissatisfaction with the Romans who ruled their country and with heightened religious expectations, apocalypticism like that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and increasing messianic expectations, see below.

A couple of years ago I saw a book in Barnes and Noble about the historical Jesus. The thesis of the author was the Jesus was a military leader who was executed for leading a rebellion against the Romans. The “Kingdom of God” he spoke of, in the view of the author, was nothing more or less than an independent Jewish state right here on earth. If this be true, then remarks like, “If you donʼt have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” obviously would make a hell of a lot more sense. But for the life of me, I canʼt now remember the name of the book. It might have been, “The Kingdom of God,” or at least might have had those words in the title. Can anyone help me?

Edward: Yes, and when Jesus said to “Give to Ceaser what is Ceaserʼs” it might even have been a sarcastic hint at giving Ceaser a kick in the ass and throwing him and his Roman legions and Roman money out of Palestine. Likewise with the “turn the other cheek” remark. If you turn the other cheek then the Roman who just hit the right side of your face with his right hand then has to hit you flat handed with his right hand, i.e., not with the back of his hand as was normal practice, and hitting someone in the face flat-handed makes you their “equal!” Also with the parable about carrying somebodyʼs pack two miles, the “extra mile,” a roman soldier could command any civilian to carry their pack a mile, but not an inch more, or the Roman would be punished.

Thatʼs one view about the early Jesus movement, i.e., that it had ties with “Free Jerusalem” movements in its day. People join movements for different reasons and emphasize different parts of the movements they join. Probably true in the first century as well.

In the first century C.E. [Common Era] there were no fewer than ten pretended “messiahs.” These Jewish claimants gathered large numbers of followers with promises of physical redemption and deliverance.

The name “Jesus” was also common. Josephus mentions no less than 10 or more people named “Jesus” in his first century book on the Jews.

If youʼre seeking a professional reply, and the title of a particular book, thereʼs a yahoo group that consists of Biblical scholars (and as such it does not indulge in the kinds of rants you find at other non-scholarly sites on the web), and you can search its archives for “kingdom of God” discussions there.

Also try cutting and pasting this search sequence into the google search engine box:

“kingdom of god” “messianic movements” “first century”

Adam: Ed, The point Iʼm making, that is making you uncomfortable and has you doing a paste and copy jig, is that there is far more agreement about who Jesus is (the Son of God) among Christians than there is among skeptics.

Edward: Agreement among believers is true of all those who believe in any particular religious beliefs that lay in an invisible realm. Agreement, even worldwide, does not prove invisible propositions. There is far more agreement about who Krishna is among Hindus than there is among skeptics.

As for categorizing everyone who does not adhere to the Nicene Creed a “skeptic,” thatʼs ludicrous. There were Christians who defined “Son of God” in different ways, and the term itself has a variety of interpretations in both testaments, and there are still are Bible believers who do not define “Son of God” in the ways Nicea and Chalcedon insist one must. And there are Christians who do not take the Bible so literally today as to believe every historical and spiritual word it uses must be taken literally. There is a spectrum of opinion among Christians even in large established denominations.

I spent 3 days at the Jesus Seminar in 2000.

Edward: Then what? You rose from the dead after those three days?

Some of those scholars (most) deny that he was an apocalyptic prophet, some told me prophecy was his main emphasis.

Edward: A recent Bible Review piece discussed the differing views, and noted that major Biblical scholars are swinging back more toward the apocalyptic prophet interpretation, including Crossan, and a bit further from the Greek Cynic and sage side of his original argument. Crossan had discovered similarities b/w Greek cynics and sages and what Jesus taught, and noted that a large Hellenized city lay near Nazareth, Sepporis, where someone from Nazareth might have come into contact with such cynics or learn of their wisdom. However even the Gospels donʼt mention Jesus ever visiting a large city (like Sepporis), never visiting a large city at all, not prior to entering Jerusalem. The Gospels only mention Jesus preaching in small towns, never in large cities like Sepporis or Capernum which lay within his rage, but apparently beneath his notice. Apparently it was easier for Jesus to impress the yokels and to kick start his cult in small towns, or out in the desert preaching, like John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scroll authors.

Vermes and Smithʼs view are incompatible, etc. etc. Price and Dohertyʼs “myth” perspective on Jesus is radically different than Crossanʼs, etc.

Edward: You neglect to notice that they agree that the Gospels were written later by people who did not personally witness Jesusʼ ministry, three of them not mentioning or even hinting at their authorʼs names at all. And the Gospels contain statements and miracle stories that could just as easily have been composed by the later church and put into the mouth of Jesus, added to the story of Jesus. There were prophets in the early churches speaking for the spirit of Christ and God, as Paul mentioned, speaking in the name of the Lord, including Paul. The Vermes and Smiths and Prices also agree that the differences between the Gospels (and between Paul and the Gospels) speak volumes in terms of how the Jesus stories evolved. The earliest Gospel, Mark, only mentions Jesus being chosen at his baptism, and says that people can inherit eternal life in a fairly straightforward way, no necessity of being “born again,” or having to believe what it says in John 3:16 or be “damned already.” And Paul was way out of the mainstream compared with Mark, didnʼt know the historical Jesus at all, but was raised in a city named after a dying and rising god of mystery religion fame, whose dying and rising was celebrated in festivals in that city.

You will admit that the differences are gigantic. Wonʼt you? Wouldnʼt you say that a Baptist perspective on Jesus is closer to a Catholicʼs view than Crossan and Priceʼs view??

Edward: The differences between a biblical inerrantist and anyone with a questioning brain are even more gigantic.

Maybe this Christmas we should all just say:


Edward: Wright is Wright in name only. I read a piece of his on the web in which we swept every single questions regarding the Nativity stories under the rug and concluded that since such nativity tales were all so visibly and obviously questionable, and since the use of Isaiahʼs prophecy about a “child being born” is taken so out of context, therefore a genuine virgin birth must have happened. In other words, his argument hinges on so many absurdities and questions that even he recognizes, that he believes there must be truth to the part of the story about the virgin birth—that part has to remain inviolate and true. He neglects to recall that the Roman Emperor of that day, Augustus, and others also were spoken of as being born of vigins. It wasnʼt an uncommon idea at all. For Jesus to be as crucial a leader as his followers imagined him to be, they would practically have to invent such a story about him as well, as a sign of his chosenness, though Mark the earliest Gospel makes no mention at all of a virgin birth (and neither does Paul). Wright proves that having a Ph.D. proves nothing, except the increased depth of ingenuity it allows him to employ trying to keep his credulity/incredulity afloat.

Adam: Skeptics donʼt agree about who Jesus is. Most Christians do.

Edward: You imagine that you are saying something when you are saying nothing at all.

Logic lesson #1: “Most” does not determine truth. Neither are most Christians, Bible scholars, so their opinions are not even informed scholarly opinions.

And the word “Christian” only implies a unanimity of sorts (which as I have pointed out, does not exist in reality if you study Christianities around the world and throughout history). The word at most can mean that the person calling themself a “Christian” does not entertain enough questions at the moment to make them cease wishing to label themselves with that term, though other Christians might not agree that they indeed were one.

The word “skeptic” is not analogous to the word Christian, itʼs a term outlining that one asks questions, understands the limitations of knowledge we are all prone to, and doubts in many different cases whether others might have found answers to the worldʼs most perplexing invisible mysteries. Christians for instance are “skeptics” when it comes to everyone elseʼs beliefs. And Romans even declared Christians to be “atheists” in respect to Romeʼs supernatural guardians.

Youʼre right it is fascinating. And I agree with you about the Dr. and ingenuity statement, of course, that cuts both ways.

Wright is a bonafide scholar as is Crossan.

Edward: Wright is a bonafide blowhard who doesnʼt even deserve to sniff the shoes of his fellow moderate Evangelical who is an older wiser scholar, J.D.G. Dunn, who at least understands the questions raised by the limits of what history can reveal and what the Gospels can reveal about the historical Jesus.

Seems to come back to a will to believe and a will to disbelieve.

Edward: The “will” explanation doesnʼt hold water. I can try and will myself to believe that the stars are just holes poked in a blue bowel overhead through which light pours, but Iʼve read enough to believe otherwise. I canʼt just believe things at “will” like the Red Queen in Alice who suggests believing in three impossible things each day. We each believe what we believe, based on all weʼve learned and experienced in each of our lives. There are cases of snapping when some people go way off believing in weird things way out of left field, that includes people who join cults today and yes in Jesusʼ day of ancient apocalyptic messianic frenzied Jerusalem. I think I snapped back in high school due to the influence of friends who plied me with fundamentalist reading matter.

Where thereʼs a will, thereʼs a way (to prove it).

Edward: If God wanted to prove something to mankind he could have revealed Himself unmistakably via the same exact spiritual soul journey or taken us all back to ancient Jerusalem to meet Jesus and see it all for ourselves, or revealed himself to every person in the most direct fashion that even scientists could measure, including predicting future miraculous events in ones life to you that only He could know were going to happen, and written his name in the stars for all to see as well. Thereʼs lots God could do if proof was the point. Instead, ships containing missionary go down with the same frequency into the sea as ships not containing them, on average, to quote Galton. And even Christians like J. P. Holding at Tektonics mentioned in his latest “Christian Myth” article that you shouldnʼt rely on O.T. prophecies of Jesus to prove anything to modern day folks, because the way the O.T. was used by the N.T. writers back then was something called “midrash” which stretched the meanings to suit the writers of the N.T. and their ideas about Jesus rather than to suit the meanings in context of the original O.T. verses. So no proof, except proof that Christians were desperate enough to stretch the O.T. out of its original context, and then desperate enough to add three different endings to Mark, and later write additional Gospels and Acts beyond those in the Bible.
Those Christians.

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What Happened to the Body of Jesus?

Bob: Tell me what happened to the body of Jesus.

Where is the Body of Jesus?

Edward: If youʼll tell me what happens to bodies that die, like the millions of “missing corpses” of folks that have died in the ancient Near East since Jesusʼ day.

Of course all Bible believers know what happened to the body of Jesus, because the Bible tells them so. It says Jesusʼ body launched itself from the surface of the earth upward into the air, past the clouds — with some fish in Jesusʼ stomach (Luke). (I bet that fish was surprised to wind up in orbit.)

Ground Control To Jesus Christ: “We Have Liftoff”

The first chapter of the Book of Acts says that Jesusʼ ultimate moment of triumph, his big exit, his grand finale, when he bodily rose “into the clouds” to be seated at the right hand of God, was witnessed by only a handful of people, all of them, “disciples.”
- E.T.B.

The ascension story, as Luke tells it in the Book of Acts, assumes that Jesus rises in order to enter heavenʼs door in the sky to be enthroned at the right hand of God. But in a space age, rising from this earth into the sky does not result in achieving heaven. It might only result in achieving orbit. Luke did not comprehend the vastness of space. No one in his day did. He could not have imagined space travel. If Jesus ascended physically into the sky and rose as rapidly as the speed of light, he would not yet have reached the edges of our own galaxy. [And our galaxy is merely one of over 100 billion. — ED.]
- John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism

We know that anyone who wants to go to God and the precincts of the Blessed is taking a needless detour if he thinks this means he has to soar into the upper levels of the air. Surely Jesus would not have taken such a superfluous journey, nor would God have made him take it. Thus, one would have to assume something like a divine accommodation to the world-picture people had back then, and say: In order to convince the disciples of Jesusʼ return to the higher world, even though in fact that world was by no means to be sought in the upper atmosphere, God nevertheless staged the spectacle of Jesusʼ elevation. But this would be turning God into a sleight-of-hand artist.
- David Friedrich Strauss, Das Leben Jesu, 1837

It was the common belief among the Jews that the Messiah would transcend the greatest of the patriarchs and prophets; and if Enoch was translated, and Elijah went up in a fiery chariot, it was only natural that the Messiah should ascend to heaven.
- G. W. Foote, Bible Romances, No. 14, The Resurrection, 1880

The ascension of Jesus into cloudy concealment seems to have been modeled directly upon Josephusʼ [first century] telling of the story of the ascension of Moses before the forlorn eyes of his disciples.
- Robert M. Price, “Of Myth and Men: A Closer Look At the Originators of the Major Religions — What Did They Really Say and Do?” Free Inquiry, Winter 1999/2000

There were ascents into heaven made long before and quite apart from Jesus. The Roman historian Livy, described the ascension of Romulus, the founder of the city of Rome, who came to be venerated as a god: One day Romulus held an assembly of the people before the city walls to review the army. Suddenly a thunderstorm broke out, wrapping the king in a thick cloud. When the cloud lifted, Romulus was no longer on earth. He had gone up into heaven.

Stories of ascensions were told in antiquity about other famous men, for example, Heracles, Empedocles, Alexander the Great, and Apollonius of Tyana. Characteristically the scene is set with spectators and witnesses, before whose eyes the person in question disappears. Often he is borne aloft by a cloud or shrouded in darkness that takes him from the eyes of the people. Not infrequently the whole business takes place on a mountain or hill. (Gerhard Lohfink, Die Himmelfahrt Jesu)

From this standpoint, Jesusʼ Ascension was nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus too, disembarked from a mountain, the Mount of Olives, for heaven. The point is that from a mountain itʼs not quite as far to heaven.
- Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things

Millions of Muslims believe Mohammed “ascended into the sky” riding a horse.
Makes me wonder whether Mohammed caught up to Jesus and galloped past? Or, being the gracious prophet that he was, gave Jesus a lift?
- E.T.B.

The founding of Christianity was not only accompanied by miracles, but even today it cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one.
- David Hume

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Theomatics - 616 or 666

According to Theomatics.com (Del Washburn), the number of the beast is 616.
Del has conclusive proof that the Bible is true.

Thanks, Dennis M.


Edward: Thanks for writing, Dennis,

Every so often someone tries to prove the “inspiration” of the Bible via some hidden mathematical “codes” that it allegedly contains. In 1977 the book, Theomatics by Jerry Lucas and Harry Lorayne appeared. The authors alleged that if you assigned a number to each letter in the Hebrew (and Greek) alphabet, then added up the assigned numbers in particular words and phrases in the Bible, those words and phrases whose totals were mathematically equivalent also taught equivalent theological concepts. They boasted in the bookʼs last chapter, “God may allow man to condemn, criticize, and even abuse the truth of ‘theomatics,’ but He will never allow anyone to duplicate these designs with any random assignment of numbers to the letters of the Greek alphabet other than those that He Himself placed in the papyrus. In fact, no one will even come close.” Regardless of such a boast, “theomatics” never caught on. As skeptic, Martin Gardner pointed out:

“In looking over the hundreds of theomatic passages that the authors have found in the Bible, one is overwhelmed by the arbitrariness of their great art. Many of the passages are only remotely connected with the key concept assigned to them, and the authors do not hesitate in deciding where a passage is to begin and end. Moreover, they have a marvelous gimmick that gives them even greater leeway with Greek texts. They feel free to include or exclude ‘the’ wherever they like on the grounds that ‘the’ are not essential to a passageʼs meaning. Nevertheless, with the aid of some statistician friends, they snow the reader with ‘demonstrations’ that the probabilities against their correlations arising from chance, or from selective choices, are astronomical.” (Martin Gardner, “The Bible and Godʼs Numerology,” Order and Surprise)

In 1982 a book appeared, titled, The Signature of God by Robert Hamson, a computer scientist who examined the frequency with which Jesus used certain key words in his discourses. Hamson then compared the frequency pattern of Jesusʼ word use in the King James Bible with the works of several modern-day “prophets,” and discovered that the revelations of Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants, matched the word frequency of Jesus in the book of Revelation. Hamson concluded that this proves that Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, is an authentic prophet of God. (Hardly a conclusion that non-Mormon Christians are likely to accept.)

The latest rage is Michael Drosninʼs bestseller, The Bible Code, published in 1997. Drosnin claims to have found the names of God, the names of a multitude of obscure Hebrew rabbis, and also prophecies of future events like a California earthquake, and the assassination of a prime minister, “encoded” in the Bible. All he had to do was “look” for such things via a computer program that seeks “equidistant letter sequences.” However, the “Bible code” now appears cracked… and crumbling. Biblical scholars have pointed out that Drosnin often stretches and misinterprets the meaning of the Hebrew “words” that he discovers via his computer searches. Meanwhile, evangelical Christians at the Christian Research Institute, have compared “equidistant letter sequencing” with “a high-tech version of a Ouija board or tarot cards, and the Biblical injunction against divination applies.”

Drosnin, however, boasts, “When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, Iʼll believe them.”
- E.T.B.

Using the same method of computer searching advocated by Michael Drosnin in his book, The Bible Code, I discovered that Moby Dick contained “messages about the assassinations” of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, President Rene Moawad, Soviet exile Leon Trotsky, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, the assassin Sirhan Sirhan, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Yitzhak Rabin, and, Princess Dianaʼs death.

Note that English with vowels included is far less flexible than Hebrew when it comes to making letters into words. Neither were any laws of probability violated, or even stretched a little in discovering these “predictions” in Moby Dick. The reason they look so amazing is simply that the number of possible things you can look for, and the number of places to look, is much greater than you imagine.
- Brendan McKay, “Assassinations Foretold in Moby Dick!” (1997) [online]

Using merely the software licensing agreement for Microsoft Access Developerʼs Toolkit 2.0 as our “book,” we removed all spaces and hyphens, converted the text to all caps, and analyzed it in the way advocated by Michael Drosnin in The Bible Code. Let the secret-code unlocking begin! We were shocked to see — almost immediately — the word “Rabin” staring us in the face. And it intersected with “U.S. Government restricted,” “information,” “inability to use,” “even if Microsoft has been advised of the possibility” and “damages for loss.” What was going on here? Could someone in Microsoftʼs legal department be trying to tell us something about Israeli prime minster “Yitzhak Rabinʼs” assassination?

We also found the word, “Tyson,” vertically touching the word “ear,” and intersecting with “refund.” As everyone knows, Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfieldʼs “ear” in a world heavy weight fight, and thousands of fans demanded “refunds” for the ridiculous sums of money they had paid to watch the event! Understand, the text we found this “hidden code” in was updated a full month before the Tyson ear-biting incident!

Even bigger shockers followed. We found the following letters in vertical order, one right after the other, “OJDIDIT.” Thatʼs right, “O. J. Did it.”
- Don Steinberg, “Computers Expose Shocking Truth!” on C/NET 7/16/97

As a warning to creationists and code-followers that the “code” phenomenon is a double-edged sword, I “computer-code” searched the King James version of Genesis for the message, “Darwin got it right,” and found it! But these amazing messages are not evidence of divine design; they are simply the luck of the draw.

Another hit that I found by computer, but that can be easily verified by anyone with a King James Bible, occurs in Genesis 31:28, “And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? ThoU hast now done Foolishly in sO doing.” (UFO in caps, step = 11, donʼt count spaces or commas, etc.) And in the very same verse, “And hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughteRs? thOu haSt noW donE fooLishLy in so doing.” (ROSWELL in caps, step = 4) Not only is this a long word (ROSWELL) in a translated text that couldnʼt POSSIBLY have retained Godʼs hidden code, but it features a linked message with MEANING.

I also found MONICA crossed with CLINTON, near the phrase “thou shalt not go down.”

Drosnin says you canʼt find linked hidden messages like HITLER & NAZI anywhere but in the Hebrew Torah, but I found so many pairs I lost count! The best was in Tolstoyʼs War and Peace.

Last year, I finally broke the predicting-the-future barrier, and predicted the Chicago Bullsʼ NBA win, (and Jordanʼs key role) two months in advance, based on “computer codes” found in War and Peace.

Drosnin berates his critics (saying they donʼt even “understand” the code), but I understand it well enough to prove that Drosnin even breaks his own rules (especially “minimality,” the preference for using the shortest-step matches). His famous CLINTON match from the Torah is the worst of four in there, and has “ZERO MINIMALITY” (a BAD thing for codes; good codes are minimal over the entire text, such as my ROSWELL match above.)

I looked for some stuff in the Origin of Species, but honestly, I got much better NBA predictions from War and Peace. Maybe Tolstoy liked basketball more than Darwin did.
- Dave Thomas (See his articles, “Hidden Messages and The Bible Code,” The Skeptical Inquirer, Nov./Dec. 1998; and, “The ICR and the ‘Bible Code,’ NSCE Reports, July/Aug. 1997)

Mathematician David Thomas did an “equidistant letter sequence” analysis on Genesis and found the words “bogus” and “code” close together not once but 60 times. What are the odds of that happening? Does this mean that God put in a code to reveal that there is no code? The way of the Lord is mysterious, indeed.

Dr. Eliyahu Rips, one of the authors of the study that started the Bible Code craze, has made a public statement regarding Drosninʼs Bible Code: “I do not support Mr. Drosninʼs work on the Codes, nor the conclusions he derives . All attempts to extract messages from Torah codes, or to make predictions based on them, are futile and are of no value. This is not only my own opinion, but the opinion of every scientist who has been involved in serious Codes research.”
- Robert Todd Carroll, “The Bible (or Torah) Code,” The Skepticʼs Dictionary [online]

“The Bible Code Myth by Michael Heiser gives an excellent introduction to the history of the Hebrew Bible and how we received it. Heiser explodes the “Bible Code myth” that our text differs by only a few letters from the original autographs. [It differs by far more] . It is hard to see how very much ‘encoded’ material could have survived the hundreds of letter-variations in the original text.”
- Randall Ingermanson, author of Who Wrote the Bible Code? [Dr. Ingermanson is a computational physicist (Ph.D.). His book is a mathematical and statistical critique of the Bible code, Ingermansonʼs website is www.rsingermanson.com

“Although sympathetic to the Torah as being part of Godʼs Word to humankind, I know from firsthand work with the Hebrew text that the every-letter sequence required for the Bible code to be real is a demonstrable myth.”
- Michael Heiser, author of The Bible Code Myth [currently writing his Ph.D. dissertation in the field of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds an M.A. in Ancient History from an ivy-league institution, the University of Pennsylvania (major fields, Ancient Israel and Egyptology), and a second M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages). He also attended Dallas Theological Seminary. Mike is the recipient of several academic awards and scholarships, and has written articles accepted in several scholarly journals. His website is www.michaelsheiser.com

Thank you very much.

On Thursday, December 25, 2003, Edward wrote: Youʼre very welcome Dennis.

I discovered Gematria on the ʻnet recently, so Iʼm new at it. I bought Del Washburnʼs 2 books. They arrived 2 days ago. Iʼve skimmed part of them. They look impressive, but Iʼm not an expert.

Edward: Neither am I. Unfortunately, even the Gematria folks are not experts. I will explain that further below.

Attached is the “Count Numbers” which I received by email from the purechristianity.org discussion group. Iʼve not checked their calculations. It says that the sum of the numerical values of all of the letters (Hebrew and Greek) in each paragraph of the Bible is evenly divisible by 7. If thatʼs true, thatʼs astounding.

Edward: It canʼt be true for the same reason that the “Bible code” canʼt be true. There is no single text of the Bible, there are many minor variants in spelling and phrasing, scattered amongst many ancient manuscripts, none of which is the one and only “Bible.” (I cited an evangelical Christian scholar who wrote on that topic at the very end of the piece I sent you.)
I also suspect that gematria involves a fudge factor.

Del offers to give his computer software to his newsletter members at no cost so that we can check his calculations and do further research. He says that he (and others) are finding new numerical patterns every year. I anticipate that I will ask for the software after I finish his books.

Edward: I would like to see calculations of EVERY POSSIBLE numerical arrangement of strings of words in the Bible, not limited to just verses and/or paragraphs. The division into chapters and verses was a later human invention that some Christians in Calvinʼs Geneva came up with, and even the division of human writing into separate paragraphs arose only during the Medieval ages. In the ancient days of the Hebrews and Greeks all the words were run together, because paper was rare and they couldnʼt afford to space words out individually or even to create separate paragraphs.

So what I would like to see is every POSSIBLE arrangement, gematrically speaking, of say, words that totalled “616” throughout the whole Bible, and I would like to see that for every spelling and phrase varient currently known in the oldest manuscripts.

The trouble for gematria is that gematriasts are selectively looking only in the “evil” verses for the words they can use to add up to “616,” and they are employing a fudge factor as well. So naturally they are going to find and only focus on their “hits.” But they need to prove that there are not also many more “hits” than those. For instance if they searched every single possible instance of every string of words in the whole Bible adds up to “616” (adding their fudge factor of course), then theyʼd probably find many “not so evil” verses or even “neutral verses” that also added up to “616.” So, they are only focusing on their “hits” and missing the much larger statistical picture.

That is by the way, the basis of all superstition. As Francis Bacon once put it, “The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other.”

Also, there is a gematria article at the “ministry of helps” website. And another the infinite book.

One problem that we have:
The Jews saw Jesus perform astounding miracles (He raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, healed the sick, etc), but only a few believed in Jesus. The majority rejected Jesusʼs claims (He claimed to be the Messiah). Likewise, today, if I were to perform bona-fide miracles, most people would reject the gospel (their hearts are not ready for repentance). If I understand the Bible correctly, God prevents the un-repentant from believing the gospel.

Edward: Many Jews and Muslims are quite repentant. Unfortunately, they donʼt believe the gospel.

But when they are sorry for their sins, God opens their spiritual eyes and ears, and He gives them the ability to believe.

Washburn did not assign random numbers to the letters. He used the old established assignments from 2000 years ago. Look in any Websterʼs dictionary. It shows the Hebrew and Greek letters with their ancient number assignments.

I love the Bible. I love righteousness, honesty, love, humility, gentleness, kindness, helpfulness, and the poor. Most of the practice of my religion is in helping the poor and getting the good news to people whoʼve never heard it. The Bible has a “ring of truth” about it. It sounds like the truth.

Edward: “Sounds like?” It “sounds like” some historical truth mixed with superstition to me.

For instance, the Bible says that the neglect of the poor is a serious sin,

Edward: A lot of religions say that.

and that if we allow the perishing to perish, we are guilty of murder. Yet, if I repent, God will forgive and accept me! Only Jesus has this kind of message.

Dennis M.

Edward: I was a “born again Bible believer,” fully repentant. You can read my testimony as well as those of others on the internet and in my book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Many people have left their respective conservative Christian folds after learning more about the Bible.

See Steve Lockʼs LEAVING CHRISTIANITY website links page. When I have found new listings in the past I emailed Steve the websites with the former Xn testimonies I had run across.

And hereʼs some other links.

I have wondered about that. Perhaps they found a text or variant that worked, then they assumed that that text is the inspired text.

On Thursday, December 25, 2003 Edward wrote: Yes, but that would be circular reasoning. There are separate factors, unrelated to gematria, that scholars take into account when determining which variants appears to be the earliest. Even then, they are dealing with weighing probabilities. There is no “authentic text,” just as there are no original “autographs.” Heck, I learned at one pastorʼs conference at Furman that the book of Hosea has many “wholes” in it. We donʼt even have the whole text in that case. The Dead Sea Scrolls even contain whole paragraphs I believe in the book of Isaiah not found in the Masoretic text.

according to the “Count Numbers” article, the original text was written in paragraphs (the paragraphs were inspired). But I donʼt know: I took Shannonʼs word for that.

Edward: That canʼt be true. Dividing text into paragraphs was a Medieval invention.

According to Del Washburn, the lack of a perfect text in the New Testament is a big problem for ELS, but not for Theomatics. Theomatics uses short stretches of text (often just 2 or 3 words).

Edward: Well, what are the variants for those small stretches of text? And moreover, what are all the POSSIBLE numberical “hits” that are possible for all the small stretches of text in the whole Bible and based on all possible variants?

One study surprised Del Washburn: The Theomatic number for “marriage” is 63, and the number for serpents (think Satan) is 63! Why did God use the same number? Because (as per Del), Satan destroyed the perfect marriage in the garden of Eden.

Edward: That is a rationalization Del invented. You can find “connections” between Satan and marriage, and I daresay between Satan and almost anything if you searched your brain long and hard enough.

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Five Questions Concerning “The Resurrection”

Resurrection Questions

by Edward T. Babinski

Dear Richard Carrier,
The five questions (that you prepared for your recent radio discussion with Gary Habermas and Mike Licona on “the resurrection”) were well put. In case anyone missed them, they were:

  1. “In the Book of Acts the Apostles are having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from God all the time. We hear of similar experiences reported in that era from Jews and pagans, who were also having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from a variety of gods and angels. Why isnʼt this happening now? And why was that happening back then, even to pagans and Jews, who werenʼt seeing or hearing what the Christians were seeing and hearing?”
  2. “This might sound like a frivolous question, but it really isnʼt. I mean it quite seriously. Why does God give me more evidence that smoking cigarettes is harmful than he gives me that Jesus lives?”
  3. “The Gospel according to Matthew says (27:52-54) ‘the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who slept rose up and came out of their graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City and appeared to many’. Do you believe this happened? If Yes: How could this amazing event have escaped everyone elseʼs notice, even the other evangelists? If No: How could the author of Matthew get away with such a lie?”
  4. “The following three questions are all closely related and really amount to one question. Why did the risen Jesus only appear to his followers, and to only one previously obscure enemy among the thousands opposing his Gospel? Why didnʼt he appear to Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas or the Roman Senate? Why didnʼt he also appear to deliver the Gospel to China—or to the Americas, as the Mormons claim he did?”

    Or… “Why was the death of Jesus so public, but his resurrection so private?”

  5. You seem to trust what the Gospels say is what actually happened. I want to understand why. I have an analogy that I think might help. Suppose I hauled you into court on a murder charge, and the only evidence I had against you was a bunch of letters that described you murdering the victim in vivid detail. Of course you would ask who wrote those letters. I answer, “Joe, Mike, Bob, and Dan.” You then ask, “Who are they?” And I answer, “I donʼt know for sure.” Thatʼs a dead end, so you would ask, “How do they know any of the things they claim in those letters?” And I answer, “I donʼt know. They never say exactly where they are getting any of their information.” Okay. Imagine that happened to you. Would you conclude that I had a convincing case against you? Do you believe the jury should conclude that you committed the murder those letters describe you committing?”

Dear Richard Carrier,
You mentioned some errors that you made during your aforementioned radio discussion on the resurrection. One of which was simply choosing the wrong questions with which to begin, and not even getting through all of the above questions, but getting bogged down discussing minutely a few less relevant questions. Perhaps the most common error was the assumption by all concerned that communication can take place with relative ease and transparency, when in fact, communication is never that easy, especially between two people who have read many different books and articles, known different people, and who espouse widely different philosophical and/or religious views.

I suppose that if a Designer had wanted people to communicate with greater ease then S/he/it might have installed a port in the side of everyoneʼs cranium through which we could download and upload data with others, i.e., whole lifetimes of learning and experience being shared quickly and easily. Or in lieu of such a physical port perhaps such a Designer might at least allow two people to share their knowledge and experiences in some “psychic” fashion so as to be able to focus sharply and intently on their greatest singular points of agreement, disagreement, and in-conclusiveness. (I suspect that each pair of individuals engaged in a discussion has different points or major singularities that overlap and mean the most to each of those individuals concerning each question. Hence for two individuals to “connect” at points that they both find equally significant, equally meaningful, and/or equally perplexing, is a task in itself.)

Instead, as things stand in this cosmos, misunderstandings of the sort that you mention occur with great frequency.

And what about the choice of the showʼs producer to interview people lying on far sides of a question (i.e., putting an atheist together with people speaking for revealed religion) means that large gaps in communication and understanding were being sought by the interviewer, perhaps to keep listeners a bit more interested and boost ratings, because listeners would then get to “root” for their “team” which is a team distinctly different from that of the “other side.” Instead, if moderate believers in revealed religion were chosen to discuss matters with conservative believers in revealed religion, like a moderate Christian arguing a visionary interpretation of the resurrection with a conservative Christian arguing a physical interpretation of the resurrection, then each side might have been able to listen more openly and comprehend the views of the other side a bit more easily, since the otherʼs views would have lain just a bit further down the road from their own, and not across the canyon-sized gap of atheism and revealed religion.

Indeed, Christians have spent far more time and written far more books debunking each otherʼs interpretations of their Bible and theological views than non-Christians have ever spent debunking Christianity. Today thereʼs even a burgeoning series of “viewpoints” books published by Zondervan and Intervarsity in which Christians of the Protestant Evangelical kind debate their differing views both practical and theological and scientific, including debating the meaning of Genesis, Revelation, and the brain-mind question as well (not all Evangelicals believe in substance dualism!), not to mention differing interpretations concerning differing “Christian” responses to a host of questions.

A Few Relevant Quotations

“Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son.”
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Theology is a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic attempt to conceal the beam in the scriptures and traditions of oneʼs own denomination while minutely measuring the mote in the heritages of onesʼ brothers.”
—Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic

“Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, ‘It is a matter of faith, and above reason.’”
—John Locke


At base, I suspect that most debates shed little light because they begin with ignorance. Polls reveal that not many Christians in America can even name all four Gospels. Many people also are far more ready to defend the Bible than read it. Or they are ready to state they believe the Bible “cover to cover” without having studied whatʼs between the covers or thought about it very much. (There are some excellent college level lectures by the way produced by “The Teaching Company” that are available online. They sum up a lot of major scholarly views of which anyone studying or debating religion ought to be aware. Iʼd suggest directing Christians to learn more about what theologians really believe today than spend much time arguing matters.)

Neither does life leave the majority of mankind with much time for studying the worldʼs questions. Life is short and we all have to spent time and effort on surviving, maintaining families and friendships, even maintaining our health. Emotional ups and downs also play a role throughout our lives. And our beliefs can be influenced by all manner of things, including social factors, familial factors, national factors, tragic or happy events, individual psychological factors including fear of death, the joys of feeling certain about what we already believe, or simple mental inertia after we have imbibed or developed a view of the world (the brain/mind does not eagerly rearrange all the furniture it has previously laid down in specific spots just in order to accommodate a new end table).

“We believe in nothing so firmly as what we least know.”
—Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essays

“Even the weakest disputant is made so conceited by what he calls religion, as to think himself wiser than the wisest who thinks differently from him.”
—Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

“Only a Designer would have made it sooooo easy to find the ‘one true faith’ that even your parents could pick it out for you, and in most places on earth, they do. Itʼs even easier to find a ‘true’ Christian as opposed to a false one, or a ‘true’ Moslem as opposed to a false one. The ‘believer in the true way’ (of a religion or denomination or interpretation) is always the one with whom you are speaking at the moment.”—E.T.B.

“Only a Designer would have made it so that ‘The type of person who devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom is most unlucky in everything, but above all in begetting children—as if Nature had taken pains, I suspect, to keep the disease of wisdom from spreading too widely among mortals.’”
—Erasmus, In Praise of Folly


“Remember to be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”
—Philo of Alexandria

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“What Happened To The Resurrected Saints?” The Christian Think Tank Response

The Resurrected Saints

Having composed a little article titled, “What Happened To The Resurrected Saints?” which was followed by Farrell Tillʼs edited version of some additional material I sent him, “More On The Resurrected Saints”, it is little wonder that I continue to receive emails regarding that particular topic. One such email that I received was from a Christian who apparently had read Glenn Millerʼs apologetic article, “Good Question… surely that thing about all those resurrected people walking around in Jerusalem after Jesusʼ death is bogus, right?” published at “The Christian Think Tank

The Christian assured me that he, like Miller, has no doubts nor questions concerning the two small verses mentioned only in Matthew that mention the “raising of the many” at the time of Jesusʼ death and their entry into “the holy city” soon after Jesusʼ resurrection when they “showed themselves to many.” (Neither does either of them doubt, nor question, the story of the two “earthquakes” mentioned only in Matthew, that accompanied respectively, 1) the opening of the many tombs, and, 2) the opening of Jesusʼ tomb a day and a half later.)

Millerʼs article at his Christian Think Tank site mentioned an early second century Christian apologist of whom only a fragment exists. The Christian who wrote me also cited that same fragment as the answer to his doubts:

“But our Saviorʼs works were permanent, for they were real. Those who had been cured or rose from the dead not only appeared to be cured or raised but were permanent, not only during our Saviorʼs stay on earth, but also after his departure. They remained for a considerable period, so that some of them even reached our times.”

The passage does not specifically mention the “raising of the many,” but even if it did include them, the questions that I originally raised in my articles concerning “What Happened to the Resurrected Saints?” remain the same:

  1. Having so many “permanently raised” saints walking into Jerusalem and showing themselves to many, why no mention of this multitudinous resurrection miracle in the other Gospels for instance, or in Paulʼs letters, or in Acts, even when “the resurrection” is specifically discussed or preached? (Makes you wonder whether Matthew simply added a later tale that had grown up, that only he and his Christian community had begun spreading.)

  2. Why are the verses prior to (and after) those two verses in Matthew also found in Mark, but in Mark no such miracle is recorded? (Again, makes you wonder whether Matthew simply added a later tale that had grown up, that only he and his Christian community had begun spreading. Or makes you wonder why the other three Gospelers and everyone else in the N.T. simply “forgot” about the multiple resurrection miracle and the two earthquakes that allegedly accompanied Jesusʼ resurrection story.)

  3. And though the raised saints showed themselves to many, the raised Jesus was only recorded as having been seen by the apostles (per all four Gospels, including Acts).

(Makes you wonder why the pre-crucified Jesus could enter Jerusalem with crowds seeing him and shouting his name, but after his death and his incomparably miraculous resurrection, nobody gets to see him leave town in absolute triumph except the eleven remaining apostles? On the day of Jesusʼ resurrection, supposedly many raised saints had “entered the holy city and were seen by many,” but Jesus only appears in private to a few that same night? Something smells fishy.

Simply read the Gospels themselves, especially the detailed Jerusalem-based story in Luke in which the raised Jesus allegedly appeared in a room to the apostles, told the apostles to “stay in the city,” ate a piece of fish to show them he was “flesh and bone,” and, “not a spirit,” and then “led them out to Bethany” after which “Jesus rose,” and they “stayed at the temple in Jerusalem.” So nobody but the apostles are mentioned as getting to see the “flesh and bone, fish-eating, Bethany-leading, pre-ascended-into-heaven Jesus.” For those who doubt what I have just said, here are the verses in Luke and Acts:

Luke 24:

  1. “‘…stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
  2. When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
  3. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
  4. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
  5. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

The Book of Acts alters the story slightly, having Jesus not “taken up into heaven” on the same night as his Sunday resurrection appearance but says instead that Jesus was on earth for “forty days.” But even in the Book of Acts, the people who allegedly encountered the resurrected Jesus prior to his ascension were only said to have been “the apostles”:

Acts 1:2 “…giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to The Apostles [capitalization added for emphasis] he had chosen.

3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men [i.e., to “the apostles” as mentioned in the previous verse] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them [i.e., referring back again to “the apostles”] over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them [the “apostles”], he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem…

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes [before the eyes of “the apostles”], and a cloud hid him from their sight.

The implication in both Luke and Acts was that (with the rare exception mentioned in Luke, i.e., of the encounter when two people didnʼt even recognize the raised Jesus) only “the apostles” spent time with the allegedly raised Jesus and then saw him “taken up into heaven” when his “flesh and bone, fish-eating body” rose up into the sky.

So I wonder why the flesh and blood raised Jesus showed himself only to “the apostles,” while the “many raised saints” (some of whom must have been “dead” for longer than Jesus was) could “enter the holy city” and “show themselves to many?” And why was that latter tale of the “raising of the many” only found in two small verses in Matthew and not mentioned in any other Gospel, nor are the “many raised saints” mentioned in Acts, nor anywhere else in the N.T., not even when discussions of “the resurrection” arise? Something doesnʼt sound right.

As I already mentioned, the fragment from the early second century Christian apologist whom Miller cited, above, does not specifically mention the “raising of the many.” Other mentions of the “many raised saints” are only in later Christian works that evidently sought to expand upon the two non-descript verses in Matthew, and such works are not considered canonical but “apocryphal.” In fact in one such work some of the “raised saints” are named as being, “Adam, Eve, Isaiah,” etc.

Also of interest concerning this topic is that “resurrection miracles” are said to have occurred among Christians after the time of Jesus and his apostles. Brief mention of such miracles can be found in the works of the church fathers, including Augustine. However, such stories have been belittled by Protestants because the early church was “Catholic” and stories of miracles in the “Catholic church” if true, lend too much credence to that churchʼs authenticity and authority over and above that of the “Protestant churches.” Just read, for instance, how the famed Protestant theologian, B. B. Warfield, thoroughly debunked Catholic miracles and resurrection stories in his famous work, Counterfeit Miracles (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1972). Which just goes to show, as Dr. Robert M. Price [former fundamentalist], wrote, “The zeal and ingenuity of conservative evangelical scholars in dismantling the miracles of rival Christian groups (and exploding rival interpretations of Scripture used to support such miracles), is worthy of the most skeptical gospel critic.” Along those same lines, the conservative Christian, George W. Peters, dismantled stories of “resurrections” that allegedly took place in the 1970s during the Pentecostal revival in the Philippines. (See Petersʼ book, Indonesia Revival: Focus on Timor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), Chapter 4, “The Miracle Phenomena of the Revival,” pp. 57-85.) And conservative Christians dismantled claims made by televangelist, Benny Hinn, that he had performed many miracles, including “raising” someone to life: “Benny Hinn is prone to make wild claims. In a recent show he told the audience, ‘I was in Ghana just recently — we had half a million people show up — and a man was raised from the dead on the platform.

‘Thatʼs a fact, people. A man was raised from the dead on the platform. We have it on video.’ IMPACT asked Hinnʼs television producer, Jeff Pittman, for a copy of that video. But we were told Hinn misspoke, and the cameras werenʼt rolling at the time. When IMPACT asked Hinn about the resurrection claim, he backtracked from his original story. ‘God can raise the dead. Absolutely. I have not seen it. In that one case we did hear about it.’”
Source: Deception In The Church

For more on Hinn.

Comment by Timothy W. Grogan: Former Fundamentalist

There are many alleged raisings from the dead reported by early Christians. For example, Irenaeus in his multi-volume work Against the Heresies, stated: “Some persons that were dead have been raised again and continued among us many years.” If we believe Matthewʼs account (27:52-53) on his say so, then on what fair grounds can we dismiss the account of Irenaeus? We know a lot more about Irenaeus than about Matthew.

The point I wish to make is this:
There is no end to the number of miracles claimed by the adherents of various religions and if we admit that the very weak evidence found in the Gospels is enough to persuade a person of the reality of Jesus being raised, then we cannot escape the conclusion that other resurrections have also occurred. In order to emphasize this point, I have xeroxed off the front cover of a book Raised from the dead: true stories of 400 resurrection miracles by Father Albert J. Hebert S.M. In his book, Father Hebert claims many resurrection miracles have been performed by Roman Catholic saints. On what historical grounds can these miracles be rejected without also rejecting those found in the N.T.? If Father Hebert is correct arenʼt the miracles he enumerates proof that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of God? The miracles Father Hebert documents happened much more recently than those that are reported in the Gospels and they are reported by people we know a lot more about than the alleged Gospel writers.

Donʼt misunderstand me, I think that these accounts are wholly legendary and I am sure you would agree. I believe that the purpose of these religious fictions was largely to encourage faith. But what do we know of the alleged writers of the Gospels that assures us that they would not use pious legends to encourage faith?

In an old, not too well known book, on the miracles reported to have taken place in the early church Dr. Conyers Middleton says regarding the early church fathers:

“I have shown by many indisputable facts, that the ancient fathers, by whose authority that delusion was originally imposed (that miracles existed in the early church - T.W.G.), and has ever since been supported, were extremely credulous and superstitious; possessed with strong prejudices and enthusiastic zeal, in favor, not only of Christianity in general, but of every particular doctrine, which a wild imagination could ingraft upon it; and scrupling no art or means, by which they might propagate the same principles. In short; they they were of a character, from which nothing could be expected, that was candid and impartial; nothing but what a weak or crafty understanding could supply, towards confirming those prejudices, with which they happened to be possessed; especially where religion was the subject, which above all other motives, strengthens every bias, and inflames every passion of the human mind.”
— Conyers Middleton (1749), A free inquiry into the miraculous powers which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian church from the earliest ages through several successive centuries. Reprinted (1967). New York: Garland Publishing. Preface, pp. 21-22.

I ask again, if the early Christian Fathers engaged in this type of pious fraud why couldnʼt Matthew have done the same thing? How do we even know that Matthew wrote the Gospel ascribed to him — the answer The Early Church Fathers. With all due respect, these early Christians donʼt seem to be the most reliable historians. We know that some early Christians tamped with the text of the N.T. (Who added the last 12 verses of Mark, or Markʼs other late appearing alternate endings of which there are more than one?) Perhaps the traditions that they passed down to us concerning Gospel origins are also just so much pious fiction. After all, it doesnʼt really matter who wrote the books attributed to Aristotle since these are works of genius — no matter who wrote them. But it does matter who wrote the Gospels since to mean anything at all they must be written by people who witnessed the events that occurred in the life of Jesus.

In conclusion, I donʼt think there is strong documentary evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. We have anonymous Gospels and second hand stories of appearances, whose development I think Ed does a nice job accounting for. (See Edʼs questions raised in his letter with resurrection apologist Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University, though Dr. Priceʼs questions concerning the resurrection range far deeper, Edʼs questions are perhaps an easier place to start.) I think that an explanation based on the development of pious legends around Jesus is the most satisfying explanation currently available.

I further suggest reading an essay by T. H. Huxley that has a direct bearing on the topic at hand. I would particularly direct your attention to “The Value of Witness to the Miraculous” ending with “If the evidence of Eginhard is insufficient to lead reasonable men to believe in the miracles he relates, _a fortiori_ the evidence afforded by the Gospels and Acts must be so.”

Comment By Steve Locks: Former Fundamentalist, Creator Of The “Leaving Christianity” Website

Did you know that Jesus recently miraculously appeared before 6,000 in Nairobi? There are even photos of him and testimonies to his miraculous appearance and disappearance.

This time he went off in a car though, but then vanished without ascending. That was 1988 and theyʼre still talking about it. The movement is Christian. At least it was 6,000 Christians who were calling him “Jesus.” Although others later claimed him to be Maitreya, the crowds were calling “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus of Nazareth!”. As it says on the website 6,000 believed they saw Jesus Christ, in broad daylight. They are not the only Christians who have claimed to see Christian figures to the embarrassment of other Christians as I know you are well aware. The article was for light relief mostly, but with one serious point which I wondered if anyone would pick up on. That is the gullibility of crowds.

Comment By Pat Swindoll: Former Fundamentalist And Former Religious Right Activist

What David also misses is that the resurrection describe in Matthew occurred before Jesusʼown resurrection, thus making it theologically incompatible with the basic Christian doctrines that Christʼs was the first born of many and other Christiansʼ resurrections were made possible by Christʼs (i.e. He descended to hell and was separated from the Father for the first time since Creation itself). Given these facts, it is obvious that whoever wrote Matthew threw these representations in for the same reason he or she represented that Herod ordered the deaths of all two year old and younger boys in Israel; that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the First Palm Sunday on two, not one donkey; that Jesusʼs step fatherʼs genealogy derives from King David even though, if Jesus were born of a virgin, Josephʼs genealogy would be irrelevant and Joseph was descended through Nathan, not Soloman as required by Messianic prophecy; that Jesus was crucified after eating the Passover with his disciples, thus making the date of his resurrection the First Day of Unleavened Bread (15 Nissan), itself a high holy day that precluded observant Jews from doing any work including participating in a trial and, in Joseph of Arimetheaʼs case taking Jesusʼ body off the cross so it wouldnʼt be there during the Seventh Day Sabbath. If it were no problem for Jesusʼ body to be on the cross on one Sabbath, why not the other?

Whoever wrote Matthew was largely ignorant of Jewish scripture and prophecy and knew only enough to get himself in trouble with anyone with even minimal knowledge of the Old Testament.

Speaking not about the “Resurrection of the Saints” but about the “Resurrection of Jesus”

The Resurrection is a controversial topic and ranges over a wide variety of opinions even amongst Christians.

There are fundies and hard line Christian religious conservatives for whom anything less than bodily resurrection is unacceptable.

There are moderates and liberals, like Anglican archbishop, Peter Carnely (author of The Structure of Resurrection Belief), who recognize that a lot of the early New Testament speaks of Jesus being exalted in heaven, and that may have been the earliest belief among Jesusʼ followers, namely that Jesus was vindicated in heaven after he died, with the idea of resurrection following soon afterwards since Hebrew culture defined the afterlife in resurrection terms, and because many even expected a general resurrection and end of the world before Jesus and his followers began preaching such things. So in what other way could they speak about Jesusʼ ultimate vindication other than in “resurrection” terms?

The earliest N.T. writing of all is generally agreed to be 1 Thessalonians, which mentions Jesus as having been exalted in heaven and coming back soon in final judgment. (And the description in Thessalonians of Jesus coming back as Godʼs appointed judge is very reminiscent of a pre-N.T. Dead Sea scroll that pictured Melchizadek performing a similar function, as Godʼs judge on the day of judgment, so the idea of a man being specially appointed as Godʼs judge was already “in the air” so to speak even before Jesusʼ day.)

The earliest N.T. reference to Jesusʼ post-resurrection “appearances” is found in 1st Corinthians in a section of that letter that some Bible scholars believe may have been a later interpolation. Robert M. Price has several articles on the web concerning that argument:

Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation

Miracles Part II by Robert M. Price

Hard-line Christian conservative apologist at Liberty University, Dr. Gary Habermas, defends a bodily resurrection, but Dr. Robert M. Price questions the reliability of N.T. books and stories, and questions Habermasʼ assumptions of Biblical and doctrinal infallibility/inerrancy.

Glenn Miller on Miracles by Robert M. Price
A thorough criticism on the Gospels and Glenn Morton (apologist) written by a PhD in New Testament Theology.

See also Priceʼs review of the recent book on the resurrection by moderate Christian theologian, N.T. Wright [Priceʼs review is due to appear in The Journal Of Higher Criticism. Here is a foretaste of his review]:
N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God Volume Three (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) xxi = 817 pp. ISBN 0-8006-2679-6. paperback $39.00. Reviewed by Robert M. Price. copyright, The Journal of Higher Criticism (not yet published in that journal, visit them online)

This massive book is an exercise in prolixity. It is several times longer than it needs to be, as if designed to bludgeon us into belief. One might save a lot of time and money by finding a copy of George Eldon Laddʼs I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1975), which used most of the same arguments at a fraction of the length, and without skimping. The arguments have not gotten any better. They are the same old stale fundamentalist apologetics we got in Ladd, essentially the same old stuff we used to read in Josh McDowell and John Warwick Montgomery. The same hash reslung. Only now it is getting pretty smelly. Perhaps that is why Wright seeks to perfume it, reminiscent of Joseph and Nicodemus attempting to fumigate the decaying corpse of Jesus by encasing it in an extravagant hundred pounds weight of spices (John 19:39). Wright backs up much too far to make a running start at the resurrection, regaling us with unoriginal, superfluous, and tedious exposition of Old Testament and Intertestamental Jewish ideas of afterlife and resurrection, resurrection belief in every known Christian writer up into the early third century, etc., etc. The mountain thus laboring is doomed to bring forth a messianic mouse, alas. All this erudition is perhaps intended to intimidate the reader into accepting Wrightʼs evangelistic pitch. But it is just a lot of fast talking. In the end, Wright, now Bishop of Durham, is just Josh McDowell in a better suit. His smirking smugness is everywhere evident, especially in his condescension toward the great critics and critical methods of the last two centuries, all of which he strives to counteract. He would lead the hapless seminary student (whom one fears will be assigned this doorstop) backwards into the pre-critical era with empty pretenses of post-modern sophistication, shrugging off the Enlightenment by patently insincere attempts to wrap himself in the flag of post-colonialism. Genuine criticism of the gospels he dismisses as the less advanced, muddled thinking of a previous generation, as if “cutting edge” scholarship like his were not actually pathetic nostalgia for the sparkling Toyland of fundamentalist supernaturalism. It is a familiar bag of tricks, and that is all it is. The tragedy is that many today are falling for it. Witness Wrightʼs own prominence in the Society of Biblical Literature, to say nothing of his ecclesiastical clout. The weight of this bookʼs argument for orthodox traditionalism is to be found, of all places, in the acknowledgements section, where Wright thanks the hosts of the prestigious venues where he first presented bits of this material: Yale Divinity School, South-Western Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, Pontifical Gregorian University, St. Michaelʼs Seminary, etc., etc. Wright is the mouthpiece for institutional orthodoxy, a grinning spin-doctor for the Grand Inquisitor. What credibility his book appears to have is due to the imposing wealth, power, tradition, even architecture, of the social-ecclesiastical world which he serves as chaplain and apologist. It is sickening to read his phony affirmations of the allegedly political and radical import of a literal resurrection (if you can even tell what Wright means by this last). Does Bishop Wright espouse some form of Liberation Theology? No, for, just as he emptily says Jesus redefined messiahship, Wright redefines politics. When he says the early Christians were anti-imperialistic, all he has in mind is the fact that Christians withstood Roman persecution, valiant enough in its way, but hardly the same thing. Like a pathetic Civil War re-enactment geek, he is sparring at an enemy safely dead for centuries. In attempting to co-opt and parody the rhetoric of his ideological foes, Wright reminds me of Francis Schaeffer, a hidebound fundamentalist who began as a childrenʼs evangelist working for Carl MacIntyre. Schaeffer, posing as an intellectual and a philosopher, used to stamp the floor speaking at fundamentalist colleges, shouting “We are the true Bolsheviks!” Right. Part of Wrightʼs agenda of harmonizing and de-fusing the evidence is to smother individual New Testament texts beneath a mass of theological synthesis derived from the Old Testament and from the outlines of Pauline theology in general. He is a victim of what James Barr long ago called the “Kittel mentality,” referring to the approach of Kittelʼs Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in which articles on individual New Testament terms and words synthesized from all uses of the term an artificial and systematic semantic structure, leading the reader to suppose that every individual usage of the word was an iceberg tip carrying with it implied reference to all other references. In other words, each article in the TDNT composed a “New Testament theology,” topic by topic. In just this manner, Wright first composes a streamlined Old Testament theology of historical and eschatological redemption (akin to that of Von Rad, without the latterʼs understanding that much of it was based on fictive saga rather than history); then Wright synthesizes a Pauline Theology, then a New Testament theology, then an early Christian theology; and finally he insists that the synthetic resurrection concept he has distilled must control our reading of all individual gospel and Pauline texts dealing with the resurrection. In short, it is an elaborate exercise in harmonizing disparate data. The implications of 1 Corinthians 15, for example, with its talk of spiritual resurrection, are silenced as the text is muzzled, forbidden to say anything outside the party line Wright has constructed as “the biblical” teaching on the subject. Another example is his insistence on translating the Greek “Christos” as “the Messiah” in Pauline passages, lending them a falsely Jewish coloring belied by their content. Wright even admits that the Pauline writings are already pretty much using “Christ” as simply another name for Jesus, yet he wants to tie Paulʼs theology in with the grand arc of Old Testament theology, “redemptive history,” or whatever. Similarly, he sees everything in the context of second-temple Judaism. Again, we detect here a phony ecumenism, as if he thought Jews were not all going to hell for rejecting Jesus as the Son of God.

The same is true with his cosmetic use of politically correct inclusive language and ecumenical mistranslations of “Jews” as “Judeans,” etc. It is all to butter up the reader, like a used-gospel salesman closing in for the sale. Wright is a better-educated Anglican Zig Zigler. In reality, the only value he sees in Judaism is the safe haven it gives him from taking into account the patent influence on early Christianity of Hellenistic Mystery religions, which are really all we need to account for the empty tomb legend and the resurrection myth. For Wright “Judaism” really denotes Old Testament and rabbinic interpretation of it. Here we spot the reason for, and the character of, the unholy alliance between mainstream Judaism and Evangelical Protestantism in the pages of the Journal of Biblical Literature and Bible Review. They are closing ranks against radical critics in both traditions: Old Testament minimalists and Jesus Seminar-type scholars alike. It is rather like the Moral Majority, uneasy allies with certain goals in common. There are three fundamental, vitiating errors running like fault lines through the unstable continent of this book. The first is a complete unwillingness to engage a number of specific questions or bodies of evidence that threaten to shatter Wrightʼs over-optimistically orthodox assessment of the evidence. The most striking of these blustering evasions has to do with the dying-and-rising redeemer cults that permeated the environment of early Christianity and had for many, many centuries. Ezekiel 8:14 bemoans the ancient Jerusalemite womenʼs lamentation for Tammuz, derived from the Dumuzi cult of ancient Mesopotamia. Ugaritic texts make it plain that Baalʼs death and resurrection and subsequent enthronement at the side of his Father El went back centuries before Christianity and were widespread in Israel. Pyramid texts tell us that Osirisʼ devotees expected to share in his resurrection. Marduk, too, rose from the dead. And then there is the Phrygian Attis, the Syrian Adonis. The harmonistic efforts of Bruce Metzger, Edwin Yamauchi, Ron Sider, Jonathan Z. Smith and others have been completely futile, utterly failing either to deconstruct the dying-and-rising god mytheme (as Smith vainly tries to do) or to claim that the Mysteries borrowed their resurrected savior myths and rituals from Christianity. If that were so, why on earth did early apologists admit that the pagan versions were earlier, invented as counterfeits before the fact by Satan? Such myths and rites were well known to Jews and Galileans, not to mention Ephesians, Corinthians, etc., for many centuries. But all this Wright merely brushes off, as if it has long been discredited. He merely refers us to other books. It is all part of his bluff: “Oh, no one takes that seriously anymore! Really, itʼs so passé!”

Wright comes near to resting the whole weight of his case on the mistaken contention that the notion of a single individual rising from the dead in advance of the general resurrection at the end of the age was unheard of, and that therefore it must have arisen as the result of the stubborn fact of it having occurred one day, Easter Day. This is basically absurd for reasons we will attend to in a moment, but the premise is false. Even leaving out the resurrections of the savior gods, Wright even mentions that the resurrection of Alcestis by Hercules is an exception to the rule, but he seems to think it unimportant. Worse, though, is his utter failure to take seriously the astonishing comment of Herod in Mark 6:14-16 to the effect that Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist already raised from the dead! Can Wright really be oblivious of how this one text torpedoes the hull of his argument? His evasions are so pathetic as to suggest he is being disingenuous, hoping the reader will not notice. The disciples of Jesus, who was slain by a tyrant, may simply have borrowed the resurrection faith of the Baptistʼs disciples who posited such a vindication for their own master who had met the same fate. Wright should really be arguing for the resurrection of John the Baptist, if it being unprecedented means anything!

Equally outrageous is Wrightʼs contrived and harmonistic treatment of the statements about a spiritual resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where we read that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50) and that the resurrected Jesus, the precedent for believers, accordingly possessed a “spiritual body” (v. 44). Wright labors mightily and futilely to persuade us that all Paul meant by “flesh and blood” was “mortal and corruptible,” not “made of flesh and blood.” Who but a fellow apologist (like William Lane Craig who sells the same merchandise) will agree to this? What does Wright suppose led the writer to use a phrase like “flesh and blood” for mortal corruptibility in the first place if it is not physical fleshiness that issues inevitably in mortal corruption? How can the Corinthians writer have used such a phrase if he meanwhile believed the risen Jesus still had flesh and blood? It is no use to protest that none of the “second temple Jewish” writers we know of had such a notion of resurrection. This supposed fact (and Ladd knew better: he cited apocalypses that have the dead rise in angelic form, or in the flesh which is then transformed into angelic stuff) cannot prevent us from noticing that 1 Corinthians 15:45 has the risen Christ “become a life-giving spirit.”

Likewise, when he gets to Luke, Wright laughs off the screaming contradiction between Luke 24:40 (“Touch me and see: no spirit has flesh as you can see I have.”) and 1 Corinthians 15:50 and 45 (“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” “The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”). The contexts of both passages make it quite clear that the terms are being used in the same senses, only that one makes the risen Jesus fleshly, while the other says the opposite. Wrightʼs laughable hair-splitting is a prime example of the lengths he will go to get out of a tight spot. Similarly, when he gets to 1 Peter 3:18 (Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, etc.”), Wright rewrites the text to make it say what he wants: “he was put to death by the flesh, and brought to life by the Spirit.” This is just ridiculous. It is the exegesis of that faith that calls things that are not as though they were. Wrightʼs second mortal sin is his desire to have his Eucharistic wafer and eat it too. He takes refuge in either side of an ambiguity when it suits him, hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, and hoping the reader will not notice. For instance, Wright is desperate to break down the “flesh/spirit” dichotomy in Paul and Luke (not to mention that between Paul and Luke!), but he builds the same wall higher outside the texts. That is, he wants to say “resurrection” always meant bodily, not merely spiritual, resurrection. The latter would mean just “going to heaven,” and that will not do. But Wright confesses he has no clear idea of what sort of physical presence the risen Jesus might have had. He calls it “transphysical” and admits he cannot define it. What then is he arguing? He just knows he wants a bodily resurrection, but it has to be a body capable of passing through locked doors and teleporting, appearing and disappearing at will. Yet he despises the notion that the risen Jesus was docetic, a spiritual entity that could take on the false semblance of physicality. Wright doesnʼt want any early Christians to have believed this. He doesnʼt want it even to have existed as an heretical option that the evangelists were trying to refute! Because that would mean that a spiritual resurrection was one form of early Christian belief, which Wright is trying to rule out. Most scholars rightly see the business about the risen Jesus requesting a fish sandwich (Luke ) as demonstrating, against Gnostic docetists, that Jesus had a fleshly body. But Wright will have none of this. He is right to point out, as A.J.M. Wedderburn does in Beyond Resurrection (1999), that anti-docetism is inconsistent with the same narrativesʼ depicting Jesus walking through locked doors like Jacob Marley. But why cannot Wright see this simply attests the inconsistent piecemeal nature of the redactional attempts to “anti-docetize” the very same narratives? But Wright is stuck with both contradictory features as “eye-witness testimony” or “early tradition” which he seems to think mean the same thing. So his “transphysical” Jesus must be the equivalent to a comic book superhero like the Vision or the Martian Manhunter, possessing a physical body but able to vary physical density at will. But wait a minute. if this is not docetism, what does docetism mean? The third strike against Wright is by far the most important. He loathes Enlightenment modernity because it will not let him believe in miracles. So he must change the rules of the game. Like all apologist swindlers, Wright makes a fundamental confusion. He thinks it an arbitrary philosophical bias that historiography should be “methodologically atheistic.” Why not admit that miracles might have occurred? It may be that a miracle turns out to be the most simple and economical explanation of the data. If we are unalterably opposed to that possibility, Wright says, we are bigots and arbitrary dogmatists. Freud would readily peg Wright as a victim of reaction formation. Long ago, the Ionian philosopher Thales understood that it explains nothing if we piously say that it rains because Zeus turned the faucet on. No, even if there is a God, it is to short circuit the process of scientific explanation to invoke divine fiat. The same point is made in the cartoon where a lab-coated scientist is expounding his theory with a chalkboard full of figures. He points his pencil to a gap in the long equation and says, “Right here a miracle occurs.” It is funny for a reason Wright apparently does not understand. To say that the rise of Christian resurrection faith requires a divine intervention is tantamount to saying we just do not know how it arose. One resorts to such tactics of desperation when all else fails, as Wright thinks mundane explanations have failed. But in that moment one has not found an alternate explanation at all. It is like the fundamentalists who say God must have ignited the Big Bang since scientists cannot yet account for what chain of causation led to it. How is “God” an explanation, even if there is a God? God is a mystery, unless one is an idolater. And to claim one has “explained” a problem by invoking a mystery is no advance at all. You are trying to invoke a bigger enigma to explain a smaller one. “I have the answer to X! The answer is XX!” Erudite Bishop Wright reveals himself to be on the same level with evangelical cartoonist Jack Chick who “explains” that the unknown Strong Nuclear Force is really Jesus Christ because scripture says “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). Whatʼs the difference? The instant one invokes the wildcard of divine miracles, the game of science and scientific history comes to a sudden halt. But then that is just what Wright, unsuccessfully disguising himself as a humble historian, wants to do. The good bishop would reassure the faithful that superstition is really science, harmonization is criticism, fideism is evidence.

And why does Wright think a miracle is necessary? Only a real space-time resurrection, he insists, can account for the birth and spread of resurrection faith. Of course there are many viable explanations, not least Festingerʼs theory of cognitive dissonance reduction, whereby more than one disappointed sect has turned defeat into zeal by means of face-saving denial. Wright suicidally mentions this theory, only to dismiss it, as usual, with no serious attempt at refutation. So totally does his predisposition to orthodox faith blind him that he cannot see how lame a gesture he makes. No argument against his faith can penetrate his will to believe. Every argument against his evangelical orthodoxy seems ipso facto futile simply because he cannot bring himself to take it seriously.

But suppose a miracle were required. What sort of a miracle might it be?

Wright maintains that the earliest evangelists must have been galvanized, electrified, by something mighty convincing! Set aside the fact that all manner of supposed eyewitness enthusiasts, not least UFO abductees, have equal and equally sincere zeal. This is not nearly enough; Wright needs to account for the spread of this improbable-seeming belief among those who had not themselves seen the risen Christ, if he thinks the spread of the faith requires a miracle. He himself is at pains to show how resurrection seemed absurd and distasteful to nearly everyone. If that were so, and I am not convinced it was, what Wright needs to posit is something like the Calvinist notion of the effectual call, a supernatural mesmerism whereby God makes the gospel attractive to sinners. The miracle is needed at a later stage if it is necessary at all, not that I think it is.

Wright (though by this time one is tempted to start calling him “Wrong”) uses sneer quotes, dismissing with no argument at all Crossanʼs claim (which I deem undoubtedly and even obviously correct) that the empty tomb traditions stem from womenʼs lament traditions like those mentioned in Ezekiel 8 and attested for the Osiris cult and others. Having ignored rather than refuted this contention, Wright insists that the empty tomb narratives are eyewitness evidence, evidence that is all the stronger for the supposed fact that ancient Jews did not admit legal testimony from women. Howʼs that? Wrightʼs early evangelical Anglican Christians in togas just felt they had no choice but to include this vital eyewitness testimony even though it would surely invite ridicule by Celsus and his ilk. They were stuck with it. But why? Wright himself imagines that the framers of the 1 Corinthians 15 list of resurrection appearances knew the empty tomb tale but omitted it so as not to invite ridicule. It was thinkable to do so. But the unwitting logic of Wrightʼs whole argument presses ineluctably toward saying that the empty tomb story is not even supposed to be evidence and is not offered as such. It must be there for an entirely different reason. Crossan had it right. He made sense of it. Wright doesnʼt, because he does not want anything to link the Easter story to the Mystery Religions.

Wrightʼs insistence on limiting himself to the canonical Judeo-Christian continuity blinds him to other crucial parallels to the Easter stories. The Emmaus story is cut from the same cloth as numerous ancient “angels unawares” myths, but it bears a striking resemblance to a demonstrably earlier Asclepius story where a couple returns home dejectedly after failing to receive the desired healing miracle at Epidauros. They are intercepted by a curious and concerned stranger, the divine savior incognito, who ferrets out the reason for their sadness, reveals himself, performs the hoped-for healing after all, then vanishes. The miraculous catch of fish in John 21 is patently based on an earlier Pythagoras story in which the no-longer relevant detail of the number of the fish made some sense. As Charles L. Talbert pointed out years ago (What Is a Gospel? 1977), the abrupt ending of Mark (as it seems to readers familiar with the other gospels) fits quite naturally as a typical apotheosis story, where the absence of the body combined with a heavenly voice is sufficient to attest the heroʼs exaltation to heaven. Talbert showed how an empty tomb story made sense by itself, and how the gospel tomb scene may have originated as window-dressing for an apotheosis narrative. We are not stuck with the empty tomb as a stubborn historical fact as Wright would like us to think.

These Hellenistic parallels tell us that we hardly require eyewitness testimony of miracles to explain the origin of the gospel Easter stories. Occamʼs Razor makes that altogether unnecessary. But they also explain something else Wright thinks explicable only by miracles: the absence of scriptural allusions in these stories. Wright throws down the gauntlet to Crossan, who says that the gospel Passion Narratives are historicized prophecies from the Old Testament, rewritten as New Testament stories. Why, then, is there so little scripture reflected in the burial and Easter stories? Well, there is a good bit. Matthew has supplemented Mark with Daniel, as Randel Helms shows in Gospel Fictions (1988)-and as Wright himself eventually admits! But Crossan has also shown how similar Markʼs burial and resurrection stories are to the entombment alive and subsequent crucifixion of the enemy kings in Joshua 10:16-27. Helms also shows how John 20:17 is based on Tobit 12:16-21. But there is a good bit of the gospel story that is not derived from scripture-and that is because it comes from pagan mythology and novels where prematurely entombed heroines are inadvertently rescued by tomb robbers and heroes survive crucifixion (another body of highly relevant textual evidence that Wright haughtily laughs off).

Wright piously tells us that, faced with the resurrection narratives, we ought to bow in awe and wonder. That may or may not be so, but we must blink in astonishment at Wrightʼs comments upon them! In another case of his “both/and” harmonizations (one found frequently with Evangelical scholars, i.e., apologists) Wright both claims that the resurrection narratives lack artifice (hence must be authentic “raw footage”) and that they have been thoroughly worked over by each evangelist so as to function as consistent extensions of themes and even narrative structures running through each gospel. This sort of analysis, demonstrating the thorough permeation of Markʼs Passion story by themes ubiquitous throughout the previous chapters led the contributors to Werner H. Kelberʼs symposium The Passion in Mark (1976) to conclude that Mark had no preexistent passion tradition but composed the whole thing. Such an obvious conclusion never occurs to Wright. For him, each narrative is both early unadorned tradition and thoroughly modified. It is either one as he needs it to be. He throws source criticism out the window when he needs to, claiming, astonishingly, that there is so little apparent interdependence between the tomb tales of Mark, Matthew, and Luke that we cannot be sure they are not independent tellings of the same story, learned by each evangelist via different channels. This is a way of discounting the great degree to which Luke and Matthew have rewritten Mark, maintaining they are all separate collectors of “early traditions,” a slippery repristination of the old Sunday School notion that the four evangelists are independent witnesses, as if to the same auto accident. Again, there is no stale crust of apologetical sleight-of-hand that Wright will not claim as a “critical advance” upon Enlightenment scholarship.

For Wright, Matthewʼs accuracy is demonstrated by the fact that he seems to have added no new stories to the resurrection plot-line. What about the repeated earthquakes, the descent of the angel, the guards at the tomb, the embassy of the Sanhedrin to Pilate, the rising of the dead saints on Good Friday? Without a word as to the improbability of other evangelists omitting it if it had happened, Wright confesses himself ready to swallow the historical accuracy of the guards. Wright thinks it makes sound sense that the guards are to tell that the disciples stole the body while the guards were asleep? How did they know what happened while they were snoozing? Wright seems not to recognize comedy if there is no laugh track. Wright insists that the gospel writers must have believed in a literal resurrection (whatever that would be: Jesus becoming the Martian Manhunter again?). But can we be so sure of that, given certain elements of their narratives? Lukeʼs Emmaus scene is transparently symbolic of the invisible presence of Christ among his followers every Sunday at the breaking of the bread. (Wright finally admits this, but he insists that it also really happened, more of his both/and-ism.) Matthew ends not with an ascension to get Jesus off the stage of history (as in Acts), but with Jesus assuring the readers (at whom the Great Commission must be aimed) that he will continue with them until the end of the age. Does this not imply that the resurrection was after all the inauguration of the metaphorical/spiritual sense in which Matthewʼs readers, like modern Christians, sense Jesus intangibly with them? Johnʼs story of Doubting Thomas concludes with Jesus making an overt aside to the reader: “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.” Can this writer have seriously intended his readers to think they were reading history? Such asides to the audience are a blatant and overt sign of the fictive character of the whole enterprise. As Barr pointed out long ago (Fundamentalism, 1977), the fact that Luke has the ascension occur on Easter evening in Luke 24 but forty days later in Acts chapter 1 (something Wright thinks utterly insignificant!) shows about as clearly as one could ask that Luke was not even trying to relate “the facts” and didnʼt expect the reader to think so.

One could easily go on and on and on, even as Wright does, and because Wright does. What we have in this book is not a contribution to New Testament scholarship, any more than Creationist “Intelligent Design” screeds are contributions to biological science. Both alike are pseudo-scholarly attempts to pull the wool over the eyes of readers, most of whom will be happy enough for the sedation.

Dr. Robert M. Price has two Ph.D.s, one in N.T. theology, and the other in N.T. history, and he is coming out with a book of essays on the resurrection question, co-edited with Jeffrey J. Lowder, which will be published by Prometheus Books, titled, Jesus Is Dead. Priceʼs other works from Prometheus include, Deconstructing Jesus [a detailed discussion of questions concerning Christian origins raised by members of the Jesus Seminar], and, The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man [a work more geared toward the general reading public, as was Priceʼs much earlier online book, Beyond Born Again].

See alsoPeter Kirby, the creator of several useful theological information websites: Early Christian Writings

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