Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? October 30, 2009

Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?

This is a guest post by Kris Komarnitsky, the author of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?

In January Hemant hosted Christian apologist Lee Strobel on this website. When Strobel was asked to provide some challenging questions to the audience here, the first question he provided was this one from fellow Christian apologist Dr. Gary Habermas:

Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself. These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.

We see the same basic challenge from resurrection defender Dr. N.T. Wright: “The [discovered] empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ with Jesus, when combined, present us with not only a sufficient condition for the rise of early Christian belief, but also, it seems, a necessary one. Nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain the phenomena before us” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, pg. 706).

In my opinion these are fair questions from the traditional side of scholarship, and as a layman studying Christian origins, I found the responses from non-traditional scholarship not completely satisfying, or at least not very well or completely explained. The lack of a satisfactory response does not by default mean that Jesus resurrected from the dead, but it does spark the imagination. What really happened 2,000 years ago?

I began my own inquiry into this question several years ago. I took as my starting point the beliefs and traditions expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, widely recognized amongst scholars on both sides of the aisle to contain the earliest known Christian beliefs and traditions: Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and appeared to many people.

In considering the possible causes of these beliefs and traditions, notice that Dr. Wright does not appeal to the historical reliability of the gospels. He is saying that even apart from the gospel accounts of a discovered empty tomb and “meetings” with Jesus, nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain early Christian belief. Strobel and Habermas are not as open to suggestions outside the confines of the gospels, but as Habermas admits, the discovered empty tomb tradition is the weakest of his five “facts.” Given this, I start my investigation by accepting the possibility that the gospels could be mostly legend, including the discovered empty tomb tradition. For those who reject such a starting point, hear me out and I will show how this topic comes back full circle and impacts on the question of gospel reliability.

If the discovered empty tomb tradition is a legend, not only is Jesus’ resurrection effectively ruled out, but so are several non-traditional explanations for the rise of early Christian belief, like the stolen body theory, the moved body theory, and the theory that Jesus only appeared to be dead and then resuscitated. With these ruled out, there is only one explanation that jumps out at me as a plausible cause of the two-pronged belief that Jesus died for our sins and was raised, half of the 1 Cor 15:3-7 formula. That cause is the human phenomenon of cognitive dissonance reduction. Basically, this is the human tendency to rationalize a discontinuity between reality and one’s current beliefs in such a way that current beliefs are modified or added too instead of being rejected. Sometimes this results in extremely radical rationalizations. We have solid examples of this from other religious movements in history, such as the Millerite movement, the Sabbatai Zevi movement, and others.

This theory has of course been presented before and the controversy surrounding it can be seen in Dr. Wright’s strong disagreement with it and Dr. Robert M. Price’s response to Wright’s critique. According to Wright, “The flaws in this argument [that cognitive dissonance caused early Christian belief] are so enormous that it is puzzling to find serious scholars still referring to it in deferential terms” (Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 698; full critique pg. 697-701). Price responds with:

…there are many viable explanations [for the rise of the belief that Jesus resurrected], not least Festinger’s 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…with no serious attempt at refutation [emphasis added].

I agree with Price; Wright does not adequately rebut this idea.

Finding the cognitive dissonance solution very plausible myself but feeling that it has not been communicated very well in discussions about Christian origins, I decided to publish a book about it. For those interested in my book, it can be found here (or at Amazon.uk), along with endorsements from several notable scholars. Not only does my book apply the concept of cognitive dissonance to the belief that Jesus died for our sins and was raised, but it offers an explanation for the appearance traditions (no, not mass group hallucinations) and the belief that it was on the third day that Jesus was raised. It also takes a look at where Jesus was most likely buried considering the fact that he was a member of the lower classes. In summary, my book attempts to condense a lot of thought that has gone into this specific topic and adds what I think are a few missing links to produce a single comprehensive natural explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7.

A plausible non-traditional explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7 comes full circle and impacts on the historical reliability of the gospels. Why? Because 1 Cor 15:3-7 is used by traditionalists as external evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels. But if there is another plausible explanation for the rise of these beliefs and traditions, there is nothing about 1 Cor 15:3-7 itself that supports the conclusion that the gospels are more likely historical rather than legendary expansions of these beliefs and traditions. In short, traditional scholarship should not be using 1 Cor 15:3-7 to support gospel reliability.

I’d like to thank Hemant for giving me the opportunity to voice my opinion and introduce my book. I think other laypeople especially will find it readable and original in its approach to Christian origins, and I think it is the laypeople of the world who need to make sense of the arguments and claims that scholars make about their religious traditions.


Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened In The Black Box? is also available for immediate download to any personal computer for $9.99.

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  • Frank

    I wouldn’t take the so-called “scholarship” on this stuff too seriously to begin with for several reasons:
    1. Even the more secular “scholars” in this field like Robert Price and Bart Ehrman were trained by theologians, not historians. Their degrees are in things like “theology” or “new testament”, not history. So their objectivity and competence are drawn into question by that fact alone. They can still come up with some interesting arguments sometimes, but they don’t hold legitimate academic degrees and it sometimes shows.
    2. We have no good evidence that Jesus even existed, let alone for any specific event in his life. What few accounts we do have are recognized, even by traditional “scholarship,” to be second hand, and have been preserved and potentially altered by the church for two millennia. Even if someone wanted to seriously study the life of Jesus, there’s no evidence to go on.
    3. One of the disadvantages of studying history is that we can’t do experiments, but if we look at the historical sciences, all of them do start from experimental sciences. Cosmologists don’t use folk physics in their cosmological theories, they are trained physicists, they start from the known results of physics experiments. Evolutionary biologists, similarly, are trained biologists, they start from the results of biological experiments when reconstructing biological history. Historians usually don’t start from the scientific experiments, and this is a particularly significant deficit with ancient history where the historical evidence is so sparse. So far as I know, none of the “scholars” looking at early christianity have any psychological training or familiarity with psychological research whatsoever. They start with folk psychology, not scientific psychology. It sounds like you’re beginning to correct this deficit, so good job with that!

  • I’ve had your book sitting in the “Saved for Later” part of my Amazon cart for months now… along with a couple hundred other items waiting for the right moment to purchase. Thank you for giving a bit of a summary of what the book is about. I’m moving it back to the top of my list to purchase soon as it is one of those things which I know I’ll need to address when I finally discuss my deconversion with my extended family (so far it hasn’t been worth it to bring it up and start an argument and cause undue distress to some of them in their old age).

    Ironically (or is it just coincidentally?), I think the single most important book in my deconversion may have been Strobel’s Case for Christ because of how it grated on my brain when I read it while still a Christian (and not even one heavily thinking about if I should doubt it). In spite of my general dislike for the organized part of religion, when my first son was born (and my wife insisted that going to see punk bands wasn’t sufficient spiritual enlightenment now that we were going to be raising a family) we found a church with a community I mostly enjoyed and had made quite a few very good friends in. A group of those friends read it and loved it. So, on their recommendation, I borrowed it and read it. From page one I found myself cringing. It struck me as sounding like something coming out of a smarmy politician’s mouth which just FELT like a lie, which led me to start looking at my faith more seriously. From John Loftus to David Sloan Wilson I’ve read a good bit regarding the philosophy and science of religious belief (amongst other things), but the questions I’ve been unable to “answer” to my old friends’ satisfaction have largely been about the “how else can you explain the church?” ones. The example I’ve always given is that within the timelines of the early church (and assuming my numbers are close) Christianity was about as “big” in the world, up until it became a state religion, and had a growth pattern not entirely unlike Mormons and Scientologists… neither of which most people (outside of those groups) consider legitimate and representative of reality.

  • Isn’t it most likely that the source of the resurrection story is the plethora of other identical resurrection stories from the Mesopotamian cultures? What if we changed the word Jesus to the word Osiris? Unless my memory is faulty Osiris had a similar story with different details. We could ask the same questions. What is the source of the Osiris story? Was there actually someone chopped into pieces and then re-assembled and re-animated…

    Of course there wasn’t. And there wasn’t a resurrected Jesus, either.

    @CharlesP It was the movie Passion of the Christ which pushed me over the edge. Funny how Strobel and Gibson probably didn’t intend for their work to provoke their audience to leave the faith.

  • william a zingrone

    The crucifiction story as told in Matthew claims that there was an eclipse (didnt happen), an earthquake in Jerusalem where boulders split and tombs opened (didnt happen)saints left their tombs and appeared to many (didnt happen). So how “historical” can any of the (often competing)claims of the Gospels regarding the the death and resurrection of Christ truly be? And how does Paul (who never met Jesus, only had visions of him), possibly having an epileptic fit on the way Damascus lend any credence to the story. Even if you grant any of these unverified occurences(outside the Gospels)such as Paul’s and James’ conversion as “historical facts” so what? My sister converted to Judaism, so is there any other possible explanation for this historical fact other than that the Old Testament must then be true? There’s a reason they call it “Apologetics”, you should apologize for this bullshit. Dawkins is right, we need to stop indoctrinating children in absurd and unfounded cultural myths because some of them grow up to like Mssrs. Stroebel, Habermas, Lane Craig and a host of others desparately trying to convince the rest of us that their articles of faith have “gotta be true” Theres another billion people or more who believe that Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse is an indisputable historical fact too. We need to grow out of this stuff.

  • TXatheist

    Horus, Jesus, Mithra, Tammuz all have similar stories because…it’s plagiarized mythology. Horus, like Jesus, was buried in a tomb where he was resurrected and ascended into Heaven, or ‘Amen-ti’. Tammuz suffered a painful death in order to become mankind’s saviour. On the third day, some accounts claimed, Tammuz was resurrected into a new life of eternal blessedness. Horus was depicted on a cross with nail-holes in his feet, as well as having a heart emblem on his clothing. He may also be depicted as having his foot on the head of a serpent. Mithra forgave his enemies. He celebrated a last supper. He descended into Hell, and was resurrected. Many people witnessed his ascension into heaven. The followers of Mithras kept the Sabbath holy, eating sacramental meals in remembrance of Him. The sacred meal of bread and water, or bread and wine, was symbolic of the body and blood of the sacred bull.

  • Using other books of the Bible, such as I Corinthians to support the accuracy of the Gospels is no more credible support than the Testimony of Three Witnesses and Testimony of Eight Witnesses for support of the book of Mormon.

    “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars”

    Contemporary biblical scholars or contemporary history scholars? I’m not aware of any credible historical evidence that Jesus existed (though it seems likely that he did), that he was crucified (seems at least plausible), or that his tomb was found to be empty (also plausible).

    On point 2, we have second or third hand accounts of what Jesus disciples allegedly claimed they believed; we have no knowledge of their actual beliefs or motivations. Additionally, cultists’ delusions aren’t generally considered to be strong evidence in support of their claims.

    On point 3, Nearly everything we know comes from Paul’s own account. People fall in with cults all the time and make claims of extraordinary experiences all the time; how is Saul unique such that we should give extra consideration to his claims? We also have no knowledge of whether Paul believed the things he wrote were true or whether he had other motivations for writing them. (Koran, Book of Mormon, Dianetics, etc- they all claim to be true, but they can’t all be so)

    Point 4: So because a guy that a cult tells us was a skeptic joins that cult, everything that cult claims must be true? Non Sequitor.

    Christians reject these types of arguments and “evidence” from any religion other than their own; it would be nice if they were able to recognize the inconsistency.

  • TXatheist: “Horus, Jesus, Mithra, Tammuz all have similar stories”

    Mithras, who was born from a rock and never died? Tammuz, whose story resembles Persephone’s (half her time with her mother on Earth, half in the underworld)? I’m sorry, but you are spewing pseudohistory, possibly from Acharya S. or someone who used her as a source.

    This is not to say that there isn’t some, ahem, borrowing. For example, the virgin birth looks like an attempt to one-up the claims of divine birth of Augustus and Alexander the Great, and even the exaltation of Jesus has resemblances to a similar exaltation of Moses. Most of the claims of parallels with pagan myths, however, are B.S.

  • stewie

    So why did God & Jesus keep millions of “souls” in purgatory (or wherever) for so long? Because, according to the tradition, the only path to heaven is through Jesus. Yet billions of people died before Jesus. Did they go into some holding pattern until God figured out this heaven-through-jesus mechanism? (Which isn’t exactly an endorsement for God’s infallibility.)

    But let’s forget about everyone before Jesus & simply consider the many thousands of people who died during his lifetime. Why would Jesus choose to prevent them from going to heaven when all he had to do was die?

    Don’t even suggest it was because he had to “spread the word” because clearly God could have built in this knowledge at the time of our creation just as all life has innate knowledge that allows it live, survive, & reproduce–which requires a lot of data!

    And even if this notion is unpalatable, then why didn’t God create books or TV or the Internet so he could effectively spread the word. Putting one guy, in one remote place, relying on word-of-mouth is a horrible way to convey information, especially when these people didn’t even know of other cultures on other continents, which makes it impossible for them to spread the word thus rendering their souls to purgatory until they are “enlightened.” And this tactic obviously failed to effect many at the time since there’s no mention of Jesus for a century (but possibly as few as 3 decades) after his death. So much for spreading the word.

    Clearly, if God is capable of creating complex life (as in the Creationism tradition or in the Immaculate Conception), which is something we still can’t do, yet we did create books, TV, & the Internet. It would be trivial for God to make these devices to spread his word. Yet he did not do this. Why, when it would have been immensely more effective & very easy to do for an all-powerful being like God?!? (In fact it’s very interesting that God made no technology, only the organic & inorganic world around us. This, despite the fact that technology is so critical to his chosen species & would have helped billions of us for many thousands of years. But I digress yet again. )

    You can walk this path of reasoning for most everything in most every religion. Any objective, reasonably intelligent person just has to wonder why, why, why? And the answer in nearly every case is painfully obvious: It’s fiction. That’s why it plays out like a bad movie with a worse plot. It doesn’t make sense because the author(s) didn’t think throughly through the script.

    I know many, many people believe in this stuff, but remember, today’s religion is tomorrow’s mythology.

    Peace.

  • TXatheist

    J.J., what part is b.s.? The whole risen savior god thing? All of that is b.s. to me. Jesus is just a copied idea.

  • TXatheist: “J.J., what part is b.s.?”

    If you don’t want to actually look up books by Mithraic scholars, a handy-dandy quick summary of the B.S. about Mithras is on a web page written by a neo-pagan called What Mithraism Isn’t, which despite it being from a neo-pagan layman, is actually about right. (It helps that the page largely is a distillation of an actual scholar’s work.)

    I also suggest that you look at the review of “The God Who Wasn’t There” by “Gakuseidon”. When a supposed quote such as,

    For when they say that Dionysus arose again and ascended to heaven, is it not evidence the devil has imitated the prophecy?

    turns out to be a massaged rendering of this quote:

    For when they tell that Bacchus, son of Jupiter, was begotten by[Jupiter’s] intercourse with Semele, and that he was the discoverer of the vine; and when they relate, that being torn in pieces, and having died, he rose again, and ascended to heaven; and when they introduce wine into his mysteries, do I not perceive that [the devil] has imitated the prophecy announced by the patriarch Jacob, and recorded by Moses?

    then there’s a real problem. In general, the claims of pagan copycatting generally involve, ahem, massaging the evidence and sometimes just making crap up.

  • Norbury

    There is another explanation beyond myth and religion. He could have appeared dead and revived later. There’s a book called The Hanged Man which investigates the story of a Welsh man who was hanged in 1190 or so, who was well attested to be dead then revived a day or two later. In those days hanging was all about strangulation not neck breaking. The cause of death from crucifixion was suffocation. It would be possible for Jesus, if he existed at all, to be crucified, appear dead, be taken down and revive without any supernatural explanation whatsoever. Of course in the case of the Hanged Man it was seen as a miracle, but clearly from a sceptical viewpoint it seems more likely that it is possible to be in a near death state and still revive.

  • Kris K.

    Charles,

    I am glad to hear that my book is of interest to you. I think you will find that it answers one of the most significant and difficult parts of the “how else can you explain the church?” question very well — what actually started the whole thing? After you read my book, I think you will also find that as part of your “coming out” to your family you may want to give them a copy of my book. I have written it for both believer and non-believer, and instead of being confrontational, I invite the reader into an inquiry, into a sequence of questions that lead to a compelling non-traditional explanation for all of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7. They can disagree with the conclusion of my book, but I think they will see more clearly how someone could reasonably disagree with them. Good luck with your family situation.

    Kris K.

  • Stephen P

    With these ruled out, there is only one explanation that jumps out at me as a plausible cause of the two-pronged belief that Jesus died for our sins and was raised, half of the 1 Cor 15:3-7 formula. That cause is the human phenomenon of cognitive dissonance reduction.

    I really don’t see why early Christian beliefs require any specific explanation at all. Charles referred to the Scientologists and Mormons, who have bizarre sets of beliefs which are readily seen to be nonsense by anyone not already doctrinated into them. Then one could add a long list of strange sects (The Christian Apostolic Church in Zion, the Branch Davidians, the Moonies etc etc). Any sociological/psychological explanation capable of dealing with these groups is well able to cover early Christianity.

    In addition, bear in mind we are talking about the Corinthians here. Corinth is over 1000 km from Jerusalem as the crow flies, and considerably further over land. For any “knowledge” of events in Israel, the early Christians in Corinth would probably have been entirely dependent on a small handful of second/third/fourth hand accounts, such as those from Paul himself. Any truth content of those stories would have been entirely irrelevant to their acceptance.

    Is it not suggestive that Christianity actually grew in places such as Corinth, Ephesus and Rome and not in Israel? Is it not striking that the Jews in Israel, who might have had first-hand contact with Jesus remained, for the most part, Jews?

  • Autumnal Harvest

    J.J. Ramsey, your explanations of why Mithraism is not similar to Christianity don’t make a lot of sense. TxAtheist’s post pointed out that Christianity clearly borrowed a lot from other religions, as its stories have a lot of marked similarities with stories from other religions at the time. Your counter-argument seems to be that there are in fact many differences between those other religions and Jesus. That’s true, but not really relevant. The claim is not that that Christianity is a carbon copy of any other religion, but that significant, central, elements of Christianity are borrowed from other religions. That claim is, as far as I can tell, essentially indisputable.

    Why is your quote “massaging” supposed to be troubling? I’m not in favor of any misquoting, but the abridged quote captures the basic similarity that Dionysus was killed, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. It drops the similarity of wine being used in their religious ceremonies, and it drops the difference that Jesus was not the son of Jupiter or the discoverer of the wine. If the reader is stupid enough to think that Jesus and Dionysus are identical in every way, then, yeah, I guess it would be important to point out that they’re not, but that doesn’t seem to give the reader very much credit.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Kris:

    With these ruled out, there is only one explanation that jumps out at me as a plausible cause. . .

    Stephen P:

    I really don’t see why early Christian beliefs require any specific explanation at all.

    Agreed. People believe a lot of weird stuff, for reasons that are essentially incomprehensible to people not in their cultural group, so I’m not finding this “there is only one explanation” claim very convincing, particularly given the limited information we have about these 2000-year old events.

  • TXatheist

    J.J. I guess what I am asking is what is your point? The jesus myth is similar to earlier risen savior god myths and I don’t find jesus much different than mithra or horus except the story has been slightly changed. Jesus wasn’t special as far as risen savior god myths is my point.

  • Sarah TX.

    I think a lot of people here are sort of not getting the point of the book – it’s a response to a field of Christian apologetics. It is enough, among friends, to dismiss the whole thing as poppycock, but in discussions with others a more robust discussion is desirable. The claim has been made that an empty tomb is necessary for the spread of early Christianity. It seems like this book is a refutation of that claim.

    1 Corinthians was not written in Corinthia. It was written TO the Corinthian church. It was written in Ephesus, which is in modern-day Turkey, and it is used as an example of early Christian thought that has not been mutated by latter Catholic theology.

  • Revyloution

    Ive had Christians tell me that ‘virtually all contemporary scholars’ accept that Jesus was killed by the crucifixion, was seen to be buried, an empty tomb was discovered, and he seen talking to people after the resurrection.

    I keep asking them, ‘who are these contemporary secular scholars?’. The only secular biblical scholars I’ve read are Baigent and Avalos. Neither of them seem to think that the empty tomb is a verified historical fact.

    The best explanation I’ve heard compared Jesus to Joseph Smith. Both had miracles they claimed. Neither had the miracles witnessed by historians of the period. Both had an advocate who carried on the beliefs beyond their deaths. I think Saul who became Paul, and Brigham Young are the true founders of those respective faiths. Neither of those two mentally disturbed prophets seemed capable of getting their respective religions off the ground.

  • sailor

    There is no evidence Jesus existed except through the religious writings of the time, and the main source of evidence is that of the gospels.

    These started as an oral tradition, and were not put in writing till at least 40 years after the death of Christ.

    Paul, who wrote at the time could have known some people who knew Christ, which gives some weight to the idea there was a real basis to these oral traditions.

    Based on this, most historian accept that Jesus under some name probably existed. Keep in mind the bar for historical evidence is way, way lower than in science. However, when it comes to the details of the resurrection, Strobel grossly overstates the case that this is a historically accepted fact. The most that could be said historically is that belief in the resurrection was real and a deciding factor in deifying Jesus.

    The simplest explanation is that resurrection as an idea had long been part of human culture (even the Incas believed it on the other side of the globe) and this was incorporated into the oral tradition about Jesus that existed at the time. Those who believed in Jesus had a strong motivation to make him seem even more wonderful than he was, to help support their own believe structure.

    You just have to think about the mass flying saucer sightings by large groups of people, to realize how easy it is for things to get distorted even from their origen.

    There is nothing here that really requires more explanation. The idea that the resurrection is accepted history is wrong.

    Therefore I do not think we need to talk about cognitive dissonance

  • CatBallou

    I agree with those who say that no complex explanation is required for these beliefs. Just look at the viral beliefs we’re experiencing right now—for example, that Pres. Obama is Muslim—even when the truth is easy to determine. How much easier would it be to spread a story when word of mouth is all anyone has!
    From my own experience, the number of Christians who believe that the gospels are first-hand accounts—that the authors were among the “disciples”—is astonishing.

  • please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.

    Of course the Wizard of Oz exists, otherwise where does the Yellow Brick Road go? The entire Jesus debate is a fallacy. There is not proof there was a Jesus, and until there is, we can go no further reliably. If we are put into the position to accept one set of religious writings as being fact, then we must accept ALL religious writings as fact.

    The Jesus story has far too much allegory, symbolism, morality, and other story elements in it for it to come across as anything more than a story told for edification. It wasn’t the first, it wasn’t the last. It was done well once some really good writers got there hands on it, but that doesn’t make it true.

  • The Other Tom

    In my opinion these are fair questions from the traditional side of scholarship,

    In my opinion they’re not fair questions, because they assume that Jesus existed, something which has not been proven. Further, the first example given places a great deal of constraints on the subject: assume all these unproven things which are of dubious reality, and given those unreasonable constraints, justify your opinion. Uh, no.

  • sailor

    Cat Ballou, I think your reference to the birthers is particularly apt.
    Like them the early Christians were a small minority who thought the governments of the day were completely wrong and had no moral authority. They also thought that everything was about to come crashing down with a supreme intervention and they would be vindicated.
    I see no reason to believe that they would be be any more reality-based in their view of the world than the birthers are today.

  • Stephen P

    1 Corinthians was not written in Corinthia. It was written TO the Corinthian church.

    Sorry, I thought that went without saying. The point at issue (at least as I interpreted it) is not so much why Paul wrote what he did – obviously one person can write whatever he likes. The question is why other people accepted it, and that is what my comment referred to.

    One could though observe that Ephesus is also a long way from Jerusalem.

  • TomF

    As an analogy, consider recent history: In 1963, the president of the United States was murdered in front of a hudred or so eyewitnesses. The event was filmed from several angles, extensively covered by reputable news sources, and thoroughly invenstigated by many people, both official and unofficial. Despite all this, we have no consensus about what happened – an event that occurred within my lifetime. How are we supposed to believe third-hand reports that were written a generation or so after the fact, two thousand years ago?

  • sailor said:

    These started as an oral tradition, and were not put in writing till at least 40 years after the death of Christ.

    I think this bears repeating. Look at how many people believe in alternate versions of history nowadays. Holocaust deniers, Roswell UFO crash believers, et cetera. We know they’re wrong – we have the evidence to prove as much, though they reject it as a matter of doctrine – but their beliefs persist because the myth has evolved. Imagine just how much a simple story about a crucifixion could evolve in an era with no centralized historical record, especially when the story was passed around Telephone-style for 40 years. Pass a myth around long enough and far enough, without any means of refutation other than the word of a religiously and socially oppressive government, and the myth will be accepted as fact.

    C. S. Lewis proposed that if Jesus actually said the things the Bible says he did, then he was either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. I’d add a fourth option: Legend.

    The gospels are legend, not history. It’s ludicrous to assert that virtually all contemporary scholars accept them as fact. Contemporary Christian Biblical scholars do, but I doubt there are many scholars of other faiths, secular scholars, or historical scholars (vice theological scholars) who do so.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Autumnal Harvest:

    J.J. Ramsey, your explanations of why Mithraism is not similar to Christianity don’t make a lot of sense…. The claim is not that that Christianity is a carbon copy of any other religion, but that significant, central, elements of Christianity are borrowed from other religions

    I know that the claim is that “significant, central, elements of Christianity are borrowed from other religions.” Trouble is, while that claim certainly holds true if the other religions in question are various forms of Judaism, it’s very dicey with regard to pagan parallels.

    Take, for example, the supposed parallels between Mithraism and Christianity. The good parallels, such as Mithras and Jesus supposedly being resurrected or Mithras and Jesus having 12 disciples, are made up, and the parallels that aren’t made up, like the communal meal, aren’t very good. I find that this pattern is pretty common, not just with Mithraism, but with other pagan parallels as well.

    In case I’m not perfectly clear, when I say that the claim about Mithras being resurrected is “made up,” I mean that there is no evidence that actual worshipers of Mithras actually believed that Mithras was resurrected, and that someone who claims that they did is either lying or mistaken.

  • Tyler

    it’s amazing how many people on this board think that Jesus never existed. all of the attacks being made in this regard could also be made against George Washington.

    to set the record straight, the same way historians figure out George Washington and Julius Ceasar existed is the same way historians figure out Christ existed. it’s called the science of history. Tacitus, the Roman historian who gave us info on Julius Ceasar, wrote more about Jesus Christ than he ever did Ceasar. Yet no one questions whether Julius Ceasar existed.

    It’s really quite simple:
    -The enemies of GW wrote about GW.
    -There are tons of historic works about GW.
    -The enemies of Christianity wrote about Christ.
    -There are tons of historic works of antiquity about Jesus, and His followers.

    To claim that Jesus didn’t exist flies in the face of every work of antiquity which claims He did.

    wish i had the time to respond to all 200 comments here, but at least i can try to give you the other side of things on this point.

    take care

  • Autumnal Harvest

    J J Ramsey, if you know that’s the claim, then I’m still at a loss to understand what the point was of your repeated posts pointing out all the differences between Christianity and other Roman cults.

    As to whether there are exaggerations or parallels that are made up, I don’t know anything about that. The website that you linked to seemed mostly interested in refuting beliefs that I never heard of. People being what they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if people created spurious parallels. However, my belief that Christianity borrowed heavily from other cults at the time comes primarily from the descriptions of those cults in my two New Testament textbooks (both of which I suspect are written by Christians for a primarily Christian audience). The parallels with the communal meal, and in particular, the Eucharist, stike me as fairly substantial. Neither textbook makes the claim that Mithras was resurrected, or had 12 disciples, so bringing up those beliefs and then refuting them doesn’t do much to change my impression.

    Tyler, while I believe that Jesus was a historical figure, your comparison is simply wrong. There are not tons of historical works about Jesus, written down by people living at the time of Jesus. For example, you write that “the enemies of Christianity wrote about Christ.” This is not true. I know of not a single historical work by the enemies of Christianity writing about their first-hand accounts of Christ, or reporting on the actions of Christ. There are probably about 3-4 Roman letters or sentences in the first century A.D. that mention Christians in some way, all of which were written long after Jesus’ death, and all of which only describe Christians, and their beliefs about Christ, not Jesus himself.

  • sailor

    Tyler, that is just not true.
    There is lots of written evidence about Washington from the time he lived.

    There is ZERO written evidence about Jesus from the time he lived or shortly thereafter.
    Nothing from the Roman historians of that time. Surprising, if he was a big religious figure of the day, with a following of thousands.

    Tacitus was not born until long after Jesus died. What he said about Jesus was certainly influenced by Christians of his day.

    This is not good historical evidence.

  • It’s really quite simple:
    -The enemies of GW wrote about GW.
    -There are tons of historic works about GW.
    -The enemies of Christianity wrote about Christ.
    -There are tons of historic works of antiquity about Jesus, and His followers.

    To claim that Jesus didn’t exist flies in the face of every work of antiquity which claims He did.

    Not for nothin’, but replace Jesus with Luke Skywalker and you could, given a couple thousand years, say exactly the same thing, despite the fact that Luke Skywalker never actually existed.

    For the record, I think Jesus likely did exist – just not at all like what the Bible says.

    As for Julius Caesar, we have coins with his name and face on them. That’s slightly better than the evidence for Jesus.

  • TXatheist

    J.J. thank you for your response. When you say it’s not for certain that mithra followers believed mithra rose from the dead I have to ask if you think the resurrection of jesus actually happened with all the witnesses or that someone wrote that there were all those witnesses is taken for granted now? I think the story that there were that many witnesses is the myth itself and that’s why it’s so accepted. I’ve had many xians ask me if I really thought all those people would have died for their belief in jc if they didn’t really think jesus died on the cross and my answer is yes, they really believed it but it’s just perpetuated consensus that the original event took place. The “story” of jesus rising is accepted by xian followers just as mithra rising was accepted by mithra followers because that’s what faith is all about.

  • Doug Johnson

    Tell me a little more about Stone Arrow Books (and maybe also about what the PhD scholars on the back of your book are currently up to).

  • It seems to me that the right place to start is whether Jesus actually existed at all.

    Is there a single reference that’s clearly to Jesus, that’s actually from a contemporary source (rather than a generation or more after his death)?

    He supposedly did a whole bunch of things that cannot fail to have attracted attention (including speaking to very large gatherings).

    Was a single one of these newsworthy events ever noted by an actual contemporary?

    If we’re can’t be fairly certain of an actual historical Jesus, isn’t all this other stuff just so much back and forth on whether the emperor’s new clothes have a fahsionable cut?