It strikes me as strange that in a debate centered on history, Tim has devoted so much of his time to psychology. His main argument seems to go something like this:
- Lots of people believe lots of things that never happened
- Lots of people believe the resurrection happened
- The resurrection must have never happened
Even though I am slightly lampooning it, this still is not a particularly good or relevant argument. As such, I am going to deal with the more pertinent points Tim raised.
THE CRITERION of EMBARRASSMENT
Tim dodges the criterion of embarrassment issue by committing the genetic fallacy (or the fallacy of a bulverism, take your pick) in regards to what he labels "biblical theologians." Then he parenthetically offers: "In the Gospel of Thomas, young Jesus kills a playmate among other nasty things. According to the criterion, we should accept this story as being more reliable? It certainly is embarrassing to modern Christians…." The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is not deemed as reliable because it is a 2nd century document, as opposed to the canonical gospels, which are all 1st century documents written within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses.
Tim says, "Luke is not a historian. He tells us that he is, but he is not." Archaeologist Ramsay says, "Luke is a historian of the first rank … this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians." (The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, (1915), 222).
Tim says, "Luke shows absolutely no interest, in his Gospel or in Acts, to present the reader with any sort of fact-checking possibility…." Geisler says, "Luke names 32 countries, 54 cities and 9 islands without an error." (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1998), 47)
Tim says, "We have no evidence that he used any sort of reliable critical method." Historian Sherwin-White says this (in regards to Acts, which Luke wrote), "the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd." (Roman Society and Roman Law in the Setting of Hellenistic History (1963), 189).
In 1990, Classical historian Colin Hemer went through Luke’s other book (Acts) and identifies 84 different historical facts that have been verified by history and archaeology (The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, Eisenbraums). Has Tim perhaps misdiagnosed Luke?
DID GREEK MYTHS INFLUENCE THE GOSPELS?
Tim is still stubbornly claiming the Gospels (and apparently all Palestinian Jews) were heavily influenced by "the general mythical landscape of the Mediterranean of the time." Why would 1st century Jews, many of whom were eagerly awaiting a military Messiah to kick out the godless Romans, want to adopt their oppressors myths? Nonetheless, since Tim offered up a few names, let’s take a look.
Zalmoxis is one of the names Tim gives as resurrecting bodily. This person – whom Herodotus is not even sure ever lived – taught his people about a common Greek belief – the immortality of the soul. It is unfortunate Tim used Zalmoxis as a forerunner for a belief in bodily resurrection when the body of teaching surrounding Zalmoxis relates to the immortality of the soul, something very different from the doctrine of bodily resurrection.
As far as Inanna’s death, I found this:
She struck her.
Inanna was turned into a corpse
A piece of rotting meat
And was hung from a hook on the wall
A dead corpse hanging from a hook on a wall does not a crucifixion make. I don’t have enough space to deal with Castor and Pollux (I did look them up and found them to be hands-down the worst of Tim’s candidates for any kind of comparison). All I can ask is for people reading this debate to Google their names, read the legends surrounding them and then ask yourself if Tim’s accusations can withstand scrutiny.
A.T. Fear, wrote a whole essay on the subject of how the Attis cult evolved as a direct reaction to Christianity. Fear specifically says the doctrine of ‘resurrection’ is a "late-comer to the cult." (Cybele, Attis and Related Cults (1996), 41-42). It’s not even really a ‘resurrection’ but rather a celebration of Attis’ arrival in the underworld; hardly a resurrection. Another Attis scholar, Maria Lancelotti, explains that only a bare hint of resurrection belief was present in the Attis cult; worse, it did not appear until the 4th Century AD. (Attis Between Myth and History (2002), 160, 288).
One problem I have encountered when people accuse Christianity of borrowing from pre-Christian cults is this: they don’t realize the amount of fluidity in cultic doctrine and practice; many of these cults may have had an origin at a certain point in time but changed drastically as they went on. This means it is not historically responsible to say, "this cult around this god started way back then so it must have influenced Christianity." One also must know when a certain belief arose within said cult. Scholars understand this fact and that is why we see very few bona fide scholars lining up to support these silly accusations; in fact (as is the case with Attis), they often directly refute such naïve notions.
Let me pause here and point out an inconsistency in Tim’s rebuttal: he says I can’t draw Witherington – a NT expert respected by both liberals and conservatives – into the debate and then he proceeds to cite Dennis McDonald as proof for his case! McDonald’s whole thesis is severely flawed so he resorts to literary wizardry to try and prove it. Here is my personal favorite: MacDonald says Jesus’ "casting his gaze" about at everything while in the Jerusalem Temple is a parallel to when Odysseus "ogled" some buildings while visiting a city. Seriously? McDonald also says although Mark "borrowed heavily" from Homer "readers for 2000 years apparently have been blind to this important aspect of Mark’s project." (The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (2001), 6-7). This type of argumentation is tailor made for Internet conspiracy theorists but ill suited for the serious study of historical events.
A final point on the whole ‘Christianity utilized the dying and rising gods motif’ accusation. Even if there were true bodily resurrection parallels in pre-Christian religions – we have seen this is not the case – that in and of itself does not invalidate the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Don’t miss this point; it is key: even if there were similar stories prior to Jesus – which there were not – it in no way follows that his resurrection never took place. Lastly, a parallel – real or imagined – does not necessarily mean dependence.
RESURRECTION as CATALYST
Unfortunately for Tim’s case he did not address my third point, which was really a series of proofs to demonstrate the sea change that took place in the beliefs and practices of the first Jewish Christians. The question I posed was why did this happen if there was no resurrection? He declined to answer, save a denial: "I will just point out an inaccuracy: the early Christians were almost exclusively poor and downtrodden Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews, not established Jews." Many of the earliest Christians were nationalistic Jews, look at the disciples: Simon (not Peter) appears to have been a member of the Zealot Party Josephus mentions in Antiquities 18.1.6. Judas Iscariot may have had similar associations. Peter demonstrated a strong anti-Gentile bias that had to be corrected by a vision (Acts10.1-11.18) and the Apostle Paul (Gal2.11-21). Only 2 of the 12 (Andrew & Philip) went by Greek names. Tim is partially mischaracterizing the earliest followers of Jesus – they were not Hellenized to the extent he portrayed. The Apostolic Age (30-100 AD) is primarily characterized by its Jewishness and if Tim is claiming the earliest Christians weren’t practicing Jews in the first place so no real change occurred then he is at odds with most historians.
On a similar note, noted scholar R.H. Fuller pointed out, "Even the most skeptical historian has to postulate an ‘x’ … to account for the complete change in the behavior of the disciples…." (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (1972), 2). How do we account for the post-resurrection behavior of the disciples? How did they go from turncoats and cowards to bold proclaimers of a new faith? By all accounts, 10 of the 12 died as martyrs and proclaimed their belief in the resurrection of Jesus until the end. Who knowingly dies for a lie of this sort? Sometimes I hear people bring up Islamic terrorists as a counter example. The difference is the disciples were in a position to know whether they were lying about the resurrection; modern day Muslims are not.
Another tactic I sometimes hear used to evade this questions is "well, those accounts of their martyrdom are based on uncertain traditions." Even if we grant this point, we still must ask why the disciples would put themselves in a position to be killed for their proclamation? Even if Tim thinks we don’t know for sure how the disciples died, he still has to deal with the fact they willingly placed their lives in danger because of their new message. These last few considerations only further the case that the bodily resurrection of Jesus indeed happened … and it does not look as if Tim will be offering any real evidence to the contrary.