MY APOLOGETICS ALERT meter is going beep - beep...
Have you ever heard of mythicists? Maybe not. Their basic view is that Jesus never existed, and the legend that developed around "Jesus Christ" borrowed from a number of pagan and middle eastern sources, not least of which being Zoroastrianism. Their views do not represent a mainstream historical perspective, regardless of religious commitment.
Since I am currently privileged enough to have the time and the resources of Hurtado's most significant contributions (Lord Jesus Christ and One God & One Lord), I realised I may be in a position to politely engage and defend the historical grounding of Jesus. If you'd like to see how I am getting along and watch the mythicist video I disagree with, you may do so here. Strangely, I seem to have been granted the last word!
I have also been fortunate to interact with Evan Powell, who is the author the website http://synoptic-problem.com/, which I can really recommend - although it is also where I got a faith "sting", mentioned in my previous post. I'm pleased to say that I have recovered from it, but with a fresh realisation of how some of the resurrection evidence fits together. The reason why I got stung by Evan's research and analysis, is that while he brought extra clarity and weight to my conviction that Matthew not only was later than Luke and Acts (which is important to note when researching the factors surrounding the emergence of a proto-trinitarianism in the first century), he also reports that Matthew's treatment of the burial story in Mark and Luke shows the story's weakness.
I think the reason why his views particularly affected me was because of how deeply I shared his other convictions about Matthew - and that should be a lesson to anyone. You probably agree with everyone about something, and you should probably check that you disagree with everyone about something. That's part of what makes you, you and me, me. And it certainly is true for theology.
Fortunately, I revisited his page about the burial and pushed him on it. We have had a very friendly and respectful exchange since then, and I have come to a conclusion I will probably now carry with me to my grave - and I am better for it. The point is this - it doesn't matter what you do with the existing evidence. You can realign it, reconstruct it. But if the basic building blocks are the same, you will *always* run into the following problem if you want to explain what happened to Jesus' body: at the time, the evidence pointed in favour of believing that Jesus had been raised by God back to life by his followers. Now, I'm a big sceptic when it comes to apologetics - the number of times I have dabbled in it positively on this blog could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I'm not going to say to people, the evidence means the only possible explanation is that Jesus was raised. In my exchange with Evan, I came up with a scenario according to what I understood his interpretation of the facts required. But it was incomplete and created fresh problems that are hard to explain.
In his reply, Evan told me that I was creating an unnecessarily complex situation - all it would have taken was for Joseph of Arimathea to move the body at the end of Saturday. My complex situation had included that Joseph was ignorant of someone having removed Jesus' body, that someone perhaps being the indignant family tomb owner. Evan's brushing aside of the need for Joseph's ignorance shouldn't satisfy. How could this designated member of social and religious standing be recalled so positively by all four gospel writers as a positive witness to the events that unfolded during the first Easter if he had, in fact, moved the body to another location? Would he not have clarified the situation? Apologists are correct (I admit) that the recipe is something like this:
- EMPTY TOMB ON SUNDAY MORNING
- POWERFUL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES OF THE RISEN CHRIST BY HIS FOLLOWERS
- NO OTHER CREDIBLE EXPLANATION GIVEN FOR THE BODY'S ABSENCE
The simple fact that brilliant minds and millions of people believe that this miracle could indeed have taken place should give us all pause for thought. Something strange happened to Jesus' body. If there *were* a simple explanation, then Christianity simply wouldn't have taken off. We wouldn't even be having this conversation. However, to my Christian friends who want to go take this and slam dunk their atheist friends, we must remember that strange things do happen (see an in-depth analysis of this natural and unpredictable phenomenon in The Black Swan). We must remember that we have sound reasons for believing what we believe, that we don't have all the answers. We also live in a surprising and unpredictable world in which we have to bind our beliefs to time-tested and storm-blasted foundations. Abandon them at your peril.
In my next post, I will feed back on my exchange with Professor Larry Hurtado! Yes, my theological hero responded to my post on his disagreement with James Dunn. We are also not done yet on a late Matthew. Back soon.