What do the leading secular historians say about Jesus?

October 12th, 2013 in Belief, Feature. Tags: , , , , , ,

A lot of things are written about Jesus, by believers, sceptics and everyone in between. But what do the experts (historians at leading universities) say?

Ken, a reader of this blog, asked a question about this recently in comments on another topic, so I thought a separate post might help clarify.

Facts and belief

Beliefs are simply what we each think – about all sorts of things. Generally, we base our beliefs, at least in part, on good evidence or facts. For example, I learn the fact that 99% of the world lives on less income than I do, so I think (believe) that I have a responsibility to alleviate poverty.

Or, I learn the scientists have concluded that the world is warming due to human use of fossil fuels, and that this will have disastrous consequences, so I think (believe) that I should vote for politicians who will do something to prevent this. Note that in this case the facts are not absolutely certain (in science they almost never are), but the expert scientists say they are highly probable – and only a minority of scientists disagree.

Facts and belief about Jesus

It is the same with Jesus. There are historical facts which most expert historians tell us are probable, with very few dissenting, and other evidence that they are not in such agreement about. And then there are opinions (beliefs) about Jesus, all of us have them, including historians, but we differ widely.

Facts about Jesus

Here I am just summarising what historians regard as probable historic facts about Jesus. Some of these historians are christians, some are not, but they are not writing about their beliefs, just about the historical evidence.

Jesus existed

Almost without exception, expert historians believe a man named Jesus, recognisable as the one described in the gospels, lived and died in first century Palestine – See Was Jesus a real person? for some of the reasons why they believe this, and Quotes on Jesus as a historical person for quotes from some of the world’s most respected historians.

Jesus’ life and death

Secular historians, whether christian or not, broadly agree on the basic facts of Jesus’ life (see Jesus in history). EP Sanders, just about the most respected NT scholar of the past 30 years, and cautiously sceptical, wrote in The Historical Figure of Jesus, p10-11:

I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)

Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
he was baptised by John the Baptist;
he called disciples;
he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
he had a final meal with the disciples;
he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

Maurice Casey and Michael Grant add a few other items to Sanders’ cautious list:

  • he preached repentance, forgiveness and the coming of the kingdom of God in rural and small-town Galilee;
  • he was known in his day as a healer and exorcist (Casey says he was a folk healer);
  • Jesus predicted his death and resurrection and he believed his death would be redemptive;
  • Jesus’ tomb was really empty and/or his disciples “saw” him (in what sense is uncertain) after his death.

There are of course scholars who contest many or most of these items, but they are apparently in the minority, as most scholars I have read would endorse Sanders’ list at least.

Sanders concludes:

Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.

Beliefs about Jesus

While most scholars believe Jesus was known as a miracle worker, not all believe he actually performed miracles. And while most scholars believe either Jesus’ tomb was found empty, or his disciples saw visions of him, or both, not all believe he was physically raised from death. While some scholars believe he was divine, others do not.

None of the scholars I have referenced here (Sanders, Casey, Grant) are (or were in the case of Grant) christians; they are/were agnostics or atheists.

My beliefs about Jesus

I believe Jesus was divine, that he was resurrected, and that he really performed miracles. These are my conclusions after considering the evidence referred to above. Obviously other people consider the same evidence and come to different conclusions (beliefs).

Later edit:

It is not my purpose here to present the case for why I believe these things about Jesus, but I base my belief on these things:

  • Luke (especially) and the other gospel writers, including John, have been shown to be reasonably reliable reporters. Classical historians (i.e. ancient historians not specialising in NT history) generally accept the gospels as useful historical documents. It is reasonable to trust these biographies – see Are the gospels historical? and Archaeology and John’s gospel.
  • Most scholars agree that Jesus did not make overt claims to divinity, and scholars are divided about whether he made any less overt claims. But I believe a number of passages, most of which would be regarded as authentic by most scholars, give enough of an indication that he did claim divinity – see Jesus – son of God?.
  • I believe the evidence for the resurrection is best explained by it actually happening – see Was Jesus raised from the dead?.

When to quote the scholars

When I quote the scholars, it is to establish the probable historical facts, as outlined above. When I talk about my beliefs, I do not quote the scholars.

What can we learn from a prominent atheist’s views on “faith”?

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

83 Comments

  1. unkleE, I appreciate your creating a new blog on this subject. I don’t however see how you can derive that Jesus was divine from the comments you quoted above. I have no doubt saying Jesus most likely existed or that people claimed he was a healer. I think you have to reach pretty far to get to him being divine.

    Where is this overwhelming consensus or historical facts that would make you think he is divine ?

  2. I thought Casey doesn’t think there was an empty tomb. Doesn’t he consider it a later development, even though it’s already present in gMark, but absent in the (according to him) later letters of Paul?

  3. Almost without exception, expert historians believe a man named Jesus, recognisable as the one described in the gospels,

    Call foul.

    The character in the gospels is NOT recognised as the itinerant preacher non-christian historians consider existed.
    This statement is disingenuous.
    The biblical character was a work of fiction. A miracle working man god. There is no evidence whatsoever for the biblical Jesus. None.
    There was never such an historical person.

  4. Why have you not quoted Richard Carrier? He is a highly qualified historian?
    Or what about Robert Price?

  5. I don’t care how liberal EP Sanders might be, he is a Christian.

    almost beyond dispute;

    That ”almost” is a real nuisance.

  6. Ken, you are right, I left that out. I will amend the post to cover that point. Thanks. (Now done.)

    IgnorantiaNescia, you too are right, that is why I wrote “and/or”. Casey believes the “appearances” happened (with a natural explanation), as does Sanders and even the Jesus Seminar, while Grant believed the tomb was empty, as does Robin Lane Fox. A survey by Gary Habermas indicates about 75% of scholars accept the truth of the empty tomb, and “Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”

  7. Hi Far King,

    Call foul.
    I have simply quoted from some of the scholars most respected by their peers. Can you point to one place where I have misquoted or misrepresented them?

    Why have you not quoted Richard Carrier? He is a highly qualified historian?
    Or what about Robert Price?
    I have only quoted a few scholars and they are all at the centre of scholarship, and none of the three I referenced here are christians, and hence cannot be considered biased. Neither Carrier nor Price can be considered to be at the centre of scholarship nor respected by their peers, neither has a position at a respected university, and they have clear biases.

    Can you explain why you prefer two biased non-respected scholars rather then the consensus of the best unbiased scholars?

    I don’t care how liberal EP Sanders might be, he is a Christian.
    Can you give me a reference on this?

    That ”almost” is a real nuisance.
    Not for me it isn’t, though it may be for you. Would you say “almost beyond dispute” means 95% probable? So why are you pinning your beliefs on the 5%?

  8. This disclaimer is from your above link to “Was Jesus raised from the dead” , “Notice that these ‘facts’ do not necessarily imply belief in the resurrection, but acceptance of these facts may give support to belief in the resurrection.”

    You keep implying there is overwhelming evidence to support what you claim, but when reading the “Fine Print” , the overwhelming evidence isn’t there. You also admit many scholars look at the same evidence and draw different conclusions.

    The only thing overwhelming about this subject is the number of varying opinions from the same material.

    What you fail to admit is it takes faith on your part because the evidence just isn’t there. Jesus is no more divine than Honi the Circle Maker . The Emperors of Rome had motivation to make Christianity the religion of the land, but Divinity was not part of it.

  9. MK 16:11 , “10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”

    LK 24:19- , ““He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

    Jn 20:1- “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

    These 3 passages clearly show the Disciples didn’t believe in Jesus’ divinity or resurrection . The last verse shows that even Mary Magdalene didn’t believe he had resurrected but that his body had been moved.

    Of course you can also find scripture to argue the contrary. In a court of law such evidence would be thrown out as unreliable just as it should be here.

  10. Ken did you read the part in this post where I distinguished between “historical facts” and “beliefs”?

    The “overwhelming evidence” is for the historical facts as outlined in this post. The resurrection is among my beliefs.

    Of course faith as well as evidence is involved in my beliefs and I have never denied it. But faith is not involved in the historical facts – which is obvious because historians who are christians and atheists can conclude the same about the facts.

    I hope that clarifies things.

  11. It matters not what the scholars say when I have provided first hand witnesses who upon Jesus’ death didn’t believe what you are trying to convince us to believe.

    Even Thomas demanded proof and according to the story , he received it. I do not think it unfair for us to demand and receive the same proof.

  12. Faith was never expected to be enough. This is why the biblical Jesus had to come to earth according to the story to prove there was a divinity above who cared for his chosen people , the Jews. (Oh I forgot, later the gentiles were somehow included too).

    Why would we be expected today to get through on faith alone ?

    Reason tells me we wouldn’t be.

  13. “The “overwhelming evidence” is for the historical facts as outlined in this post. The resurrection is among my beliefs.”

    So you are saying there are no historical facts for the resurrection that it is merely your belief ?

  14. “Of course faith as well as evidence is involved in my beliefs and I have never denied it. But faith is not involved in the historical facts – which is obvious because historians who are christians and atheists can conclude the same about the facts.

    I hope that clarifies things.”

    Not really. Your answer sounds like the type we get from our American Politicians over here. 🙂

  15. Last but not least. The “Historical” reason why Jesus was not divine.

    The ancients believed that a baby was produced 100 % from the seed of a man and that the woman’s function was to carry the seed until it was born. This is why early Christianity wasn’t concerned about “Original Sin” and the fact that Mary , as a human, was born a sinner because Jesus was 100 % from the father (Holy Spirit) .

    That was until 1828 when Karl Ernst von Baer discovered the “female egg” and together with the male sperm created an embryo.

    At this time many scholars were starting to question Jesus’ divinity as a result of this discovery. It was then the Catholic Church was forced to come up with a solution which they called the immaculate conception making Mary born without sin.

    Mary is quoted in scripture as thanking God for her salvation confirming that she knew she was a sinner. Consequently , Jesus was born a sinner too , making him NOT divine.

    And these are the historical facts.

  16. This is why “The Church” never intended for the populace to be able to read their own bible. Johanne Gutenberg’s printing press loosened the chains that held the bible to the pulpit. Yes, it was chained to the pulpit so individuals (who could read) couldn’t take it home to read it for themselves.

    Nor did “The Church” ever expect science to expose their myth through the discovery of the female egg.

    No wonder “The Church” has always hated science and the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, von Baer, etc.

  17. Reference? To what? That Saunders is a Christian> Are you serious? Just Wiki him.

    So you consider Carrier is not respected by his peers and is biased?
    Smile. And Christians are not biased?
    How many degrees and doctorates must Carrier have before he is considered ”respected” in your eyes and knows what he is talking about?
    He is easily the equal of Bart Ehrman. Although he hasn’t yet found a publisher able to market him as well as Bart. maybe he will in the future?
    He has debated many of the most respected(?) Christian apologists, including William Lane Craig. Although he is nowhere near as charismatic as Craig he knows his stuff, make no mistake.
    Price was part of the Jesus Seminar. That isn’t good enough for you?

    Follow where the evidence leads.
    Isnt that at least an honest approach to such an investigation, unklee?

    The ”facts” you like to quote are gleaned from which source?
    The bible , of course.
    I can read from that – as can you. And have, many times.
    If either of us cited these ‘facts’ would that make us scholars?
    Even people like Craig, Lacona or Habermaas have access to this material and I don’t doubt they trot it out as well.
    So how does quoting such a list enhance a person’s scholarly standing?
    Well, in actual fact, it probably doesn’t. Not really.

    Not for me it isn’t, though it may be for you. Would you say “almost beyond dispute” means 95% probable? So why are you pinning your beliefs on the 5%?

    Who says I am pinning my hopes on 5%?
    Saunders could have meant, 80%. or even 75%.
    Are you going to argue semantics and try to put words in Saunder’s mouth, now?
    If there is doubt – no matter how small – then they are not sure and cannot claim beyond dispute.
    He hasn’t even said beyond reasonable doubt.
    And he doesn’t need to does he? Because,for a Christian, Faith is there to fill in the corners and the uncomfortable omissions and unscientific anomalies, and blatant misrepresentations and obvious Christian interpolations and utterly ridiculous nonsense (zombie apocalypse) and failed prophecies and fraudulent claims.
    The list is exhaustive.
    Faith, like a coat of paint, covers a multitude of sins, as the saying goes.
    Faith always seems to precede evidence for the religious. And where the evidence is shakey, faith bolsters it. Where evidence is non existent, Faith covers it.
    This is why faith is such a vital part of religion and why it has always been hammered into believers.
    When people talk about, losing faith it is because they are now looking solely at the evidence. And when this occurs, people walk away from religion because the evidence does not support the claims.
    And that is fact.

    If your ”experts” aren’t 100% then I sure as heck am not going to throw my lot in wtth them, that is for sure.

  18. I found this quote by a Christian chappie on someone else’s blog. It illustrates my point re: your faith rather eloquently, and certainly better than I could express.
    http://chritianitysimplified.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/christian-beliefs-in-a-nutshell/

    2 Responses to Christian beliefs in a nutshell
    Christopher C. Randolph says:
    March 27, 2013 at 9:08 pm
    You left out faithfulness. Believing beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus is God; our Lord and Savior. What you said must proceed from one’s faith or else it is meaningless or worse.

  19. Why have you not quoted Richard Carrier? He is a highly qualified historian?

    It’s that lordly demigod! Praise be!

    😛

  20. Hi Ken, I have read through your several comments, and I’m still not sure if you agree there is a difference between historical “facts” (probabilities) which are determined by historians of any belief, and the beliefs that some people (some historians, me and many others) draw from those “facts”.

    I still think this is the key question, and I’m interested to know what you think. Thanks.

    “So you are saying there are no historical facts for the resurrection that it is merely your belief ?”

    No I have said consistently that there are a number of historical facts generally agreed upon by historians, and that includes some facts about the resurrection. My belief that the resurrection really occurred is built on those facts. As I said in the revision to my post which you prompted me to make: “I believe the evidence for the resurrection is best explained by it actually happening – see Was Jesus raised from the dead?

  21. Hi Far King, I want to explore your responses a little more. please.

    “Reference? To what? That Saunders is a Christian> Are you serious? Just Wiki him.”

    I am not surprised that you have no reference for this, because have spent a lot of time trying to find out Sanders’ (not Saunders) beliefs, and I haven’t found any reliable reference to his being a christian. So until and if you offer this evidence, I will go with the evidence I have found:

    1. He is notoriously reluctant to say too much, and the only self identification I could find was from Wikipedia where he described himself as a “secularized Protestant”. His own biographical comments make no mention of any christian belief or conversion. And in this interview, he explains that he doesn’t believe in the Jesus of modern christianity, but he does believe in following his ethical teachings.

    2. This book described him as an agnostic.

    So he is apparently not a christian in the sense that you and I use the term, although he grew up in a christian culture and believes in christian ethics.

    It is also worth noting how many times I found that scholars praised Sanders as just about the premier scholar of his day:

    Mark Powell in his book The Jesus Debate
    Maurice Casey in his book Jesus of Nazareth
    Paula Fredriksen in her book Jesus of Nazareth
    Wikipedia
    Mark Goodacre
    Anthony le Donne
    Joshua Schwartz

    “So you consider Carrier is not respected by his peers and is biased?”
    “How many degrees and doctorates must Carrier have before he is considered ”respected” in your eyes and knows what he is talking about? ….. Price was part of the Jesus Seminar. That isn’t good enough for you?”

    Scholarly reputation, as far as I can determine, is based on three things:

    1. Qualifications (a relevant PhD plus membership of professional bodies).
    2. Current scholarship (working in the field in a university or research organisation plus publishing in peer-reviewed journals).
    3. Respect of peers (again, publication plus citing in journals and books).

    Now Carrier and Price have the degrees, no question, and so do many, many others. But Carrier doesn’t have a job in the field, and I don’t think he has published much (if you disagree, I’d like to see citations). Price has worked at good universities, but I understand he recently lost his job at an established university, and now works for the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, which doesn’t seem to have a very good reputation. And I’m told that he hasn’t published his more outlandish mythicist ideas in any peer-reviewed journals (again, if you disagree, I’d like to see citations). Finally, Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have both severely criticised both Price and Carrier, and a number of other scholars have criticised Carrier, so I cannot see much evidence of their being respected by their peers. And I say Carrier is biased because he held mythicist views before he even began his history PhD, so he knew the answer he was looking for.

    Compare all that to Sanders, and others I reference, and you’ll understand why I stick to Sanders.

    I think this is long enough for one comment. May I now repeat my question:

    Can you explain why you prefer two biased non-respected scholars rather then the consensus of the best unbiased scholars?

  22. Hi Ken, I have read through your several comments, and I’m still not sure if you agree there is a difference between historical “facts” (probabilities) which are determined by historians of any belief, and the beliefs that some people (some historians, me and many others) draw from those “facts”.

    unkleE, no I don’t agree with your definition of “historical facts” when you place in parentheses next to it, “probabilities”. John F Kennedy was assassinated on Nov 22nd, 1963. This isn’t a probability, it is a fact.

    That the foundation of the Jewish temple is now where the Dome of the Rock resides is a probability not a fact.

    Regardless, I provided 3 NT scriptures which showed how Jesus’s disciples didn’t believe in his resurrection and even Mary M. believed his body had been moved not resurrected. They had hoped he was the Messiah . On the third day , they certainly didn’t believe he was anything but a dead friend and companion.

    Regardless of the 19th century fabricated story by the Catholic Church (Immaculate Conception) , Mary was a sinner just like the rest of us. Her egg was part of the embryo that produced Jesus thereby making him a sinner too.

    Sinners are not divine.

  23. Ken, I think you misunderstand UnkleE, he does not claim that the earliest disciples believed Jesus was God.

    Besides, of your NT quotes, Mark 16: 11 is rather useless. It is part of the much later long ending of Mark.

  24. @IgnorantiaNescia, I will need to check other comments by unkleE to see what he said about the early disciples. Can you provide his quotes to back up your claim ?

    I totally agree with you about Mark 16:11. I’m glad you brought this up. Then how can you trust any scripture in the bible ?

  25. @IgnorantiaNescia, here are other NT scriptures which were added by redactors at a later date. Some are even red letter quotes from Jesus. Doesn’t this make you question the entire NT ?

    Mt 17:21, 18:11, 23:14
    Mk 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 11:26 15:28
    Lk 17:36, 23:17
    Jn 5:4
    Acts 8:37, 15:34, 24:7, 28:29
    Rm 16:24

  26. @IgnorantiaNescia, ” Ken, I think you misunderstand UnkleE, he does not claim that the earliest disciples believed Jesus was God.”

    Now that I read your statement again, it is really quite silly ! If the disciples didn’t believe Jesus was God, why on earth would anyone else believe it ?????? They would be the best and closest witnesses to Jesus ! I’ve never heard that defense before. LOL

  27. Hi Ken, just a few answers to some of your questions:

    “no I don’t agree with your definition of “historical facts” when you place in parentheses next to it, “probabilities”. John F Kennedy was assassinated on Nov 22nd, 1963”
    No history is certain, and certainly no ancient history is. All the information you have provided here is just as subject to that uncertainty as all the information I provide. But high probability (= Sanders’ “almost beyond dispute”) is as good as it gets.

    “I will need to check other comments by unkleE to see what he said about the early disciples.”
    I have written a whole post on it – Was the divinity of Jesus a third century invention of the church? and you have commented on it.

    “Has anyone read this article? http://uk.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11201273.htm

    “Here is a link that provides my assertions only in a more concise way.”
    Ken, why is it that my links are always considered suspect by you, but your links “prove” things?

    The fact is, the argument in the first link has been rejected by every scholar I have seen refer to it – even Richard Carrier rejects it!

    The second link is also a topic that the scholars have argued over and now settled, and rejected – see a summary at Was Jesus a copy of pagan gods?

    “If the disciples didn’t believe Jesus was God, why on earth would anyone else believe it ?”
    If you read the link above, you’ll find that the scholars belief they most likely didn’t believe he was literally divine during his lifetime, though they were in awe of him, and their belief in his divinity grew and became better understood over time. The only real argument among scholars is whether that time was only a few years, or most of the first century.

    So where do we get Ken? You continue to be unwilling to accept the consensus of the most respected scholars, and yet make arguments based on a few references from the fringe of scholarship. That is your right, but how can we have thoughtful discussion on those terms? What do you suggest?

  28. “The fact is, the argument in the first link has been rejected by every scholar I have seen refer to it – even Richard Carrier rejects it!”

    unkleE, all I asked was has anybody read this article ? I posted no comment on the article at all.

    “The second link is also a topic that the scholars have argued over and now settled, and rejected – see a summary at Was Jesus a copy of pagan gods?”

    They should have told Justin Martyr that it has been settled !

    “Here is a link that provides my assertions only in a more concise way.”
    Ken, why is it that my links are always considered suspect by you, but your links “prove” things?

    unkleE you are turning things around. You need to look into the mirror.

    I consider all links “suspect” . It’s called critical thinking.

  29. unkleE, I provided witnesses to the Bible Story of Jesus’ resurrection. It doesn’t get any better than that. You agree the disciples most likely didn’t believe in Jesus’ divinity during his lifetime. We all grow fonder of the dead as time goes by. So what ? My deceased father has been gone for 12 years. I hold him in higher esteem as time goes on.

    There were people in my USA that thought of George Washington as a God after he died. They created a statue of him where the sculptor made the body of Zeus and the head of Washington . It was in our capitol rotunda in Washington DC until the early 1930’s when it was removed because Christian Congressmen were bothered by it. If you look up to the ceiling of the US Capitol , you will see a fresco of Washington in heavenly clouds surrounded by 13 virgins. It’s called the apotheosis of Washington. “From man to God”

    This has happened many times throughout history.

    Quote all the scholars and all the books you want. The disciples knew Jesus better than anyone. If they didn’t believe in his divinity, why on earth should I?

  30. But they did believe in his divinity George, it just took them time. After all, they were all good Jewish boys! I’ve never suggested you should believe in his divinity, that is entirely up to you.

  31. “But they did believe in his divinity George,”

    I’m Ken not George. Ha! At least we can laugh at one thing.

    I just demonstrated how time causes humans to remember their dead loved ones in a higher esteem.

    No , you have never suggested that I should believe in Jesus’ divinity. But you have suggested there is compelling evidence and this is why you do. I just don’t see it. And neither do 5 billion other people on this planet.

  32. Sorry, I was just reading another blog by a man named George!

    No, I have never suggested there is compelling evidence of his divinity. It’s that distinction between historical fact and opinions again. I say there is compelling evidence that he lived and did certain things (see the list in the post above – divinity isn’t on the list of things “almost beyond dispute”). On divinity, I say it is my belief based on the evidence.

    If you read the post again, you’ll see this is what I wrote. Best wishes.

  33. unkleE, you can’t have it both ways. In your comments above you make 2 distinctively opposing statements.

    1.) “No, I have never suggested there is compelling evidence of his divinity.”

    2.) “On divinity, I say it is my belief based on the evidence.”

    Which is it ?

  34. “Sorry, I was just reading another blog by a man named George!”

    Is this really true unkleE ? I had just mentioned George Washington in the comment you were replying to. It would not have been unusual to have called me George by mistake ?

    Did you really just read a blog by a man named George or was it because of my comment which included mentioning George Washington ?

  35. “unkleE, you can’t have it both ways. In your comments above you make 2 distinctively opposing statements.”
    No, I definitely meant both. Here’s an example.

    There are certain political and economic facts – the size of the tax base, the policies of the various different parties and factions, the voting system, etc. They are all facts which we can all agree on. But when it comes to choosing who we will vote for, we may all come to different conclusions, because we assess the fact differently – e.g we have different priorities, different political philosophies, etc. So the facts are the same but our political beliefs and choices may be different.

    Same here. There are historical “facts” which historians basically agree on, and there are beliefs and choices which we each make based on those facts. With the question of Jesus’ divinity, the scholars agree on a lot (e.g. Jesus did and said many things that led people to be in awe of him and believe he was a healer, perhaps Messiah; the disciples didn’t probably believe Jesus was God in his lifetime, but the christians did believe that before the end of the first century, and there was a gradually process between the two (probably beginning with awe and the experience of “seeing” Jesus after his death, then worship, then belief he was divine in some unspecific way, then formulation of doctrine about his divinity). So those are the facts.

    On the basis of those facts, I believe he was indeed divine. Many scholars do too. Many others don’t; neither do you. So those facts don’t compel belief, but they provide a reasonable basis for believe for many of us.

    “Did you really just read a blog by a man named George or was it because of my comment which included mentioning George Washington ?”
    It really was a blog – this one, George’s blog. Coincidence, eh?

  36. It seems the legend of the divinity of Jesus grew only after he died like so many other legends throughout history.

    It also goes along with the confession of Justin Martyr when he said , ” we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”

    I know you will say the difference is Jesus was a real person and Gods like Jupiter were not. No argument from me here.

    2,000 years ago many people and things were thought divine. Clement the 4th Pope wrote about a mythical bird called the Phoenix which he believed was real. He used the Phoenix to compare what people believed of it to Jesus.

    It seems to me that most everyone has an inner desire to believe in something / someone divine. The problem arises when a group of people feels their’s is exclusive.

    I happen to feel we are all divine based on the evidence. We all come from this cosmic dust which makes up the universe. When we look at someone else as exclusively divine, we stop looking at the divinity within and limit our abilities .

    Thanks for allowing me to voice my opinions.

  37. @unkleE, thank you for providing the link to George’s Blog. I too believe we can eliminate poverty. I believe it can be eliminated by teaching people they are all divine and given the right tools , they have the ability within to do so. 🙂

  38. This article is misleading. Ed Sanders was not a “secular” historian. He was a new testamemt theolgian by training . And besides that, the “facts” in the list, still have no evidence to back ’em. Conjecture by some scholars, is not factual evidence.

  39. Hi David, I appreciate your reading and commenting. But have you read any of Sanders books? Have you checked how he is viewed by his peers? Or how he describes himself?

    1. He is indeed a secular historian or New Testament scholar. There is no christian dogma or theology in his writings, he identifies himself as a “liberal, modern, secularized Protestant”, and most reviewers describe him as agnostic. His research and writing have all been on New Testament history, culture and literature, not christian theology.

    But regardless of all that, he is possibly the most respected NT historian/scholar in the world today.

    2. If these “facts” have no evidence to back ’em, why do you think virtually all secular scholars accept what I have outlined here? (By secular, I mean scholars working in reputable universities, published in peer reviewed journals or in books by academic publishers, and using accepted critical methods of scholarship.)

  40. I think it’s delusional that anyone would believe in someone being ‘resurrected’ from accounts 2 thousand years ago. Also, I am highly skeptical to say the least that an agnostic or atheist would agree with this.

  41. Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for commenting. I’ll let your first comment go by, but your second may be a misunderstanding. It is indeed true that many (probably most) secular, non-christian historians believe either that Jesus’ tomb was empty a short time after his death, or that the disciples had some sort of visionary experiences of him alive (however this might be explained), or both. But it isn’t the case that they mostly believe Jesus really was resurrected. It is the difference between historical conclusions (about which historians can agree whether they are christians or atheists) and beliefs about Jesus drawn from the historical evidence, about which they clearly differ. I hope that explains what this page is and isn’t saying. Thanks.

  42. The veracity of the Christian religion rises or falls on the veracity of the Resurrection and the veracity of the Resurrection rises or falls on the historicity of the alleged post-death appearances of Jesus to his followers. Christians believe that the appearance stories in the Gospels and in the Early Creed are historical facts based primarily on the following:

    1. There were so many alleged eyewitnesses to these appearances, sometimes in large groups.
    2. These alleged appearances had a dramatic effect on the character of those who witnessed them.
    3. These alleged appearances were the impetus for many early Christians to be willing to be tortured and painfully executed for their belief in the veracity of these appearances.
    4. These Resurrection appearances were the primary reason for the rapid growth of Christianity.

    Question: Are these facts sufficient evidence to believe that a three-day-brain-dead first century corpse really did come back to life possessing supernatural powers; supernatural powers which allowed him to teleport between cities, walk through locked doors, and levitate into space? Before you answer that question I ask you to watch this Youtube video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=najjzDeRrNY

    In this video, HUNDREDS of very devout, sincere people of faith believe that a woman who has been dead for 20 centuries is appearing to them. I have no doubt that at least some of these “eyewitnesses” would be willing to suffer great persecution and even death defending their belief that this event really happened.

    Based on the very large number of eyewitnesses to this event and upon their very intense, sincere belief that this very extra-ordinary event really occurred…should we believe them?

    Answer: Absolutely not!

    Why? These people are very obviously experiencing an illusion. There is no dead woman to be seen anywhere in the video. Collective human experience would suggest that this is very likely what happened in the first century with the early Christians. The appearance stories in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15, the earliest description we have of these alleged events, make no mention of a talking, walking, broiled-fish-eating Jesus. If the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are literary embellishments, perfectly acceptable in a Greco-Roman biography as evangelical Christian New Testament scholar Michael Licona has demonstrated in his recent book, Why are There Differences in the Gospels?, it is quite possible that the actual early Christian appearance claims were based on illusions, similar to the one seen in the Youtube video above.

  43. Hi Gary,

    We have discussed all this before, so I will just explain where I think what you say isn’t true compared to what I believe is true.

    “The veracity of the Christian religion rises or falls on the veracity of the Resurrection”

    I think it is important to distinguish between what is true (ontology) and what we can reasonably believe is true (epistemology). I certainly believe, with the apostle Paul, that if Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected then christianity is either wrong or worthless, or both. But that is ontology. When it comes to my reasons for believing (epistemology) I don’t believe the resurrection is a strong reason to believe. I believe in Jesus on other grounds, and because I believe he was/is the son of God, I find it easy to believe he was resurrected. If I didn’t believe he was the son of God, as you don’t, I would find it difficult to believe he was resurrected. In assessing truth and evidence, we always must take account of our priors, the things we already have concluded.

    So I can understand that you don’t believe in the resurrection, but hopefully you can understand that I, with a different belief in Jesus, would think differently from you. In this regard, you may find this assessment by Jeffrey Lowder interesting.

    I didn’t watch your video, but I can answer the argument quite simply. Last year, in early October, about 50,000 people saw something that had never happened in the universe until then. And they WEREN’T seeing an illusion, they saw an actual historical event. The football team I follow won the premiership for the first time in their 50 year history. And I could give you literally thousands of examples where people saw things and reported on them, and their reports were correct. I would guess that for every one reported event that you can argue was an illusion, I could offer hundreds that were factual.

    So an apparently illusory event proves nothing, except by being the exception to the general fact that people mostly report things reasonably factually, though doubtless with small variations. So if we have a default about the reports of the “appearances” of Jesus, it should be, based on the evidence, that people generally report what they see and see what they report. If you want to go against that generality, you need to offer evidence. It is noteworthy, as we have discussed before, that even many non-believing historians believe the disciples did indeed see visions of him, the only question (which none of us can answer with certainty) is how we explain those visions.

    So I don’t see anything in what you say that affects what I believe, even though you find it convincing. The resurrection isn’t the foundation of my belief but the icing on the cake (to mix metaphors terribly). If you want to attack my belief in christianity (not sure why you’d bother, but that’s OK), you’ll have to first attack the consensus of secular historians and the conclusions we can reasonably draw from them, plus science, philosophy and people’s experiences of God. But I’m happy to discuss those things if you want to.

    Thanks for your interest.

  44. Hi Erik,

    I had an interesting discussion with Bart Ehrman recently regarding the historicity of the Empty Tomb and Gary Habermas’ research on that issue:

    Bart Ehrman: To my knowledge non-conservative scholars do not generally read the work of Habermas. They tend to stick to the writings of critical New Testament scholars.

    Gary: So when Christian apologists tell me that the majority of New Testament scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb based on Habermas’ research, I can tell them they are wrong?

    Bart Ehrman: You can tell them that the majority of NT scholars have never *read* Habermas (and may not even know about him).

  45. Hi Gary, it is cool that you can contact Ehrman and he will reply, but I don’t think his answer was very useful.

    For a start, he doesn’t offer any evidence, just an opinion. I checked Google Scholar and found that the paper has been cited 23 times, including by James Crossley, who is definitely a critical scholar (and an atheist), and it is cited in other academic journals too. 23 isn’t a lot of citations, admittedly, but I checked 3 of Ehrman’s papers published about the same time and they were cited by 2, 1 and 15, so 23 may not be so bad after all.

    But that is really beside the point. If you are concerned to know the truth about Habermas’ report on what most critical scholars think about the resurrection, then finding out that not many scholars would have read Habermas’ paper is not very helpful. And I’m sure you know as well as I do how claims should be assessed, by evidence!

    And it is easy to see ways such evidence might be obtained:

    (i) Someone could actually do the same work Habermas did and show that he was wrong.
    (ii) Or update the work since 2005 when he published and show that the situation is no longer the same.
    (iii) Or reference a random sampling of scholars to show that this sample contradicts Habermas’ claim.

    Habermas did the work and published in a recognised and as far as I remember (I did check once) a refereed academic journal. His is the only evidence we have. While people keep on trying to shoot the messenger, and don’t collect counter evidence, it only makes them look like they are avoiding an answer they don’t like, when surely it is seeking the truth that is what is important.

    Perhaps you could get back to Ehrman again and ask him two very specific questions:

    1. Do you think the historical evidence indicates that Jesus’ tomb was empty?
    2. Do you think the historical evidence indicates that the disciples saw visions of Jesus, however we might explain them?

    Then you would at least have evidence of one eminent scholar’s conclusions. Add that to the examples Habermas actually references, and your reading of other scholars, and you would at least be part way towards (iii) above.

  46. And now this is what i have been looking for! An expert historian that knows the world of his or her subject! Very helpful in my search for truth!

  47. Hi Eric,

    Just how historically reliable are the Gospels and Acts if even prominent conservative Protestant and evangelical Bible scholars believe that fictional accounts may exist in these books? I have put together a list of statements from such scholars and historians as Richard Bauckham, William Lane Craig, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and NT Wright on this issue here:

    https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/05/23/bombshell-how-historically-reliable-are-the-gospels-if-even-conservative-bible-scholars-believe-they-may-contain-fictional-stories/

  48. Hi Gary, it is gratifying that you still find my blog worth reading, or at least worth posting a comment.

    So I read your post, and found a obvious difficulty straight away. You used the word “fictional” 14 times, yet the scholars you quote didn’t use it at all! Wright did use the word “fictive” once, but it was about the setting of an Old Testament story, not about the gospels, which was the subject of your post.

    Do you understand that there is a difference between “fiction” and the words the scholars used, such as “appropriated”, “apocalyptic symbols”, “figurative expression”, “historical questions remain unanswered”, “popular dramatization through storytelling”, “parable …. an adaptation of a well-known folk-tale”?

    So you have quite misrepresented what the scholars you quoted said.

    You also didn’t mention that in general these scholars don’t find these symbolic or apparently non-historical stories a barrier to believing that the main part of the gospels is historical. So again, your headline misrepresents their views.

    It is hardly a “bombshell” to me or to readers of this blog that some aspects of the NT are not literally historical, but are parables or figurative or symbolic!

    So I wonder what you would think if someone noted your misreporting of the scholars to argue that therefore nothing you wrote was accurate? I think that would be an unjustified conclusion, and I guess you would too. Which I think shows how we should treat your argument in this post.

    But thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  49. Good morning, Eric.

    If I write a biography about your life and in that biography I include stories that never happened, those stories are fiction, regardless of what other literary term you want to use for them.

    “You also didn’t mention that in general these scholars don’t find these symbolic or apparently non-historical stories a barrier to believing that the main part of the gospels is historical. So again, your headline misrepresents their views.”

    There are hundreds if not thousands of intelligent, educated, scholars of the Koran who believe that Allah is the one true God and that Mohammad his prophet flew to heaven on a winged horse. People believe supernatural claims for a lot of reasons, not just due to evidence. I never claimed that Jesus did not exist; that he was not crucified; that shortly after his death some of his followers believed he appeared to them in some fashion. Those claims I accept as historical facts. But walking on water, turning water into wine, people seeing a walking, talking corpse? I doubt it. More fiction…or symbolism…if you prefer.

    My point is that if even very conservative Christian scholars will admit that not all stories in the Gospels and Acts are historical, how much confidence can we have in the historicity of ANY of the fantastical, supernatural claims in these books?

    Believe in the historicity of a resurrected first century corpse by blind faith, if you wish, but accept the fact that the evidence for this supernatural claim is poor. Very poor.

  50. Hi Gary,

    “If I write a biography about your life and in that biography I include stories that never happened, those stories are fiction”

    That may be true, but we’re not discussing a biography that you wrote in the 21st century in USA, but biographies that 1st century Jews wrote. You are committing an anachronism. If you don’t try to understand the times and the genre, then you will come to incorrect views.

    If you want a defensible and correct view, you need to listen to what the experts say first. You quoted the experts then drew a conclusion quite different to what they said. That has no integrity.

    “even very conservative Christian scholars will admit that not all stories in the Gospels and Acts are historical, how much confidence can we have in the historicity of ANY of the fantastical, supernatural claims in these books?”

    Like I said, if you quote experts, you should accept what they say. And they answer your question. We can have confidence in the life of Jesus described in the gospels because it meets historical requirements – multiple independent attestation, consistent with culture, etc. We can doubt the historicity of some events as they do (and I do) because they don’t meet the same historical requirements.

    But I say again (I’m sorry), you have been inconsistent and misrepresented what the scholars say. In your own words:

    “not all stories reports in the Gospels and Acts Gary’s blog are historical accurate, how much confidence can we have in the historicity accuracy of ANY of the fantastical, supernatural sceptical claims in these books the blog?”

  51. Good morning, my friend!

    The majority of experts, which includes such preeminent conservative scholars such as Richard Bauckham and NT Wright say that there ARE non-historical narratives (fiction) in the Gospels and Acts. Several other conservative scholars believe that there MAY be non-historical narratives (fiction) in the Gospels and Acts. Those are the facts demonstrated with multiple statements and sources in my blog post. Now, that doesn’t mean they believe that the authors were lying or inventing false information to deceive anyone. Not at all. Most scholars believe that these authors were writing Greco-Roman biographies in which adding embellishments (fiction) to the core facts was perfectly acceptable…and expected!

    The problem we have with the Gospels is that too many modern conservative Christians read them as if they are modern history books or modern biographies, insisting that every statement of fact is a fact. This is unfortunate. By doing this they miss out on the true beauty and purpose of these books.

    When it comes to Greco-Roman biographies, we must tease out the facts from the embellishments (fiction). That can be tough to do when we have no other corroborating, contemporary sources. What other sources do we have that corroborate “John’s” story that the resurrected Jesus instructed the Apostle Thomas to poke his finger in his wounds? What other source do we have that corroborates “Luke’s” claim that the resurrected Jesus appeared to two disciples on the Emmaus Road? What other sources do we have that corroborate ANY of the claims made in the three detailed “Appearance Stories” told in the last three Gospels?

    None.

    So should we believe that these three detailed appearance accounts are accurate history…or more embellishments? Bottom line: It is an accepted historical fact that some of the followers of Jesus believed that he appeared to them…in some fashion. But is there good historical evidence that even ONE of these people claimed to have seen a walking. talking resurrected BODY?

  52. G’day Gary,

    I’m sorry to be so direct, but you still haven’t addressed to glaring problems that make your comments are irrelevant. I’ll repeat them again, hoping you will address them.

    1.You have misrepresented the experts you quote. You use the word “fiction” 14 times yet they never use it, describing the passages as other genres. Fiction is an emotive word which you wish to use in a way contrary to what the experts say. “Non-historical” does not necessarily equal “fiction”.

    Let me illustrate. I have said in each response that you have “misrepresented” the scholars. I think that is a fair and not very emotive word. Imagine if I said you had lied about what the scholars said, how would you feel?

    I think you would be offended, and rightly so, because it would be an unfair and emotive charge, for I don’t know your motives nor how deliberate or not the misrepresentation has been. So I haven’t and wouldn’t make that charge. But you can see that it is important to be accurate, and not to allow emotive and inaccurate statements.

    So, can you please either justify, from the scholars you have quoted, your use of the word “fiction” or withdraw it?

    2. Your argument also depends on the implicit (but not clarified or proved) assertion that if one part of a document has a certain character, then the rest of it probably does as well. It is an absurd assertion, as I’m sure you know.

    Again, let’s take the example I have put to you previously, but let’s combine it with the example above. Suppose I said because you had lied about what the experts said, you have probably lied all through your blog. Again, you would be offended, and again, rightly so. It would be an unfair and unjustified accusation, and I don’t make it and wouldn’t make it. But it is the same logic that you have implied (without explicitly making your argument clear).

    So, can you either justify your assertion that non-historical content at one point makes the whole document non-historical, or else withdraw it please?

    I am happy to discuss the remaining points in your last comment, but not until we clear these two matters up. Thanks.

  53. “So, can you please either justify, from the scholars you have quoted, your use of the word “fiction” or withdraw it.”

    I think we are splitting hairs, my dear friend. You are using the word “fiction” in the literary sense, I am using it in the common sense. You are absolutely correct, the authors of the Gospel were not employing the literary form entitled “fiction” in their works. They would refer to these non-historical stories as something similar to our modern “allegory”. Their stories conveyed a “higher truth” even when they were non-historical. The were NOT writing works of “fiction”, in the literary sense.

    So I sincerely apologize if I did not make that distinction.

    However, many lay conservative Christians do not read the Bible as a work of ancient literature, understanding the nuances of the many different literary genres. They read it as an historical account of the life of Jesus. And from this common sense perspective, stories which describe events as if they *were* historical when they are not, are fictional.

    I do not believe that the Gospel authors invented stories to deceive anyone. They were writing works of evangelism. Non-historical allegories were perfectly acceptable and respectable in this genre without placing a heading about that story that says, “allegory ahead”. The problem is when modern people read an ancient text expecting it to be as historically accurate as a modern history text or biography. These non-historical stories in the Gospels, if they are present as some scholars suggest, are not “fiction” in the literary sense, only in the common sense understanding of that word to modern readers.

    I hope that clears things up to your satisfaction.

  54. ” Your argument also depends on the implicit (but not clarified or proved) assertion that if one part of a document has a certain character, then the rest of it probably does as well. It is an absurd assertion, as I’m sure you know.”

    I absolutely agree with you, Eric. I am *not* suggesting that just because some stories in the Gospels and Acts may be non-historical, that ALL stories in the Gospels and Acts are non-historical. Definitely not. When one examines ANY ancient text, one must tease apart the historical from the non-historical. It can be a very difficult task, in particular when there are no contemporary corroborating documents for many of the stories, as is the case for many of the stories in the Gospels and Acts.

    For instance, how would we discern if the story of Doubting Thomas is historical? We have no other contemporary corroborating sources. Is this story historical and non-historical? It would be very difficult to say either way. Wouldn’t you agree?

  55. I feel I have answered your questions, Eric, but unfortunately you are not happy with my answers. We have reached an impasse.

    Best wishes you, my friend!

  56. Hi Gary, thanks for those clarifications. I will take it now that you agree that (1) “the authors of the Gospels …. were NOT writing works of “fiction”, in the literary sense”, and (2) you were not “suggesting that just because some stories in the Gospels and Acts may be non-historical, that ALL stories in the Gospels and Acts are non-historical.” It might be interesting for you to make those clarifications on your own blog.

    “many lay conservative Christians do not read the Bible as a work of ancient literature, understanding the nuances of the many different literary genres.”

    I agree with you here. I think sceptics often ignore what the best scholars say, and so do many christians, and I disagree with both.

    “They read it as an historical account of the life of Jesus”

    But here I suggest you have claimed to much again. The gospels, according to the scholars, are both works of ancient literature and historical accounts. Many, perhaps most, ancient historical accounts contain allegories, symbolism, supernatural tales, etc, and that doesn’t make them any less historical accounts, it’s just that they are not necessarily 100% historical. The gospels are, I believe, the same.

    “For instance, how would we discern if the story of Doubting Thomas is historical? We have no other contemporary corroborating sources. Is this story historical and non-historical? It would be very difficult to say either way. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    This is the important question, I believe. We can conveniently divide the gospel material into 3 groups:

    1. Material judged to be historical. In the gospels, this includes the facts of Jesus’ ministry: his being seen as a teacher, healer and prophet; his teaching on the kingdom of God, often in parables; his critique of the Pharisees, or at least one school of Pharisaism; his execution by the Romans; his tomb being known to be empty, his followers seeing appearances and their early belief that he was the risen son of God. There would be general agreement among scholars about most of this.

    2. The material seen as not being historical. This includes individual incidents such as some of the birth stories, some of the legendary-sounding stories like the dead coming out of graves and a few others. There would be a little more variability among scholars about these matters.

    3. Material and interpretations that scholars don’t feel can be settled by historical analysis, and thus may or may not be true. This includes the supernatural (e.g. whether the healing miracles were supernatural or natural, whether prophecy was genuine, etc) plus many individual stories and teachings. Again different scholars disagree about details.

    The doubting Thomas story would probably be placed by some scholars in #2, and in #3 by others. I don’t see any problem with that. If it wasn’t historical, it wouldn’t change much, so I see no reason not to accept it and no reason to worry too much either way. The same is true of so many stories. We might doubt this healing or that teaching, but the broad scope of Jesus’ ministry isn’t changed much because there are many other similar healings and teachings that we can accept as historical.

    So I provisionally accept most of the gospels as historical but stories like the many dead rising at Jesus’ death I take as symbolic, and don’t see any reason to depart from that. If I believe the #1 evidence shows the truth of Jesus as son of man and son of God, then I can trust that God has left us with sufficient true stories to teach us what we need to know. If there is uncertainty about some stories, what does it matter?

    But the key is this. All that I have said here is well-based in scholarship. The gospels are indeed ancient historical biographies that tell us good information about Jesus. The thrust of your post is quite wrong and your wording is misleading. You offer no reason for me to change my views expressed here. The matters you speak of are no “bombshell”, for I have read and taken notice of scholars far more sceptical than the ones you quote. It is not even a bombshell to conservative christians, for they have heard it all before too, they just don’t accept that scholarship.

    But I guess “bombshell!” makes for a striking headline. 🙂

  57. “I feel I have answered your questions, Eric, but unfortunately you are not happy with my answers. We have reached an impasse.

    Best wishes you, my friend!”

    Hi Gary, I’m not sure what led to this conclusion. I just posted my response when this came in. But I’m happy to call it an impasse if you like. Over to you.

  58. My mistake. Since my comments are not approved immediately, our comments got out of sync and that is what led me to believe we were at an impasse.

    Your explanation is excellent! Yes, there is history in the Gospel stories and there is non-history (I still believe this non-history constitutes “fiction” in the everyday definition of htat term, but we will have to agree to disagree) in the Gospels.

    Question: If all the detailed appearance stories MIGHT be non-historical, how do we know that anyone claimed to see a walking, talking body? Maybe all anyone saw was a bright light???

  59. Hi Gary,

    “Your explanation is excellent! Yes, there is history in the Gospel stories”

    That’s great. But doesn’t that suggests that you should write your posts a little differently? Point out the range of opinion, from (1) conservative christian to (2) christian who accepts scholarship to (3) sceptic who accepts scholarship to (4) sceptic who doesn’t accept scholarship, and clearly present yourself as #3, not #4. I do that, making clear I am #2 and not #1, and I reckon it would be good if you were clear where you stand.

    “If all the detailed appearance stories MIGHT be non-historical, how do we know that anyone claimed to see a walking, talking body? Maybe all anyone saw was a bright light???”

    We can never have absolute certainty about anything much at all, but I think we have good historical evidence here.

    1. We have multiple stories in independent sources that the disciples saw Jesus, not just a bright light, but a person who could walk, talk and eat. Even if some of the individual stories are not multiply attested and you may have doubts about them, the claim of appearances of Jesus is very well attested. That would normally be good historical evidence. In fact it IS good historical evidence, it is just metaphysical objections getting in the way for some people.

    2. Many scholars, including sceptical scholars like Bart Ehrman (from memory), EP Sanders, Maurice Casey and the Jesus Seminar, accept that the disciples saw something, even though they don’t necessarily think it was a real resurrection.

    3. Most scholars also recognise that the disciples were proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection very soon after his execution. So whatever else we may say, the resurrection wasn’t a later legend.

    So I think the resurrection of Jesus is based on good historical evidence. The problem for many people, I guess including you, isn’t the historical evidence, but you think philosophically it is impossible. I think the evidence suggests you should question your philosophical scepticism.

  60. “We have multiple stories in independent sources that the disciples saw Jesus, not just a bright light, but a person who could walk, talk and eat. ”

    The consensus of scholars is that Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark, therefore they are not “independent” sources. When it comes to their Appearances Stories, Matthew and Luke’s appearance stories are completely different. It is therefore entirely possible that each author created/invented his own appearance tale for theological, literary, or apologetic purposes (fiction). In his book, “The Death of the Messiah”, Johannine scholar Raymond Brown states that at one time it could be said that most scholars believed that John was an independent source. However, Brown said at the time of the publication of his book (1994) the position of scholars on this issue was dramatically changing. Brown states that it had changed so much that he estimated that the position of scholars on the independence of John is now 50/50.

    So much for the claim that we have multiple independent,CORROBORATING sources of these tales!

    In addition, the majority of scholars no longer believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses. The original Mark had no appearances tales. Matthew and Luke’s are completely different. Since the Gospel of John was written several decades after Matthew and Luke, it is entirely possible that the author of John had heard Matthew and Luke’s appearance tales and simply used them as a template to create his appearance tales.

    Based on the fact that most scholars, even many evangelical scholars, believe that the Gospels MAY contain non-historical (non-factual, therefore, fictional) stories, isn’t it possible that the Appearance tales which appear in Matthew, Luke, and John are just more examples of non-historical allegories or parables which the Gospel authors never intended to be understood as historical claims??

  61. “Many scholars, including sceptical scholars like Bart Ehrman (from memory), EP Sanders, Maurice Casey and the Jesus Seminar, accept that the disciples saw something, even though they don’t necessarily think it was a real resurrection.”

    Question: Do we have any historical evidence of human beings seeing something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.) and believing it to be a dead human? Yes!

    “Most scholars also recognise that the disciples were proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection very soon after his execution. So whatever else we may say, the resurrection wasn’t a later legend.”

    I agree that the belief that Jesus had been resurrected developed very early after Jesus’ death bur rumors and legends can develop very quickly. I suggest that the tomb of Jesus was found empty; this triggered speculation as to why it was empty; this speculation led to false sightings, illusions, vivid dreams, etc. that Jesus was still alive; this led to the belief that God had raised him from the dead, which in short time evolved into “God has resurrected him from the dead” as the first fruits of the general resurrection. I can’t prove that is what happened, but based on human behavior, I suggest it is very plausible.

    “So I think the resurrection of Jesus is based on good historical evidence.”

    You have provided ZERO evidence that most experts believe that uncontested, independent sources exist which corroborate the claims made in the detailed Appearance Tales in the Gospels. I have demonstrated that most experts believe that non-historical (fictional) material may exist in these four books. You personally, and a small band of fundamentalist Christian scholars, may view these sources as independent and reliable regarding the historical veracity of the Appearance Stories but most experts say you are wrong.

    Trust the experts, Eric.

  62. HI Gary,

    “The consensus of scholars is that Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark, therefore they are not “independent” sources. When it comes to their Appearances Stories, Matthew and Luke’s appearance stories are completely different.”

    This is strange! They were both dependent on Mark yet they both told different stories!? That sounds contradictory!! Perhaps you have got this wrong?

    “So much for the claim that we have multiple independent,CORROBORATING sources of these tales!”

    Things change and 1994 is a long time ago. Bart Ehrman, writing about 7 years ago, noted there were 7 different sources behind the gospels. That sounds like plenty to me, and justifies him saying: “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life ….. Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James.”

    I’m afraid the poverty of your case is given away by your language: “it is entirely possible”, “isn’t it possible that”, “I suggest”.

    The appearances of Jesus cannot be written off the way you want to. It is noteworthy that Casey, Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar suggest natural explanations rather than argue they didn’t happen, and Sanders says they happened and he doesn’t know what is the explanation. None are christian scholars. Disbelieve Jesus actually rose but if you are going to stick to the evidence from the scholars, you can’t just say what you want to be true.

    “Do we have any historical evidence of human beings seeing something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.) and believing it to be a dead human? Yes!”

    Do we have evidence of people seeing human beings and recognising them as human beings? Yes, many, many, many more times that what you say!

    And do we have evidence of people seeing shadows, light or clouds and recognising them as shadows, light and clouds? Yes, many, many, many more times than what you suggest.

    So the odds are highly against what you suggest. It is much more likely that when people report seeing the appearance of a human they actually saw the appearance of a human.

    “You have provided ZERO evidence that most experts believe that uncontested, independent sources exist which corroborate the claims made in the detailed Appearance Tales in the Gospels.”

    How can you write this? I have referenced three eminent scholars (Sanders, Casey and Ehrman) and one group of not so eminent scholars (the Jesus Seminar) who all conclude from the historical evidence that the disciples saw visions of Jesus, not just a light. This website is a useful summary that includes many other scholars. It contains this quote from Bart Ehrman:

    “It is undisputable that some of the followers of Jesus came to think that he had been raised from the dead, and that something had to have happened to make them think so. Our earliest records are consistent on this point, and I think they provide us with the historically reliable information in one key aspect: the disciples’ belief in the resurrection was based on visionary experiences. I should stress it was visions, and nothing else, that led to the first disciples to believe in the resurrection.”

    So that is way more than “zero evidence”, and I think you have again misrepresented what I and the experts have said.

    I have never said that the experts corroborate every detail in the stories, only the basic detail that they saw a vision of Jesus. That is all that is needed to make the claims I have.

    “Trust the experts, Eric.”

    I have shown that I do. It isn’t yet clear if you do too.

  63. “The appearances of Jesus cannot be written off the way you want to. It is noteworthy that Casey, Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar suggest natural explanations rather than argue they didn’t happen, and Sanders says they happened and he doesn’t know what is the explanation. ”

    I’m suggesting that the disciples experienced illusions. Christians today experience illusions quite frequently, such as the alleged sighting of the Virgin Mary in the clouds in 2017 in Ireland.

    They (and the disciples, most likely) really did see something (a bright light or cloud formation) but perceived it as an appearance of a supernatural being. That is very different than saying that they saw nothing and came to the conclusion that they had seen a walking, talking corpse.

  64. Raymond Brown, “The Death of the Messiah”, 1994:

    “In a thorough survey summarizing the different theories, D. Moody Smith (John, esp. chapter 6) judges that one can no longer speak of a consensus against Johannine dependence on the Synoptics or, at least, on Mark.” p. 76

    I respect Bart Ehrman’s opinion, but he is only one scholar. Please provide a reputable source which states that the scholarly consensus on this issue has changed since 1994.

    Thank you.

  65. ” who all conclude from the historical evidence that the disciples saw visions of Jesus.”

    You have quoted three scholars, and I’m not even sure you have quoted them in context. The fact is this: the majority of scholars believe that some of the followers of Jesus BELIEVED that he had appeared to them IN SOME FASHION. That’s it.

    “in some fashion” does not necessarily mean “vision”.

  66. Hey Gary, one thing at a time. What is your response to my comment: “They were both dependent on Mark yet they both told different stories!? That sounds contradictory!!”?

    So were Matthew’s and Luke’s resurrection stories dependent on Mark, or were they different? What scholars would you quote to support your response? Thanks.

  67. “So were Matthew’s and Luke’s resurrection stories dependent on Mark, or were they different? What scholars would you quote to support your response?

    Virtually all scholars agree that both Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark for a large percentage of their material. Approximately 50% of scholars believe that John is dependent on Mark. I have given you sources on these percentages above. Therefore it is possible that the core “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea” story along with women finding it empty comes from one source: Mark. The fact that the original Gospel of Mark has zero post death appearance stories precludes Mark as the source of Matthew, Luke, or John’s three VERY different Appearance tales.

  68. FYI: Even though I am a member of Bart Ehrman’s blog and highly respect his opinion I would NEVER quote Ehrman and conclude that his opinion settles an issue. I always look at what the majority scholarly consensus is, not what my favorite scholar or scholars say. I am particularly impressed when a scholarly consensus includes not only liberals, but a significant percentage of scholars who are conservatives or moderates and believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This indicates to me that the consensus position is based on evidence, not a bias.

  69. Right, one thing at a time.

    “The fact that the original Gospel of Mark has zero post death appearance stories precludes Mark as the source of Matthew, Luke, or John’s three VERY different Appearance tales.”

    So the resurrection stories come from several different sources then?

  70. “So the resurrection stories come from several different sources then?”

    The Appearance Stories come from different sources. Do they corroborate one another? Absolutely not. Therefore it is possible that they are all non-historical theological embellishments (fiction).

  71. OK. So the Appearance stories come from different sources.

    Now a second thing. You say the appearances could have been “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)”

    How many scholars can you quote who say this?

  72. “So the Appearance stories come from different sources.”

    Not exactly. Almost all scholars agree that there are three bodily appearance accounts, written by three different authors, in the Christian Scriptures: Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John. No appearance story occurs in the original Mark.

    These three stories include some of the core details of Mark’s Empty Tomb Story, therefore this core detail could have come from one source, Mark. Most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke were not aware of each other’s Gospels. This may explain why although they both include an Empty Tomb story (which is present in Mark, a book we know they both had access to), the appearance stories have little if any resemblance to each other. John’s appearance stories resemble an amalgamation of Matthew and Luke’s appearance stories along with new material.

    So, we have three different accounts of alleged post-death, bodily appearances of Jesus, written by three different authors. However, some of their material may be borrowed from Mark (by Matthew and Luke) or from all three Synoptics (John).

    Eric: “You say the appearances could have been “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)” How many scholars can you quote who say this?

    Gary: The majority of scholars believe that some of the followers of Jesus had experiences of some nature which caused them to believe that he had appeared to them in some fashion.

    That’s it.

    The term “in some fashion” is therefore open to interpretation. I don’t need to prove that “in some fashion” could include illusions. You would need to prove that it does NOT.

  73. ““So the Appearance stories come from different sources.” [Eric]

    Not exactly. Almost all scholars agree that there are three bodily appearance accounts, written by three different authors ….. some of the core details of Mark’s Empty Tomb Story ….. Matthew and Luke were not aware of each other’s Gospels ….. the appearance stories have little if any resemblance to each other ….. So, we have three different accounts of alleged post-death, bodily appearances of Jesus, written by three different authors. However, some of their material may be borrowed from Mark (by Matthew and Luke) or from all three Synoptics (John).” [Gary]

    So it is true that we have several (i.e. at least three) different resurrection appearance stories from several different sources, right?

    “Gary: The majority of scholars believe that some of the followers of Jesus had experiences of some nature which caused them to believe that he had appeared to them in some fashion.”

    Good. But I note that you haven’t offered any evidence of any scholar using your words of “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)”.

    All this may seem pedantic, but I have good reasons for asking these questions and clarifying what the scholars actually say. In my next comment, I’ll explain why this is important. Thanks.

  74. “Good. But I note that you haven’t offered any evidence of any scholar using your words of “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)”.”

    I don’t need to. Scholars have chosen not to speculate on what exactly the followers of Jesus claimed to have seen in their “appearance experiences”. You are asking me to pretend that scholars have been more specific than what they have. The majority of scholars, even per very conservative scholar Gary Habermas, have settled for the vague expression, “in some fashion”.

    I would like to see you quote a reputable source which states that the current consensus of scholars is that it is an historical fact that the original “eyewitnesses” claimed to have seen, with their eyes, while awake, a literal (resurrected) body”.

    Good luck.

  75. Hi Gary, now to try to draw this discussion together.

    1. This discussion is about what the scholars say. Your blog post, which you advertised when you wrote you first comment, was titled: “Bombshell: How Historically Reliable are the Gospels if even Conservative Bible Scholars Believe they May Contain Fictional Stories?” So we are not primarily talking about your opinion or my opinion, but what certain scholars say.

    2. I drew attention to the fact that your post mentioned “fiction” 14 times, yet none of the scholars you quoted used those words. You agreed that the scholars didn’t use this word or this concept, but you chose it because it was (you thought) the “common understanding of modern readers”. Yet your post wasn’t about the common understanding of modern readers, but about what scholars say. So you didn’t accurately or fairly represent the scholars you quoted.

    3. We discussed the stories of resurrection appearances of Jesus and my claim that there were multiple stories in independent sources. You challenged that claim, saying that “Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark, therefore they are not “independent” sources”, but you also said that “When it comes to their Appearances Stories, Matthew and Luke’s appearance stories are completely different.” When I pointed out that these two statements were contradictory, you came to the view (correctly I think) that “So, we have three different accounts of alleged post-death, bodily appearances of Jesus, written by three different authors. However, some of their material may be borrowed”. So my original statement was correct.

    4. Then we have discussed the nature of these “appearances” which you have described as “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)”, but haven’t offered a single scholarly quote to that effect. Further, you have hinted that I don’t have scholarly support for these being appearances of a human, however those appearances might be explained, not just a light. Yet this hinted accusation isn’t true. I offered the following: Ehrman, Casey, Sanders, the Jesus Seminar (50 scholars) and a website (10 scholars, including Sanders and Ehrman). Check out the quotes. None of them use the words “light” or “shadow” or “cloud”. Many of them use the words “appearance” or “vision”. So I accurately represented what the scholars say, and you didn’t.

    5. Now let’s be clear. I am not arguing that the scholars think that Jesus truly rose from the dead – some do, some don’t. And I am not trying to argue with your opinion that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, which differs to my opinion – you can believe whatever you want. Your post talked about what the scholars thought, and I have outlined three cases of where your initial comments didn’t fairly represent the scholars you were quoting, and in fact the consensus view is NOT what you have been saying.

    6. So I wonder why your come to my blog and make outrageous claims for what the scholars say? You must know by now that I will challenge statements that I don’t think reflect what they say, and I will do it by quoting and referencing more than one or two scholars. I don’t want to always have to play a role as if I am a schoolmaster correcting an errant student, it is tiresome for both of us. But there is no point in trying to have a discussion when the facts are so distorted. So surely it would be best for you to either keep to your own blog, or else be especially careful to fairly represent what the scholars say if you comment here?

    So that’s my response to all you have written here. What is your response?

  76. “Yet your post wasn’t about the common understanding of modern readers, but about what scholars say.”

    No, my post is about what “even conservative Christian scholars BELIEVE”. Believe and say are not synonyms.

    “We discussed the stories of resurrection appearances of Jesus and my claim that there were multiple stories in independent sources. ”

    I see a distinction that you seem intent on ignoring. All three appearance accounts, though written by three different authors, contain elements within those accounts which may have been copied from one source (Mark) or in the case of John, three sources (all three Synoptics). Therefore, are these three appearance accounts truly independent? I’ll let your readers decide that question for themselves.

    “Then we have discussed the nature of these “appearances” which you have described as “something in their environment (a shadow, a bright light, a cloud formation, etc.)” ”

    Wrong. I merely suggested that illusions were a POSSIBILITY. I did NOT assert as fact that the appearance claims were based on illusions. I have no idea what caused some of Jesus followers to believe that Jesus had appeared to them in some fashion. Maybe they had vivid (night) dreams. Maybe they had vivid daydreams/trances. Maybe they had false sightings of someone who looked like Jesus in the distance. Maybe they had hallucinations. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe they really did see a walking, talking corpse! I have no idea. But just as a detective investigating a crime, I am considering all the possibilities, starting with the most probable.

  77. Hi Gary,

    “No, my post is about what “even conservative Christian scholars BELIEVE”. Believe and say are not synonyms.”

    This is straw splitting. You only know what they believe by what they say, and you only quoted what they say/write. So your post was about what scholars say/believe, and you misrepresented them.

    “I don’t need to.”

    If you are posting about the scholars beliefs/statements, then you DO need to. And the fact, now quite clear, is that they NEVER (that I have found) use the words that you used, and they USUALLY use the words that I said (vision, appearance). So you are right, those words (light, shadow, cloud) are what you suggested and not what the scholars suggest.

    “Therefore, are these three appearance accounts truly independent?”

    Since Mark has no appearance accounts (except those not in the original document but added later), then how can the others be dependent on him for their appearance accounts?

    So we come to the same point. You have misrepresented what the scholars say in a post and discussion about the scholars’ beliefs. And you seem to be indicating that you don’t want to admit that or correct it.

    Like I said Gary, what is the point of discussion on such an incorrect basis? Please don’t respond with more words. Please either admit that you have been expressing your own views and not expressing the scholars views reliably, or agree it is better to finish this discussion. Thanks.

  78. I have been expressing the common sense interpretation of their comments. You are the one nit-picking, my friend.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. All the best!

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