Estimated Reading Time: 30 Minutes
Paulogia published a video responding to the recent debate I had with Jim Majors on the historicity of Jesus’s burial in a tomb, and I felt it necessary to respond for two reasons. First, a lot of the information is still fresh in my mind, and second, I am baffled by how resistant non-mythicist atheists are to such a basic claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb. This is not a miraculous claim and it is consistent with the background knowledge. But apparently, this is the hill they are ready to die on.
Paulogia decided to go through my opening statement (skipping some sections) and respond accordingly and I’ll issue my response to his claims. As always, I respect Paul and will try to be fair. He offered valid and well thought out arguments that should have come up in the debate but did not.
The first thing he does is bring up a source I used by Larry Overstreet which says “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (1)
Paul then cites what follows, “One significant exception to this was jurisdiction on matters involving capital punishment which was revered to the procurator.” This is true, but again, that hardly contradicts the point I am making throughout my opening statement, which is that these issues were decided by local rulers, like Pilate. I even quote from the Digesta later in my opening statement that specifically talks about capital punishment and how it was decided by each local ruler or procurator. No where did I say in my opening statement that Jesus was not executed under Pilate’s orders. So Paul seems to be making a molehill into a mountain here and over-exaggerating the point I was making here.
My point was just establishing the background knowledge that not everything was done the same way in every province; things could change depending on the specific rulers and the various customs of each province. Just because we can see that in Ephesus crucified victims were left on crosses, that doesn’t mean this is necessarily how things were done in Judea under the procurators/prefects there.
After this, Paul says, “I think it’s abundantly clear, as seen in the nine sources we skimmed over earlier, that leaving the bodies on the crosses, having them eaten by birds and animals, and ultimately indignantly tossed in a ditch was a significant portion of the deterrent strategy of the Roman interest. The punishment did not end at the point of death.”
No one denies this was the standard practice Rome preferred, but that doesn’t mean you get to make a conjecture that this is always how it was done. For example, Josephus says that after Jerusalem was taken he begged General Titus to take down three former companions who were condemned to die by crucifixion (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75). Because it was the standard Roman practice to leave bodies on crosses, should we say Josephus made this account up just to make Titus appear merciful? As far as I am aware, the overwhelming majority of historians do not think Josephus made up this story. As I cite in my opening statement, Philo records that in Egypt bodies were taken off crosses on the birthday of the emperor (Flaccus 83). Even Bart Ehrman doesn’t imply Philo fabricated this event. I note other examples in my opening statement as well.
So if Paul thinks it is okay to imply the Gospels are wrong when they record Jesus was taken down and buried because it was not the standard Roman practice, does he also think these other sources (like Philo) are wrong? Surely, he should apply the same skepticism to all the other sources I mentioned that demonstrate that, at times, crucified victims were buried. But let’s go one step further, why not apply that same skepticism to the sources Ehrman brings up that say crucified victims were left on crosses without being buried? How does he know they are not exaggerating or just making things up? Horace (Epistles 1.16.48) and Juvenal (Satires 14.77-78) are writing poetry, not necessarily historical accounts, and only reference crucifixion themes in passing. Artemidorus (Dream Book, 2.53) is talking about someone’s dream, not an actual crucifixion. The Satyricon of Petronius is talking about a third-hand account of a specific event for which we have no corroboration (Sat. of Petr. 112). Why does he take their word on what happened to their crucified victims, but not Mark’s? It seems like special pleading.
Perhaps the charge of special pleading is unfair at this point, but Paul seems to solidify my suspicion in the next section of his video. Right after this, he addresses my use of the passage in Philo which speaks of crucified victims being allowed to be buried in Egypt on the birthday of the emperor. Paul says, “I think Mike is missing the point here that this was a noteworthy exception on a special celebration. Absent documentation, to speculate that what in one province was a noteworthy exception, would have been just common practice in another province, is just speculation.”
There is so much to say about this, but I’ll try to be brief and only note two very important observations. First, appear that Paul just takes Philo’s word on this. Why? It goes against the standard Roman practice, like Jesus’ burial, so why doesn’t Paul apply the same standard and say Philo must be wrong? Why does this skepticism only apply to the Gospels? As my followers are aware, I am constantly pointing out that the Bible is not treated like other ancient works. Well, this is an example of where the excessive and unnecessary skepticism applied to the Gospels is not applied to other works, like Philo.
Second, this reveals a pretty clear double standard and I cannot believe Paul doesn’t hear himself. Remember, he began his video by noting he is in agreement with Ehrman when he cites five sources from outside of Judea that show crucified victims were left on crosses, and from those sources, Paul thinks it is more likely that in Judea Jesus would not have been allowed to be buried. So he uses sources, like Horace or Juvenal, and infers from their accounts that Jesus’ crucifixion was probably the same. However, if I practically do the same thing and cite Philo to show the Romans did, at times, allow crucified victims to be buried, well Paul says that “is just speculation.” So how is this not a double standard? If all I am doing is speculating, then that is all Paulogia and Ehrman are doing as well. You can’t have it both ways.
Paul then addressed the passage in Josephus, which reads, “…the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” (Jewish War 4.5.2)
He does the one thing he should not do, which is to list Ehrman’s objections to using this passage to show crucified victims were allowed to be buried in Judea. This is because Paul is fully aware that I know about these objections and I am ready to address them. The objections Ehrman and Paul present against this passage are basically that (1) it is about when the Jews battled the Idumeans and not Roman victims of crucifixion, (2) Josephus is whitewashing things (meaning he is biased), (3) this passage is about a generation or so after Jesus, (4) during a war, it isn’t likely the Jews would have crossed enemy lines to bury crucified victims, (5) and Josephus refers to them as malefactors instead of political insurgents.
I’ll go through these one at a time:
- Josephus makes a general claim in this passage. He doesn’t say that during this one war the Jews decided in this specific instance to bury bodies. He speaks of it as a standard practice that makes them better than the Idumeans (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). In “Against Apion”, Josephus also speaks of Jewish law and says, “We must furnish fire, water, food to all who ask for them, point out the road, not leave a corpse unburied, show consideration even to declared enemies.” (Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204). So the implication from Josephus is that burying the crucified was the standard custom that Jews did when able.
- You don’t get to just dismiss something merely because you think they are biased. We need more than that. I could do this with Horace, Juvenal, or the dream interpreter, Artemidorus. Imagine if I dismissed Josephus because he didn’t agree with Luke on the census of Quirinius. If we can just dismiss Josephus when it is convenient, why cannot I do it on the census issue? It is strange Ehrman gets to just say Josephus was biased when it is convenient. I agree Josephus was biased, as were the New Testament authors, Tacitus, Livy, Paulogia, and Bart Ehrman. Everyone is biased, but that doesn’t mean what they say is necessarily wrong or inaccurate. Archaeological data supports Josephus on this issue (2), as I went over in my opening statement. So I fail to see why Josephus must be inaccurate here just because he also has biases. We need more than just the mere assertion of bias. Everett Ferguson sums up the issue nicely, “These biases are to be expected and generally it is easy to discern Josephus’ special pleading in contrast to the facts. With proper allowance made for his special interests and recognition that he was sometimes misinformed, the reader will find Josephus an invaluable resource not to be neglected.” (3) E. P. Sanders says, “…wherever he [Josephus] can be tested, he can be seen to have been a pretty fair historian.” (4)
- I addressed this in my opening statement. I said, “Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself. But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”
- It is true that it is unlikely Jews would have crossed enemy lines during a war to bury crucified victims. So what? As I said, Josephus seems to be speaking as if Jews did this as a general rule (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), which demonstrated how much better he thought the Jews were than the Idumeans. This also cuts against Ehrman’s argument that is specifically about one time regarding the war with the Idumeans. If it is unlikely to happen during wartime, it is more likely referring to standard practices during peacetime, or whenever the Jews were able (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204).
- The word, “καταδικη” is a very general term, just referring to someone who was condemned. This is reading way too much into a word that was meant to be very general, as is the passage in Josephus. He is just saying if someone was condemned (in the general sense) and crucified the Jews would take them down and bury them. In no way does this word only refer to types of criminals, leaving out political insurgents.
Finally, I want to reiterate a point from the debate––how do they know Jesus was crucified for insurrection or for being a political insurgent? Well, they have to go on what the gospels say, since non-Christian sources do not confirm it. So they are okay with accepting the crime from the gospels, but not the burial? This really seems like special pleading. Now if we had a 1st-century source that said Jesus was buried somewhere else or not buried at all, then you could make that argument. But such a thing cannot be used in this instance.
Paul then addresses the archaeological data which show crucified victims could be buried. He says, “It’s about relative frequency, so two examples of the exception does not really affirm anything.” I don’t think Paul realizes the gravity of these two examples. The fact that we have found two is a lot. In reality, we should have found zero, especially if the burying of crucified victims rarely happened. Finding two means it is likely this happened often. The reason is that most crucified victims would leave no traces of crucifixion, even if they were properly buried. Dale Allison notes many crucified victims were tied up rather than being nailed, and so we would not recognize them as having been crucified (5). If they were nailed to a cross, it is likely the nails would not have been buried with the victims, as early sources suggest the nails were prized because they were thought to be able to have magical healing properties (R. Meir, m Šabb. 6:10; Lucan 6.547; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.46).
Jodi Magness, an expert on Jewish burial practices, writes “…the means by which victims were affixed to crosses usually leave no discernable traces in the physical remains or archaeological record.” (6)
Bryon McCane says, “If there had not been a knot strategically located in the wood of Yehohanan’s cross, the soldiers would have easily pulled the nail out of the cross. It never would have been buried with Yehohanan, and we would never have known that he had been crucified. [So] it is surprising that we have identified even one.” (7)
Paulogia, unfortunately, made an error I need to point out. When he says the date of the Yehohanan burial box is around 600 BC that is off by 600 years because it dates to the first century. I have no clue where he got this information from and he does not provide a source, but it is wildly off. To quote from the original 1970 paper, “It is possible, therefore, to place this crucifixion between the start of the first century A.D. and somewhere just before the outbreak of the first Jewish revolt.” (8)
As I noted in the debate, in the past decade evidence for another crucified victim has been verified (9). The last Hasmonean king appears to have been crucified and then allowed a proper burial. So the fact that we have been able to find two, given how rare such a find should be, supports the notion crucified victims were being buried more often than skeptics realize. Paul is making the same mistake John Dominic Crossan made on this issue.
Next, Paul says something I feel is out of context. I noted the crucified victims were from the same general time period. Paul responds with “…and same general time period is a rather generous description of these finds when Mike is wanting to narrow everything down to the time and place of the rule of Pilate.”
First Paul, is going off the mistake that the Yehohanan burial box dates to 600 BC, which we corrected above. Second, the reason I did that was because I noted in my opening statement it was a response to Ehrman who set that standard. To quote myself, “Now this is important because I was shocked to read one of Ehrman’s replies to Craig Evans on this exact issue. Evans brought up the fact that Josephus says all the procurators after Agrippa abstained from interfering in the customs of the country, and Ehrman replied and I quote, ‘But Agrippa 1 ruled Judea over a decade after Jesus. The “procurators who succeeded” him were later. This passage is not talking about what was happening under the rule of Pontius Pilate during the days of Jesus.’ Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself. But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”
Notice what I said was in response to Ehrman, so I think it is uncharitable for Paul to divorce that from the context of my statement. Plus, in my opening statement, I am establishing background knowledge, which is basically to point out the idea that a crucified victim could be buried was not so improbable and a lot of supporting evidence is available which shows this.
Finally, from here we move to evidence specific to Jesus’ burial. I noted the evidence is the gospels, and Paulogia, predictably, plays his “for the Bible tells me so” jingle. I knew I would not make it through this video without hearing it. Well played, Paul.
But on a more serious note, this seems to be another example of special pleading. Remember, he believes Jesus was crucified for being a political insurgent, but how does he know that? Well, “because the Bible tells him so.” As long as he continues to believe Jesus was executed for being a political insurgent, he only believes it because the Bible tells him so, and oddly enough, that seems to be enough to convince Paul.
He then compares the idea of taking the gospels at their word to believing the kids’ show Mister Rogers, which is an unfair example since the gospels are most likely Greco-Roman biographies (10) and Mister Rogers is a kids’ show. My point is simply there is nothing in the background knowledge or in the accounts themselves that suggest the Gospels are in error when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb, but for the skeptic, it seems the Bible is always questionable until proven innocent (unlike other ancient sources, but more on this later).
Moving on, Paul brings up an issue with Mark and John not being independent sources, which is fine, I have no problem saying John knew of Mark. But I wonder if he would apply this same logic to Livy and Polybius on the account of Hannibal? Livy used Polybius as a source (11), does that mean Livy just copied Polybius and is unreliable in speaking of things Polybius does not? Why not treat John and Mark in a similar fashion? As Craig Keener says, in talking about other Greco-Roman biographies, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptical NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (12)
Next, Paul cites a paper to respond to my quote from Dale Allison. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul cites a creed that says Jesus was buried. Dale Allison says, ”The verb θάπτω means ‘bury’ and would hardly be used of the unceremonious dumping of a criminal into an unmarked trench as dog food: that was not a burial but its denial.” (13)
Paul responds by citing a paper (14) on how the word is used in Greek sources, like the Septuagint and later Jewish works, and suggests it can refer to being buried in a trench grave. There is a lot to say about this, but I’ll only hit on the main points. First, notice what Allison said. The word would not refer to “dumping” of a criminal in an unmarked trench. It means “buried,” not left on the cross to rot, and not left out for dog food, as Crossan suggested. The word used in 1 Corinthians 15 suggests a proper burial, not a disgraced one. The Romans didn’t properly bury criminals, so the word alone implies it is unlikely the Romans buried Jesus in the disgraceful manner they preferred.
Second, the five sources earlier that Paulogia (and Ehrman) refer to are a direct denial of any burial for crucified victims––where they were left on crosses for days and picked apart by wild animals. The sources within Keddie’s paper are still referring to honorable burials, where a body was covered, not left on a cross, and not thrown into a trench uncovered for dogs to pick through. For example, in referring to one example, Keddie says, “The text specifies that Jonah buried her himself while traveling – a reasonable task for a trench grave, but not a rock-cut tomb.” (15) That sounds very much like a proper and honorable burial, where someone took care to bury his mother, not leave them out to disgrace them.
I am not sure if Paulogia misunderstood Keddie, or if I am missing Paul’s point, but Keddie is in no way referring to Roman practices of discarding bodies of criminals. A trench grave within this paper refers to a proper burial by someone of the lower class:
“The majority of the Jewish non-elite population in Early Roman Palestine was buried in trench or cist graves. Unlike rock-cut tombs, trench graves did not impose an obvious mark on the ancient landscape or the archaeological record. It is for this reason that the simple trench graves at Qumran have been called ‘Essene,’ ‘sectarian,’ ‘heterodox,’ and ‘deviant,’ as have trench graves discovered elsewhere. These graves, however, likely represent the common burial practice of those near and below subsistence level.” (16)
So the burial practices Keddie refers to do not support the Roman practice of disgracefully discarding the bodies of criminals, or where one is left on a cross to rot. The word still most likely refers to a proper burial, whether they are buried in a tomb or a trench, which was Allison’s point, and my point as well.
Next, in response to me noting that there are no competing traditions as to what happened to the body of Jesus, Paul says, “This is an argument from silence. For all we know there were dozens of competing traditions that simply didn’t survive to modern-day.” This is not an argument from silence and it misses the point. When it comes to other sources, like Livy or Josephus, we rarely throw them out and posit something that is not attested. We go on what is most probable based on attestation. Paulogia would rather posit something for which we have no evidence––a speculative idea that Jesus was not placed in a tomb, despite having no attestation for this hypothesis. We don’t do this with the friends of Josephus that Titus took down from crosses and posit that Titus refused Josephus, just because we presuppose it was more likely (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75).
Also, an argument from silence is actually when someone dismisses a claim or and event based on a lack of statements in historical sources but is mentioned in others. An actual example would be to discount Suetonius’ account of the Jews being expelled from Rome under Claudius (Divus Claudius, 25) because Josephus falls to mention it. To note there are no sources that say something else happened to the body of Jesus is not an argument from silence, for the same reason, it is not an argument from silence to note we have no sources that say ancient Egyptians visited the Americas. Some fringe groups have suggested it may have happened. It is an argument from silence to dismiss their claim because there is evidence or attestation to it?
Imagine if someone told Paul they thought Thomas Jefferson was a spy for the Spanish Crown. Would it be an argument from silence to say there are no sources that support such a theory? Of course not, because we rarely posit something for which we have zero attestation. However, for some odd reason, when it comes to the Bible, there seems to be a double standard, and we can posit all sorts of theories for which there is no textual evidence.
Next, Paul takes issues when I noted the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 would better fit if Jesus was thrown into a mass grave for criminals. He draws attention to it also saying that he had to be buried with the rich, and that shows they would have had reason to invent Joseph of Arimathea. Paul is making the same mistake fundamentalists make, which is reading too much into vague lines in the Old Testament. It doesn’t say the messiah had to be in a tomb, let alone a rich man’s tomb. It just refers to being with a rich man at his death. That is so vague it could fit with multiple things. Here is the verse in different translations:
“His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 NASB)
“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 ESV)
“I will appoint evil men for His burial and rich men for His death, because He committed no lawlessness nor was deceit found in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 LXX, Orthodox Study Bible)
As you can see, the verse is vague. All that would have been needed to make this verse fit is a rich Sanhedrin member burying Jesus in a grave on some field, being consistent with Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Perhaps they could have said Jesus was buried in a rich man’s field, or that Jesus was buried in a field next to a rich criminal. There are multiple ways you could make it work, and that’s why I don’t put a lot of emphasis on prophecy. However, this also demonstrates the Christians did not need to invent the tomb story, as skeptics constantly argue.
Now before moving on, we also need to note Paul doesn’t really add any additional evidence to his case that Jesus was not buried in a tomb. He just tries to respond to my arguments that Jesus was buried in a tomb and explains why he is skeptical. He notes ancient sources need to meet a burden of proof, but doesn’t specify what that burden is. If Paul cannot give any additional reasons to doubt that Jesus was buried in a tomb, I fail to see why we should doubt this non-miraculous claim, for the same reason we don’t doubt that Titus permitted 3 of Josephus’ friends to be taken off their crosses and to receive medical care. As Tessa Rajak said, “as long as what Josephus tells us is possible, we have no right to correct it.” (17)
In other words, if we are to doubt something in the writings of Josephus we ought to have a reason to. Scholars do doubt many things that Josephus claims, but that provide reasons to doubt those specific things.
Why can’t we apply this to the gospels? If we have a reason to doubt the tomb, let’s hear it. The mere conjecture from skeptics that Rome would not have allowed this is mere speculation that has no attestation. My opening statement in the debate explained that the background knowledge is consistent with Rome allowing a burial in this case, and all our sources on Jesus’ death support this notion.
Paul then decides to address some things in an earlier video I did on the criterion of embarrassment. He made a challenge that the criterion of embarrassment is not used outside of New Testament studies, so I made a video that included 5 examples. Paul begins by being very honest and states he now accepts there is the use of the criterion of embarrassment outside of the New Testament studies, and that honesty needs to be noted. Paul deserves respect for saying this.
Paul takes issue with my argument in the video that there is excessive and unnecessary skepticism about the Bible, and he asked what specifically that is. So to answer him––denying Jesus was buried in a tomb is a good example, since there is nothing miraculous about that particular claim, and it is consistent with the background knowledge. Another example is the overuse of the criterion of double dissimilarity, where some very liberal scholars will only accept a saying of Jesus if it is dissimilar from the early church and the Jewish background, which is absurd. Are we to believe that Jesus, who was a Jew, would never say things that were consistent with other Jewish works? Since the church is founded on the teachings of Jesus, why wouldn’t some of the things Jesus said be reflected by his followers? As Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd say, “Thus, most skeptical Jesus studies that focus on assessing the authenticity of individual sayings do not end by demonstrating the general unreliability of the Gospels. Rather, they begin by assuming it.” (18)
Paulogia then responds to a quote from that video from scholar Darrell Bock on whether or not the criterion of embarrassment is used outside of New Testament studies. Bock said in my video, “Why would it be? Those works do not work in this kind of a sociological context with this kind of skepticism.”
Paul responds with, “Is Dr. Bock suggesting that Christianity is in a unique position needing to employ subpar tactics because the most reliable tools of history aren’t sufficient to vindicate what he deems to be the word of God.” The exact opposite is true. Bock and other conservative scholars want the New Testament to be treated like we treat Josephus or Tacitus––innocent until proven guilty. We don’t doubt something in Josephus unless we have reason to do so. We don’t doubt Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps unless we have reason to do so.
Craig Keener makes a similar point. He says, “Although Tacitus denounces Tiberius whereas Velleius Paterculus adores him, no one doubts that both provide valuable information for us about Tiberius. Nor, because Tacitus eulogizes his father-in-law, Agricola, or Suetonius emphasizes moral lessons in his biographies, do we dismiss most of the evidence that they provide.” (19)
Why can’t we do the same with the gospels––treat them as historical sources unless we have reason to doubt them? N. J. McEleney says historians should accept “the word of the reporter unless he has reason not to do so.” (20)
Paulogia notes he applies skepticism to Josephus at times, which I do not deny. I agree Josephus made errors and scholars point them out, but we are arguing there is an excessive and unnecessary amount applied to the New Testament. What we want is for scholars to look at Josephus and the Gospels in the same way––don’t doubt something unless there is a good reason to do so. As I have argued, there is no sufficient counter-evidence that suggests we should be skeptical of the entombment story. The point is that we can find specific examples (as I have done throughout this blog) where a standard applied to the gospels is not applied elsewhere. I am not saying scholars do not debate over sections of Josephus or other ancient works, but (again) as Craig Keener notes, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptics NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (21) So I am not the only one saying there is a double standard applied to the Gospels.
Paul says, “Why don’t you hold all claims as questionable until you have corroboration?” Because if we did that, we would immediately throw away so much knowledge we have of the ancient world. How far does Paul take this? Does he doubt a story from a friend about an event from his childhood even if Paul never seeks out corroboration? Do we really question everything we hear, or do we tend to intuitively apply the principle of charity and trust sources unless we have reason to not do so? And what if we do have corroboration? Would Paul immediately accept that? If we found an ancient letter that dated to 33 AD which spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, would Paulogia accept it because it is now corroborated in his view?
I am genuinely curious because I have no idea why he would suggest something is always questionable until corroborated. There are so many examples from history I can think of that are not corroborated, but which we tend to accept as innocent until proven guilty, like the event in Satyricon of Petronius (Sat. of Petr. 112), where a roman soldier guarding bodies on crosses falls in love with a grieving widow. Both Paulogia and Ehrman use to say crucified victims were left on crosses, even though it is not corroborated.
Paul also says, “We should always apportion our confidence to the evidence available, and further balanced with the impact to our lives if we should happen to be wrong.” I do not disagree and I am not saying anything otherwise. I don’t understand why he thinks that. The problem is when it comes to someone like Polybius, we don’t just become skeptical for no reason. In many cases, Polybius’ own attestation is enough evidence. Historians do doubt some things in Polybius’s account but they always offer a reason for doubting it. They don’t say the burden is on the proponent of Polybius to show why we should trust him. Instead, it is standard practice to apply the principle of charity, or the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I am really not sure if or why Paul would disagree with this. Does he doubt everything until he has a reason to trust it? Why can I not trust Josephus on his account of the Jewish war and only doubt specific sections if I have a good reason to do so? One’s doubt ought to backed by a reason for that doubt. Doubt is not the default setting.
Paul ends this video with attacking other Christians who just trust everything the Bible says, but I am not doing that, and I am instead advocating we treat it like we treat other ancient sources. So are the Christian scholars I cite. They are not like the fundamentalists Paul is referencing. Mike Licona, for example, expresses skepticism about some of the details in the gospels, because he suspects there is spotlighting, reorganizing, and summarizing going on (22). I am in agreement with him for the most part. For me personally, Chris Hansen has convinced me Job is not a historical account, I think it is an ancient epic, somewhat similar to a parable of Jesus. I am more confident that Jesus existed than I am Abraham existed. I don’t see that as a problem, as I am more confident Donald Trump is the current president than I am that Confucius existed. I can accept all these beliefs, even though my confidence is higher for some beliefs than it is for others. I don’t need to have equal confidence for them all.
Paul then concludes with this, “While the schools where the Bible is taught require teachers and students alike to sign statements of faith that the Bible is without error, what demonstration could I see that Christians are evaluating the scriptures as they would other ancient documents? Show us what intellectually honest evaluation looks like. Lead by example.”
This comment is uncalled for. It is nothing more than poisoning the well and guilt by association. He is responding to my arguments, even though I never have advocated for this fundamentalist view. I respect Paul, but this is a low blow that I know he is above (and I don’t even need corroboration). Furthermore, why not read some of the scholars I cited, like Craig Keener, Mike Licona, or Paul Eddy? They do lead by example and they offer that evidence. Licona says in his book on the resurrection that if we found the body of Jesus, he would doubt Christianity (23). Craig Keener, in his “The Historical Jesus of the Gospels”, notes the differing levels of confidence we have for certain things Jesus said and did (24). It really feels like Paul is implying Christan scholars have not done this. Perhaps he needs to stop worrying about what he hears in the fundamentalist circle he came from and start reading what Christian scholars say.
Furthermore, even if he is right and Christians accept too much of what the Bible says without question, that doesn’t give skeptics a pass to apply excessive and unnecessary skepticism to the Bible.
In conclusion, I respect Paul, but he offers no reason why Mark, the other Gospels, and Acts 13:29 are wrong when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb. His skepticism on this is excessive and unnecessary. I prefer to hold to methodical neutrality, and since there is no reason to doubt these passages, I do not. Nonetheless, I appreciate the conversation as always.
- Overstreet, R. Larry. “Roman Law and the Trial of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 135, no. 540, 1978, pp. 323–332. 540. https://www.academia.edu/41207214/Roman_Law_and_the_Trial_of_Christ
- Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102; Magness, Jodi. “What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?” The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015, baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
- Ferguson, Everett. Background of Early Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987, p. 457.
- Sanders, Ed Parish. Judaism, Practice and Belief: 63 BCE – 66 CE. SCM Press, 1998, p. 8.
- Allison, Dale C. Resurrecting Jesus: the Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. T & T Clark, 2006, p. 361.
- Magness, Jodi. What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like? The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015, baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
- McCane, Byron R. Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus. Trinity Press International, 2003, p. 107.
- Tzafferis, V. “Jewish Tombs at and near Giv’at Ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1970, p. 31. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27925208. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
- Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102.
- Keener, Craig S. Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019.
- Ebeling, H. L. “Livy and Polybius: Their Style and Methods of Historical Composition.” The Classical Weekly, vol. 1, no. 4, 1907, pp. 26–28. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4385688. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
- Keener, Christobiography, 50.
- Allision, Resurrection Jesus, 353
- Keddie, G. Anthony. “The Vitae Prophetarum and the Archaeology of Jewish Burials: Exploring Class Distinctions in Early Roman Palestine.” Journal of Ancient Judaism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2019, pp. 79–98., DOI:10.13109/jaju.2019.10.1.79.
- ibid., 92.
- ibid., 85.
- Rajak, Tessa. Josephus: the Historian and His Society. Duckworth, 200, p. 16.
- Eddy, Paul Rhodes, and Gregory A. Boyd. The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic, 2008, p. 376.
- Keener, Christobiography, 50.
- N. J. McEleney, “Authenticating Criteria and Mark 7:123,” CBQ 34 (1972): 446.
- Keener, Christobiography, 50.
- Licona, Mike. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
- Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. IVP Academic, 2011, pp. 59-62.
- Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012.