Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Response to Dagood's "Die For A Lie Won't Fly" Part One

DagoodS posted a lengthy essay over a year ago in which he refutes an argument that I often espouse regarding how the eyewitness disciples of Jesus could not have given their lives for something they knew was false. You can peruse the entire essay here. His was a long essay which concluded thus:

When faced with the question, “Would the Disciples die for a lie?” I reply, “When did they die, how did they die, and what were the circumstances of their death?” Upon review, we see that it is a guess, pure opinion that they had a chance to recant and save their lives.

History does not record it. The Bible does not record it. The church does not record it until so long after, it cannot be considered reliable. The proponent of this argument, through all the claims, and statements and cute catch phrases, is really saying, “I guess they wouldn’t die for a lie, but I have no facts to demonstrate otherwise.”


Dagood begins by listing the sequence of the argument.

The claim is composed of five elements. It requires:

1) A group of individuals;
2) Specifically named;
3) Who saw a physically resurrected Jesus;
4) Willingly dying for this belief; (key issue)
5) And not for any other reason.


This is the argument that we are making. Dagood's refutation brings up some interesting points.

Paul is the central character to the Book of Acts
First, the book of Acts does not mention much of the key disciples. They disappear from the narrative, even John and then Peter himself fades away and is not heard from again. My response to that is that the book of Acts was written by Luke as an explanation of the apostle Paul. Once Paul enters the picture, the other characters begin to fade out, and Paul is followed almost exclusively thereafter. One theory I have heard but cannot find footnotes for is the Book of Acts was the amicus brief in Rome for Paul's trial. Either way you look at it, it is not scandalous that a book ostensibly about the works of Paul shouldn't spend a whole lot of time on the others. Dagood actually admits this truth; "The rest of Acts focuses on Paul’s ministry".

John's whereabouts are well-documented as he wrote his gospel later as well as his letters and the Revelation. He was purported to be the disciple who lived the longest, as is insinuated in John 21.

Book of Acts - Wikipedia.

Second, Dagood states that...

In the back of our mind, it must be remembered that the events surrounding the early church were not recorded contemporaneously, but after they had happened. These are not daily reports, nor newspaper headlines. Paul recorded certain events, then the Gospels were written, and finally Acts was written.


All I could do here is cast doubt on this assumption that no one took notes or talked with each other prior to some old guy sitting down to write his memoires. The writings that have survived represent a very small percentage of what was written.


Whether one holds that these were written only a few years, or many decades after the event, either situation provides ample opportunity to add, remove, or modify events with just the flick of a pen. We should keep a careful and cautious eye investigating these events.


This is reasonable, and also goes both ways, particularly in regard to the much later Gnostic Gospels.

Here I should restate what the argument "would not die for a lie" really means. The disciples who walked with Jesus and the other followers would have had seen with their own eyes the truth about Jesus. Dagood brings out the Heaven's Gate tragedy in which 37 people followed the guy with the spooky eyes to commit mass suicide. They believed that a space ship was sailing behind Halley's Comet and would pick them up if they died at the right time. [We assume they failed?] This is totally different. Those who died had no way of knowing if it was true. The differnce is this: They put their faith in a man..who was nuts. This is a problem in many faith systems (Islam with Muhammed, Mormonism with Joseph Smith for example).

So we are to assume that an inner circle of disciples could have confused the rest into dying for the dead Jesus en masse? Dagood questions the veracity of whether the disciples really died for their faith and, here's a challenging point, whether they died intentionally.

Did the disciples really die for their faith? The books of Acts and Romans give details about an expulsion by the emperor Claudius of Jewish Christians from Rome in the early 50s AD, less than 20 years after Jesus' resurrection. Next we find extra-biblical data that Nero persecutedthe Christians as scapegoats about AD 64, 31 years after. The Christian church had already become a force that the most powerful ruler in the world had to deal with, and he dealt with them harshly. He even killed thousands of them. The point I'm, getting at here is that we have this hard fact, thousands of Christians are dying for their faith [all most of them had to do was recant, declare Nero God and deny Christ] just 30 years after Jesus walked the earth. The idea that none of these folks were eyewitnesses is a stretch. Short of new forensic or documentary evidence, the debate ends there in a draw.

Dagood doesn't address the rapid growth of this "opt-in" church. Islam was spread by the sword which is a lot faster than just convincing people. But again, the skeptic doesn't care about this larger picture.

The second point about the disciples dying I thought was interesting. Dagood argues that the disciples didn't necessarily die for their faith. He mentions Joseph Smith's death; he was shot running away from a shoot-out. Indeed, Smith's death was caused by his Mormon activism, but he wasn't pinned down and asked to recant or die.

Charges against the early Christian
However, if we look at many verified accounts of early Christian martyrs, we see this very situation repeated over and over. The crime of the early church was that they called Jesus Lord, a word reserved for the emperor. There was no other law that could be thrown at them. Robbers were often killed in the Old West for robbing. Protestant pastors weren't killed for robbing unless they were robbers. Christians were blasphemers for choosing Jesus as their Lord over the emperor X.

I see this as a serious obstacle to saying that the eyewitness Christians did not die for their faith. Certainly, they were grabbed and condemned to die, but on what grounds? We have this fact that Christians were killed for the charge of calling Jesus "Kurios" within 30 years of Jesus' death. We have the fair estimate that the eyewitnesses could live another 30 years (unless they're a rock band) and be killed for calling Jesus Lord. It is not a strong position to say that the eyewitnesses were that deluded, assuming Jesus rotted away, and still write anything sensible.

The only disciple noted as killed is James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2) and even then it is merely an introduction into a story about Peter. More on James in a bit.

The inspired Bible does not record all Twelve of one accord. It does not mention what each one did separately. It does not indicate they were not “dying for a lie.” While referred to as a group, the events recorded as history do not include information as to their death.
.....
In order for this argument to work, the proponent would need to demonstrate that the disciple (or James) had an opportunity to avoid death by claiming, “It is a hoax,” and did not take it. Simply dying because they are a Christian, (while making them a martyr) is not enough for this argument.


Again, the problem with the likely charge against John's brother James is blasphemy hurts his argument. In fact, Dagood here makes the assumption that Herod gets angry at James [as if they were unaware that decrying "Jesus is Lord" wouldn't anger Herod] and simply sicks his dogs on him. The ancient world wasn't that primitive. Even if the charges were trumped up, there would have been charges, and most likely the charge was blasphemy. I believe that it is logical that James died because he refused to deny Christ. He woudl also have been an eyewitness to whether Jesus was Lord or loco.

To be continued...

9 comments:

DagoodS said...

Thanks, Jim Jordan, for providing a reasoned response to my (ancient, now) blog entry. There are three things to keep in mind.

First, we must not confuse martyrdom and the argument of “Die for a Lie.” I see this on both sides of the fence (particularly when skeptics mention Muslims flying planes into buildings.) We all agree there are martyrs. We all agree that, regardless of the truth of what they have been told, people are willing to die as a result of the depth of their belief in what they have been informed.

There are Christian martyrs today. They are dying for believing what someone else has told them. We are not claiming that Christian martyrs of today saw a physically resurrected Jesus—they believe others who told them of a physically resurrected Jesus.

In the same way, we must be careful to not confuse the same martyrs of the first Century, C.E. I agree that there were Christian martyrs, who were killed simply for being Christians during that period. There were also pagans who were killed simply for being pagans during that time as well. Does that make pagan belief just as likely as Christian belief? Of course not!

The only way for the “Die for a Lie” argument to have any forcefulness is to claim that those who actually saw a physically resurrected Jesus were the ones that were dying. Claiming that those who heard of a physically resurrected Jesus were dying for that belief make it just as likely as any other belief that people are willing to die for.

We must be careful not to confuse those two very different groups. “Die for a Lie” needs to focus solely on eyewitnesses. To reduce it to all 1st Century Christian martyrs is to dilute the very teeth of the argument! It makes it as forceful as the claim that Muslims die for lie, so Islam must be correct!

Second, we must be specific as to how these eyewitnesses died. As I pointed out in my blog, this is not 1) just an area where history is silent, but the Bible states an event occurred (James the Lesser) or 2) that history tells of their death, but the Bible is silent (James the Just)—this is a mixed bag, in which we have a few examples, but the vast predominance would have BOTH history and the Bible silent.

Is that the best this argument can come up with? That “perhaps” they refused to die for a lie? That history is silent, so we can “fill-in-the-blanks” with whatever premise we need, in order to support our argument? Isn’t this presuming the conclusion in the argument?

Thirdly and really the key to the whole situation, is that we must focus on the reason the person died. If I was a spurned lover, so I threw a bomb into a Church, what does it matter whether the person in the Third Row, Second Seat had seen or had not seen a physically resurrected Jesus? What does it matter whether they knew it was a lie? They died. They were a Christian. They are a martyr. But they had no opportunity to choose whether to die for a lie or not.

Keeping that in mind, let’s go through some of your statements in your blog.

Jim Jordan: My response to that is that the book of Acts was written by Luke as an explanation of the apostle Paul.

O.K. So Luke was not writing about the martyrs that were refusing to die for a lie. How does that support this claim any? We are looking for examples of “die for a lie” in either the Bible or Christian writings or historical documents. If you are saying that Acts of the Apostles, because of its emphasis, does not provide us with any examples of people refusing to die for a lie, or eyewitnesses willing to die for the truth, I have no qualm with that.

Saying these things are not recorded doesn’t seem to support the argument they happened, though. (And I note that later you bring in James the Lesser, so apparently the author was recording something.)

More: John's whereabouts are well-documented as he wrote his gospel later as well as his letters and the Revelation.

Well, I think a great many (probably the majority) of Biblical scholars would disagree with John (presumably son of Zebedee) being the author of the Gospels, the letters and Revelation, that is irrelevant.

The question is “How did John die?” If you hold to the tradition of old age, I am uncertain as to how that possibly supports “Die for a lie.” He certainly wasn’t offered the opportunity.

More: Here I should restate what the argument "would not die for a lie" really means. The disciples who walked with Jesus and the other followers would have had seen with their own eyes the truth about Jesus.

Why are you “re-stating” the argument of “would not die for a lie?” The sole focus of my blog entry was on the eyewitnesses to the physically resurrected Jesus. I am not talking about witnesses to his birth, his childhood, his baptism, his calling of the disciples, his ministry, his journeys, his miracles, his capture, trial, death or burial. The whole key and force to the idea behind this argument is that Jesus was physically resurrected and people saw it.

The strength of their testimony to the physical resurrection is that they would go to extra-ordinary lengths based upon their belief in what they saw, even to the point of death. Again, people die all the time as martyrs for things they believe may happen, or things they have heard of. I listed examples in my blog entry.

To “re-state” that “die for a lie” is about belief in a traveling rabbi who wanted the disciples to press on, in the hopes of an eventual Kingdom, while interesting, was not the focus of my blog. (Further, by re-stating it, it appears to be a retreat from a physical resurrection claim as being too hard. That it is easier to prove that Jesus lived, so that would be the new focus of our attention.)

I don’t know why you wanted to “re-state” the argument, but if this is what you are now claiming, it was not what I was addressing in my blog entry.

More: The books of Acts and Romans give details about an expulsion by the emperor Claudius of Jewish Christians from Rome in the early 50s AD, less than 20 years after Jesus' resurrection.

Actually, it was an expulsion of Jews, not Christians. However, I do agree that the Romans would be unable to distinguish between the various sects of Judaism, such as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Christians, so it is very likely that many Jews who were also Christians, living in Rome, were kicked out as well.

This only gives further support to my premise, and weakens the claim “wouldn’t die for a lie.” Here we have a persecution. In which a group of people, including but not exclusively Christians, are persecuted. And they are being persecuted for who they are—NOT for what they believe!

Soldier: O.K., Caesar has ordered you out.
Jewish Christian: But I am willing to recant my belief that I saw a physically resurrected Jesus!

Are you seriously saying that the Soldier’s next words would be, “Oh! I didn’t know that! In that case you are free to stay.” OR would the soldier say, “I don’t care about your particular Jewish in-fighting as to who believes what. Caesar has ordered you out—OUT YOU GO!”

This is a great example of how, even a person who claimed to see a physically resurrected Jesus, would not make a single bit of difference if they recanted that testimony or not. (And I would further note that no one would know if they had — they would still be out!)

More: Next we find extra-biblical data that Nero persecutedthe Christians as scapegoats about AD 64, 31 years after. The Christian church had already become a force that the most powerful ruler in the world had to deal with, and he dealt with them harshly. He even killed thousands of them. The point I'm, getting at here is that we have this hard fact, thousands of Christians are dying for their faith…

Tacitus says “huge numbers” which is a bit gray as to how many. Even given that this is “thousands”—again I am not disagreeing that there were Christian martyrs. Would you agree that there are Muslim martyrs? Does this make Islam correct? Of course not! It is witnesses, witnesses that we need—not martyrs, to give this argument teeth.

More: …[all most of them had to do was recant, declare Nero God and deny Christ] just 30 years after Jesus walked the earth.

And here is where the wheels fall off the bus. Do you have a source for this claim? Remember (as you have just stated yourself) Nero was blaming the Christians for the fire. Not for failing to worship Nero. The problem with this allegation, was that if all Nero had to do to kill them was to declare they were not worshipping him as a god--he would not have had to use the excuse of the fire to accuse them!

Ya can’t have it both ways—did Nero use them as a scapegoat for the fire? Or did Nero kill them for failing to worship him as a god?

If we read Pliny the Younger, who wrote the Emperor in early Second Century, HE is completely unfamiliar with Christianity, and has to question Trajan as to whether recanting would absolve them of any crime associated with Christianity:

…whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one;…

This is why I would like a source for this claim. We have a writing within decades of this time, which indicates that it is completely unknown as to whether recanting would qualify, and your assertion that all they had to do was recant.

Source?

(And I should note that this has the same problem as the expulsion. Nero sentenced them to death for arson. Whether they believed the moon was made of cheese, or Jesus was physically resurrected or not wouldn’t make a difference.)

More: The idea that none of these folks were eyewitnesses is a stretch. Short of new forensic or documentary evidence, the debate ends there in a draw.

Whoa. This is a Christian claim that eyewitnesses wouldn’t die for a lie. It is their obligation to present witnesses. Are we now reduced to say it is possible there were some witnesses that lived in Rome on 64 C.E. And again, even if there were eyewitness—would what they said when accused as a scapegoat for causing the fire made a bit of difference?

Sure, it ends in a draw. If we don’t want to look at any of the evidence. 1 Clement is written, in Rome about 95 C.E. Mentions Paul (who is traditionally considered to have died in Nero’s persecution) and Peter as a martyrs. No other eyewitness. No James the lesser, no James the Just. 1 & 2 Peter were written post 64 CE—yet no mention of this Nero persecution.

How come all the Christian writings, written during this period fail to mention Nero’s persecution or accusations? Wouldn’t one write of it? Wouldn’t one mention a martyr during it? How is it that we have the Church in Rome prior to the expulsion, the church in Rome prior to Nero, and the Church in Rome after…steadily moving along as if there was not a blip on the radar?

If we ignore these problems, and do not try to address them, it makes it easier to have a “draw.”

Is this really the best we have for this argument for Christianity? “It is possible there was an eyewitness in Rome, and it is possible that they could have recanted to avoid the charge of Arson, and it is possible that they did not.”

Isn’t this an argument from silence; an argument that it “coulda; woulda; shoulda”?

Do you consider this argument a “draw”? That it is equally possible no eyewitnesses were ever offered the opportunity to recant?

I guess what is so disappointing, is this argument could have so much strength. I see it so often as the Christian proudly proclaims it as a force-to-be-reckoned with. Yet when I start to investigate and wrestle with it, it comes down to a meek, “Well…it is possible, right? It coulda happened, true?”

More: Dagood doesn't address the rapid growth of this "opt-in" church

Because the growth of the church, rapid or otherwise, has nothing to do with the argument of “die for a lie.” The only persons we can focus on are those who it is claimed to be eyewitnesses to Jesus’ physical resurrection. Say 516. Whether the church grew to 1000 or 10,000 or 100,000 within 1, 25 or 250 years makes no difference. We are still only concentrating on those 516 people. As pointed out time and time again, belief in what others claim, no matter the number, is not the thing that gives this argument any forcefulness. It is belief in what specific people saw.

(On a side note, the study of the early church is fascinating. The “explosion” theory of the growth of the church is only supported by Christian documents. Archeology, and contemporary historians do not demonstrate any such “explosion.” But that is not important to my blog entry.)

More: However, if we look at many verified accounts of early Christian martyrs, we see this very situation repeated over and over.

I am not LOOKING at “martyrs.” I am LOOKING at Witnesses! And what “verified accounts” other than those referenced in my blog entry?

More: The crime of the early church was that they called Jesus Lord, a word reserved for the emperor.

Source? (And Pliny the Younger is too late for your eyewitnesses.)

More: I see this as a serious obstacle to saying that the eyewitness Christians did not die for their faith. Certainly, they were grabbed and condemned to die, but on what grounds?

Exactly my point—on what grounds? What “eyewitnesses” and what grounds? Were they given a chance to recant and would that have made any difference?

More: We have this fact that Christians were killed for the charge of calling Jesus "Kurios" within 30 years of Jesus' death.

Source? Remember, you have just stated that Nero was using them as a scapegoat for the fire, which is completely contrary to this claim. If that is all Nero needed, he would not have had to blame them for the fire! Again, can’t have it both ways.

More: Again, the problem with the likely charge against John's brother James is blasphemy hurts his argument. In fact, Dagood here makes the assumption that Herod gets angry at James [as if they were unaware that decrying "Jesus is Lord" wouldn't anger Herod] and simply sicks his dogs on him. The ancient world wasn't that primitive. Even if the charges were trumped up, there would have been charges, and most likely the charge was blasphemy. I believe that it is logical that James died because he refused to deny Christ.

I am uncertain how this even remotely helps your argument. Hurts it terribly. You are saying that Herod falsified charges against James the lesser? How would recanting help James the lesser in any way from disputing charges that are false? Doesn’t this support my claim that “wouldn’t die for a lie” is unsupported in the few eyewitness death accounts we have?

You DO realize there is no recanting from “blasphemy,” right? If you are going to speculate a falsified charge, best stay away from blasphemy.

I think there are other problems, such as a political leader being concerned about a religious problem or needing a religious reason to order a death sentence (remember John the Baptist). And the fact that Herod immediately arrested Peter out of a concern for popularity, not religion.

And, I would note you assume your conclusion. The verses are silent as to why James died. I could equally argue that Herod killed him for betting on the wrong horse. Is that a “draw,” too?

Jim Jordan, this claim of Christianity that the physical resurrection of Jesus must be true, because eyewitnesses would not die for a lie needs to be shored up better than the timid “it is possible.” OR Christians would need to be more forthright that this is not the strong argument it is claimed to be, and is in the realm of speculation, rather than fact.

With what has been presented here, do you think you could convince a neutral person that an eyewitness to the physical resurrection was presented with an opportunity to recant, in the face of death, and chose to not?

All I see is supposition and presuming the very claim that is attempted to be bolstered. Sorry.

SocietyVs said...

I like the blog - a little on the long side - but I read it all (very interesting stuff). I think again we will enter speculative waters here - but I find nothing wrong with trying to swim there.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Dagood
Thanks for reading so quickly. I was going to send you a note but it looks like you saved me the effort.

And they are being persecuted for who they are—NOT for what they believe!

The Romans were fairly liberal about what people believed as long as it didn't conflict with empire. What brought the Christians in conflict with the Romans was this problem of calling Jesus their Lord.

How would recanting help James the lesser in any way from disputing charges that are false?
First, James the brother of John. Second, the charge would be true (it was unnecesary of me to mention they could have been trumped up). James is telling people that he saw the risen Christ in a land where the authorities have people executed for saying such things, as Christ Himself was.
What does the manner of James' execution (whether he was asked to recant or not) have to do with the reason why he was arrested? Or any other eyewitness for that matter?
James was arrested for saying he saw Christ physically alive (you seem to want that specifically noted). Did they ask him to recant before they cut his throat? Who cares? If he didn't want any trouble in the first place, all he had to do was shut up. [I'll cede the point that while the reason for James' arrest is inferred that it is related to his preaching and baptisms, it could be more specific in the text]

The same goes for Stephen who, while not being one of the 12, was more than likely an eyewitness to the physically resurrected Jesus. He certainly could have avoided being stoned to death if he'd just shut up.

Then there is James the brother of Jesus, who was not a believer until his brother came back from the dead. Josephus puts him as the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem.

And the fact that Herod immediately arrested Peter out of a concern for popularity, not religion.
Again, you're missing the point that the apostles' preaching got them into trouble. No proclaiming of Christ = no attention drawn. Herod enjoyed the popularity of attacking Christians (Physically resurrected Christ-proclaimers).

I must say I agree with your distinction in the appearance of Jesus to Paul. I could say the same thing as Paul in that I had a vision of Jesus and saw with my own eyes the Holy Spirit and have felt its presence many times since then. But that is a truth claim that I can't make for someone else. [although I was told by two different people after my testimony that they had similar experiences - which shows that there may be an "aha moment" that crosses over to the objective - that's another debate though]

As Wittgenstein put it, "Convince me that you have a hand, and I'll give you all the rest." It might seem wise to wait for more archaeological discoveries before the evidence can convince everyone that the physically resurrected Christ still has a hand.

There is a lot of fascinating points to consider. Thanks for stopping by.

Jim Jordan said...

Hi society
but I find nothing wrong with trying to swim there

True. It's very important that both sides of the debate know their facts and challenge facts they feel are not firm. The lesson of the "DaVinci Code" was that if Christians don't know the facts about Christianity, someone else is going to make up and/or embellish the facts for themselves.

DagoodS said...

Jim Jordan: What brought the Christians in conflict with the Romans was this problem of calling Jesus their Lord.

Source?

You make these claims as to what was happening, yet I have no source or basis by which to determine this is anything but mere speculation. Further, this flies in the face of Pliny the Younger not knowing what it was, specifically, that Christians were to be charged with in the Early Second Century. (You might research Pliny to get his background and how familiar he would be with charging persons with crimes.)

What I see are Christians quoting other Christians, like something they heard their pastor say last Sunday, but never bother to go looking for the source of this claim. It is the same thing with “die for a lie.” Everybody says it; very few have actually researched it.

And, again, what about the problem that the Jews were kicked out of Rome NOT for their beliefs, but for rioting? And the Christians were killed by Nero, NOT for their beliefs, but for being a scapegoat for a fire?

You provide the undocumented claim that the Christians were killed for Jesus their Lord (and by the way, it would have to be for NOT declaring Caesar as Lord, not for declaring Jesus as god in addition to Caesar) and I have the documented claim that they were killed as scapegoats.

More: First, James the brother of John.

Whoops! You are right, of course. (How embarassing!)

More: Second, the charge would be true (it was unnecesary of me to mention they could have been trumped up). James is telling people that he saw the risen Christ in a land where the authorities have people executed for saying such things, as Christ Himself was.

Source?

Where do you find, in either Roman law, Jewish law or even Christian documents, that claiming seeing someone raised from the dead was a crime? Herod Agrippa said it himself! Mt. 14:1. Mark. 6:16.

Why is saying that someone came back from the dead an offense of any kind?

Blasphemy is cursing God. Even if the disciples were claiming that Jesus was God and raised back from the dead, this would not constitute Blasphemy. They would most likely be considered wackos and disregarded. The concept would be so far out of Jewish thought that it would not be considered a crime.

Like a person claiming today that George W. Bush is actually a Martian in disguise. There is no threat to anyone, because the idea is ludicrous.

More: What does the manner of James' execution (whether he was asked to recant or not) have to do with the reason why he was arrested? Or any other eyewitness for that matter?
James was arrested for saying he saw Christ
physically alive (you seem to want that specifically noted). Did they ask him to recant before they cut his throat? Who cares?

Good question. If James was arrested for legitimate charges (robbing a bank) what did it matter what he said about the resurrection of Jesus? If James was arrested for political reasons, again, what does it matter? He would be convicted in both situations regardless of his beliefs. The only way that “die for a lie” can ever come into play is if the eyewitness was arrested AND given an opportunity to be free upon admitting it was a lie.

Then, and ONLY then does the “die for a lie” give us pause to say, “Hey, these guys really believed in seeing a physical Jesus.” (A vision anyone can make up.)

Demonstrate that James was arrested for the specific charge of saying he saw a physically resurrected Jesus. It is not there. It is only speculation. And this is the best you have for “Die for a lie”! Demonstrate that James was given an opportunity to be freed by admitting that it was all a lie, and refused to do so. It is not there. It is only speculation.

Jim Jordan, if you want to say that “wouldn’t die for a lie” is a valid basis for the physical resurrection of Jesus, fine by me. All I hope is that you realize why those of us who have studied the prospect are not convinced. There are no facts to back that up, only supposition. Supposition imposed that conforms to the bias of a physical resurrection.

Again, the only way to reach that conclusion is to assume the very thing you would be trying to prove!

More: If he didn't want any trouble in the first place, all he had to do was shut up.

I’ve always thought this is the best shot that “wouldn’t die for a lie” has. The idea that the eyewitnesses saw others were being killed for their belief, and in the hopes of avoiding a similar fate, recanted the claim.

Unfortunately, there remain numerous problems with that as well. According to Acts 8:1, when Saul started the persecution they all did run away. (Except the apostles.) Out of his jurisdiction. That doesn’t help any, because they would not be subject to “die for a lie” then. (And yes, I know it goes on to say that Saul acted outside of Judea.)

More importantly, as you rightly indicate, Acts focuses on Paul. Where ARE the other disciples? If they did recant, would the author of Acts record it? If they did not, the author is not focusing on them anyway, so we don’t know whether they were “shutting up” or not.

More: The same goes for Stephen who, while not being one of the 12, was more than likely an eyewitness to the physically resurrected Jesus.

Unfortunately, Stephen never said anything about seeing a physical resurrected Jesus in his speech. Stephen is accused (falsely) of claiming Jesus is going to destroy Jerusalem and set up His own kingdom. Stephen replies that the council is responsible for betraying and murdering the Just One, as their forefathers had killed all the prophets. Enraged, they stone him.

Where is the opportunity to recant? Where is the claim of being an eyewitness?

More: Josephus puts him as the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem.

Source? Josephus refers to “James and his companions.” There is nothing about Christianity. Nothing about leadership.

What is fascinating is that if all we had were Christian writings, no Christian would claim James the brother, as a martyr. 1 Clement does not list him. Acts does not list him. The early church fathers do not list him.

What we have is a brief paragraph in Josephus about some fellow named “James” who was set-up and killed for political purposes. The only reason we associate this at all with Christianity is the phrase, “brother of Christ.” That’s it. There is nothing here about James being a Christian. Nothing here about an accusation regarding Christianity against him. Further, since it was a plot, there would be no request, let alone deciding factor over his recanting.

While Josephus gives Christianity James as a martyr, at the same time he takes away “die for a lie.”

More: Again, you're missing the point that the apostles' preaching got them into trouble. No proclaiming of Christ = no attention drawn.

Yes, I do think this is the best hope for some type of “wouldn’t die for a lie.” The thing that is so puzzling is—why? Why would Christians be persecuted by the Jews? I understand from Carrier (although I have not researched this out myself) that there were over 30 different sects of Judaism in contention. Of course the greatest schism was between the sects of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

Here is where the claim of popularity explosion actually hurts Christianity. The biggest single factor that I can visualize for why the Sadducees would want to eliminate Christianity is competition. If that was true, then “recanting” would not have made a difference. They needed to stop the whole thing.

What makes no sense, from the Judaic standpoint, would be to persecute yet another crack-pot scheme against Roman oppression. The Jews had their hands full warring with Rome! Josephus missed this “persecution.” Philo missed this “persecution.”

The only persons that mention being persecuted by the Jews are the Christians. It is for that reason that many historians disregard Acts as being completely historical. More of a historical novel or apologetic for early Christianity.

Finally, Jim Jordan, we have been talking about the very, very few names we have. James and James. (And Stephen, although I don’t see how he helps “die for a lie.”) What of the other disciples?

Part of the forcefulness of this claim is that the vast majority of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus believed and would willingly die based upon that eyewitness encounter. How many Christians, do you think, who use “die for a lie” realize we have two or three names at best that support this claim?

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Dagood
I am a little confused about your reference to Pliny the Younger.

Pliny Y to TrajanMeanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Pliny's unfamiliarity with the tenets of the Christian faith does not seem to be because they are a minuscule cult. Only until recently did I gain an understanding of what Mormons believe, and they are substantial in our own country.

Again, Pliny's letter proves my point. Why would he execute them? They continued to confess...what? Of course, what do Christians confess but that Jesus is Lord?

That was the problem. As Pliny records, "they made oaths amongst themselves" not to lie, steal, or do anyone harm.

Let's see what we have now.
James the brother of Jesus would have been an eyewitness to his brother's resurrection. He confessed Christ as Lord even though that made him a target. When his time came, he was executed. Now I can't place James and the resurrected Jesus at a definite spot in space-time in the 40+ days after the crucifixion. We only know that James was not listed as a follower until after the resurrection.

You are correct that my arguments are suppositional, but they are logical suppositions.

Jim Jordan said...

continuing...
BTW, I liked this "What I see are Christians quoting other Christians, like something they heard their pastor say last Sunday". Good for you on that one. I sometimes get excited and rushed. Have sources, will travel.

Re: Stephen: No, he didn't specifically claim to have seen the resurrected Christ, but he was a respected follower. It was a couple of years after the resurrection and it would be unlikely that he would have been a latecomer. 100% possible he was an eyewitness? No, but perhaps it's 60/40? The records from this era are sketchy. What can one say?

Catholic Encyclopedia says of James the Greater, brother of John:
According to a tradition, which, as we learn from Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., II, ix, 2, 3), was received from Clement of Alexandria (in the seventh book of his lost "Hypotyposes"), the accuser who led the Apostle to judgment, moved by his confession, became himself a Christian, and they were beheaded together. As Clement testifies expressly that the account was given him "by those who were before him," this tradition has a better foundation than many other traditions
.....
You said Nothing here about an accusation [in Josephus] regarding Christianity against him (James brother of Jesus)
You say also that James doesn't appear as a leader. Acts 15 clearly has him as a leader in the church. I see a strong argument that James the brother of Christ was an eyewitness to the physical resurrection of Jesus and as a leader of that church would have confessed this belief based on his own eyes knowing that it could bring death. However, he would not have been afraid of death unless he knew that death was not the end.
....
Don't forget Peter. Ignatius writes in his letter to the Roman church: "I issue you no commands, like Peter and Paul: they were Apostles, while I am but a captive."
This reinforces the earliest traditions that Peter died in Rome for his belief in what he had seen.

You said: The biggest single factor that I can visualize for why the Sadducees would want to eliminate Christianity is competition. If that was true, then “recanting” would not have made a difference. They needed to stop the whole thing.

Last, I wanted to focus on the blasphemy charge. The early Christians said that a man that lived among them was God. Saying that God is a man you know = speaking evil of God. This is the charge against Jesus. The core of the Christian belief system was total blasphemy to the Jews. They were easily the most unacceptable sect.

Seeing a resurrection (or claiming to) is not a crime, but when you say the person raised themselves and sits on the right hand of God, you're blaspheming.

So our "die for a lie" list consists of James the Greater, James the brother of Jesus, Peter, and possibly Stephen. Other traditions that have eyewitnesses martyred include Nathaniel (Armenia), Simon the Zealot and the other Judas (Persia), and Andrew (Greece). So the tally is three strong cases, one fair case, and 4 weaker cases. Certainly not enough to convince a skeptic. Granted, the "die for a lie" argument is narrower than most Christians who use it would lead others to believe.

That said, if there was no resurrection at all, it would have been highly unlikely that the church would have grown so fast. Today, speakers with powerful testimonies are constantly invited to speak at church events. It would have been the same then. These Apostles were very convincing. That much is clear.

Regards.

DagoodS said...

Four quick items, more to wrap-up than anything else. I hope, if you are interested, you continue to research further.

Pliny the Younger

I did warn you to look him up.

Pliny was a lawyer in the Roman courts before becoming Praetor of Rome (like a Chief of Police and Attorney General.) He provided legal advice to Trajan, eventually becoming a Consul. (highest possible office, short of being the Emperor.) He then governed Bithynia for over a year before discovering there were Christians within his territory.

And THIS is the fellow that doesn’t have a clue as to what law to charge Christians with!

You have stated numerous times that Christians claiming Jesus as Lord would be a crime worthy of death. What source do you use that makes it so obvious in the 21st Century, when it was not obvious to a Praetor in the beginning of the 2nd Century? Why is Pliny even writing Trajan about it, if it was so obvious?

Pliny was prosecuting them under the crime of being in a political party that was contrary to Caesar. A crime that was most certainly punishable by death. Being uncertain if this was the correct law, he writes to Trajan, who assures him it is.

You tell me there is a completely different law in effect that both Pliny the Younger and Caesar himself were not aware of?

What is the source for this law?

Pliny is unaware of the Nero persecutions or the Claudius expulsion (if it was related to Christianity.) This is not “some guy” who is unfamiliar with some religion. Yet in all his legal years of service, he had never seen a prosecution against a Christian, was uncertain of what law they would be violating, and had to torture them to even learn what they believed.

This is a severe problem with both the “explosion” theory of the growth of the Christianity, as well as the crime they would be charged with.

And yes, we can play the game, that it was “possible” there was some law in effect 60 years before Pliny. If so (and ya know this question is coming) what is the source for claiming that law existed? Or is this more supposition?

(Note, I obtained my information on Pliny from here. )

By the way, I agree your suppositions are “logical.” But does that count for much? We could also “logically” suppose that all the disciples (‘cept Peter) went fishing and drown, and that is why Acts does not indicate what happed to them. Or we can “logically” suppose that the Disciples became very wealthy and that is why they continue to push Christianity in the face of persecution. Or we can “logically” suppose that Acts is a historical novel, with mythical elements. See, simply because something is “logical” does not make it persuasive. (And I even happen to be convinced of that last, but I do not expect you to be. Least not yet. *wink*)

James the Greater

Yes, I was aware of the tradition that his accuser became a Christian. There is also a tradition that his body was miraculously transported to Spain upon his Death. Funny how the “traditions” that we like we maintain are valid and those we do not we end up claiming are mythical nonsense.

The problem, as I pointed out in my original blog entry, is that all these traditions come far too late to be of any use. Early authors seem completely unaware of them. What is to prevent later authors from making them up? Nothing.

James the Brother of Jesus

He is considered an eyewitness because of 1 Cor. 15:7. Obviously, I hold there were no actual eyewitnesses, because there was no physical resurrection. But in order to intelligently discuss “die for a lie” I must look at those named as eyewitnesses.

We have the women, the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the “twelve” (presumably a title for the eleven named disciples), James the brother of Jesus and “over 500” unnamed persons.

That is the pool from which I can draw my names. As we have discussed, it is “possible” that some of those 500 were here, there or anywhere. However, Matthew records “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17) Acts 1:15 records 120 disciples (plus the usual suspects.) Did 380 of the 500 drop? Not much help for “die for a lie”!

Since the 500 (or 120) are of dubious nature, all I looked at was those we have named. And there is such scarcity of information on those that looking for the 500 (or 120) seems to be speculation on speculation. I can’t even get information on the big names being given an opportunity avoid dying for a lie, let alone some 120 unknowns!

I am sorry if there was any confusion about my statement regarding Josephus and James. You said, “Josephus puts him [James] as the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem.” I question where Josephus indicates James is a leader, or where Josephus mentions Christians at all in the account with James. Not what Acts said. Not what any “accusations” were.

Josephus makes NO connection of James with Christianity. None. Nada. Zip. Josephus does not indicate James is a leader of any particular religious sect. Hence the reason I asked for your source for the statement, “Josephus puts him as the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem.”

(Sidenote: Was Ignatius talking about verbal commands of Peter and Paul, or written commands? He starts chapter four with “To all churches…” Was this section written to just the Romans or to everyone?)

Blasphemy

Would you agree with me that Christians, including Stephen, Peter, John and Paul were accused of crimes by religious authorities?

If it was for blasphemy, how come the Bible doesn’t record that is what they were charged with? As to Stephen, it was for making “blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Acts 6:11.What are blasphemous words against another human? (And these were false accusations, at that. If it was true, there would be no reason to make false accusations, correct?)

Paul tells Agrippa that he compelled Christians to “blaspheme” although this is unclear. Acts 26:11 If they were blaspheming already, why would he have to “compel” them to do so? Makes no sense.

The Bible has every opportunity to claim that they were charged with blaspheme against God, and does not. If the Bible doesn’t include it, the Jewish history and Talmud does not include it, and obviously Roman Law does not include it, where are you getting this information from?

I can’t find it anywhere.

Conclusion

‘Bout the same as my original entry.

James the Brother: there is nothing as to his being killed for even being a Christian, let alone an opportunity to recant, or “die for a lie.” I am uncertain how the complete lack of evidence makes for a strong case.

James the Greater was certainly an eyewitness and a Christian martyr. The best shot you have going. The one connection we cannot make is whether he was given an opportunity to recant. If it made no difference (as you seem to claim with an arrest for a capital crime of blaspheme) then it is irrelevant whether he recanted or not—he would still be killed. If there was any “fair” case, this is it.

Peter, also an eyewitness, and (in my opinion) a Christian martyr. Less information than James the Greater as to how or why he died. Same problems. I would put it at “poor” case, only because it has to be a little less than “fair.”

As to the rest, they are conjecture (Stephen) or pure myth (the other disciples.)

I was not as curious to whether these speculative arguments, in the face of the actual evidence would convince a skeptic, as much as whether it would convince a neutral. A person with no stake in the outcome. I think the evidence is far too weak, the propensity for myth-making far too great to convince a neutral.

But hey, I can be wrong, eh?

Jim Jordan said...

Hi Dagood
You do a good job of connecting the dots except in your insistence that Christians would have been persecuted for something other than blasphemy. I put Pliny's words in bold to show you that blasphemy was clearly inferred. The claim to divinity for the emperor was not constant and therefore not always enforced. Pliny is clearly asking, "Do you want me to follow through with this?" Blasphemy is inferred.

Josephus referred to James as the "brother of Christ" but that doesn't convince you that James was a Christian. Why would he mention it then?

You would have to prove that James the Just was killed because of politics just as you would have to prove there was something else besides blasphemy that you could string a 1st century Christian up on. Putting your arguments through your own crucible of proofs shows how little you too can say for certain.

Your case is in the same boat as mine IMHO.

With your degree of skepticism you could never believe that the disciples died for the truth. For you, the "disciples wouldn't die for a lie" won't fly. But it could hover.;-)

But could I be wrong about how this transpired? Sure. But it's not the reason I believe anyway.

Take care, amigo.