Saturday, November 27, 2010

Empty Tomb Doesn't Matter?

DagoodS got me thinking about this "minimal facts" argument offered by Christian apologists. There are several minimal facts that are believed to be known about the life of Jesus, but 5 key ones relevant to the resurrection are these:

1-Jesus died by crucifixion
2-The disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them
3-The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity
4-The skeptic James converted to Christianity
5-The tomb was empty

Sometimes an apologist would appeal to more and sometimes less. For instance when Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman in fact he only appealed to 1, 2, and 3 alone. Why not talk about 5? That's a big deal I figured. Maybe Licona avoids it because the consensus is not as strong on that point.

I'm prone to disputing all 5 of these points. I don't think the evidence justifies them. But Ehrman responded to Licona in a different and probably better way. As to point 1 his response is this: So what? Jesus died. Big deal. Everyone dies. Since everyone dies there's no need to waste time proving that Jesus died. So I'm left explaining why some people believed Jesus was raised. I would think there is no need to invoke a miracle to explain such an ordinary phenomenon. Some people have thought that Moses was raised. Some thought John the Baptist was raised. Who cares? That's not uncommon. I figure Licona needs to add the empty tomb to have any kind of a more persuasive case.

But does that matter either? Here's something else that's not uncommon. Moving a dead body that is presently buried in the wrong tomb. It was done all the time in ancient Israel. Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea supposedly. Fine. Now it's a new day. Time to move him to the family tomb. The original tomb is empty. So what? That's actually to be expected.

The apologist will say that's unlikely because of the guards and also because the initial Jewish reply to the claim that the tomb was empty was that the disciples stole the body. OK. But it's possible that the story of the guards was contrived. It's also possible that the Jewish polemic also was contrived, or these critics were speculating and didn't really know that the body was being moved. They might be wrong. In fact most people would say they are wrong.

Let's suppose the Christian judges this to be unlikely. The Jews likely would have known that the body was being moved by the family and would have pointed it out. Well, they might have, but it's certainly possible that they wouldn't. So we have to judge which is more unlikely. Is it more unlikely that a body could be moved unbeknownst to the early critics or is it more unlikely that a body that had been dead for three days rose again to life? What would a rational person conclude?

1 comment:

Vinny said...

"Minimal facts" is a strangely appropriate name for this style of argument.

One of the questions I have been thinking about recently is this: Let's suppose that these are the five (or three or eleven) facts that historians agree about. As a point of historical methodology, is there any reason to think that the agreed facts are more significant than the disputed facts?

Suppose I were sitting on a jury and the only three undisputed facts were that the victim was dead, the defendant had a motive to kill the defendant, and the defendant was seen near the victim's house at the time he died. Suppose on the other hand that the cause of death was disputed. Could there be anything more absurd than convicting the defendant without knowing the cause of death?

I am also hesitant to describe any of Licona's points as facts or to concede that they are undisputed, but were I to do so, I would still think the approach to be maximum crap. What Ehrman raises are issues upon which the evidence is insufficient for historians to reach a definitive conclusion. Any one of these would be sufficient to completely destroy the plausibility of the resurrection as a historical explanation (assuming that it had any in the first place).