• Review: The Case for Christ Movie Edition

    I have published a long and highly critical review of The Case for Christ movie edition. The book only has 18 reviews, so head on over to amazon and uprate my review so it will be the most visible. 😉

    Lee Strobel’s case for Christ is thoroughly extinguished by New Testament scholar and theologian Dr. Robert M. Price in The Case Against The Case For Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel. Seriously, Price handles every point well, with facts that can be independently confirmed.

    There is only one thing about Price’s book that I found unsatisfactory, and that is his treatment of 1 Corinthians 15:3-11, which he thinks is an interpolation. Though he does outline some good reasons for being suspicious of the passage, I will assume the passage is authentic and argue that even then it provides no warrant for believing in a miracle. Here is why: Given that there were about 120 followers of Jesus after his death (Acts 1:15), and that 14% or more of grieving people have a visual hallucination of their deceased loved one, it is not surprising that a couple dozen of Jesus followers would have seen him alive after his death, even though he was not resurrected [I’ll be posting references aplenty for this and other things in the comments section]. Add to this the scientifically-confirmed fact that new religious movements attract frequently-hallucinating individuals like a magnet, and it is a foregone conclusion that the appearance traditions are worthless for proving the miraculous.

    Vaughn Bell, “Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased” December 2, 2008, Scientific American [Available Online]. “One study found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement”

    W.D. Rees “The Hallucinations of Widowhood” British Medical Journal (1971) 4:37-41. Page 38 shows that 14% of widows and widowers had a visual hallucination of their spouse. Though Jesus was not married, we can assume at least some of his followers would have had a similarly close relationship with him, and as the Scientific American article demonstrates, hallucinations are known from a broad variety of relationships, not just marriages.

    S. Day and E. Peters, “The Incidence of Schizotypy in New Religious Movements,” (1999) Journal of Personality and Individual Differences 27 (1), 55–67. Establishes that normally functioning people who hallucinate more often than most people (“schizotypes”) are found in new religious movements at a higher rate than in the general population. When Christianity started it was a new religious movement, therefore we can expect it would have had a disproportionate number of functional but frequently hallucinating members.

    Roughly 25 years after Emperor Constantine’s conversion, Eusebius wrote that the cross had appeared to Constantine in the sky in front of his entire army! But we know this is a myth because we have a report from Lactantius, an adviser to Constantine, who wrote only three years after the conversion, says only that Constantine had a dream about the cross the night before the battle! Eusebius’ mass vision story is a complete myth. Now think about: Eusebius wrote 25 years after Constantine’s vision, Paul wrote about 25 years after the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and most scholars agree that the appearance to the 500 is Paul’s addition to the list (thus it does not date back to within 3 years of Jesus’ death as other parts of the creed may), so it isn’t reliable evidence of anything. The Constantine example also completely destroys Strobel’s assertions that it takes two generations or more for legends to grow up. Not so: in 25 years you can turn a dream into a mass vision.

    Even if the appearance to the 500 is not entirely legendary, it’s still poor evidence of a resurrection. Anthropologist Bruce Grindal recounted an incredibly spooky experience he had among the Sisala people of northwest Ghana: A drummer boy had died, and many of the people gathered to sing songs and dance around the corpse. All of a sudden, Grindal witnessed the corpse rise up and dance to the beat! Grindal, by his account, had slept poorly and eaten little prior to this event, and his weary state certainly could be partially responsible for his hallucination (as well as the hypnotic rhythm of the music being played). When presented with evidence of mass hallucinations like this one, apologists often reply, “Well, how do you know it’s a hallucination? Maybe something supernatural really happened!” In this case we have a really excellent reason to believe this was a hallucination. Grindal reports the conversation he had with a tribesman the next morning, in which the tribesman reveals that “Some did and some didn’t” see the resurrected drummer boy (see p. 69 of Bruce Grindal’s paper “Into the Heart of Sisala Experience: Witnessing Death Divination” Journal of Anthropological Research Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring, 1983, pp. 60-80). Think about it: if we have known examples of group hallucination but no known examples of resurrection, what is more likely?

    The familiar apologetic for the empty tomb is that women discovered it, therefore it couldn’t have been made up. However, Mark places a young man at the tomb. Mark’s ‘young man’ may as well be the witness (assuming a witness is intended, which Mark does not make explicit either for the women or the young man). Luke and John both have male disciples go and verify the tomb is empty. The one gospel that doesn’t have male witnesses of the empty tomb is the gospel of Matthew. There’s a reason for that: Matthew is the only gospel that goes to great lengths to fend off the charges that MALE DISCIPLES stole the body. Thus, the popular apologetic has absolutely no basis, and few have realized it all these years.

    Secondly: Paul calls on every Tom, Dick and Harry who saw the resurrected Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 to prove the resurrection. He does not mention any discovery of an empty tomb. The silence is deafening. Practically every Christian apologist on the face of the planet mentions it when arguing for the resurrection, so if Paul had known about it the chances he wouldn’t have mentioned it are near zero… Unless it was a legend that sprang up later! I don’t accept silly arguments that the empty tomb is “implicit” in Paul’s narrative, because Paul only tells us Jesus was “buried” but for all we know he could have simply meant Jesus was buried in the ground, as most poor convicts were back then (think of Potter’s field mentioned in Acts 1:18-19 and Matthew 27:6-10).

    Thirdly: Empty grave stories were common in antiquity. For example, Herodotos tells us about the god Aristeas: “They say that Aristeas, who was in birth inferior to none of the citizens, entered into a fuller’s shop in Proconnesos and there died; and the fuller closed his workshop and went away to report the matter to those who were related to the dead man. And when the news had been spread abroad about the city that Aristeas was dead, a man of Kyzicos who had come from the town of Artake entered into controversy with those who said so, and declared that he had met him going towards Kyzicos and had spoken with him: and while he was vehement in dispute, those who were related to the dead man came to the fuller’s shop with the things proper in order to take up the corpse for burial; and when the house was opened, Aristeas was not found there either dead or alive. In the seventh year after this he appeared at Proconnesos and composed those verses which are now called by the Hellenes the Arimaspeia, and having composed them he disappeared the second time.” (Herodotus, History, Book 4, 14-15)

    If you won’t believe Aristeas is the risen Lord because of his post mortem appearances and writings, what about the empty shop? For more parallels to ancient greek gods, I would highly recommend Richard C. Miller’s article “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal of Biblical Literature, v. 129, no. 4 (2010) which is also available cheaply on iTunes.

    Last but not least: the resurrection as a shared delusion accounts for far more than the reality of resurrection would. First: After Jesus was resurrected, where did his body go? The accounts in the new testament have Jesus flying into heavens post mortem, but clearly we cannot believe Jesus flew into outer space. We also cannot believe that the ascension was meant metaphorically, because Hebrews 8-9 lays out in great detail that, after his death, Jesus went into the heavenly tabernacle (the ‘more perfect’ tabernacle ‘not made with hands’ Heb. 9:11 – unlike the earthly tabernacle that could *only* have been made with human hands) to offer his blood sacrifice. If all this is a mere metaphor, what is it a metaphor for, and where is it indicated in the text that it is metaphorical? Nowhere. Jesus flying up to the outer space temple to offer a heavenly sacrifice is just the metaphysics of ancient middle eastern people. This poses a dilemma for apologists: can they maintain both that it was possible for early Christians to make up an ascension story but impossible to invent a resurrection story (even accidentally via hallucinatory experiences?).

    Second: The resurrection, in ancient context, only makes sense if the early Christians believed the end of the world was near. The general resurrection was, according to ancient belief, set to take place at the end of time. Sure enough, the earliest Christians believed that the end of the world was near. Christ was “the firstfruits” of those to be raised (1 Corinthians 15:20) which implies the general resurrection is at hand, since the “first fruits” come in a matter of days, weeks or months before the rest, and two thousand years certainly don’t fit the metaphor. Mark 13:30 has Jesus saying “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” in reference to his apocalyptic predictions made earlier in the same chapter. Hebrews 9:26 says “But now, once at the end of the ages, He [Jesus] has appeared…” Revelation ends with Jesus saying, “Surely I am coming quickly!” Most tellingly of all, after carefully telling the Corinthians that virgins commit no sin by getting married, Paul says, “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none” (1 Corinthians 7:29). Point blank: there is no way he could have said such a thing unless he believed the end of the world was coming within the generation. Preterist-type explanations for the New Testament’s apocalypticism can be of no help here, because why would it make sense to avoid marriage if the “end” that Paul spoke of was just some type of spiritual return of Jesus that would not culminate in the end of the world? Thus, the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection actually disproves Christianity, since the end of the world never came. Ironic, yes, but true.

    One more thing I might add about this book is how badly out of date much of it is. Yamauchi’s interview references Thallus as proof of a supernatural darkness at Jesus’ death, but the two most recent scholarly publications both confirm how worthless this is (I have left the references to both of these publications below). Herodotus mentions an unnatural darkness at King Phraortes’ death when “Day was turned into night” (History, 1.103), so it was a common mythological theme back then, and we have no good evidence from Thallus or anyone else that it actually happened.

    Richard C. Carrier “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011-2012): 185-91.
    Jobjorn Boman, “Comments on Carrier: Is Thallus Actually Quoted by Eusebius?” Liber Annuus Volume 62 (2012): 319-325.

    In closing, I’ll mention that again, I felt Dr. Price’s previously mentioned Case Against the Case for Christ mightily refuted pretty much everything in the book. However, I’d also add that can you can find many additional arguments against common Christian apologetics (including ones I did not address here for concerns of space) in my book Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence, and the Resurrection of Jesus. A very extensive case for a ground burial of Jesus, with an abundance of ancient and scholarly references, can be found in Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? Matthew Wade Ferguson, a history student, published a very readable and well referenced summary of why the gospels are anonymous “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels” which you can find on the website Internet Infidels for free. Last but not least, one of the strongest offensive cases against Christianity (as opposed to the usual purely defensive arguments of atheists that simply point out that the apologetic arguments are unconvincing) is John W. Loftus’ The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.

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    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, Politics and what I call "Optimal Lifestyle Habits."