Alter on The Resurrection: Take Two

Hello S. Joshua Swamidass:

You wrote:

“Multiplied a large number of maybes together and everything looks impossible.”
Question: What does Scripture [i.e. God’s instruction book/manual] instruct regarding conflicting testimony? This topic is discussed in both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible.

Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV /

“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

2 Corinthians 13:1 ESV /

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Matthew 18:16 ESV /

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

John 8:17 ESV /

In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.

1 Timothy 5:19 ESV /

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Numbers 35:30 ESV /

“If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.

Matthew 18:15-17 ESV /

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Revelation 11:3 ESV /

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Hebrews 10:28 ESV /

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Deuteronomy 17:6 ESV /

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

Now, what do you think happens IF the testimony of the two (or more) witnesses does not agree?

@MJAlter you have you to demonstrate that this is conflicting testimony. We also are not discussing the “crimes” of Jesus, but the Resurrection. I’m still waiting for you to demonstrate a consistent and coherent historical methodology. I know this is going to be difficult, and will take you time. History is hard to do well, and it appears you have a lot of catching up to do. Have you had a chance yet to read NT Wright’s work on the Resurrection yet?

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Hello S. Joshua Swamidass:

Thanks for writing.

You asked: “Have you had a chance yet to read NT Wright’s work on the Resurrection yet?”
Response: Yes. As a matter of fact I have examined it numerous times over the approximate past ten years. And, I have listened to his lectures/interviews on the internet. Previously, I wrote that his book has made a substantial contribution to the discussion about Jesus’s resurrection. One of his great fortes is his knowledge about background information. My concern is primarily about the relevant resurrection accounts: 1 Cor 15:1-19 [pp. 317-329], Mark 16:1-8 [pp. 616-627], Matt 28 [pp. 632-645], Luke 24 [pp. 647-660], and John 20, 21 [pp. 662-679]. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Dr. Wright did not devote as much space to these significant chapters (less than 100 pages). However, he had an objective when he penned his text and that agenda must be respected. My text, did, in fact, interact with his text, and more so with other Christian apologists. In a future text, I hope to continue that conversation.

You wrote: I’m still waiting for you to demonstrate a consistent and coherent historical methodology."
Response: The methodology in The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry is very simple. I attempted (in general, not always) to chronologically investigate the NT employing a horizontal reading of the relevant texts. To assist the reader, a parallel presentation of the relevant verses initiates each of the 113 issues. Then, I provide a brief introduction to each issue. Here, I often present both sides of the religious aisle. Afterwards, I present either a speculation [a speculation is nothing more than a speculation] or contradiction [omissions are, at times, considered omissions]. In both the speculation and contradiction, once again, I have a healthy and intellectually honest conversation with many Christian apologists and theologians. To facilitate this conversation, numerous tables are presented. So, in my mind, although I could be wrong, my presentation was consistent and coherent.

In volume II, currently being edited, I specifically deal with apologetics, especially the Minimal Facts Approach.

Perhaps, if your time permits, you can clarify your request that I demonstrate: a consistent and coherent historical methodology. Your input would be most appreciated.

Well, I hope that I addressed your concerns and constructive criticism. [Only by accepting constructive criticism can we improve ourselves.]

Thank you for your input.

Hello Joshua:

Wow!

Hopefully, you will not interpret my response below is/was written in a mean spirited manner. I just want to honestly respond to your significant comment. EMET! And, I am positive that you are a good, decent, and sincere person…

An idea to think about: Supposing that someone, an evangelical attempts to evangelize/witness someone of the Jewish faith. During that encounter, the evangelical presents NUMEROUS contradictions [you know the extensive list] from the Christian Bible to the person he/she is witnessing. Ultimately, what the evangelical seeks is for the person being witnessed to reject his or her “faith” / “religion” which, according to the Tanakh, has incredible implications [Ex 20; Deut 13], especially if the action is equivalent to idolatry: e.g., believing in false gods, God is a “plurality”. The “Christian” [I will employ this term as an umbrella for believers in Orthodox Christianity = Catholics and most Protestants] concept of God is quite different from the Jewish or Muslim concept of the “Almighty”.

Now let’s think about this for a moment: Jesus’s purported resurrection will be one of many topics employed to convince [= via supposed proof texts] the Jewish observer to accept Jesus as his savior and presumably to accept the line that God exists as a Trinity, Jesus is God incarnate, Jew is God, Jesus died for our sins, through the Son to the Father, the Sabbath is now Sunday, the eucharist, and the list could go on… And, please, please, please, read Hebrews 8:13. So, if Judaism is correct, do you think that God will be a happy camper with that member of the Jewish community who has now committed virtual idolatry. Yes, the resurrection is not a court of law.

Respectfully, I do not think that you are comprehending/looking at this issue through the lens of a Jew, and perhaps those of other faiths (although I could be wrong). Respectfully, you write: “We also are not discussing the “crimes” of Jesus, but the Resurrection.”
RESPONSE: YES! But…

PS This topic is discussed in the epilogue of Volume II.

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Hi Mike!

I hope you didn’t take it personally, i was just amused by the logic that Vincent was using in order to reach his conclusion that you are familiar with the arguments of N.T. Wright and not questioning whether or not you were factually familiar with the material.

I’m truly sorry about the way this has been used in you context. I see these as legitimate concerns that should be engaged on their own. However, this is what brings you to the inquiry with bias. You already know the conclusion. You wrote a polemic to protect Jewish people from the story of the Resurrection. I respect that you are upfront about this.

You do not seem, however, to understand much of Christian theology. It would be interesting into engaging those objections in more detail, perhaps on another thread. It seems that this could be a place of much more interesting discussion.

I fully grant that a Jewish person of your persuasion has no interest in granting legitimacy to the Resurrection. If that is your point, you have no quarrel with me. It seems that I can see it from your point of view, right? Remember, also, that I am not actually trying to convince you of anything. If you want to reject the Resurrection, so be it.

First, the reason the “crimes” of Jesus came up is because you quoted several verses about conflicting testimony, to be used in legal proceedings, not historical analysis. That was an absurd use of those passages. For you to quote those passages in this way demonstrates in yet another colorful way that you do not have a coherent methodology. Thank you for availing yourself thusly to make my point.

Second, my (and @dga471’) complaint is to @vjtorley in portraying your analysis as something other than a polemic effort by an untrained Jewish person. @vjtorley goes so far as to equate your analysis with that of a neutral historian, when you are neither neutral nor a historian. Softening his claims, he argues that your analysis would convince a neutral historian. Yet, there is no evidence that a single neutral historian is engaging with your work, and it seems that this is for fairly obvious reasons. It appears to have large methodological flaws.

I like @vjtorley, and count him as a friend. I appreciate you have been nothing but respectful here @MJAlter. However, these are gross misrepresentations of you and your work. I’d like to clear this up before moving much further into an analysis of your argument.

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Earlier you wrote:

I’m truly sorry about the way this has been used in you context. I see these as legitimate concerns that should be engaged on their own. However, this is what brings you to the inquiry with bias. You already know the conclusion. You wrote a polemic to protect Jewish people from the story of the Resurrection. I respect that you are upfront about this.

Response: You are partially correct. Yes, I support the “traditional Jewish view that Jesus is not God, God does not exist as a Trinity, there was no virgin conception, there was no incarnation, there was/is no vicarious atonement via Jesus’s death, Jesus is not the Messiah, one does not need to go through the son to reach the Father, there was no resurrection , etc. These differences (and others) in theological beliefs separate “traditional Judaism” and “traditional Christianity.”

However, when I started my research back in 2003 (approximate), my methodology was FIRST to obtain as many arguments IN SUPPORT of the resurrection that I could locate. That is why I visited almost twenty seminaries. Only by knowing the arguments in support of Jesus’s resurrection could one perform an honest investigation. After obtaining a healthy list of arguments from William Lane Craig [my favorite], Josh McDowell, Gary Habermas, and others did I attempt to investigate IF their assertions were valid or not. Of course, I was “thrilled” when my investigation substantiated to my satisfaction, and perhaps others, that their view was incorrect. To be 100 percent clear, I did not first look for arguments refuting that resurrection.

In contrast, most, but not all books written about the resurrection by believers have an agenda: to provide support for the resurrection accounts. These writers often cited 1 Pt 3:15 and 1 Thess 5:21, 2 Tim 4:22, etc. And, being sincere believers, they are also following the Great Commission [Matt 28:16-20]. So, being 100 percent sincere, both sides have their biases.

You wrote: You already know the conclusion.

Response: No. I wished and hoped that my findings would be substantiated by the research that I carried out. But, in advance, I did NOT know the conclusion. Fortunately, my research substantiated my hopes.

You wrote:You wrote a polemic to protect Jewish people from the story of the Resurrection.

Response: Here, we have a possible problem with your usage of a loaded term: polemic. Personally, I thought that term was improper (Just being honest.). Of course, I could be wrong. There are numerous definitions in books, journal articles, the internet, etc. that discuss this term in a less offensive / overt manner. For example, on the internet, I found:

Polemic | Definition of Polemic by Merriam-Webster

When polemic was borrowed into English from French polemique in the mid-17th century, it referred (as it still can) to a type of hostile attack on someone’s ideas. The word traces back to Greek polemikos, which means “warlike” or “hostile” and in turn comes from the Greek noun polemos, meaning “war.”

polemic | Definition of polemic in English by Oxford Dictionaries

Definition of polemic - a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.

More significant, below is an interesting point of view offered by J D Hall [One should read the entire article] :

In a future e-mail, I hope to respond to some of your additional comments. Your input is appreciated and respected.

You wrote to Vincent:

“Are you suggesting that Gary Habermas, Sean McDowell, and NT Wright are all biased?”

Response: An intellectually honest response would be yes. They are sincere believers in “mainline, traditional” theology. Certainly Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, Sean McDowell, William Lane Craig, and many others could NOT teach at their institutions if they did NOT sign letters of Doctrinal By Laws. Below is an example from Mike Licona’s school:

Licona teaches at Houston Baptist University. The Preamble to the University By-Laws states the distinctive nature of the institution.

Do you really believe that they are not biased? Biased is a loaded term… They are sincere believers…

[@moderators: please add link to quoted text, rather than quoting it in full with no reference.]

@dga471 wrote:

So you’re stuck on a dilemma:

  1. Alter did not do any new historical research, other than popularize or summarize the arguments of previous professional historians.
  2. Alter did do some new historical research (e.g. by taking some claims of previous historians and using that for a new historical case).

If you choose 1), then Alter’s case is not as much of a bombshell as you stated it to be. If you choose 2), then Alter has to persuade people that he can act as an independent, impartial, and trained historian. Which one is it?

Respectfully, you are offering a false dilemma. There exist other possibilities.

There are approximate 800 “favorable” books (in English) written about the resurrection and about 50 texts that challenge that belief. Most of the books repeat the same, tired arguments. Honestly, my text presents to its readership, in a logical and sequential manner 113 issues. These issues contain 120 contradictions and 217 speculations. The information presented represents both sides of the religious aisle. In addition, I present cutting edge information that is often omitted from the vast majority of these texts. Topics include astronomy, geophysics, criminology and the rules of evidence, the social sciences and cognitive psychology. In Volume 2, I will specifically deal with apologetics: the Minimal Facts Approach, Best Evidences, Hearsay evidence, etc. You have my word that this text makes a substantial contribution to the literature. In my opinion, if left to your two exclusive choices, number 2 would be most appropriate.

However, in reference to #2, if you do not mind, I would like to add a caveat. Hopefully, it will be take in a positive spirit:

What are your qualifications?

This is the fallacy of arguing that if someone has not received formal education in a particular topic, he or she is not allowed to present criticisms on that topic of interest. It is essentially an ad hominem attack and a defence of their view by an argument from authority.

This question represents a fallacy because information is legitimate or illegitimate regardless of whether the individual reporting it is an expert or authority. Although an expert likely knows more about a given subject, may be more likely to be correct unfounded assertions, and may be more believable, information itself does not rely on an authority for its legitimacy. Therefore, whether an individual is presenting valid criticisms of an idea depends not on his or her qualifications, but on his or her information and reasoning.

"He has attended no Bible college, taken no home Bible study courses, does not teach a Sunday School class, has not even taken first-year, basic Hebrew or Greek

You wrote:

“Alter has to persuade people that he can act as an independent, impartial, and trained historian.”

RESPONSE: Please read the quote of Taussig, located in my preface (xlvii) and J. Warner Wallace (p. 24).

I have one additional request to make: Please examine my text. And, yes, there are a few errata that I have identified. Fortunately, nothing earth shattering.

Hi Michael,
Thanks for taking the time to respond to me. My earlier responses to your book have to be understood as primarily responses to Vincent’s long essay, which summarized your book’s arguments as a “bombshell” that completely demolished the historical case for the Resurrection. Thus, it would be incorrect to accuse me of arguing from authority. Rather, I am asking Vincent to apply a higher standard of judgment. The implication of Vincent’s post, as I took it, is that no respected historian should ever defend the Resurrection from historical grounds. This is a strong conclusion that only someone actually working in the field of NT history can credibly make. It implies that people like NT Wright and Mike Licona are going to become fringe figures in the field if they do not immediately recant their earlier work defending their Resurrection. Only an authoritative scholar who has a clear idea of what is intellectually respectable within the field can make such a judgment.

Now, even if one is not a professional historian, one can make judgments about history. However, the bar is higher. One has to demonstrate that despite being an outsider, one has the same level of competency as an insider. One way of doing this is by putting forth a clear, rigorous historical methodology that is consistent with what the rest of the field uses, and showing that one is familiar with the literature of the field. I did not see this in Vincent’s post summarizing your book, nor in his subsequent replies in his thread. Perhaps you do have a section in your book doing just this, but Vincent missed it. If that is the case, then feel free to correct me.

Instead, Vincent argued mainly based on his own logic (inspired by your book), while constantly claiming that “this is what an impartial, independent historian would claim.” Apart from the issue of whether Vincent’s logical arguments have some merit, because he is not a historian in this field, his pronouncements that your book is a “bombshell” for the field of Resurrection historical studies fall flat.

Daniel

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One additional note: of course, anyone is free to argue for or against the historical case for the Resurrection. I respect the fact that you have taken many years to study this topic, taking the time to respond to many arguments and facts put forth by Christian apologists, historians, and others. I welcome people debating these arguments, and in this thread I have done some of this direct engagement. However, there is a difference between enthusiastic amateurs debating history and professional historians with vast knowledge of the literature and era debating history. If one is in the category of the former (like Vincent), then one cannot go around claiming that the historical argument for the Resurrection has been utterly demolished. Rather, the proper posture is, “I believe Alter has created a strong case against the Resurrection. I look forward to how professional historians respond to this.”

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Hello Everyone:

This morning I looked up the requisites for Sean McDowell to teach at Biola University. Later I will try to hunt down the requisites of Gary and N.T. to work at…

Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. So, what is required to work at Biola:

Here is a video of Erhman arguing for the validity of the historic Jesus. One of his arguments is for the independence and validity of the 4 Gospels. This is very problematic for his common grave hypothesis.

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I’m struggling to think of example of any domain wherein the participants are passionate about their work and the previous would not be true. Certainly evolution is one topic that could be substituted as per below:

An obvious obstacle is that most of the published texts about evolution are/were written by believers. In effect, the literature is stacked…

The problem, I believe, is that you are viewing this from the wrong perspective. It is not the credal statements or statements of faith for employment that are responsible for the literature that has stacked the deck. It is the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that has done so.

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Thank you for contributing your insight to the discussion.

You wrote:

“I’m struggling to think of example of any domain wherein the participants are passionate about their work and the previous would not be true.”

Response: I definitely agree!

Thanks again for writing.

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So, if the literature is stacked in all cases, then does that mean that we should devalue the literature relative to one’s passion for the subject matter? So that only that which comes from the disassociated and unaffected should prevail? From your guest post linked above:

I’ve been talking about problems with how faith-based universities distort critical biblical scholarship for years now, due to doctrinal statements that their faculty are required to sign, which force them to adhere to predetermined conclusions that are friendly to Christian dogma.

Thanks for your participation here, as well. This is a very interesting discussion.

In volume 2 (currently being edited), I discuss this critical topic. As you stated [hitting the nail on the head]: “faith-based universities distort critical biblical scholarship for years now, due to doctrinal statements that their faculty are required to sign, which force them to adhere to predetermined conclusions that are friendly to Christian dogma.”

So what options are available to staff members of faith-based universities?

  1. Quit teaching at the institution?

  2. Remain a “closet”…professor?

Probably, other options do exist. But, this reality faces those who teach at faith-based universities. The required doctrinal statements that I pointed out [Liberty University, Biola, Houston University, etc are potential real detriments to “real” scholarly discussions, interaction, and advancement of our knowledge. However, occasionally some professors make that courageous stand and do, in effect, make the transition. Then too, one must be intellectually honest and admit that some atheists or skeptics have also changed their views and became “believers”… The important point is that people should be free to express their views without fear or intimidation. As Fox Mulder in X-Files would say, “The Truth Is Out There”… And, there is nothing wrong being an “HONEST SKEPTIC”…

In closing, thanking you for your kind words.

Hi Mike,
I read your linked article and I can sympathize with your concerns if I were in your shoes. That being said, I think it is unfair to paint the work of conservative Christian scholars as biased because of the doctrinal statements they have to sign, while Bart Ehrman’s is more “authoritative” because of his position teaching in a secular university. From what I know, Ehrman is a fine, highly respected and knowledgeable scholar, but he also has his own personal bias against Christianity due to his fundamentalist upbringing. This is why he has been accused by some Christians of, for example, exaggerating the extent of textual variants of the NT in his popular books.

Because of how highly consequential the subject matter is, I believe most scholars, no matter how knowledgeable or critical, bring some tangible bias onto the table. But this is not necessarily hopeless. Mike Licona, as you surely know, devotes an entire section on his personal biases (including the fact that he has to sign a doctrinal statement) in his doctoral thesis The Resurrection of Jesus (“Confessions”, section 1.3.7). He lays down the personal risks involved with him, including to his personal faith. Even if he is still hopelessly biased, he is transparent about it. More importantly, he lays out a clear methodology for how to judge hypotheses based on what other historians (not just conservative Christian ones) have used. This is something that Vincent has not done, and I’m not sure if you’ve done this in your full-length book.

Thank you for this recommendation. Indeed, I would say that the Sinfonia Concertante is my favorite cello concerto, even more than the Dvorak. It combines Prokofiev’s percussive and melodic sides so wonderfully. The lyrical melody in the second movement is (in my subjective opinion) one of the most beautiful of all time - so expressive and melancholic, yet so distinctively modern!

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Great to hear from you!

In the preface to my text, and also, in the acknowledgment section, I attempted (hopefully I was successful) to explain how and why I researched and wrote the book The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. In addition, there is my bio located on my homepage. So, hopefully, I too, have been transparent.

Insofar as his [Licona’s] methodology is concerned, he definitely carries on a healthy conversation [Ch. 6 Weighing the Evidence] with Gerza Vermes, Michael Goulder, Gerd Ludemann, John Dominic Crossan, and Pieter Craffert. But, let me mention:

  1. On page 468ff he discusses the Minimal Facts Approach = historical bed-core. Respectfully, in Volume 2, I demonstrate that this strategy is fallacious, and it is refuted.

  2. Licona pens: "Our approach will be to weigh hypotheses using only the historical bed-rock. This will serve to eliminate the weaker hypotheses.

  3. If the historical bed-rock is fallacious, so too, will be his conclusion.

  4. One weakness with Mike’s methodology is that he does NOT conjoin the strongest aspects of the five naturalistic hypotheses that he examines.

  5. By conjoining the strongest aspects of the five naturalistic hypotheses that he examines [employing McCullagh’s Best Evidences strategy = Scope, Power, Plausibility, Less Ad Hoc, and Illumination], it “could” be found superior to the "Resurrection Hypothesis [RO]. This topic is addressed in an issue in my Volume 2.

  6. The RH (p. 583]: “Following a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause, Jesus appeared to a number of people, in individual and group settings and to friends and foes, in no less than an objective vision and perhaps within ordinary vision in his bodily raised corpse.”

  7. The entire foundation of this definition is based on the Gospel resurrection narratives, Acts 1, and 1 Cor 15: 1-19. If those accounts are false [as solid as quick-sand], so too is the RO. Of course, entire books, dissertation, journal articles, etc. have been written on this topic.

And, yes, Prokofiev is awesome. In my opinion, he does not receive the recognition that he deserves: lyrical violin concert #1 and his incredible 3rd piano concert, and I could go on. We were blessed with his musical output.

Take care

Mike

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I should also clarify @MJAlter, I’m not saying you should be ignored because you are an apologist with an agenda. I’m just objecting to you being portrayed as anything other than this. The issue is not how you present yourself, but how others have presented you.

Now that we have separated @vjtorley’s contributions from this thread, it will be a bit easier to engage with you on your own terms.

Could you explain something to me? Christianity began as a Jewish sect. Why is following the rabbi Jesus, now, the one thing that would make someone non-Jewish? I know it is considered offensive to even use the term “Messianic Jew,” because this term itself asserts that a Jewish person can follow Jesus. At the same time, there are atheist Jews, and reformed Jews, and many many more. Why does rejecting appear to be the fundamental sociological tenet of the full range of Judaism?

This is puzzling, and bears repeating. Why exactly is an atheist Jew to be included and tolerated, but not a “messianic Jew”?

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