McGrew Responds to Torley on Jesus' Crucifixion and Burial

Continuing the discussion from McGrew: Response to Torley on the Guard at the Tomb

Tim McGrew has now responded to two other objections that @vjtorley has with regards to the Passion narratives:

  1. That Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple could not have been allowed to stand near the cross:
  2. That Jesus was not buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimatea:

Unsurprisingly, besides specific replies regarding details of the gospel accounts, McGrew critiques the deficiency of Vincent’s basic methodology. First is the whole problem with doing history by probability (emphases mine):

Here, as in the two previous points, Torley’s method (and presumably Alter’s) is that of a priori history. The idea is to say, at our distance of time, what would not have been done, to infer that therefore it was not done, and to conclude that an account that says that it was done must be false.

This is a terrible way to do history.

Prima facie , the Gospels are early documents that have some claim to be historical sources concerning practices of the time. To decide on the basis of highly indirect inference (often amounting to nothing more than bare assertion) that some practice related in the Gospels “would not” have happened, even in an entirely non-miraculous portion of the account, is to attempt to do history from one’s armchair. But history is intrinsically empirical. We would have to reject a great many things that did undoubtedly happen in secular history if we were to apply such a method consistently.

Then the problem of quoting any scholar that agrees with you as an authority:

Torley also uncritically accepts Brown’s assertion that the Gospel authors or their sources invented the claim that Jesus was buried in a new tomb for apologetic purposes. It should be obvious that the mere fact that Brown says this does not have any argumentative cogency, but Torley’s (and Alter’s?) method apparently is to treat any such assertion from any scholar as if it automatically shifts the burden of proof. At that point all that they ask is whether the account “could have some historical basis.” Again, this is poor methodology.

And finally, the arguments from statistics are just not how historians do history.

Torley rejects the claim that Jesus was buried behind a rolling stone on the ground that we have found only a small number of rock tombs with such a stone. But this is a very weak argument. Indeed, it can be turned on its head. We do have evidence that there were rock tombs with rolling stones at Jesus’ time, precisely as recounted in the Gospels. One cannot reasonably reject testimony on the basis of these statistics. Even if we could accurately and confidently infer the approximate percentage of tombs that had this feature and the wealth of their owners from our archeological discoveries (a fallible inference at best), we could easily think of parallel cases in our own time where a single sober attestation would overcome the minor burden of proof. My elderly neighbor, a decade or so ago, owned a red Cadillac and kept it in lovely condition. Should readers discount my testimony to this fact because the vast majority of Americans do not own Cadillacs, and most Cadillacs are not red?