Michael Alter: The Man and His Argument Against the Resurrection

Thank you for writing.

I actually discussed the question that you have raised in the comment section of the Skeptical Zone:

  1. Now let be specific on a few details about Jesus:

A. I do NOT believe that Jesus in 1/3 of the Godhead.

B. I do NOT believe that Jesus in God incarnate.

C. I do not believe that Jesus was conceived through a virgin conception.

D. I do not believe the numerous “miracles” reported about Jesus: embellishment, legendary, theological, natural explanations

E. I do not believe in that Jesus met Moses, etc.

F. I do not believe most of the arresting narratives

G. I do not believe most if not all of the trial accounts

H. I do not believe most of the crucifixion narratives

I. I do not believe the visitation narratives

J. I do not believe the appearance narratives

K. I do not believe the Judas episode

L. I do not believe the martyrdom of the apostles (most) – extensively discussed in Volume 2.

Why do I not believe the above? Well, kindly re-read Justin’s honest review of my text and most important, read my text. The text clearly explains why… And, Volume 2 will further the discussion why.

the reason that this text rejects Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection is because there is no unequivocal evidence that this historical event occurred.

You wrote: Seems like a fairly low bar.

RESPONSE: Why should anyone accept the resurrection if there is no proof of that purported event?

RESPONSE: Why should anyone accept the resurrection if the resurrection narratives, Acts, 1 Corinthians…are contradictory, embellished works, or works written to fulfill a theological agenda?

RESPONSE: I would be interested to know what you consider to be a “high” bar?

Take care

Mike

Thanks for the response. To be clear, I have no “concerns” per se. I’m just genuinely wanting to understand you.

This is really interesting. It seems like very personal concern. Why does it matter to you what others believe? Why would it matter if a Jewish person chose to follow Jesus?

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Resurrection is NOT the same as the 'resuscitation" or “reanimation” of a body or the “reincarnation” or “immortality” of a soul. Please see page xlii. Neither was Jesus’s purported resurrection spiritual: a phantom, a ghost, etc. According to the Christian traditional and evangelical line, the resurrection was a PHYSICAL, BODILY resurrection. Of course, Paul adds a few caveats in 1 Corinthians 15… My position is to refute the assertion/belief/notion that Jesus experienced a physical, bodily resurrection.

Take care

Mike

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Thank you for your warm welcome. I appreciate your thoughtful words.

Take care

Mike

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Hello Patrick:

I just sent a reply to Mung. That message was cut and pasted from my initial response on the Skeptical Zone. Here is what I wrote.

I actually discussed the question that you have raised in the comment section of the Skeptical Zone:

  1. Now let be specific on a few details about Jesus:
    A. I do NOT believe that Jesus in 1/3 of the Godhead.
    B. I do NOT believe that Jesus in God incarnate.
    C. I do not believe that Jesus was conceived through a virgin conception.
    D. I do not believe the numerous “miracles” reported about Jesus: embellishment, legendary, theological, natural explanations
    E. I do not believe in that Jesus met Moses, etc.
    F. I do not believe most of the arresting narratives
    G. I do not believe most if not all of the trial accounts
    H. I do not believe most of the crucifixion narratives
    I. I do not believe the visitation narratives
    J. I do not believe the appearance narratives
    K. I do not believe the Judas episode
    L. I do not believe the martyrdom of the apostles (most) – extensively discussed in Volume 2.

Why do I not believe the above? Well, kindly re-read Justin’s honest review of my text and most important, read my text. The text clearly explains why… And, Volume 2 will further the discussion why.

the reason that this text rejects Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection is because there is no unequivocal evidence that this historical event occurred.

You wrote: Seems like a fairly low bar.

RESPONSE: Why should anyone accept the resurrection if there is no proof of that purported event?

RESPONSE: Why should anyone accept the resurrection if the resurrection narratives, Acts, 1 Corinthians…are contradictory, embellished works, or works written to fulfill a theological agenda?

RESPONSE: I would be interested to know what you consider to be a “high” bar?

Take care

Mike

Well, I hope that my response clears up any questions. If not, feel free to write me.

Take care

Mike

Here is my response [#1-6; I already sent you #7] that was posted on Skeptical Zone

Does Alter actually accept the historicity of Jesus or not?

RESPONSE:

  1. Currently, I believe that “a” Jesus existed during the first century. Therefore, I do not accept the Christ Myth. However, I respect the opinion (but do not necessarily agree with “all of the “words” of its advocates. Their contributions must be careful read and evaluated. Perhaps, they too, reveal kernels of truth.

  2. It is possible that portions (many?) of the accounts of Jesus’s life were based on several first century Jesuses. Therefore, the Jesus in the NT is a composite Jesus.

  3. Given that miracles exist, Jesus’s resurrection need not have been one of them, not to mention the approximate 30 miracles reported in the NT. For clarification, some miracles in the Hebrew Bible are midrashic allegory [e.g., Jacob wrestling with the angel.]. Torah is interpreted on a four level scheme: PARDeS.

  4. If the Gospel narratives are carefully examined, they unequivocally display embellishment, an evolving storyline, and written for a theological agenda. Healthy examples of these claims are found throughout my text. As an inerrantist (if my information is correct, if not please correct me), you will not accept my opinion and the opinion of many other Christian scholars and theologians on this matter of Scripture. But, the bottom line is that we should respect one another and maintain a civil conversation. And, I thank you for being civil…

  5. You ask: Does he discuss how he decides which elements of the text are historical and which are not? Credulity? Well, if you kindly examine my text, in my opinion, your question is answered. And, there are numerous “Christians” who would probably beg to differ with your opinion.

  6. When I employed the phrase “for the sake of discussion” – I was trying to avoid going of into tangents (yes, possibly interesting). My text was already 912 pages long and that was after deleting material that I hoped would be in the text. In Volume 2, I intend to incorporate that material. Included, is a brief discussion about some issues raised by Lydia (And, she really is AWESOME!)

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Take care

Mike

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Take care

Mike

@MJAlter it would be helpful if your posts were less repetitive. It might be easier to do this is you make you posts on the discourse forum website, rather than email.

Is anyone following him here? I’m a bit lost. I don’t know what he is responding to exactly.

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I always felt that this was possible as the Jesus story was a collection of stories about several men who live at that time.

This seems clear from looking at the Gospels in the order as they were written. More detail is added with time and more legend and embellishments are made later in time.

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@patrick the issue is two fold.

  1. that many of these claims not black and white, and the degree to which it is the case is central making sense of what it means.

  2. Many of these claims are actually testable, and this is what @dga471 has been pointing out. We do not yet see a coherent methodology arising in his work for assessing claims like this arising from Alter.

  3. Alter has a very different goal than @vjtorley. Alter says he wants to refute the Ressurection, not to “see what the evidence shows” or what a “fair minded historian” might conclude.

@vjtorley set the bar much lower, and I’m not sure it has been cleared. @MJAlter sets it much higher, so hi I’m certain he is no where near acheiving it. I don’t seen any evidence he has engaged the strong arguments for the Ressurection (e.g. NT Wright) nor that he even understands why we affirm the Ressurection. He has not refuted the Ressurection.

The fundamental issue is that polemicists can argue for their predetermined conclusion in any complex topic, and attract people who will but what they are selling. We see that in creationism all the time. The much more difficult thing is to come with an open mind to see what the evidence is really showing with a genuinely fair-minded inquiry. Even this, I guarantee you, will box no one into belief.

As for me, if I had not encountered Jesus, I would probably be an atheist. I was raised YEC, and new alltye arguments against evolution. I became ruthless in sheddingy bias, to understand what the evidence was really showing. I became willing to listen with an open mind. That is how I left YEC and how I came to affirm evolution. So the open-minded was required to consider Jesus fairly is something I am well acquainted with from my experience in rejecting YEC. I could settle for polemicist arguments that confirmed my bias, or I could seek truth. It was costly, but I chose the more difficult path. That, it seems is a recurring decision we all face in a polemically driven world.

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@MJAlter, thanks for pointing me to your bio. Several parts were really helpful and interesting:

Alter’s interest in the field of Jewish apologetics began in the 1980s when he was a member of Havurah of South Florida. The spark was a class taught by Rabbi Norman Lipson, a guest teacher. Among the topics that Lipson discussed were Key ’73 [The avowed objective of Key ’73 was “to confront every person in North America more fully and forcibly with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”] and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. An important object of these efforts was to convert Jews to the Christian faith. Alter became concerned over Christian attempts to witness, evangelize, and proselytize Jews; his concern prompted him to research this topic.

I did not even know that there was such a thing as Jewish apologetics! That is interesting to me, because the world for apologetics comes from 1 Peter 3:15 (New Testament tex) from the greek word “apologia,” which means defense or explanation. I’m very curious how a devout Jewish man, such as yourself, comes to take that term as his own. Can you tell us more?

Also the concern about Jewish people changing their faith being of concern to you is interesting. Can you explain more why that bothers you? To be clear, I am also bothered by Key’73’s statement to “Forcibly” confront people. That is very ominous. No such claims are made in the the Lausanne Covenant though. I’m still curious why you are concerned about this?

I also do note that you care deeply about your Jewish faith. You write:

Alter’s major passion is learning Torah, researching, and writing.

During the early 1980s, Alter joined Havurah of South Florida, a Jewish fellowship associated with the Reconstructionist movement. In 1991 he published his first book in the field of Judaica, What Is The Purpose of Creation? A Jewish Anthology , the main selection of The Jewish Book News. At this time Alter became affiliated with Chabad, where he deepened his study of Torah and Jewish traditions. At this point Science and Flexibility (2nd edition) was published.

Without meaning any disrespect, how do you know the Torah is true? Why do you believe it is Holy Scripture?

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So I had never heard of this Key’73 movement, because it took place years before I was born and seems to have evaporated into nothingness. Very interesting. Here is some jewish coverage of the concerns at the time. It is a very helpful read.

The leaders of “Key 73,” the nationwide Christian evangelical campaign to call “the continent to Christ,” have given assurances to Jews that they repudiate anti-Semitism and any evangelical resort to coercion. This was reported by Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of the American Jewish Committee’s interreligious affairs department who has been corresponding with the “Key 73” leadership in order to convey to them the serious concerns of the American Jewish community over the multi-media evangelical drive.

I see why there was concern. It is interesting that they even had to clarify this. I haven’t yet found the “forcible” statement. It also seems that these whole effort fizzled out and didn’t even accomplish much. I can see how their might be real concern at the time, but it once again is interesting how the reaction that movement provoked has consequences that last till today.

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Thank you for your reply.

It looks like we share some ideas regarding Jesus…

Take care.

Mike

@MJAlter,

If you ever need an arm’s length “3rd Opinion”, i’m available. Im on record here as a Unitarian Universalist (non-attending)… who has embraced @swamidass’ “Genealogical Adam” scenarios as a “middle way”: where the mystical over-reach of Evangelical thinking can be re-engineered to afford an acceptance of an historical/miraculous Adam and Eve (as specified in Gen 2) … in exchange for adopting the ‘full boat’ of science supporting the evolution of humanity (as implied in Gen 1).

Im happy to see your work being discussed with you as a participant!

How would you refute it exactly? From what I can glean, it seems to me he is using a specific approach. Do the gospel accounts of the resurrection have the earmarks of a historical account or of fiction? Whether there are improbable elements included in the narrative seems germane to this question. He seems to have done work to analyze the content of the text for such instances. I’d be interested in reading it and judging his arguments and claims on their merit. The title seems to be a fair statement of the situation.

There are some possible reasons for proceeding here with a goal in mind as opposed to simple “seeing what the evidence shows”. Jesus and the resurrection are not usually considered or evaluated simply as historical arguments, and Christianity has a major impact in the world in various ways. Mike is not a historian, but does that disqualify him from reading and commenting on the available text? I think we might all have a lot to say on the question. If he’s done his homework that should be apparent in his book, and if not, as well. I’m watching an N.T. Wright video now out of interest, but addressing any particular argument isn’t necessary for one to make their own arguments.

I ended up in the middle of this thread … and am not sure how that happened!

George, what does GA have to do with the question of the truthfulness of whether an executed Jewish man in Palestine 2000 years ago was resurrected because He was God and ascended into heaven to seat at the right hand of His Father God - the YHWH of the Torah?

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Nothing

or everything.

It depends on your theology.

Back in my youth, when I was a devout Christian, I still took an allegorical approach to Genesis 2. And I thought that “original sin” was absurd. However, people who take “original sin” seriously seem to need A&E to be real people.

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My original question to Michael was which facts about Jesus does he affirm and why. His response provided a list of things he did not affirm about Jesus. So far, it seems that he is willing to affirm little to nothing about the historical Jesus, in spite of his claim to be following a number of other authors with regard to the historical Jesus.

For example, Michael writes:

So he believes in “a Jesus,” but the Jesus of the New Testament is not that Jesus.

What sorts of difficulties might this raise for his argument? For example, someone might argue that story x, which he finds implausible, isn’t about the Jesus that the New Testament claims was raised from the dead, it is a story about a different Jesus. Therefore it cannot count against the resurrection of the Jesus that was actually raised from the dead.

So a question for Mr. Alter. And thank your for your responses.

Do you believe that the accounts of the crucifixion are all about the same historical Jesus or do you believe that we have the New Testament authors putting together multiple crucifixions of multiple Jesus figures into a composite Jesus, making it appear as if they are talking about the same man, when really they are talking about many different people who were crucified? Or is there another option I have failed to mention?

What problems do others see with the “composite Jesus” hypothesis?

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