Michael Alter: The Man and His Argument Against the Resurrection

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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If @MJAlter returns to the thread, some of this might be move to side comments.

That is explicitly not his approach. In his own telling, he is rising to the challenge of debunking the Resurrection. He began his inquiry with his conclusion already in mind. This is not an inquiry, but an “apologetic” to defend Jewish people from conversion. That is how he explains it himself.

He also does not engage these question as an impartial historian would, not at all. In fact he seems to ignore the original cultural context, so how could he possibly know what the “hallmarks” of fictional or historical stories are at this time? There is a reason that even atheist historians reject Jesus as a myth or a fictional composite character.

It is not worth rebutting the whole thing, but I’ll give you two salient an examples.

The Blood Drinking Ritual (Communion)

The argument seems to be that this story is implausible because Jews just don’t do this, so it must not have happened. This misses the point entirely.

We know for a fact:

  1. Somehow a symbolic blood drinking ritual actually does arise among devote Jews in the 1st Century. There are so many independent sources attesting it that no serious historian doubts it, and it is not clear that even @MJAlter disputes this.

  2. Moreover, there appears to be no debate among early Christians (1st century Palestine) about communion and how it arises. There is discussion about the correct way to conduct the Lord’s Supper, but there is not debate about whether to do it or that it represents the body and blood of Jesus.

  3. Agreeing with @MJAlter this is highly unusual. In all the comparator Messiah movements, not once does a comparable tradition arise of symbolic blood drinking. This is not what Jewish people usually do when their Messiah-leader dies. But this is the whole point in the first place. We have increased urgency in asking: how does this happen?

So we see something that is (1) highly unusual and (2) undoubtably took place at some point in the first 50 years of the Church. The historian has to ask: “how did this very unlikely event arise?” @MJAlter does not at all seem interested in this question. No matter how we look at it, at some point we would see very devout Jews instituting this ritual.

Whether it be Jesus, Peter or Paul that institutes it, we face the same objection that @MJAlter raises. This isn’t likely. This objection is entirely missing the point, because we already know that something very unlikely actually happened. We know it happened. It was one of these devout Jews who did it, and somehow convinced all the rest to go along, without argument. How could that be possibly happen?

Their own explanation is that Jesus institutes this shortly before he dies. They all seemed to be confused by it in the moment. It is only later they realize its significance, after Easter sometime. It is because of something that happened after Jesus died (what???), they all come to this point of view, without any dissent, and without any argument. That is what they say. And it makes sense of the data.

The notion that Jesus didn’t institute communion, but it was added in later, raises far more questions, without even answering the first question. If Paul, for example, gets this idea 10 years afterwards, why does everyone go along with it then? Why would he even do it? We isn’t there a massive debate about this recorded in history? We are still left with the original problem: why would devout Jews go along with this? Why and how did they unanimously create a false story about Jesus? What would motivate them to do this?

The best answer is that Jesus himself instituted this right before He died. It is surprising, and is not what we expect. This heightens the question of the Resurrection. What happened to the disciples after he died so that they would institute the communion ritual? If he does not think Jesus institute it, who did? How did they convince the twelve disciples to go along with it without any argument? Why does such an unlikely ritual become a foundational event in this single messiah movement, and no others?

Those are the historian’s questions. @MJAlter and @vjtorley don’t give us a good account of how the ritual arose. This is an example of argument from incredulity, that ignores rigorous engagement with the fundamental historical questions being raised.

Of course, I qualify this with the fact I haven’t read the book and am going of the writings of @MJAlter and @vjtorley here. If they do have a well-considered answer to the historical questions I’d love to hear it. Instead, this was just a two liner in a long list of other claims just like it. That is why I’m calling this a Gish Gallop.

All these arguments are absurd. They would just take so much time to rebut in entirety. We see YECs do this all the time regarding the age of the earth and evolution. This is just the same strategy, and it works when people are ignorant of science, or in this case, of history.

Jesus as a Mythical Conglomerate

I’ll explain this is clearly a false theory later. No respected historian (atheists included) would bring forward such a claim because it is not sustainable. The evidence is just solidly against this.

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My guess is that you’ve never had a reasonable explanation of ‘original sin’ explained. Instead, you probably heard a dogmatic recital of an anachronistic commitment with no observable logic behind it.

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You wrote:

I haven’t yet found the “forcible” statement.

Well, the The Philosophy of Key 73 uses the word “FORCEFULLY”… really.

Here are two links:

https://books.google.com/books?id=X-HQIvqdhhAC&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=Our+Goal+is+to+confront+people+more+fully+and+forcefully+with+the+Gospel+of+Jesus+Christ&source=bl&ots=-YGlUdgb_8&sig=sRtsw7XF_-bmMwzaU9F_OWDL4oM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjSpoK80-3dAhUSVa0KHYgjDZwQ6AEwAXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Our%20Goal%20is%20to%20confront%20people%20more%20fully%20and%20forcefully%20with%20the%20Gospel%20of%20Jesus%20Christ&f=false

https://books.google.com/books?id=8bzbrAhJmMgC&pg=PA126&lpg=PA126&dq=Our+Goal+is+to+confront+people+more+fully+and+forcefully+with+the+Gospel+of+Jesus+Christ&source=bl&ots=oSqKbAPS6F&sig=4WN-4hWAMFODn_rS8S7jys6-RcI&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjSpoK80-3dAhUSVa0KHYgjDZwQ6AEwAHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Our%20Goal%20is%20to%20confront%20people%20more%20fully%20and%20forcefully%20with%20the%20Gospel%20of%20Jesus%20Christ&f=false

My copy of the statement was found in a thesis written by Stephen A. Karol at Hebrew Union College, 1977 p. 85

I hope these links help.

Please stay in contact.

Mike

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Thank you @MJAlter. I’m glad Key 73 ended up being an ephemeral movement that has totally exited our cultural consciousness.

I agree with you in opposing any effort to forcibly convert people. Even if was being said metaphorically, I would oppose the use fo that word. It is aggressive behavior that is not consistent with the Jesus I read about in Scripture. I am also very sorry that Christians said this to you. Even though I had no part in it, and do not approve, I apologize for what they did say. I understand also why this aggressive behavior would be concerning to Jewish people in this country, and also atheists, agnostics, and any one else who is not a Christian. You were right to be alarmed.

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The church that I was attending was not committed to original sin.

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@Patrick

It doesnt concern you. Please dont worry about it. Im a Unitarian speaking to another kind of unitarian. You cant possibly think im going to share my intimate thoughts on the matter with a person who stalks all my posts to trigger turmoil.

If you had ANY history indicating you understood my views i would discuss it.

But you dont. So i wont.

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Sure, but he has to have some method of doing so. I haven’t seen him say much about that. If he thinks he can prove that the resurrection didn’t occur outright, I think it’s a fool’s errand. Anyway, that’s what his approach seems like to me, and I would be interesting in reading more both to see what exactly his arguments are, and simply for the sake of possible insights about the text.

Most do certainly, but not all I believe. I’m not interested in the “fictional composite character” aspect myself, it doesn’t seem plausible to me. Why do you think he ignore the cultural context? He doesn’t seem to in the following example, though I agree he gets it wrong.

That’s a valid objection to this point.

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A little insecure are we? Perhaps afraid the house of cards will come tumbling down? I understand. You don’t need to answer as your beliefs are your beliefs.

Thank you for writing!

You wrote: This is not an inquiry, but an “apologetic…

Response: Yes, you are, in part, correct. However, please let me clarify this point that you have raised. I had a major obstacle (actually many) when I started this project in 2003. How should I start, where do I begin? Unfortunately, there was no “yellow brick road” to follow. I decided to collate a list of the arguments [preferable the strongest arguments] in support of the resurrection, and, only then, try to find out if these arguments were valid.

The first person I examined was Dr. William Lane Craig. He had published several books and journal articles. In my opinion, he is the foremost writer on the topic. Second, I examined the works of Josh McDowell. In addition, over several years, I visited over 15 Christian seminaries [esp. libraries]. With my list of initial arguments, it was necessary to find a rebuttal. Jewish sources, that specifically refute the resurrection are virtually non-existent. Even the JewsforJudaism web cite was insufficient. Therefore, I was forced to turn to texts penned by atheists and agnostics. Although they do exist [relative few in number], most of their arguments left me frustrated. Their presentations were old, repetitive, and WEAK. But, the same too, can be said about many of the sources written by Christian apologists and theologians. Therefore, I decided to critically look at the seven relevant chapters from the Christian Bible and develop my own questions. From there, I decided, with the recommendation of R. Moshe Shulman, to modify my approach by categorizing the list into Contradictions and Speculations…

So, yes, I partially began the inquiry with the conclusion in mind. But, research was REQUIRED to substantiate that view. However, a careful, diligent, and INTELLECTUALLY HONEST review of the relevant texts supports the view that Jesus did NOT experience a physical, bodily resurrection. Unequivocally, William Bright, the late president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International [xlv-xlvi, 745] was incorrect and disingenuous when he wrote: “To me, the evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker of the truth.” My research has made me even more convinced than ever, that the resurrection, as recorded in the Christian Bible, cannot substantiate the claims mades by Christian apologists and theologians. [NB. Side note: This is why I respect Vincent Torley, for his intellectual honesty, demonstrated by his recent review of my text.] My book is not perfect. Yes, there exist a few glitches. But, the overall presentation definitely drowns out those small and insignificant errata.

Take care

Mike

Hi Mr. Alter.

If I understand you correctly, you abandoned this approach?

If so do you disagree then with Dr. Torley’s characterization of your book as demolishing the Christian apologist’s case for the resurrection? Rather, you did not deal with the Christian apologist’s case in this book, and we await that in your followup book?

Hi @swamidass,

You are entirely correct in your assertion that I don’t put forward an explanation of how belief in the Eucharist arose. As I wrote in my OP:

In an article titled, [Drinking blood at a kosher Eucharist? The sound of scholarly silence](http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/014610790203200405?journalCode=btba)(_Biblical Theology Bulletin_, November 1, 2002), **Dr. Michael J. Cahill**, a former Professor of Biblical Studies at Duquesne University, comprehensively surveys no less than seventy scholarly sources on the question of the likelihood of the Jewish Jesus proposing the drinking of blood at the Eucharist, and concludes that the origin of the Christian Eucharist remains a profound mystery...

So, how would a neutral historian evaluate the claim found in St. Paul’s writings and in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus, on the night before he died, instituted the Eucharist, instructing his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and to continue doing so in remembrance of him, in the future (1 Corinthians 11: 25-26)? Despite its dual attestation, it’s a very tall claim, given that the idea of eating human flesh and drinking any kind of blood is utterly foreign to Judaism. While it is possible to suppose that Jesus had previously explained to his disciples what he was doing (see John 6:53-68), the mental leap required to get first-century Jews to accept this idea of eating their Master’s flesh and drinking his blood is a huge one. A fair-minded historian would judge it more parsimonious to assume that such an idea did not spring up overnight, or even over the short space of a year, but instead evolved gradually in the Christian community, in the twenty-odd years between Jesus’ death and St. Paul’s writings on the Eucharist, and that the institution of the Eucharist in its Pauline form was retrospectively ascribed to Jesus. In other words, a neutral historian would have to conclude that the notion that Jesus celebrated a meal which we would recognize as the Christian Eucharist on the night before he died is most likely a historical anachronism.

Now, is that what really happened? I don’t know. I’m just writing about what a neutral historian would conclude.

I’d like to finish by quoting from a passage I wrote in another thread:

I’m a Catholic, and I believe in the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. But the question of whether Jesus said, “This is my body … This is my blood” at the Last Supper is not an in-house question but a historical one, to which I answer: probably not, for reasons explained in my OP. I also quoted Catholic priest **Professor Robert J. Daly**, S.J., who [argues](http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/66/66.1/66.1.1.pdf) that Jesus did indeed institute the Eucharist, but that it was not the Eucharist as we know it, and that it took many generations of guidance from the Holy Spirit for the Eucharist to reach its current form.

I cannot see why this should scandalize Christians in general, or even Catholics. After all, the central dogmas of Christianity are surely the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Atonement. But it is widely acknowledged (and has been known since the days of the Jesuit scholar, Petavius) that the early Church Fathers were not orthodox on the subject of the Trinity: nothing like an orthodox position emerged until the fourth century. Why is it so difficult to accept that the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist underwent a similar evolution, over the first and second centuries?

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You wrote: If I understand you correctly, you abandoned this approach?

Response: My original intent was to pen a response to the arguments in support of the resurrection, preferably but not exclusively from strongest to weakest. This original approach did not workout. Believe it not, if that tactic was followed, my text would have been even longer… In addition, it created a problem with trying to go chronologically through the seven significant chapters. If my recollection is correct [SEVERAL YEARS AGO], Rabbi Moshe Shulman suggested the format that I eventually adopted. However, here too, there were problems: should I attempt to grade/scale the contradictions and speculations, what then about the chronology, should the contradictions and speculations be separated [different parts of the text or kept together], etc. The easiest and most logical manner to refute Christian apologists was the format adopted for Volume 1.

You wrote: If so do you disagree then with Dr. Torley’s characterization of your book as demolishing the Christian apologist’s case for the resurrection? Rather, you did not deal with the Christian apologist’s case in this book, and we await that in your followup book?

Response: No! In my opinion, the 120 contradictions and 217 speculations UNEQUIVOCALLY demolishes the Christian apologists’ case for the resurrection. In Volume 1, I took a large number of issues that do, in effect, refute the case of Christian apologists. However, Volume 1 dealt with the Christian apologists and theologians’ treatment of the resurrection narratives and analyzing the texts in a horizontal manner. Please, carefully explore my text. You will see that I extensively interact with Christian theologians and apologists and demolish their arguments [In my humble opinion.].

To clear up this matter, Volume 2 (and hopefully 3) will deal with specific apologetic arguments/strategies/tactics. For example Issues 1-8 will deal specifically with the Minimal Facts approach [Habermas and Licona]. Of course, it must interact with some material that appears in Volume 1. Issue 9 will confront the Best Evidence apologetic. Later, Issue 11 will deal with Sean McDowell and the purported martyrdom of the apostles, etc. These, and other NARROW apologetics strategies/tactics are specifically addressed in Volume 2. In no way, could they be incorporated in Volume 1. That text was already 912 pages in length (and for only $10 in its e-book format! - Pretty fair, in my opinion.)

In closing, Vincent is 100 percent correct! Volume 1 does exactly what he opined: “demolishing the Christian apologist’s case for the resurrection” - But, based on the seven relevant chapters of the Christian Bible.

Take care

Mike

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Well stated!

Mike

@vjtorley I’ll respond more later, but I wish you would stop making such an stretched and unsubstantiated claim. You have not presented historical reasoning, nor have you demonstrated anything about what “neutral historians” conclude. This is rhetoric that even @MJAlter is not making. He clearly is not a historian, let alone a neutral historian. Moreover, it appears neither of you actually engaged with up-to-date historical scholarship on these questions.

I hate to break it to you @MJAlter, but WLC is most certainly not the foremost writer on this. He is an eloquent writer and careful thinker, but he is largely just echoing Habermas’s case.

The foremost scholar on this might be NT Wright, whose 2003 book is relevant as it ever was. It appears you are attacking a straw-man. Did you consult with any historians as you did your work?

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@MJAlter I’m still hoping for an answer on this before we continue:

To this I would add another question that is (admittedly) idiosyncratic to us at Peaceful Science. We care a lot about origin stories. What do you understand about Adam and Evolution? Do you reject evolution? Do you believe Adam and Eve are real people in a real past? How do you fit it together?