Michael Alter: The Man and His Argument Against the Resurrection

Theology

(Michael J. Alter) #41

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


Guide to Alter and Torley on the Resurrection
#42

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?


(Vincent Torley) #43

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?


Torley on The Resurrection: Take Two
(Michael J. Alter) #44

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


(Michael J. Alter) #45

Well stated!

Mike


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #46

@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?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #47

@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?


(Michael J. Alter) #48

Hello S. Joshua:

You wrote: but he is largely just echoing Habermas’s case.

Response: I have personally met Gary. He is a great guy and a definite Packer fan. I am also in contact with him… And, I am definitely familiar with his works and have them…

Habermas, Gary R. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. [239 pages] Useful material was from 15-53… Not helpful to my book. His chapter headings include: : The Existence of God, The Person and Teachings of Christ, The Kingdom of God, Salvation, Eternal Life, The Testimony of the Holy Spirit, A Personal account, etc.

Habermas, Gary R. The Resurrection: Heart of the New Testament . [Volume1] Joplin, MO: College Press, 2000a. [239 pages] Respectfully more philosophical than a detailed analysis of the resurrection narratives.

Habermas, Gary R. The Resurrection: Heart of the Christian Life . [Volume2] Joplin, MO: College Press, 2000b. [118 pages] Respectfully more philosophical than a detailed analysis of the resurrection narratives.

Habermas, Gary R. The Resurrection of Jesus . Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980. [187 pages; reprinted Lanham, MD University Press of America] For my book, only useful spanning pages 33-38; Chapters that were not useful to my Volume 1 - The Existence of God, The Person and Teachings of Christ, The Kingdom of God, Salvation, The Resurrection and Worldwide Views, etc.

Habermas, Gary R., and Antony Flew. Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew . Edited by David Baggett. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. [184 pages] A debate This work was published six years after I started my research…

Habermas, Gary R., and Antony Flew. Resurrected? An Atheist and Theist Dialogue . Edited by John Ankerberg. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. [112 pages] Some interesting discussion but lacked [in my opinion] substantial meat] This is my opinion… And, Flew was weak…

Habermas, Gary R., and Antony Flew. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate . Edited by Terry L. Miethe. San Francisco: Harper &; Row, 1987. [190 pages] Habermas penned about useful 60 pages…T Gary’s affirmative ran from pages 15-30 !and rebuttal 39-46… That’s it!

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus . Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004. [352 pages; N.B. This is an important work that explains the Minimal Facts strategy. I extensively deal with this book in Volume 2

Craig’s books are substantial [In my opinion]

Craig, William Lane. Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus . Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1989. [442 pages. An absolute must read.]

Craig, William Lane. Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb . Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1988. [153 pages. A short but detailed reading.]

Craig, William Lane. The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist Controversy . Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1985. [677 pages. A lengthy, important text to examine.]

Craig, William Lane. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus . Chicago: Moody, 1981. [156 pages. The first of the main works by Craig on this subject. A definite read.]

Craig, William Lane, and John Dominic Crossan. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan . Edited by Paul Copan. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998. [192 pages]

Craig, William Lane, and Gerd Lüdemann. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann . Edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. [206 pages]

In reference to Wright, I am not attacking a straw man…I am being honest in my evaluation of his 2003 work. And, as I commented, it does, in fact, contain a wealth of background information. However, his Easter Narratives were lacking, as compared to Craig. Again, this is just my opinion.

I respect your opinion but humbly disagree!

You wrote:
Moreover, it appears neither of you actually engaged with up-to-date historical scholarship on these questions.

Response: My book was already 912 pages with an 80 page bibliography. In Volumes 2 and 3, I will deal with some of these concerns. Volume 1 dealt with an analysis of the seven relevant chapters from the Christian Bible…

Take care

Mike


(Michael J. Alter) #49

Hello S. Joshua:

This is really an awesome question. Previously, I discussed this issue. Let me be extremely brief:

  1. I am not a fundamentalist.
  2. The Torah is NOT meant to be interpreted literally.
  3. I, along with many others employ the traditional mode of study/interpretation of the text, primarily PaRDeS. Please see my previous discussion and Google search the term…
  4. Also, [to save me time] please Google “The Thirteen Rules of Interpretation by Rabbi Ishmael.” [Sifra]
  5. How do you know Torah is true. You must define EMET. But an honest answer for many would be it is a matter of faith. Of course, Christians, Muslims, etc can say the same thing about their sacred texts.
  6. I struggle, like many others, with MANY portions of the text. The name “ISRAEL” is defined by some as “a God wrestler”… That is what many Jews do… They wrestle with the text… Just examine the Talmud.

Take care

Mike


Guide to Alter and Torley on the Resurrection
(George) #50

Blah… blahdee blah.


#51

Hi Michael,

Let me ask a rather more pointed question, but I think it is in the same vein as what Joshua was asking. Do you believe that Moses was an historical person, or do you believe that “a Moses” existed, but he is not the Moses of the Tanakh, because the Moses of he Tanakh is probably a “composite Moses” made up by his followers?


(Michael J. Alter) #52

Sorry for the late reply. I had important family matters that needed attending.

You wrote: Do you believe that Moses was an historical person, or do you believe that “a Moses” existed, but he is not the Moses of the Tanakh, because the Moses of he Tanakh is probably a “composite Moses” made up by his followers?

Response: Similar to some rabbis (liberal), I believe “a Moses” existed, but he is not the literal Moses of the Tanakh."

In a similar manner, Jabob did not literally wrestle with an angel…e.g. Maimonides, in the Guide of the Perplexed ( 2:42), provides support for this interpretation: “I say… of the story about Jacob in regard to its saying, ‘And there was a man that wrestled with him’ . . . all the wrestling and the conversation in question happened in the vision of prophecy.”

In a similar manner, the two million people escaping Egypt…The term alum or eleph, which probably means units (similar to a military unit) or thousands

In a similar manner, liberal rabbis discuss that the ten plagues symbolized attacks against the Egyptian pantheon of gods or aspects of nature

In a similar manner, the 6-7 days of creation in Genesis do NOT refer to 6 or 7 literal 24 hour periods of time…They represent eons lasting millions if not billions of years

In a similar manner, there was NOT a Mr. Adam or a Mrs. Eve - they are symbolic and serve as an archetype…of humanity

In a similar manner, for Mr. Serpent…

The Torah is NOT meant to be interpreted literally. Please look up PaRDeS, the traditional Jewish methodology of interpretation… especially remez and sod…

Take care

Mike


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #53

Do you think the Torah is true?


(Michael J. Alter) #54

Yes

Take care

Mike


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #55

Why do you think the Torah is true? On what basis?


#56

Hello Mike, and thank you for your response. It is not held against you if you need time to look after family.

I think the question of whether there was an historical Moses is different from the question of whether Jacob wrestled an angel. In my mind the question to ask about Jacob is not whether he literally wrestled an angel, but rather was there in fact ever really an historical Jacob to begin with.

Why is Judaism considered an Abrahamic faith if there was no such person as Abraham? How many of the Israelite kings are either fictional or “composite” characters? I think this is what Joshua and I are trying to get at. Do you only accept as historical people the Israelite kings that are attested to by sources outside the Tanakh?

Are you really saying that none of the Tanakh is to be interpreted literally, as describing real people, real places, and real events? No actual kings of Israel, no prophets, no written Torah, none of these things literally happened. Whence Judaism then?

Surely you accept the Rabbis as historical people. Why not their predecessors?


#57

On PaRDeS.

I have for quite some time been interested in Jewish exegesis in no small part because the early Christians were in fact Jewish. I doubt that you dispute this. I am very interested in how we should understand the New Testament given that the sources were primarily Jewish.

I have Midrash. I have the Babylonian Talmud and portions of the Jerusalem Talmud. And I have a number of Jewish commentaries. Please don’t assume we are ignorant. :slight_smile:

ETA: The first letter in PaRDeS, the ‘P’, stand for the literal interpretation.


(Michael J. Alter) #58

You wrote: Please don’t assume we are ignorant. :slight_smile:

Response: No! I assume no such thing, I assume that you are an earnest seeker… With that said, let me add the following caveat. I am NOT by any means a Torah scholar. My knowledge is definitely limited. My Rabbis’ son has probably forgotten more than I have ever learned [a bit of humor, definite truth, and some humility]. With that said, I have learned that having books and reading books is not the same as having a “real” teacher, especially in regard to the Talmud, etc. There is “knowing”, and then there is “really knowing”…

Let me give you one small example. The first word of the Torah is Bereshit, often translated [incorrectly] as “In the beginning…” That word is spelled with six letters. I wrote a 300 page text [approximate] on just the first letter, Beit. Really! Why the Torah Begins with the Letter Beit. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1998. If I, with my limited knowledge could write a 300 plus page book on the first letter, of the first word of the Torah… Well, I think that you get my point.

The key point is this, to learn the Koran/Qur’an, it would be useful/essential to learn from a knowledgeable Muslim. To learn Hinduism, it would be useful/essential to learn from a knowledgeable Hindu, to learn Christianity, it would be useful/essential to learn from a knowledgeable Christian, etc. There is something special to learning with a knowledgeable (and I will add “believing” or even "“former believing” ) teacher. Of course, I could be wrong… But, that is my honest opinion.

Take care

Mike


(Michael J. Alter) #59

Hello Mung:

It is great to hear from you.

Your questions are awesome!

You wrote: Why is Judaism considered an Abrahamic faith if there was no such person as Abraham?

Response: Who coined the term Abrahamic faith? I do not know… Perhaps, it is appropriate to mention that a historical Abraham, if he existed, never knew the Torah, or the Tanakh, or the Mishnah, or the Talmud, or the Tosefta, or the Bariita, or the Gemara, or the Midrash, or the Halakh, , or the Haggadah, or the Commentators, or the Responsa, or the RAMBAM, or the Kabbalah, or the… Unfortunately, I too, am EXTREMELY deficient in these areas of learning. However, I do have some knowledge of the resurrection.

You wrote:Are you really saying that none of the Tanakh is to be interpreted literally, as describing real people, real places, and real events?

Response: No… There is always peshat… Peshat always comes first… This is why it is important to study, learn, learn, learn, and question…

You wrote: Surely you accept the Rabbis as historical people. Why not their predecessors?

Response: To be intellectually honest, we actually possess a greater amount of evidentiary proof for many? most? of the rabbis [ravs, gaons, etc] than their predecessors.

Take care

Mike


(Michael J. Alter) #60

You wrote: Why do you think the Torah is true?

Response: First, you must define the term EMET. With that said, many portions of the Torah cause me definite problems, so I and others wrestle with the text. Second, there is the matter of chukat or hokkin. Now, please look below for more details.

You wrote: On what basis?

Response [terse]: My gut, my brain, my learning,

Now, if you do not mind in a later e-mail, I have a few questions for you. Most of them you can answer with a simple yes or no…

Take care

Mike