Continuing the discussion from McGrew: Response to Torley on the Guard at the Tomb…
This is a substantial and convincing response by Tim McGrew. I personally didn’t think the guard at the tomb was an important point to defend, given that the “disciples stole the body” scenario just seems implausible by itself to me. (And I think the guard at the tomb is regarded as non-historical by a large portion of NT scholars.)
Still, even though McGrew’s original background, like @vjtorley, is in philosophy, he gives us a better example what careful and informed scholarly engagement looks like, which echoes some of my criticism of Vincent’s methodology earlier:
First, instead of appealing to nebulous notions of a hypothetical “impartial historian,” he uses objective methodological criteria which are also applied in assessing other events in history:
First, only Matthew’s Gospel mentions the setting of a guard at Jesus’ tomb. It is not clear how much weight Torley intends this fact to bear by itself. But as the argument from silence in such cases is generally terribly weak, it is hard to see why it should be significant just here. Many of the events of antiquity crop up in only one source. The conditions that have to be met for an argument from silence to be strong are rather stringent and are rarely met in historical work. (For details, see my paper “The Argument from Silence,” Acta Analytica 29 (2014), 215-28.) As Torley has not attempted to argue that the silence of the other evangelists meets the probabilistic challenge laid out there, I will not belabor the point.
Next, he analyzes the text in the original language and compares interpretations of multiple NT scholars (not just a conservative or liberal one that happens to say what we want):
Various other New Testament scholars, not all of them conservative (Doddridge, Paulus, Kuinoel, Thorburn) concur in Michaelis’s analysis. Meyer dissents, but without adducing any reasons other than his disagreement with these authorities regarding the meaning of the expression τῇ ἐπαύριον. He does not engage with Michaelis’s point regarding the parallel Hebrew expression [ממחרת ערב השבת] at all.
Finally, even McGrew thinks it is odd for Vincent to be appealing to arguments based on what Pilate’s mental state is supposed to be:
The third objection is that Matthew’s narrative does not tell us why Pilate would acquiesce in the request of the Jewish leaders. On the face of it, this is a very odd way to object to historical evidence. Many narratives recount events without affording us an explanation for them, and sometimes we are left to guess what that explanation might be. So what?
I’ll be interested to see McGrew’s next two posts, although again, the second argument (standing at the foot of the cross) seems to me to also be another puzzling example of obsessing on minor details in the gospels. The third issue (the burial of Jesus) is more important, although as @Freakazoid has pointed out, Ehrman’s view that Jesus’ body was left to rot on the cross is not a majority view, and this paper by John Granger Cook gives ample reason to think the burial story to be culturally and historically plausible.
Although these three posts are great, I wish that McGrew would respond to Alter-Torley’s contention that the disciples probably never rigorously cross-checked their experiences with the post-risen Jesus, so they were drawn into it by some combination of groupthink, gullibility, rationalization, sunk cost fallacy, and/or guilt. We learned (in Torley on The Resurrection: Take Two) that Vincent views this as one of the strongest of Alter’s arguments. It seems to me that this type of psychological explanation would be the most common favored alternative theory advanced by skeptics today. For example, the two new alternative explanations lately mentioned by Vincent use this element heavily (Komarnitsky’s Rationalization Hypothesis and Eisenberg’s guilt leading to body stealing theory).