Torley on The Resurrection: Take Two

Hello Michael:

Thank you for the clarification!

  1. It seems that a pertinent issue boils down to what Joshua thinks are my text’s weak arguments. Obviously, not all arguments are equally weighted. However, collectively they can demonstrate a rational reason to question the reality of Jesus’s resurrection, especially if that resurrection is being employed to evangelize or witness.

  2. You wrote: “Swamidass begins by picking up from his comments from TSZ, claiming that professional scholars such as Tim McGrew had regarded Alter’s case as unworthy of serious engagement.”

Response: It would be appreciated if it could be confirmed whether or not Tim has examined my text.

  1. It seems odd that the assertion being raised is that I am employing “Gish Galloping” while the same technique is employed by virtually every Christian apologists, especially William Lane Craig. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona employ the Minimal Facts Approach. However, Gary often mentions that there are about 12 facts that he considers worthy of discussion. These, he boils down to four or five depending upon time limitations. And, many of these “Big 4 or Big 5” contain numerous subcomponents employed in his presentation. See: The Case for the Resurrection (pp. 50, 61, 63, 66, 69, and 74.)

Josh McDowell, in his classic text The Resurrection Factor employs the same approach. And, in reality, most Christian apologists employ the same strategy.

Then, there are those who use C. B. McCullagh’s Best Evidence strategy whereby seven criteria are detailed.

In terms of my text, as I have repeatedly stated, I start with the the arrest of Jesus, and, in general, proceed chronological through the accounts concluding with Jesus’s ascension. In doing so, I present to the reader 217 speculations: a speculation is a speculation. It offers an opportunity to examine the text and further our discussion and understanding. Similarly, I identified 120 potential contradictions. Throughout the text, I present BOTH sides of the aisle. And, a healthy bibliography is presented. In Volume 2, I will further elaborate on several important issues. There was only so much that I could discuss in 912 pages (Volume 1).

So, I guess that I must plead partially guilty, but on grounds of self-defense. Will you [Joshua] permit me the same courtesy and privilege to “gallop along” [bad pun] as do Christian apologists? If not, why? If yes, then they must respond to the points that I raise. Or, am I to commit a metaphorical suicide?

I hope that my comments successfully addressed Joshua’s concerns.

Take care

Mike

H Michael: You misunderstand what I was saying… I’m explaining to you that Joshua knows what a Gish Gallop is and he was asking you (based upon the TSZ article, which I had merely copied and pasted some of it above for your clarification).

The text originally can be found here:

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/michael-alters-bombshell-demolishes-christian-apologists-case-for-the-resurrection/

You have responded above as though I wrote those words. I did not… I was merely attempting to clear up a misunderstanding regarding your response to Joshua, further above, in this post in this same thread.

You may have answered Joshua in your post above, I don’t know. I merely wanted you to understand that you were responding to me as though I was involved in the initial text, but it was actually from TSZ.

I hope that makes sense and sorry for the confusion!

Best, Mike

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First, thank you for having the intellectual and scholarly integrity to obtain my text, and most import, to examine it.

Second, if you wish, I can point out a few of the errata. Nothing earth shattering. But, one is absolutely ridiculous and I have no idea how it got there.

Third, I appreciate your courtesy and decency.

I definitely cherish and look forward to our continued conversation.

Please note that next week, I will be in Atlanta from November 27 - December 3. My time will be extremely limited to about one hour a day for e-mails [usually 5:00am-6:00 am to write]. Then I need to walk to the library… I hope the weather is good. On Friday-Sunday, I will attend a family gathering. Family comes first…

So, take care and be safe.

Mike

PS Yes, it is a slow read, but hopeful it will pay dividends.

Early in the book you make this claim:In contrast, the years and in many instances the exact days listed below of various ancient dates are known with absolute and total clarity.

Alter, Michael J… The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (Kindle Locations 2137-2138). Xlibris US. Kindle Edition.

How do we know those dates with absolute clarity?
BTW: I see you already knew exactly what a burden shift is :slight_smile:

Hi Mike,
Welcome to PS. I have been reading the dialogue in this post with great interest over the last few days. Some of the interesting aspects in this conversation are -

  1. A difference in perspective (i.e your perspective is rare to this conversation as it is usually Christians discussing with “non religious” or athiests in recent times)
  2. Whether a theological bias exists in NT scholars.

Can you help me understand more about point 1?
What kind of theology do you hold to? I.e what aspects/theological branch of Jewish faith do you belong to ?
Do you believe what OT prophecies about a Messiah?
Since you are speaking from a Jewish POV, can i assume you believe in a God who intervenes in history, sends prophets, does miracles etc?
Since your arguments are addressed to Jews, understanding your perspective and basic beliefs on related subjects are important to have a quality conversation.

Rather than making Michael have to repeat himself, please peruse the wiki post that I made: Guide to Alter and Torley on the Resurrection, specifically “Alter Enters the Conversation”.

Hi Daniel,
I have read this.However, my question was totally different.
Why would the witness of secular historians matter much from a Jewish perspective?
If a case is made that Moses probably did not exist and the exodus did not happen through “expert testimony” from historians, would @MJAlter accept the same?

The way I see it, what should matter from a Jewish perspective is whether a Messiah is predicted?
Could Jesus be said Messiah?
Does Christianity teach a false God (by claiming Jesus is God)?

The way I understand it. The testimony of secular historians on the ressurection would at best be a supplementary argument. The main issue would be the testimony of scripture I(in this case the OT).For example,If @MJAlter is convinced that christianity teaches a false God and not the one revealed to Abraham,Isaac and Jacob, then would any amount of evidence suffice?

I am looking for background to the question. And this is important to understand where we share common ground and what are the important questions.

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Wow! What an interesting question.

  1. I think that it would be useful to read my bio at the the Wordpress homepage and read the Preface to my book… A brief overview on the internet reveals that only a few Jews are involved in this area of study / topic. Several names you should examine are R. Michael Skobac, R. Tovia Singer, R. Moshe Shulman, Gerald Sigal [has written several significant books - he was a significant contributor to JewsforJudaism], etc. You should also employ a search for counter missionaries / organizations on the internet. One should be humble - but I will agree that I am not typical. In general, it is my opinion that too many rabbis and members of the Jewish leadership are avoiding this topic. Why: In my opinion, they want Christian support for the state of Israel. This is a major error! They are also totally ignoring the number of Jews who have converted to Christianity. The numbers are staggering. In addition, a cursory review of the curriculum at a Jewish Yeshivah reveals that too many rabbis are not prepared to help their congregants or provide them with the necessary skills to “answer the Knock on the Door”… I could be wrong, but that is my opinion [Emet]

I am NOT frum.

I employ the Messianic prophecies to demonstrate that Jesus is NOT the Messiah. Christian Missionaries employ (to use a phrase by Joshua) Gish Gallop. Several cites and books list up to 300 supposed prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Just go to Jews For Judaism web cite to see a rebuttal. An about must to read are the books by Gerald Sigal. Toviai Singer’s book, and CD, pod casts are useful.

Since Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the disciples, Paul, were all Jewish; they lived in a Jewish environment, the claimed Messiahship is based on the Hebrew Bible - wouldn’t it make sense to examine Jesus’s life through a Jewish lens? Yes, an outside lens might be fruitful. However, carefully examining the often mistranslated and taken out of context Jewish texts will explain, respectfully, why in my opinion (and others), that Christians are inferior.

I need to head to the gym. Trying to maintain…

Later today I will try to answer question 2.

Take care

Mike

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Hi Michael,

Thanks for the detailed reply. I dont have access to your book. However i did go through your bio in wordpress.I found it very interesting. I was really intrigued by your series on flexibility!

I haven’t examined the other names given by you. I will try to find out in the coming days.

I noticed an interesting segment in your Bio saying that you are affiliated to Chabad. Can you point to where i can understand further about the beliefs of “Chabad”. Is it a a sect among Jews… ??

Also, i found the following in your Bio.

Alter’s resulting text, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry , was a direct challenge raised by Anthony Buzzard, a prolific Biblical Unitarian. They corresponded over a lengthy period of time. Although they agree that Jesus is not God and that there is no such thing as the Trinity, Buzzard adamantly maintains that Jesus is the Messiah, a theological position that Alter totally rejects. It was during several communications that Alter was challenged by Buzzard to refute Jesus’s physical, bodily resurrection – supposedly the ultimate proof that Jesus is the Messiah (and also God for mainline Christianity). During a decade and more, Alter worked to meet Buzzard’s challenge, that Jesus was not physically, bodily resurrected.

Do you think its possible that your perspective/motivations created an inherent bias in how you approached the evidence? After all, you were trying to win a challenge!

Yes it would. Provided said lens exists today. I am not convinced the Jews of modern times are anything like those who encountered Jesus in the first century.
Though it’s interesting to note that the result seems to be the same in-spite of the differences between the Jews of old and those that exist today. Some are convinced about Jesus and many are not!.
However if you are going to point to historical evidence for the resurrection . Then its important that a unbiased perspective is maintained. i.e neither a christian perspective nor that of a jew.
Perhaps the perspective of an academic would be better here.

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Hello Ashwin:

Back from the gym:

You wrote: Whether a theological bias exists in NT scholars.
Response: Let’s be 100 percent honest! Probably everyone or virtually everyone has some baggage and bias, unless they are a Martian.

Being, human, I too, have limitations. And, as I have discussed earlier, I was challenged to research the topic. Of course, I wanted the “Jewish” side to win. However, my methodology at first, was to explore virtually exclusively the arguments in support of Jesus’s resurrection. The best “stuff”, at first that I found was by William Lane Craig and Josh McDowell. Afterwards, I explored texts specifically categorized as apologetics [BT1095-1100 Congress Library system] followed by Dogmatics and Systematic Theology [in general BT 65-100]. I also explored commentaries to the Gospels [usually very disappointing] and Introduction to the New Testament… After making my list of pro arguments it was then time to find rebuttals. Very little material exists that is/was written by Jews, REALLY. A healthy amount of material by atheists, agnostics, apostates [X-Christians, etc] exists, but often they repeat the same old and tired rebuttals. About ten years into the project, R. Moshe Shulman provided the suggestion that I go through the Christian Bible chronologically and employ Speculations and Contradictions. I re-wrote, deleted, added, etc material and eventually came out with my text. So, although I am biased, I believe that my research was intellectually honest. And, unlike most, if not all Christian apologists, I try to give them a real voice in my text. Just look at my bibliography. However, Volume 2 will specifically interact with Christian Apologists, at least that is my plan.

The ideal is to examine the topic starting tabula rasa. The comment by E.P Sanders (2000, 39) cited in my Preface (xlv) is an ideal but not always practical. See p. xlv…Also, see the comment of Taussig (2004, 249), my xlvii. In so far as burden of proof, see 14-24. Here, I present both sides of the aisle.

Finally, if you examine my home page, you will see I list a healthy selection of books: PRO and CON, about the topic. Be honest, how many Christian apologists list the best books of their opponents and place it/them on their homepage?

Take care

Mike

Thanks Daniel but I already responded to Ashwin.

What piece of music are you currently working on? In a few minutes, I will probably be listening to Philip Glass: Glassworks, and then his violin concerto.

Take care

Mike

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Hello Austin:

Chabad is an Orthodox Jews “sect” - Lubavitch = Chassidus. Its name is an acronym.They have an extensive web site or go to Wikipedia for a good over view. But please be aware that much of their point of view is based on Kabbalah. You will be clueless (about a lot of their commentaries) unless you understand that material. It is not for the feint of heart. Perhaps, the foremost text is Tanya. It requires a teacher to really understand it. I have learned at Chabad for over twenty years, and elsewhere.

I already discussed the topic of bias…

About the lens… One must attempt to analyze and understand a work: WHO wrote the work, WHEN it was written, WHERE is was written, WHO it was written for, the PURPOSE of that work… Yes, Judaism has evolved.

To be a bit controversial [but up front], Christians need to do the same work and ask is the Christianity of today or starting about the year circa 300 reflect the teachings and view points of Jesus and his disciples, or the INPUT of GREEK PAGANISMS. That is the view point of Anthony Buzzard and many Biblical Unitarians. They are not like most Unitarians of today…I am referring to the Unitarians of about 1700 - 1900. [No Trinity, No Jesus being Divine, etc.] They also need to ask do the teachings of Paul conflict / contradict with Jesus? Would Jesus be happy with the ideas originated by Paul? Just do a search on any search engine.

Time to work on my other books.

Take care

Mike

I support the state of Israel but only for strictly secular reasons. They are there. They are not moving. We have to deal with that fact.

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Hi @swamidass, @AllenWitmerMiller, @Freakazoid and @dga471,

First, I’d like to thank @swamidass for inviting me back to the conversation. I’ll try to respond to your strongest points, but I have a lot of other things I need to do, so I shall keep my remarks brief.

Before I address your specific arguments, I’d like to go back to what I wrote in the very first paragraph of my original post on Michael Alter’s book:

Prior to reading Michael Alter’s book, I believed that a Christian could make a strong case for Jesus’ having been raised from the dead, on purely historical grounds. After reading the book, I would no longer espouse this view.

Please also note that I continue to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection. I just don’t believe in arguing for it, anymore. The arguments, as I see them, are full of holes. I’d like to briefly explain why.

In order to establish a resurrection with a high degree of probability, you need to be able to establish the following facts with a high degree of probability:

(i) that the individual in question existed, and died;
(ii) that the individual’s dead body disappeared from its grave, and could not be found anywhere else;
(iii) that the individual was seen, heard and touched by honest, reliable witnesses whose testimonies independently agreed with one another.

If you can’t establish all three of these facts, then you don’t have a good case for a resurrection. Period.

With reference to Jesus, fact (i) is not seriously disputed by any New Testament historian.

Fact (ii) can only be established if (a) Jesus was buried in a publicly known grave, in a publicly known location, (b) this grave was subsequently found empty, and © no-one else claimed to have found Jesus’ body.

Let’s grant ©. I have argued that an independent historian would query point (a). Some of you (notably @Freakazoid) have pushed back on this point. As far as I can tell, all you’ve shown is that a good case can be made for Jesus’ having been buried in a known grave. Let’s grant that. However, the location of Jesus’ body within this grave is vitally important. If it was a new tomb, there’s no problem, but not all the Gospels say that it was (Mark’s doesn’t), and many eminent Biblical scholars (including Catholic priest Fr. Raymond Brown and also Dr. Jodi Magness, whom @Freakazoid cites and whom I myself cited in my original post) think Jesus was simply buried in a new burial niche in the wall (or loculus) inside Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb, where there would have been other bodies as well.

This is of vital importance, because as you’re all aware, after the third day, in Jewish practice, bodies were deemed unrecognizable. In first century Palestine, the identifying features of the face of the corpse were held to have deteriorated by the fourth day. This means that the only people who could have identified Jesus’ body as missing from its tomb were those who visited the tomb on the third day (i.e. Easter Sunday).

Now let’s look at (b): Jesus’ grave was found empty. If we look at the Gospels, we find that the only people who are commonly agreed to have visited the tomb on the third day are Mary Magdalene and an unspecified number of women. But if we look at the Resurrection narratives, the only people who are commonly agreed to have seen the risen Jesus are his apostles. (Mark implicitly acknowledges an appearance of Jesus to his apostles in Mark 16:7.)

What that means is that we have no solid assurance that the witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection personally took the trouble to check for themselves that his tomb was empty. Think about that. To be sure, John’s Gospel says that Peter and John visited the tomb, but that’s just one Gospel out of four, and a late one at that. John’s account may have also been motivated by a desire to rebut skeptics by providing credible witnesses (two men) who could attest to Jesus’ tomb being empty. Be that as it may, we don’t know that the apostles personally verified the empty tomb, on the third day. (They may have gone to the tomb later on, but by then it would have been too late to ascertain that none of the bodies in the tomb was that of Jesus. And in case you’re thinking, “Well, there wouldn’t have been any other newly deceased bodies,” ask yourself: what about the two thieves? Can we be sure that Joseph didn’t put their bodies there temporarily, as well?)

What’s more, none of the Jewish high priests or Roman authorities visited Jesus’ tomb on the third day. The only people who claimed to have found the tomb empty were his friends: specifically, Mary Magdalene and an unspecified number of women.

Now, before we even consider the Resurrection appearances, ask yourself what an independent historian would conclude at this point. Some of the apostles were (in all likelihood) later martyred for their faith in Jesus, thereby proving their sincerity, but none of the women who visited the tomb were martyred. How reliable is their testimony? And assuming that they visited a family tomb (as many historians believe), how certain can we be that they didn’t make a mistake about the exact location of Jesus’ body within the tomb? Only if we can be fairly sure that it was a new tomb can we rule out that kind of mistake.

Now let’s go on to fact (iii): the risen Jesus was seen, heard and touched by honest, reliable witnesses whose testimonies independently agreed with one another. What would an independent historian conclude? Again, the verdict would have to be: we don’t know. Despite the numerous discrepancies between the Gospel narratives, there seems to be a general agreement that Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw and conversed with him. Luke and John add that they touched him and ate with him, but this is uncertain, as Matthew, Mark and St. Paul (in 1 Corinthians 15) fail to corroborate this point. Leaving this point aside, a historian could still poke huge holes in the apologist’s case here.

First, there is no general agreement as to when and where the risen Jesus appeared to his apostles.

Second, there is no general agreement as to what he said, when he did appear to them.

Third, we have no record of the apostles attempting to verify that they all saw and heard the same thing, when Jesus appeared to them.

Fourth, even if they did so, it is still doubtful whether their testimonies agreed independently of one another. For St. Paul (citing an early Christian creed) and Luke both attest to Jesus having appeared to Peter before appearing to the other apostles, and according to Luke, Peter went and told them what he’d seen. If Luke’s account is correct, the apostles’ expectations would have been biased by what Peter saw and heard, creating an expectation on their part as to what Jesus would say and how he would appear, if he were to appear to them. Thus from a historian’s perspective, we cannot be sure that we have eleven independent testimonies from the apostles who saw and heard Jesus.

Taken together, these arguments vastly weaken the force of fact (iii), and I see no way that its probability on purely historical grounds could be assessed at over 50%.

The same goes for fact (ii).

Two of the key facts required to establish Jesus’ Resurrection are open to reasonable doubt, from a historian’s standpoint. The moral of the story? Don’t call on historians to bolster the credibility of the Christian faith. They won’t help you, because they can’t. Besides, it’s not their job to do so. If you want to rekindle your faith, read what the Gospels say about the character of Jesus, and read the story of the early Church. Call the Resurrection credible if you like, but please, don’t call it probable. That’s not an honest reading of the evidence.

Hi @AllenWitmerMiller,

Thank you for your response.

Many Young Earth Creationists claim that Ken Ham has trumped mainstream science and think that that explains why most scientists ignore him. No. That silly claim doesn’t help Ham’s credibility. It will be the same if people make bombastic claims about Ehrman.

I’m glad you raised this point. First, Ehrman is a bona fide Biblical scholar with a solid publication record behind him. He may be rather “far-left” in his views on some points (e.g. Jesus’ burial), but he is a scholar, and Ken Ham is not.

Second, evolutionists have taken great pains to refute the view of the creationists by publishing the evidence for evolution online, so that ordinary people can access it. By contrast, very few scholars have challenged Ehrman’s views on Jesus’ burial online. Craig Evans is the only notable exception I can think of, and I respect him for that. The others? Not so much.

And recycled and uninteresting material just doesn’t come up on the radar for most academics, theologians included.

Uninteresting to whom? I imagine that for an evolutionary biologist, the task of rebutting the claims of creationist X for the umpteenth time must be pretty uninteresting, too. Nevertheless, they take the trouble to do it, because they really care about truth, and because they realize that if they don’t defend it publicly, a lot of people aren’t going to believe what scientists say, anymore.

The moral of my story should be obvious. If Ehrman is seriously mistaken in his claims, then it is the task of scholars who care about truth to refute his ideas in a public forum, regardless of whether these ideas be interesting to scholars or not. Souls are at stake.

I think it is safe to say that if significant numbers of Christians were aware of Ehrman—and sufficiently disturbed by his scholarship—you’d see more and more scholars dealing with him. Until then, not so much.

Also, I wasn’t comparing Ken Ham and Dr. Ehrman’s academic credentials. (Obviously not.) I was comparing the claims of their enthusiastic fans who truly believe that Ham and Ehrman have somehow managed to trump mainstream scholarship. My point was that neither has done so.

This is an interesting topic and I thank @vjtorley for joining us again!

Why would establishing one and three not be enough.

Hi @dga471,

Thank you for your response. You write:

We also don’t know how much an account of Josephus (or several of the others you mentioned) is representative of Pilate on a day-to-day basis. It could be that Pilate was a level-headed, fair ruler who just had a bad day and responded brutally, and what gets recorded are the bad things. Of course, I could be wrong. My point is that there is a lot of uncertainty here in assigning the prior probability of Pilate condemning Jesus (versus him not condemning Jesus),
P(S1)/P(S2)=0.1. It could be 0.01. It could be 0.2. Or it could be 0.5, if perhaps Pilate was feeling good that day and wanted to toy with the Jewish authorities instead of simply acceding to their request to execute someone they hated.

The example of Pilate was the weakest of the three examples I cited, and I readily grant that if that were the only odd-looking claim to be found in the Gospel Passion narratives, I wouldn’t be unduly troubled over it.

I have to protest, however, when you write that the prior probability “could be 0.5, if perhaps Pilate was feeling good that day and wanted to toy with the Jewish authorities.” Yes, it could, but you have to bring in gratuitous additional assumptions to bump up that probability. Anybody can play that game. The whole point about a prior probability, however, is that it excludes such gratuitous assumptions, arguing only from what we know. And given the guy’s track record as a cold-blooded killer, the prior likelihood that when faced with an angry mob baying for Jesus’ death, he would respond by saying, “But why? What harm has he done?” is surely quite low. (Interestingly, of all the Gospel accounts, Matthew is the only one who provides a semi-credible reason why Pilate might have been reluctant to condemn Jesus: Claudia Procula’s dream. Perhaps Pilate was superstitious.)

As a physicist, a result like the above would raise eyebrows on the soundness of this whole business of trying to micro-analyze the Gospels and assign priors based on limited historical data.

If you want to know how real historians assess the accuracy and reliability of a source, you might like to read this short response by a medieval historian.

Please note that I’m not saying that historians have to use Bayesian logic. Most don’t. That’s fine. The only reason why I brought up Bayes (whom I never mentioned once in my original post on Alter’s book, except briefly when discussing the McGrews’ approach, not mine) was to show that I was not simply appealing to low prior probabilities when discussing the 17 claims which I cited (as you and @swamidass suggested previously), but rather, to the fact that the evidence of the Gospels themselves wasn’t strong enough to swing the balance of probabilities the other way.

Now, when it comes to purely psychological probabilities, I agree that in some cases, it gets a little iffy. But when we’re talking about statements in the Gospels which go against legal or cultural conventions (which are much weightier than the psychological tendencies of a single individual), or which appear to be highly mythological, or which appear to be mutually contradictory, then it is the duty of an independent historian to be skeptical of such claims.

Of the 17 doubtful claims which I cited, only a couple could be described as purely psychological. Let’s look at them very briefly.

a. (i) Was the Last Supper a Passover meal? (ii) And did Jesus tell his disciples to drink blood? (i) Unlikely because certain key aspects of the Passover meal are missing. (ii) Unlikely because to a Jew, eating blood was taboo.
b. Did Jesus die on the Jewish Passover? Unlikely because the Gospels record the Jews doing various things on Good Friday which would have violated the Passover.
c. Do the Gospels accurately represent Jesus trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin? Unlikely, because the Jewish high priests would have been breaking just about every rule in the book - even back in the first century.
d. Was Pontius Pilate reluctant to convict Jesus? Unlikely because he’d previously killed innocent Jews on several occasions without any compunction, and he continued to do so in later years, as well.
e. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and the accounts of his death Unlikely because the accounts grow in the telling from Mark onwards, and because the two accounts of his death are flat-out contradictory.
f. The chief priests’ mockery of Jesus on the Cross Unlikely because they would have been too busy slaughtering lambs in the Temple, if the Crucifixion was on the eve of the Passover.
g. The story of the good thief: fact or fiction? Unlikely because it’s only found in Luke (whose motivation for including it seems to be theological) and because the good thief would have had no way of hearing about Jesus’ innocence while languishing in jail.
h. Jesus’ last words on the Cross: fact or fiction? Unlikely because the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last words completely contradict one another, and no-one would have been standing close enough to hear Jesus’ words anyway.
i. Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the Cross? Unlikely because it goes against standard Roman practice: male disciples in particular would not have been allowed near the Cross.
j. The three hours of darkness: fact or fiction? Unlikely because similar mythological claims are found in both Jewish and Greco-Roman literature.
k. The earthquake at Jesus’ death: fact or fiction? Ditto.
l. Was the Veil of the Temple torn in two? Unlikely because it’s nowhere mentioned in Jewish records, even though other, less significant incident relating to the Temple from around that time are mentioned.
m. Were Jewish saints raised at Jesus’ death? Unlikely because only Matthew’s Gospel mentions such a marvelous incident, and because it would have surely resulted in mass conversions, if it happened.
n. Blood and water from Jesus’ side? Unlikely because no-one would have been standing close enough to see it, and because the story appears motivated by John’s desire to show that Jesus (like the Paschal lamb) didn’t have any of his bones broken.
o. Was Jesus buried in a new rock tomb? Unlikely because if he was buried, it would have either been in a tomb reserved for criminals (as per the usual practice) or (temporarily) in a family tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea.
p. Was there a Guard at Jesus’ tomb? Unlikely because the story itself is massively internally implausible.
q. The women visiting Jesus’ tomb on Sunday: does the story add up? Unlikely as it stands, because (i) the women would have been traveling without men to escort them, (ii) they would have been trespassing (and violating Roman law) by entering a private tomb, and (iii) the Gospels don’t explain how the women planned to roll away the “very big” stone. Something is missing from the story.

As you can see, most of the rest are historically improbable because they go against cultural, religious or legal norms, or because they appear to incorporate mythological elements, or because they are either blatantly contradictory or massively internally implausible. In these cases, unlike the purely psychological improbabilities, historians would need solid reasons for crediting the Gospel accounts. Apologists haven’t provided any; all they’ve done is play a defensive game of showing how these unlikely claims could be true - which is setting the bar too low. No historian would buy that. The apologists haven’t established their case. That was all I wanted to say.

Have you ever seen Bart debate the historic validity of Jesus? He uses the Gospels as strong independent eye witness testimony in these debates.
I don’t see how he can turn around and argue against the burial in Joseph’s tomb given it is articulated clearly in all 4 Gospels.

I am about 20% through Michaels book and I appreciate you writing about it. Whether I agree or not with his conclusions he did very detailed work.

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About Pilate.

The only thing we really know about him is that he had absolutely no respect for Jewish temple. So, the possibility that he was amused by a guy claiming to be the messiah despite the temple being opposed to him would be a rather big one.

Of course, this is simply conjecture. Just as claiming that Pilate would never spare a prisoner is.

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