Torley Presents Alter's Case Against the Resurrection

This reminds me of the origin stories in your book: if we took every single claim in your origin story and looked at their prior probability and multiplied them together:

What are the odds that an immigrant family would be of Indian ethnicity?

What are the odds that a second generation immigrant would end up being a student in an MD/PhD program?

What are the odds that an MD/PhD student would end up being an assistant professor at a top research university?

What are the odds that an assistant professor at a top research university would get tenure?

What are the odds that a tenured professor at a top research university would be a Christian?

Using this methodology your origins story would likely be judged a “fabrication” or “legend”! :sweat_smile:

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Note the parallel to Creationists objections to “just so” stories? It is precisely the same logic.

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@vjtorley I want to clarify this some more:

This is prime example of how I just see large disconnect.

It is correct that the communion ritual is surprising in an orthodox Jewish context, as it counters so much of our expectations of what they would be willing to do.

Yet historically it appears to be undisputed that the communion ritual arises in the early church in 1st century Palestine. Moreover, no comparable ritual (as I understand) arises in any of the comparable Messiah movements. These are just he brute facts (though I stand to be corrected on the comparators).

The question then is why and how this disparate Jewish community comes to this crazy and new ritual. Why? And how? It is clearly a departure from their context, but also framed within it as one of the Passover glasses. So there is nothing very strong continuity to the Passover lamb, and very high discontinuity at the same time.

This ephiphenic quality to the ritual is truly strange, and perhaps unprecedented. It is best explained as a prophetic epiphany. As Jesus does it, it makes no sense from the disciples context. Only after the crucification and Ressurection does it become clear that Jesus was the true meaning of the tradition he seemed to violating at Passover.

The fact that other Messiah movements did not does the same thing serves to highlight the question. What was it about Jesus that formed the Church so different that they adopted so heterodox customs in this way? The communion ritual is not evidence against the Ressurection for this reason. It is one of the details that highten the urgency of the question that Alter appears to blow right by, and certainly you review did.

Yes it is unlikey. We also have no doubt it happened in the early church. If not how the Church itself explained it, then how? Without a robust explanation for all the crazy things that happened in the early church ( and did not happen), Alters analysis is just blowing by the most salient questions of that moment.

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Hi @swamiadass and @dga471,

I’m glad to hear that Daniel took the time and trouble to read the Executive Summary of my OP. In my attempt to stay on top of comments here and over at TSZ, I’ve been getting by on about 2 or 3 hours’ sleep a night for the past five days or so, which is not exactly a healthy thing to do when you’re 57. For some reason, I’m feeling a lot better this evening, so I’d like to make a fresh start.

I’d like to address a remark of Joshua’s, bearing on an alleged mathematical fallacy of mine.

> The fallacy is mistaking P( Story1 ) for P(Story1 | Evidence) vs. P(Story2 | Evidence). The P( Story1 ) will always be low for ***just about every*** true story. P(Story1 | Evidence) vs. P(Story2 | Evidence), on the other hand, can point to clear winners and losers...

…Multiplied a large number of maybes together and everything looks impossible.

I would like to point out in passing that my first degree was in mathematics.

I might add that you appear to be guilty of a mathematical fallacy of your own: that of confusing P(Story 1 | Evidence) with P(Evidence | Story 1), where where Story1 is a miraculous story and Evidence is the record we find in the Gospels. Of course, if a miracle happened in the 1st century A.D. then we might well expect to find a record of it in the New Testament - in other words, P(Evidence | Story 1) is high. But it doesn’t follow that P(Story 1 | Evidence) is high - especially when “Evidence” (from the New Testament) is several decades later than the events reported in Story1.

Actually, I addressed the point you raised in a non-technical fashion, in my OP, in the course of my discussion of the three hours of darkness which the Synoptic Gospels attest to (but not John). After refuting suggestions that the darkness could have been caused by an eclipse (which would have been too short) or a sandstorm (which would have sent everyone indoors), I wrote:

There remains the possibility that the three hours of darkness was a **supernatural miracle** , but an impartial historian, while not dismissing the possibility of a miracle, would tend to favor **the more parsimonious naturalistic explanation** that the circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus were mythologized in the decades after his death, like those of many other famous people in antiquity.

In other words, my thinking is basically as follows. I am not arguing that because P(Story1) is low, P(Story1 | NT evidence) is low. Rather, I am arguing that because (i) P(Story1) is low, (ii) P(Story1 | NT evidence) is incalculable due to the inscrutability of the Divine will, but (iii) P(Story2 | NT evidence) is not too low, where Story1 is a miraculous story and Story2 is a secular story, a historian would (and should) go with Story2. It is an adequate explanation, in the light of the evidence, and it avoids the need to posit miracles. It is therefore more parsimonious.

I’d also like to address a mathematical objection of Daniel’s:

This reminds me of the origin stories in your book: if we took every single claim in your origin story and looked at their prior probability and multiplied them together:

What are the odds that an immigrant family would be of Indian ethnicity?

What are the odds that a second generation immigrant would end up being a student in an MD/PhD program?

What are the odds that an MD/PhD student would end up being an assistant professor at a top research university?

What are the odds that an assistant professor at a top research university would get tenure?

What are the odds that a tenured professor at a top research university would be a Christian?

Using this methodology your origins story would likely be judged a “fabrication” or “legend”! :sweat_smile:

I responded to this objection in Part B of my OP:

**It turns out that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion are highly doubtful, on no less than 17 points.** (Yes, you read that right.) One or two points would be bad enough, but perhaps acceptable: after all, improbable things happen every day, and it would be surprising if the historical details of Jesus’ crucifixion contained nothing out of the ordinary. But 17 highly improbable occurrences over a 24-hour time period strains credulity.

So it’s the relatively short time period that makes the argument a particularly telling one. 17 improbable occurrences in 24 hours is a bit fishy. The events in Joshua’s life, by comparison, stretch over a period of decades.

And this one:

I personally would be satisfied if there were reasonably strong (i.e. not fringe) arguments for the conservative view, not that the conservative view has to be made mainstream.

For example, NT Wright seems to be a more conservative scholar who defends the Resurrection. I understand that not everyone in the field accepts all his arguments. But AFAIK he is a very respected figure in the field of NT studies as a whole, not some fringe figure. So if NT Wright defends some assertions with reasonable arguments, I would be satisfied with that.

Hang on. The issue we’re debating here is not whether Christians have good reasons to hold on to their faith in the Resurrection. I’ve already made it quite clear that I believe in sensus divinitatis: Christians like you and me are fortunate enough to sometimes be able to hear the “still, small voice of God” in the preaching and practice of the Christian message.

Rather, the question we’re debating here is whether non-Christians, presented with the evidence for the Resurrection in the New Testament, would be irrational in turning it down and saying: “Sorry, but this does not strike me as very impressive evidence.” Remember: the onus is on the Christian to make a case for the Resurrection. The onus is not on the Jew, pagan or skeptic to make a case against the Resurrection.

You object to Aquinas’ argument for miracles as follows:

This is not a convincing argument for me. The fact is that besides Christianity, there are other major religions - Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc. - to which large groups of people have converted to. Are these all miracles, too? In addition, how many conversions are genuine, as opposed to simply following what everyone around you is doing? This is why I think this is a very weak argument. It’s simply an argument from majority, and not a very powerful majority either.

I suggest you have a look at Professor Rodney Stark’s book on the rise of Christianity. In any case, Christianity grew slowly and steadily, whereas the growth of Islam was due largely to the power of the power of the sword. In any case, I think Stark could use some editorial assistance from non-Christian authors.

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Are you making the case that Christian apologetics should be abandoned?

Not quite - in this case, you know your story is true, and (by analogy) the Evangelists knew there’s was. If you’d suffered amnesia and reconstructed your origins narrative from your skin colour, your name, and a few other circumstantial details, then there would be some reason to doubt it.

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It is far from clear that the NT authors would record every miracle they saw. Do you know what the dominant mindset of people at the time and place were? (Again, this is something that only a trained historian familiar with the culture of the time would know.) Even today, in my native Indonesia, it is common for people to claim that they witnessed miracles or saw supernatural phenomena. None of this resulted in anything written down - they are regarded as regular occurrences by such people. On the whole, this sounds like the typical Jesus myther argument of “why don’t we have any contemporary accounts of Jesus?”

This is also not clear to me. You are not taking into account the role of oral vs written tradition. Nor is it clear whether throwing skepticism into a historical account written decades after the fact doesn’t make it impossible to know anything about the ancient world. Again, there’s no clear, robust, professional criteria being spelled out before you’re making these statements of incredulity.

This is not an adequate rebuttal. First of all, you’re still stating that each of the 17 occurrences are doubtful, most of them by multiplying together prior probabilities without rigorous consideration of the written evidence from the Gospels and how that affects the probability.

Secondly, you have not answered the question of whether it’s justified to classify 17 improbable occurrences equally. As a lot of people in this thread have argued, things like Communion and the good thief, even if improbable or straight out wrong, are immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.

Thirdly, it’s common for many improbable things to happen during a 24 hour time period if you’re just taking into account prior probabilities (which are difficult to assign rigorously anyway). Today I attended an Indonesian festival in Boston (something very rare, only happens once a year). A temperature sensor on my experimental apparatus broke (having never broken in the last 2 years). I spent two hours thinking about information theory (never did this ever - I am a physicist, not information theorist). That’s already three improbable occurrences in the life of one person on a relatively mundane day. By these standards, my diary entry would be regarded as a mythological fabrication. This is just not the way to do history.

That is not what I’m arguing at all. I certainly don’t ascribe to the Resurrection based on faith alone. Rather, the question is whether it is rational and reasonable for any person to hold to a conservative view of the reliability of the Gospels (among other things). Clearly it is, since scholars like NT Wright, which are respected in the field by both secular and Christian scholars, do so. It would be a different story if you could argue that no scholar regards the Gospels as reliable, and no reasonable replies can be made to the arguments against their reliability.

I certainly don’t think it is possible to show that it is irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone. Bayesian analysis depends ultimately on your priors. If you believe that a theistic God doesn’t exist, then the prior for a Resurrection is very, very low, and so no amount of historical argumentation will overcome that. So unless you can prove that it’s irrational for anyone to be an atheist (which is a difficult, and different thing to prove), it is impossible to do this. I believe that my opinion isn’t an anomaly among Christians.

Thus, Alter has done little to change the state of affairs. If any Christian apologist believes that all parts of the Gospels are unanimously approved by all the NT scholars in the field, they are wrong and uninformed, and we didn’t need Alter to tell us that. But in my opinion that was never the point of Christian apologetics.

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Hi colewd. Not precisely, no. What I would maintain now is that rational attempts to demonstrate the truth (or likelihood) of the Christian faith should be abandoned. However, attempts to (i) rebut spurious objections to the faith, (ii) clarify precisely what it is that we believe, and rebut crude caricatures of the faith, and (iii) present arguments for the plausibility (as opposed to the high probability) of the Christian faith, should in my opinion be continued. I hope that clears things up for you. Cheers.

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Can some one please concisely enumerate out these 17 things?

That’s the point. In evolutionary science we have good reason to affirm common descent.

When some one asks for details outside our view as of our ignorance of the details is evidence against common descent, we suppose to ways to connect the dots. The details remain outside our view, and this is just speculation. However it can demonstrate that the dots are not in principle impossible to connect. The creationist objects derisively that this is a “just so story” and we just tell unsubstantiated fairy tales. The argument is a misdirection, because the part of the story outside our view isn’t why we affirm evolution. It is the part in our view that leads us there.

Same with th Ressurection. Alter comes with dots to connect as if it is impossible or improbable to connect them. The just so story objection arises in attempts to connect the dots. The whole story is dismissed as a fairy tale without actually ever engaging the evidential reasons that historians think this points strongly to the Ressurection or some other anomaly.

This is brilliant rhetoric, and excellent in a debate, but also a horrible way to find truth.

I agree with this.

I think this is where misunderstanding arises. Personally, when I ask questions regarding what happened and how it happened it is NOT to question common descent, as I accept common descent. But people often do take it as an attack on common descent.

I think defenders of evolution fall back on common descent because for them it is a safe haven. Perhaps they see the following as a valid argument, but I don’t:

We know that the vertebrate eye had to evolve because vertebrates have eyes and they share a common ancestor with species that do not have eyes, and the common ancestor of both did not have eyes. So we don’t need to demonstrate that eyes can evolve by mutation/selection, neutral evolution, random genetic drift, or any other proposed evolutionary mechanism.

Since we know eyes must have evolved, the details just don’t matter.

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Hi @dga471,

Thank you for your response. I’d like to address the points you raised, although I’ll be varying the order in which you wrote them, somewhat.

I certainly don’t ascribe to the Resurrection based on faith alone. Rather, the question is whether it is rational and reasonable for any person to hold to a conservative view of the reliability of the Gospels (among other things).

No. The question I sought to answer in my OP was: is it irrational for a person that’s prepared to grant the existence of a personal God Who is able to work miracles and reveal Himself to people (as the Jews do), to reject the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus as too weak to warrant his/her assent? I think the answer is no. The apologists’ case for the Resurrection is full of holes that you could drive a truck through. Over and over again, the same bad old arguments keep getting recycled.

I certainly don’t think it is possible to show that it is irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone. Bayesian analysis depends ultimately on your priors.

That’s true. But the question I’m asking is whether it’s irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone, if you’re a believer in God who is open to the possibility of miracles and Divine revelation. And I would answer that it’s not. The apologists’ case is simply too weak - especially with reference to the alleged burial of Jesus in a new rock tomb, owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Historically, that’s unlikely - and yet it’s pivotal to the case for the Resurrection.

It is far from clear that the NT authors would record every miracle they saw.

You are quite correct. When I wrote that P(Evidence | Story 1) is high, I didn’t mean that it was over 50%; I just meant that it wasn’t low, that’s all. But the real point I was making was that even if P(Evidence | Story 1) were high, it wouldn’t follow that P(Story 1 | Evidence) is high.That’s a mathematical point, and it’s vital to the current debate.

I also alluded to the fact that the “Evidence” (from the New Testament) is several decades later than the events reported in Story1. You objected:

You are not taking into account the role of oral vs written tradition.

Some years ago, Professor Bart Ehrman wrote a book on how the early Christians remembered Jesus, and on latest scientific findings concerning the fallibility of human memory. On the Amazon Web page, there’s an interview with Ehrman. What follows is a brief excerpt:

Q: How have scholars traditionally explained the gap of time between when Jesus was alive and when the Gospels were written, and why is that problematic?

A: Many scholars have somewhat unreflectively maintained that the Gospels ultimately go back to eyewitness testimonies to Jesus’ life and that they are therefore reliable; or that oral cultures preserve their traditions with a high degree of accuracy. I realized several years ago that these views can be tested by what we actually know, based on modern detailed studies, about eyewitness testimony (psychologists and legal scholars have studied the subject rigorously), about the reliability of memory (psychologists have delved into this question assiduously since the 1930s), and about the ways traditions are preserved in oral cultures (as we now know based on anthropological studies since the 1920s). As it turns out, what many New Testament scholars have assumed about such matters, in many cases, is simply not right. Many of their assumptions are not only unsupported, they have been shown to be highly problematic in study after study.

Ehrman concludes his interview with a take-home message:

The Gospels we have are not stenographic accounts of the things Jesus said and did. They contain stories that had been passed along by word of mouth decades before anyone wrote them down. If we understand what psychologists have told us about memory and false memory, and about how we sometimes actually invent stories in our heads about the past; if we understand what sociologists have told us about collective memory and how our social groups affect and mold the ways we preserve our recollections of past events; and if we understand what anthropologists have learned about how oral cultures not just cherish and preserve but also alter, transform, and even invent their traditions, we will have a much clearer sense of what the Gospels are and of how we should understand the stories they tell about the historical Jesus.

Even today, in my native Indonesia, it is common for people to claim that they witnessed miracles or saw supernatural phenomena.

I would like to hear more about this.

I’ll address more of your points in my next post to you. Stay tuned…

Happy to oblige.

a. Was the Last Supper a Passover meal? And did Jesus tell his disciples to drink blood?
b. Did Jesus die on the Jewish Passover?
c. Do the Gospels accurately represent Jesus trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin?
d. Was Pontius Pilate reluctant to convict Jesus?
e. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and subsequent death
f. The chief priests’ mockery of Jesus on the Cross
g. The story of the good thief: fact or fiction?
h. Jesus’ last words on the Cross: fact or fiction?
i. Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the Cross?
j. The three hours of darkness: fact or fiction?
k. The earthquake at Jesus’ death: fact or fiction?
l. Was the Veil of the Temple torn in two?
m. Were Jewish saints raised at Jesus’ death?
n. Blood and water from Jesus’ side?
o. Was Jesus buried in a new rock tomb?
p. Was there a Guard at Jesus’ tomb?
q. The women visiting Jesus’ tomb on Sunday: does the story add up?

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Hi @dga471,

Back again. I’ve just posted a list of the 17 claims, which will be useful in the discussion that follows.

First of all, you’re still stating that each of the 17 occurrences are doubtful, most of them by multiplying together prior probabilities without rigorous consideration of the written evidence from the Gospels and how that affects the probability.

I didn’t claim that the probabilities could be multiplied, although some of them could be. Clearly f is dependent on b, which is to some degree dependent on a. Claim c also bears some relationship to b, as does q. However, claims d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o and p are each capable of standing in isolation: one could accept any one of these claims while rejecting the others, and vice versa - although some points raised in h would weaken claim i, and a rejection of i also undermines claim n.

All in all, I think it would be fair to say that there are at least ten logically independent occurrences on this list. All of them, I would maintain, are historically improbable, and all of them are alleged to have occurred over a 24-hour time period. If you want to multiply them out, feel free to do so. For argument’s sake, we can assume that the probability of each occurrence is 1 in 10. Then for 10 such occurrences, the combined probability is 1 in 10^10 - and that’s over a very short time period. The number of such occurrences clearly matters. You mention three improbable things that happened to you. 1 in 10^3 is seven orders of magnitude higher than 1 in 10^10. I’m not attempting to make a rigorous argument here; I don’t believe I need to. Ten highly improbable alleged occurrences over a period of just 24 hours should serve as a red flag to any trained historian.

Secondly, you have not answered the question of whether it’s justified to classify 17 improbable occurrences equally. As a lot of people in this thread have argued, things like Communion and the good thief, even if improbable or straight out wrong, are immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.

Please scroll down to the section titled “Why we need an incident-by-incident approach to Gospel reliability” in Part A of my OP. It’s about 1,000 words. I’m not going to cut-and-paste it here.

The point is that if one or more of the Gospels allege that Jesus did X, and it turns out that he didn’t, then that does weaken the case for the historical reliability of the Gospels. And the question of whether Jesus asked his disciples to drink blood at the Last Supper is of vital importance to over 1.5 billion Christians. Please don’t tell me that’s “immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.”

Thirdly, it’s common for many improbable things to happen during a 24 hour time period if you’re just taking into account prior probabilities (which are difficult to assign rigorously anyway).

I wasn’t merely taking into account prior probabilities. See my post #45 above, here.

That’s already three improbable occurrences in the life of one person on a relatively mundane day. By these standards, my diary entry would be regarded as a mythological fabrication. This is just not the way to do history.

  1. Please see my point above about the number of improbable events. The likelihood of 17 (or even 10) such events over a 24-hour period is much lower than that of three such events.

  2. When all we have available to us are copies of four biographies written 30 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified, then we really have to fall back on probabilities, when assessing the credibility and reliability of the sources. How else can we proceed? We cannot interview the authors of the Gospels or the witnesses to the alleged events.

  3. Using your logic, I could defend any unlikely alleged revelation on the grounds that improbable events happen all the time. I don’t believe any trained historian would buy that defense.

@dga471

The Greek word translated as thief can embrace the category of outlaw that the Maccabees represented: religious revolutionaries.

They would have learned everything about a man who overturned the Temple money-changers!

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Hi @swamidass and @dga471,

I’d like to focus on a specific issue raised in Michael Alter’s book, which had a big impact on me:

i. Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the Cross?

In his discussion (2015, pp. 170-172), Alter begins by outlining the skeptical position, citing several scholars:

Tinsley (1965, 204; cf. Casey 1996, 188; Corley 2004, 81; 1998, 196n117; Thompson 1995, 61) argues that “The Romans did not permit bystanders at the actual place of execution. John’s account is influenced by his symbolic aim. The mother (old Israel) is handed over to the care of the ‘beloved disciple’ (who represents the new Israel of the Christian Church).” (Alter, 2015, p. 170)

Alter does not stop there, however. He is fair-minded enough to put forward the key arguments made by Christian defenders of the historicity of this episode in John’s Gospel:

In contrast, several writers (Keener 2003, 1141; 1993, 313; Kostenberger 2004a, 547; Stauffer 1960, 179n1) contend that it was not likely that women had restricted access to victims on a cross. They argue:

  1. Passages from T. Gittin 7.1; y. Gittin 7, 48c, 49; b. Baba Metzia 83b represent friends of the victims as standing near enough to be within hearing range.
  2. The soldiers might not have recognized who among the crowds constituted Jesus’ followers.
  3. Soldiers would be less likely to punish women present for mourning.
  4. The prerogatives of motherhood were highly respected in the ancient world.
  5. Women were far less frequently executed than men. (Alter, 2015, pp. 170-171)

So Alter is being fair in stating both sides of the case. At this point, he cites the verdict given by Maurice Casey (1942-2014), emeritus professor at the University of Nottingham, having served there as Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the Department of Theology. Casey was the author of Is John’s Gospel True? (1996, London: Routledge), from which Alter proceeds to quote:

Another unlikely feature [in John’s crucifixion scene] is the group of people beside the Cross. Mark has a group of women watching from a long way off (Mk. 15:40-1), which is highly plausible. The fourth Gospel’s group of people beside the Cross includes Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple. It is most likely that these people would have been allowed this close to a Roman crucifixion. If they had been, and they included people central to Jesus’ life and ministry, it is most unlikely that Mark would merely have women watching from a distance. If a major male disciple had approached this close, it is likely that he would have been arrested. (1996, p. 188)

That sounds pretty damning, coming from a self-described independent historian who is also the author of an acclaimed biography of Jesus (reviewed here). Remember: Jesus wasn’t crucified as a common criminal like the two thieves, but as a political criminal (“The King of the Jews”). He would have been shown no quarter by the Romans, whose professed aim was to humiliate rebels.

But what about those Rabbinic sources that seemingly point to exceptions to the Romans’ rigid policy of not allowing bystanders at the place of execution? Alter has a ready response:

Barrett (1978, 551) refutes these apologetics and argues against the historicity of any presence near the cross. He posits that these citations from the Mishnah and the Talmud do not outweigh the military requirements of the execution of a rebel king. Furthermore, he cites Josephus (Vita, 420 f.) who recorded that with special permission he was able to release three friends who were crucified. One friend actually survived. This incident is significant because it demonstrates that permission would be needed to approach the crosses. (Alter, 2015, p. 171)

Alter then cements his case by quoting from a 1998 article by Kathleen M. Corley, Professor of New Testament at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, titled, “Women and the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus” ( Forum New Series, 1(1):181-217):

The rabbinic sources … commonly marshaled to support such a contention [viz. that Jesus’ mother might have been allowed near the Cross – VJT] either deal with such hypothetical situations that they are hardly germane or describe religious, not state executions … Commonly cited as evidence are Y. Gittin 7.1 (330) or Baba Metzia 83b. For example, Baba Metzia 83b describes R.[Rabbi] Eleazar weeping under the gallows of a man hanged for violating religious law (rape of an engaged woman; Y. Gittin 71 describes a wildly hypothetical situation involving divorce. (1998, p. 196, note 117)

So much for the apologists’ examples, then. I checked out the rabbinic references online, and Professor Corley is correct.

So faced with evidence like this, how should I proceed? I have the verdict of a trained New Testament historian, arguing that John’s account of Mary and the beloved disciple standing at the foot of the Cross is “most unlikely” on several grounds. Furthermore, the exceptions to the “no bystanders allowed” rule cited by apologists all turn out to be bogus.

On the “pro” side, there is the fact that John’s Gospel records the event, seen through the eyes of an alleged witness (the beloved disciple). But when was the Gospel written? About 60 years after Jesus’ death. What’s more, none of the other Gospels make any mention of people standing at the foot of the Cross: in Mark, for instance, the women all observe from afar, which is much more plausible.

So I have two choices: I can choose to accept the historicity of this antecedently improbable incident, based on the testimony of one alleged eyewitness, given 60 years after the event it narrates, despite the fact that the event is not narrated in any of the other Gospels, or I can reject the historicity of this incident, on the grounds that it is intrinsically unlikely, that the three Synoptic Gospels do not even mention it, and that John’s Gospel may not have been written by the mysterious beloved disciple, anyway - or if it was, it could have been altered by his followers, after his death. Which seems more reasonable? If I opt for the first alternative, I have nothing but a late Gospel to support my claim, against a mountain of improbabilities pointing the other way, not to mention the silence of the Synoptic Gospels. But if I opt for the second alternative, I have historical precedent on my side, plus the Synoptic Gospels, and all I have to explain is how the incident got into John’s Gospel. (Short answer: I don’t know, but that’s not such a big problem, anyway.)

What would any rational person do, confronted with such evidence? I believe he/she would reject the historicity of the incident - or at least, acknowledge that it cannot be appealed to when arguing with non-Christians, because it’s dubious on historical grounds. If either of you disagree, I’d like to know why. Over to you.

@vjtorley

Hey… dont stop there!

John says Jesus. STARTS his career by overturning the money tables.

The other 3 gospels say he did this last.

They really cant both be right.

But why are we discussing this book at all? Are we trying to put a smile on the faces of a few Atheists?

Your last posting was MASSIVE!

Atheists are already aware that apologists overstate their claims. There’s a reason that they call them “liars for Jesus.”

I often hear the claim that there is more historical evidence for the resurrection, than there is for Alexander the Great. Such claims are absurd.

I see @vjtorley as making the case for more honesty. And that’s good.

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Yes. I agree with this entirely.

However, we’ve moved past that part to discuss what is actually the honest thing to say. Right?

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This is not an argument. Why are they absurd?