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8/05/2018 12:49 am  #1


The motive for Christianity

I'm having a difficult time figuring out whether or not there is a strong historical motive for Christianity. I think that, given its historical premise, the ultimate motive for Christianity should be one which is based in historical fact. Appealing to the intentions of God or what seems likely given a theistic picture of the cosmos, does not seem compelling to me and--at most--seems to be based in conjectures.

I am fairly certain that the Pauline creedal statements and Paul's ministry in general make it abundantly clear that the belief that Christ rose from the dead physically has an origin point within three years after Christ's crucifixion. But I'm not sure that one can then go on to claim that a miraculous resurrection is the most likely event to explain this belief within the early church. It may be a jump too big to make. Any other opinions here, believers and skeptics, that wish to weigh in?

Last edited by RomanJoe (8/05/2018 12:51 am)

 

8/05/2018 9:19 am  #2


Re: The motive for Christianity

Hello Joe, obviously your question opens up a huge and old debate. Even about the so-called genuine epistles of Paul, there is dispute, whether they present the doctrine that the same corpse of Jesus that was put in a grave came back to life and rose bodily. Some think Paul's statements are consistent with a belief in a spiritual resurrection or creation of a new, spiritual body. The story of Thomas in John is often taken as a theological thrust against the belief that Jesus' resurrected body was not a physical body. If that's true, the belief in some other sort of resurrection would have been current, and who knows how widespread.

Once you start digging into the gospels and Acts, I at least find that the rabbit holes go very deep, and the certainty with which I took the traditional story started to evaporate. A non-scholarly "issue" of mine is just, wouldn't the Resurrection have been the most stupendous event in human history? If so, why so much secrecy and confusion about it? The whole world should have been stupefied. Obviously, there are many auxiliary assumptions that can be brought in to explain the secrecy and confusion.

At this point I incline to think that there was a historical Jesus, a wandering preacher who thought he was the messiah, who was crucified as a seditionist and later buried in an unknown grave. The argument that the apostles would not have died for what they knew was a lie, so therefore the bodily resurrection must have occurred (to explain the spead of the cult and their constancy even in martyrdom), is circular, in my opinion. That's because assumptions about the spread of Christianity in c. 33-50, and the martyrdoms of the apostles, themselves are drawn from the gospels/Acts and later tradition. And it's the historicity of those documents and traditions that is in question.

 

 

8/05/2018 10:04 am  #3


Re: The motive for Christianity

ficino wrote:

Hello Joe, obviously your question opens up a huge and old debate. Even about the so-called genuine epistles of Paul, there is dispute, whether they present the doctrine that the same corpse of Jesus that was put in a grave came back to life and rose bodily. Some think Paul's statements are consistent with a belief in a spiritual resurrection or creation of a new, spiritual body. The story of Thomas in John is often taken as a theological thrust against the belief that Jesus' resurrected body was not a physical body. If that's true, the belief in some other sort of resurrection would have been current, and who knows how widespread.

Once you start digging into the gospels and Acts, I at least find that the rabbit holes go very deep, and the certainty with which I took the traditional story started to evaporate. A non-scholarly "issue" of mine is just, wouldn't the Resurrection have been the most stupendous event in human history? If so, why so much secrecy and confusion about it? The whole world should have been stupefied. Obviously, there are many auxiliary assumptions that can be brought in to explain the secrecy and confusion.

At this point I incline to think that there was a historical Jesus, a wandering preacher who thought he was the messiah, who was crucified as a seditionist and later buried in an unknown grave. The argument that the apostles would not have died for what they knew was a lie, so therefore the bodily resurrection must have occurred (to explain the spead of the cult and their constancy even in martyrdom), is circular, in my opinion. That's because assumptions about the spread of Christianity in c. 33-50, and the martyrdoms of the apostles, themselves are drawn from the gospels/Acts and later tradition. And it's the historicity of those documents and traditions that is in question.

 

 
Concerning the unknown grave or the mass burial site commonly held for criminals, how do you get around the empty tomb story? I know some scholars think such a story fulfills the criteria of embarrassment because the gospel account has women (seen as second class citizens and unworthy legal witnesses in Palestine) be the first witnesses of the disappearance of Christ's corpse.

     Thread Starter
 

8/05/2018 1:19 pm  #4


Re: The motive for Christianity

If we go back to Paul, we don't find anything about an empty tomb in his epistles. All we get is ἐτάφη, "he was buried/put in a grave." Paul says the risen Jesus ὤφθη, "appeared to/was seen by" various individuals and then ὤφθη "also to me." Since Paul saw a vision according to Acts, I think I Cor 15:5-8 is consistent with the hypothesis that the others mentioned by him saw a vision. I.e. that the first church spoke of a spiritual resurrection, although these verses are also consistent with the traditional thesis that they believed in a physical resurrection. You might think, though, that if Paul knew a story about the empty tomb and the women on Easter morning, he might have referred to it, though of course he might have done in speech or writing that we don't have, and he need not have referred to it at all. Still, it seems to me it's an argument from silence of some hard-to-specify degree of weight.

The argument that women witnesses are authenticated by the criterion of embarrassment is poor, since Mark's whole "the last first and the first last" theme also accounts for that detail: to whom else would the Jesus of gMark appear BUT to those not at the top of the hierarchy? And the male disciples are constantly depicted as absurdly uncomprehending in Mark. The argument that women's testimony was not accepted in court in Judaism of the Roman period, so therefore women would not be inserted falsely as witnesses into the gospel narrative, also is not cogent. If the only witnesses WERE women, then their testimony was accepted in Jewish courts, as e.g. about an event in the women's section of a synagogue.

About the CoE in general and about the Criteria of Authenticity, there is a growing movement among biblical scholars I have read to admit their circularity. Since the gospels are designed to stimulate and/or confirm belief, they are propaganda (not nec. in a bad sense) through and through. So there is in principle nothing that we can be sure is a nugget uncolored by the authors' propagandistic purposes. Attempts to face the methodological problems of applying the Criteria are usefully discussed in Jesus, criteria, and the demise of authenticity / edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne. London ; New York : T&T Clark, [2012].  A good paper in the volume is by Rafael Rodriguez on the CoE. Rodriguez replies to some criticisms here (note his "the criterion of embarrassment is entirely impossible to apply. The fact is, we simply do not know what the Christians found "embarrassing" and what they did not."):

http://thinkinginpublic.blogspot.com/2014/01/greg-monette-on-criterion-of.html

So given the above, what about the empty tomb story? My view so far is that we don't know it is factual. There is no reference to Arimathea as a place except in the gospels. As a designation of Joseph it is fishy (a riff on "best disciple"?). We don't have evidence to make it plausible that a Roman governor would release the body of a crucified seditionist to friends or relatives. The one poorly authenticated case known to me almost proves the rule, since it is of the last Hasmonean claimant to the throne, Antigonus II Mattathias, and his death in 37 BCE was not under the Roman system of govt that obtained in c. 30 CE; he was handed over to the Romans by Herod. But the body found in his supposed grave has been said to be that of an elderly woman. [there's controversy of course about this]  There are a lot of fishy things about gMark, and Luke/Acts are likely to be second century, since Josephus' Antiquities seems to be used but misinterpreted.

Bart Ehrman a few years ago put a good deal of time into the problem of the empty tomb and came up with what I suggested, that Jesus' body, as that of a crucified seditionist, would not have been released but rather, buried in an unknown grave.

I don't go so far as the mythicists who claim that there never was an actual Jesus wandering preacher.


 

Last edited by ficino (8/05/2018 1:24 pm)

 

8/05/2018 1:49 pm  #5


Re: The motive for Christianity

ficino wrote:

If we go back to Paul, we don't find anything about an empty tomb in his epistles. All we get is ἐτάφη, "he was buried/put in a grave." Paul says the risen Jesus ὤφθη, "appeared to/was seen by" various individuals and then ὤφθη "also to me." Since Paul saw a vision according to Acts, I think I Cor 15:5-8 is consistent with the hypothesis that the others mentioned by him saw a vision. I.e. that the first church spoke of a spiritual resurrection, although these verses are also consistent with the traditional thesis that they believed in a physical resurrection. You might think, though, that if Paul knew a story about the empty tomb and the women on Easter morning, he might have referred to it, though of course he might have done in speech or writing that we don't have, and he need not have referred to it at all. Still, it seems to me it's an argument from silence of some hard-to-specify degree of weight.

The argument that women witnesses are authenticated by the criterion of embarrassment is poor, since Mark's whole "the last first and the first last" theme also accounts for that detail: to whom else would the Jesus of gMark appear BUT to those not at the top of the hierarchy? And the male disciples are constantly depicted as absurdly uncomprehending in Mark. The argument that women's testimony was not accepted in court in Judaism of the Roman period, so therefore women would not be inserted falsely as witnesses into the gospel narrative, also is not cogent. If the only witnesses WERE women, then their testimony was accepted in Jewish courts, as e.g. about an event in the women's section of a synagogue.

About the CoE in general and about the Criteria of Authenticity, there is a growing movement among biblical scholars I have read to admit their circularity. Since the gospels are designed to stimulate and/or confirm belief, they are propaganda (not nec. in a bad sense) through and through. So there is in principle nothing that we can be sure is a nugget uncolored by the authors' propagandistic purposes. Attempts to face the methodological problems of applying the Criteria are usefully discussed in Jesus, criteria, and the demise of authenticity / edited by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne. London ; New York : T&T Clark, [2012].  A good paper in the volume is by Rafael Rodriguez on the CoE. Rodriguez replies to some criticisms here (note his "the criterion of embarrassment is entirely impossible to apply. The fact is, we simply do not know what the Christians found "embarrassing" and what they did not."):

http://thinkinginpublic.blogspot.com/2014/01/greg-monette-on-criterion-of.html

So given the above, what about the empty tomb story? My view so far is that we don't know it is factual. There is no reference to Arimathea as a place except in the gospels. As a designation of Joseph it is fishy (a riff on "best disciple"?). We don't have evidence to make it plausible that a Roman governor would release the body of a crucified seditionist to friends or relatives. The one poorly authenticated case known to me almost proves the rule, since it is of the last Hasmonean claimant to the throne, Antigonus II Mattathias, and his death in 37 BCE was not under the Roman system of govt that obtained in c. 30 CE; he was handed over to the Romans by Herod. But the body found in his supposed grave has been said to be that of an elderly woman. [there's controversy of course about this]  There are a lot of fishy things about gMark, and Luke/Acts are likely to be second century, since Josephus' Antiquities seems to be used but misinterpreted.

Bart Ehrman a few years ago put a good deal of time into the problem of the empty tomb and came up with what I suggested, that Jesus' body, as that of a crucified seditionist, would not have been released but rather, buried in an unknown grave.

I don't go so far as the mythicists who claim that there never was an actual Jesus wandering preacher.


 

This is a lot of good information--thanks. I've also heard that the insertion of women as witnesses could also be a hellenistic influence because the Greeks often depicted women as archetypal religious conduits.

Why do you think that, if the original belief in the resurrection was of a spiritual sort, it mutated into a belief in a physical resurrection? We could at least say that the mutation took place within thirty years after Christ's crucifixion, given the fact that Mark mentions it. Also could Paul have left out the female witnesses as a convenient way to overlook the embarrassing detail?

     Thread Starter
 

8/05/2018 2:20 pm  #6


Re: The motive for Christianity

RomanJoe wrote:

Why do you think that, if the original belief in the resurrection was of a spiritual sort, it mutated into a belief in a physical resurrection? We could at least say that the mutation took place within thirty years after Christ's crucifixion, given the fact that Mark mentions it. Also could Paul have left out the female witnesses as a convenient way to overlook the embarrassing detail?

Hi, as to 1, I don't think we know enough, or at least, I don't know enough. I would not share the view that such a mutation must have occurred within 30 years after, i.e. by 60 or so. The safest bet seems to be that gMark postdates the Jewish Revolt and thus is later than 70. We don't know Mark's sources, or even, how much in gMark relies on earlier sources.
As to 2, again, we don't know. We only know that Paul reports *almost* nothing about Jesus' biography. I don't have anything firm to say about why the women are not mentioned; whatever I would say would rest on auxiliary assumptions.
 

Last edited by ficino (8/05/2018 3:17 pm)

 

8/05/2018 3:16 pm  #7


Re: The motive for Christianity

I accept the historicity of the women as the earliest witnesses because I view the core of the story as predating Mark in the form of oral tradition, so the idea that he fabricated something so important of thin air because it fit with his theme falls flat with me. Also, there's more going on than just testimony in court--the idea that women are hysterical and not to be trusted, especially when it comes to something like an alleged miracle, is really not new. The prejudice goes deeper than legal standards, and would have gotten in the way of evangelism. If women ended up in a key role in this particular story, it's probably because they put themselves there.

Is it evidence for the empty tomb? Not necessarily--all it shows is that Mary Magdalene was a very serious early player whose Resurrection experiences, whatever their nature, were such that this particular legend grew around them.

I'm sympathetic to Christian claims, but I get very uncomfortable with the argument that a specific miraculous event is the best historical explanation for the evidence we have. I think that relies upon a very naive "what you see is what you get" reading of history and psychology that need not necessarily match up to reality. I honestly think there are more interesting historical arguments for Christianity out there, like the ones that take a teleological approach to the last 2000 years of human history. (This may be more common with the Radical Orthodoxy crowd.)

 

8/05/2018 3:22 pm  #8


Re: The motive for Christianity

I am with Hypatia as far as being reluctant to attribute the origin of the religion to a particular miraculous event. I'm nervous about "last story left standing" kind of thinking. If the evidence doesn't support a fairly well-crafted, secure alternative story of the origin, it doesn't follow that the traditional story is left standing as secure. After all, if scholars of ancient Greek religion disagree about the origin of the mystery cult of Dionysos, that lack of a one secure alternative story doesn't leave the traditional story of the Bacchae etc. standing as the plausible one. I should think the origins of many ancient cults are lost to us. Perhaps a fruitful field to look for hypothetical frameworks is anthropology.

 

8/05/2018 3:52 pm  #9


Re: The motive for Christianity

Any reading suggestions? I've read some of Bart Ehrman's work, William Lane Craig's (excluding his massive tome), Gary Habermas' and Michael Licona's. Dale Allison seems promising.

     Thread Starter
 

8/05/2018 4:18 pm  #10


Re: The motive for Christianity

I follow Larry Hurtado, have read a bit of James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright, and have been eyeing Richard Bauckham for some time, though I get leery of scholars who don't say at least one thing that goes against the grain.

 

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