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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Appendix 1: Wouldn't It Be Equally Plausible For Both Sides To Have Been Ignorantly Inventing Details Against Each Other, Leading Over A Sufficiently Long Period Of Such Invention, Never Corrected On Either Side By Any Actual Facts, To The Shape Of The Data In GosMatt's Guard Story? {inhale}

I realize that this question almost answers itself, when put that way. But bear with me--this is an example of the practical importance of checking the details of a theory, which isn't always easy to do. Besides, it gives me a welcome opportunity to cover an angle I didn't discuss directly in my original composition!


Recently, “Brap Gronk” (possibly not his or her real name {g}) contributed the following comment to Part 2 of the series (because that is where I was listing a number of possibilities for consideration of plausibility):

I have read all nine parts of this series, although perhaps not all in great detail. So there may be an easy argument against the possibility I propose below for the guard adventure in GosMatt.

Possibility #8) Sometime after Jesus' death, before GosMatt was written, Christians told stories about the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of a real person named Jesus. To make the resurrection story seem more plausible, Christians invented some parts of the story about guards guarding the tomb (and perhaps the tomb itself). Everyone knows the only way a guarded body in a tomb with a big stone in front of it turns up missing is through resurrection.

By the time the story about the resurrection reached the non-Christian Jews, their initial brush-off response, since they had no eyewitnesses and everything was hearsay that many months or years after Jesus' death, was that the disciples stole the body while the guards slept. Both sides continued embellishing their counter-arguments and theories over the next several years, such that neither side knew what was fact and what was fiction by the time GosMatt was written.


This is a fine comment, and worthy of some discussion in itself!--especially since I didn’t directly discuss this possibility. So I’ve created an appendix entry to address it.


Readers will notice that my list of possibilities ends up with at least some Jewish opponents to GosMatt's audience, appealing to the public testimony of guards. There are reasons for that, which involve abductively testing how the actual data (the narrative form and details of the Key) might have been arrived at through various hypothetical stages of polemic. At the end of the day, it becomes obvious that GosMatt’s author has to be answering a Jewish charge about public testimony of the guards. (We’ll get back to why this works best and not anything else, a little later.)

But what if Christians were the ones to invent the guards in the first place? How well do various options from this fit, in arriving at the shape of the actual data?

Some options along this line were already tested for plausibility in the Possibility list of Part 2. But Brap suggests another line of possibility.

The concept is that Christians invented at least some parts of Guard Adventure-A (or some equivalent thereof, if the current Adv-A has since replaced it) which eventually leads to the creation of Guard Adventure-B as a result of the back and forth polemic. (We’ll leave aside for our present purposes the question of this theory involving a tomb being accepted as originally historical or invented later.) The Jews, faced with this detail (i.e. Guard Adventure-A, or its equivalent, not Adventure-B), sheerly invent a reply that disciples stole the body from the guards; or else, they pre-emptively meet the expected retort (“You’re only saying that!”) with the sheerly invented added detail of the guards testifying themselves that the disciples stole the body while they were on guard; or else, they pre-emptively meet the expected retort (“Yeah, right, the guards just let the disciples steal the body!”) with the further sheerly invented detail that the guards themselves testify themselves that they all fell asleep (or were otherwise irresponsibly lazy) and that was when the disciples stole the body.

Which is itself a very weak explanation. Yet, according to this theory, it’s one that GosMatt’s author (or his preceding tradition) somehow thought was so strong that it needed another round of sheer counter-invention to meet it (“No, the Sanhedrin bribed the guards to say that!”, thus resulting in the shape of Guard Adventure-B) instead of simply mocking the attempt. (“That’s the best explanation you can come up with?? The guards all fell asleep? And then voluntarily testified to this afterward?! And how come none of us have ever heard about that before!?” With maybe some transition to narrative or commentary form, along the same line in GosMatt.)

Notice, we aren’t (according to this Possibility) in a position where the Jews are answering with something like “if Jesus (hypothetically or actually) made the claims you’re talking about and was convicted by our duly appointed religious leaders and was executed by a death cursed by God, then of course he couldn’t have been raised, so the disciples had to have stolen the body”--a retort covered in principle in other Possibilities and which (as noted in those discussions) doesn’t at all require that the Jews invent a story of criminally negligent guards (much less ones voluntarily incriminating themselves in public--which, per the invention hypothesis, no one has ever heard about before including during previous stages of this polemic!) No, in this theory our Jewish population (or some of them) in contact with GosMatt’s audience are responding to an apologetic tactic invented by that Christian group, namely some sheerly invented guards for the body.

Even so, supposing they retort off the cuff, “No, the disciples stole the body from the guards”--why would they do that? Such an explanation would be weaker than the story point they’re trying to combat! (The whole point to having guards, remember, is to prevent tampering with the body.) They would have been better off simply denying there were guards, and charging the Christians with lying about the guards! The Jews end up being the ones who have to keep adding details to try to save their position, but digging themselves farther and farther in the hole each time they add a fictional detail. At the end of the day, there’s no reason at all for the Christians to go the final step and invent the Sanhedrin bribing the guards, when they could just mock their Jewish neighbors for coming up with a fatally weak rebuttal--in multiple layers of ‘fail’ no less!


The theory also sort-of ignores why the Christians would sheerly invent the guards to begin with. The plausible reason is to combat theories that disciples stole the body; theories which the local Jewish population would be more likely to advance than the Christian population anyway. It makes more sense to try supposing that the Jews retorted originally “No the body wasn’t resurrected, the disciples stole it”, to which the Christians answered, “No, there were guards.” But this still leaves the Jews unexplainably making a multiple-fail move by insisting that the disciples still stole the body from the guards rather than the far more reasonable retort “What guards?! We’ve never heard about guards at the tomb before; you were never talking about that before; you just made that up right now!” The Christians would be on the weaker side of an empasse there; at best they’d have to invent some reason why they hadn’t bothered to mention the non-existent guards before (if not also why the Jews had never heard of guards before either). The plausible shape of the result would still not match what we find in the actual (not the hypothetical) data.


There are other problems with this theory, too.

1.) The theory requires that our Jews and Christians are both isolated from authoritative continuity, especially on the Christian side of things. What real (or even plausibly hypothetical) 1st century (or even 2nd century) Mediterranean situation can this correspond to? None that occurs to me! This isn’t like, say, Japan during the Tokugawa Shoganate where the rulers went to great lengths to isolate an island (partly to keep things like Christian influence from continuing to come into the area) for several centuries, and brutally hunted and oppressed the Christians, so that the few remaining groups were largely isolated from one another, entirely isolated from the source of traditional authority, and required to innovate the shape of their beliefs in order to survive.

Yet the Jews in this theory have no contact with anyone in Jerusalem who could answer better; no contact with anyone in authority who (post 70 lets say) used to have contact with the Jerusalem situation and who can answer better from experience; and ditto for the Christians. Admittedly, the theory could explain why the guard story seems restricted to this one hind-end of polemical evidence: it developed (rather stupidly, as noted above!) in isolation from the rest of Christian authority as an unauthorized innovation (unauthorized for excellent reasons, as shown above!) But does this fit the actual data?--does GosMatt’s reception among Christian groups at large historically match the theory? The short answer is, no the text becomes far too popular; and the details of the text show strong continuity elsewhere with accepted Christian tradition.

2.) Each group doesn’t only have to be isolated from being able to appeal back to authority (and/or, for the Christians, isolated from authoritative hampering of unlicensed innovations); they basically have to be isolated from each other during that whole time. The theory has no way to account for why this exchange didn’t get started earlier, and rather needs for the exchange to have started as late as possible in order to most plausibly isolate both groups from continuity with their own forebears, so that all they have to go on is hearsay and whatever they can innovate themselves, including for defense.

But these two problems are in tension with each other. Starting the counter-polemic exchange late might distance them from having corrective contact in various ways (so that they are innovating in ignorance)--but it also requires the two parties being introduced to one another proportionately late. GosMatt, though, is arguably the most Jewish and Aramaic of the Gospels, even in Greek; and like all four canonical Gospels the primary evangelization mission represented in GosMatt is to the Jews. The lengthy isolation from a Jewish population simply doesn’t fit the shape of the actual data. Starting the counter-polemic early, though, virtually guarantees the two groups will be in continuity with their founding authorities, allowing them access to authoritative defenses (and in the case of Christians providing tradent restrictions on authorized innovations, maybe.)

3.) The scarcity of stolen-body polemic in early surviving evidence of Jewish/Christian interaction, is weird in any event; and tends to work backhand against this theory more than the theory could help explain it. The easiest and simplest countercharge by Jews (or anyone really) in contact with Christian preaching about the missing body, will always be that the disciples stole the body--and the shape of the actually existent data (i.e. the textual characteristics of various documents) argues strongly in favor of Jews being the first opponents to Christians, and Christians coming primarily (or exclusively) from Judaism. This is in fact a problem for conservative apologists such as myself: where the heck is the obvious countercharge in the primary data?--why is it restricted to one poof in one early Gospel? (Leaving aside the question of whether a detail of guards in GosPete offers independent and similarly early testimony that at least there were guards posted.) Nothing in Acts, nothing in the other three Gospels, even in GosMark’s probably-late-compilation-epilogue. (Nothing in the epistles either, for that matter.) Someone--or rather lots of someones among early Christian tradition transmitters, clearly thought the story worked just fine without enemy guards to make it look better. Just as obviously, a vanishing body was considered important.

So why doesn’t the obvious first countercharge show up more often in the primary texts? In other words, why isn’t there more evidence that Christians had to compete against the obvious first defense: the disciples must have stolen the body?

I think there’s some hope of resolving this oddity along the line of the argument I raised in the series (a hope that I hope to get to later, God willing and the creek don’t rise. {wry g}) I see no hope of resolving this oddity along the line of Brap’s Possibility #8; not without positing a cultural disjunction for the development of Christian belief, which not only doesn’t fit the larger shape of the actual primary data but which, as demonstrated above, wouldn’t plausibly have arrived at the shape of the actual primary data in the Key. (Groundless innovations would have most plausibly been met at an early stage of polemic, by one or another party, with the entirely reasonable countercharge that the innovators were just inventing things for their own convenience--and not doing a great job of inventing things either! There is no good reason to go through the necessary multiple stages of fail in order to arrive at the shape of the Key, by this route. The shape is better explained by appeal, on the side of opposing parties, to some common strong ground of agreement: perceived by both parties as strong enough to bolster the shape to its final form as preserved in the Key.)


In short: a theory about the Key ought to plausibly arrive at the shape of the Key (unless the alternative is impossible). This is not optional--the Key is actual and real data, and so has some kind of real explanation for its existence. The shape of the Key testifies to multiple levels of polemic that were engaged in by opponents who thought those engagements were the best tactical options. A theory that only handwaves off those levels of engagement as just having happened somehow, does not do justice to the data; especially if, when considering what kind of engagements would plausibly occur under the theory, the shape of the data isn’t plausibly arrived at after all; and especially if cultural conditions necessary for the theory to have initial plausibility also don’t match up well with the actual shape of the data.

19 comments:

Just registering for comment tracking.

great essay. you are a brilliant man. how long have you been thinking about this?

'Wouldn't It Be Equally Plausible For Both Sides To Have Been Ignorantly Inventing Details Against Each Other, Leading Over A Sufficiently Long Period Of Such Invention,'

You mean that for 30 years after the alleged resurrection, none of this invention had even *started* to happen, so that the earliest Gospel claimed that the body could be easily accessed if only some big strong men (perhaps fishermen) could be found to roll away the stone?

'Even so, supposing they retort off the cuff, “No, the disciples stole the body from the guards”--why would they do that? Such an explanation would be weaker than the story point they’re trying to combat! '

You mean such witnesses would not be regarded as credible?

Would they be regarded as more credible than having women discover the tomb?

Surely the only reason people would come up with such weak stories , lacking credibility,is if they were true.

After all,Christians claim that if witnesses were not credible (like women were not credible), this proves the stroy is true....


'The Christians would be on the weaker side of an empasse there; at best they’d have to invent some reason why they hadn’t bothered to mention the non-existent guards before....'

So why did the Gospel of Mark not mention any guards, when Christians had allegedly been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing?

It couldn't be that the writer was suddenly attacked by a fit of honesty, could it?

And so could not bring himself to lie about people guarding the body of a dead criminal, to stop people concocting a story that nobody would ever believe - that this corpse had walked from the tomb?

Why on earth would the authorities worry about people believing that a corpse had walked from the tomb when allegedly no Jew thought such a thing possible?

And why does it take more than 30 years for any hint of this grave-robbing controversy to appear?

'Yet the Jews in this theory have no contact with anyone in Jerusalem who could answer better; no contact with anyone in authority who (post 70 lets say) used to have contact with the Jerusalem situation and who can answer better from experience;...'

This is indeed absurd.



So if the Gospel of John has knowledge that comes from before 70 AD, then obviously that indicates the Gospel was written before 70 AD,as how else could any Christian writing after 70 AD have known about the geography of Jerusalem before 70 AD?

Meta,

I don't know about "brilliant" (though thanks for the compliment {s!}), but the first draft of this series goes back to Dec 2002. I was curious about a passing reference some other author had made to another author working along this line in detail (which unfortunately I still can't recover a reference to... sigh... I would love to compare notes), and since I didn't have access to that article I thought I'd try out the exercise myself.

My original draft contains an introductory chapter where I discuss why arguments of this sort cannot formally arrive at metaphysical conclusions; and I may post that up later, too. I was quite pleased with the relative scope of the results, since I initially guessed they would be even more limited (considering the restrictions).

JRP

Jason,

I agree with Meta, this is a great historical reconstruction of the "key" in Matthew. This is really good work.

Steven,

I thought you were bringing this up on the Premier forum, but I didn't have the time. I've just got one question: Why did the writer of the gospel in question include this account, on your view?

Steven,

Leaving aside the question of whether GosMark actually is the first written Gospel (stll-extant or otherwise): my overall argument was that theories of invention don’t account well for the shape of the second half of the Guard Adventures data in GosMatt. As I pointed out in several places (including the article you’re replying to) this leaves over the problem of why guard-testimony polemic doesn’t otherwise survive in early Christian sources (or even in surviving Jewish polemic). It’s always easier to omit mention of something than to include it, though, so the question can also be phrased along this line: how plausible is it that each side would rather not bring up mention of public guard testimony? I hope to address this later.

Until then, I’ll point out that I was pretty careful not to argue that, to put it in your terms, “Christians had been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing”. On the contrary, my tentative inference was that if GosMatt was composed late this charge only survived as a minor artifact, relevant only to the author’s immediate (and possibly very local) audience. Much as, for most Christians, old anti-Christian theories long argued solidly against by even liberal scholars, are not really relevant enough to be worth mentioning usually--until some fringe element tries to trot them out again.


{{After all,Christians claim that if witnesses were not credible (like women were not credible), this proves the stroy is true....}}

Guards would in fact be far more credible to opponents in that culture than the testimony of women; and especially Levite guards in a Jewish culture (or a culture with very strong and positive ties to Judaism). But the problem is that the guard testimony about what happened to the body is itself implausibly weak. (I guess you’re welcome to believe that the guards all fell asleep and that that was when the disciples snuck in and stole the body without waking any of them, if you think that sounds sufficiently plausible. {g}) The weakness is worth considering for why they would testify that way; also for why Jews in contact with GosMatt’s audience would bother referring to their public testimony; and for why GosMatt thought this was important enough to address with a counter-story for why the guards would testify to such a weak explanation.

Since you bring up the reference to the women’s testimony, though, there’s a certain amount of overlap between them and the testimony of the guards: there was a man named Jesus who died; whose body unexpectedly disappeared; whose body had been in a condition and location from which it could be identified as having unexpectedly disappeared (which so far as the data goes, eliminates a number of possibilities, and theories, about what conditions and locations the body might have been in); who had disciples; and whose disciples cared about the condition and location of his body, including its disappearance.

I’m not aware of any careful Christian apologist who tries to appeal to the existence of “the women’s testimony” in the texts, as pertinent for any purpose much beyond that, aside from verification that the body was in a tomb from which it disappeared; and although I didn’t argue specifically for that from analysis of the Key, I did point out that the implications pointed in a direction easily fulfilled by a tomb. So to that extent, the two sets of testimony overlap again as well.

Steven (and afterward): {{It couldn't be that the [GosMark] writer was suddenly attacked by a fit of honesty, could it?}}

Actually, I’m one of the (few?) people who argue in favor of the GosMark author tacitly trying to claim to be an eyewitness to the discovery of the empty tomb (namely that he’s the young man in the scene), and thus also trying to correct an angelic announcement tradition. (For which I would argue he got pinched off by an editor in more authority than he was.)

So your sarcasm is worth less than nothing to me there. {wry g} I wouldn't have any problem with the idea that John Mark or any other author decided to omit mention of the guards if they thought it was to their benefit somehow to do so, including if they thought it was an error or unsubstantiated legend.


{{Why on earth would the authorities worry about people believing that a corpse had walked from the tomb when allegedly no Jew thought such a thing possible?}}

Not sure from your comment who you think is alleging that no Jew would think such a thing was possible. Jews who focused only on the authority/identity claims of Jesus (which his, or His, disciples apparently didn’t originally do, but which his religious opponents seemed pretty sensitive to) and then on his successful execution, wouldn’t think it possible that God would resurrect him. But even merely considering narrative coherency, the chief priests would surely have in mind the many people who thought highly of Jesus (either not realizing the claims he was making or else being conflicted about whether such claims could be true). Considering they believed such people already deceived, it would be realistic for the priests to want to prevent them being even worse deceived, since a resurrection would be seen as validation that Jesus had permission from God to make such claims about himself.

Which of course is exactly what happened, one way or another.


{{This is indeed absurd.}}

I agree: it is indeed absurd to wildly and ignorantly straw-man my arguments in the fashion you’ve been attempting; including where you quoted me in answering that and tried to come up with a retort that you imagined might be relevant somehow. Thank you for admitting so.

(See, I can play at that game, too. {g})

However, for sake of readers who might actually be interested in critically assessing the pros and cons of my presentation, I’ve offered some comments anyway.

JRP

Brad,

Thanks. {g} I wish I could figure out where I originally got the idea from though... (I hate not being able to give credit for the idea, and besides I want to compare notes to see what he came up with along that line.)

JRP

Also, I'm pretty sure I'd have other questions after Steven answered that one question. {g!} (Just to warn him in advance.)

'Wouldn't It Be Equally Plausible For Both Sides To Have Been Ignorantly Inventing Details Against Each Other, Leading Over A Sufficiently Long Period Of Such Invention,'

You mean that for 30 years after the alleged resurrection, none of this invention had even *started* to happen, so that the earliest Gospel claimed that the body could be easily accessed if only some big strong men (perhaps fishermen) could be found to roll away the stone?


the the point is is implausible. get it.

4/13/2010 01:31:00 AM
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'Even so, supposing they retort off the cuff, “No, the disciples stole the body from the guards”--why would they do that? Such an explanation would be weaker than the story point they’re trying to combat! '

???that's pretty odd since the vast majority of atheists I know think that's a much more plausible explanation. Do you really think he rose from the dead id more plausible? why are you an atheist? It seems to me anyone would use the body snatch theory if they were in that position, how could they go with "he rose from the dead?" If they did tell the priests that it's obvious he priests would not want them to keep telling it.

You mean such witnesses would not be regarded as credible?

Would they be regarded as more credible than having women discover the tomb?

that's a good point. Having women discover the tomb would be a real draw back. I just don't they would go with that as a made up story. why that would make them look more ridiculous. so I guess they didn't make it up, it must have really happened hu?

Surely the only reason people would come up with such weak stories , lacking credibility,is if they were true.

OK. sounds good.

After all,Christians claim that if witnesses were not credible (like women were not credible), this proves the stroy is true....

well it proves its not manufactured by the Apostles unless they were fools.


'The Christians would be on the weaker side of an empasse there; at best they’d have to invent some reason why they hadn’t bothered to mention the non-existent guards before....'

it seems to me like you are staring the embarrassment thing in the face and not understanding what it's about walking right into it.

So why did the Gospel of Mark not mention any guards, when Christians had allegedly been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing?

Becasue the Jews had stopped saying it. Over time the need to use that excuse about stealing the body went away. The guards were not there anymore, the story was old enough the tomb closed up or whatever so it wasn't a big deal any more they didn't have to keep saying it so Mark didn't have to refute it.

the real mystery is why did Matt put it in. that I don't know.


It couldn't be that the writer was suddenly attacked by a fit of honesty, could it?


wait you are arguing to try to argue that honesty would make them them take the guards 50 years latter as though Mark is supposed to know that there weren't any guards, 50 years earlier?

you think that because you think the story of the women is so flimsy? hu?


And so could not bring himself to lie about people guarding the body of a dead criminal, to stop people concocting a story that nobody would ever believe - that this corpse had walked from the tomb?

You mean this guy 50 years latter is going to ditch the story that the whole Christian community has been founded upon based on what?

can't you understand that Mat dug up something older? He didn't copy Mark with the guards he used something Mark left out. He brought it back in.


Why on earth would the authorities worry about people believing that a corpse had walked from the tomb when allegedly no Jew thought such a thing possible?


first, because they were afarid of the people's support for him to begin with, it was strong enough to kill him for. Secondly, they knew that he had predicted he would rise so if he did or if people said he did then people would see that as fufillment and attribute it to his power.

Thirdly, they were didn't want to lose their power, they were certain the people back him or his followers against them.

back when it was a new event, the passions of the holy day, the anger of his followers over the crucifixion,t he disillusionment of the people, if a bunch of Roman soldiers and women went around saying they saw him raise form the dead, if others came back saying "you know the tomb is empty" and if people from Bethany coming in saying "we saw him walking through our town after he was crucified," obviously there's going to create a band wagon to believe in his power. that would be a motive for them to care enough to bribe the guards to keep them quite and to make up the story of the theft of the body.


And why does it take more than 30 years for any hint of this grave-robbing controversy to appear?

It didn't. Mark did not invent the res. don't tell you think that? only suckers believe that. Koster proved the story of the empty tomb was circulating in writing as early as ad 50. Brown proved the Gospel of Peter was an independent tradition not based uon Mat and that includes it's guards.

what we see in those two traditions (Mat and Gpet) are the end of the process not the beginning. Those gaurds had been around fora long time.


4/13/2010 01:38:00 AM
Blogger Steven Carr said...

'Yet the Jews in this theory have no contact with anyone in Jerusalem who could answer better; no contact with anyone in authority who (post 70 lets say) used to have contact with the Jerusalem situation and who can answer better from experience;...'

This is indeed absurd.



So if the Gospel of John has knowledge that comes from before 70 AD, then obviously that indicates the Gospel was written before 70 AD,as how else could any Christian writing after 70 AD have known about the geography of Jerusalem before 70 AD?


why do you keep making these insane assumptions? If a tradition in a gospels is old that in no way means the Gospel is old? do you not understand about redaction? It's well ;proved that there is a process of redaction so the four gospel we have are far from being the first telling.

4/13/2010 01:40:00 AM

Jason and Meta,

I've gone back and forth with Steven a number of times, and I genuinely enjoy the challenge to meet all of the off-topic questions and the sarcastic wit. But the thing I've never gotten from Steve is a cogent historical situating of the Gospels. I think that's emblematic of the mythicist position.

Yeah, we're pretty familiar with him here, too. {g}

When I get around to synching this up with a dialogue Victor Reppert posted between me and Keith Parsons, several years ago on his blog, that concept will come back into play, too.

JRP

BRAD
But the thing I've never gotten from Steve is a cogent historical situating of the Gospels.

CARR
Translation :-

Christianity is true, because nobody can find out who wrote the Novels.

Steve, I love reading your Authorized version of the Internet.

I don't think in that sentence I tried to make the case that Christianity was true, just that mythicists don't have anything close to a historical model.

But the real irony is that Jason just spent 10 posts situating the tomb-guard story.

The further irony is that I did it from what was explicitly a minimalistic (though progressive) sceptical standpoint, which started with the hypothesis of total fiction and only moved to accepting historical backgrounding as a result of comparative plausibilities. Anyone following out the argument this far could, for example, easily continue to believe that GosMatt's author sheerly invented (as an educated guess, perhaps) the stated explanation for why the guards gave their self-incriminating public testimony. (i.e. they were bribed to do so by the Sanhedrin.)


Another, rather different irony, is that Meta has been spending a lot of time recently demonstrating that when mythicists do try to present a historical situating of the Gospels (both in their narrative details and in their own eventual composition), the mythic attempts just don't do justice to the data. (Though to their credit, J-Mythers like Doherty do seem to at least be trying to come up with a comprehensive historical narrative explaining the data.)

JRP

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