answer to Bradley Bowen: Jesus did die on the cross

Bradley Bowen of Secular Outpost, argues William Lane Craig can't prove that Jesus died on the cross. His ultimate goal is to negate Craig's proofs of the resurrection, he does that by arguing that there is no proof that Jesus died on the cross. No death = no resurrection. There's a secondary issue of interpreting a Bible scholar whose works we used at Perkins (Luke Timothy Johnson), I'll deal with that in part 2. My point here is to argue that Jesus' death on the cross is well warranted for belief. That is the only point with which I will concern myself. Moreover, I will not defend Craig but come at it from my own perspective.

Bowen points out that Craig assumes that scholarly acceptance (of Jesus' death) proves the evidence for it is strong. He then argues that this is not proof that the evidence is strong, he then argues that Funk and Johnson doubt it. He uses them to leverage the idea that there are a lot more doubters of that point than Craig knows. [1] I doubt that that Craig doesn't know that, he studied with Ernst Kasemann who was a student of Rudolph Bultman and a major liberal himself. Kaemann also believed in the resurrection. (I will argue to defend Johnson in part 2). First, he's right, scholarly consensus as a whole is not "proof" of anything. Come to that I don't argue proof even in terms of God arguments. I do argue that the historical evidence is strong enough to warrant belief in the Res. While scholarly consensus doesn't prove the evidence is strong it is an indication. There is more important evidence and I'm abouit to get into it.

He then uses Johnson and Funk against Craig's assumption of "Historical fact" that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter morning."[2] He specifically argues that the probability of a claim is relative to the information and assumptions one takes to it. Of course that's true but the evidence is not bound up in Funk and Johnson. First they are opposed to each other. Johnson wrote against the Jesus Seminar.[3] Funk was a major member of the Jesus seminar.They make different assumptions. Nor does Bowen deal with all the evidence. The probability of an argument being true is also effected by using the right evidence or ignoring major portions of it. I will get to that presently.

Again he uses Johnson as though he were really opposed to the Bible. As I say above I will define Johnson in my own reading latter. I'm going for the the larger point here.
First of all, the typical Evangelical Christian will think that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus are sufficient to prove that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. But Johnson would not agree with this assumption, because he has a more skeptical view about the historical reliability of the Gospels. Johnson compares the Gospel accounts about Jesus with the accounts that we have of Socrates, and he finds the Gospels to be more questionable and problematic than the accounts we have of Socrates:.[4]
I don't deal in "proof." The evidence warrants belief it is not proof. Proof would mean all must give ascent. Warrant means one is justified rationally in inferring a conclusion. I can be justified in faith and the skeptic not be compelled to join me. The proving is not strong but the warrant is. Secondly Bowen seems to make a neat dichotomy writing off all "evangelical scholars" by the use of all liberal scholars whom he sees as skeptical, so it appears, although I may be wrong. He brought Funk and Johnson into it because Craig used them in his example to Bowen. Major liberals such as Kasemann and Moltmann accept the resurrection, Crosson says the Gospels are enough to accept that the belief of the early church was in the Resurrection.

The problems facing the seeker of the historical Jesus are even more severe [than the problems facing the seeker of the historical Socrates]. Although the biographies of Jesus…were composed within forty to sixty years of Jesus’ death, that is still greater than the memoirs about Socrates composed by Xenophon and Plato. Socrates, furthermore, was remembered by disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses. Although the Gospels undoubtedly bear within them evidence of firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses, such material is not identified as such, and the narratives as a whole were most probably composed by authors of the generation after that of Jesus’ immediate followers.[5]
First he speaks of the gospel's as biography. NT scholars don't really think of them that way. They are their own unique genre. The expectations are different. They are sermonic not illustrative or historical, although much in them can be verified historically. Secondly, they are the memory of the community. I address the time differential between event and writing below. Bowen's statement vastly under estimates the role and extent of eyewitness testimony lying behind the communities. The community is the author not the namesakes. It was Johnson who first taught me that (through his bookThe New Testament Writings).I don't have that source now but I do have a quote by the same author from a different book that makes the same point:
"...Non narrative New Testament writings datable with some degree of probability before the year 70 testify to traditions circulating within the Christian movement concerning Jesus that correspond to important points within the Gospel narratives. Such traditions do not, by themselves, demonstrate historicity. But they demonstrate that memoires about Jesus were in fairly wide circulation. This makes it less likely that the corresponding points within the Gospels were the invention of a single author. If that were the case than such invention would have to be early enough and authoritative enough to have been distributed and unchallenged across the diverse communities with which Paul dealt. Such an hypothesis of course would work against the premise that Paul's form of Christianity had little to do with those shaping the memory of Jesus.".[6]
There is little doubt that the community is laced with and started by the witnesses. Two of them show up being nammed 50 years latter by Papias(?)[7] There are witnesses at all different levels. The witnesses do not have to be the name sakes. Johnson is right that we can't say witness X saw Jesus here and joined the Matthew community on August second, 37AD. We do know the communities were full of witnesses and they show up here and there. The personal relationships that emerges in John between Jesus and the family of Bethany, for example. How do we know they were in the community? Lazarus was said to be loved by Jesus, he's a good candidate for BD of john's Gospel. The story of Mary of Bethany anjounting Jesus is in all four Gospels that's a good indication. Buckingham makes extensive arguments along these lines..[8]He also argues based upon names that the gospels are replete with eye witness testimony..[9]

They were a real community. The Christian community began out of the mundane community of Bethany. At the end of Luke the risen Christ walks through the streets of the Little town where his dear friends lived. That not only links the eye witnesses of John to the Gospel of Luke but it also sets up a logic for the communal structure. Then when they moved in and had things in common many of them had known each other all their lives anyway, That could be the 500 Paul referred to as witnesses:

Acts 2:42-47
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added those being saved to them.
What were they doing in the commune? teaching and studying. That means telling their oral tradition. We all know the Gospel material was first oral tradition. Most people think oral tradition means wild rumors floating around at random, it is not so. Oral tradition is more like the Bardic tradition where a Bard such as Homer will memorize huge discourses the size of the New York phone book and spit them back word for word. I don't know if first century Jews could do that but they did have an oral tradition. They did have a practice of learning the teachers words and echoing them back. They probably told them orally before the group and with the witnesses present. How do I know that? That's how the Talmud got going. That's why the early church lived communally. They studied scripture together every day and it just stands to reason they would listen to the witnesses talk in front of the group. Of course the witnesses would correct mistakes. That's obvious, why doubt it?

As Stephn Neil said:
"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" Tradition was controlled....[Neil adds in a fn:] "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method. [10]
As N.T. Wright tells us:
Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation. [11]
Bowen demands an exactitude one should not seek in history.

If we knew that half of the information in a particular Gospel was based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, then we might infer that at least half of the events or details in the Gospel were historically reliable (although without knowing anything about the personality, character, history, mental health and intelligence of the persons who were the supposed eyewitnesses, this would be a questionable inference), but since we don’t know which events or details have such backing, it would be the toss of a coin as to whether a given event or detail had such eyewitness evidence behind it. But we don’t even know this much. We don’t know whether 10% of the events and details of a particular Gospel are based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses” or whether 30% or 50% or 70% of events and details are based on such evidence. Thus, the weak concession that Johnson makes here is of little significance.
That's a standard misconception about the nature of Biblical criticism and its a standard historians don't use. No historian tries to quantify the percentage of truth in a document. I realize Bowen is saying that metaphorically. He is right that we can't look at the Gospels as history books. But historical critical methods are better than just assuming that we can't know anything. He says we don't know 10% and that's ludicrous. We know much more than that. If we could quantify it, it would probably be more than 50%. Yet the idea is foolish. The apostolic father's truth tree gives us more than that. The concerns he raises about the pitfalls of not knowing the exact authors are just standard atheist message board reasoning that historians and scholars don't do. Moreover, when he says, "without knowing anything about the personality, character, history, mental health and intelligence of the persons" (previous quote) that really assumes one author thinking. The community is the author not one guy. Some may have been insane but not all. It's a community witness. We do know that apostles and eye witnesses had a closer link than that. It's not just a guy decided to write down the rumors. It was told carefully with the witnesses present and the original attempts at writing are done by witnesses.

Bowen says, "According to Johnson, the Gospels were NOT written by “disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses” of the life or death of Jesus."

Johnson allows that the authors of the Gospels might well have used some information from “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, but he points out that we don’t know when they are doing so. He does not say that in order to promote unbelief or to erode confidence in the text. Let's look at what else he says:
As I have tried to show, the character of the Gospel narratives does not allow a fully satisfying reconstruction of Jesus ministry. Nevertheless certain fundamental points when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outside testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded as historical with a high degree of probability. Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death. These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history. But they enjoy a very high level of probability."[12]
The important thing I took away from the book, The real Jesus, was (aside from the Jesus seminar sux) is an argument I've been making since the book came out. Namely, there are several different trajectories from which attestations to Jesus' career come to us. Some of them include the Gospels and new testament but not at all. I will not have time to lay all of that out but I don't have to because I've already done it. This is not the exact "trajectories" Johnson uses but the concept is one I learned from his book then did more research. I will give a basic outline then link to those pages on my site.

8 levels of verification click the link to documentation for each point in the outline.

1 pre mark redaction
2 P)auline corpus
....(a) what he got form people who were there
Quoting Paul himself: quotes James, the Jerusalem church's creedal formula and hymns.

....(b) his saying source.
Koester documents
synoptic saying source

........(c) the chruch tradition he learned in Jerusalem

3 extra canonical gospels
4 Oral Tradition
5 The Four Gospels themselves
6 Writers who write about their relationships with Apostles

Six major sources enumerated but 8 counting three levels of Paul's writings.

see these points fleshed out with quotations on my page: "Gospel Behind The Gospels", also, "Historical Validity of the Gospels Part 1"

So the mechanisms were in place to spread the word and control the telling according to eye witness testimony. Of course I'm not saying that happened. It did not. The communities began to proliferate, doctrinal differences developed, new communities sprang up, people got the story in bits and pieces. yet in all of that there is only one story of Jesus' death. It was established in the beginning that he died on the cross and that's the way it stayed. No other version ever came along. Even when Gnostics denied his death they still explained what appeared to be the crucifixion. Why? Because it probably really happened and everyone knew it.

In fact out of 34 Gospels found in whole or in fragment (about four theoretical such as Q) not one of them has any other death for Jesus but the cross..

The Gospel of the Saviour, too. fits this description. Contrary' to popular opinion, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not included in the canon simply because they were the earliest gospels or because they were eyewitness accounts. Some non canonical gospels are dated roughly to the same period, and the canonical gospels and other early Christian accounts appear to rely on earlier reports. Thus, as far as the physical evidence is concerned, the canonical gospels do not take precedence over the noncanonical gospels (in terms of history--they do in doctrine). The fragments of John, Thomas and the Egerton Gospel share the distinction of being the earliest extant pieces of Christian writing known. And although the existing manuscript evidence for Thomas dates to the mid-second century, the scholars who first published the Greek fragments held open the possibility that it was actually composed in the first century, which would put it around the time John was composed.[13]
Ray Brown proved that the Gospel of Peter followed a tradition independent of the canonicals that dated to first century. GPete as it's called has Jesus die on the cross. It also has guards on the tomb. Not derived from Matthew. Independent tradition.[14] Moreover, The versions we have of the canonical Gospels are only the final versions. There are older readings that can be traced to the first century even though they show up in latter copies. These early readings indicate a shared narrative used by the four canonicals and GPete. That much is fairly standard now. Koester, Rossson and several others date that "pre Mark Passion narrative" at mid first century. Jurgen Denker argues that the Gospel of Peter shares this tradition of OT quotation with the Canonicals but is not dependent upon them. Koester writes, "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century.(empahsis mine). [15]The crucifixion of Jesus was circulating in oral testimony before it was written about, but it was written as early as just 20 years after the events, when there were still a lot of witnesses left. The witnesses weren't just running around unnoted and alone, they were living in the communities and teaching the gospel. Everyone agreed Jesus was executed and on a cross and one denied it. Hundreds of documents no counter claims.

We have every reason to believe Jesus was crucified. The Romans were not slackers about crucifixion. The inference is warranted that Jesus died on the cross. That is not proof. We don't need proof. The belief is warranted. That still leaves the possibility that Jesus was crucified but didn't die. As I say the Romans were not slackers in such matters. The Passover plot kind of scenario is, in my opinion, an extraordinary claim, we all know what atheists do with those. They can't prove that either. Maybe it undermines the big William Craig style apologetic. I guess my next move is to discuss the nature of apologetics.


[1] Bradley Bowen, "Response to Dr. William Lane Craig part 2" Secular out Post, (Nov 4 2015) URL
[2] Ibid
[3] the real Jesus
[4] Bradley Bowen, "Response to Dr. William Lane Craig part 3" Secular out Post,
[5] Johnson,The Real Jesus,San Francisco: Harper, 1996, 1st paperback edition, 107, quoted in Bowen part 3.op cit
[6]Ibid. first hard back ed. 121 [7] Papias quoted in Documents of the Christian Church, edited by Henry Bettonson, Oxford University press, 1963, 27.
very famous quotation:

"I shall not hesitate to set down for you along with my interpretations all things which I learned from the elders with care and recorded with care, being well assured of their truth. For unlike most men, I took pleasure not in those that have much to say but in those that preach the truth, not in those that record strange precepts but in those who record such precepts as were given to the faith by the Lord and are derived from truth itself. Besides if ever any man came who had been a follower of the elders, I would inquire about the sayings of the elders; what Andrew said, or Peter or Philip or Thomas, or James, or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples; and what Aristion says, and John the Elder, who are disciples of the Lord. For I did not consider that I got so much from the content of books as from the utterances of living and abiding voices..."

[8] Richard Bu8ckingham, Jesus and The Eye Witnesses: The Gospels As Eye Witness Testimony, Grand-Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2006, 39-40.
[9] Ibid 472
[10]Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964,250.
[11] N.T. Wright, "Five Gospels But No Gospel," Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,Netherlands Knoinklijke Brill ed. Bruce D. Chilton, Craig A. Evans, 1999, 112-113.
[12] Johnson, Real Jesus...op.cit.
[13] Charles W. Hendrick, "34 lost gospels," Bible Review, (June 2002): 20-31; 46-47
[14] Raymond Brown, Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave, A commentary on the Passionnarratives in the Four Gospels. Volume 2. New York: Dobuleday 1994 1322 [15] Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. Bloomsbury: T&T Clark, 1992, 218.


Anonymous said…
Atheists always get too worked-up about authorship. On this one Atheist site (The Church of Truth, lol), someone said in the comments that the Bible lied about who wrote the Gospels. I told them that Atheists need to stop getting worked up about names, and then I sent him a copy of your Community as Author page.
thanks man. they never realize there's no name on Hebrews we still th9nki i9t's true.
Anonymous said…
Joe -

Thank you for taking my viewpoint seriously enough to write about your objections to it, and to express your own views on this issue.

You have written a long post here, with a number of references to other posts, so it will take me a while to read through all of your material and think about it.

I will probably start responding to a few of your objections and key points soon, but I think it will take a long time for me to come up with a full response that covers all of your objections and key points.

Here is an INDEX post that has summaries of my recent posts on this issue and links to those various posts:

As you probably know, I will be continuing to write more posts responding to William Craig, as I have only begun to respond to his primary point, and there are a number of other points that Craig makes in his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection. I also plan to respond to those other points and objections from Craig.

So, please be patient. I have been reading and thinking about the resurrection of Jesus for about four decades, and will probably keep on doing so for the rest of my life.


Bradley Bowen
Anonymous said…
It seems to me that your initial characterization of my views is NOT accurate.

At any rate, I would like to make some clarifications of my viewpoint in response to your initial statements about my viewpoint:

"Bradley Bowen of Secular Outpost, argues William Lane Craig can't prove that Jesus died on the cross. His ultimate goal is to negate Craig's proofs of the resurrection, he does that by arguing that there is no proof that Jesus died on the cross. No death = no resurrection."

1. "Bradley Bowen of Secular Outpost, argues William Lane Craig can't prove that Jesus died on the cross."

I don't think this is something for which I have argued. While it is true that I BELIEVE that "Craig can't prove that Jesus died on the cross", my main point is that he OUGHT to at least ATTEMPT to prove that Jesus died on the cross, that this is part of the burden of proof that Craig takes on when he asserts the claim "Jesus rose from the dead".

If Craig actually makes the ATTEMPT to prove that Jesus died on the cross, then I will not be exerting a great deal of effort to show that his ATTEMPT must NECESSARILY fail; rather, I will mainly put my time and effort into taking a close look at his argument to see if it IN FACT fails in the ways that I suspect it will fail. Perhaps Craig will surprise me and avoid all of the pitfalls and difficulties that I suspect would lead him to fail.

I strongly suspect that Craig will FAIL in such an attempt, but I'm not trying to PERSUADE Craig that he must necessarily FAIL. I'm arguing that he must necessarily make the ATTEMPT, if he is to be a Christian apologist with some intellectual integrity.

I want Craig to actually make a significant effort to build a case for the death of Jesus on the cross, because NOBODY has ever made a serious historical case for this claim, to the best of my knowledge. Because I want to PERSUADE Craig to make such a case, it is against my own purposes to PERSUADE Craig that such a task is impossible (although I do BELIEVE it to be impossible or at least that it is extremely unlikely that anyone will accomplish this).

2. "His ultimate goal is to negate Craig's proofs of the resurrection, he does that by arguing that there is no proof that Jesus died on the cross. No death = no resurrection."

The phrase "arguing that there is no proof that Jesus died on the cross" is ambiguous. Some people might read this as meaning "arguing that there is no EVIDENCE that Jesus died on the cross" which is NOT what I argue.

My point is that the EVIDENCE that we have for the claim "Jesus was crucified and he died on the cross the same day he was crucified" only makes this claim somewhat probable or perhaps moderately probable, but NOT highly probable or nearly certain.

Furthermore, the primary point I'm making to Craig is NOT that it is impossible to prove that Jesus died on the cross, but that nobody has made a serious effort to do so.

There is no PROOF that Jesus died on the cross, because all efforts by Christian apologists to date have been "preaching to the choir" and thus have NOT been serious efforts to PROVE this claim, or serious efforts to show that it is HIGHLY PROBABLE or NEARLY CERTAIN that "Jesus was crucified and he died on the cross on the same day he was crucified".

There is no such PROOF because NOBODY has made a serious effort to provide such a proof, and Craig is the worst offender of the bunch, even though he has the potential to do the best job of making the historical case for the death of Jesus on the cross.
Thank you man. I am looking forward to your response. I know I took only a slice of y9ur view. You are too prolific. Hard to get to it all. Thanks for commenting. I'll respond more latter.
As I said before I am not into defending Craig. If I'm doing apologetics I'm defending faith in Jesus not in Craig.
Gary said…
Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?
Jason Pratt said…
Good job copy-pasting a post to a thread without reading the article and so not realizing the post is both pointless and refuted by the article already. Good hustle, good hustle! {clap clap} {clap}

(Gary has been copy-pasting this same post verbatim around in various places today, such as the Parchment and Pen blog.)

Gary said…
Can you or can you not provide evidence that even one eyewitness to the death of Jesus was still alive when the first gospel was written in circa 70 AD? Please don't give me second century hearsay. Give me evidence that someone living in the first century confirmed that an eyewitness was still alive circa 70 AD.
Jason Pratt said…
GosJohn's author testifies directly that an authoritative eyewitness to the death of Jesus (specifically) still lived in his day, namely himself. He doesn't deny that there are other living eyewitnesses to Jesus' death, he just happens not to say if any of the women or the soldiers or anyone in the crowd at that time, or eyewitnesses to Jesus' dead body after death (like JosArim or Nicodemus) is still alive. (Although since Nicodemus sounds like a nickname, that might be an indication he's still alive but his identity is being obscured for his own safety. The author's grammar in one place might be suggesting that Lazarus is still alive at the time of writing, but not that Lazarus is an eyewitness to the death of Jesus specifically.)

John also states explicitly that he’s a living eyewitness to at least some of the post-mortem appearances. And Luke implies by his wording not only that he decided to interview living eyewitnesses, but that he worked with eyewitnesses and deputies of {ho logos}, a divine title in the contemporary Jewish milieu equivalent to God being called the Memra of God in the Aramaic Targums. Since Luke is who reports that apostolic authority depends on being eyewitnesses to both Jesus’ deeds and teaching and also on resurrection appearances, his terminology for both deputies and a divine title for Jesus indicates he accepted some of his sources were eyewitnesses to the appearances -- and naturally they had to be living at the time of his composition.

(Of course if Acts was composed while Paul was still alive, and James and Peter, then that would be a pre-70 composition, and GosLuke sometime a little earlier; but I don’t think various theories about early Gospel compositions, up to and including GosJohn, are going to help your scepticism any.)

More to the point, tradent soucing for Gospel composition doesn’t strictly need living authoritative eyewitnesses at the time of composition for content-control purposes. The communities are familiar with the authoritative sources already, and any 2nd gen (or even 3rd gen) authorities deriving from those prior authoritative eyewitness claims, would regard non-trivial innovations as an unacceptable challenge; the communities would be conservatively opposed to such innovations, too.

(They wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to innovations about their opponents! -- but they might if such innovations were practically worthless or worse than worthless. I wrote a whole series of articles on the dueling polemical claims, tagged into the end of GosMatt, about the witness of the tomb guards, several years ago: it points to a substantial agreement from opponents through early authoritative tradition passed on to both sides, which is one of the best situations a historian of ancient sources can find! -- and implies a strong historical core about the body of Jesus Christ going missing under weird circumstances after his death; circumstances so weird that the Sanhedrin promoted a quick weak explanation and then had to quickly drop supporting it.)

When historians are talking about source controls on Gospel material, then, they’re mainly talking about a long ongoing process of source control, not only about a final source control at the point of final composition and promotion of a Gospel text. If any authoritative eyewitnesses (accepted by other authorities accepted by the community!) are still around, great -- that’s evidently the case for GosJohn’s original circulation. But even if they aren’t still around, their influence is still strongly around, not least in having provided the material being collected for the Gospels.

Gary said…
"GosJohn's author testifies directly that an authoritative eyewitness to the death of Jesus (specifically) still lived in his day, namely himself."

Regardless of what the anonymous author of this book says, the majority of scholars do NOT believe that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness. Works of literature feigning authorship (fraud) were rampant in the early centuries of the common era. Just because an anonymous author claims he was an eyewitness, does not mean that he was.
Gary said…
"John also states explicitly that he’s a living eyewitness to at least some of the post-mortem appearances. And Luke implies by his wording not only that he decided to interview living eyewitnesses, but that he worked with eyewitnesses and deputies of {ho logos}"

Yet another anonymous author claiming to have received eyewitness testimony. Does this author ever mention the names of the eyewitnesses from whom he received his information? No. Therefore it is possible that he received information from other non-eyewitnesses who believed that the information which they had been told by other non-eyewitnesses was true eyewitness testimony...but was not. It cannot be proven either way.
Gary said…
What proof do you have that the early Christian used "source controls"? They were mostly a bunch of uneducated ("unlearned") peasants, for Pete's sake. Legends can develop very quickly, especially when it starts in one part of the world (Palestine) and isn't written down for many decades later...half way across the known world (Rome).

For all we know, here is what happened:

Shortly after Jesus' death, a few of Jesus' friends and family members had vivid dreams and visions of him coming back from the dead to comfort them, similar to the vivid dreams and visions of countless tens of thousands of other grieving loved ones in the history of mankind.

These supernatural tales spread far and wide as more and more (mostly) poor citizens of the Roman empire embrace a religion that promises social equality in this life and great riches in the next.

Forty years later, an educated Gentile Christian living in Rome, decides to write down the version of the "Jesus Story" which is circulating in Rome at that time. From a view visions, the story has grown to include an empty tomb and women finding a young man sitting in the tomb who tells them that Jesus will appear to the disciples in Galilee.

This book becomes very popular in the Christian community, but is it true?

The only way to know if the story is true is to interview eyewitnesses to these alleged events? But the question is: were there any eyewitnesses alive at this time to proof read this text and point out errors or embellishments?
Gary said…
Dear Readers: You do not need to be a scholar to disbelieve resurrection claims.

Two thousand years ago, hundreds of millions of people on earth believed in a god named Zeus who lived on top of Mount Olympus in Greece who performed many fantastical supernatural deeds. The existence of Zeus and the historicity of his alleged deeds have never been disproven.

Approximately 1300 years ago, a man named Mohammad claimed to have received a visit from a supernatural being who gave him the true word of the creator of the universe and who enabled him to fly on a winged horse into the heavens. Hundreds of millions of people today believe in the historicity of these claims. These claims have never been disproven.

Approximately 200 years ago, a man named Joseph Smith claimed to have received golden plates from a supernatural being containing the true, updated, word of the creator of the universe. Millions of people today believe that this claim is historical fact. This claim has never been disproven.

Since these claims have never been disproven, should we believe them? Should we believe these fantastical, extra-ordinary claims that defy the established laws of nature? The proponents of the above claims would say that the possible/probable existence of a Creator greatly increases the probability of these claims being true. But is that really correct? Doesn't the evidence seem to suggest that if a Creator exists, he/she/they/it have chosen to operate, at least within our universe, within the natural laws? How often have experts confirmed that established natural laws have been violated?

I would therefore suggest that the possible existence of a Creator can in no way be assumed to increase the probability of un-natural events occurring within our universe. We have no confirmed evidence to suggest that a Creator routinely or even sporadically violates the laws of nature. We have no evidence to believe that gods live on Greek mountains; that celestial beings enable humans to ride on winged horses; or that persons in upstate New York receive plates of gold from angels.

So when another large group of people living today tells you their fantastical, extra-ordinary claim that two thousand years ago a three-day-dead corpse was suddenly reanimated back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, broke out of his sealed tomb, ate a fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and then levitated into the clouds, I suggest that we consider this claim to be just as probable as the three claims above.

And unlike what you have been told, dear friend, you do NOT need to be a scholar to disbelieve all four of these supernatural claims. Why? Answer: Because the onus of proof is NOT on you, the skeptic. In western, educated society the onus is always on the person making the fantastical, extra-ordinary claim, not on those who doubt it.

Therefore, the onus is on the proponents of these four supernatural tales to prove their veracity, and so far, the evidence presented by these groups of believers is dismal to pathetic. That is why no public university history textbook in the western world lists any of these four claims as even "probable" historical events.

You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains, prophets flying in the air on winged horses, upstate New Yorkers receiving heavenly messages in cow pastures, or reanimated dead guys flying off into outer space. Don't let the proponents of these tall tales convince you otherwise.
Jason Pratt said…
I think you're trolling for comments, Gary. But while people don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales, non-scholars have a tendency to come up with non-scholarly, and thus weak, scepticism, and to be awfully credulous about fatally weak theories from scholars as long as those theories are sceptical. Bad theories are bad theories regardless.

But I think you already know I'm going to zap you on your laziness and imprecision; that post was a defense for your own mistakes in advance: it doesn't matter how wrong you were, you don't have to have good reasons (in your mind) for your scepticism. Any stick, no matter how broken, is good enough to beat this or that religious claim with -- to you.

That being said, I'm not the kind of person who tries to daff away the onus of proof onto other people. People are personally responsible for their own beliefs, and I have never once asked, much less expected, anyone to believe any position at all, if they themselves do not see good enough reason to do so. If you want to be lazy, or not, about your own beliefs or lack of them, that's your affair.

But when you criticize other people, actually yes the onus is on you the critic, just like the onus is on the apologist attempting to persuade someone else of any point. If your criticisms are trash, that's your intellectual responsibility, whether you choose to face it or not.
Jason Pratt said…
So, to start, you asked (in a clumsy rhetoric) for any evidence at all, that even one eyewitness to Jesus’ death still lived post 70. And that evidence exists. You may disagree with the weight of the evidence, but it’s still evidence -- people existed post-70 (on standard dating theories) who claimed eyewitnesses still lived. Those claims are an established fact, whether you believe their claims or not, whether their claims are true or not, and that fact does count as evidence.

Gary: {{Regardless of what the anonymous author of this book says, the majority of scholars do NOT believe that the author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness.}}

Whether the majority of scholars believe the GosJohn author was telling the truth about being an eyewitness, is irrelevant to your original challenge: the majority of scholars, whether they believe him or not, believe he lived post-70 and was making that claim. That’s still evidence, and you wanted any evidence at all. Whether the evidence is reliable is a whole other (and vastly much more detailed) argument.

(As far as I know, the majority of scholars do think the GosJohn author was a living eyewitness, but I gather you mean the majority of non-Christian scholars, who are themselves necessarily a minority among scholars on the topic.)
Jason Pratt said…
Gary: {{Yet another anonymous author [i.e. GosLuke author] claiming to have received eyewitness testimony.}}

I fail to believe it would make the slightest difference to you if the author had said in the body of his text, “My name is Lukas of Antioch,” or whatever.

And historians don’t believe Josephus authored his books simply because the author happens to name himself “Josephus” somewhere in the body of the text.

In fact, while he names himself in the Jewish War, he happens not to in the body of the text of Antiquities.

In the Jewish War, he spends the whole book talking about Josephus in the 3rd person; except for a superscription signature at the end of his explanatory opening address; and a brief note on the final page of the final book that he’s the Josephus he has been talking about who helped the Romans. Both of which could have been easily lost, and we’d have no internal naming for the Jewish War.

He never refers to himself by name anywhere in the Antiquities that I know of, even in the epilogue to the final book where he says he plans to continue with a short biography of himself and his family and to do a summary of the material he had previously reported in his books on the Jewish War.

Even in his own autobiography, which is a separate work after the Antiquities, he never refers to his name except as a 3rd person reference.

Nor does he mention himself by name in the surviving extract of his address to the Greeks on hades; yet historians still agree he wrote it thanks to how the material was transmitted.

And when he is writing two books to Epaphroditus against Apion, he does not mention himself by name even in his prologue addresses for the first or second book to the man he’s writing for.

But you clearly don’t understand how attribution works in ancient texts anyway -- usually the title and attribution is on the outside, attached in ways that can be easily lost (but which worked well for being able to quickly identify scrolls and the newly invented codicies in a group of them).

Moreover, the canonical Gospels are public texts being transmitted widely (not for a secret spiritual elite), at whatever time they started being popularly transmitted (which required some production infrastructure to have been developed, in a generally hostile cultural environment), among groups of people who are networking with each other and whose history as groups dates back long before the purported historical authorship. They are also groups with leaders who (according to the historical evidence) have a vested interest to root out material that doesn’t accord with their own lines of tradition passed on from their antiquity (upon which their authority is based of course), even when the recently constructed fakes say things they like.

Even if they fail to succeed sometimes, they aren’t just blithely accepting whatever comes down the pike. Who the bleep is this “Luke” guy, whose name is on the outside of the scroll?! -- he isn’t even an apostle, so why should we believe him for a second?! Because they know who Luke is and who he traveled with and so which eyewitnesses and deputies of {ho logos} he was in contact with. Those communities vouching for the legitimacy of the text, pass it on through authoritative channels who are gauging it with an eye looking out for suspicious competition.

Besides which, once again: you wanted even one bit of evidence for living eyewitnesses post 70. Luke is another one (assuming the standard post-70 composition is correct): he lived and wrote post-70, and claimed living authoritative eyewitnesses still existed. You can diss the evidence (on frankly ignorant grounds), but the evidence does exist. It isn’t nothing. Whether the extant evidence should be accepted or not, or to what degree, is a whole other (much, much, vastly larger) argument.
Jason Pratt said…
Gary: {{What proof do you have that the early Christian used "source controls"?}}

You mean aside from early (and for that matter later) texts where Christian authorities are frequently banging on their people not to accept spurious information but to stick to the credited authorities?!

If you aren’t going to accept the existent data even on something as mundane and pretty prevalently obvious as that, you might as well go do something more useful with your time, and stay out of historical disputes altogether.

(There are other evidences for source controls, too, but I have no idea how to explain them in a blogger comment to someone who won’t even accept a group’s own testimony that they had what we now would call source controls.)
Jason Pratt said…
Gary: {{They were mostly a bunch of uneducated ("unlearned") peasants, for Pete's sake.}}

That would make no difference at all to how oral tradition processes work, especially with the source controls in place that are testified in the earliest sources themselves.

But since you mention this canard (which to be fair gets passed around by uncautious Christian apologists, too, sometimes), what are the purported canonical sources?

1.) Saul of Tarsus, not an unlearned peasant in the least.

2.) Luke, a companion of Paul, also not an unlearned peasant in the least.

Luke is attributed for 1/4 of the NT, Paul the rabbi for another 1/4.

3.) Whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, knows Philonic Judaism and constructed an elaborate argument that Christianity is better, aimed at a group who by the way must have been educated enough to be in serious competition with Philonic Judaism (of all things -- that’s an awfully rarefied competition)! That’s another major hunk of authoritative NT canon.

4.) RevJohn is a tightly designed literary construction stuffed full of various artistic elements that only a very well educated Jewish audience would even notice much less appreciate. Whichever John-the-elder came up with that, was not an uneducated peasant.

5.) Simon Kephas is (what we would nowadays call) a middle-class heir to a family fishing business. Try running one of those for a few years on the competitive Galilee Lake fishing industry, and then try to claim he’s an unlearned peasant. Regardless of whether or not he’s behind the GosMark material (or the somewhat sophisticated epistles attributed to him), the subsequent tradition puts him square in the top Christian authorities.

(As a trivial aside, there’s even a very late surviving anti-Christian Jewish apologetic trying to deal with the embarrassment of one of their most beloved and popular liturgical hymnists, being none other than the 1st century Christian leader Simon Kephas! They come up with some zany stories for how to reconcile this, but their frustration does testify how strongly they thought he had composed and sent out many hymns to synagogues around the world, at least a few of which were still being used in their own post-Roman day. It would have been a lot easier for them to claim it was some other Simon, and it’s hard to explain how that idea could have been started to begin with, so I’m inclined to believe them, even though it might still ultimately have been a mistake, or maybe a ploy successfully instigated by secret Christians from the Hillel school / family throughout diaspora history up until then.)
Jason Pratt said…
7.) James JesusBro, part of a family of artisans. If you think professional carpenters who run a family business are unlearned, I suggest you go work for one for five years and come back later. Even in ancient Palestine, such businessmen were expected to be educated leaders in their communities, connected with the synagogue system. That suspiciously anonymous author of the Antiquities testified contemporary information that a lot of rabbis thought highly of James and were greatly upset when one of Annas’ descendant high priests finagled a way to execute him between Roman governors.

8.) Depending on who wrote GosJohn, John Barzebedee was part of another different family business fishing operation who had employees. And maybe connections with the high priest family, depending on whether he’s the disciple who lets Peter into the Annas compound (although from the details I expect that’s supposed to be a grudging acknowledgment of Iscariot.)

Another theory is that he isn’t the apostle but John the son of Annas himself, who ruled for a couple of years as high priest after Caiaphas was deposed, but then was mysteriously deposed himself and replaced; he has a brief cameo in Acts, but we mostly know about him from that suspiciously anonymous author of the Jewish Antiquities.

Another theory is that the author was John Mark, doing another compilation work like for GosMark; his family owned and operated a caravansarai inside one of the Jerusalem gates, which dang well doesn’t happen by accident, and he went on to become the first bishop of Alexandria, starting the first Christian catechetical school there.

Regardless of who the author was, however, no theory of authorship I’ve ever heard of involves “John” being just an uneducated peasant; his own material shows he’s at least educated in subtle rabbinic technical disputes, and his literary composition techniques are state of the art for the time. (The Greek grammar might have been a scribe of course, but he had good scribes if so.)

9.) Most of the other apostles are connected to Jesus, Peter, or John Barzebedee by family-business relations: not uneducated peasants.

10.) The canonical texts say Jesus was aided in various ways by wealthy women and by synagogue chiefs and Pharisee party members and proto-rabbis. They went on to help form the basis of the Jesus movement post-mortem. Not uneducated and/or peasants.

11.) Mary, Jesus’ mother, shows some evidence of coming from the priestly caste whose family would gather at Nazareth (its original purpose in the OT) to caravan to Jerusalem for Temple duties. Not uneducated and/or not a peasant.

12.) Paul often speaks of local Christian leaders, and when he mentions their vocations and background, they turn out to be educated in various ways. Not uneducated peasants.

Now, you can claim based on no sources at all that the early Christians were only uneducated peasants. But all the actual sources we have, claim that the first leaders were not uneducated peasants, even though (naturally) a lot of uneducated peasants joined up and could be promoted to various service authorities. You can dismiss the sources to any degree for being inaccurate, but they’re still something, not nothing, and you don’t even have sources (except maybe hostile late sources) for Christian authorities being nothing more than a bunch of uneducated peasants.
Jason Pratt said…
Gary: {{Legends can develop very quickly, especially when it starts in one part of the world (Palestine) and isn't written down for many decades later...half way across the known world (Rome).}}

I will suppose in your favor you're talking about the Passion story and so not about the pre-Gospel written sources that even sceptical scholars tend to acknowledge existed, predominantly Q as a pre-Markan written source.

It’s true that the only Q we know about doesn’t include any Passion narrative or details, but that’s because the only way to infer Q at all is to compare similarities between GosLuke and GosMatt over against GosMark -- and Passion material is (though very loosely so) triple (in some cases quadruple) tradition! We don’t know (despite sceptical scholars trying to pretend otherwise) what altogether was or wasn’t in Q, or what the communities that used it believed or didn’t believe. But it exists as a hypothesis at all because there’s strong internal evidence of a written source pre-dating GosMark being used by the other two Synoptics.

There’s also technical evidence of other strands of written Pre-Markan material, even in GosMark, and that includes the Passion narrative, the narrative style of which differs substantially from earlier portions of the text although with editorial polishing matching earlier style.

Nor does anyone anywhere, even hypersceptical scholars, even Jesus Myth proponents (unless they’re just uneducated peasants perhaps, insert irony as appropriate), think GosMatt was written in Rome. They think it was written originally no farther away than next door in Syria. And not northern Syria either.
Jason Pratt said…
Re GosMark's author being an educated Roman (or any other kind of) Gentile: that hypothesis does not fit the definite fact that we have no evidence the authorship of the text was ever attributed to anyone other than a somewhat ambivalently notorious and obscure Jerusalem Jew, John Mark. (That he was regarded as a Roman citizen may be inferred from his name of "Mark", but that's beside the point.)

The only other authority attached to its composition is Simon Peter, also not any kind of Gentile (educated, Roman, or otherwise), and yet the text isn't called {kata petron}. Nor is the text especially flattering of Peter, who gets criticized (both narratively and by Jesus) more strongly than Judas Iscariot! -- and yet he's the clear post-Jesus leading authority figure. So if someone was going to fake-attribute it later to a non-Gentile author, why not attribute it to Peter? Or, if an obscure scribe would be chosen, why not a Gentile scribe with no notorious history, instead of a Jewish disciple of various apostles with a very spotty history?

The evident fact (not a theory, not a hypothesis) that John Mark gets sole attribution for that Gospel composition, counts decisively against it having been written by a Gentile author. Whether Mark understood Pharisee beliefs or other Jewish beliefs as well as he's trying to explain to his audience, is a whole other question.
Jason Pratt said…
Regarding the comforting dream hypothesis: this doesn’t explain, at all, the rise of any of the empty tomb traditions, which would not have been necessary for such comforting ascended reassurances about common meals, egalitarian fellowship, and other social functions, with promises of rewards after death.

It doesn't explain Paul's kerygmatic formula given to him and long previously already given by him to his readers in 1 Cor 15, nor his exposition in the same chapter on what it means about the body that it has been raised as well as buried, which is not intended as a recent innovation but explicitly intended to combat a version of what we'd now call "Zombie Jesus" insulting humor. Whatever else that is, that's a belief about a risen body providing personal appeararnces, not a belief about a comforting dream, dating back well within 20 years of Jesus' death, as far back as only 4 years afterward depending on when Paul received the kerygma from earlier authorities.

It also doesn't even slightly explain the ending of GosMark, since however else it ends or doesn't end, and whatever else might or might not have been originally included but then lost, there's an empty tomb and confusion over finding it and a promise of the bodily appearance of Jesus later. Not a reassuring dream sequence.

Nor does it even slightly explain why the first thing that happens in GosJohn's tomb story account, is that the women go back to Peter and the author complaining that the body is gone with an expectation that someone has merely taken it: traumatic and ominous but otherwise merely mundane.

Nor does it even slightly explain why women are universally the first witnesses to the empty tomb in all four accounts, and the first waking (not sleeping) witnesses to Jesus in two of the accounts, nor why GosLuke reports the apostles and disciples being one hundred percent wrong about dismissing the excited women as spewing "oblivion-gush".

Nor does the hypothesis even slightly explain the polemic between an early Jewish and Christian group preserved at the end of GosMatt over what happened to the missing body: a polemic where the Jewish sceptical side is appealing to an explanation they received from authorities they trust about what happened to the body, i.e. the guards say disciples stole it while the guards were asleep.

Nor does the hypothesis even slightly explain sparse preaching accounts with primitive language in Acts which are about a missing body and visible appearances, not about reassuring dreams.

When a hypothesis does not even slightly explain the actual facts of the shape of the eventually existent data, then the hypothesis ought to be rejected.

But I already know, because you've essentially already said, that it isn't going to matter to you how wrong-headed your own theories are. Faulty logic and bad data just don't count (to you), when it's so important (to you) to oppose a religious belief: the opposition is what's most important (to you) instead.

Gary said…
Thank you for the detailed responses. I will attempt to address each point you have made over the next couple of days.

"But when you criticize other people, actually yes the onus is on you the critic, just like the onus is on the apologist attempting to persuade someone else of any point. If your criticisms are trash, that's your intellectual responsibility, whether you choose to face it or not."

Imagine if someone started telling parents within a particular religious community that vaccinations are really a Satanic act in which the doctor injects demon spirits into children to turn them against god.

Is it the responsibility of doctors and scientists to prove that Satanic forces have not inserted themselves into vaccinations? How exactly could they prove that invisible beings are not inside the liquid inside the syringe of the vaccine dose? Even if they stated that the components of the vaccine have been evaluated under powerful microscopes and that no little beings were seen, the proponents of this Satanic plot will claim that the demons have made themselves invisible to any human investigation.

Do you see my point? When it comes to supernatural claims, it is usually impossible to prove them wrong. This is why, at least in our western culture, we have placed the burden of proof on the proponents of supernatural claims, not on skeptics.
Gary said…
"So, to start, you asked (in a clumsy rhetoric) for any evidence at all, that even one eyewitness to Jesus’ death still lived post 70."

I asked for evidence. I never said that there wasn't any. This is your assumption.

I am fully aware that there are second, third, and fourth century claims that John the Apostle and possibly other eyewitnesses were still alive in the late first century and even into the second.

I am fully ready to review this evidence with you if you choose to present it. But I challenge you to do this: Find a statement from someone who knew one of the eyewitnesses PERSONALLY and states that this eyewitness was alive in 70 AD or later.
Gary said…
"Whether the majority of scholars believe the GosJohn author was telling the truth about being an eyewitness, is irrelevant to your original challenge: the majority of scholars, whether they believe him or not, believe he lived post-70 and was making that claim. That’s still evidence, and you wanted any evidence at all. Whether the evidence is reliable is a whole other (and vastly much more detailed) argument. (As far as I know, the majority of scholars do think the GosJohn author was a living eyewitness, but I gather you mean the majority of non-Christian scholars, who are themselves necessarily a minority among scholars on the topic.)"

I believe you are wrong.

I agree with you 100% that the author of the Gospel of John was alive after 70 AD (It is within the realm of possibilities that he may not have even been born yet in 70 AD!) The majority of scholars believe that the Gospel of John was written at the end of the first century, probably in the 90's.

Please provide a source which states that the majority of New Testament scholars (the majority of ALL NT scholars, Christian and non-Christian) believe that author of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness to the events described in his Gospel.

I think that is enough for us to chew on for awhile.
Gary said…
An additional point on the last comment.

You are asserting that the author of the Gospel of John claims in his gospel that he personally was an eyewitness. I don't believe that is the position of the majority of NT scholars. Last I checked, most scholars believe that the author of John claims in his gospel that the "beloved disciple" was an eyewitness, but never claims that HE, the author, is the beloved disciple. This position is held by a minority of NT scholars, primarily evangelicals, many of whom are inerrantists.
BK said…
With regard to your last comment, what is your source for the statement that "most scholars believe that the author of John claims in his gospel that the "beloved disciple" was an eyewitness, but never claims that HE, the author, is the beloved disciple. This position is held by a minority of NT scholars, primarily evangelicals, many of whom are inerrantists."?
Gary said…
Here is one source:

"Robert Kysar writes the following on the authorship of the Gospel of John (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 3, pp. 919-920):

The supposition that the author was one and the same with the beloved disciple is often advanced as a means of insuring that the evangelist did witness Jesus' ministry. Two other passages are advanced as evidence of the same - 19:35 and 21:24. But both falter under close scrutiny. 19:35 does not claim that the author was the one who witnessed the scene but only that the scene is related on the sound basis of eyewitness. 21:24 is part of the appendix of the gospel and should not be assumed to have come from the same hand as that responsible for the body of the gospel. Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status."
BK said…
I see. So, one scholar now equates to most scholars. Good to know.
Gary said…
"Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status."

The scholar is not simply stating his opinion on the issue, but expressing the position of the overwhelming majority of Johannine scholars.

Do you have a scholar who says that the majority of Johannine scholars do NOT hold this view? Please share.
BK said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said…
Your quote does not support what you said. You said, "most scholars believe that the author of John claims in his gospel that the "beloved disciple" was an eyewitness, but never claims that HE, the author, is the beloved disciple. This position is held by a minority of NT scholars, primarily evangelicals, many of whom are inerrantists." Your quote does not say that. Your quote says "many Johannine scholars" and not "most scholars" (there is a difference). And your quote says nothing about inerrantists.

I am just noting that you hold others to support every jot and tittle of what they say, but you don't live up to the same standards in what you write.
Gary said…
""Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status."

This statement clearly states that most Johannine schoalrs do not believe that the author of John claims to be an eyewitness. That is plain, simple English, my friend.

As to my statement that the only scholars who believe that the author of John claims to be an eyewitness are evangelical inerrantists, you are correct. The scholar's statement does not mention this detail.

BK said…
I'm always happy, but if you are asking whether your response fixes the obvious flaws, the answer is no. Many is not most. And even if it were, I don't see where the author has given a source for that statement, so it appears to be an unsupported statement even in the source you cite. But I am pleased that you acknowledged that the source did not support the latter part of your statement. It shows some maturity.
Gary said…
Ok, well, how about this: Can YOU find a NT scholar who states that most, or even just the majority, of NT scholars believe that the author of John states in his gospel that he is the "beloved disciple" and therefore that he was a witness to the events in his gospel?
BK said…
First, I have not made the claim that you were wrong. I asked you for your reference because you made an assertion that I did not think could be supported. Your inability to produce a source that confirms what you said confirms my suspicions. So, the point I was wanting to make has been made.

Second, you are trying to turn the burden on me inappropriately because I have made no claim. It's like you are saying, "Most persnatches are plotinoys." When I ask for proof, you respond that it is my responsibility to somehow prove you are wrong. The burden of proof is not on me, it is on you.

Third, I personally don't care what the majority of scholars think. I care which understanding is correct. As you certainly know, truth is not based on majority opinion - even a majority of scholars. If it were, then we'd all believe in a heliocentric universe or the universality of Newtonian physics - both of which were the view held by a majority of scholars at the time.

At the same time, I am not sitting on some small minority opinion. As Dr. P. H. R. van Houwelingen is professor of New Testament at the Theological University of Kampen, The Netherlands, as well as research associate in the Department of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa notes, the belief that the apostle John is the author of the Gospel that bears his name is the "traditional view." I understand that to mean that this "traditional view" has been the mainstream viewpoint for many centuries. (Chesterton calls tradition the "democracy of the dead" which means that we should never allow current understandings which are clouded by current prejudices to be the only determining factor in truth.) If the viewpoint that John is not the author of the Gospel that bears his name has changed to where it is no longer the majority view, that doesn't discount the viewpoint of the thousands of scholars who have held it over time. Just because you find one scholar who says without providing a source that many believe that the we passages in John are later additions does not mean that he is correct or that the majority see it that way - even the majority in the 21st Century.

But you are still welcome to come up with something that supports what you said. I still haven't seen it.
Gary said…
I don't have a source??? My goodness, friend, you are being either very obstinate or very dense. Let me give the SOURCE and the quote again:

Robert Kysar writes the following on the authorship of the Gospel of John (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 3, pp. 919-920): The supposition that the author was one and the same with the beloved disciple is often advanced as a means of insuring that the evangelist did witness Jesus' ministry. Two other passages are advanced as evidence of the same - 19:35 and 21:24. But both falter under close scrutiny. 19:35 does not claim that the author was the one who witnessed the scene but only that the scene is related on the sound basis of eyewitness. 21:24 is part of the appendix of the gospel and should not be assumed to have come from the same hand as that responsible for the body of the gospel. Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status.


That is a source. Why would this quote be placed in this peer-reviewed document if it is blatantly false?

So just because experts IN THE PAST have believed something that the majority of experts TODAY no longer believe to be true, it is ok to continue to believe the position of experts in the past???

Wow. If that is true, we should all believe that the sun revolves around the earth!

You are stubbornly holding onto your outdated beliefs because your entire world view depends on them being true. I, on the other hand, accept the consensus opinion of MODERN experts on all subjects about which I am not an expert.
BK said…
Interesting that you think that I am being stubborn or dense. Let's try it again:

Many, adj. = a large number of
Most, determiner = greatest in amount or degree.

Most people (meaning, greatest in amount of degree) understand that many (meaning, a large number of) is not the same as most (meaning, greatest in amount). If I say I have many pencils in my pen-holder, that doesn't mean I have the most pencils. My kids have way more pencils than I have. Do you understand, yet? So, no, you have NOT produced a source that stands for the proposition that you stated.

Second, you are apparently incapable of understanding what I am saying in the second part of my post. But I will try to expand because it is not difficult. When you have a question of history, today's historians don't always know better than yesterday's historians. What has changed factually between the time that it was almost universally held that John wrote the fourth Gospel and now when it is more questioned. Did the facts change? No. There are no new facts. What has changed is the level of skepticism. No, I don't believe the sun revolves around the earth (although, in a relativistic system, it can be seen that way). But I don't believe that every new idea is an improvement upon old ideas unless there is a corresponding change in data that shows the old idea to be wrong. Capiche?

Your last sentence is just whining so I will ignore it.
Jason Pratt said…
Gary was replying to me here, Bill.

Gary: {{I asked for evidence. I never said that there wasn't any. This is your assumption.}}

I never said you said there was no evidence. This is your assumption.

You made it clear you weren't interested in data from the 2nd century onward about the 1st century; so I didn't even discuss that. By your challenge to find "even one" testimony from the 1st century that eyewitnesses were still alive at the time the Gospels were written, people competent in understanding and writing English might excusably infer you think not even one (thus no) evidence of that sort exists. But since I didn't charge you with even thinking that, your retort is both pointless and faulty.

I will note that you are continuing to completely ignore the topic of the post to which you are ostensibly commenting. That's troll behavior. Particularly when combined with your attempts at avoiding any responsibility for your own criticisms being competent: for someone hot to avoid any burden of proof, you sure don't mind injecting yourself off-topic into a comment thread to throw out challenges and make little quasi-arguments that you think ought to be persuasive (and, by the way, link offsite to other threads for arguments against a position.)

Be that as it may. Our patience for trolls is limited. You should move on soon to the topic of the actual article, or move along. (Although Joe is very busy with his current debate with Bradley, so probably won't spend time and energy to converse on a post from November of last year.)
Jason Pratt said…
Regarding your challenge: of course since the writer of GosJohn never says "And I am the beloved disciples", no NT scholar is ever going to say that he explicitly says that he is.

Otherwise, you've mistaken a subtle technical dispute among scholars for something relevant to religious claims about the text, pro or con.

I'll reference Craig Keener on this since he's handy and since, in his massively researched 2 volume historical GosJohn commentary, he verbally echoes Kysar about "many" NT authors not thinking the GosJohn writer is claiming to be the Beloved Disciple. But when Keener talks about the topic, he only comes up with a few examples in his footnotes of these "many" (one of those being Kysar himself); and he focuses on Culpepper as being a genius example (Keener's own praise, despite his disagreement) of the position: a technical distinction between the text's "author" and the text's writer. They don't mean the author isn't claiming to be an eyewitness; they only mean the writer, who is writing for the author, isn't claiming to be an eyewitness.

The difference between the author being the writer or not (my examples not Keener's btw), is the difference between the author sitting down to pen the scroll, and the author lying in bed in old age dictating information while the writer acts as a scribe. Or as another example, the author handing a lot of notes to the writer (perhaps also including some notes by people other than himself) and saying, "Okay you did great for Peter, now work this up for me, too," and the writer going off to craft a literary work from the notes, which if possible the author or someone who knew the author will later look over for certification.

That the author is not the writer was common enough in antiquity; in this case the "many" scholars, however few they are, are arguing that we're seeing a rare example (but with a couple of contemporary parallels) of the actual writer distinguishing himself personally from the authoritative "author" of the work. The debate is over whether that's sufficient evidence compared to stylistic examples from the period of the author treating himself as a 3rd person character, especially in Josephus, generally precluding a distinction between the BD and the author.

In other words, no scholar is disputing (because the details are right there on the page) that the writer of the text is claiming that a living eyewitness was authoritatively involved in the text's production.

There is some respected minority dispute (enough to be called "many") over whether the person actually composing the text as a literary work, is claiming to be distinct from the living eyewitness. But this is a minor technical discussion, which has no bearing on claims that an eyewitness was alive and authoritatively involved in the text's production.

The hot dispute (relevant to religious belief or scepticism in various degrees) is over whether an eyewitness REALLY WAS INVOLVED (not over whether the text is claiming such involvement) in the text's production. And this dispute is combined with more dispute over how accurate or even truthful the eyewitness is being.

That's a dispute over whether the evidence of a living eyewitness at the time of GosJohn's composition is (in various ways) good or not. Scholars who think GosJohn is faking eyewitness testimony, don't have much interest in whether the writer is implying a distinct author (thus the technical term "implied author") as eyewitness or whether the writer is implying he's the eyewitness author.

(There is also some related technical dispute over whether a community is certifying the eyewitness author or whether that's the writer certifying the eyewitness author, or even a combination of those points.)

Gary said…
"In other words, no scholar is disputing (because the details are right there on the page) that the writer of the text is claiming that a living eyewitness was authoritatively involved in the text's production."

What???? You are claiming that there are NO scholars who doubt that an eyewitness was involved in the production of the Gospel of John??? You are really on the fringe of scholarship, my friend. You need to venture out of your fundamentalist/evangelical "ghetto".

You have accused me of not addressing your article. Since there is no need to debate you any further on the authorship (or "production") of the Gospel of John since I have given you evidence that the majority of scholars hold my position, I will begin addressing the specific points in your article above.
Gary said…
"I do argue that the historical evidence is strong enough to warrant belief in the Res. While scholarly consensus doesn't prove the evidence is strong it is an indication. There is more important evidence and I'm about to get into it."

I thought the topic of the debate was the historicity of the CRUCIFIXION, but you are now moving the discussion to the historicity of the Resurrection. I as a non-supernaturalist accept the PROBABLE historicity of Jesus being crucified, but in no way accept the historicity of the outlandish supernatural tale of a Resurrection.

So what is the topic of discussion: the historicity of a Jesus' death by crucifixion or his alleged reanimation by an ancient middle-eastern god?
Gary said…
One important point: Claiming that a consensus exists among NT scholars for the historicity of the Resurrection is blatantly false. Please provide a study that demonstrates this claim. The closest you will get is Habermas' literature search which claims that 75% of NT scholars writing articles on the topic of the Resurrection between 1975 and 2005 expressed a positive position on the historicity of the EMPTY TOMB. But just because a scholar believes that the tomb of Jesus was found empty does not necessarily mean that the scholar believes the tomb was empty because of a supernatural resurrection! Jewish scholar Jill Levine, would probably be in this category.

But even if we made this assumption, that 75% of all NT scholars believe in the Resurrection, 75% is NOT a consensus. It is only a majority. Imagine if only 75% of historians believed that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Would the historicity of Caesar crossing the Rubicon be viewed as a scholarly consensus??? No way. It would be considered a debatable historical event.
Gary said…
You state in your article that NT scholars do not view the Gospels as biographies ("the Life of Jesus" stories). I believe that this is incorrect.

Here is one scholar's statement on this issue:

Of the two groups of ancient biography discussed above, the Gospels, I argue, are more similar to the popular biographies in the latter category. This is due to a number of reasons:

1.The Gospels are anonymous in the composition, just like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander.
2.The Gospels operated, at least originally, more as “open texts,” since much of their content was adapted and reworked into later versions. For example, the Gospel of Matthew borrows from as much as 80% of the verses in Mark, and Luke likewise borrows from 65% of the material in Mark. This is not typical of historical and scholarly biographies, which had greater authorial control, such as those of Plutarch, who does not merely copy his material from earlier works.
3.The Gospels do not discuss their sources or methodology, which is a feature of more historical and scholarly biographies. Instead, like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander the Great, they are less critical, more hagiographical, and include more legends and myth-making.

Another interesting note is that mythical material can easily appear in such popular biographies within only a few decades of the subject’s death. As Kris Komarnitsky discusses in “Myth Growth Rates and the Gospels,” fictional biographies emerged about Alexander the Great within half a century of his death, just as the Gospels were written about Jesus roughly 40-60 years after his death. As the comparison with the Alexander Romance shows, a biography is not historically reliable simply because it is written only a few decades after the subject’s death, since many popular ancient biographies were written within that span, even for historical figures like Alexander the Great, and yet they included large amounts of legendary development. This form of biography likewise does not engage in the source analysis and methodology that is necessary to make an ancient text historically reliable.
Jason Pratt said…
Gary, I was as clear as I could be about the distinction between scholars accepting that the text is CLAIMING TO have eyewitness authorship (in one of a couple of senses); and scholars accepting that the text ACTUALLY DOES have eyewitness scholarship, which I said is what is hotly disputed.

If you aren't capable of understanding obvious distinctions like that, you should stay out of historical analysis discussions, and for that matter any analysis discussions.

(Dilbert: "No known battery technology can produce that power at that size. This wasn't what you wanted to hear, so your mind will erase what I actually said and come up with something completely ridiculous instead so you can question my motives. {ding!} Ah, the process is complete!" "WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS A BATTERY!?")

Gary: {{You have accused me of not addressing your article.}}

I have accused you of troll behavior in not even bothering to address the article you're commenting on. You can't even tell I didn't write it, and so it isn't "my" article. In fact you were paying so little attention (in your mental ghetto) to what I did actually write, that you missed me very explicitly saying that the author of the article is busy doing other things and will probably not have the time and/or energy to address you.

This, again, is troll behavior. Time for you to be gone; find something productive to do with your life. Your account will be marked as spam henceforth.


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