Craig’s “Historical Evidence” for the Death of Jesus – Part 5
William Craig’s case for the resurrection is a failure because he does not make a solid case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday”. In most of his books, articles and debates, Craig usually just ignores the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross, but in The Son Rises (TSR), he does make a brief attempt to prove this claim in just five paragraphs, consisting of 35 sentences.
In the first three paragraphs of this “case”, Craig makes dozens of historical claims about Jesus and the crucifixion, but he provides ZERO historical evidence to support these claims, up until the final two sentences of paragraph three. Near the end of paragraph three Craig provides an end note that points to actual historical evidence. The main historical claim at the end of paragraph three is this:
21. The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body [of a victim of crucifixion] on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim [of crucifixion] with a lance.
This historical claim is supported by the following end note:
Quintillian Declamationes maiores 6. 9.
Although Craig is to be commended for (at last) providing some actual historical evidence in support of a relevant historical claim, this end note is a nearly perfect example of how NOT to support an historical claim.
There are many questions that need to be answered before a reasonable person will accept the evidence here as a solid justification for claim (21). But Craig has merely pointed in the general direction of the historical evidence, and provided almost no information or reasoning that is needed to connect the evidence to claim (21), or to evaluate the relevance and strength of the evidence in relation to establishing this claim.
Who the hell is Quintillian?
1. When did Quintillian live?
2. Where did Quintillian live?
3. What did Quintillian do for a living?
4. What do we know about Quintillian’s culture and values?
5. What do we know about Quintillian’s education and intelligence?
6. What do we know about Quintillian’s character and integrity?
7. What do we know about Quintillian’s travels and life experiences?
8. How did Quintillian get his information about Roman crucifixion practices?
9. Was he a Roman soldier or officer who participated in crucifixions?
10. Did he personally witness any Roman crucifixions?
11. How many crucifixions did he witness?
12. Did he know any Roman soldiers or officers who participated in crucifixions?
13. Did he get his information by reading books or documents written by others?
14. Are there other claims made by Quintillian about Roman military practices which can be independently confirmed or disconfirmed?
15. What is Quintillian’s general track-record in terms of the reliability of his historical claims?
These are the sorts of questions that a reasonable person would need answers to in order to evaluate Quintillian as a source of historical information.
What the hell is Declamationes maiores?
16. Was this entire work authored by Quintillian?
17. Was this work originally written in Latin?
18. If not, then in what language was it written?
19. Is this work available in English translation?
20. What does the title mean, translated into English?
21. When was this book written?
22. Where was this book written?
23. What sort of work is this? (A play? A book of poetry? An instruction manual? A book of science or mathematics? A book of history? A book of legends?)
24. What are the specific topics and themes of this work?
25. How is the work organized?
26. For what audience was this work originally intended?
27. How good is the text of the available copies of this work?
28. Were the existing copies made soon after the original, or centuries later?
29. Do the existing copies have only a few minor differences and variations, or are there numerous significant differences and variations between existing copies?
30. Is the text complete, or are there missing words or missing pages or missing sections?
What the hell is contained in section 6.9?
31. What sort of writing is contained in 6.9? (a poem? a play? a biographical sketch? a personal anecdote? a personal account of a crucifixion?)
32. Are there any doubts about whether Quintillian is the author of this passage?
33. Are there any significant textual issues with this passage?
34. Are there any significant translation issues with this passage?
35. Are there any significant issues concerning the interpretation of this passage?
36. Does the passage clearly and explicitly assert that “The Romans, if they did not simply leave the body of a victim of crucifixion on the cross until the flesh decayed or was eaten by birds or wild animals, would ensure death by stabbing the victim of crucifixion with a lance.”, or does it say something very similar to this, but in slightly different words, or does it say something very different, but from which Craig believes we can legitimately infer claim (21)?
37. What, precisely, does that passage say (translated into English)?
These are all fairly basic and common sorts of questions to ask when a reasonable person is trying to evaluate the relevance and significance of a bit of historical evidence from an ancient historical document. But Craig does not answer a single one of the above questions. So, a reasonable person has no way to determine whether this bit of historical evidence is in fact relevant to claim (21) or whether it provides any significant support for claim (21).
Furthermore, when most of the above questions have been answered, the answers may result in raising a RED FLAG, a reason for doubting the relevance or significance of this bit of evidence. If the answers to any of the above 37 questions raises a RED FLAG, then a reasonable person will have further questions to ask that also need to be answered before this evidence is accepted as being relevant and as providing significant support for claim (21).
As a matter of fact, the answers to a number of the above questions do raise RED FLAGS, and so there are several more questions that need to be considered and answered before a reasonable person would accept the evidence from this passage as being relevant and as providing strong support for claim (21).
Other than to point in the general direction of a specific passage in an ancient work, Craig has failed to provide any of the information and reasoning required for a reasonable person to properly evaluate the relevance and significance of this bit of historical data. This is a clear example of what NOT to do when presenting historical evidence in support of an historical claim.
I hope that this helps to show why it is absurd to try to prove the historical claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday” in just two or three pages. Craig has made dozens of historical claims in the first three paragraphs of his “case”, but failed to provide historical evidence to support any of those claims, other than claim (21) of paragraph three, and although he does point us to a passage in an actual historical document, he fails to provide any information or reasoning to show how that this passage is relevant to claim (21) or that it provides strong evidence in support of claim (21). He leaves dozens of basic questions unanswered concerning the value of this bit of historical evidence.
In order to answer most of the above basic questions about the one piece of historical evidence to which Craig points as support for just one historical claim, one would need to write at least three or four pages, which would be, by itself, longer than Craig’s entire case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”.
But Craig has made dozens of historical claims, and needs to provide one or more pieces of historical evidence in support of each of those claims. Even if some bits of evidence can support more than one claim, there will still need to be many different pieces of evidence provided. Each piece of historical evidence will require some information and reasoning to show that the evidence is relevant and provides significant support for the historical claim made. Such information and reasoning can easily require a number of pages of text for each piece of evidence. So, assuming that Craig does need to make dozens of historical claims, he will also need to provide many different pieces of historical evidence and each piece of evidence will need to be described, clarified, explained, and shown to be both relevant and significant in relation to the historical claim being supported.
One simply CANNOT make dozens of historical claims, provide dozens of pieces of historical evidence, and properly describe, clarify, and explain each of those dozens of pieces of evidence and their relevance and significance in just two pages. This simply is not possible, unless Craig wants to publish his books and articles in microscopic font (so that 50 pages worth of text can be fit onto two pages in a book).