bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 14

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
In order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
In this post, we shall see that the Gospel of Mark is viewed as an unreliable source of information about Jesus, and that the Passion Narrative in Mark is even more dubious and more unreliable than the rest of the Gospel of Mark, based on Robert Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel.  Therefore, the canonical Gospels fail to provide solid evidence for the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
The Gospel of Mark has many of the same basic problems as the other Gospels, according to Funk in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ):

  • It was not written by one of the original disciples of Jesus  (HTJ, p.116)
  • It was not written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus (HTJ, p.50)
  • It was written between 70CE and 80CE, forty to fifty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.38)
  • Most of the sayings and teachings ascribed to Jesus in Mark are not from the historical Jesus (HTJ, p.41)

Funk and the Jesus Seminar examined all of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and many of these sayings were judged to be probably unhistorical.  I looked at the Jesus Seminar evaluations of these sayings from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Mark and they judged 34 verses to be black or gray, and 16 verses to be pink, and 0 verses to be red (see The Five Gospels, pages 54-67).  The colors can be interpreted as follows (The Five Gospels, p.36):
red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.
pink: Jesus probably said something like this.
gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.
black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.
Thus out of a total of 50 verses from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Mark, only 16 of those verses were judged to be such that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  The remaining 34 verses were judged to be either probably or definitely NOT something that was said by the historical Jesus.  This means that the Jesus Seminar judged that only 32% or about one out of three verses in these chapters of Mark were probably historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as pink), and that about two out of three verses (in these chapters) were probably NOT historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as gray or black).  In other words, the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings that it ascribes to Jesus.
Given the specific skeptical beliefs of Funk about the Gospel of Mark, and given the view that the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Gospel of Mark is probably also very unreliable in terms of the actions attributed to Jesus and the events related to the life and death of Jesus.
The Jesus Seminar has also investigated the specific actions and events portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, and evaluated the historicity of those actions and events.  It should come as no surprise that the Jesus Seminar determined that the Gospel of Mark was also very unreliable concerning claims about the actions of Jesus and the events related to his life and ministry.
I looked over the evaluation of the “acts of Jesus” by the Jesus Seminar in the first 13 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, prior to the Passion Narrative (see “Inventory of Events” in The Acts of Jesus, pages 558-561) .
The Jesus Seminar evaluated 64 different acts or events from those chapters and judged that 20 of them were either red or pink.  The remaining 44 acts or events were judged to be either gray or black.  Here are the meanings of those color categories (The Acts of Jesus, p. 36-37):
red: The historical reliability of this information is virtually certain.  It is supported by a preponderance of evidence.
pink: This information is probably reliable.  It fits well with other evidence that is verifiable.
gray: This information is possible but unreliable.  It lacks supporting evidence.
black: This information is improbable.  It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.
Thus, according to the evaluations of the Jesus Seminar, only about 31% of the events in Chapters 1 to 13 of the Gospel of Mark are probably true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either red or pink) and that about 69% of the alleged events in those chapters of Mark are probably not true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either gray or black).  This confirms the previous reasonable inference that the Gospel of Mark is also very unreliable concerning the actions of Jesus and the events in his life.
Given all of the above skeptical assumptions and conclusions about the unreliability of the Gospel of Mark, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Passion Narrative (hereafter: PN) found in this Gospel was also very unreliable.  Thus, it should be no surprise that Robert Funk has a very skeptical view of the PN in Mark.  In fact, Funk appears to believe that the PN in Mark is even LESS reliable than the rest of this Gospel:
The use of tales that circulated in oral form prior to Mark ceases with the beginning of Mark’s account of the passion, which reaches its climax, of course, with the arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Most of these elements are products of Mark’s narrative imagination, although he may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  (HTJ, p.131)
Since Funk believes that the PN in Matthew and Luke is based primarily on the PN in Mark, his skeptical comments about the PNs apply to the PN in Mark:
The story of Jesus’ arrest, trials, and execution is largely fictional; it was based on a few historical reminiscences augmented by scenes and details suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms. (HTJ, p.127)
So, Funk believes that “most of these elements” in Mark’s PN are “products of Mark’s narrative imagination” and that scenes and details in Mark’s PN were “suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms.”
Funk throws a bone to believers in saying that the author of Mark “may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances”; he does not say that the author of Mark is certainly drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances; he also does not say that the author of Mark is probably drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  This implies that the author of Mark MIGHT NOT “be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances” and that the entire PN in Mark might well be purely a product of the author’s “narrative imagination”.
Not only was the author of Mark not an eyewitness to the events of the PN, but most of Jesus’ disciples fled after his arrest and thus were not present for the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed the narrative reflects any eyewitness observation at all. (HTJ, p.220)
Notice that there are two layers of doubt expressed here:  (1) there might have been no followers of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and (2) even if there were a few followers of Jesus who were alleged eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, the PN in Mark might not reflect any observations or testimony from those eyewitnesses.
Funk has serious doubts about the historical reliability of the story of the Last Supper, which is reported in Mark 14:12-26:
The words spoken by Jesus at the last supper…do not fit with the Passover celebration. …The breaking of the bread and the common cup were elements introduced into the meal by Christian interpreters who took it as a memorial to the death of Jesus rather than as a reminder of the exodus. …The counterpart in Mark 14:22-25, in which Jesus speaks of his own body and blood as a sacrifice, is thus not a part of the original passion story.  (HTJ, p.226)
Funk doubts that there was a Jewish trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (14:53-65):
It is entirely probable that the trial before Jewish authorities was a fiction.  (HTJ, p.220-221)
Funk doubts that there was a Roman trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (15:1-15):
It is not likely that a Roman trial was held.  (HTJ, p.221)
 
As previously noted, Funk believes that many of the details in the PNs were derived not from memories or stories from eyewitnesses, but from the Old Testament and other sacred texts:
Many details of the passion story were suggested by the Psalms, particularly Psalms 2, 22, and 69.  Other sources include prophetic texts such as Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9-14, together with stories of David (2 Samuel 15-17) or the suffering righteous martyr (Wisdom of Solomon 2 and 5).  Christian scribes searched the Greek scriptures diligently for proof that Jesus had died in accordance with God’s will. (HTJ, p.232)
Examples of this are given by Funk (HTJ, p.232-233) :
Casting of lots for the clothing of Jesus [see Mark 15:24] was inspired by Psalm 22:18…
Crucifixion between two theives [see Mark 15:27] was based on Isaiah 53:12…in conjunction with Psalm 22:16…
Striking, insulting, and spitting on Jesus [see Mark 14:65 & 15:16-20 & 15:29-32] were prompted by Isaiah 50:6….
Disrobing and rerobing in mock coronation [see Mark 15:16-20] were prompted by Zechariah 3:1-5.
Funk approvingly references John Crossan’s very skeptical views about how the PNs were thoroughly shaped by Jewish scriptures:
In his brilliant study, John Dominic Crossan has shown that virtually every detail connected with the passion was based on some scripture.  That prompted him to conclude: We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.  The stories of the arrest in the gospels are themselves fictions; we only infer that he was arrested because we know he was executed.  About the trial, or trials, we have no historically reliable information at at all. (HTJ, p.233)
Funk appears to agree with Crossan that “We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.”
Thus, Funk has serious doubts about the stories and details in the PN of the Gospel of Mark concerning the Last Supper, Jesus’ arrest, the Jewish trial, the Roman trial,  and many of the details related to Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
In addition to fictional events and details generated on the basis of the O.T. and other sacred writings, Funk points to other events and details in Mark’s PN that are fictional:
In addition to events and details suggested by scripture, the passion story contains a number of pure fictions. Judas Iscariot the betrayer [see Mark 14:17-21 & 43-46] is in all probabilty a gospel fiction. (HTJ, p.234)
Joseph of Arimathea [see Mark 15:42-47]is probably a Markan creation. (HTJ, p.234)
Barabbas (son of “Abba,” the Father, or “son of God”) in Mark 15:7 is certainly a fiction, as is Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus in Mark 15:21. (HTJ, p.235)
It is clear that not only does Funk believe that the Gospel of Mark is in general very unreliable, but that Funk believes that the PN in the Gospel of Mark is even more unreliable than the rest of this gospel.  The PN in Mark is filled with fictional characters, fictional events, and fictional details, according to Funk.
Therefore, because the Gospel of Mark was the ONLY canonical gospel that could possibly provide solid evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus and for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, given Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel, and particularly about the extreme unreliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark, one cannot rationally conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross, and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, at least not on the basis of the canonical gospels.
Given Funk’s skeptical beliefs and views concerning the unreliability of the canonical gospels, great confidence in the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is rationally unjustified.
===================
UPDATE  (3/3/16):
I took a look at the Jesus Seminar evaluation of the historical reliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark.  The Jesus Seminar divides the PN in Mark into 18 events.  It categorized 3 of these events as gray, and 15 of them as black.  It categorized 0 of these events as red, and 0 of these events as pink.   Thus, according to the Jesus Seminar 0% or 0 out of 18 events in Mark’s PN provide information that “is probably reliable”, and 100% or 18 out of 18 of the events in Mark’s PN provide information that is either unreliable or  improbable.  Clearly, the Jesus Seminar judged the content of Mark’s PN to be  extremely unreliable, and to be significantly LESS reliable than the contents of Chapters 1 through 13 of the Gospel of Mark, in terms of the events described in those chapters.
However, the Jesus Seminar also evaluated a few “Core Events” in the PN of the Gospel of Mark more favorably (as pink or red), including the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of Jesus.  So, I plan to examine  (in a future post) those judgements of the Jesus Seminar about “Core Events” in Mark’s PN.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 13

In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are very unreliable.  
So, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.  That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In this and future posts, I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Specifically, in this post I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Matthew must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Matthew was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50), according to Funk.
Second, the Gospel of Matthew was written about 80-90 CE, according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Matthew’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Matthew used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Matthew (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Matthew agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon the use of Mark as a source by the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
Fourth, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Matthew’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I have checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Matthew (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 133-152), and only three in ten verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus).  So, according to the Jesus Seminar, the Gospel of Matthew is correct only about 30% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Matthew).   Thus, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Matthew was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Matthew to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.  Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Matthew to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and details that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew, that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Matthew as usually being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or details it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First,  the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Matthew adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42).  According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Matthew is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Matthew begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, and there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Matthew adds new events and details to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  In Mattew 27:51-54, an earthquake is added to the account of the opening of the tomb from the Gospel of Mark.  This is a “mythical element” added by the author of Matthew, according to Funk (HTJ, p.26).
The Gospel of Matthew also adds the story of the bribing of the guards (who had previously been guarding the tomb of Jesus) by the priests and elders (Matthew 28:11-15).  Funk believes that the guarding of the tomb, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew but not in Mark or Luke, is “a Christian fiction designed to ward off the criticism that Jesus’ disciples stole his body.”  (HTJ, p.236).  Thus, Funk must also believe that the story of the bribing of those fictional guards is also a fictional story.
The Gospel of Matthew also adds two  stories about appearances of the risen Jesus, thus going beyond the narrative framework provided by Mark.  Matthew 28:9-10 reports that Jesus appeared to three women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning and who left after finding the tomb empty.  Funk rejects the historicity of the empty tomb story: “…the empty tomb does not reflect the historical memory of an actual event.” (HTJ, p.259).  Thus, Funk must also reject the historicity of an appearance of the risen Jesus to three women as they were walking away from the empty tomb.  The Jesus Seminar comments on this passage that “Since the empty tomb tale is probably Mark’s invention, the appearance to Mary at the tomb also has a dubious basis.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.475).  The Jesus Seminar marks this passage as black, meaning “This information is improbable. It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.37).
Matthew 28:16-20 reports an appearance of the risen Jesus to his gathered disciples in Galilee.  Funk does not explicitly reject the historicity of this appearance, but he does explicitly reject the historicity of the words attributed to Jesus in that story: “The great commission, as it has been termed, was of course composed by Matthew.  It does not stem from Jesus.”  (HTJ, p.261).  If the author of Matthew invented the words of Jesus for this event, then it is reasonable to suspect that other aspects of this passage are also fictional.  Did all eleven disciples really experience an appearance of Jesus at the same time? Probably not, according to the Jesus Seminar (The Acts of Jesus, p. 484).  Did some of Jesus’ disciples experience an appearance of the risen Jesus on a mountain top in Galilee?  Funk makes comments that suggest this location was likely invented by the author of Matthew (HTJ, p.261. See also The Acts of Jesus, p.484). The Jesus Seminar also evaluated this  entire passage, not just the words of Jesus, as black, and comments that “In any case, Matt 28:16-20 is a composition created by Matthew; it probably does not rest on historical reminiscence…” (The Acts of Jesus, p.485).
On Funk’s vew, the additional details and events added by the author of Matthew to the end of the Markan narrative framework are fictional.  The Gospel of Matthew thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and various fictional details and stories to the back-end of Mark’s account, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the Passion Narrative in Matthew follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The death of Judas: Matthew 27:3-10, and the guard at the tomb: Matthew 27:62-66).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226 & 236. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.257 & 265).
Fourth, the author of the Gospel of Matthew also, most unfortunately, added some details to the story of the trial before Pilate that was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, details which were intended to shift blame for the death of Jesus away from Pilate and the Romans and onto the Jewish people:

  • Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns Pilate against condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:19)
  • Pilate washes his hands at the trial and proclaims “Don’t blame me for this fellow’s blood, Now it’s your business.”  (Matthew 27:24)
  • The Jewish crowd then proclaims its own guilt for the killing of Jesus: “So, smear his blood on us and on our children.”  (Matthew 27:25)

The Jesus Seminar judged all of these added details to be fictional, marking the passage as black:
At this point Matthew makes another fateful addition to the Markan story: He has Pilate wash his hands as a way of declaring his own innocence in the death of Jesus…. Thus Matthew has further aggravated the tragic fiction…by having Judeans embrace collective guilt for themselves and their children, although many of them had been followers of Jesus and many others probably knew little or nothing about him.  The blame that was supposed to last only for two generations has been extended by Christians for two millennia.  Matthew has blatantly exonerated Pilate, the truly guilty party…  (The Acts of Jesus, p.260)
Thus the author of Matthew not only invented fictional details to exonerate Pilate and the Romans from the death of Jesus, but also invented fictional details to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on his fellow Jews, which helped to bring about two thousand years of Christian anti-semitism, and the slaughter of millions of Jews by German Christians.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Matthew adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional events or details are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Matthew aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Matthew, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and one must set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being too unreliable to provide additional information (going beyond the accounts in the the Gospel of Mark) about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 12

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.  In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In this post I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Specifically, I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Luke must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Luke was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50).
Second, the Gospel of Luke was written about 80-90 CE according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Luke’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Luke used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Luke (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Luke agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon Luke’s use of Mark as a source.
In general, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Luke’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in Luke for chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Luke (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 278-299), and only one in four verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus).  So, according to the Jesus Seminar the Gospel of Luke is correct only about 25% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Luke).   Thus, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Luke was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Luke to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.  Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Luke to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and events in the Gospel of Luke that are unique to Luke, that go beyond what Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Luke as being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or events it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First,  the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Luke adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42).  According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Luke is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Luke begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, but there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Luke adds new stories to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  Luke has the risen Jesus appear to his disciples in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.  But according to Funk, Jesus’ disciples had already left town and were headed back to Galilee (HTJ, p.40).  So, on Funk’s vew, the additional stories added by the author of Luke to the Markan narrative framework are fictional.
The Gospel of Luke thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and fictional appearance stories to the back-end of Mark’s account.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the unique narrative elements in Luke that occur after Jesus’ birth and before the resurrection appearances are also, according to Funk, largely fictional or non-historical:
The so-called “L” narrative segments in Luke are listed in Table 7. … All of them appear to have been created by Luke or his community, with perhaps a few exceptions.  (HTJ, p.133)
According to Funk, when the author of Luke adds new stories or events that don’t derive from Mark, the stories or events are usually fiction.
Fourth,  the Passion Narrative in Luke follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The incident of the two swords: Luke 22:35-38, and the Hearing before Herod: Luke 23:6-16).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.351 & 359).
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Luke adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional stories or events are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Luke is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or events that go beyond what the author of Luke borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Luke used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and as being too unreliable to provide any additional information about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 11

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In this post I will point to some more specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the historical Jesus.
Although Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar look beyond the four canonical gospels for data about the historical Jesus, the four canonical gospels are still our primary souce of information about Jesus, especially about his alleged arrest, trial(s), crucifixion, death, and burial.  If the four canonical gospels provide historically unreliable information and stories about Jesus, then we simply cannot be certain that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified.  We also cannot conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified, if the four canonical gospels are historically unreliable sources.
Funk clearly views the Gospel of John as a highly unreliable source of information about the historical Jesus:
For all these reasons [see pages 125-127], the current quest for the historical Jesus makes little use of the heavily interpreted data found in the Gospel of John.  (Honest to Jesus, p.127)
For one thing, Funk and the Jesus Seminar have examined every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, and there is only ONE SINGLE SENTENCE attributed to Jesus in the entire Gospel of John that the Jesus Seminar thought was probably from the historical Jesus:
A prophet gets no respect on his own turf.  (John 4:44, The Five Gospels, p.412)
So, according to the Jesus Seminar, not only does the Gospel of John fall short of providing reliable information about the words and teachings of Jesus, but rather it is a very reliable source of FALSE information about Jesus.  Almost all of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John were marked as “black” by the Jesus Seminar, meaning:
black:  Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.  (The Five Gospels, p.36)
In layman’s terms, the Gospel of John’s accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are bullshit.  They are almost completely fictional.  Since, the Gospel of John is filled from start to finish with fictional accounts of what Jesus said and taught, we have very good reason to believe that the other aspects of this Gospel are also historically unreliable and are in most cases fictional.
Funk puts the nail in the coffin of the Gospel of John, with the following comment:
The crucifixion of Jesus must have been a disappointment to his first followers.  It certainly frightened them, to judge by their response.  With his arrest and crucifixion they fled from Jerusalem, returned to Galilee, and resumed their humble lives as fishermen and peasants. (Honest to Jesus, p.40)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples remained in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified, and the risen Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples, minus doubting Thomas, in Jerusalem on Sunday two days after his crucifixion, and he appeared to them again in Jerusalem a week later, with doubting Thomas present (John 20:19-29).  Thus, Funk believes that two very important stories about Jesus in the Gospel of John, namely two of his resurrection appearances to his gathered disciples, are FICTIONAL stories.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, almost all of the words and teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are FICTIONAL and unhistorical, and according to Funk, two very important stories in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ resurrection appearances are also FICTIONAL and unhistorical.  This gives us good reason not only to have doubts about information in the Gospel of John, but to infer that other events and details in this Gospel are probably FICTIONAL and unhistorical too.
Furthermore,  our degree of certainty about the death of Jesus on the cross depends to a significant degree on historical claims that are supported ONLY by the Gospel of John.  Specifically: (1) the use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus (as opposed to binding Jesus to the cross), and (2) the alleged spear wound to Jesus’ side.  Since these important details about the crucifixion are only provided in the Gospel of John, Funk’s view that the Gospel of John is historically unreliable seriously undermines the case for Jesus’ death on the cross (especially his death on the same day that he was crucified).
So, Funk’s skeptical view of the Gospel of John could BY ITSELF provide sufficient reason to have serious doubt about the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and thus make it very difficult, if not impossible, to establish that it is very probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
However, Funk’s skepticism about the Gospel accounts is not limited to the Gospel of John, so there are futher reasons that cast significant doubt on the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 10

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I have argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  I will now argue that the same is true of the biblical scholar Robert Funk.
Craig quotes a part of a comment by Robert Funk:
In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion of Jesus was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians nor their opponents could deny.
The footnote for this quoted three-word phrase is rather vague:  “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”  The Jesus Seminar was in operation from 1985 to 1998, so a Jesus Seminar videotape could have been produced anytime in that fourteen-year window.  I have little hope of locating the particular Jesus Seminar videotape that this quote was taken from, so I have no way to either confirm the accuracy of the quote or to determine the meaning of the three-word phrase in the context of what Funk was talking about at that point.  I do not find this to be convincing evidence that Funk believed that the crucifixion of Jesus is a certain or nearly certain historical fact.
Furthermore, based on Funk’s comments in his book Honest to Jesus (published in 1996, hereafter: HTJ), it seems to me that although Funk believes that it is probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Funk believes that this claim is less than certain, and that there can be reasonable doubt about this claim:
There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question….We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows….Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)
The crucifixion is NOT “beyond question” according to Funk.  Even the very existence of Jesus as an historical person is NOT beyond question according to Funk.
This openness of Funk to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus is in keeping with Funk’s general skepticism.  In Chapter 1 of Honest to Jesus, Funk proposes seven ground rules for the quest of the historical Jesus.   Three of Funk’s seven ground rules clearly support a skeptical outlook in the study of Jesus:
Rule One
Human knowledge is finite.  It is fallible, limited, subject to correction.  If it were not, study and learning would be unnecessary.  This applies, willy-nilly, to the Bible, to the pope, to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and contemporary preachers alike.  And to scholars. (HTJ, p.24)
 Rule Five
In spite of the sciences, impressive methodological advances, and the knowledge explosion, we still cannot be certain that we can tell the difference between illusion and reality.
Aspects of what we think we see and hear, of what we believe we know, are almost certainly illusory.  The social world we inhabit as human beings was created for us by our historical and social contexts and by our own imaginations.  We are products, to a greater or lesser extent, of our own creative activity….One consequence of this arrangement is that we are constantly being deceived….illusion and error are a part of the human condition.  (HTJ, p.26)
Rule Seven
No matter how many illusions we dispel, no matter how firm the conclusions we reach this time around, we will turn out to be wrong in some way, perhaps in many ways, down the road.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will have to come along and correct our mistakes while adding their own. (HTJ, p.26)
Given this skeptical outlook, it is no surprise that Funk is open to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus and even to doubt about the existence of Jesus.  Funk rejects the view that the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus are beyond question.
It is not merely this general skeptical outlook that casts doubt on the crucifixion, but a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk that cast significant doubt on the crucifixion of Jesus and the on the claim that Jesus died on the cross.  I will argue that if one accepts Funk’s various skeptical assumptions, then one cannot rationally conclude that it is nearly certain that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.
Before I discuss Funk’s specific skeptical assumptions, however, I would like to touch on another aspect of Funk’s general viewpoint:  his cynicism.  I appreciate Funk’s cynicism.  Though Funk believes in God, and has some sort of very liberal belief or faith in Jesus, he is a kindred spirit, as far as I am concerned.   I appreciate Funk’s skepticism and his cynicism.
My own skepticism, I believe, arises out of cynicism, at least in part.   I suspect the same is true for many other skeptics, and it appears to me that Funk’s skepticism might also arise out of cynicism, at least in part.  So, I would like to share a few selected quotes that reflect Funk’s cynicism.
In the Prologue of Honest to Jesus, Funk lists ten of his personal convictions.  Two of them embody cynicism about human thinking:
8. I believe in original sin, but I take original sin to mean the innate infinite capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.
9.  I have come to see that the self-deception inherent in “original sin” prompts human beings to believe that what they want is what they are really entitled to and what they will eventually get–things like unending life in another world and absolute justice in this.  I doubt that it will work out that way.  (HTJ, p.11)
Funk experesses cynicism about his own conversion experience (and about other Christian believers):
…in the exuberance of youth, I thought it extremely important to hold the correct opinions.  I didn’t really know what the correct opinions were, but friends and others around me seemed to know, so I embraced theirs when I could understand them and sometimes when I couldn’t.  Among them was the good confession.  In response to prompting, I said Jesus was my personal savior.  Nobody explained to me what that entailed.  It has taken me several decades to get even a hint of what it could mean.
Most of us cling to opinions received secondhand and worn like used clothing. … (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Americans in general:
I am happy to report that I am the victim of a good education.  I would undoubtedly have grown up opinionated, narrow-minded, and bigoted like many Americans, but I had the misfortune, or the good fotune, of having excellent teachers. (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Christian ministers:
I started out to be a parish minister but soon learned that passion for truth was not compatible with that role.  In self-defense I became a scholar. (HTJ, p.5)
Funk expresses cynicism about churches and seminaries:
In Jesus as Precursor, a book I wrote while teaching in the Divinity School, I concluded that theologians should abandon the cloistered precincts of the church and seminary  where nothing real was on the agenda.   I soon followed my own advice.
The longing for intellectual freedom drove me out of the seminary and into a secular university. … the university had become my church and learning my real vocation. (HTJ, p. 5)
… I discovered that by and large what my students learned in seminary did not get passed on to parish memebers; in fact, it seems to have little or no bearing on the practice of ministry at all.  I was chagrined to learn that I was investing in an enterprise with no prospect of return. (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about universities and academia:
The University of Montana taught me another hard lesson:  universities are much like churches, replete with orthodoxies of various kinds, courts of inquisition, and severe penalties for those who do not embrace mediocrity and the teacher’s union.  Preoccupation with political trivia and insulation from the real world eventually pushed me to abandon that final sanctuary.  (HTJ, p.5)
…my academic colleagues and I were trapped in a perpetual holding pattern dictated to us by a system of rewards and sanctions in the university.    That system prevented us, or at least discouraged us, from entering the public domain with learning that mattered.  In their book, The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman define intellectuals as experts whose specialized knowledge is not wanted, is not even tolerated, by the general public.  (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about the general level of knowledge about religion and the Bible:
In our time, religious literacy has reached a new low in spite of our scholarship, in spite of the remarkable advances in research and publication our academic disciplines have made. (HTJ, p.5-6)
Jesus is a topic of wide public interest, and the ancient gospels are the subject of profound public ignorance. (HTJ, p.7)
All of this cynicism from Funk is found in the short Prologue of Honest to Jesus, and there is much more of this cynicism expressed in Chapters 1, 2, and 3, but I will spare you from any further cynical comments, and move on (in the next post) to taking a closer look at a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – INDEX

The well-known Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig has read at least two of my posts from 2014 criticizing his case for the resurrection of Jesus, and he responded to some of my objections:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus

Here are the blog posts of mine that Dr. Craig addresses:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/05/23/the-failure-of-william-craigs-case-for-the-resurrection/

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/06/01/an-open-letter-to-dr-william-lane-craig/

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 After discovering (completely by accident) that Dr. Craig had read and commented on my blog posts, I have written a number of posts responding to his comments and objections.  
Here are my responses, so far:
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In Part 1 of this series, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:

The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.

My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In Part 3 of this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter. We saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In my post called Note to Dr. William Lane Craig, I thank him for reading and responding to my criticisms of his case for the resurrection, point him to the first two posts in this series (which reply to his comments and objections), and make the following comments to Dr. Craig:
I hope that you will someday take the time to read these additional posts, and respond to them.  If it makes any difference, these posts are written with a more respectful tone, in part to show my appreciation for your taking the time to read and respond to some of my previous skeptical posts. 
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
In Part 5 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to two of the more significant claims from his list of claims about the historical Jesus:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
By examining the details concerning the two “outsider” writings that Johnson puts forward in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus, we see that both of the writings are worthless as far as providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  This means that out of the five writers (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) that Johnson claimed support claim (15), only ONE (Paul) has the potential to provide some support for the reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, and that this is not sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
In my post on Luke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus  I make a correction to a mistaken claim about Luke Johnson’s view of the resurrection contained in my first main response to William Craig, and argue that the point of my objection still holds up in spite of this mistake.
In Part 6 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to this claim:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
I argue that the THREE sources (outside of the Gospels) that Johnson points to as additional support for claim (13) are worthless for providing any significant support for the reliability of the Gospels, or the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).
Luke Johnson’s  case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
In Part 7 of this series, I raise another objection to Luke Johnson’s reasoning about the historical Jesus in his book The Real Jesus:
… it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  …Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
In Part 8 of this series, I make a final point about how Luke Johnson’s skepticism about the details in the Gospels undermines the view that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence to establish such details:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection). 
In Part 10 of this series, I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to Dr. William Lane Craig – Part 2

In my previous post on this topic, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
William Craig’s Main Point
I’m now going to respond to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.
Craig continues by giving some examples to support his claim about biblical scholars:
For example, Luke Johnson, who is a New Testament scholar of some renown at Emory University says, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”  In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians  nor their opponents could deny. That remains similar today.  The crucifixion and the death of Jesus is something that is simply not in dispute by historians today.
Consensus of Scholars vs. Strength of Evidence
A consensus among biblical scholars is rare, so if there is a consensus among biblical scholars that Jesus was crucified and died  on the cross, then that is clearly a point in favor of Craig’s view.  However, what is most important is not that there is consensus, but the strength of the evidence and reasons that form the basis of the judgments of these biblical scholars.  If the evidence and reasons are weak, then the consensus of scholars does not magically make the evidence strong.  A consensus of biblical scholars suggests that the evidence is strong, but does not by itself prove that the evidence is strong.  I prefer to look at the evidence for myself, and to do my own thinking.
Funk is NOT as Confident in Jesus’ Death and Crucifixion as Craig Implies
There is no date or specific reference for the quote attributed to Robert Funk about the crucifixion of Jesus (Craig’s footnote says only this: “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”), so I cannot assess the meaning and significance of that quotation in context.  But I do have a copy of Robert Funk’s book Honest to Jesus (HarperCollins, 1996; hereafter: HTJ), in which he discusses his views on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus:
There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question. …We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows.  What we have come to call the resurrection…is nowhere narrated directly, except in the highly imaginative account in the Gospel of Peter.  The reports of his appearances vary so widely with respect to location, time, and witness that we cannot particularize what sort of an event those appearances were.  And very few scholars believe that the birth stories are anything other than attempts to claim that Jesus was a remarkable person.  Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without some justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)
Funk admits that even the existence of Jesus is subject to rational doubts, and he admits that the “crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question.”  Furthermore, Funk makes comments about the crucifixion of Jesus that support a skeptical viewpoint about it:
We know very few things for certain about the death of Jesus and the events that led up to it.  (HTJ, p.220)
Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, and Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed that narrative reflects any eyewitness observations at all. (HTJ, p.220)
So, from Funk’s point of view, the twelve apostles were NOT eyewitnesses of the crucifixion, and furthermore, although some women “may have”  witnessed the crucifixion, we don’t know whether the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus reflect “any eyewitness observations at all.”   Given these skeptical assumptions, it is difficult to see how Funk could be certain or even highly confident in the claim that “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.”
 Many Biblical Scholars Do NOT Believe that Jesus was Alive and Walking Around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday
It is interesting that the first two examples of biblical scholars that Craig points to are scholars who DON’T BELIEVE that Jesus rose from the dead.  More specifically, neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.  So, neither Johnson nor Funk believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”  Funk makes it clear that he does not believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY came back to life:
The Jesus Seminar decided not to duck this issue [of whether Jesus rose PHYSICALLY from the dead]: The fellows reached  a fairly firm consensus: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on what happened to his corpse. They are supported in this by the judgment of many contemporary scholars.  Jesus’ resurrection did not involve the resuscitation of a dead body.  About three-fourths of the Fellows believe that Jesus’ followers did not know what happened to his body. (HTJ, p.259)
Luke Johnson is more vague and less straightforward (than Funk), and it is harder to pin down his beliefs about the resurrection,  but in his book The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, Fortress Press, 1999: hereafter: WONT) he seems to hold a view that is similar to that of Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar:
 The resurrection faith, then, was not the conviction that Jesus had resumed his life for a time and appeared to some of his followers.  It was a conviction, corroborated by the present experience of his power even years after his death, that he was alive in a new and powerful way; that he shared, indeed, God’s life.  (WONT, p.117)
The experience of the resurrection is not about vague and vaporous visions.  It is not a belief that Jesus was resuscitated and then resumed his former way of living.  It does not derive from insights into Jesus’ life.  The Christian witness of the resurrection does not say that Jesus was spotted in passing by a few people before disappearing. …
It is clear, then, that the resurrection experience cannot be confined to the narratives of the Gospels, for the fundamental experience and conviction were available to those who neither saw the tomb nor had a vision of Jesus.   The experience of his powerful presence was possible because he was alive and caused it. (WONT, p.114)
For Johnson, the “resurrection” refers not to an event in which the dead body of Jesus comes back to life, but to a religious experience of the “powerful  presence” of Jesus that is available to any Christian believer at any point in history.  Note also that Johnson contrasts this common sort of religious experience not with the ordinary sensory experiences of the apostles who (allegedly) saw, touched, and talked with a living, walking, talking, and physically embodied Jesus, but rather with having a “vision of Jesus”.  In other words, the apostles did not experience a living Jesus in a physical body on Easter Sunday.  On Johnson’s view, the apostles had various visions of Jesus, not sensory experiences of a living and embodied Jesus (see also p.133-136 of The Real Jesus by Luke Johnson)
I suspect that Craig is aware that neither Johnson nor Funk believe that Jesus’s body came back to life on Easter Sunday, and that this is partly why he chose to quote Johnson and Funk.  If instead of quoting these more skeptical biblical scholars, Craig had quoted the opinion of  an Evangelical biblical scholar (e.g. Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson, Robert Gundry, Craig Keener, Robert Stein), I and other skeptics would respond that “Of course so-and-so believes that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross; he is an Evangelical Christian scholar, and so he believes that whatever the Gospel accounts say must be true.”  The fact that there is a consensus among Evangelical Christian scholars that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross does not carry much weight.  Thus, Craig quotes from more skeptical biblical scholars who are outside of the Evangelical Christian fold, in order to give examples that carry more weight and significance.
But the views of more skeptical and more liberal biblical scholars on this issue are ALSO problematic, and are ALSO generally lacking weight and significance.  Craig fails to notice that there is a crucially important difference between his point of view, and the point of view of skeptical biblical scholars like Luke Johnson and Robert Funk:  they DO NOT BELIEVE that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”  Craig not only believes this to be true, he believes that this is an historical FACT, or that it can be firmly established on the basis of historical facts. Since, Johnson and Funk do not believe this, they have NO SPECIFIC REASON to doubt that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.  If they did believe it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, then they might well be much LESS confident about the claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the Friday prior to Easter Sunday.
The probability of a claim is always relative to the information and assumptions that one takes into consideration.  There is a fundamental and critical difference between the information and assumptions that Johnson and Funk take into consideration when making a judgment about the probability of the claim “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross” as compared with the information and assumptions that Craig takes into consideration (or should take into consideration) when making a judgment about the probability of this claim about the death of Jesus.   Craig assumes that it is an HISTORICAL FACT that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified”  but Johnson and Funk make no such assumption, and thus they DO NOT take this claim into consideration when making a judgment of the probability of the claim that “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.”
The relevant question at issue has NOT YET been considered by either Johnson or Funk:
IF you became convinced that it was an historical FACT that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after the Friday when he was (allegedly) crucified, THEN would you still judge it to be nearly certain or highly probable that Jesus was crucified on Friday and that Jesus died on the cross that same day?
Unless and until biblical scholars issue judgments on THIS QUESTION, their judgments are of little significance to the view that William Craig is defending (i.e. belief in the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday).
The Devil is in the Details
Although biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the Gospels (than Evangelical Christian biblical scholars) do sometimes make general statements about the crucifixion and death of Jesus being highly probable or nearly certain, when we look into the details of their views about the Gospels and about the stories about Jesus being crucified, we see that they don’t  actually have adequate grounds for their confident judgments that Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross are firmly established historical facts.
This will be the main issue covered in my next post on this topic.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.