Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (6th ed., 2006)
The Rubicon Analogy
James Holding claims that we have as much evidence that Jesus rose from his grave as we have that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon ("Julie's River Run: On Comparing the Rubicon to the Resurrection"). There are numerous errors in his argument. This rebuttal responds briefly to the most important issues. In the end, my claim remains unchallenged: we have better evidence that Caesar crossed the Rubicon than we have that Jesus rose from the grave. Therefore, the claim that this resurrection is "as well attested" as the Rubicon crossing is false. The Resurrection could still be a better explanation of its evidence, but that is not the issue under debate here. I take that up elsewhere.
Issues of Fact
1. Does Caesar Mention Crossing the Rubicon? Holding claims that Caesar's book The Civil War does not mention any crossing of the Rubicon. Perhaps Holding is just being picky. What Caesar does say, in his own words, is that he was "at Ravenna" where he assembled and spoke to his troops when Rome declared war upon him (1.4-6). He straightaway adds: "Once the will of his soldiers was known, he marched with this legion to Ariminum," modern Rimini, where several defectors with messages from Rome were waiting to receive him (1.8.1). Ravenna lies on the Italian coast twenty miles north of the Rubicon. Ariminum lies on the Italian coast ten miles south of the Rubicon. The towns were directly connected by a major Roman road that crossed the Rubicon, the Via Flaminia. You do the math.
In case you are still skeptical, take a good look at a map: there is no way to march an army from Ravenna to Ariminum except through the Rubicon. The only other road available was the Via Aemilia, and though there would have been no logical reason for Caesar to take such a detour, this road also crosses the Rubicon. And the Rubicon at the time flowed from nearby mountains impassable to an army. So there is no possible way Caesar could have marched from Ravenna to Ariminum without crossing the Rubicon. Therefore, when Caesar says he made that march, he is saying he crossed the Rubicon. By analogy, no one reports ever having seen Jesus rise from the grave. They only infer this from related facts (a burial, an empty tomb, and subsequent appearances), and these have various possible explanations. Caesar's march from Ravenna to Ariminum has only one.
2. What about Cicero? Holding claims (to the horrified astonishment of all historians of Rome!) that it is "questionable" whether Cicero was Caesar's enemy. Doesn't Holding even think to check these things? Holding often does this: asserts what every historian knows is completely false, makes claims exactly the opposite of what we learn even in the most introductory courses on the subject, and then poor sods like me have to do the legwork to prove him wrong. It is as if he insists the grass on my lawn is not green, so that I actually have to take the absurd step of bringing in witnesses to testify that my grass is in fact green.
Okay. Here we go. Cicero himself says others argued against him because Cicero was Caesar's enemy, and anything he said about Caesar should carry little weight (Phillipics 1.11.28). Cicero admits he sided with Pompey against Caesar in the Civil War (Phillipics 2.9.23) and claims that had Pompey listened to Cicero before the war and taken action against Caesar as Cicero advised, the entire war would have been averted (Phillipics 2.10). In fact, Cicero was so prominently Caesar's enemy that Brutus shouted only one name after stabbing Caesar to death: "Thanks to Cicero!" (Phillipics 2.12.28).
Though Cicero asserts he always preferred peace to violence, he nevertheless says that even though people wrongly accuse him of planning the assassination of Caesar, he counts this accusation as praise, for he regards Caesar's assassination as "a glorious act" carried out by "a gallant band" of men to whom "the republic owes a debt of gratitude." Additionally, Cicero "admires" them for performing a deed so excellent that it would be absurd for his accusers to believe he would deny involvement unless he really wasn't involved, for their name and number is "glorious" and "honorable" (Phillipics 2.11), and no greater or more glorious a deed was ever done at Rome, to the point that Cicero is happy to be included in their number (Phillipics 2.13.32-33).
Despite all that, Holding has the audacity to claim Cicero showed no sign of approving the assassination. Obviously, Holding just says what he pleases, and doesn't even bother checking the facts. Even besides Cicero's political opposition to Caesar and approval of his assassination, Cicero also called Caesar "wicked" (Phillipics 3.6.14) and regarded many of Caesar's legislative acts to be unconscionable (Phillipics 1.7.16, 1.9.23).
In the end, Cicero was the enemy of Caesar every bit as much as anyone who sided with the South in the American Civil War was the enemy of Lincoln. The fact that Cicero had previously been Caesar's friend actually makes Cicero's testimony more persuasive, and that is exactly my point in citing him. Just as Christians use the fact that Paul converted from an enemy to a friend of Christianity as evidence he really saw a revelation of Christ, so does Cicero's conversion from friend to enemy stand as evidence that Caesar really crossed the Rubicon. This crossing was the final event that launched the war, the last point of no return, before which Caesar could have averted the war. For the Rubicon was the border of the legally assigned province of Caesar, and it was an act of treason for a general to march an army outside his assigned province, especially into Italy (see Cicero, Phillipics 6.3.5 and 7.8.26). This is why "crossing the Rubicon" has become a catch phrase, and why the Rubicon, otherwise a small and insignificant river, became symbolic of Caesar's war against Rome.
Cicero records Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in the same way Caesar himself does. In his letter to his freedman Tiro (letter 311, or Letters to Friends and Family 16.12, dated 27 January in the year of the war, 49 B.C), Cicero says: "[W]hen Caesar yielded to the promptings of what may be called downright insanity, and--forgetting his name and his honours--had successively occupied Ariminum, Pisaurum, Ancona, and Arretium, I left the city [Rome]." In other words, Caesar invaded Italy at Ariminum and proceeded down the coast seizing every town on the way. The only way Caesar could have invaded Italy at Ariminum was to cross the Rubicon (Ariminum is only ten miles down the road from the Rubicon).
Therefore, Cicero attests that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in the very year he did so (in fact, within the very same month). Likewise, in a previous letter to Tiro dated 12 January, Cicero is aware that Caesar is about to invade Italy, and preparations are being made to hold Italy against his advance (300, Letters to Friends and Family 16.2). Then in a letter to Atticus dated 19 January (303, Letters to Atticus 7.2), Cicero reveals there is all manner of confusion as to how far Caesar has advanced. By the 27th he has an accurate account of Caesar's march.
So these three letters together represent a contemporary report that Caesar had not crossed more than a few days before January 12, definitely crossed before January 19, and had gotten as far as Arretium by January 27. Cicero also included actual letters from Caesar and Pompey on the further conduct of the war between them down the coast of Italy, and letters from other people fighting against Caesar, confirming his advance all the way to Brundisium, finally chasing Pompey out of Italy altogether.
If we had this kind of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, we would definitely have much better evidence than we do now. Imagine letters by Caiaphas or Joseph of Arimathea reporting the things they did, saw, heard, and investigated, all dated the very year and on the very days these things were going on. Even if they never used the word "resurrection," that would not matter--describing details of the event would be the same thing, just as describing a march into Italy beginning at Ariminum is the same thing as saying "Caesar crossed the Rubicon."
3. What Counts as Physical Evidence? Holding correctly interprets my wording when he infers I did not claim we had any actual physical depictions of an army crossing a Rubicon (or inscriptions saying "I, Caesar, crossed the Rubicon"). That is not what I mean by physical evidence. Though such things would surely count (if they dated from the life of Caesar), they are not the only things we could have. This is true for the Resurrection, too. It is not necessary to have an inscription stating "Jesus rose from this grave" or a coin depicting this. Though such things would indeed constitute better evidence than we actually have, so would other kinds of physical evidence.
If we had an actual papyrus carbon-dated to the first century containing a letter by Pilate or Peter documenting or detailing any of the key facts surrounding the resurrection claim, that would be physical evidence. If we had an inscription commissioned by Joseph of Arimathea attesting to the fact that he found his tomb empty and that Jesus then appeared to his disciples, that would be physical evidence. If we had a coin issued by Agrippa just a few years later declaring faith in Christ, that would be physical evidence. If the empty tomb acquired miraculous powers as a result of so momentous a miracle there, or if the angels never left but remained there to converse with all who sought to know the truth, so that either fact could be physically confirmed today--so that we could go there now and see these miracles or angels for ourselves--that would be physical evidence.
But in no way is it "just as well to appeal to, say, the letters of Paul as equivalent to" the inscriptions and coins of Caesar, because the letters of Paul do not physically date to the life of Paul. This is a considerable problem, since we have already purged numerous interpolations and emendations from these letters by later scribes, and suspect many more, thus exemplifying the difference in reliability between having the actual letters written by Paul and having copies of copies of copies made by fallible scribes with a religious agenda. This does not mean the letters we have should be rejected as wholly unreliable. What I am saying is that actually having the original letters is better evidence than having these flawed and tampered copies, and therefore such physical objects fall into their own category of evidence.
Consider what we have for Caesar. In 47 B.C. coins were struck by the government of Antioch (which Caesar had just liberated from Pompey) declaring it to be "year two of the era of Caesar." Cicero's letters confirm that Caesar's conquest of the Roman Empire began in 49 B.C., two years before this coin was struck. This is corroborating physical evidence. Comparably, if we had coins struck in Damascus in 33 A.D. declaring "year two of the era of Jesus Christ," that would be physical evidence corroborating the resurrection of Jesus.
We have other coins struck by Caesar himself during the war to pay his soldiers, then coins struck celebrating Caesar's victory over Rome (and then coins struck by Brutus celebrating his assassination of Caesar). In a similar fashion, inscriptions document Caesar's victory over Rome, his capture of Italy, and his founding of colonies for veterans of the war there. We could certainly have had similar inscriptions by or about Jesus erected during his life, or shortly thereafter, documenting his miracles in life or appearances after death, or the subsequent commitments of the Church, and so on. But we don't.
Issues of Method
1. Is Oral History as Reliable as Written? Holding claims that distrust of oral history is "a thoroughly modern, graphocentric prejudice." In so speaking, Holding is parting company with every professional historian I know or have ever read. It is not a "prejudice" to employ the best methods available for avoiding error and getting at the truth. And historians know that written records are preserved more accurately and honestly than oral tradition.
Oral tradition cannot be confirmed--it is taken solely on someone's word, and is subject to restatement, embellishment, and mistake. The latter entails either misunderstanding what was said or mistaking what one person said as what someone else said. Moreover, oral history lacks controls: there is no way to go back and "check" to make sure a statement was gotten right or correctly attributed--or genuinely said at all. In contrast, though written transmission can be doctored, this is not so easy as in the case of oral tradition. Since many people have a text to compare a written transmission to, claims can often be checked. Furthermore, manuscript traditions often survive, allowing us to identify errors and corruptions. And though written transmission was subject to error, its errors were usually minor and often easily identified, for the kinds of mistakes a copyist makes are much more limited than mistakes of memory and formulation.
Moreover, the ancients had developed a professional system for ensuring the reliability of transmitted writings, with supervisors who checked copies against originals and made corrections, as well as standards and processes for collating critical editions. No comparable system was in place for oral transmission--at least none that we know was used by Christians. For example, Jewish oral law was institutionally taught in formal schools and routinely recited daily in courts of law, and there is no evidence of any such institutional system of memorization in the first-century Church. Likewise, scientific evidence for an imperfect but modestly reliable transmission of oral epics and songs pertains only to stories constrained by meter and rhyme, or to brief apothegms and proverbs, never to long prose narratives or speeches, which we've instead found very prone to distortion and change. The wide diversion among all the resurrection narratives of the Gospels are a case in point. Finally, all evidence of reliability in oral transmission pertains not only to these limited and categorically different circumstances, but relates only to memory, not the ability to deliberately add, subtract, or change things.
Consider how many changes and interpolations were already allowed into the written Bible--which we can now exclude and "correct" precisely because we have other manuscripts to compare. If the tradition were oral, we would have nothing to check our current version by, and would therefore have a very incorrect Bible on our hands. The problem would even be worse, since oral transmission is much more subject to distortion, alteration, and error than written tradition. This is so precisely because the mechanisms available to check and correct distortions were available only in the latter case, as physical documents were copied and disseminated. Moreover, oral transmission requires much more rapid copying, and therefore entails a far greater number of opportunities for distortion.
This is because the same physical manuscript can be read by (or to) thousands of people and stored for a hundred years or more, but an oral record has to be "copied," often dozens of times, to reach this same audience. And then it is inevitably copied again as all these people spread it, each in their own way, while those who hear it from them copy it, again in their own way. It quickly becomes impossible to identify which version is the original, even for a skilled investigator. And there is no evidence that any such highly skilled personnel were involved in controlling the Christian story in the first century.
Obviously, the closer a written source is to the actual things said, the better. Recent studies of oral transmission have confirmed that prose stories become distorted--in fact, they are routinely altered to suit the needs and interests of each particular audience or circumstance. This is especially true when an oral tradition becomes important to some political, social, or religious agenda (for example, see the works of Rosalind Thomas or Greg Sarris). In fact, this is exactly why we turned to a reliance on writing and developed a distrust of oral transmission. Everyone knows that "this guy told this other guy who told this other guy who told me" is never a trustworthy source.
The ancients knew this too. That is why the best historians of the day, such as Thucydides and Polybius, insisted on relying only on direct eyewitness testimony, distrusting oral traditions altogether. Even mediocre historians, such as Herodotus, made a point of relying on no more than one generation removed from eyewitness testimony, and were suspicious of oral reports of more distant origin. Tacitus specifically wrote: "That everything gets exaggerated is typical for any story" and "all the greatest events are obscure--while some people accept whatever they hear as beyond doubt, others twist the truth into its opposite, and both errors grow over subsequent generations" (Annals 3.44 & 3.19).
In Roman law, oral contracts were still common, but often required five witnesses (especially to verify weddings, wills, and the emancipation of slaves), and when contested in court, all five witnesses often had to be presented to confirm what they saw. Second hand testimony was never trusted. So for any contract expected to outlive its witnesses, Romans got it in writing. They knew better than to trust oral tradition. So did the Jews, who also banned second-hand testimony from the courts in almost every case.
Therefore, it simply is not true that "Jesus' own speech to his disciples is thus as good as Caesar's own hand" because we have sound reasons to believe the Civil War we now have is a copy (with minor errors) of what Caesar wrote. The required standards and mechanisms of checked-and-corrected copying were demonstrably in place, and Caesar's style is too difficult to fabricate. But we have no way to know whether what some unknown people claimed Jesus said is what Jesus said. Even if we accept the names attributed to these stories (and few scholars do), we still don't know for sure who these people were, when they wrote, or how they got any of their information. Indeed, because they never name or assess their sources, we have no idea what the reliability of transmission was, how many people the claims passed through, or what they originally looked like at the start of this process.
Moreover, when the Gospel authors wrote their stories down, there may have been no way for anyone to check their claims--we have no evidence any witnesses were alive by the time these documents circulated. Indeed, even the authors themselves might not have been able to check. We simply don't know, because they don't tell us. Even the dubious "added" ending to John (chapter 21; cf. 20:30-31) only claims an anonymous "we" heard the account from an anonymous eyewitness never mentioned anywhere else--not even in Luke, the only author who claimed to have "followed everything precisely from the beginning."
Finally, oral tradition wasn't the only bugbear. It was typical for writers to invent speeches, too. Even when they wanted to try and capture what really was said, the rules were very flexible, and no one expected exact words to be written down. Thucydides was one of the most strict historians, yet even he said "my practice has been to make the speakers say what in my opinion was demanded of them by the various occasions--or what in my opinion they had to say on the various occasions--of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was really said," insofar as he knew what that was (1.22.1). This is the strictest standard we know from the time--and yet it amounts to admitting he is often making things up, ultimately limiting himself only to what he thinks people "must have" said.
Few historians in antiquity were so strict, and in fact many complaints are heard from ancient authors about how much liberty numerous historians actually took in constructing speeches and even entire narratives. When we add the incentive to defend dogmas, the possibility of readily believing a claim of questionable origin, or simply fabricating a claim that someone knew "had" to be true but couldn't find actual evidence of, we find ourselves in a very problematic position. We can't rule any of this out because the authors give us no information to go on. This is universally true throughout the field of ancient history, not just in the study of Jesus. How much more this would have been the case for oral transmission, where there is no constraint to copy a written account faithfully, and no written account to check claims against.
Then there is Holding's last objection, that Caesar would have dictated his book, which is just silly. Even if that were true (and it often wasn't--many aristocratic writers put their own hand to scroll or wax), Caesar still would have continually checked and corrected the text, and the words written would still be his in both content and style. That is, they would have without doubt originated with him and not someone else. Therefore, there is no analogy here to oral transmission. This is still Caesar's words, as Caesar himself wrote or spoke them. Had Jesus done the same--had someone recorded what he said in writing after he rose from the dead, and Jesus checked and corrected and signed off on it--that would count as an eyewitness report direct from Jesus. It would indeed provide better evidence for the Resurrection than we now have--if we had as much reason to believe the document was authentic as we do for Caesar's Civil War.
But the truth is, "after Jesus rose from the dead" our earliest and only eyewitness report says he only spoke "in a revelation" and not in "flesh and blood" (Gal. 1:11-12, 1:15-16). In other words, it was a subjective experience in the mind of the believer that Jesus was speaking to him. We know there are many other causes of such an experience besides an actual spirit of a deceased person contacting us, and have never yet confirmed that any such contact can or ever has happened to anyone. Therefore, this is not comparable to Caesar dictating to a slave. "Jesus said it" is exactly the proposition that remains to be proven, before we can trust that he did.
2. What about Hostile and Neutral Sources? Holding objects to my application of the criterion of hostile attestation on the grounds that "we would never expect 'enemies' of Christianity to record it, since it would not serve their purposes." Of course, if the evidence were really so clear, there would not be many enemies in the first place: many leading, literate Jews would have converted, many more than just Paul, and all would have left us letters and documents about their experiences and reasons. But that would fall under the category of eyewitness testimony, of which we have none, except Paul, who of course never testifies to ever meeting Jesus in the flesh, to seeing the empty grave, or to seeing the actual corpse of Jesus rising and talking. In fact, Paul never really says anyone saw these things.
Instead, my category of hostile attestation is distinct from this, for if even those who don't like it or don't believe it nevertheless report it, even if only to denounce or deny it or explain it away, that is itself stronger evidence than we now have. For example, if we had what Matthew claims the Jews were saying in Matthew 28:11-15 from a first-century Jewish writer, that would be hostile attestation. Certainly many Jews would have an interest in publishing such lies or explanations, if in fact Christians were making such claims then, and there really were enough Christians making these claims for anyone to care. Instead, the complete absence of any Jewish texts attacking Christianity in the first century is astonishing--unless Christianity was a socially microscopic cult making unverifiably subjective claims of revelations from God that no one could falsify. Otherwise, ancient authors were not beneath writing tracts slandering other people, and later pagan authors had no scruple against attacking the Christians. So why did no one attack the Christians earlier? There are problems here, surely.
But that isn't the only kind of evidence I meant. Neutral parties also count under this criterion. For example, if we had genuine letters from Pilate recording what claims were made and how his investigations turned out, he would have simply reported the facts, probably attributing them to sorcery or the miracles of just another god among many, or at worse speculating on possible trickery. But because he wouldn't be a believer or have any interest in defending the belief, this would count as hostile contemporary attestation.
Indeed, it would matter a very great deal if we had a hostile or neutral attestation to the actual content of the original Christian belief. If the Jews were in fact accusing the Christians of stealing the body within a year of their movement's origin, that would be proof that the first Christians believed the tomb was empty. That would indeed be something--a lot more than we actually have. Instead, we don't have this claim from any Jewish author, only a Christian author defending the empty tomb claim many decades after the fact. Or imagine a letter from Pilate to a friend or an official describing the full content of the dispute between the Christians and the Jews, even including the report of Thomas that he handled the wounded body. If Pilate dismissed this as idle nonsense, he would be a hostile witness to the claim being made from the very beginning, thus ruling out legendary development.
And contrary to Holding's strange assertion, there is no reason such hostile or neutral corroboration "would not serve their purposes." Pliny's letters on the Christians, Matthew's purported "Jewish lie," and Lucian's account of Glycon served their authors' purposes. The latter, in fact, is a perfect example of hostile attestation to the existence and miracles of Glycon. Lucian didn't believe Glycon's miracles were real, but nevertheless he records them--with his own explanations. We have nothing like that for Jesus. It doesn't matter if we have no reason to expect it, due to the poor chance of records surviving or even being written (though such momentous events as are claimed in the Gospels hardly seem the type to escape records). The fact that this evidence is not available now still means we lack evidence for this claim that we otherwise have for the Rubicon crossing. It doesn't matter why this is the case. It still is the case.
In the same fashion, Holding objects to my criterion of physical evidence by claiming that "to expect coins and inscriptions from such an event as the resurrection would be unreasonable." Again, that is irrelevant--the issue is what evidence we have, not why we have none. But we can still question Holding's assumption that we should expect no physical evidence. Was it unreasonable of Diogenes of Oenoanda to erect an inscription conveying the complete gospel of his beloved philosopher Epicurus? Was it unreasonable of pagans who saw God to erect inscriptions honoring the event (as documented by Robin Lane Fox in Pagans and Christians)? Was it unreasonable of people to erect inscriptions documenting the miracles performed on them or for them by various gods? Or of various Jewish sects to erect inscriptions honoring their God? No.
Nor would it be unreasonable to expect some Christians to have done the same. If any king had been converted, for example, it would not be unreasonable for him to mint coins honoring his new god, just as Vardaman has tried to claim for king Aretas. If Joseph of Arimathea was indeed a rich believer, it would not be unreasonable for him to do what Diogenes did and inscribe his own beloved gospel in stone somewhere. And motives aside, the point remains we still don't have any such evidence. It doesn't matter why we don't have it. We still don't have it. But we do have some such corroborating evidence for the Rubicon crossing. And that is a material difference.
Combining both points, if we had the actual papyrus letter supposedly written by Claudius Lysias quoted in Acts (23:26-30), that would be much better evidence than we have now. That is, if it had mentioned anything relevant, though apparently it didn't. It doesn't even name Paul, much less Jesus, and makes no mention of the resurrection of Jesus being the point of dispute between Paul and the other Jews. But it could have. Lysias could have spelled out the dispute. And if he did, and we actually had the datable papyrus itself, we would have both physical evidence and hostile or neutral corroboration. But in fact we have neither.
3. Are the Evangelists as Good as Historians? Holding claims it doesn't matter that many major historians record the Rubicon crossing, but not the resurrection of Jesus. This seems rather silly. Clearly we would have better evidence if the resurrection story were discussed in all these same historians--especially if they in turn cited earlier historians whose works otherwise don't survive, and even more if they also cited (as they often do) official or eyewitness documents. So when I claim that we have better evidence for the Rubicon crossing than the resurrection of Jesus, this is plainly true. Holding's attempt to deny this is simply bizarre. Surely if we had such accounts, he would cite this fact in support of the Resurrection. So he can't claim it "makes no difference."
But what matters most for the issue of method is Holding's apparent presumption that I dismiss the Gospels "merely" because they are late, and therefore later historians should count even less for me. This totally mischaracterizes what I've argued in several places, including the section he is criticizing. Lateness is a problem, but not in itself grounds for dismissing a source. The quality and reliability of a source requires an assessment of all the relevant factors. The Gospels fail to count as reliable histories because they fail on every criterion, not because they fail on only one or two. I address this issue at greater length elsewhere, including the problems with the best of them (Luke-Acts) by comparing its features with good ancient historians. But to make a long story short, Luke exhibits none of the markers of a careful, critical historian, but instead preaches and propagandizes, and implicitly serves an ideological agenda, not an objective inquiry into the truth.
For a good extreme comparison unrelated to the Rubicon question, compare the explicit methods of Arrian with Luke-Acts: Arrian records the history of Alexander the Great five hundred years after the fact. But he does so by explicitly stating a sound method. Arrian says he ignored all works not written by eyewitnesses, and instead only followed surviving ancient texts by actual eyewitnesses to Alexander's campaign. He names them and discusses their connections to Alexander. He then says that on every point on which they agree, he will simply record what they say, but where they significantly disagree, he will cite both accounts and identify the sources who disagree (and he appears to have followed this method as promised, though not always faithfully).
Now, this is not the best method--modern methods have improved considerably upon Arrian--but this is among the best methods ever employed in antiquity. And it is considerably different than just writing stories five hundred years later. Quite clearly, if Arrian did what he says, he is almost as good as an eyewitness source (in fact, arguably better). But notice how Luke does none of this (nor do any of the other Gospel authors). We have no idea whom Luke used for what information (he doesn't even tell us he used Mark, even though we can prove he did). We also have no idea how he chose whom to trust or whom to include or exclude. Luke is therefore not even in Arrian's league as a critical historian. He fares even worse when compared with Polybius or Thucydides. Nor does he reach the level of lesser historians like Tacitus or Josephus, either--who, though they do not give such clear discussions of their methods, nevertheless often name their sources and explicitly show critical acumen in choosing between conflicting or confusing accounts.
The significance of all this is simple: we know for a fact these historians carried out at least some decent research and critically examined evidence and admitted doubt or conflicting information. We don't trust any ancient historian as much as we'd trust a good modern historian--all ancient historians get things wrong on a variety of points for a variety of reasons (and therefore, by extension, we can be certain Luke did, too). But we do trust ancient historians to the extent that they exhibit the qualities of a trustworthy historian, such as being a critical thinker with an explicit interest in checking claims against documents and eyewitness accounts.
Now, Holding claims that for the Gospel authors "there was no dispute over source material," but this is plainly false. All the Gospels disagree. Even Luke, who claims to follow everything precisely, leaves out many things. Luke also recasts what Jesus said or did in a slightly different way than his one known source (Mark) and provides a completely different chronology than John. Obviously, there must have been disagreements. A critical historian would address them and, if possible, resolve them by naming and citing sources. For example, consider current Christian efforts at harmonizing the Gospel accounts. That is exactly what an author like Luke would have done--had he been a critical historian, and not a mere mouthpiece defending an ideology.
But what I actually said goes beyond what Holding tries to dodge. The problem is not just that Luke made no effort to resolve disputes and differences among his sources, and made no effort to name, verify, or establish the merits of any of his sources. Those are both serious problems. But the bigger of the two is that Luke doesn't tell us anything about his methods--so we can't know how reliable they are--or his sources--so we can't know how reliable they are--or even who he is. Many other historians at least tell us this somewhere--some, like Appian and Josephus, even wrote entire autobiographies.
Even in general, Luke does not behave like a critical thinker. A critical thinker starts skeptical and only ends up a believer after finding the evidence strong--and then expects his audience to approach the truth the same way. Consequently, he expresses doubt at amazing claims and then goes the extra mile to explain why he nevertheless believes, or admits where he believes but isn't sure, and so on. Ancient historians aren't always very good at this. But they at least do it a little. Luke does not.
Therefore, as I originally said, Luke and the other Gospel authors are, in terms of overt markers of reliability, among the lowest echelon of "historians" (and properly speaking, in the entire New Testament only Luke claims to be writing history). They are not neutral observers, but believers selling a religion, whereas we have the Rubicon crossing in numerous neutral and demonstrably critical historians, about whom we know a lot more than we do about Luke. Therefore, the evidence for the Rubicon crossing is better than the evidence for the Resurrection, and any claim to the contrary is false.
Clearly my argument stands unrefuted. On the Rubicon crossing we have corroborating physical evidence, and we know several contemporaries wrote on the war and thus provided direct or indirect evidence for the crossing. Apart from the direct testimony of Caesar himself, we have the letters of Cicero and his friends, and the letters he had from Caesar and Pompey, and we know Livy, Pollio, and others also recorded the event (for later historians used their accounts). Later, several known critical historians investigated and documented the event. And the course of history--including abundant physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, and the records of contemporaries and later critical historians--demonstrates decisively that Caesar invaded Italy's east coast all the way down, chased Pompey out of Italy, and eventually seized Rome. There is absolutely no way this could have happened had he not crossed the Rubicon. The "belief" that he had done so could not cause any of this evidence to exist nor have produced the subsequent historical outcome.
On the Resurrection, however, no eyewitness wrote anything--not Jesus, not Peter, not Mary, not any of the Twelve, nor any of the Seventy, nor any of the Five Hundred. All we have is Paul, who saw nothing but a "revelation," and who mentions no other kind of experience or evidence being reported by anyone. On the Resurrection, no neutral or hostile witness or contemporary wrote anything--not Joseph, not Caiaphas, not Gamaliel, not Agrippa, not Pilate, not Lysias, not Sergius, not anyone alive at the time, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman. On the Resurrection, no critical historian documents a single detail, or even the claim itself, until centuries later, and then only by Christian apologists who can only cite the New Testament as their source (and occasionally bogus documents like the letter sent by Jesus to Abgar that Eusebius tries to pass off as authentic). On the Resurrection, no physical evidence of any kind was produced--no coins, no inscriptions, no documentary papyri, no perpetual miracles. And everything that followed in history was caused by the belief in that resurrection, not the resurrection itself--and we know an actual resurrection is not the only possible cause of a belief in a resurrection.
So, again, we still have no eyewitness testimony to the Resurrection. But we do have this for the Rubicon crossing. We still have no neutral or hostile witnesses to the resurrection claim. But we do have this for the Rubicon crossing. We still have no critical historical work on the resurrection claim. But we do have this for the Rubicon crossing. We still have no corroborating physical evidence for the Resurrection. But we do have this for the Rubicon crossing. We still have no need of an actual resurrection to explain the belief that influenced the course of historical events. But we do need an actual crossing of the Rubicon to explain the subsequent course of historical events. Therefore, on all five points, we have better evidence that Caesar crossed the Rubicon than that Jesus rose from his grave. In fact, on four of the five, we have absolutely nothing for the Resurrection. And on the one single criterion it meets, we do not have the best kind of evidence, but among the worst.
|The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave
Contains three chapters by Richard Carrier, covering theories in great detail that the body of Jesus was stolen, misplaced, or raised only in the spirit realm.
Now available at Barnes & Noble.com.
|Licona vs. Carrier:
On the Resurrection
of Jesus Christ
Recorded at UCLA before a crowd of half a thousand. Carrier defends his latest theories of how Christianity began, with slide shows and new evidence from the Bible.
Now available on DVD.
 This refutes Holding's suggestion that Caesar didn't cross with his army. See Addendum A below.
 On the importance of this point, see Addendum B below. Note that I have little quarrel with the idea of Paul having a vision of Christ. Paul may well have thought he saw Christ in a revelation, as I have argued elsewhere. For example, see Richard Carrier, "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb" in Jeff Lowder & Bob Price, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): pp. 105-232.
 Holding continues to claim that "we have just as much evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus," but if we discovered the actual, direct testimony of any ideologically neutral or hostile witness like Pilate, Caiaphas, Joseph, the alleged guards of the tomb, bystanders, or anything like that, Holding would not hesitate to argue we had discovered more and better evidence for the Resurrection than we previously had.
 Note that I do not assume Joseph of Arimathea was a "disciple," as the Gospels of Matthew and John claim, because no other Gospel mentions this--neither Mark, the first Gospel written, nor Luke, the only author who claims to have written a careful history--and Acts fails to mention Joseph being a disciple or continuing with the Church in any capacity.
 This holds even for Caesar's text: if we had a papyrus copy of it dated to the 1st century, we would have better evidence than we already do. But this is even more the case for the Bible. See Addendum C below.
 Obviously, this alone would not prove the Resurrection genuine. Rather, the point is, if we had any evidence like this corroborating any element of the Resurrection claim (coins, inscriptions, documentary papyri, or anything), we would have better evidence than we have now. Though Holding claims such evidence "doesn't make a whit of difference," I doubt he is being honest. If we found any such evidence, Holding would not hesitate to claim it makes a difference. He would argue it makes the Resurrection claim even more credible and skepticism even less tenable. I agree. That's exactly my point. Whether we "need" such evidence, or whether it would be enough to justify our believing Jesus rose from the dead, is not the issue. That it would be more evidence than we have now is the issue.
 Holding plays rhetorical games at this point, claiming "written tradition cannot be confirmed any more than oral tradition," "is taken solely on someone's word," and "is subject to restatement, embellishment, and mistake, just as readily as oral tradition." I have placed in italics the words that render these statements false. As I go on to explain, though there are similar problems attending written transmission, they are greatly reduced in kind, degree, scale, and rate of accumulation, due to the very features that distinguish written transmission from oral.
 Certainly, if we could show that a recorded oral report was checked (for example, by the recorder questioning several witnesses as to whether something said is correct), then we would be dealing with critical history, not oral history. This is a distinction Holding fails to grasp. See Addendum D below.
 Holding correctly observed that my original wording was too sweeping. Some of the content of the Gospels conforms to the structural features of proverbs and apothegms that aid in their memorization, which may well be the reason the record of what Jesus said consists of so many short, often disconnected sayings. I acknowledge my error and corrected it.
 Holding provides us with another example when he asks rhetorically whether I have "read the speech of Gamaliel in Acts." If we had Gamaliel's speech from Gamaliel, or from anyone who actually heard it, even that would be more than we now have--if he had even bothered to mention what the Christians were preaching that he was asking his colleagues to ignore. Holding spends a lot of time making excuses for why we don't have any of this, even citing this speech to that effect, but that doesn't change the fact that we don't have any of this evidence, nor the fact that we do have such evidence for Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon. That is the entire point and thesis of my rebuttal. I can only conclude that Holding doesn't want his readers to notice this.
 Holding falsely alleges I "lied" about his argument here because "Josephus and Tacitus are the equivalent to a Lucian reporting Glycon's miracles," but he can only support this claim by being dishonest himself. See Addendum E below.
 Holding claims he didn't say this, but in the same sentence admits to having said what amounts to the same thing. See Addendum F below.
 Holding claims he didn't say this, but I never said he did. I only said this was an "apparent presumption" of his. And despite his protestations, it is still an apparent presumption of his. See Addendum G below.
 As almost all ancient histories do. Modern history leaves ancient methods in the dust, as far as reliability is concerned, which is why no historian today trusts any ancient historian implicitly. See: Michael Grant, Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation (1995); Charles Fornara, The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome (1983); John Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (1997); Averil Cameron, ed. History As Text: The Writing of Ancient History (1990); Bruno Gentili & Giovanni Cerri, History and Biography in Ancient Thought (1988).
 Richard Carrier, "Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable to Inspection and Disproof?," chapter 7 of "Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?" (2005).
 Holding continues to make excuses for why Luke didn't do any of this, but excuses don't change the fact that he still didn't do them. So, unlike Arrian, we are not in a position to assess the quality or reliability of Luke's sources or methods.
 Holding claims there are no significant disagreements, not even in the chronologies of Luke and John. The general consensus of experts does not agree with him. But see Addendum H below.
 Holding incorrectly claims this "amounts to saying that Luke didn't end up with Carrier's own view of the world, so therefore he must have been uncritical from the start." To the contrary, had Luke actually engaged a proper critical method and still found what he reports to be true, then I would not expect him to end up with my worldview. Indeed, had that happened to me, even I would not have ended up with my worldview. The difference is not in where we ended up. The difference lies in whether we used sound methods and thus have a reasonable claim to have discovered the actual truth. We can't prove that Luke did, because he tells us nothing at all about his methods and offers no clear evidence he employed sound ones. See the links provided in Addendum D below.
Responses to Holding's Dishonest Addendum
Addendum A: Holding's attempt to distinguish personal and corporate crossing is irrelevant for two obvious reasons: (1) the evidence from Caesar himself, Cicero, and every historian plainly says Caesar personally crossed with his army; and (2) no evidence whatsoever even hints at Caesar taking a different route to Rome than that taken by his army.
Bayesian analysis confirms the conclusion. First, the "alternate route" theory has a lower prior probability. We know from many historical precedents that a charismatic leader embarking on treason would not likely leave his troops to their own devices, nor pit his main force against his most capable foe (Pompey) without his most capable leader and tactician in command (Caesar himself). Second, the "alternate route" theory makes the evidence we have less probable. All the eyewitnesses, contemporaries, and critical historians say Caesar was with and went with his army, and no hint or record survives of anything else. And the probability of his army maintaining loyalty and success (and thus achieving victory) without Caesar's leadership presence, especially when invading their own country and killing their own countrymen, is also lower (thanks to Paul Doland for inspiring this point). According to the formal logic of Bayes Theorem, a theory that has a lower prior probability than personal crossing and makes the evidence less probable than personal crossing will always have a lower final epistemic probability than personal crossing. Therefore, if we believe Caesar's army crossed the Rubicon, we must also believe Caesar personally crossed the Rubicon with his army, since that has an even greater probability of being true.
By analogy, Holding claims I "suggest that Jesus survived the crucifixion," but he fails to tell his readers that I actually found this very improbable--far less probable than many other theories, except miracle, for which we have no basis for assigning a higher prior probability (see Probability of Survival vs. Miracle). Thus, the possibility that Jesus survived the cross has a lower epistemic probability than other theories, hence even I concluded the "survival hypothesis" is not worth considering unless and until all other theories bearing a higher epistemic probability are eliminated. The survival hypothesis is therefore as unworthy of credit as "Caesar took a different route than his army." And yet, unlike that theory, we do have some evidence supporting survival: being seen alive after being declared dead would certainly be cited as evidence of survival in a court of law, being taken down from the cross so early greatly magnifies the probability of survival, and so on. Yet even with that evidence in place (to which we have nothing comparable in the case of "Caesar taking a different route than his army"), survival is still too improbable to credit because other theories bear a higher epistemic probability. For exactly the same reason, "Caesar went with his army" has a higher final epistemic probability than "Caesar took a different route than his army." Since a less probable theory is ruled out by one more probable, we have no reason to consider whether Caesar took a different route. All the evidence we have more strongly supports personal crossing than not.
In his effort to make this distinction between corporate and personal crossing seem even remotely relevant, not only did Holding fail to tell his readers what I actually concluded about the survival hypothesis (which would have readily exposed why I consider the corporate-but-not-personal distinction irrelevant), he then repeatedly implies I sympathize with those who advance even more ridiculous theories about the origins of Christianity. This is the contemptible fallacy of "poisoning the well," another example of Holding's lack of honesty.
(1) When Holding says "we get no actual quote from any historian of Rome that says any such thing," i.e. that Cicero was Caesar's enemy, he is clearly implying none do. In actual fact, every historian who discusses the matter says Cicero was Caesar's enemy. But since I know Holding plays games with quotations by simply gainsaying anyone whose expert opinion I might care to cite, I pipped him at the post by going straight to the primary evidence itself, which is clear, unambiguous, and irrefutable. Let Holding find any real historian of Rome claiming anything else. He cannot. And he knows it. Will he admit it? Probably not.
(2) Holding then deceptively claims I demand "testimony from hostile witnesses for the Resurrection" when in fact I only said having "hostile or even neutral records" counts as better evidence than not having them. Thus, I said hostile or neutral, and I didn't "demand" it, I simply stated the fact that having it is better than not. The very first paragraph of my original rebuttal said, "The Resurrection could still be a better explanation of its evidence, but that is not the issue under debate here." Instead, Holding consistently ignores the point in dispute, which is whether we have as much evidence for one event as we have for another, not whether we have enough evidence to believe either.
(3) Holding willfully ignores my point that why Cicero was Caesar's enemy is what lends credibility to his testimony. Cicero had no religious or dogmatic motive to report the crossing. His salvation did not depend on it. He did not base his system of moral values on it, nor did he believe it would morally improve people who believed it. His participation in a society of friendship and support did not require affirming it. And he was not at all predisposed to believe it. To the contrary, it wasn't what he wanted to hear, nor is it what he expected. It dashed his very hopes, which were settled quite strongly on the contrary, that there would be no civil war. His letters make clear he was shocked and surprised by it. It is the very event that converted him from friend to enemy. That makes Cicero's testimony stronger than that of someone, for example, who thought he would benefit strategically by spreading propaganda about a crossing that hadn't occurred, or someone who believed that affirming it would secure him an eternal life in paradise, or turn people back to God.
(4) Holding makes the clear, and dishonest, implication that I lied about what my source said, claiming Cicero's Phillipics somehow says something other than what I claimed. But what I actually said (contrary to Holding's bogus misrepresentation of what I said) is that "Cicero was the enemy of Caesar every bit as much as anyone who sided with the South in the American Civil War was the enemy of Lincoln," an example of ideological, not personal, enmity, the very distinction Holding accuses me of ignoring. I also used the analogy of Paul's hostility to the Church, which was also ideological and not personal. And let's be honest: If President Bush were assassinated and I said this was a "glorious" act that I would consider it praise indeed to be accused of, Holding wouldn't let anyone get away with claiming "to call Carrier an 'enemy' of Bush is questionable." So Holding's irrelevant distinction between hating the man and hating what he stood for has nothing to do with anything I said, and is essentially a pointless distinction designed solely to rescue Holding from the embarrassment of having falsely insinuated that Cicero was not Caesar's enemy.
Addendum C: Experts have found considerable evidence that there was an atmosphere of religious and dogmatic doctoring and editing of the New Testament wholly unlike anything affecting Caesar's text. Holding pretends I am just making this up, but it is a mainstream and recognized fact. Indeed, most experts already agree several entire letters claiming to be from Paul are forgeries, while others have clearly been tampered with (e.g. Romans has two endings, and the manuscripts don't even agree whether the letter was actually written to the Romans; 1 Cor. 15:51 and 2 Cor. 5:3 were fudged to sound more orthodox; etc.). See the entries for each of the letters attributed to Paul in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000) and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd. ed. (1997), and see the introductory chapters to each of them in The New Interpreter's Bible (1995). Also see Bart Ehrman's library of scholarly studies on the subject: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1996); Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2005); The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3rd ed. (2003); The Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (2003).
Addendum D: Holding says oral transmission can have controls, but a possibility is not an actuality. I am talking about what actually is the case, not what could have been the case. At no point, anywhere in the Gospels, is any such critical inquiry or "checking" of the facts ever mentioned, much less discussed in enough detail for us to assess their merit in establishing the truth and correcting error, such as by naming a witness and identifying his or her qualifications, or by discussing how conflicting reports were reconciled. Since we have no evidence of this, we cannot conclude there were any effective controls on what we actually find written in the Gospels. If we did have such evidence, then we would not be looking at oral history anymore, but critical history, and what I say about oral history pertains to the former, not the latter. For more on the problem of critical transmission in early Christianity, see Richard Carrier, "Was Christianity Highly Vulnerable to Inspection and Disproof?," "Would the Facts Be Checked?," and "Did the Earliest Christians Encourage Critical Inquiry?," chapters 7, 13, and 17 (respectively) of "Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False?" (2005).
(1) Tacitus never once mentions any miracles associated with Jesus, or even that there were any miracles associated with Jesus. He doesn't even mention there being a claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Indeed, if all we had about Jesus was this passage in Annals 15.44, we would never even know anyone had claimed Jesus rose from the dead. See "Tacitus" in Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Josh McDowell's 'Evidence' for Jesus: Is It Reliable? (2000). Holding knows this. So how can Holding honestly claim that Tacitus failing to mention any miracle whatsoever is "the equivalent" of "Lucian reporting Glycon's miracles"? He can't. Not honestly.
(2) It is very unlikely that Josephus ever mentioned any miracles associated with Jesus, and it cannot be established that he mentioned his resurrection. Qualified experts on the question are virtually unanimous that the only passage in Josephus mentioning this has been extensively tampered with, or forged in its entirety, by Christian scribes. Since the text has been compromised, no definitive conclusions can be reached as to what, if anything, Josephus himself actually said. Scholars agree the evidence is fairly strong that whatever Josephus may have wrote, he didn't mention the resurrection of Jesus (e.g. if he had, Origen would have mentioned this fact). Holding knows this. So when he neglects to mention any of this to his readers, and instead simply asserts that Josephus "directly" reports "that Christians believed Jesus was resurrected," he is not being honest.
Even the Christian apologist Josh McDowell agrees that Josephus did not mention the resurrection of Jesus, affirming that after he looked at all the evidence, McDowell found himself "agreeing with those scholars" who conclude that "some Christian additions" have been added to what Josephus wrote, and one of those additions McDowell himself concedes is the only reference to Jesus having risen from the dead. See Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999), pp. 123-24. Holding is thus in a radical and untenable fringe if he believes what even McDowell doesn't. And it is dishonest to assert as a settled fact what few experts believe, even among conservative Christians. For more on Josephus, see "Josephus" in Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Josh McDowell's 'Evidence' for Jesus: Is It Reliable? (2000).
Not only is Holding dishonest here, but he would be wrong even if he was telling the truth. Neither Tacitus nor Josephus were witnesses or even contemporaries of the Resurrection. So they bear no analogy at all to Cicero or Lucian, the original examples he was responding to, or to any of the other examples I brought up in my rebuttal. In other words, Holding dodges my entire argument by changing the subject. Suddenly, without reason, though rebutting my citation of an unfriendly contemporary, Holding jumps all the way to later critical historians (even though those sources fall into my fourth category of evidence, not my second). Since all my examples and discussion related to contemporaries, Holding's reference to later historians is wholly irrelevant to my argument. That is why I addressed his remarks as pertaining to the absence of contemporary neutral or hostile records of the Resurrection claim: because that was the claim he was purporting to rebut.
Maybe Holding goofed and meant to put those original remarks lower down in his rebuttal to my fourth point instead of my second, but that's his mistake, not mine. I simply defended my second point against the arguments he made against it, and for that he accuses me of lying. Yet Holding continues to reference my use of the example of Lucian, even though treatments of Jesus in Tacitus or Josephus do not resemble Lucian's treatment of Glycon, who reported miracles he himself actually saw or learned first hand, or Cicero's treatment of Caesar, who reported events he heard from several sources within weeks of their happening. Did Holding not understand my original argument?
Perhaps not. When Holding claims his "point" was that "we would not expect Lucian to record Glycon's miracles as real," he seems to think this is something he has to explain to me, when I had already said that very thing--in fact, that was my very point in citing Lucian as an example. My very words were: "Lucian didn't believe Glycon's miracles were real, but nevertheless he records them." So what exactly was Holding arguing in his original rebuttal my second point? I have no idea. He claims "it would not serve the purposes of enemies of Christianity to report the Resurrection as real," but I never said they would report it as real. I even gave specific examples making absolutely clear I meant no such thing. So in what way does Holding's "point" rebut anything I said? Again, I have no idea. I can only assume Holding goofed and is trying to smokescreen his way out of it, instead of acknowledging that his original argument wasn't applicable or correct.
Addendum F: In response to my remark that "Holding claims it doesn't matter that many major historians record the Rubicon crossing, but not the resurrection of Jesus," Holding now makes the following claim:
In fact I nowhere say it "doesn't matter" and I never even use those words anywhere. I make no comment at all of this sort anywhere, and make no such "bizarre" denial as Carrier claims. The closest I come to any such statement is in explaining why such historians would not make note of the Resurrection, or how they would if they knew about the claims of it.
Holding's entire argument, the entire thesis of his rebuttal, is that we don't have less evidence for the Resurrection than for the Rubicon crossing. In defense of this thesis, as he concedes even above, he offers the fact that he can explain "why" we don't have this evidence. That amounts to arguing it doesn't matter that we don't have the evidence. If it mattered, then he would be agreeing with me that we have more evidence for the Rubicon crossing than we have for the resurrection of Jesus (in the form of discussions in several critical historians).
Anyone who says having these references doesn't provide more evidence for the Rubicon crossing than we have for the Resurrection, in rebuttal against someone explicitly arguing it does, is saying these references don't matter. And that is clearly what Holding meant. When I said we "have the story of the Rubicon crossing in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age," but nothing like this for the Resurrection, Holding's immediate rebuttal was, "This is true, but what of it?" What of it? Holding's first response is to flippantly dismiss as irrelevant the facts I just stated. That clearly amounts to saying that "having the story of the Rubicon crossing in almost every historian of the period" doesn't matter. I believe Holding's denial of this is dishonest.
Addendum G: When I said Holding has an "apparent presumption" that I dismiss the Gospels "merely" because they are late--because he argues that "therefore later historians should count even less for me"--Holding seems to think I was asserting he said this. No, I said it was an "apparent presumption" in what he did say. And Holding's attempt to deny this only reinforces my point, and further confirms his dishonesty:
Carrier manufactures arguments for me out of thin air; I say nowhere (despite the quote marks) that Carrier "merely" dismisses the Gospels because they are late. No such word is found in my article related to that issue. He does admit here that he sees lateness as a problem, and that is as far as my point went: That his bald appeal to sources for the Rubicon crossing contains a "problem" that he blithely covers up, while he would (as he has in the past) be all over this "problem."
Holding thus denies the presumption and then immediately embraces that very presumption! He claims that as far as his point went, my "appeal to sources for the Rubicon crossing contains a problem" that I "cover up." What problem is that? He mentions only one: "lateness." In other words, even here Holding presumes that mere lateness presents a problem for my use of those sources. He mentions no other.
And that is exactly his original presumption. I claimed that having "the story of the Rubicon crossing in almost every historian of the period" counts as more evidence than we have for the Resurrection. In his first rebuttal, the very first argument Holding advanced against this claim was that these historians are late, "later than even Carrier believes the Gospels to be." In fact, he says, "to make matters worse for Carrier, our earliest manuscripts of these works are as much as a millennium removed from the originals." And so, merely because of this, he says his point is that "to treat these documents in the same way Carrier treats the Gospels would be an absurdity." In other words, Holding concludes that my treating the Gospels differently than these critical historians is absurd for no other reason than that they are as late as the Gospels.
There is no other argument he could possibly be making here than that I am absurdly dismissing the Gospels because they are late, because the only evidence he offers that my dismissing them is absurd is that it would be absurd to dismiss critical historians because they are late. Since he had discussed no other criterion by the time he made this statement, that is the only thing he could mean when he says, "to treat these documents in the same way Carrier treats the Gospels would be an absurdity." For the presumption here must be that I am dismissing the Gospels because they are late. Otherwise, if I dismiss them for some other reason, his argument makes exactly zero sense. He could not claim I am doing something absurd because those historians are at least as late as the Gospels, because the latter fact would have nothing whatever to do with why I treat the Gospels differently, and would therefore have no bearing on whether my treating them differently was "absurd."
Since there is nothing else Holding could possibly have meant, his attempt now to deny it is appalling. And accusing me of dishonesty for saying his argument contained this apparent presumption is even more appalling.
Addendum H: Holding claims there are no significant disagreements among the Gospels, not even in the chronologies of Luke and John. The general consensus of experts does not agree with him. But I will grant that with some interpretive acrobatics, one could force the chronology of John to fit that of Luke--by admitting, for example, that John erred when he said Jesus was crucified on "the day of preparation for the Passover" (19:14-16 and 19:31), or that Luke erred when he said it was already the Passover when Jesus was crucified (22:7-16; also the interpolated verse at 23:17), and by admitting that Luke did not "carefully follow everything from the beginning" as he claims to (1:3), since he left a lot out. For example, John describes the ministry of Jesus through three Passovers (John 2:13-23; 6:4, 6:10; 11:55, 12:1, 13:1, 18:28, 18:39, 19:14); but Luke, only one (Luke 22). John also only mentions Jesus clearing the Temple once, years before he is executed (John 2:13-23), and long before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-20), but Luke only mentions Jesus clearing the Temple once, mere days before he is executed, and after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-48). Similarly, John records a miraculous catch of fish after Jesus died, not before (John 21), while Luke only records a miraculous catch long before Jesus died, not after (Luke 5:1-11). And so on. But other contradictions are just too huge to allow any rational harmony. For example, see the closing example in my Plausibility of Theft FAQ. For more, see the articles relating to the New Testament in the Secular Web section on Biblical Errancy.
Copyright ©2006 Richard Carrier and Internet Infidels, Inc. All rights reserved.