In the last post I argued that many skeptics ignore evidence for the resurrection based on an indefensible generalized skepticism about ancient miracle reports. And then the skeptics came, they commented, and they served to illustrate the point. They didn’t even acknowledge the historical evidence I presented for the resurrection. Instead they went to other points.
Walter raised concerns about the gospels because the gospel writers wrote from a particular point of view. I replied by pointing out that in an age where writing required you to get carefully prepared animal skins or papyrus from Egypt (along with the occasional clay tablet), people only wrote things that were very important. Walter then offered a rejoinder: “I have stated for the record that I do believe that the gospels contain some real history, so I am not in the pure mythicist camp. It just seems overly credulous to uncritically accept everything that has been penned in the gospels.” This is an illustration of “the old switcheroo”. I was talking about a specific miracle report — the resurrection — but Walter suddenly switched that to a defense of every jot and tittle in the gospels. That’s like one person saying “I agree with Obama’s new policy on x” and the other person replying “You accept everything Obama has ever done? That’s credulous!”
Good ole’ Ray Ingles offers this rebuttal: “So, you think Pheidippides really met Pan on the way Athens?” Whoa, where did that come from? Walter was shifting the ground from the resurrection reports to the gospels in toto. (“In toto” means “on the whole” and should not be misunderstood as a reference to being a member of the one-time supergroup Toto.) But by randomly selecting another report from Greece hundreds of years earlier Ray tacitly shifts the ground not to the gospels, but to all ancient history reports. That’s like responding to “I agree with Obama’s new policy on x” with “So do you agree with Myles Standish’s policy on y?!” (Myles Standish was the military leader in the Plymouth colony of pilgrims in the 1620s.)
Finally, The Atheist Missionary replies as follows:
1. If miracles were so plentiful in Biblical times, why don’t we have any now?
2. What “extraordinary evidence” do you rely on to support the story of the virgin birth?
3. Jesus was, presumably, the product of Mary’s ovum and … what?
4. If Jesus was truly the son of God, why didn’t he pay visits to the other human civilizations in existence in the early first century? Why didn’t he go to China? For that matter, why wasn’t he born in China?
TAM presents some good questions. But in the present context they’re rabbit trails. Another illustration to make the point. (Sorry but I can’t help it. Analogies, illustrations, thought experiments and the like crowd my head with a blooming, buzzing confusion, demanding that they be shared with the world.) So here it is: I am giving a presentation at the Walmart shareholders meeting about how Walmart should buy up the failing Zellars discount chain in Canada before Target does. TAM puts up his hand and asks:
1. Why didn’t Walmart buy the Marks and Spencer chain when they were in Canada?
2. How come Walmart has failed in France?
3. How can Walmart continue to cater to regional interests in China?
4. Should Walmart have a promotion of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” Album as in “Buy The Wall at Walmart?”
“Uh, thanks for that input sir, and had I but world and time I’d address all those questions. But if you please, I’d prefer to keep on the topic of my presentation.”
Finally, here is an excerpt from the Gospel of Peter (translation by Raymond Brown). It is quite easy to pick out the legendary embellishments. This reads very different from the gospel reports of the resurrection. And the contrast, if anything, only serves to illustrate the general historical reliability of the gospels. Historians don’t adopt an indefensible generalized skepticism about ancient documents. They weigh each on its individual merits. Some are mostly legend but others are mostly history. Finally, keep in mind that skepticism about the historicity of the entire Gospel of Peter account is of no relevance to questions like “What convinced James that his own brother had been raised again and was the messiah? What would lead James to be martyred for that belief in AD 62?” (James was a highly intelligent individual. According to Josephus — not a Christian — he was the leader of the Christians in Jerusalem and was highly respected among the Pharisees, scholars every one. So what would it take to convince you, assuming that you’re highly intelligent, that your brother was the messiah?)
And now without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the Gospel of Peter:
But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’