Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Easter Reading

This is a letter to the editor in today's Elizabethton Star:

We can trust the Easter story. Dr. Josh McDowell was asked why he couldn't refute Christianity. He said, "For a very simple reason, I am unable to explain away an event in history -- the resurrection of Jesus."

We are confronted with historical facts:

(1) The giant stone was moved and the tomb was really empty; (2) Jesus appeared to and spoke with various individuals and groups including one group of over 500 people; (3) The Jewish leaders couldn't disprove the disciples' claim that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Knowing our Christian faith is based on solid historical facts of the empty tomb and the risen Jesus, we can celebrate the most glorious, important and life-changing morning in world history -- Easter!

And the let the people say, "Huh?"

For your Easter reading, I recommend




John Shelby Spong's Resurrection: Myth or Reality?





Using approaches from the Hebrew interpretive tradition to discern the actual events surrounding Jesus' death, Bishop Spong questions the historical validity of literal narratives concerning the Resurrection. He asserts that the resurrection story was born in an experience that opened the disciples' eyes to the reality of God and the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth.

Here is an essay from Bishop Spong,
Easter: In Need of Reinterpretation!

When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.

You might also be interested in this article by Thomas Sheehan, How Did Easter Originally Happen?

For Simon and the others, "resurrection" was simply one way of articulating their conviction that God had vindicated Jesus and was coming soon to dwell among this people. And this interpretation would have held true for the early believers even if an exhumation of Jesus' grave had discovered his rotting flesh and bones.

Or, if I may be so humble, you can read and/or hear two of my sermons on previous Easter Sundays.

Easter 2006 Seriously, If Not Literally Text Audio
Easter 2007 What If We Found the Body of Jesus? Text Audio



26 comments:

  1. (2) Jesus appeared to and spoke with various individuals and groups including one group of over 500 people;**

    I really dislike this reasoning, because we don't have the personal accounts of 500 people who saw a risen Christ. We have one person saying that 500 people saw Jesus.

    ** (3) The Jewish leaders couldn't disprove the disciples' claim that Jesus had risen from the dead.**

    Are there any records of the Jewish leaders trying? Outside of the Bible?

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  2. Blessed are the simpletons for they shall be happy in their ingorance.

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  3. I'm wondering, though, apart from the empty tomb, and actually seeing the risen Lord, why any of the disciples would have come to this conviction, really felt that Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death, and the grave, defeated the principalities and powers, so to speak.

    It truly makes little sense to me. I'm feeling our faith is alot more than an existential leap in the dark.

    ((Dr. Monkey)) bless your heart. There are an awfully lot of us ignorant simpletons out here. (LOL)

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  4. Correctify me if I'm wrong, but are there contemporary historical accounts of "the giant stone was moved", "Jesus appeared to...over 500 people", and "Jewish leaders couldn't disprove...that Jesus had risen from the dead"? I for one have big issues with using the Bible to prove itself, esp when it comes to proving historical events.

    Grace, I hear what you're trying to say, but I don't think that the apostles' personal convictions prove the event. Look at it this way, there are plenty of people who are absolutely, fundamentally convinced that L. Ron Hubbard was the Messiah and our reincarnating souls are thetans that are in fact the souls of dead aliens deposited in volcanoes by the evil Lord Xenu using galactic DC-8s.

    Call me crazy, but I'm still unconvinced by Dianetics.

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  5. Perhaps in a thousand years or so, there will be Progressive Scientologists who will describe the thetan mythology as not literally true, but as possessing a deep wisdom through which we give meaning to our lives.

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  6. Indeed Harry.

    As I read these posts and comments it is becoming more clear to me that, like believers everywhere, the myth-people (for lack of a better term) apparently believe there is firm evidence that the resurrection is a myth. The problem of course is that the evidence is based on the very same texts that others (we simpletons, for lack of a better term) believe also provide evidence for the claim that the resurrection was a historical event.

    The myth people point to the lack of symmetry in the Gospels, even the synoptics. They point to the time lag between when the events supposedly happened and when they were written down. They point to political and religious motivations that may have influenced how these events were interpreted. In other words, their position relies on finding a multitude of problems with the text itself, which ultimately brings the historical accuracy of the text into doubt. Then, finding the texts inaccurate and/or inadequate, they decide that the story of the resurrection is a myth. That is hardly a standard of evidence that most people would find convincing in most arguments -- tear down the validity of your evidence, then use that evidence you've already determined to be inaccurate in order to make a new argument.

    The rest of their argument relies on correlations between Biblical texts and other ancient texts that are considered mythical. However, in 500 years a historical account of the moon landings or a description of the life and Presidency of Abraham Lincoln will no doubt end up looking pretty mythical too, when compared to ancient mythical texts.

    Now, we simpletons have an equally difficult task because of course, they're right, the Gospel narratives do indeed differ, sometimes significantly. They were written quite a while after the events, probably well after any eyewitnesses were dead and buried. They were also each clearly written with an agenda. And yet, in spite of those problems, we believe that, on the matter of the resurrection, they're at least accurate enough to say that it did, in fact, actually happen. Again though, the evidence is hardly compelling.

    In reality, both views rely on texts that are, at the very least problematic and that are nearly 2000 years old. I think if one is honest, one must admit that they are not sufficient to really support either claim. Based on the textual evidence, the best conclusion the myth-people can come to, if they're honest, is "we don't know", not "it didn't happen." Based on the same evidence, the best conclusion we simpletons can come to, if we are honest, is "we don't know", not "it absolutely did happen."

    So then, in order to make either the statement that the resurrection is a myth or the statement that it was a historical event requires a leap of faith, past the evidence. I have no problem acknowledging that's the case for my view. However, the rhetoric being used in these comments and the ones on other posts seems to suggest that the myth-people may have a difficult time acknowledging that leap for their own view. While we "simpletons" sit here with "cotton in our ears", they are apparently the smart ones, in touch with reality, with a panel of experts behind them, sitting on a pile of evidence. Yes, sitting on a pile of evidence that they think demonstrates that what they believe in is a myth. Yet having faith in a myth (and one particular myth in this case, not myths about Zeus and Apollo, for example) is somehow superior, smarter, more clever, or more warranted than having faith in an historical event that we can't prove happened any more than they can prove that it didn't. Seems like 6 of one, half dozen of the other if you ask me.

    Seems to me then that a little humility is called for. But then, what do I know, I'm just a simpleton. ;)

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  7. Alan,

    I didn't call you a simpleton. The cotton in the ears comment has to do with those who go to seminary, are introduced to higher criticism and refuse to listen to it. Or they think they have a better answer. That is fine. Except they are going against consensus scholarship.

    Higher criticism has been a standard in our mainline seminaries including our PC(USA)seminaries.

    For instance the two source hypothesis in gospel studies demonstrates that these texts were not eyewitness reports. They were written long after the events and they used each other. Matthew and Luke use Q and Mark.

    Sure, higher criticism may in the end find that the two source hypothesis does not explain the texts as well as a new hypothesis that comes along.

    For the OT, the documentary hypothesis JEDP is the standard even as it has been modified and will continue to be so.

    When we look at narratives in the Bible and from other religious texts, higher criticism asks what is the type of literature? When was it written, why?

    Is it legend, historical report, a combination? What did it mean to the authors and hearers?

    Higher criticism like the hard sciences cannot address questions of faith or God. It can only seek to understand what people thought about God.

    Questions about God are theological questions, separate (yet informed by higher criticism).

    For instance, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That statement can be evaluated by historical methodology.

    Jesus died on a Roman cross for your sins cannot be evaluated by historical methodology. That is a theological question.

    Some folks report that Jesus' tomb was empty. That can be evaluated by historical methodology. Is this an historical report, is this a legend that has been made to look like history or is it a creative expression of the truth of Jesus' ongoing presence with those who followed him?

    The empty tomb means that God raised Jesus from the dead is a theological statement. History can neither affirm or deny that.

    To say that God raised Jesus from the dead can be shown (or denied) by historical method does a disservice to history. It isn't history. It is theology.

    History can help us by asking why are these narratives written in this way? What is the significance of them? What might have been the sources for these types of narratives? Are there parallels in other literature of the period?
    You wrote:

    "However, in 500 years a historical account of the moon landings or a description of the life and Presidency of Abraham Lincoln will no doubt end up looking pretty mythical too, when compared to ancient mythical texts."

    I cannot nor can you know what methods people will use to uncover truth 500 years from now.

    However, we can evaluate Abraham Lincoln and the moon landing by current methods of historical criticism.

    If, however, someone were to make the claim, that God was active in the life of Abraham Lincoln, the historian has to say, "I cannot evaluate that." It would be a theological statement.

    Peace,
    john

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  8. People who believe in fantastical claims often use this sort of argument that says that, all things being equal, their evidence on behalf of those claims is no better or worse than any evidence against them. It's all the same, we are told, all these claims are equally valid, both pro and con. This is a way of giving legitimacy to a position that otherwise would have none, that no one would really take seriously.

    It's easy to make unprovable and fantastical claims and then insist that since there is no evidence to prove you wrong, that claim is therefore just as legitimately true as it is untrue. Abducted by aliens in a UFO? Prove me wrong. The Rev. Jim Jones was a faith healer who could cure people in church services? Prove me wrong. A dead man two thousand years ago came back to life after being dead for three days? Prove me wrong. Hey, at least the existence of aliens on other planets is not beyond the realm of scientific possibility. I would consider a claim of UFO abduction to be more credible and require less burden of proof than a claim that a dead man was resuscitated. And frankly, the bar is pretty damn high for UFO abduction stories.

    But some people are just plain credulous. They believe what they want to believe. Critical thinking is not as important as belief; and they it gets excused by just that all positions on the subject are equally valid anyway.

    The March issue of Scientific American contains an article by Michael Shermer that cites a study published in the December 2007 Annals of Neurology, which found that most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity and that belief comes quickly and naturally, whereas skepticism is slow and unnatural. The scientific principle of the null hypothesis—that a claim is untrue unless proved otherwise—runs counter to our natural tendency to accept as true what we can comprehend quickly.

    That explains a lot, I think.

    I do want to make clear one point. It has been stated that some people here have "faith in a myth". I don't know where this idea comes from, but I've stated this before, and I'll repeat it, that this is a misconception. Those of us who recognize the mythological character of the resurrection stories do not have faith in myths, but in what the myths point to. The myths are only a means of expressing what the faith (faithfulness) is about. Take away the myth, and you still have the faith. Myths are just the symbolic language of faith. But, as the saying goes, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.

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  9. It would be much simpler if the myth people said:


    "It is scientifically impossible for a man to rise from the dead. Only simpletons believe otherwise."

    Then we simpletons could reply: "There is more than heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosphy."

    And the smart guys could say:

    "No there isn't."

    -------------------

    Alan, is it actually physically impossible for a dead man to rise from the dead? Couldn't a highly improbable sequence of quantum jumps reverse the death process and reanimate a corpse?

    Then we would have a historical reality devoid of theological (or mythical) significance, being merely a chance event. A non-miracle miracle? (as a chemist you know a bit of QM, right?)

    I am just using the permission to explore the various possiblities, and showing courage in braving the scorn of the bright people around here.

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  10. The Mullah Nasrudin once sat by the edge of a pond and pured yoghurt into it.

    A passerby asked: "Nasrudin, what are you doing?"

    "I am going to turn the whole pond into yoghurt!", repled Nasrudin.

    "Don't be silly! You can't make yoghurt that way!"

    "I know that.", replied Nasruding, "But what if it takes?"

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  11. **However, in 500 years a historical account of the moon landings or a description of the life and Presidency of Abraham Lincoln will no doubt end up looking pretty mythical too, when compared to ancient mythical texts. **

    I'm not sure this is the best example, in terms of what is and is not considered mythical. In 500years we can look at the moon landing and determine it's not mythical, because it would've been something possible due to the technology at the time. It would depend on how many historical documents involved the moon landing.

    Same with President Lincoln. If there are tons of documents that deal with his life and what he did, and it's possible within a natural framework, then it's less likely to be mythical.

    What gets people about the Resurrection, or the miracles of Jesus and then labelling them as myths is that those events work outside a natural framework. They are supernatural, and if written in any other context, they'd fit right in with the mythical aspect. People who are raised from the dead is not treated as a historical event in most other cases. It's treated as a fable/myth/story.

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  12. First John, I've got a little problem with this sentence: "Higher criticism like the hard sciences cannot address questions of faith or God."

    Now, the problem isn't that I disagree with that statement. I agree that neither method can address such questions. But really "higher criticism" and "hard sciences" shouldn't even be in the same sentence, and this does, I believe, indicate a problem with the discussion so far. Higher criticism is not a science, even though people seemingly want to treat its hypotheses as "scientific." That doesn't mean that one field is better than the other, only that they address very different types of questions, using very different types of evidence, using very different standards of evidence. One cannot treat notions derived from higher criticism as one would a scientific hypothesis, nor even a legal argument. They're not the same sort of thing at all.

    "I cannot nor can you know what methods people will use to uncover truth 500 years from now."

    That's a fascinating statement. You're saying we cannot know how such methods might change in 500 years, but you're sure that we can understand what the NT writers meant to do with their texts 2000 years ago, based on what we both admit are pretty unreliable texts. It's also interesting because higher criticism isn't exactly new either, is it? (Schleiermacher has been dead for over 170 years now.) If our methods now are accurate enough that anyone who doesn't agree with their conclusions about 2000 year old texts is a simpleton, then why can't we make predictions about what will happen in the future, based on evidence from the past? Lots of other diverse fields are able to make such predictions. Economics, history, psychology, and of course the physical sciences are all able to make predictions based on past events. Know it? No, we can't know what will happen in 500 years, but we can speculate. Heck, there are already people who already today, only 40 years later, believe that the moon landings were faked!

    My point is that you seem much less confident about these methods than you should be, given the arguments that are being made here. So which is it?

    (By the way, perhaps you were being sloppy -- and I so totally do not want to get off on this topic -- but do you really believe that these methods uncover "truth"? Questions of "truth" are not questions appropriate for study by either higher criticism OR science.)

    "The empty tomb means that God raised Jesus from the dead is a theological statement. History can neither affirm or deny that. "

    Indeed, I agree. But seeing Jesus alive is not a theological statement, no more than seeing someone walking down the hallway outside my laboratory is a theological statement. Either he was seen alive after his crucifixion, or he wasn't. Now if he was alive, there indeed are all sorts of questions one might ask, some medical, some theological.

    If you do not have evidence, from the text, that says that Jesus did not actually walk around after he was crucified, the best you can say is "I don't know." You're even free to say, "I don't know, and it's highly unlikely." It is -- contrary to mystical seekers' assertion -- just as incorrect to assert that it did happen based on unreliable evidence as it is to assert that it definitely did not happen based on unreliable evidence.

    Notice the claim I make, versus the straw man that mystical seeker makes: "that claim is therefore just as legitimately true as it is untrue. "

    I didn't say anything of the sort. I'm not talking about truth here, I'm talking about evidence. (Perhaps we're not the only ones with cotton in our ears.) ;)

    Notice I didn't say that, based on the evidence, the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead was just as legitimately true as it is untrue What I said was that the very best we can claim, BASED ON THE TEXTS, is that we do not know the truth of the claim. Anything past that, claims about truth or untruth is a leap of faith.

    Mystical seeker, I appreciate that you think I'm an idiot that will believe in anything. Really, you've made the point several times, so that even a simpleton can understand your implication. You can stop now, I get it. Even someone with cotton in their ears would get it at this point. LOL Though I find it hilarious that anyone would think that I'm too "credulous" given my occupation and what a skeptical SOB I am. However, I'm sure there is nothing I could write that would dissuade you from that notion, so I won't try. Unfortunately I also understand that persuading you that you are just as credulous about your own truth claims based on problematic textual evidence is also probably impossible.

    Fortunately though there is one thing we agree on! "They believe what they want to believe. Critical thinking is not as important as belief."

    But what I do know, and what I am positive about is that this statement "The scientific principle of the null hypothesis—that a claim is untrue unless proved otherwise—runs counter to our natural tendency to accept as true what we can comprehend quickly." has nothing whatsoever to do with the theological questions we're talking about here. Is that statement true for science? Surely. Want to talk science? I'm your man. Heck, I've got more letters behind my name than in it, buddy. But we're not talking science right now, or anything remotely even close to possibly relating to science right now. And that, friends, is part of the problem. I realize that. It doesn't appear that some of you do.

    Fundamentalists come in all shapes and sizes. :)

    "Take away the myth, and you still have the faith."

    Sorry, but since we're being frank, nonsense statements like that don't help this conversation much. So no historical resurrection, and if you take away even the myth of the resurrection, you still have faith in it? Take away the finger, AND the moon, and you still have faith in it? And I'm called too "credulous"? LOL

    I'm happy to admit that I believe in a lot of self-contradictory mumbo-jumbo, but you at least have to give me credit for being clever enough to know that and admit it, unlike some others it seems. ;)

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  13. I find it hilarious that anyone would think that I'm too "credulous" given my occupation and what a skeptical SOB I am.

    I don't know you and I can only respond specifically to what you have written here. You have made arguments for credulousness in a specific context. Does that mean that I think you are generally credulous or in other contexts? No. Anyway, some people who are credulous in some contexts are not credulous in others. I'm specifically interested here in the credulousness that allows people to swallow fantastical claims.

    has nothing whatsoever to do with the theological questions we're talking about here. Is that statement true for science? Surely. Want to talk science? I'm your man. Heck, I've got more letters behind my name than in it, buddy. But we're not talking science right now, or anything remotely even close to possibly relating to science right now.

    Ah, but we are talking about the natural world here. Theology is good about making statements about God; where it falls down badly is when it mistakenly tries to make statements about what kinds of things happen in the natural world. This fallacy has bitten theology over and over again throughout history, Galileo being a notorious example. The God of Gaps is dead, and it is time we put it to rest. Claims about a bodily resuscitation fall into the realm discussing what can and does happen in the natural world.

    So no historical resurrection, and if you take away even the myth of the resurrection, you still have faith in it?

    Wow, you really don't get it. I've just said that no one is talking about having faith in a myth, and then you turn around and accuse me of suggesting that people have faith in the resurrection myth. You seem to have a propensity for attacking viewpoints you don't even bother to try to understand. The faith is not in the myth. No one is talking about faith in the resurrection myth. The myth is not the object of faith. How many times do I have to repeat this?

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  14. "I'm specifically interested here in the credulousness that allows people to swallow fantastical claims."

    Again and again, yes, yes, yes ... I "swallow" fantastical claims. Can we move past that now? Though I must admit I've only been doing research in discourse analysis for about 6 years now, even this simpleton can understand the implicit message in phrases like "swallow fantastical claims". You've made your point and I've acknowledged that you've made that point. How many times do I have to repeat this? LOL

    "Claims about a bodily resuscitation fall into the realm discussing what can and does happen in the natural world. "

    Finally. Then admit that your decision whether or not to believe in the bodily resurrection is based on philosophical naturalism, and not on the texts, no matter how perfect or problematic they could be. In other words, all this conversation would be much more direct if you'd admit your assumptions to begin with. You start with a conclusion: bodily resurrection didn't happen, and then you look for textual evidence that confirms that conclusion. We call that post-hoc reasoning. Thank you for finally making a specific claim rather than a bunch of hand-waving generalities. And thank you for actually addressing one of my points, rather than fisking my comments for some ancillary sentence you don't like.

    "The myth is not the object of faith. How many times do I have to repeat this?"

    Well, if you'd use words that actually have meaning, talk in specifics rather than generalities, perhaps even this simpleton could swallow it. So once again, what is the object of faith, if it's neither the myth nor the historical event?

    Let's pretend I'm a 3rd grade Sunday School student (that shouldn't be too hard for you to imagine). :) What's the take-home message about faith, myth, and the resurrection for next Sunday?

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  15. Alan,

    I would ask that you stop with the simpleton thing at least in response to my comments.

    I did not use that word. It was someone else's comment. I appreciate you. You are an incredibly bright guy. I am glad you are here.

    I apologize when (not if) I have written anything that insinuates lack of intelligence for you or anyone else. That is wrong of me. I am sorry.

    We do have a disagreement on a few matters.

    I do disagree regarding higher criticism and hard science. Higher criticism does work according to evidence. It is a "soft science" to be sure. But it does rest on the principles of sorting evidence and making rational claims about it.

    "In reality, both views rely on texts that are, at the very least problematic and that are nearly 2000 years old. I think if one is honest, one must admit that they are not sufficient to really support either claim. Based on the textual evidence, the best conclusion the myth-people can come to, if they're honest, is "we don't know", not "it didn't happen." Based on the same evidence, the best conclusion we simpletons can come to, if we are honest, is "we don't know", not "it absolutely did happen."

    I agree with that. (Except of course for the simpleton language which I wish you would stop using at least when responding to my posts).

    As far as the 500 years from now thing, I am simply saying that we don't know what types of methodology will influence our thinking 500 years from now. Maybe we will have another Enlightenment that will reshape our methods.

    Who would have predicted the 18th century Enlightenment 500 years ago? However, in 2008 we are children of the Enlightenment and it is because of that awareness that we have both the hard and soft sciences. We can use those tools to evaluate our natural world and humanity and its history including its religious history.

    "So then, in order to make either the statement that the resurrection is a myth or the statement that it was a historical event requires a leap of faith, past the evidence."

    I disagree on that. I do not think it is a leap of faith to evaluate religious texts based on literary type and so forth. Historians and literary critics do this all the time.

    "(By the way, perhaps you were being sloppy -- and I so totally do not want to get off on this topic -- but do you really believe that these methods uncover "truth"? Questions of "truth" are not questions appropriate for study by either higher criticism OR science.)"

    We can quibble over the meaning of the word "truth." If we do not wish to use that word fine. If you have a better word, please substitute it.

    You wrote:
    "But seeing Jesus alive is not a theological statement, no more than seeing someone walking down the hallway outside my laboratory is a theological statement. Either he was seen alive after his crucifixion, or he wasn't. Now if he was alive, there indeed are all sorts of questions one might ask, some medical, some theological.

    If you do not have evidence, from the text, that says that Jesus did not actually walk around after he was crucified, the best you can say is "I don't know." You're even free to say, "I don't know, and it's highly unlikely.""

    It depends on whether or not we view the empty tomb narratives as historical reports.

    Ultimately, of course, I don't know. In the same way I don't know if as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas says that Jesus as a boy turned clay pigeons into real birds.

    It could have happened. What is most plausible? I argue that the most plausible history of the empty tomb narratives is that they were written to inspire faith in Jesus' continuing presence in the language and literature that would have been compelling to Jesus' followers after his death.

    You are not convinced. OK.

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  16. It depends on whether or not we view the empty tomb narratives as historical reports.

    Ultimately, of course, I don't know. In the same way I don't know if as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas says that Jesus as a boy turned clay pigeons into real birds.

    It could have happened. What is most plausible? I argue that the most plausible history of the empty tomb narratives is that they were written to inspire faith in Jesus' continuing presence in the language and literature that would have been compelling to Jesus' followers after his death.


    Thanks, John. Well stated.

    To me, the teachings and life of Jesus represented a expression (and some might say revelation) of God's Kingdom on earth. Imagine what the world would be if God ruled, instead of Caesar--as Dominic Crossan likes to put it. Jesus's message, and his revelation of God's presence, lives on and rings true today just as it did back then. That to me is the real essence of Easter.

    By the way, while I generally have mixed feelings about Spong, I do think that his book "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?" is my personal favorite of what he has written.

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  17. "I would ask that you stop with the simpleton thing at least in response to my comments."

    I'm glad to do so, and I wasn't using it to imply that you had called me names, but instead to hammer home the message to everyone reading that we should try harder to be civil to each other. If I wanted to read that kind of crap, I'd wander back to the fundie blogs.

    "But it does rest on the principles of sorting evidence and making rational claims about it. "

    Agreed, but these are nothing like the claims science makes on the basis of evidence, and what qualifies as evidence in higher criticism is very different than what qualifies as scientific evidence (and vice versa.)

    I have no problem at all using qualitative evidence as warrants for hypothesis. That's not the aspect of higher criticism that I'm disputing. I'm having a problem with the implication that is being made, if not stated outright, that these sorts of evidence and claims are anything remotely like "scientific" or that the hypotheses of higher criticism are anything like the sort of generalizable hypotheses that arise from science. And on top of that confusion, then there are theological claims stirred up in that mess as well, that are also certainly nothing like scientific claims.

    The best one can do is make an argument, based on evidence from questionable texts, about whether or not the historical event happened. One doesn't, whether using higher criticism or scientific naturalism, get to immediately jump to making truth claims, simply based on a hypothesis, no matter what quality of evidence you have.

    For example, if we look at this statement:

    "I do not think it is a leap of faith to evaluate religious texts based on literary type and so forth. Historians and literary critics do this all the time. "

    No, it isn't a leap of faith to evaluate conflicting hypotheses about religious texts based textual analysis. It is however, a leap of faith to turn that hypothesis into a truth claim. One cannot claim that something is a myth and not acknowledge that one is making a truth claim, and given the meager evidence, that claim is a leap of faith.

    "We can quibble over the meaning of the word "truth."

    It's not the meaning of the word I have a problem with, it's the notion that either higher criticism or science leads to truth, discovers truth, or anything at all like that. Science is about facts, not truth. From those facts we form hypotheses, not truth. Testing of those hypotheses leads to predictions, and then theories, not truth.

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  18. Well, shucks, I turn my back for a moment and y'all had an existential knock-down drag-out!

    I will say mainly as an aside that the more a propos Lincoln might be Mary Todd. After her son Willie died, she became obsessed with mediums and mystics and attended seances to "see" and "speak" with Willie. She was apparently convinced that she had indeed seen and spoken with Willie.

    The documentation of these events is more solid than the gospel narratives from a historical perspective, but very few of us would agree that she actually saw Willie. She was a griefstricken mother in an incredibly traumatic time and "saw" what she so desperately wanted to see.

    Look, I'll admit I'm someone who tends to believe in the resurrection, but I sure as hell don't pretend to understand it. I think that it is so profound that to make claims of its historicity weaken its impact. Yes, Augustus Caesar was well and truly believed to be a god after he died, and we have oodles of documentation proving that people thought this. Romulus' daddy was well and truly believed to be Zeus and great-great-great-great-great-etc granddaddy a horny bird. Ditto documentation. Today, the Scientologists might believe that the path to heaven involves E-Meters and celebrities, and point to their holy texts to prove it.

    The power of the mystery of the resurrection goes beyond merely saying "look, this piece of paper says it happens, therefore it's proof."

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  19. Perhaps in a thousand years or so, there will be Progressive Scientologists who will describe the thetan mythology as not literally true, but as possessing a deep wisdom through which we give meaning to our lives.

    And conservatives will claim that L. Ron Hubbard is the way and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through L. Ron.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

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  20. The documentation of these events is more solid than the gospel narratives from a historical perspective, but very few of us would agree that she actually saw Willie. She was a griefstricken mother in an incredibly traumatic time and "saw" what she so desperately wanted to see.

    There is something profound, beautiful, and sad about that all at the same time. It does say something about the human condition.

    We have to ask ourselves why it is that we doubt that she really saw Willie. Few of us go through life treating everything that everyone tells us with the same level of skepticism. Some things we are told seem more credible than others. If we didn't do that, we would have a pretty hard time making sense of the world around us. We all go through life with certain working paradigms about what is likely and what isn't. If something contradicts our given paradigms, we approach it with a natural and legitimate skepticism. The burden of proof is higher in those cases. Just as Kuhn recognized that scientists don't around constantly re-inventing their paradigms, neither can we do so in our own everyday lives. I don't think that she saw Willie in the example you gave; I also don't think that people are abducted by aliens and given anal probes in UFOs; and I don't think that Augustus Caesar's birth was the product of a divinely instigated conception, as was claimed. I could be wrong on all three scores, of course; but there is a reason why I don't treat all claims that I hear the same way.

    The power of the mystery of the resurrection goes beyond merely saying "look, this piece of paper says it happens, therefore it's proof."

    One thing I would suggest is this: Christianity is not dependent on what is on the Bible anyway. The religion existed before the books that are now in the Bible were written; and it furthermore existed for quite a while before those books were assembled into a collection and designated the official canon. The religion came first--then came the texts.

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  21. Flycandler:

    And conservatives will claim that L. Ron Hubbard is the way and the truth and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through L. Ron.

    And no reason why you should. The point being is that both groups would be spouting BS.

    One group believes the Xinu myth is literally true, one group believes the Xinu myth is symbolically true, but the real truth is that the Xinu myth originated in the malfunction of a human brain.

    And they both argue endlessly.

    Which is more pathetic?

    To believe that a myth is symbolically true requires faith, too.

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  22. Thanks, Alan,

    "I'm having a problem with the implication that is being made, if not stated outright, that these sorts of evidence and claims are anything remotely like "scientific" or that the hypotheses of higher criticism are anything like the sort of generalizable hypotheses that arise from science."

    OK. I need to reflect on that further. Neither being an historian nor a scientist I will take your word on that. If we had an historian among us, perhaps s/he could help us define the historical method.

    "And on top of that confusion, then there are theological claims stirred up in that mess as well, that are also certainly nothing like scientific claims."

    Amen. Nor are theological claims anything like historical claims.

    "The best one can do is make an argument, based on evidence from questionable texts, about whether or not the historical event happened. One doesn't, whether using higher criticism or scientific naturalism, get to immediately jump to making truth claims, simply based on a hypothesis, no matter what quality of evidence you have."

    I agree.

    "One cannot claim that something is a myth and not acknowledge that one is making a truth claim, and given the meager evidence, that claim is a leap of faith."

    This is where I disagree. Leda and the Swan is a myth. To say that is not a leap of faith. That is identifying a type of literature.

    "It's not the meaning of the word I have a problem with, it's the notion that either higher criticism or science leads to truth, discovers truth, or anything at all like that. Science is about facts, not truth. From those facts we form hypotheses, not truth. Testing of those hypotheses leads to predictions, and then theories, not truth."

    I agree again.

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  23. There is something profound, beautiful, and sad about that all at the same time. It does say something about the human condition.

    I have to once again flaunt my Civics Geek side and plug a book.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest book (2005, so it's in paperback) is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It's a brilliant recap of Lincoln's career on the national stage, particularly his decision to put all of his main rivals for the Republican nomination and some powerful Democrats in his cabinet. It's brilliant, even for a Democrat like me (though I think the party of Lincoln sold its soul to big business in the 1880s and the racists in the 1960s).

    In it, Goodwin uses the story of Mary Todd and Willie and juxtaposes it against the nation as a whole. She points out that the Civil War was a boom-time for mediums and psychics, as grieving family members on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line tried to deal with the terrible grief over the senseless violence.

    Again, something profound, beautiful and sad all at the same time.

    BTW, Goodwin also wrote the brilliant No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt--The Home Front in World War II and the very personal Lyndon Johnson & The American Dream.

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  24. John Shelby Spong says**When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.

    This is garbage. A vibrant church was formed from Day One, and somehow the "myth" came out of that "transforming experience" 50 years later? Spong is not in touch with any reality, much less "two realities". Gimme a break. His work is garbage, and barring some stupendous miracle, he will be remembered for the New Age lickspittle that he has always been.

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  25. A vibrant church was formed from Day One

    Um, Jim, even the Bible doesn't say that. If anything, the apostles, even after seeing the risen Christ and receiving The Great Commission, were cowering in hiding for almost two months. According to Acts, it took God's dramatic display of tongues of fire to get them off their asses.

    His work is garbage, and barring some stupendous miracle, he will be remembered for the New Age lickspittle that he has always been.

    At least we have you to elevate the debate.

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  26. All of this talk about myth and truth puts me in mind of a passage from C.S. Lewis' "God in the Dock":

    "The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle."

    I have long found this argument to be persuasive. The incredible thing about the mythic quality of the resurrection is that it is specific to a time and place. It is the fulfillment of the myth in a particular time and place in history.

    Of course this does ring a little bit like Matthew's repeated claims that such and such was done to fulfill Isaiah and so on, which sometimes feels to me like he's trying a bit too hard. :-)

    At some level if we believe in a supernatural AND personal God, the idea of a bodily resurrection doesn't seem all that impossible, mythical or no.

    [Disclosure - I'm married to Alan, and we were talking about the discussion here over drinks on Friday, so I thought I'd stop by and see what all the hubbub was about. Peace!]

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