Bill Curry has written a reply to my response to him that I posted Wednesday. He writes:
"Ironically, I agree that legend has not 'prevailed' over the core historic tradition in case of the Gospels. I think the core that has been preserved is the fact that there was an apocalyptic prophet named Jesus who claimed to be the messiah who was crucified."
You're telling us that you accept some of what was widely believed about Jesus early on, but much more was widely believed than what you mention. Concepts such as Jesus' performance of apparent miracles, the empty tomb, and the disciples' belief that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, for example, were widely accepted early on and were considered foundational to the movement.
"However, I don’t think that Craig (or White) have demonstrated their claim that legend doesn’t typically overcome core historic fact within three generations."
I understand that you reject their position, but I don't think you've given a sufficient explanation as to why you reject it. I haven't given much thought to what the outer limit ought to be for the number of generations. I don't know about "within three generations", but I do accept the general principle applied within one generation at the least. If a generation is defined as a unit as small as 30 or 40 years, for example, then I would accept at least two generations. One of the primary issues is how long eyewitnesses and contemporaries were still alive.
"Even more significant they have not shown that a surviving report within 50 years of the reported event is evidence for historicity."
I don't know why you're framing the issue in that manner. I don't think people like William Craig have ever argued that "a surviving report within 50 years" alone is sufficient to prove historicity. But the earliness of the report is one significant factor among others. You cited Craig's appeal to A.N. Sherwin-White, and that argument involves more than the earliness of a report.
"What was striking to me is that Herodotus recording of the temple of Delphi’s defense of itself (within 55 years of the recorded event) didn’t serve to qualify the statements that Craig makes."
Are you suggesting that what Herodotus reported was a core fact that prevailed? I doubt that people had much interest in it. The issue here isn't whether any false reports can exist early on. Craig's argument is more nuanced than that.
Even if we were to conclude that Herodotus or some other source offers an exception to the principle Craig advocates, the principle is still generally applicable. I haven't done the research of Herodotus and other relevant sources that A.N. Sherwin-White did, but I consider the general principle Craig is deriving from him credible, even if we were to conclude that some exceptions exist.
"The legendary developments associated with the events at Roswell seem to be about a perfect match for the timelines of the gospels."
Again, the issue Craig was addressing was the prevailing of core facts. The claims about Roswell that you're objecting to are widely disputed. They haven't prevailed. They also differ from the gospel accounts in many other ways.
"It seems extremely unlikely that such earth shattering events [Matthew 27:45-54] would have been unmentioned by Seneca, Pliny, Josephus, and other historians of the era."
That's a different issue than what you initially raised. The readers should understand that I've been composing my responses based primarily on the issues you've chosen to address. The portion of William Craig's work that you quoted only represents a fraction of the evidence he cites, and I would cite a lot of other evidence as well. If you want to expand the discussion into other considerations, then you're going beyond the original discussion and would need to take Craig's other evidence into account as well.
I don't know why all of the events you're referring to above would be "earth shattering" or why you'd expect each of the sources you've named to mention the events. None of those sources attempted to record every earthquake that occurred, for example, and none of them would have wanted to give much attention to any purported supernatural event associated with Christianity. Josephus refers to Jesus as a miracle worker, but doesn't go into detail. He would have been in a position to know some details, but he wasn't a Christian and didn't desire to further the Christian cause. Julius Africanus refers to attempts made by non-Christian sources to explain the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion, so the darkness didn't go unmentioned. Pliny the Elder rejected the supernatural, so I don't know why you'd expect him to mention events that had supernatural associations. It's not something we should expect. He didn't attempt to document all purported natural events, much less did he attempt to include all purported supernatural occurrences. All of these writers were selective in what they addressed, and we don't know that they had access to all of the data in question anyway. Even many Christian sources who had access to the New Testament documents would discuss Jesus' life and other relevant subjects at length without mentioning some of the supernatural elements of the gospels. Even Christian sources who knew of these reports were selective in discussing them.
We see much the same with purported natural events. An example is the life of Paul. We know from his writings, the ones accepted as authentic across the scholarly spectrum, that Paul traveled widely, was involved in many highly public events, claimed supernatural power and was believed by others to possess such power, was one of the foremost leaders of early Christianity, etc. Yet, none of the earliest extant non-Christian sources mention Paul. On the selectivity of ancient sources on other issues, Craig Keener writes:
"Without immediate political repercussions, it is not surprising that the earliest Jesus movement does not spring quickly into the purview of Rome’s historians; even Herod the Great finds little space in Dio Cassius (49.22.6; 54.9.3). Josephus happily compares Herodotus’s neglect of Judea (Apion 1.60-65) with his neglect of Rome (Apion 1.66)." (A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 64, n. 205)
Of all the events mentioned in the passage you've cited from Matthew 27, the darkness probably had the most potential for being seen by non-Christians as something supernatural that was associated with Christianity. (We don't know how many non-Christians, if any, saw the people who rose from the dead.) And the darkness was discussed among non-Christian sources. When Josephus, the Talmud, and other non-Christian sources make general references to Jesus as a miracle worker, magician, etc., we don't know what details they had in mind, but the events of Matthew 27 (in part or in whole) might have been included. See also J.P. Holding's comments here.
"Now Jason is presenting why he thinks why it is sensible for the chief priest to need Judas."
No, that's not what I said. What do you mean by "need"? If Judas offered to help them accomplish their ends in exchange for money, he would be helping them without their needing him.
And what do you think they needed him for in the gospel accounts? In your last article, you mentioned their alleged need of Judas to identify Jesus, but none of the gospels make that claim.
You go on to raise other objections to the accounts of Judas' betrayal, which means that you're going beyond your original argument. I think you realize that your original objection wasn't sufficient.
"Before accepting Judas’ help, it must be kept in mind that Judas could have potentially betrayed the chief priest as well. This is all the more likely since he was known to be a member of Jesus’ inner circle."
What danger would be involved for the religious leaders? How would Judas betray them? They were in high positions of authority. They had influence with government officials and could produce the sort of armed force that accompanied Judas to Gethsemane. Besides, the early movement surrounding Jesus wasn't known for carrying out deceptive campaigns like the one you're imagining. Betrayers like Judas are unreliable in the sense that they're betraying another person, but that unreliability doesn't prevent people from using betrayers to accomplish something. If you know that you have something the betrayer would want, you can trust him to do something to get what he wants, even if you wouldn't want to have him as a friend. This happens a lot in life.
"The information Judas was providing doesn’t seem to me to have that much value relative to the risk incurred. Keep in mind that there were many who had debated Jesus and would have are able to identify him. To think that they were all unavailable seems implausible."
What risk are you referring to? And where do the gospels claim that nobody other than Judas would have been available? They don't. What the gospels tell us is that the religious leaders were becoming increasingly concerned about Jesus, yet they knew that He often had crowds around Him, and they wouldn't have known where He was at all times. The gospels also tell us that Judas was looking for an opportunity to do what he did. Jesus was away from the crowds at night, at a time when the religious leaders were especially concerned about Him, and Judas took advantage of the opportunity. The religious leaders didn't need Judas, but he offered to help when they wanted it, it didn't cost them much, and they probably found the concept of getting Jesus through one of His disciples appealing. The betrayal by Judas is widely reported early on by credible sources (in all four gospels, in Paul without Judas' name, etc.). I see no reason to reject it.
"If Mark were using Homeric epic as inspiration, it is not surprising that he would write that account regardless of what it did to the believability of his account."
Mark was a first century Jew writing a Greco-Roman biography. He was writing in a context in which God was believed to give revelation through historical events, and the early Christian community was highly concerned with historical information and eyewitness accounts in particular. We know how other sources around Mark's time interpreted his work. They didn't interpret it as a non-historical account "using Homeric epic as inspiration". And eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles (and Mark) were still alive when Mark was first being interpreted. Mark himself probably didn't die upon finishing his gospel. He would have been alive for a while to correct any misconceptions.
See the critiques of Dennis MacDonald here, here, here, and here. See also David Wood's comments here about Richard Carrier's inconsistencies in appealing to the work of MacDonald. Elsewhere, Wood comments:
"Many times, MacDonald has to strain and contort the text to find his parallels, especially when he comes to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In the Iliad, Hector’s body is burned and his tomb holds his remains forever, while Jesus body is resurrected three days later. Resurrection is mentioned three times in the Iliad; twice regarding its impossibility and once as a metaphor for Hector’s survival [avoidance] of certain death. Moreover, Mark differs in many ways from Homer. In order to account for this, MacDonald claims that 'Mark hid his dependence by avoiding Homeric vocabulary, transforming characterizations, motifs, and episodes, placing the episodes out of sequence, and employing multiple literary models, especially from Jewish scriptures' (170). In other words, MacDonald is claiming that all of the characteristics the historian would look for in order to show a borrowing are absent because Mark changed everything intentionally to keep from being detected!" (note 16 here)
Robert Rabel notes how MacDonald goes back and forth, from one work to another, trying to find parallels, paralleling Jesus with one figure at one point and with another figure at another point:
"As Mark approaches his account of Jesus' death, he switches from the Odyssey to the Iliad as his primary source. Jesus imitates Achilles in his predictions of his imminent death (Chapter 17), but otherwise he resembles Hector: both meet violent deaths (Chapter 18) and have their corpses rescued for burial -- by Priam in the Iliad and Joseph of Arimathea in Mark (Chapter 20). Finally, the young man at the tomb on Easter morning in Mark is said to imitate -- or rather 'emulate' (166) -- Elpenor from the Odyssey (Chapter 21)....Chapter 19 ('Hydropatetics') finds Jesus walking on the water in imitation of the god Hermes, who flies over the water in both the Iliad and Odyssey....According to MacDonald, Mark based the death of Jesus on the death of Hector and then conflated the Iliad with the Odyssey by weaving in elements from the tragic story of Elpenor. Turning these tragic stories into a climactic tale of resurrection, Mark is supposed to have transvalued Homer, performing 'a remarkable demonstration of literary dexterity'(167). This argument relies upon the most procrustean and reductive methods of interpretation....One can discern literally hundreds of close parallels between the Iliad and, say, Clint Eastwood's hero's tale Unforgiven."
Bill, do you actually find this sort of speculative paralleling convincing? I don't, and neither does modern New Testament scholarship.
"Jason has not (yet) disputed my assessment of the initial implausiblity of the resurrection."
It wasn't my intent to interact with everything you've written relevant to the resurrection. I was using your article as an illustration of how putting bad numbers into Bayes' Theorem produces bad results. I've addressed issues such as initial probability in other contexts, such as in my discussions with your brother on Greg Krehbiel's board last year. I've also posted a large amount of material on other subjects relevant to the resurrection at Triablogue. See also Steve Hays' recent posts on initial probability and other relevant issues, as well as his recent book on the resurrection.