Bill Curry said:
“Well Matthew claims the earth shook and the rocks split. Don’t you think that numerous saints rising from the dead and visiting a major city would cause some historian to take note? Again I am not saying it is impossible that none would, but the apparent implausibility certainly this enters into my assessment.”
1.I can think of at least one historian who did take note of this event. He goes by the name of St. Matthew.
2.Since Jerusalem was dominated by the religious establishment, which was hostile to Christ, is there some reason to expect that a Jewish writer unsympathetic to the Messianic claims of Jesus would, in fact, record this vindicatory episode for posterity?
After all, the unspoken assumption of Curry’s objection is that we can discount Matthew since Matthew is a sympathetic source. We can only trust a hostile witness.
But, by definition, a hostile witness would be disinclined to report an incident unfavorable to his own cause.
3.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that someone like Josephus corroborated this event, unbelievers routinely discount the reported miracles in Josephus—just as they discount the Testimonium Flavianum.
4.Finally, Curry fails to draw an elementary distinction between what was written and what was preserved.
As Martin Hengel has pointed out:
“The basic problem in writing a history of early Christianity lies in the fragmentariness of the sources and haphazard way in which they survived. However, this situation hampers not only research into the origins of our faith, but also the study of ancient history generally, in both the political and the cultural and religious spheres.
“What we know is largely dependent on often quite chance circumstances…Our knowledge is even more fragmentary when it comes to the fortunes of individual areas and provinces. How very little we really know about Syria in the 1C BC and the 1C AD, above all about the religious atmosphere prevailing there in that period, or about Judaea under the Roman prefects between AD 6 and AD 41 (which is even closer to the heart of the NT scholar)! Our knowledge of the Roman province of Judaea (which in the meantime had become independent) in the period between the Jewish War of AD 66-74 and the Bar Kochba revolt (AD 132-135) is even slimmer…What is true of Syria can be said to b even more true of tiny Palestine…Here our knowledge is essentially based on what rats and worms happen to have left on the scrolls in the caves of the wilderness of Judaea.
“We have already seen that our lack of sources is often due to the fortuitous and apparently external circumstances. Another factor is the whole complex of problems associated with the nature of books in antiquity and the transmission of ancient texts. The writing and reproduction of books was a much more wearisome business than it is today. As a rule, for technical reasons alone, an author was compelled to keep his material within strict limits. He had to make careful plans in advance so that his work would be the right length, since there was comparatively little room on papyrus scrolls and they were very expensive indeed, given the wages earned by the majority of the population. By and large, only rich people could afford a large number of books.
“A further problem is the copying and handling down of early historical works, where chance, external difficulties of transmission and various questions of content have all contributed to the destruction and reduction of sources. Hardly any of the great historical works of the Hellenistic and Roman period have come down to us unabbreviated. Extensive gaps in the text and abbreviation in the form of summaries are the rule here.
“I need mention only the three most important Greek historians of the Hellenistic and Roman period in this connection. These were Polybius and Diodore, each of whom wrote a history of the world in forty volumes…and Dio Cassius…whose History of Rome extended to eighty books. WE have only about a third of Polybius’ work, with the first five books in their entirety; sixteen books of Diodore, and some very fragmentary excerpts; while from Dio Cassius we have books 36-60, fragments of books 78 and 79, and some very abbreviate summaries from the Byzantine period.
“The 144-voume history of the world written by Nicolaus of Damascus, a friend of king Herod, who composed his work in Jerusalem, ahs been lost completely—presumably, like most ancient histories, because of its excessive length.
“However, even smaller works did not escape unscathed. Of the sixteen books of Tacitus’ Annals, which are fundamental to our knowledge of Roman history in the 1C AD, books 7-10 are missing. They are important for the history of the NT period as they covered the years 37-47 and also dealt with the situation in Judaea under Tiberius and Caligula. Of the sixteen books of his Histories, about the period from the death of Nero to Nerva, we have only books 1-4 and the beginning of 5 with its notorious anti-Semitic account of the Jews and the conquest of Jerusalem,” Acts & the History of Earliest Christianity (Fortress 1980), 3-7.