Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Did the disciples die for a lie?

I'm going to comment on a post by Richard Carrier:

Carrier reviews his debate with Justin Bass. Let me begin by saying I disagree with how the issue was drawn. Framing the issue in terms of martyrdom is arbitrarily narrow. I reserve the right to recast the issue. Many people will avoid sticking their neck out for far less than fear of violent death. Fear of losing your livelihood, fear of being shunned by your friends, fear of exposing your family to harm, or fear of having your family disown you, or even public stigma, are usually effective deterrents. It takes something very powerful to overcome those disincentives. You have so much to lose, short of losing your life. Many people will either recant for far less, or never risk it in the first place. Persecution, or the tacit threat of persecution, often has that winnowing effect. It's very artificial to restrict the issue to martyrdom. 

Thus countless people die for a “lie” in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false.

A red herring The statement that people "don't die for a lie" is a shorthand slogan. The actual argument is that many members of Christ's original circle of followers were in a position to know that he rose from the dead. They knew him before he died, and they saw him after he rose from the dead. 

Thus countless people die for a “lie” in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond).

i) The basis for Christian faith isn't confined to faith in the NT accounts. In addition, there's the argument from religious experience. You have Christians who experience a miracle, amazing answer to prayer, or some other special providence. That provides corroborative evidence. Or you have some people who come to the faith as a result of something miraculous. It isn't just "trusting someone else's word". 

ii) There's nothing inherently irrational about "trusting someone else's word". Most of what we know is based on secondhand information. So long as your source of information is reliable, it would be irrational to disbelieve it.

Countless people throughout history have been fully convinced that gods or ghosts spoke to them, by the mere fact that they dreamt it, or hallucinated it. 

i) Which assumes that ghosts and apparitions are hallucinations. But that begs the question. 

ii) Which assumes that all dreams are imaginary. But that begs the question. 

iii) Carrier is a physicalist. He denies postmortem survival. But even if, for the sake of argument, Jesus merely appeared to people as a discarnate spirit, that would be sufficient to falsify Carrier's naturalism. 

iv) People don't confuse ghosts and apparitions with a physical resurrection. Those are opposing categories.

The ancients did not make a distinction between waking visions and divine appearances in dreams. 

In Mt 28, Lk 24, Jn 20-21, and Acts 9, the witnesses were not in an altered state of consciousness when they saw Jesus. They didn't practice Yoga or trip out on acid. 

For example, as Robert Price well put it:
Let us imagine ourselves among the apostolic community in those early days. We hear reports from several of the brethren that they have seen the slain Jesus alive again. Naturally our eyes widen; our ears perk up. And, like Thomas, we ask, “Are you sure? Tell me about it!” One tells us, “Of course I didn’t realize it was Jesus at the time. It only dawned on me later” (so Luke 24:13–32). Another says, “It didn’t really look like him, I admit, but later on I realized it must have been Jesus” (so Matt. 28:17; John 20:14–15; 21:2–12). And so on. I submit to you that we would be well justified to wonder what might have happened, and not to be convinced that our friends had actually seen Jesus. (TEC, p. 230)

So Price thinks this is just mistaken identity? 

Carrier also talks about people who die for a noble lie. But they don't die for the lie. The lie is just a means to an end. They die for the cause. Yet the Resurrection is foundational to Christian faith. That's hardly analogous to a noble lie. 

More so if the honor or reputation—or security or emotional or financial or physical wellbeing—of their family (or community or congregation or flock) depends on their not recanting a lie.

Just the opposite: they sacrifice their honor, reputation, security, emotional, financial and/or physical wellbeing by publicly becoming Christian in the first place. 

Carrier then appeals to The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss. But read some of the scathing reviews:

But I have been accepting an assumption here: that the original believers were actually willing to die. Yet by all accounts, they avoided violence by any means possible. Look at the adventures of Paul, for example, e.g. Acts 9:23-25, 29-30. 

That's highly deceptive. At the outset of his mission, Paul avoided capture. His mission would be abortive if he allowed himself to be prematurely martyred. But towards the end of his career, he deliberately puts himself at risk of martyrdom in order to gain an audience with Caesar. He uses the appellate process as a pretext to evangelize the Roman ruling class, even though that exposes him to execution. 

Is it an accident that Peter recants precisely when he cannot protect himself from sudden retribution [e.g. Mark 14:66-72], but then reconverts when safe? 

Yes, he gave into the natural fear of death and torture. That shows you how high the stakes were. So Carrier's observation is counterproductive to his argument. 

Bass then leans on a vague allusion in the canonical Gospel of John 21:18-19. 

There's nothing vague about that. It's a retrospective allusion to the martyrdom of Peter, which had taken place at the time of writing. 

He does not mention that most top experts conclude the obvious, that that chapter is an appendix added after the original Gospel of John was written (see the end of John 20). It’s the latest layer of redaction. 

Actually, that's disputed. For instance, S. Porter, "Jesus and the Ending of John's Gospel," John, His Gospel, and Jesus (Eerdmans, 2015), chap. 9, 

And all specialists on John agree this was written in the early to mid second century, by authors unknown (yes, plural: John 21:24). 

It's demonstrable false that "all" (or even most) specialists on John think the final edition was written in the early to mid-2C. Moreover, if you combine Carrier's late dating scheme with his belief that the first edition circulated without the epilogue, he must explain how all our extant MSS contain the epilogue. Given the interval he implicitly postulates between the first edition and the final redaction, his Gospel would circulate in at least two different editions (with and without the epilogue). Why is there no trace of that in the MS tradition? 

And its stated source (something written by an unnamed “Beloved Disciple”)…

As Wescott demonstrated way back in the 19C, by process of elimination, the "Beloved Disciple" is John. 

Worse, it merely alludes to the Acts of Peter (in which Peter is crucified upside down). It has no other plausible source. And still this allusion in John says nothing about why Peter was killed or what he could have recanted to escape his death. It is therefore evidentially useless.

i) Which assumes Jn 21 is literarily dependent on the Acts of Peter rather than vice versa. 

ii) Since the Acts of Peter was written c. late 2C, that would require John's Gospel to be written around the turn of the 3C! How does Carrier propose to reconcile his radical dating scheme with patristic evidence and the MSS tradition? 

Likewise 1 Clement merely says Peter was martyred. Not why, how, or what for. 

Carrier is playing dumb. 

Besides, the notion that Romans or Jews would let Paul write letters from jail so as to continue conspiring with fellow criminals, much less that Paul could expect to stay in jail unkilled for the months it would take for all the correspondence and travel he commands, and that fellow criminals could visit him without being arrested (2 Tim 4:9-14)…

So Carrier doesn't think Romans ever employed house arrest? 

Because 1 Clement 5 says Paul died in Spain (“at the farthest end of the West”); the letter exhibits no knowledge of his dying in Rome.

That's not what 1 Clement actually says. Rather:

1Clem 5:5
By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out theprize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times inbonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached inthe East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was thereward of his faith,
1Clem 5:6having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reachedthe farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimonybefore the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto theholy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. 

Back to Carrier:

Of course, that’s even moot anyway. Because Paul is not actually a “witness” to anything but a dream or vision, as he swears in Galatians 1. 

i) Gal 1 doesn't say he saw Jesus in a dream or vision. Carrier seems to be using Acts to gloss Gal 1. 

ii) Paul's conversion experience in Acts is described in terms of an objective appearance. Remember, it's by the same author who records the physical, post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples (Lk 24; Acts 1). Although Jesus is radiant, that doesn't make it a subjective vision–any more than the Transfiguration (cf. Lk 9).

ii) Moreover, Paul says he received the "gospel" by revelation. His commission, as well as the theological interpretation of the event, not the event itself.

The report in Josephus was probably never even about Christians at all, much less about either James (see OHJ, Chapter 8.9 and HHBC, Chapter 19). The two words linking it to a brother of “the reputed Christ” are highly likely to be an accidental interpolation, probably substituted for what was originally there, two other words stating this James was a brother of the Jesus who was “the son of Damneus.” Christians are not mentioned. Not even in the passage as it now stands, James is not called a Christian, and Christianity is not mentioned as the reason he was convicted and executed.

Since Josephus evidently didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah, he uses a disclaimer ("reputed Messiah") to dissociate his own viewpoint from the viewpoint of Christians. Far from being "highly likely" an "accidental interpolation," we'd expect a non-Christian Jewish historian like Josephus to use that distancing formula. Moreover, that makes Josephus a hostile witness. 

Acts does not say the James killed by the sword was the brother of Jesus. It says it was James the brother of John (Acts 12:2). 

Which makes James a witness to the Resurrection. He'd be included among the original disciples (Lk 24; Acts 1).

Meanwhile, Acts does not say why James the brother of John was killed, what exactly he was dying for, or what he could have recanted to save himself. It simply says he was executed. And that’s it. 

Once again, Carrier is playing dumb. 


  1. The debate between Carrier and Bass would have been even better if during the Q&A the moderator allowed both of them to get into the deeper details. Instead, he repeatedly interrupted them and kept the discussion dumbed down.

    One tells us, “Of course I didn’t realize it was Jesus at the time. It only dawned on me later” (so Luke 24:13–32). Another says, “It didn’t really look like him, I admit, but later on I realized it must have been Jesus”

    That doesn't make much sense. If they were hallucinations, then wouldn't their subconscious expectations make the multiple appearances of the figure look like Jesus rather than not look like Jesus? Conversely, if the cause(s) was (were) an external stimulus/i, wouldn't they more likely have concluded that it wasn't Jesus if it didn't look like Jesus?

    So Carrier doesn't think Romans ever employed house arrest?

    Exactly. Also, I thought Paul wasn't convicted yet. Yes, no? Also, Paul was a Roman citizen, so they would have treated him far better than a non-citizen. Isn't it possible some letters were dictated by Paul to a visitor who was also an amanuensis. What if Paul healed one of the higher ranking prison guards (or one of their relatives, Paul having a reputation for miracles)? Isn't it possible that they might allow a beloved prisoner to have certain special privileges even if they didn't have the authority to let Paul go? Think of the privileges Joseph had in prison, or Andy Dufresne had in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, or Templeton "Faceman" Peck in The A-Team movie (2010).

  2. Several years ago, I wrote a response to Carrier on the issue of whether the apostles died for a noble lie. See page 246 here. In a debate with Michael Licona in 2010, Carrier acknowledged that the hypothesis is unlikely. He also said that we have good evidence for the martyrdom of some of the apostles and the sincerity of their belief that they'd seen Jesus risen from the dead. Go to the video here, and start watching just before the 1:44:00 point.

    My article linked above also addresses the recantation issue. As I explain there, we don't need to have accounts of individual resurrection witnesses or groups of them being given an opportunity to recant before they were executed (or were made to suffer for their resurrection belief in some other way). While having such accounts would be helpful, there are lesser types of evidence that are significant, even though they're less significant. For example, we know that it would have been in the interest of Christianity's enemies to give the resurrection witnesses an opportunity to recant, and many early sources tell us that the early Christians who were persecuted often were given a chance to recant. (I provide documentation of some examples in my article linked above.) It's unlikely that even one resurrection witness would have been denied an opportunity to recant if he wanted to. It's even more unlikely that all of them were denied it and that their desire to recant was never reported in a way that left any trace in the historical record. If Peter had denied Christ in an attempt to avoid execution, that probably would have been reported widely, just as his denial around the time of Jesus' arrest was so widely reported and so widely brought up and criticized by the early enemies of Christianity. If somebody like Paul or Thomas had gone the way of Judas or Demas, we'd expect his reputation to go the way of the reputation of Judas or Demas.

    I addressed issues like these in a series I wrote about the death of the apostles a few years ago. The first two segments address a lot of common objections, like the ones Carrier has raised.

  3. It was common for a prisoner in the Roman empire to be allowed access to visitors and thereby receive food, send letters, etc. Those who visited prisoners would give gifts to the guards, and would relieve the guards of the responsibility for providing food and other necessities for the prisoner, thus giving the guards incentive for allowing the visitors access to the person under their watch. (Keep in mind that resources that didn't have to be spent on the prisoner could be used by the guard instead.) Lucian, a second-century pagan critic of Christianity, confirms the historicity of such practices when he describes the behavior and treatment of Christian prisoners (Allen Brent, Ignatius Of Antioch [New York, New York: T & T Clark International, 2009], 49-51, 110).

  4. Regarding the pastoral epistles, Carrier comments, "Pretty much all non-fundamentalist experts agree those are forgeries." See here, among other sources that could be cited to the contrary.

  5. When Jesus was ass-fucked by the disciples, did he make Judas go last?

    Or did Mary Magdalene strap on a dildo and hammer our Savior's asshole one more time as the 13th disciple?

    Christianity, so many difficult questions.