Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dawson Bethrick's "Not Impossible" Speculations

Dawson Bethrick has written a response to the material posted at this blog in recent days on the subject of Jesus' resurrection. Bethrick's article addresses a large number of issues, makes many assertions it doesn't even attempt to support, and ignores much of what Steve and I have already said. Bethrick interacts with some portions of the material I linked to in my earlier articles, but he often ignores other portions that are relevant to the claims he's making.

Though he quotes me saying that historical judgments about Jesus' resurrection involve probability, not certainty, Bethrick often acts as if the issue is certainty. He refers to how it's "not impossible" that people experienced a subjective vision, as if the issue at hand is what's possible. Near the end of his article, he comments:

"In the final analysis, the proposal that hallucinations or other subjective factors played a role in the development of early Christian accounts, is not as implausible or 'unlikely' as these apologists would like to believe."

If the subjective vision theory is unlikely, then we should reject it, even if it's not as unlikely as some people think. Historical judgments, including a historical judgment about Jesus' resurrection, are matters of probability. It's not enough for Bethrick to argue that subjective visions are a possible explanation, and it's not enough for him to say that such visions and other "subjective factors" may have "played a role". If an objective appearance of Jesus to Paul better explains the evidence, then the fact that a subjective vision is possible doesn't overturn the probability of an objective appearance, and the involvement of "other subjective factors" can't overturn that probability unless Bethrick can show that it's probable that those factors produced the data we have.

Bethrick writes:

"Throughout his rejoinder to such proposals, Jason's approach to the matter rests on the assumption that the elements of the New Testament's stories are accurate and historical to begin with, and that a theory attributing the experience of the risen Jesus to hallucination would have to come to grips with these stories on their own terms."

I didn't just make an assumption. I linked to a Tektonics article that argues at length for the historicity of the resurrection accounts. In other articles at Triablogue and elsewhere, I've argued for the historicity of the gospels, the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels, etc.

"Given the scant details that can be adduced from the New Testament on the psychological stability of the characters mentioned in its stories and chronicles, it is unclear where defenders of Christianity think they get their certainty about the supposed truthfulness of the incredible claims found in the New Testament."

Notice that Bethrick once again poisons the well by making "certainty" the standard. I don't claim that historical conclusions are matters of certainty.

However, we do have much material from which to reach some conclusions about the psychology of the relevant historical figures. For example, we know what common Jewish belief about the resurrection involved. Whatever some minority sources believed, we know that the popular view of resurrection was a view that involved transformation of the physical body that died, as we see reflected in the Old Testament (Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2). We also know that Saul of Tarsus, for example, was an enemy of Christianity. We know that the early Christians were significantly persecuted, as we see reflected in Jesus' crucifixion, Paul's testimony about how he persecuted Christians, etc. We also have information on the beliefs of Jesus' disciples in the gospels, Acts, etc. From these factors and others, we can determine what a claim of resurrection would have normally meant in the context of first century Israel. We can also determine whether men like Saul of Tarsus, James, and Peter would be likely to have had the sort of expectation of a resurrection appearance that would be involved in a hallucination, since expectation is such a major factor in such psychological disorders. We don't know every detail of the psychology of the early Christians, but we do know a lot about their society, their circumstances, and their beliefs. And some of that information we have is contrary to the hallucination theory.

"The earliest of these documents are a series of letters written mostly by one man, known to us as the apostle Paul, and his accounts put Jesus in some unspecified past in an unspecified setting, for the most part giving no time, location or other details one could confidently call historical....Later, some time after Paul's life and missionizing campaign, a new series of texts starts to be written. These texts also speak of a man named Jesus who was divine, and who was also crucified by the Roman state, and who was later resurrected from the dead. But these texts, known as gospels, place this Jesus into a historical context that is absent from Paul's many letters."

Why would Paul include the sort of detail we see in the gospels? Paul did know some details, such as that Jesus had a brother named James (Galatians 1:19), what Jesus said on some occasions (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), that He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23), that the betrayal occurred at night (1 Corinthians 11:23), etc. The fact that Paul doesn't go into more detail doesn't prove that he was unaware of more details, nor would ignorance on Paul's part prove that later sources are fabricating the details they give.

It seems that Bethrick is largely relying on the erroneous arguments of Earl Doherty, who argues against Jesus' existence. Doherty's position was unknown to the earliest enemies of Christianity, who acknowledged Jesus' historicity. And Doherty's position is rejected by the large majority of modern scholarship. See the list of articles responding to him here, at J.P. Holding's web site.

If Christian contemporaries of Paul and Christianity's earliest enemies refer to Jesus as a historical figure of the early first century, and Paul's writings are consistent with that view, why should we conclude that it's probable that Paul believed in some significantly different Jesus? Why do men like Luke, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp speak so highly of Paul, if Paul was teaching about another Jesus who was radically different from the Jesus they believed in? Paul repeatedly said that the other church leaders were in agreement with him on the foundational issues of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:11, Galatians 2:7-10). So, does Bethrick want us to believe that Paul's Jesus was universally forgotten, then replaced with the Jesus of traditional Christianity at a time when Paul's disciples and contemporaries were still alive? Wouldn't somebody like Luke be in a better position to know Paul's view of Jesus than Dawson Bethrick is? Are we to conclude that Paul believed in a radically different Jesus than Luke, because Paul's letters don't go into as much detail as Luke's Greco-Roman biography does? What does Bethrick expect? A discussion of Jesus' infancy in Paul's letter to Philemon? Paul was writing letters, not Greco-Roman biographies, and he was writing those letters to people and communities that were already Christian.

"What's more is that the gospel texts essentially repeat the same story (suggesting that later narratives were derived from the earliest account to produce new versions), and - significantly - that the gospel story grows more elaborate and impressive with each telling. For instance, the earliest account, found in the book of Mark, begins with Jesus as an adult getting baptized under the supervision of John the Baptist. This detail is nowhere mentioned in any of Paul's letters."

Where would we expect Paul to discuss Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist? Was the Corinthian church asking Paul questions about John the Baptist's relationship with Jesus? No, they were asking Paul questions about other issues, like marriage and resurrection. When Paul wrote to the Galatians about the doctrine of justification, would we expect him to include a discussion of Jesus' relationship with John the Baptist? No.

As far as development is concerned, the fact is that there is no universal pattern of increasing complexity. John's gospel probably was the last one written, yet it contains fewer resurrection witnesses than 1 Corinthians 15 and fewer miracles than the previous gospels, for example. Matthew and Luke address Jesus' infancy in some depth, whereas John doesn't. Why, then, should we think of John's gospel as more developed? It was more developed in some ways, but not in others. Nothing in the development of the gospels makes it likely that the gospels are radically unhistorical or even unhistorical at all. See David Wood's extensive refutation of the sort of development argument Dawson Bethrick is advocating.

"Thus the gospel accounts themselves are unhelpful in uncovering any truths in the earliest testimony, for the narrative accounts that we find in the gospels bear the signs of literary invention rather than historical reporting."

The Tektonics article I linked to earlier discusses some of the evidence we have for the resurrection narratives. And we know what sort of literature the gospels are. They're Greco-Roman biographies. The New Testament scholar Craig Keener writes:

"Readers throughout most of history understood the Gospels as biographies (Stanton 1989a: 15-17), but after 1915 scholars tried to find some other classification for them, mainly because these scholars compared ancient and modern biography and noticed that the Gospels differed from the latter (Talbert 1977: 2-3; cf. Mack 1988: 16n.6). The current trend, however, is again to recognize the Gospels as ancient biographies. The most complete statement of the question to date comes from a Cambridge monograph by Richard A. Burridge. After carefully defining the criteria for evaluating genre (1992: 109-27) and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman ‘lives’ (128-90), he demonstrates how the canonical Gospels fit this genre (191-239). The trend to regard the Gospels as ancient biography is currently strong enough for British Matthew scholar Graham Stanton to characterize the skepticism of Bultmann and others about the biographical character of the Gospels as ‘surprisingly inaccurate’ (1993: 63; idem 1995: 137)….But though such [ancient] historians did not always write the way we write history today, they were clearly concerned to write history as well as their resources allowed (Jos. Ant. 20.156-57’ Arist. Poetics 9.2-3, 1451b; Diod. Sic. 21.17.1; Dion. Hal. 1.1.2-4; 1.2.1; 1.4.2; cf. Mosley 1965). Although the historical accuracy of biographers varied from one biographer to another, biographers intended biographies to be essentially historical works (see Aune 1988: 125; Witherington 1994:339; cf. Polyb. 8.8)….There apparently were bad historians and biographers who made up stories, but they became objects of criticism for violating accepted standards (cf. Lucian History 12, 24-25)….Matthew and Luke, whose fidelity we can test against some of their sources, rank high among ancient works….Like most Greek-speaking Jewish biographers, Matthew is more interested in interpreting tradition than in creating it….A Gospel writer like Luke was among the most accurate of ancient historians, if we may judge from his use of Mark (see Marshall 1978; idem 1991) and his historiography in Acts (cf., e.g., Sherwin-White 1978; Gill and Gempf 1994). Luke clearly had both written (Lk 1:1) and oral (1:2) sources available, and his literary patron Theophilus already knew much of this Christian tradition (1:4), which would exclude Luke’s widespread invention of new material. Luke undoubtedly researched this material (1:3) during his (on my view) probable sojourn with Paul in Palestine (Acts 21:17; 27:1; on the ‘we-narratives,’ cf., e.g., Maddox 1982: 7). Although Luke writes more in the Greco-Roman historiographic tradition than Matthew does, Matthew’s normally relatively conservative use of Mark likewise suggests a high degree of historical trustworthiness behind his accounts….only historical works, not novels, had historical prologues like that of Luke [Luke 1:1-4] (Aune 1987: 124)…A central character’s ‘great deeds’ generally comprise the bulk of an ancient biographical narrative, and the Gospels fit this prediction (Burridge 1992: 208). In other words, biographies were about someone in particular. Aside from the 42.5 percent of Matthew’s verbs that appear directly in Jesus’ teaching, Jesus himself is the subject of 17.2 percent of Matthew’s verbs; the disciples, 8.8 percent; those to whom Jesus ministers, 4.4 percent; and the religious establishment, 4.4 percent. Even in his absence he often remains the subject of others’ discussions (14:1-2; 26:3-5). Thus, as was common in ancient biographies (and no other genre), at least half of Matthew’s verbs involve the central figure’s ‘words and deeds’ (Burridge 1992: 196-97, 202). The entire point of using this genre is that it focuses on Jesus himself, not simply on early Christian experience (Burridge 1992: 256-58)." (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 17-18, 21-23, 51)

See also the further discussion in the Introduction in the first volume of Keener’s commentary on the gospel of John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003]). Keener goes into much more detail than what I outline above, far too much to quote here. For example:

"The lengths of the canonical gospels suggest not only intention to publish but also the nature of their genre. All four gospels fit the medium-range length (10,000-25,000 words) found in ancient biographies as distinct from many other kinds of works….all four canonical gospels are a far cry from the fanciful metamorphosis stories, divine rapes, and so forth in a compilation like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Gospels plainly have more historical intention and fewer literary pretensions than such works….Works with a historical prologue like Luke’s (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2) were historical works; novels lacked such fixtures, although occasionally they could include a proem telling why the author made up the story (Longus proem 1-2). In contrast to novels, the Gospels do not present themselves as texts composed primarily for entertainment, but as true accounts of Jesus’ ministry. The excesses of some forms of earlier source and redaction criticism notwithstanding, one would also be hard pressed to find a novel so clearly tied to its sources as Matthew or Luke is! Even John, whose sources are difficult to discern, overlaps enough with the Synoptics in some accounts and clearly in purpose to defy the category of novel….The Gospels are, however, too long for dramas, which maintained a particular length in Mediterranean antiquity. They also include far too much prose narrative for ancient drama….Richard Burridge, after carefully defining the criteria for identifying genre and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman bioi, or lives, shows how both the Synoptics and John fit this genre. So forceful is his work on Gospel genre as biography that one knowledgeable reviewer [Charles Talbert] concludes, ‘This volume ought to end any legitimate denial of the canonical Gospels’ biographical character.’ Arguments concerning the biographical character of the Gospels have thus come full circle: the Gospels, long viewed as biographies until the early twentieth century, now again are widely viewed as biographies….Biographies were essentially historical works; thus the Gospels would have an essentially historical as well as a propagandistic function….[quoting David Aune] ’while biography tended to emphasize encomium, or the one-sided praise of the subject, it was still firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction. Thus while the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicates that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened.’…had the Gospel writers wished to communicate solely later Christian doctrine and not history, they could have used simpler forms than biography….As readers of the OT, which most Jews viewed as historically true, they must have believed that history itself communicated theology….the Paraclete [in John’s gospel] recalls and interprets history, aiding the witnesses (14:26; 15:26-27).…the features that Acts shares with OT historical works confirms that Luke intended to write history…History [in antiquity] was supposed to be truthful, and [ancient] historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they exhibited self-serving agendas." (pp. 7-13, 17, n. 143 on p. 17, 18)

See also the large amount of evidence we have for Luke's historical reliability here and here.

"We do not have the benefit of seeing what Paul identified as Jesus when he tells us things such as that he received his gospel story by means of revelation (Gal. 1:12) and that 'it pleased God… to reveal his Son in me' (Gal. 1:15-16). So again, it's unclear how believers can conclusively rule out at least the possibility that what Paul experienced was hallucinatory in nature, or at least subjective."

Notice that Bethrick yet again poisons the well with a reference to whether we can "conclusively rule out at least the possibility". The issue is what's probable, not what's possible.

"The record we have nowhere rules out later private visitations by Jesus; in fact Paul's frequent appeals to having knowledge by means of divine revelation suggests that he enjoyed repeated visits by Jesus, or that he was in regular contact with the risen deity."

The article at Tektonics that I linked to earlier addresses that issue. Paul and the early Christians in general believed that Jesus' resurrection appearances ended shortly after Jesus' death. Paul refers to himself as the last witness. The early Christians distinguished between resurrection appearances and later visions. And they described the resurrection appearances differently than they described the visions. Thus, Paul's later experiences can't be equated with the resurrection appearance he witnessed. Paul himself distinguishes between the two. That's why the earliest generations believed that apostolic authority ended with the death of the apostles. Visions of Jesus continued, but resurrection appearances did not. The early Christians believed that God had revealed to them that the resurrection appearances were over, and the later experiences lacked the physicality of the resurrection appearances.

"Of course, at this point, one might raise the question: why doesn't Jesus do for everyone he wants to save what the New Testament says he did for the apostle Paul (i.e., pay a miraculous personal visit), rather than just for one man who lived upwards of 2,000 years ago, whose writings are the only record of these private deliverances from a divine source, and whose ideas have been hotly debated throughout the centuries? It's larger questions like this that serve to put these disputes about whether hallucinations et al. played a part in the development of the early Christian testimony. As it is now, with a private message hand-delivered to one individual who died centuries ago and penned into texts which read like legend and myth, the result that reaches us in the modern era tends to raise more questions than it can hope to answer, and to cause more problems than it can hope to resolve. Apparently the all-wise, all-knowing creator of the universe finds the present method of disseminating its word to be preferable to a direct approach, but for reasons that we will likely never know."

Christians don't claim that Jesus' resurrection is the only evidence that exists for Christianity. The Bible discusses prophecy fulfillment, the miracles of the apostles, and other evidence as well. The Bible also refers to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and other means of leading people to the truth.

Even if the resurrection were the only evidence Christianity offered, the fact that Bethrick and other critics are capable of raising objections doesn't prove that the objections are reasonable. For example, if you're aware of something as easy to understand as the fact that eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive when the New Testament was written, then much of what Bethrick claims about the New Testament shouldn't seem credible to an honest and reasonable person. Some people will agree with what Bethrick asserts anyway, but the problem isn't with God supplying too little evidence. Rather, the problem is with people either not being honest or not making sufficient effort to discern what's reasonable and what isn't.

If Bethrick wants to argue that all of the resurrection witnesses were hallucinating or mistaken in some other way, that the early Christians were repeatedly mistaken about who wrote the documents of the New Testament, that the early enemies of Christianity were too undiscerning or apathetic to do more to make such facts known, etc., then he ought to think about the difficulties involved in accepting his view of things. Christians do, after all, have first century documents they can cite supporting their position. The positions of people like Dawson Bethrick and Earl Doherty, on the other hand, are unknown to the early sources (Christian and non-Christian) and widely contradicted by the data we have. Bethrick's theories require an unprecedented amount of hallucination, forgetfulness, apathy, and other unusual characteristics to be combined within one community and its opponents during a short period of time. It's not just that Bethrick does this with the resurrection appearances. He also does it with the empty tomb, the pre-resurrection miracles of Jesus, the miracles of the apostles, prophecy fulfillment, etc. He keeps telling us that his speculations are "not impossible". That's true. But they're highly unlikely.

"Since the details of what Paul's 500 witnesses actually experienced are nowhere given, it is possible that the individuals he had in mind underwent a kind of mass trance-like episode."

We know that Paul is referring to a physical resurrection. That's why he refers to the transformation of mortal bodies (Romans 8:11) and the continuity between the planted seed and the object that grows from it (1 Corinthians 15:43), for example. See Christopher Price's extensive documentation of Paul's belief in a physical resurrection.

Thus, if the more than 500 people Paul refers to were witnesses of a purported physical resurrection, some implications follow. Anybody who believed in a physical resurrection would expect physical evidence, as we see reflected in the gospels. We know that the early Christians distinguished between the resurrection appearances and later visions and other experiences. We would expect, then, that both the group of more than 500 people and the people who preserved the account would be interested in discerning whether the experience was a physical sighting, not something non-physical. Bethrick can speculate that all of the people involved might have been mistaken, but the issue here is probability, not certainty. While it would be possible for more than 500 people to have a hallucination on the same subject at the same time, such an occurrence is unlikely. (And, remember, Bethrick or any other defender of a hallucination theory would have to argue that such group hallucinations, or group experiences of other psychological disorders, occurred repeatedly and in a short period of time.) The normal human desire when seeing Jesus would have been to speak with Him, as we see reflected in the gospel accounts. It seems unlikely that they would just look at Jesus, without any attempt to interact with Him. How would more than 500 people not only hallucinate at the same time and hallucinate the same general object (Jesus), but also not notice that they were seeing Him in different places, were hearing Him say different things, etc.? It's unlikely that more than 500 individual hallucinations are going to be accidentally coordinated or be mistaken for something coordinated later on.

Bethrick might try to minimize the difficulties involved in his theory by suggesting that perhaps all of these more than 500 people thought that Jesus only appeared at a distance briefly, then left. But how likely is it that more than 500 people would hallucinate at the same time, would hallucinate on the same subject, and all of them would hallucinate something as unusual as Jesus only appearing at a distance, then leaving soon after? Is Bethrick going to propose this sort of unlikely scenario to explain every one of the reported group appearances?

Part of the significance of 1 Corinthians 15:6 is that Paul refers to a majority of these people still being alive. How would Paul know such a detail, and why would he mention it? Apparently, even more than 20 years after the resurrection appearances, Paul continued to follow the lives of these people. It doesn't seem that Paul was being careless. He goes on, later in the same chapter, to refer to how Christian faith is worthless if Jesus wasn't resurrected. He knows that the issue is highly significant. It doesn't seem that Paul was so careless that he would have a hallucination, not realize that it was just a hallucination, then join a group with hundreds of other people who had the same sort of hallucination around the same time, without any of them realizing it either. 1 Corinthians 15:6 isn't just significant because of what it tells us about a group of more than 500 people. It's also significant because of what it suggests about Paul's carefulness and his concern for evidence.

"Was Marshall Applewhite hallucinating? I don't know, but I tend to doubt that he was since his devotion to his nonsense was sustained over a long period of time."

What did Marshall Applewhite claim to see? Believing that a spaceship exists in outer space isn't equivalent to claiming to have seen a man risen from the dead. Applewhite's claim was of a different nature, his social context was radically different, he didn't have the sort of corroboration a source like Paul had, etc. The fact that Bethrick makes such a comparison doesn't hurt Christianity's credibility as much as it hurts Bethrick's. Does he understand the relevant issues so poorly that he thinks that Heaven's Gate is comparable to early Christianity?

"Of course, we should not expect any New Testament writer to have come forward to correct the record if in fact any of these alleged eyewitnesses did discover that they were mistaken."

See my article on a related subject here. If any of the apostles or other resurrection witnesses had renounced the faith, we would expect there to be many ripples in the historical record, as we see with Judas and Demas in non-resurrection contexts. The early enemies of Christianity show no knowledge of anybody like Paul, Peter, or John having denied the resurrection, and the earliest post-apostolic sources speak of all of these men having died within the faith. Bethrick is speculating that something may have happened that doesn't appear anywhere in the historical record and is widely contradicted by the data we do have. Once again, we see how Bethrick proposes highly unlikely possibilities as alternatives to the probable.

"But there is an even larger concern here. While we are told that coincidental mass hallucination 'seems unlikely,' this is stated in the context of a defense of a belief system which tells us that 'all things are possible' (Mt. 19:26), that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that dead people rose from their graves (cf. Mt. 27:52-53), that serpents and donkeys and burning bushes speak in human languages, that water was turned into wine by a wish, etc."

Men like Paul, his travel companions, and James weren't Christians. They were initially skeptical of the Christian claim. Even as far as Christians like Peter and John are concerned, the fact that a person is a supernaturalist doesn't mean that he'll believe any supernatural claim that's made by anybody. And the fact that people are Christians doesn't prove that they'll believe any claim that's made by anybody in the name of Christianity. That's why Muslims don't believe in Jesus' resurrection, Presbyterians question the miracle claims of Pentecostals, etc. The early Christian sources tell us - multiple sources and on multiple occasions and in multiple ways - that Jesus' disciples and other resurrection witnesses weren't expecting to see Jesus risen from the dead. Whatever supernatural views they held, an expectation of Jesus' resurrection wasn't one of them. And we know that expectation plays a major role in hallucinations. That's why I said, earlier, that people like the women who went to the tomb, Thomas, Saul of Tarsus, etc. were poor candidates for a hallucination. They weren't expecting to see Jesus.

If Bethrick wants to speculate that all of the early sources are mistaken about this fact, then he needs to give us more than just the possibility that all of the sources were mistaken. He needs to explain why they would collectively make up such a thing, and he needs to explain why he thinks that men like Paul and James were expecting to see the risen Jesus. And, remember, the issue here is probability, not possibility.

"But if I held to the view that the universe is run by a magic spirit who choreographs all events in human history according to a divine 'plan,' on what grounds could I confidently say that uniform hallucinatory experiences shared by even enormous numbers of human beings is either 'unlikely' or impossible?"

Here we see another example of how Dawson Bethrick doesn't understand the issues he's discussing. Christians don't argue that hallucinations would be supernaturally impossible. What Christian ever denied that God could produce mass hallucinations? That's not the issue. Rather, the issue is the unlikelihood of these hallucinations occurring naturalistically. If Bethrick wants to argue that God made these people hallucinate, then we can interact with that argument. Until then, our focus will be on naturalistic theories, since Bethrick and other critics aren't arguing for supernatural theories.

But, since Bethrick brought it up, why do Christians believe that God produced a resurrection rather than hallucinations? Because it wouldn't make sense for God to produce such hallucinations, yet have the hallucinated Jesus tell people that He had been resurrected and have all of the witnesses mistakenly think that a resurrection had occurred. If God is going to produce hallucinations, why would He have those hallucinations communicate misinformation and be misunderstood by all of the people who had the hallucinations?

I want to close this response to Bethrick by addressing the issue of alleged errors in the New Testament, which is a subject Bethrick mentions in his article. Such claims of error have been answered for centuries, and anybody interested in more information on specific passages or subjects can consult a resource like J.P. Holding's web site.

However, we should keep in mind that claiming that there are errors in the New Testament doesn't justify a rejection of the general historicity of the documents. Even if an author like Luke would be wrong on two, five, or fifteen incidents he reports, the fact would remain that he was right about hundreds of other details and remains a highly credible source. (See, for example, here and here.) Craig Keener writes:

"But the divergent details [in the accounts of the resurrection appearances] suggest independent traditions, thereby underlining the likelihood of details the accounts share in common (e.g., Boyd 1995: 277-78). This fits what we should expect of eyewitness traditions. (Thus, for example, though two eyewitnesses who accompanied Alexander agreed that Callisthenes was indicted, publicly scorned, and died, and though their accounts could be called entirely trustworthy [pany pistoi], they differ even on whether he died by sickness or hanging – Arrian Alex. 4.14.3. The variation in the Gospel accounts is far less significant than this.)" (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 697-698)

That's one of the reasons why modern scholarship, including much non-conservative scholarship, rejects a lot of the arguments put forward by people like Dawson Bethrick and Earl Doherty. The New Testament documents give too many details about the resurrection appearances, and give those details too early and in too credible a context, for it to be plausible to dismiss as many of the details as people like Dawson Bethrick do. The more he suggests that the New Testament authors were mistaken, and the more he does so without any direct evidence to that effect and without any of Christianity's early enemies supporting Bethrick's speculations, the less plausible his case becomes. It seems that Dawson Bethrick's conclusions have more to do with his desires than with the historical data.

I will say one thing favorable about his conclusions, though. They're "not impossible". You can't say much more than that in support of them.

1 comment:


    About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

    Peace Be With You