Friday, March 23, 2018

Early, Non-Extant Documents On The Resurrection

The early Christians had a lot of information we don't possess today that's relevant to Jesus' resurrection and other subjects. Few people would deny that Paul communicated some information orally that he didn't write in any of his extant letters, that James knew more about the resurrection appearance to him than what's described in 1 Corinthians 15:7, that the gospel authors only wrote about some of the information they had rather than all of it (John 21:25), and so on.

But it's often asserted or implied that the additional information the early Christians had in such contexts was communicated orally rather than in writing to an inordinate degree. We're told that oral communication is less stable than written communication, that memories and oral traditions wouldn't have held up well over the few decades that passed before the gospels were written, and so forth.

Responses to such objections often take the form of arguing for the reliability of the unwritten transmission of the information in question. Memory is more reliable than the critics suggest. The ancient cultures under consideration had developed sufficient methods for preserving information orally. The gospels should be dated earlier than the critics date them. Etc. Those responses are good as far as they go. However, we need to be careful to not concede too much about the alleged lack of written sources in these contexts.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Richard Carrier: Christian apologist

The most ironic section of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014) is chapter 4, where he unwittingly makes a case for Jesus as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. Of course, that's not Carrier's intention, but he's blissfully blind to the apologetic thrust of his argument:

Even before Christianity arose, some Jews expected one of their messiahs heralding the end times would actually be killed, rather than be immediately victorious, and this would mark the key point of a timeta­ble guaranteeing the end of the world soon thereafter...First, the Talmud provides us with a proof of concept at the very least (and actual confirmation at the very most). It explicitly says the suffer­ing servant who dies in Isaiah 53 is the messiah (and that this messiah will endure great suffering before his death) [b. Sanhedrin 98b and 93b]. The Talmud likewise has a dying-and-rising 'Christ son of Joseph' ideology in it, even saying (quoting Zech. 12.10) that this messiah will be 'pierced' to death [b. Sukkah 52a-b].

There is no plausible way later Jews would invent interpretations of their scripture that supported and vindicated Christians. They would not invent a Christ with a father named Joseph who dies and is resurrected (as the Talmud does indeed describe). They would not proclaim Isaiah 53 to be about this messiah and admit that Isaiah had there predicted this messiah would die and be resurrected. That was the very biblical passage Christians were using to prove their case. Moreover, the presentation of this ideology in the Talmud makes no men­tion of Christianity and gives no evidence of being any kind of polemic or response to it. So we have evidence here of a Jewish belief that possibly predates Christian evangelizing, even if that evidence survives only in later sources.

The alternative is to assume a rather unbelievable coincidence: that Christians and Jews, completely independently of each other, just happened at some point to see Isaiah 53 as messianic and from that same passage preach an ideology of a messiah with a father named Joseph (literally or symbolically), who endures great suffering, dies and is resurrected (all in accord with the savior depicted in Isaiah 53, as by then understood). Such an amazing coincidence is simply improbable.

But the Talmud and the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel are not our only evidence of a pre-Christian dying-messiah theme. The book of Daniel (writ­ ten well before the rise of Christianity) explicitly says a messiah will die shortly before the end of the world (Dan. 9.2; 9.24-27; cf. 12.1-13). This is already conclusive. Given my definition of 'messiah' (in §3), Christianity looks exactly like an adaptation of the same eschatological dying-messiah motif in Daniel.

Isaiah 53 was already under­ stood to contain an atonement-martyrdom framework applicable to dying heroes generally...But of the more specific notion of a dying messiah, we also have other pre-Christian evidence in the form of a Dead Sea Scroll designated 11Q13, the Melchizedek Scroll...There are many such pesherim at Qumran. But this one tells us about the 'messenger' of Isaiah 52-53 who is linked in Isaiah with a 'servant' who will die to atone for everyone's sins (presaging God's final victory), which (as we have already seen) later Jews definitely regarded as the messiah. At Qumran,11Q13 appears to say that this messenger is the same man as the 'messiah' of Daniel 9, who dies around the same time an end to sin is said to be accomplished (again presaging God's final victory), and that the day on which this happens will be a great and final Day of Atonement, absolving the sins of all the elect, after which (11Q13 goes on to say) God and his savior will overthrow all demonic forces. And all this will proceed according to the timetable in Daniel9.Thus, 11Q13 appears to predict that a messiah will die and that this will mark the final days before which God's agent(s) will defeat Belial (Satan) and atone for the sins of the elect.

Regardless of how one chooses to understand the text of 11Q13, we still have Dan. 9.24-27, which is already unmistakably clear in predicting that a messiah will die shortly before the end of the world, when all sins will be forgiven; and Isaiah 53 is unmistakably clear in declaring that all sins will be forgiven by the death of God's servant, whom the Talmud identi­fies as the messiah. So there is no reasonable basis for denying that some pre-Christian Jews would have expected at least one dying messiah, and some could well have expected his death to be an essential atoning death,
just as the Christians believed of Jesus Even apart from 11Q13 there is evidence the Dead Sea community may have already been thinking this, since one of their manuscripts of Isaiah explicitly says the suffering servant figure in Isaiah 53 shall be 'anointed' by God and then 'pierced through for our transgressions'. For this and the following points see the discussion of the pre-Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 in Martin Hengel, 'The Effective History of Isaiah 53 in the Pre-Christian Period', in The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources (ed. Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids, Ml: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 75-146.

The Christian gospel is thus already right there in Daniel, the more so if Daniel 9 had been linked with Isaiah 52-53, which is exactly what 11QI3 appears to do. But even without such a connection being made, the notion that a Christ was expected to die to presage the end of the world is already clearly intended in Daniel, even by its origi­nal authors' intent, and would have been understood in the same way by subsequent readers of Daniel. The notion of a dying messiah was therefore already mainstream, well before Christianity arose. 

The suffering-and-dying servant of Isaiah 52-53 and the mes­siah of Daniel 9 (which, per the previous element, may already have been seen by some Jews as the same person) have numerous logical connections with a man in Zechariah 3 and 6 named 'Jesus Rising' who is confronted by Satan in God's abode in heaven and there crowned king, given all of God's authority, holds the office of high priest, and will build up 'God's house' (which is how Christians described their church)

In the Septuagint text, Zechariah is commanded in a vision to place the crown of kingship upon 'Jesus' (Zech. 6.11) and to say immediately upon doing so that 'Jehovah declares' that this Jesus is 'the man named ''Rising" and he shall rise up from his place below and he shall build the House of the Lord'. The key noun is anatole, which is often translated 'East' because it refers to where the sun rises (hence 'East'), but such a translation obscures the fact that the actual word used is the noun 'rising' or 'rise' (as in 'sunrise'), which was not always used in reference to a compass point, and whose real connotations are more obvious when translated literally. In fact by immediately using the cognate verb 'to rise up' (anatelei, and that explicitly 'from his place below') it's clear the Septuagint translator under­ stood the word to mean 'rise' (and Philo echoes the same pun in his interpretation...

If this 'Jesus Rising' were connected to the dying servant who atones for all sins in Isaiah (and perhaps also with Daniel or 11Q13), it would be easy to read out of this almost the entire core Christian gospel. Connecting the two figures in just that way would be natural to do: this same 'Jesus' who is named 'Rising' (or, in both places, 'Branch' in the extant Hebrew, as in 'Davidic heir', or so both contexts imply) appears earlier in Zechariah 3, where 'Jesus' is also implied to be the one called 'Rising' (in 3.8). Both are also called 'Jesus the high priest' throughout Zechariah 3 and 6, hence clearly the same person. And there he is also called God's 'servant'. And it is said that through him (in some unspecified way) all sin in the world will be cleansed 'in a single day' (Zech. 3.9). Both concepts converge with Isaiah 52-53, which is also about God's 'servant', whose death cleanses the world's sins (Isa. 52.13 and 53.11), which of course would thus happen in a single day (as alluded in Isa. 52.6). And as we saw earlier, Jews may have been linking this dying 'servant' to the dying 'Christ' killed in Daniel 9 (in 11Q13), whose death is also said to correspond closely with a conclusive 'end of sin' in the world (Dan. 9.24-26), and both figures (in Daniel and 11Q13) were linked to an expected 'atonement in a single day'...These dots are so easily connected, and with such convincing I am concerned only with the existence of the scriptural coincidences.

As I mentioned, an 'exoteric' reading of Zechariah 3 and 6 would con­clude the author originally meant the first high priest of the second temple, Jesus ben Jehozadak (Zech. 6.11; cf. Hag. 1.1), who somehow came into an audience with God, in a coronation ceremony (one would presume in heaven, as it is in audience with God and his angels and attended by Satan) granting him supreme supernatural power over the universe (Zech. 3.7)...As it happens, the name Jehozadak means in Hebrew 'Jehovah the Righteous', so one could also read this as 'Jesus, the son of Jehovah the Righteous', and thereby conclude this is really 'Jesus, the son of God'. This is notable considering the evidence we have of a preexistent son of God named Jesus in pre-Christian Jewish theology...And all from connecting just three passages in the OT that already have distinctive overlapping similarities. 

The pre-Christian book of Daniel was a key messianic text, laying out what would happen and when, partly inspiring much of the very messianic fervor of the age, which by the most obvious (but not originally intended) interpretation predicted the messiah's arrival in the early first century, even (by some calculations) the very year of 30 CE...By various calculations this could be shown to predict, by the very Word of God, that the messiah would come sometime in the early first century CE. Several examples of these calculations survive in early Christian literature, the clearest appearing in Julius Africanus in the third century.47 Julius Africanus, in his lost History of the World, which excerpt survives in the collection of George Syncellus, Excerpts of Chronography 18.2.

The date there calculated is precisely 30 CE; hence it was expected on this calculation (which was simple and straightforward enough that anyone could easily have come up with the same result well before the rise of Christianity) that a messiah would arise and be killed in that year (as we saw Daniel had 'predicted' in 9.26...

Jesus could do no mighty work there

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mk 6:5).

In his commentary, Darrell Bock makes a couple of trenchant observations about this provocative statement. Cf. D. Bock, Mark (Cambridge 2015), 202. I'd like to briefly expand on Bock's comments:

i) Bock's first point is that in the Gospels, people are usually healed by coming to Jesus or being brought to Jesus. If, however, Jesus faces a wall of animosity in Nazareth, then far fewer people than normal will present themselves to be healed. So it's not about his absolute inability to heal them, but about their refusal to seek him out for healing. Jesus typically leaves it to the ailing individual (or friends and family) to take the initiative. 

ii) In addition, there's a link between faith, the message, messenger, and healing. Jesus won't make a policy of healing people who aren't open to the Gospel. Physical healing is secondary. That's for this life, whereas salvation is primary–that's for all time. Jesus won't reward hostile unbelief. Accepting the gift but rejecting the giver. 

Is Jesus a mythical hero?

I'm continuing my analysis of Richard Carrier's turgid monograph On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014):

The twenty-two features distinctive of this hero-type are:
1. The hero's mother is a virgin. 
2. His father is a king or the heir of a king. 
3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual. 
4. He is reputed to be the son of a god. 
5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby. 
6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him. 
7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents. 
8. We are told nothing of his childhood. 
9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king. 
11. He reigns uneventfully (i.e., without wars or national catastrophes). 
12. He prescribes laws. 
13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects. 
14. He is driven from the throne or city. 
15. He meets with a mysterious death. 
16. He dies atop a hill or high place.
17. His children, if any, do not succeed him. 
18. His body turns up missing. 
19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction). 
20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary
(such as a king, giant, dragon or wild beast).
21. His parents are related to each other. 
22. He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor.

1. Qedipus (21) 
2. Moses (20) 
3. Jesus (20) 
4. Theseus (19) 
5. Dionysus (19) 
6. Romulus (18) 
7. Perseus (17) 
8. Hercules (17) 
9. Zeus (15)
10. Bellerophon (14) 
11. Jason (14) 
12. Osiris (14) 1
3. Pelops (13)
14. Asclepius (12) 
15. Joseph [i.e., the son ofJacob] (12)

“Leaving Doctrinal Truth Untouched”

Rorate Caeli used this photo
with this article
The folks at the Rorate Caeli blog (“Traditionalists” who still maintain “communion with the successor of Peter”) are looking forward to the publication of Ross Douthat’s book on Pope Bergoglio:

Mr. Douthat had a column in the Sunday New York Times (largely an excerpt from his forthcoming book) exposing the myth that Francis would grow the Church (Mass attendance has been down under this pontificate), and examining how calling for a "truce" on hot-button issues has been part of a stealth agenda of incremental liberalization.

This paragraph is perhaps the most eloquent we have seen in a while, unmasking the tactics of Bergoglio:

The papal plan for a truce is either ingenious or deceptive, depending on your point of view. Instead of formally changing the church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, euthanasia — changes that are officially impossible, beyond the powers of his office — the Vatican under Francis is making a twofold move. First, a distinction is being drawn between doctrine and pastoral practice that claims that merely pastoral change can leave doctrinal truth untouched. So a remarried Catholic might take communion without having his first union declared null, a Catholic planning assisted suicide might still receive last rites beforehand, and perhaps eventually a gay Catholic can have her same-sex union blessed — and yet supposedly none of this changes the church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble and suicide a mortal sin and same-sex wedlock an impossibility, so long as it’s always treated as an exception rather than a rule.

These are folks who operate with the understanding that “the Church” can operate with one or two bad popes, and still be ontologically “the same Church” (structurally) that was supposedly instituted in seed form at Matt 16:18.

They operate (as Douthat may not) with the understanding that this one bad pope won’t harm the underlying structure.

The hero's journey

Ever since the 19C (James Frazer's The Golden Bough), some atheists have attempted to classify Jesus as a variation on the mythical hero archetype. One methodological problem with that tactic is the sheer variety of classification schemes. There are many different hero mythotype taxonomies, depending on which comparative sources are used, and which features are included or excluded to abstract a lowest common denominator. So the classification scheme is very rubbery. An atheist can mix-and-match to manufacture a designer mythotype that will dovetail with his preconceived agenda. Here's a useful list:

Various Patterns of Hero Journeys from folklorists who compared hero stories from around the world. Levi-Strauss' is the one I rely on most. Kluckhohn's is the most general and useful of the other type. Campbell's coordinates well with patterns of the ritual process. Most were produced in the mid-20th century from comparisons of many stories 
Claude Lévi-Strauss’s view of the hero (based on comparison of myths from around the world, but especially Native American myths) = Structuralism
  • Series of impossible mediations between oppositions which are ordered according to
o     Geography: e.g. east – west
o     Cosmology: e.g. below – above
o     Logic: e.g. integration, resolve distances
o     Sociology: e.g. patrilocal – matrilocal residence
o     Techno-economic schema: e.g. water famine à hunt à success
o     Global integration (of 2 exreme propositions
·       Hero = Mediator between dualities / oppositions
o     Often in TWIN form: Messiah & Trickster
Clyde Kluckhohn's Pattern (based on his study of Spencer’s analysis of Navaho mythology which lead to his own realization of these similarities with other world mythology)
  •         The hero has adventures and achievements of extraordinary kind (e.g., slaying monsters, overcoming death, controlling the weather).
  •         There is often something special about the birth of the hero (occasionally heroine)
  •         Help from animals is a frequent motif.
  •         A separation from one or both parents at an early age is involved.
  •         There is antagonism and violence toward near kin, though mainly toward siblings or father-in-law. This hostility may be channeled in one or both directions. It may be masked but is more often expressed in violent acts.
  •         There is eventual return and recognition with honor. The hero’s achievements are realized by his immediate family and redound in some way to their benefit and that of the larger group to which the family belongs.
Johann Georg von Hahn’s Hero Pattern (based on biographies of 14 heroes--mostly Western--including Oedipus)
1.    The hero is of illegitimate birth
2.    His mother is the princess of the country
3.    His father is a god or a foreigner
4.    There are signs warning of his ascendance
5.    For this reason he is abandoned
6.    He is suckled by animals
7.    He is brought up by a childless shepherd couple
8.    He is a high-spirited youth
9.    He seeks service in a foreign country
10.  He returns victorious and goes back to the foreign land
11. He slays his original persecutors, accedes to rule the country, and sets his mother free
12. He founds cities
13. The manner of his death is extraordinary
14. He is reviled because of incest and he dies young
15. He dies by an act of revenge at the hands of an insulted servant
16. He murders his younger brother
 Jan De Vries Hero Pattern (based on comparison of traditional folk tales, mostly European)
             1.    The hero is begotten
2.    He is born
3.    His youth is threatened
4.    He is brought up
5.    He often acquires invulnerability
6.    He fights with the dragon or other monster
7.    He wins a maiden, usually after overcoming great dangers
8.    He makes an expedition to the underworld
9.    He returns to the land from which he was once banished and conquers his enemies
10.  He dies
Lord Raglan’s Hero Pattern (based on comparison of 18 classical myths, mostly from the Western world)
1.    His mother is a royal virgin
2.    His father is a king, and
3.    Often a near relative of his mother, but
4.    The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5.    He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6.    At birth an attempt is made, often by his father, to kill him, but
7.    He is spirited away, and
8.    Reared by foster parents in a far country
9.    We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10.  On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
11.  After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beat,
12.  He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
13.  Becomes king
14.  For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
15.  Prescribes laws, but
16.  Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17.   Is driven from the throne and city.
18.   He meets with a mysterious death,
19.   Often at the top of a hill.
20.   His children, if any, do not succeed him.
21.   His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22.   He has one or more holy sepulchers.  
Joseph Campbell’s Structure of the Heroic Journey (based on comparison of parts of narratives from around the world). Similar to the pattern of separation, initiation/transformation, return of the ritual process (see Victor Turner)
1.    The Call to Adventure
2.    Refusal of the Call
3.    Supernatural Aid
4.    Crossing the First Threshold
5.    Passage Into the Realm of Night
1.    The Road of Trials
2.    The Meeting with the Goddess
3.    Temptation
4.    Atonement
5.    Receiving the Ultimate Boon
1.    Reconciliation
2.    Healing
3.    Paradise Regained

“Catholic Converts”: Come Back Home to Genuine (Protestant) Christianity

C.S. Lewis gave this reason for why he never became a Roman Catholic:

“The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.” From “Christian Reunion”, in Christian Reunion and Other Essays, edited by Walter Hooper, London: Collins, 1990, p. 17-18.

This statement becomes more of a fulfilled prophecy all the time, especially as we begin to see the fruit of the “Pope Francis” papacy.

Now that conservative Roman Catholics (and the ones we know are mostly the converts from Protestantism) are lamenting, in fact, holding conferences, to “Address the Crisis of Confusion in the Church”. Here is one announcement by the milquetoast “National Catholic Register”:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Free ebooks by Warfield

Art imitates life

I'm continuing my analysis of Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014). 

Analogously, the mythical Abraham is conveniently named ('father of many') in Gen. 17.5 (and his original name, Abram, 'exalted father'. is no less convenient). similarly anticipating what he would become in the future. which doesn't tend to happen in the real world [240n9]

i) To begin with, do we even have Abraham's original name? Or do we have a Hebrew cognate? Abraham didn't speak Hebrew. His parents didn't give him a Hebrew name. He has a Hebrew name because the OT is written in Hebrew. But presumably that's a translation. 

ii) More to the point, a name that forecasts a future destiny is, indeed, improbable in a godless universe, but of course, that's hardly the viewpoint of the Pentateuchal narrator. Rather, the Pentateuch depicts a God who is orchestrating events behind-the-scenes to their appointed end. History as a series of divinely-planned events. As such, there's no incongruity within the narrative viewpoint of figure who has a prescient name. 

That should make us suspicious from the start. Isn't his name abnor­mally convenient? The 'Christ' part was assigned by those who believed he was the messiah, and thus not accidental. But what are the odds that his birth name would be 'Savior', and then he would be hailed as the Savior? Are historical men who are worshiped as savior gods usually so conveni­ently named? [240]

But according to Matthew and Luke, both his parents had angelic revelations regarding the future destiny of Jesus. Of course, Carrier is an atheist, but the point is that there's nothing inconsistent with his having a "convenient" name given the Jewish outlook of the Synoptics. 

Common Grace and the ‘Already and Not Yet’ Theme of Scripture

Already spring, and not yet finished shoveling snow.
We’ve been treated to at least one more snowfall, this one having been “inaugurated” on the first day of spring. It looks as if the snowfall will continue for another day or so.

While I was out shoveling, I was reminded of the phrase “already and not yet” as it applies to our redemption in Christ, as we still live in this fallen world.

It’s already spring, but I’m still shoveling.

One of the striking themes in the NT is that of the “already–not yet.” God has inaugurated his kingdom, but he has not consummated it. He has begun to fulfil his saving promises, but he has not yet completed all that he has started. No one can grasp the message of the NT if redemptive history is slighted. The NT does not negate the OT but fulfills it (Thomas Schreiner, “New Testament Theology”, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2001, p. 14).

I’m amazed at the common grace of God, enabling us to see (foresee) traces of His plan in the midst of common, everyday life. I wonder how many people will be complaining of the snow, all the while, missing this quite evident symbol of our current place in redemptive history.

The promised new creation will become a reality at the coming of Jesus Christ. God’s covenantal promises will then be fulfilled, and the groaning of the old creation will end when the new world dawns with all its stunning beauty.

What will make the new creation so ravishing is a vision of God and his dwelling with his people. Believers will enter the new creation with the resurrected bodies that they have been awaiting eagerly in the interval between the already and the not yet.

They will receive the reward of eternal life and the kingdom promises that they grasped by faith while on this earth. The final inheritance and salvation that were longed for will then become a reality (p. 864).

We are already redeemed. Until then, the task of shoveling snow is made lighter, knowing that it’s already spring, and the snow won’t last long at all.

Nature miracles

Graham H. Twelftree, ed.  The Nature Miracles of Jesus: Problems, Perspectives, and Prospects.  Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017

Craig Keener offers what is the most impressive chapter in the volume.  As he has done in his major two-volume work on miracles and in several subsequent journal articles, Keener offers a representative collection of examples (including some new ones) of well-documented and very credible contemporary parallels to the major categories of the nature miracles in the Gospels:  instantaneous, helpful changes in the weather after public Christian prayer or prophecy, multiplication of food, extraordinary fish catches, water turning into wine, and walking on water.  Other miracles could only happen after certain modern inventions—a life-saving journey in a car filled only with water after it had run out of gas to make it safely to the next village in the central African bush, for example.  

Tim McGrew focuses on the resurrection of Humean arguments in New Testament scholarship in an age when most philosophers have recognized their illegitimacy.  He rehearses the major fallacies in each of them and reminds us that Hume’s critics in the eighteenth and nineteenth century already highlighted these flaws.  More interdisciplinary work is needed so that scholars in one discipline will come to recognize the contributions of the other.  But McGrew also finds Keener’s approach part of a growing body of literature that has documented miracles even in the Western world, even under the scrutiny of hospital doctors.  Ironically, it may turn out that we can accept Hume’s stricture that we must have analogies in our own experience of reported events to be able to accept them because of the mounting contemporary evidence that miracles like those in the Gospels still happen.

It should come as no surprise, in light of my own writings, that I find Keener’s and McGrew’s contributions the most valuable of the collection.  I have personally witnessed inexplicable healings and have had analogies to nature miracles described to me by close friends and family members in contexts that make them virtually impossible to doubt. 

Craig Blomberg

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Are miracles still happening?

How do you know if what you believe is true?


In his book On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield 2014), one of Carrier's showcase examples is his claim that the Synoptic Jesus is modeled on Romulus. He discusses this at length in two different chapters. But ironically, Carrier himself is guilty of legendary embellishment. Carrier confabulates a legend about Jesus as a variation on Romulus by how Carrier selectively summarizes his sources, redacts his sources, and indulges in equivocations. Let's begin with Carrier's claims:

Monday, March 19, 2018

3 Reasons I’d (Still) Let My Sons Play Tackle Football

Let kids be kids

Presuppositional Catholicism

In my experience, Bryan Cross never begins with evidence; rather, he always begins with his preconception of what "the Church" must be like. By definition, "the Church" must be such-and-such. He has an unfalsifiable paradigm. Kinda like Barth's concept of suprahistory, where Christian essentials safely exist in a Never-never land sealed off from the risk of empirical or historical disconfirmation.

Even if he occasionally appeals to the church fathers, I suspect that's filtered through his Catholic paradigm. The Roman Magisterium has the "final interpretive authority" regarding the consensus patrum. So there is no independent evidence for Catholicism, only value-laden evidence that takes the Catholic paradigm for granted. It's a kind of Catholic presuppositionalism. An axiomatic system in which the "the Church" is axiomatic, but the axioms are indemonstrable. 

The address of the "visible" Church is Shangri-La. Although you can't find it on the map, it's oh-so visible–unlike those hapless Protestant denominations. 

Resurrection Witnesses Lived More Than Half A Century

Resurrections, both in the sense of resuscitation and in the higher sense of transformation into an immortal state, are often considered the greatest of the miracles attributed to Jesus and the apostles. But the documents that attribute those miracles to them are often dated to the closing decades of the first century or later. I've argued elsewhere that three of the gospels and Acts were written in the mid sixties or earlier. But even if we dated them to later decades, would their testimony about resurrections be too late to be credible? One way of approaching that issue is to ask how many resurrection witnesses would still have been alive in those later decades.

The claims of resurrection come from a large number and variety of sources, and the claims are placed in highly public settings. There's no effort to explain a lack of evidence by claiming that the resurrections were more private. Jesus' reputation as somebody who raised the dead in Matthew 11:5 comes in the midst of a context unlikely to be made up (the doubts of John the Baptist) and is often considered early Q material. (See the discussion in Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], 333-34, where he mentions that most scholars accept the historicity of Jesus' comments in Matthew 11:5-6.) The raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) is highly public. Its public nature is mentioned frequently and emphatically (7:11-12, 7:17-18, 7:24). Paul refers to hundreds of witnesses of Jesus' resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). And so on.

Quandary ethics

Arminian theologian Roger Olson recently did a predictable post on "torture": 

1. Before getting to my main point, I'm going to comment on his arguments (such as they are):

Here, for purposes of this particular argument, I am not going to appeal specifically to Christian ethical norms; I will only say that if I were pastor of a person who engaged in torture of another human being (or even of an animal) I would confront him or her and ask him or her to stop, repent, and undergo a restoration process. Torture is so obviously contrary to Christian love that it cannot be justified under any circumstances. 

It's true that waterboarding is an unloving way to treat the terrorist, but that misses the point. The overriding duty is to protect innocent lives from harm. Waterboarding is unloving in reference to the terrorist, but loving in reference to the innocent. For instance, consider the Boston bombing, where runners were killed or maimed for life due to jihadis. 

However, in addition to Christian love, there are excellent, powerful secular reasons why torture is always, unconditionally wrong and even evil.

First, however, something else needs to be pointed out about this specific action (as described above). That the CIA had to use “secret prisons” set up in countries where, apparently, torture is not illegal, to “interrogate” American prisoners (by which I mean people taken into custody by Americans—wherever, whenever) demonstrates a lack of concern for U.S. law. It was a way around it; a circumventing of the clear social contract that we Americans have among ourselves and with our government.

I agree with Olson that different rules apply to American citizens. Citizenship confers certain due process rights and immunities. That's why we should deport Muslim foreign nationals and have a moratorium on Muslim immigration, since once Muslims are naturalized, they game the system. 

Second, and getting more to the point, torture (including “enhanced interrogation techniques” which is just a euphemism for torture) is always wrong because one can never know with absolute certainty that the person has the information in his or her head that the torturer wants. It is an extreme measure for attempting to gain needed, perhaps even necessary information, that assumes the person being tortured knows that information. It is simply impossible ever to know that with absolute certainty.

i) I agree with Olson that "enhanced interrogation" is a euphemism. I prefer the term "coercive interrogation". That's more accurate. 

Notice, though, that just as the Bush administration used a euphemism to defend its policy, critics use a dysphemism to attack its policy. The actual issue which gave rise to Olson's post is waterboarding. Have you observed that critics of waterboarding always change the subject? Instead of talking about waterboarding in particular, they invariably recast the issue in terms of "torture". Rather, that discuss waterboarding, they substitute a dysphemism. They characterize waterboarding  as "torture" because that has pejorative connotations, so it prejudges the issue. Euphemisms and dysphemisms have the same polemical function in that regard. 

ii) Apropos (i), a problem with (re-)classifying waterboarding as "torture" is that you're substituting a less accurate category for a more accurate category. Waterboarding is a specific technique. Why not discuss that, since that's what we're really talking about, rather than "torture"? The word "torture" evokes a wide range of methods and motivations, most of which are irrelevant to the use of waterboarding to compel information from high-value terrorists. Rather than clarifying the analysis, it deliberately obscures the analysis by interjecting and triggering many associations that are extraneous to the specific context under review. Ironically, it's unethical for critics of waterboarding to recast the issue in the name of morality. They're intentionally trying to discredit the opposing position through the fallacy of guilt by association. It's a smear. And if waterboarding is wrong, it should be possible to demonstrate that point on its own terms, without resorting to sophistry.  

iii) "Absolute certainty" isn't a sine qua non for coercive interrogation. The individuals were leaders of terrorist networks. Given their position in the organization, of course they'd have information about future plots as well as operatives. 

iv) Notice Olson's admission that this may be "necessary information". He's conceding that even though, or even if, this is necessary information to thwart a terrorist attack, it's morally forbidden to extract that information by waterboarding a terrorist. 

Third, torture is always wrong because it is simply barbaric, a crime against humanity. Almost all civilized countries of the world have known this for a very long time and have outlawed torture to protect and preserve themselves from falling into the same barbarity of the person(s) they want to interrogate.

Of course, that simply begs the question. And it deliberately ignores necessary moral distinctions regarding methods and motivations. Not all methods or motivations are morally equivalent. If say, a terrorist suffers from arachnophobia, and the interrogator exploits that to extract information about terrorist plots and terrorist sleeper cells, that's hardly equivalent to electric shock torture. Likewise, that's hardly equivalent to sadistic torture, torture to extract a criminal confession, or torture as a deterrent to keep citizens under the heel of a totalitarian state. 

Fourth, torture is always wrong because the person being tortured will always say whatever he or she thinks the torturers want to hear. In other words, there is no way to know if the person being tortured is giving the right needed information or whether he or she is simply succumbing to the pain of torture and offering up false information.

Of course there's a way to find out. You follow up on the lead. Does their answer check out? If it turns out to be a false lead, then the interrogation process resumes until the terrorist gives honest answers. 

Fifth, torture is always wrong because…it steps over a line into territory at the top (or part-way down) of a slippery slope that could very well justify much worse. Explanation: What if the person being tortured does not give the information being sought by the torturers—even under the worst torture? What if “time is of the essence” to avoid some catastrophe and the suspect is not forthcoming? Torturers could eventually (and I predict will eventually) give up torturing the individual and bring in his family—wife, children—and torture them in front of him.

You say “Well, that hasn’t happened.” I say “Once you step over that line into justifying torture as evil but necessary you make that justifiable. And I’m sure it has happened somewhere, at some time.

i) That only follows if the justification for coercive interrogation is purely utilitarian. However, there's no logical connection between subjecting a high-value terrorist to coercive interrogation and doing the same to innocent relatives or kids. The terrorist, by virtue of being a terrorist, has forfeited certain prima facie immunities which, by the same token, an innocent relative or child has not. 

ii) Likewise, I agree that there are certain universal norms regarding the treatment of human beings, however evil. A threshold below which we shouldn't go–regardless of the consequences. But waterboarding a terrorist doesn't qualify. That exploits the gag reflex. That exploits an involuntary reaction which people find unbearable. It's a pity we have to resort to that to force information out of a terrorist, but that's only if the terrorist is unwilling to volunteer the information. Sorry, but I have no sympathy for a terrorist. 

Finally, torturing people WE suspect of having needed information gives our enemies and everyone permission to use torture as well—even against our own citizens captured by them. It is simply duplicitous for us to say “We can use torture, but you cannot.” And the “you cannot” will be ignored.

That's so willfully obtuse on several grounds:

i) The bad guys don't wait for permission. They don't play by the rules. If we refrain from coercive interrogation, that doesn't mean they will reciprocate. Is Olson really that childishly naive?

ii) This isn't about "torture" in general, but using the least coercive techniques necessary to compel information from an unwilling terrorist. 

iii) And motivations are a morally salient considerations. There's a world of difference between coercive interrogation to save innocent lives and sadistic torture, deterrent torture, or judicial torture. 

2. But that's all preliminary to my main point. Olson's position is incoherent. For Olson takes the position that Christians, or human agents generally, are sometimes confronted with genuine moral dilemmas, where you can't do the right thing. Whatever you do will be morally wrong. For instance:

I respect pacifists, but I know I’m not one. How do I know that? Because I know I would use deadly force to protect my granddaughter or grandson from a would-be rapist or murderer. On the other hand, I also believe it would be a sin. And, yet on the other hand, again, I believe God understands our frailty and the condition of our world and the need to protect the helpless innocents. I do not think Christ expects his followers in this time between the times to eschew all violence; sometimes violence is a necessary evil and, when it is, God forgives.

i) That's just one example. He's said that sort of thing on multiple occasions. Suppose, for the sake of argument, we grant Olson's contention that coercive interrogation is unconditionally wrong. But by Olson's own admission, human agents generally, as well as Christians in particular, sometimes find themselves in situations where wrongdoing is unavoidable. There are no morally licit options. 

ii) BTW, it's not coincidental that Olson is a freewill theist. Freewill theism generates irreconcilable tension between deontology and moral dilemmas. In freewill theism, God lacks sufficient control over the necessary variables to ensure that human agents will always have a morally licit alternative available to them. 

Since by Olson's own admission, we sometimes find ourselves in a moral predicament where there is no sinless course of action, that applies mutatis mutandis to the ethics of "torture", like ticking timebomb scenarios. He subscribes to "quandary ethics". We sometimes have conflicting intrinsic duties. We can't do both. So he can't forbid "torture" under all circumstances any more than he can forbid lethal force under all circumstances. His ethical and theological conundrum applies with equal force to coercive interrogation.