Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Empty Tomb on XTALK

I thought I'd take a break from inputting grades to respond to some of the talk on XTALK about the Empty Tomb. Loren Rossen argues:

"Visions without the empty tomb do not account for a resurrection belief; Tom Wright has hammered this point home repeatedly."

The reason Wright has to keep repeating this is because it is a faulty argument refuted by the reality of believer behavior. Elvis is dead and buried, but fans still see him. Rossen himself acknowledges the way belief denies reality in his remarks on Carrier's piece:

Carrier goes on to make interesting analogies to the rumor of theft reported in Mt 28:15, suggesting that Matthew blames the rumor on conspiracy ("the Jews' desire to conceal the truth") in the same way that the Heaven's Gate cult claimed the proof against their imminent spacecraft to be the conspiratal work of an earth traitor. And just as Matthew accuses Jews of paying off guards, the survivors of Jonestown accused the government of fabricating evidence and paying off forensic doctors to fabricate evidence which made them look bad. This is perhaps more plausible than many of the pious would today be comfortable acknowledging.
Repetition is one way that bad arguments like Wright's seem acceptable.

Meanwhile, inspired by the Empty Tomb, Lee Edgar Tyler writes on Price:

I recently re-read Price's article "

It is, I must say, a pretty sorry excuse for argumentation. And I am predisposed toward his conclusions, at least most of them. When a person purporting to support objective scholarship indulges in such polemics, he does more harm than good to all sides of the debate. I could go on, but I think the essay (which begins with a comparison of the Christ of evangelical Christians to the comic book character Superboy) speaks for itself. Or not.

This is, I must say, a pretty sorry excuse for argumentation. When a person purporting to support objective scholarship indulges in such polemics, he does more harm than good. I think Tyler's rhetorical polemics here speaks for themselves: Price is less interested in the comparison of Superboy to Jesus than in comparing the efforts of Superboy to vindicate his own legend to the efforts of modern apologists to save the Jesus of myth:

I remember a particular Superboy comic book in which the Boy of Steel somehow discovers that in the future, he is thought to be as mythical as Peter Pan and Santa Claus. Indignant at this turn of events, he flies at faster than light speed and enters the future to set the record straight. He does a few super-deeds and vindicates himself, then comes home. So Superboy winds up having the last laugh --or does he?

Of course, it is only fiction! The people in the future were quite right! Superboy is just as mythical as Santa Claus and Peter Pan.

This seems to me a close parallel to the efforts of Christian apologists to vindicate as sober history the story of a supernatural savior who was born of a virgin, healed the sick, raised the dead, changed water into wine, walked on water, rose from the grave and ascended bodily into the sky.

I used to think, when I myself was a Christian apologist, a defender of the evangelical faith, that I had done a pretty respectable job of vindicating that story as history. I brought to bear a variety of arguments I now recognize to be fallacious, such as the supposed closeness of the gospels to the events they record, their ostensibly use of eyewitness testimony, etc. Now, in retrospect, I judge that my efforts were about as effective in the end as Superboy's! When all is said and done, he remains a fiction.[emphasis mine]
In any case, it's a sad rhetorical trick to invite others to agree that someone must be a bad arguer by appealing to their sense of indignation that someone would dare to compare Superboy to their particular Sacred Character from the Past.




4 comments:

Loren Rosson said...

Michael,

The Elvis sightings are useless for the point I was addressing. (As it turns out, I was addressing this point incorrectly, for it didn't apply to the argument in question; but no matter.) The question is why a sect of pre-70 Jews would claim their crucified messiah was "raised from death". Without an empty tomb -- or something to suggest the corpse had vanished -- they would have (in all probability: and that's what we deal with here, probabilities) said that Jesus was vindicated by God and had ascended into heaven, and that he and they would soon be resurrected at the apocalypse, after the tribulation period. Jewish belief accomodated immortality of the soul or spirit, but not an individual's resurrection before the end. And in most cases, people use revisionism to cut against beliefs like this only when expectations fail. Do you think either the crucifixion or visions would have marked the Jesus movement a failure in the minds of the disciples? If so, read Dale Allison's upcoming book, and think again.

Wright's point stands. Of course, he goes on to insist that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead -- that this is the only credible way of accounting for the empty tomb. That is where an historian becomes legitimately frustrated with Wright.

I don't understand how you think my later "bolded" statement has any bearing on the issue. Mt 28:11-15 relates (whether correctly or not) that guards were paid off by the priestly authorities to say that the disciples stole the body from the tomb. This is probably a conspiracy charge (as Carrier suggests) levelled by Matthew in order to counter rumors that the disciples had done exactly this. Regardless of who atually stole the body... or how the body actually vanished from the tomb.

Aren't you on XTalk? (BTW, I'm Rosson, not Rossen.)

Lee Edgar Tyler said...

I would like to call Michael's attention to the fact that I invited the members of XTalk to read Price's poor excuse for argumentation for themselves by posting a link to it. The poor argumentation of Price's essay speaks for itself, but if Michael would like to debate its merits point-by-point instead of with such broad brushstrokes, I would be more than amenable to such a gentlemanly debate. Needless to say, I stan by my evaluation of Price's essay as a poorly argued substitution of polemic for argumentation, and am prepared to justify it by direct reference to Price's text.

Michael Turton said...

It wasn't me who posted a broadbrush, Ed, but you. If Price's essay was poorly argued, why didn't you just take a moment to show why? My point is not that Price's arguments are bad or good (as a matter of fact I accept only his comments on Hellenistic fiction and generally reject the history of relgions school stuff) but that it's just as polemical to invite people to agree with you by a show of indignation rather than by reasoned argument.

In any case I am not an XTALK member, so cannot debate. Very sorry.

_______________

Loren:

Michael,

The Elvis sightings are useless for the point I was addressing. (As it turns out, I was addressing this point incorrectly, for it didn't apply to the argument in question; but no matter.)


Yes, I read the exchange between you and Grondin.

The question is why a sect of pre-70 Jews would claim their crucified messiah was "raised from death". Without an empty tomb -- or something to suggest the corpse had vanished -- they would have (in all probability: and that's what we deal with here, probabilities) said that Jesus was vindicated by God and had ascended into heaven, and that he and they would soon be resurrected at the apocalypse, after the tribulation period. Jewish belief accomodated immortality of the soul or spirit, but not an individual's resurrection before the end.

The problem is that we have almost completely different takes on the history of early Christianity -- to wit: I don't believe that early Christianity was "Jewish" affair but one that originated in the Diaspora among Diaspora Jews and God-fearers. We also disagree on many other things. Not much point in rehashing any of that here.

And in most cases, people use revisionism to cut against beliefs like this only when expectations fail. Do you think either the crucifixion or visions would have marked the Jesus movement a failure in the minds of the disciples?

No, because while some people sensibly give up their beliefs when faced with reality, others simply deny that reality exists. Look at the Lubavitchers, who recently split over Schneerson's messianic identity. What in Judaism would suggest that the messiah would be a Russian-American rebbe who would come back from the dead? Do you think that when he doesn't come back they will give up their beliefs? in any case the comment in Matt(?) that some still did not believe is indicative of early splits in the movement over the Resurrection.

The way I see it, people just don't behave the way Wright would have them behave. Once one of the circle of Jesus' disciples (did such exist? I have grave doubts) started having visions, everyone would have to have such visions or be out on their butts. The Empty Tomb story would arise naturally in such a situation as a justificatory strategy, but in any case, it appears to be an invention of Mark, using Dan 6, and the conventions of Greek novelistic fiction, as Price has already pointed out in two books on the topic.

If so, read Dale Allison's upcoming book, and think again.

I certainly shall!

Wright's point stands. Of course, he goes on to insist that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead -- that this is the only credible way of accounting for the empty tomb. That is where an historian becomes legitimately frustrated with Wright.

I would say long before that.

I thought the comments on Matthew related to the willingness of the pious to believe anything....but I must have read them wrongly. My bad, and my apologies.

Aren't you on XTalk? (BTW, I'm Rosson, not Rossen.)

No, I'm not. I just monitor it from time to time for information purposes, catch references, new papers, etc. Sorry about the name error.

Thanks for stopping by, though. I thought your review of Price was quite well-written and very enjoyable.

Michael

Loren Rosson said...

[Loren]
And in most cases, people use revisionism to cut against beliefs like this only when expectations fail. Do you think either the crucifixion or visions would have marked the Jesus movement a failure in the minds of the disciples?

[Michael]
No, because while some people sensibly give up their beliefs when faced with reality, others simply deny that reality exists.

I agree with this statement, but you don’t see what I'm getting at. Those who deny reality like this do so as a way of coping with failed expectations and broken dreams. For instance, the account in Jn 2 about the spiritual temple copes with the failed destruction of the temple. The radical idea of Jesus' resurrection would thus have been a way of coping with the failed arrival of God's kingdom and the general resurrection. But had the disciples actually given up on this expectation? Didn't Jesus' crucifixion conform to martyrdom theology -- all the sufferings and trials Jesus told them to expect? Unlike the case of Schneerson, whose strokes, illness, and death were hardly built into the original messianic expectations of the Lubavitchers. However...

The problem is that we have almost completely different takes on the history of early Christianity -- to wit: I don't believe that early Christianity was "Jewish" affair but one that originated in the Diaspora among Diaspora Jews and God-fearers. We also disagree on many other things. Not much point in rehashing any of that here.

Yes, this is the crux of the matter. I take the apocalyptic character of the Jesus movement as a given. If you doubt this, then what I said above won't apply.