by Richard Carrier
"Today I am going to tell you why I don't buy the resurrection story. By that I mean the tales in the Gospels, of Jesus physically rising again from the grave. As a professional historian, I do not believe we have anywhere near sufficient evidence or reason to believe this. . . . here I will cover the most important reasons why I don't buy the resurrection story."
on Carrier's Essay
by Don Camp
As a student of the Bible and history, I do buy the resurrection story and will present my reasons why as I respond to Dr. Carrier's essay.
Carrier speaks as a professional historian. He also speaks as a philosophical Naturalist. That means he has no place in his framework of reality for the supernatural. There is no God. There are no spirits. There are no miracles. And there is no resurrection from the dead. As he argues his case against the resurrection, all the evidence must fit into his Naturalistic framework and must be explained in terms of the natural world.
I am a Christian Theist. I have room in my framework of reality for both the supernatural and the natural. I will deal with the evidence and the arguments from my perspective.
"It actually begins with a different tale. In 520 A.D. an anonymous monk recorded the life of Saint Genevieve, who had died only ten years before that. In his account of her life, he describes how, when she ordered a cursed tree cut down, monsters sprang from it and breathed a fatal stench on many men for two hours. . . No one wrote anything to contradict or challenge these claims, and they were written very near the time the events supposedly happened--by a religious man whom we suppose regarded lying to be a sin. Yet do we believe any of it? Not really. And we shouldn't."
|Carrier compares this Dark Ages biographical
"tale" of Genevieve with the gospels. His point will be that
because they are parallel and because the tale of Genevieve
is unbelievable, the gospels should be considered
unbelievable as well.
The monk/author is anonymous and is unnamed in any subsequent reference to Genevieve's story. The source Carrier used is a collection of old texts about the saints of the middle ages, Sainted Women of the Dark Ages by Jo Ann McNamara. There is no reason to doubt Carrier's references from this source. But there is no reason to credit the account of Genevieve's life as accurate in all its detail. The Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia does not report the miracles Carrier refers to. McNamara acknowledges that later accretions to the original text were likely, including some of the more magical miracles attributed to Genevieve. Even the anonymous monk writes in places as though many of the incidents he includes are hearsay, and though he does not say so, the implication is that he is simply reporting what he heard from unnamed sources.
The fact is, there are many legendary tales from this period in the early middle ages that mixed the myths of the pagan background with the record of the lives of real people. The rational approach is to determine what is legend and accretions that became attached to the story of Genevieve later, and what is the truth regarding this real women who was well respected in her time. We should apply reason.
"But we should try to be more specific in our reasons, and not rely solely on common sense impressions. And there are specific reasons to disbelieve the story of Genevieve, and they are the same reasons we have to doubt the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus. For the parallel is clear: the Gospels were written no sooner to the death of their main character--and more likely many decades later--than was the case for the account of Genevieve;"
| The parallel is not at all clear and is
insignificant, in any event.
That the gospels were written "many decades later" than the life of Genevieve is inaccurate. At the core of the synoptic gospels are the words and deeds of Jesus. Those bear the signs (Hebraisms and syntax) of being quotes from an earlier source, perhaps an oral source, perhaps from the source called Q. They appear to be rather literal translations into Greek from a Hebrew or Aramaic original. They are likely the written or oral teachings of the Apostles as they passed on their recollections of Jesus to the early church. That alone would place the time of their origin within the first decade after the death of Jesus.
The Gospels are also the accounts of multiple witnesses, two of which - Matthew and John - are reasonably regarded as eye-witnesses to many of the events recorded including to the resurrection. The Gospel of Mark according to the earliest report was the recollections of Peter written down by Mark. The Gospel of Luke, by the author's own words, is material he collected from eye-witnesses and others of Jesus' time. In addition we have the letters of John, who claims to have known Jesus in the flesh. This is far better evidence than ant we have for Genevieve.
The only thing like that in life of Genevieve are what appear to be quotes from an earlier biography of Bishop Germanus including reference to the bishop's journey to Britain in 429 and then again in 451. It was in 429 that he first met the child Genevieve. Beyond this reference to the child Genevieve and the conversations recorded in Germanus' biography, the core of many of the events of Genevieve's life are without any reference to a source and seem to be orally transmitted stories of her life, none of which the author was personally familiar with.
"and like that account, the Gospels were also originally anonymous--the names now attached to them were added by speculation and oral tradition half a century after they were actually written."
|This is hardly significant. The
anonymity of then authors simply identifies the writing of
both the gospels and this account of Genevieve as what we
now call hagiography in which the subjects are more
important than the authors. We have many examples.
Their anonymity does not invalidate their reliability.
In any event, Carrier would likely not credit as reliable
history the life of Genevieve even if the author were known.
He likely would not credit the Gospels as reliable even if
the authors of the Gospels had signed his name to the work.
The names of the Gospel authors are significant only because an eye-witness has more credibility than a secondhand report. That was true in the first century just as much as it is today. However, the first century church knew who the authors were. There was no need for a name to be attached. In every place where the Gospels are quoted by post-apostolic writers the apostolic origin of the Gospels is assumed. There is no attribution of the quotes to other men. And Papias in the early second century, who had a close and personal knowledge of the many of the men of the post-apostolic generation, men who had known the apostles, is unequivocal about the authorship of the four Gospels that are included in the New testament.
Carrier's assertion is unsuported by the facts.
|"Both contain fabulous miracles supposedly witnessed by numerous people."|| How does that disqualify either the life of
Genevieve or the Gospels as accurate history, unless
Carrier is choosing to regard every miracle as a
disqualification. But that is the point. He does, without
serious consideration, regard miracles as impossible and
|"Both belong to the same genre of literature: what we call a "hagiography," a sacred account of a holy person regarded as representing a moral and divine ideal. Such a genre had as its principal aim the glorification of the religion itself and of the example set by the perfect holy person represented as its central focus. Such literature was also a tool of propaganda, used to promote certain moral or religious views, and to oppose different points of view."||How does that disqualify either the story of
Genevieve or the gospels? The gospels certainly do have an
agenda of promoting a religious view. They promote Jesus as
the Son of God (John) as the Messiah (Matthew) and so on. We
may assume that the life of Genevieve also had the purpose
of setting her forth as an example of a holy woman.
Does that make them by that fact unreliable? I do not see
that it does.
As a historian, Carrier should be aware that history is rarely if ever written without an agenda or a point of view. If there is a question compare the histories of the Civil War written from the perspective of a Southern author and a Northern author. One will write the history as the war of Northern oppression, the other as the war of liberation.
Carrier's complaint is without merit.
|"It is certainly reasonable to doubt the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh, an event placed some time between 26 and 36 A.D. For this we have only a few written sources near the event, all of it sacred writing, and entirely pro-Christian."|| It is reasonable to doubt any historical
event however it may be presented. But doubting does not
mean discrediting out of hand. The evidence is the
deciding factor, not the purpose of the texts.
In the case of the resurrection, what level of reporting would be reasonable to expect? Even though the resurrection occupies a place of significance in the Bible texts, the reality was that it was not an event of great significanse to those who wrote history from a non-Christian perspective. And only two historians actually wrote about this period of time related to the affairs of Judea. They are Josephus and Justus of Tiberias. And both of them had their own agendas for writing, agendas which did not include religious affairs except as they had to do with the nation of Judea and the run up to the war with Rome and its aftermath.
Justus wrote about the kings. Justus might have had knowledge of Jesus. But Jesus had nothing to do with the affairs that occupied Justus' concerns. Josephus wrote about the wars. In the case of Josephus, he would have had ample opportunity to write about Jesus and the emerging church. But he did not. The church was certainly present not only in Judea but across the Roman world by the time Josephus wrote his histories, but it occupies no space in Josephus' writings. They had a purpose for their histories that did not include Jesus or the Christians or the resurrection.
We today wish they had written more. We wish they had written about Jesus. But that they did not does not mean that Jesus was not present.
"No non-Christian mentions the resurrection until many decades later--Lucian, a critic of superstition, was the first, writing in the mid-2nd century, and likely getting his information from Christian sources. So the evidence is not what any historian would consider good."
| Carrier by a wave of the hand dismisses all
of the textual evidence from Christian sources and the
historical evidence of extra-biblical texts including Jewish
and Roman writers. That is poor history. Historians, even
skeptical historians like Bart Ehrman, recognize that
the New Testament documents are themselves evidence.
Ehrman who has written strongly against Carrier's mythical
Jesus thesis concludes that the evidence of the NT
documents and the details in them are adequate evidence
for a real historical Jesus. He does not apply
in his book Did Jesus Exist his historical tools to
the question of resurrection, but if he had, I think he
would have had to allow that the reports of the resurrection
were as historical as the other details of Jesus' life.
That does not mean he would have believed the resurrection to have happened; that is another matter.. But it does mean Ehrman would have agreed that the reports were historical and foundational to the belief of the church that emerged very shortly after the death of Jesus. They were not the work of myth writers who were seeking to give support to an existing religious movement.
"Speaking of Douglas Geivett's confidence in the historical resurrection of Jesus Carrier responds: [I]t is common in Christian apologetics, throughout history, to make absurdly exaggerated claims, and this is no exception. Let's look at Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon for a minute:
First of all, we have Caesar's own word on the subject....written by Caesar himself and by one of his generals and closest of friends. In contrast, we do not have anything written by Jesus, and we do not know for certain the name of any author of any of the accounts of his earthly resurrection."
| That is only partly true. We do not have
words written by Jesus himself. But we do have his words.
The fact is, we have a library of documents written by
Jesus' friends. Indeed, Geivett is right. The evidence
for the resurrection meets "the highest standards of
historical inquiry" and "if one takes the historian's own
criteria for assessing the historicity of ancient events,
the resurrection passes muster as a historically
well-attested event of the ancient world."
Jesus was not a powerful political figure who ruled an empire or had need of communicating his his commands to other than those who would write them down and publish them later for the world to read. And publish they did. The manuscripts of the New Testament were copied, by the count of existing fragments or manuscripts, in greater numbers than any other ancient documents. They were translated early into other languages. It is safe to say that more people in the first, second, and thrid centuries had heard the words of Jesus than the words of any Roman Emperor.
Today the words of Jesus are available in almost every language of the world. Can the same be said for Julius Caesar? Or Augustus or Alexander the Great? Yes, Julius Caesar wrote about the Gallic wars, but who has read what he wrote? From Alexander's hand, we have nothing.
Only by dismissing the validity of the New Testament documents is Carrier able to make his claim that Geivett is wrong.
"Second, we have many of Caesar's enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians' own claims had been widely spread around."
| We do have evidence that there was
opposition to the report of the resurrection in the
immediate period closely following the resurrection and in
the decades that followed in the first century. Acts records
that. But there were others. Carrier makes reference to
those hints at contemporary hostility later in his
essay. Among the New Testament writings referencing
antagonism are the Gospel of John and the letter of 1 John.
In addition, the gospel which Carrier alludes to which
mentions the guards at the tomb and the Jewish leaders'
conspiracy to keep the report silent implies that there was
a report of the event circulating among the Jews. Why else
would Matthew include the account? It was Matthew's purpose
to mention the event to those who would have known of it
because they would have certainly have asked.
"Third, we have a number of inscriptions and coins produced soon after the Republican Civil War related to the Rubicon crossing, including mentions of battles and conscriptions and judgments, which provide evidence for Caesar's march. On the other hand, we have absolutely no physical evidence of any kind in the case of the resurrection."
would expect statues and coins for a a conquering emperor.
Rome is replete with those monuments and inscriptions.
Yet no Cesar changed the world as Jesus has. And
there would soon enough be physical evidence
commemorating his kingdom and rule. There were
mosaics and painting in the catacombs as early as
the 3rd century.
And a very early church in Jordan dating from roughly 33 to 70 A.D.
None of these artifacts make any sense if Jesus did not rise from the grave. It was solely on that fact that the church existed. And if the reports regarding the early church in Jordan are correct, it was the very group of disciples who would have known by personal experience that Jesus had risen from the dead who met in this underground place of gathering and worship.
|"Fifth, the history of Rome could not have proceeded as it did had Caesar not physically moved an army into Italy."|| The history of the church could not have
proceeded as it did had Jesus not risen from the dead.
| "Geivett is guilty of a rather extreme
|| Geirett is guilty of using a using a
vulnerable analogy. He is not guilty of overstating his
On the other hand, Carrier is guilty of attacking the analogy rather than the facts.
"But reasons to be skeptical do not stop there. We must consider the setting--the place and time in which these stories spread. This was an age of fables and wonder. Magic and miracles and ghosts were everywhere, and almost never doubted."
| Jesus was a Jew living in Galilee and
Judea, not Rome. The stories of Jesus were told first among
the Jews, not the Romans. Carrier uses the superstitions of
the common Roman man as proof for his assertion that
"[t]his was a superstitious people." I do not believe
he could do the same for the Jewish culture. Magic was
condemned. Though that did not eliminate the practice of
magic entirely - there are references to magicians in the
New Testament - to claim the general Jewish populace was
superstitious is an overstatement. It is also an
overstatement to claim that miracles were everywhere in
Jewish society. In fact, they were so rare that the
miracles of Jesus drew crowds.
| "The differences between society then
and now cannot be stressed enough. There didn't exist such
things as coroners, reporters, cameras, newspapers, forensic
science, or even police detectives. All the technology, all
the people we have pursuing the truth of various claims now,
did not exist then."
|| I wonder, does Carrier really think that a
Roman soldiers whose job it was to crucify criminals did not
know when a man was dead? To have failed in his
assignment would have had serious consequences.
Does Carrier really think no one was skeptical or capable of critical thinking? It was among the Jews that Jesus carried on his ministry. It was among the Jews that this report of the resurrection was first published. Others in the Roman world might have received the report of the resurrection and the implication it had as to the person of Jesus without difficulty - the men of Athens excepted. But not the Jews. When it came to the claim that Jesus was the Son of God or that he rose from the dead, they were the most skeptical of audiences.
The gospel would simply not have been received by the Jews in the face of official opposition if there was not reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Yet it was among the Jews that the gospel including the resurrection was first preached, and it was among the Jews that the early church first began to grow.
|"In those days, few would even be able to check the details of a story if they wanted to--and few wanted to. Instead, people based their judgment on the display of sincerity by the storyteller, by his ability to impress them with a show or simply to persuade and "sell" his story, and by the potential rewards his story had to offer."|| Every bit of evidence we have from the New
Testament text tells us that it was not the mere telling of
the story that persuaded people; it was also the miracles
the apostles did and the Holy Spirit's witness.
Carrier, of course, does not believe that miracles are possible. To him they were only a "show." Carrier does not believe in the Holy Spirit. He has to put them into his Naturalistic framework. But among the Jews, who were Theists not Naturalists, miracles were not only possible but confirming signs.
But the New testament is firm that no one is persuaded to faith except by the Holy Spirit. They may be wowed by miracles, but being wowed is different from faith. For Carrier that is spooky. For those who have experienced the Holy Spirit, it is normal.
Carrier is also mistaken that there was no checking of the facts. The gospel was first preached among the Jews, first in Jerusalem where the facts could have been thoroughly checked, then among Jews across the Roman world, where again there was adequate knowledge of the affairs in Jerusalem to provide both confirmation of the gospel story and alternative explanations. The details were checked.
|"Can you imagine a movement today claiming that a soldier in World War Two rose physically from the dead, but when you asked for proof all they offered you were a mere handful of anonymous religious tracts written in the 1980's?"|| That was not the situation. The
gospel including the resurrection was first preached by Jews
to Jews in Jerusalem where all of the events in the gospel
could be checked. Carrier is shifting the scene again to one
many years later. He is making the unstated and untested
assertion that the gospels were of late origin and that they
had no preceding proclamation. He is creating a circular
argument in which he assumes the conclusion in the premise.
|"What about alien bodies recovered from a crashed flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico? Many people sincerely believe that legend today, yet this is the modern age, with ample evidence against it in print that is easily accessible to anyone, and this legend began only thirty years after the event."|| People believe the legend of Roswell AGAINST
the evidence with no actual credible eyewitnesses. That is
completely different from the situation in the first century
when there remained both eyewitnesses and the credible
reports of those witnesses.
Ironically, the legend that Carrier is trying to create of a Jesus myth created by later Gospel writers has no evidence to support it. And it has no corroborating testimony. It is the Roswell of the religious world.
|"Even so, it is often said in objection that we can trust the Gospels more than we normally would because they were based on the reports of eye-witnesses of the event who were willing to die for their belief in the physical resurrection, for surely no one would die for a lie."|| More important than willingness to die for
their believe, a belief based on evidence as Carrier suggest
later in the essay, but a willingness to live for their
convictions that what they saw and experienced was not only
fact and real but earth-shaking in its implications.
And it was not just one man willing to live for the
conviction based on their experience of the risen Jesus; it
was all of them.
In a court of law today, that would be enough to make their testimony believable.
|"Of course, the Gospel of Matthew 28:17 actually claims that some eye-witnesses didn't believe what they saw and might not have become Christians, which suggests the experience was not so convincing after all."|| This is a case of having your cake and eating
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Carrier quotes a verse from Matthew - which he does not believe is historically accurate - in support of his theory that some of the disciples doubted. How is it that he considers this passage believable?
But in fact, the passage supports the believability of the resurrection. The disciples were faced with what is impossible to believe, that Jesus who they saw die on the cross and buried was standing before them. . If they did not have some doubts in that situation, they were as gullible as Carrier thinks they were. This is a realistic vignette that makes the disciples human and the story believable.
|"First, it is based on nothing in the New Testament itself, or on any reliable evidence of any kind. None of the Gospels or Epistles mention anyone dying for their belief in the "physical" resurrection of Jesus. "|| This is playing a game of words.
Carrier refers to Stephen, who is described as a martyr in
Acts, and claims he did not die because he believed in the
resurrection of Jesus but because of "trumped up charges."
But the fact is, those charges were raised against Stephen
because he stood with the rest of the disciples as witness
to Jesus - who according to every message we have in Acts
was portrayed as raised from the dead. He may not have been
an eyewitness to the risen Jesus - before seeing him in
heaven as he says in Acts 7:56, but he died for that
The irony of Carrier's reference is that he does not belief Acts is a historical account of anything, Yet he quotes Acts in support of his thesis.
|[Stephen] "sees Jesus--yet no one else does, so this was clearly a vision, not a physical appearance, and there is no good reason to believe earlier appearances were any different."|| The earlier appearances were obviously
different. Here in Acts, Jesus is in heaven. In
earlier appearances Jesus is in a home among his
disciples, walking along a road, and speaking to them beside
the lake of Galilee. He is physical and touchable; he is
seeable as any other man could be seen; he is hearable, and
he speaks to his disciples over an extended period of time -
forty days. He even ate with the disciples.
Those who live by the scriptures (as Carrier is attempting to do) must die by the scriptures. Carrier can not quote the scripture - which he does not believe - and then turn around and ignore what they say. Two of those positions must be false. And Carrier must logically know it. That means he is disingenuous.
|"The second and only other "martyr" recorded in Acts is the execution of the Apostle James, but we are not told anything about why he was killed or whether recanting would have saved him, or what he thought he died for....We also do not even know what it was they believed--after all, Stephen and James did not appear to regard the physical resurrection as an essential component of their belief. It is not what they died for."|| The same criticisms of Carrier's analysis
pertain. He is quoting the scripture he does not believe to
be accurate history, The same observation follows. James is
a follower of Jesus and thus a target of the Jewish leaders,
including Herod, because he was convinced Jesus rose from
the dead. It is worth noting that James would have been one
of the disciples who personally saw Jesus alive after his
death and burial.
What does Carrier think motivated James and Stephen if not their certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead?
|"As far as we can tell, apart from perhaps James, no one knew what the fate was of any of the original eye-witnesses."|| We do not know for sure what happened to the
Apostles. But we do know that twenty years after the
resurrection they were eye-witnesses, for Paul in 1
Corinthians 15 names several and includes the others in the
group of men who knew the resurrected Jesus.
|"Which brings us to the second point: it seems distinctly possible, if not definite, that the original Christians did not in fact believe in a physical resurrection (meaning a resurrection of his corpse), but that Jesus was taken up to heaven and given a new body--a more perfect, spiritual body--and then "the risen Jesus" was seen in visions and dreams, just like the vision Stephen has before he dies, and which Paul has on the road to Damascus."|| What evidence does Carrier have for his
conclusion? The gospels do not leave the question open.
Jesus was physical.
Paul does not leave the question open either. It is Carrier's contention that the idea of a physical resurrection evolved over the course of the writing of the New Testament. If so, Paul, being the first to write, is the place where he should begin. So what does Paul say?
Paul says that Jesus in his resurrection appearance was not mortal or corruptible flesh and blood. He had been, of course; it was that mortal Jesus who died on the cross. When he was raised, he was raised a spiritual body. But that is not to say he was raised as a spirit. According to Paul's theology, it would not require any resurrection for Jesus to be spirit. By Paul's own words, all human beings are described as spirit, soul, and body. It is also clear from Paul that the spirit of all believers goes immediately to be with the Lord upon death, and that is prior to the resurrection of the body which will follow at a later time.
Paul takes pains to say that the resurrection of both Jesus and believers is more than "spiritual." His analogy of the seed and the wheat with the natural body and the spiritual body does not allow that the spiritual body be spirit alone.
Paul uses the word "body" eight or more times and contrasts the spiritual body with the natural body not as though the two are different so much in kind but different in splendor. He calls one mortal and the other immortal. And so on. It requires a reading into the passage of a preconceived opinion to arrive at Carrier's conclusion.
And a spiritual body is just what is described in the Gospel accounts of the resurrected Jesus. He had a physical body that could be touched, but he could also appear and disappear at will. He was clearly Jesus. His voice and mannerisms identified him so to the disciples. But he was also enough different that they did not immediately recognize him. He ate with the disciples, but he was not subject to the limiteations of a physical body; he could rise up from the earth and disappear in the clouds.
One thing that Jesus' resurrection cannot be is resuscitation of his moral body. Not one passage in the New Testament suggests that. It is, however, the only possibility that Carrier can entertain. His naturalism doesn't allow a spiritual body.
|"In Galatians 1 he tells us that he first met Jesus in a "revelation" on the road to Damascus, not in the flesh, and the Book of Acts gives several embellished accounts of this event that all clearly reflect not any tradition of a physical encounter, but a startling vision (a light and a voice, nothing more)"|| Carrier makes an unwarranted assumption that
this "revelation" was the Damascus road experience. That
experience however, was brief, and no account of it speaks
of the revelation of the gospel. The passage in
Galatians is probably speaking of a different time when Paul
met the Lord, perhaps in Arabia.
Galatinas 1:11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ....3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
It was likely that at the time in Arabia Paul also received the instructions about the Lord's Supper because he is definite that he did not receive them from the apostles.
1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
The last part of the "formula" is not found in any of the Gospels. It is not repeated in thre Didache. It is reasonable to assume that it was a unique transmission of the event of the Lord's Supper to Paul.
Perhaps Carrier has not read the Bible closely.
|"Then in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul reports that all the original eye-witnesses--Peter, James, the Twelve Disciples, and hundreds of others--saw Jesus in essentially the same way Paul did. The only difference, he says, was that they saw it before him. He then goes on to build an elaborate description of how the body that dies is not the body that rises, that the flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and how the resurrected body is a new, spiritual body. All this seems good evidence that Paul did not believe in the resurrection of a corpse, but something fundamentally different."|| Yes, the same way. But Paul is not talking
about seeing Jesus in a vision. He is talking about seeing
Jesus in the same way the others did, as a physical
presence, a spiritual body.
One thing that Jesus' resurrection cannot be is resuscitation of his moral body, or as Carrier calls it, "the resurrection of a corpse." Not one passage in the New Testament suggests that. It is, however, the only possibility that Carrier can entertain. His naturalism doesn't allow a spiritual body.
|"Finally, when we examine the Gospel record closely, it becomes apparent that the physical nature of the resurrection was a growing legend, becoming more and more fabulous over time, a good sign that it wasn't the original story."|| Carrier will now attempt to explain how the
Gospel stories evolved from the earliest to the latest. The
theory is problematic as we will see as we look closely at
what Carrier proposes.
|"Now, we don't actually know when any of the Gospels were written, but we can infer their chronological order. Luke and Matthew both copy whole phrases from Mark and arrange them in an identical order as found in Mark, so it is clear that Mark came first among those three."|| There is no consensus about the priority of
Mark. And there is less about the borrowing from Mark. What
we have is the similarity Carrier notes, but that does not
mean borrowing. It may as well mean that they used the same
It is clear that Mark did not create the story himself. He used previously existing material. Papias says that he wrote down the narrative of Jesus' life from Peter's recollections. Since we have no alternative source mentioned in any first or second century text, Papias' statement is reasonably factual. It is even possible to notice in Mark the kinds of hints that would point to Peter.
But if Mark uses Peter's recollection, is it not possible that it was a narrative that had been often repeated? If Peter,why not others of the apostles who Acts said were engaged early on in teaching the new converts? Is it reasonable that Peter alone knew and used the narrative of Jesus in his teaching? Hardly.
It is, therefore, quite possible that Matthew used the same source, whether before or after Mark wrote his gospel is insignificant. It is likely that Luke also taps into the same source. He, after all, attributes his sources as eye-witnesses to the events he includes in his gospel.
|"So we start with Mark. It is little known among the laity, but in fact the ending of Mark, everything after verse 16:8, does not actually exist in the earliest versions of that Gospel that survive. It was added some time late in the 2nd century or even later. Before that, as far as we can tell, Mark ended at verse 16:8. But that means his Gospel ended only with an empty tomb, and a pronouncement by a mysterious young man that Jesus would be seen in Galilee--nothing is said of how he would be seen."|| The ending of Mark has been variously
explained. Carrier's explanation that Mark actually intended
to end with verse 8 is one, but it is not the
preferred explanation. Intentionally ending at verse 8
assumes a more sophisticated rhetorical strategy than
It is also unlikely that Peter, if he is the source for Mark, would have ended here. It is far too mysterious and literary to be sourced in a oral narrative. It is far more likely that there was a longer ending that was lost. The foreshadowing of a meeting in Galilee would suggest that Mark intended to describe that as the narrative progresses.
In any case, Carrier's thesis is built on flimsy evidence.
"But when we consider the original story, it supports the notion that the original belief was of a spiritual rather than a physical event. The empty tomb for Mark was likely meant to be a symbol, not a historical reality, but even if he was repeating what was told him as true,"
| It does nothing of the sort. It leaves the
reader wondering what came next, but it does not suggest a
spiritual resurrection was in view. There is not a single
hint that was where the narrative was going.
To read the empty tomb as symbolic is assuming far more sophistication than Mark demonstrates any place else. Mark is a rather simple and straightforward narrative. It is, if anything, unsophisticated both in language and literary style.
Carrier has a theory in search of a conspiracy. Only by reading back into the evidence provided by Mark's abbreviated ending something that is not there is Carrier able to advance his theory of myth building a myth in process.
|"A decade or two passes, and then Matthew appears. As this Gospel tells it, there was a vast earthquake, and instead of a mere boy standing around beside an already-opened tomb, an angel--blazing like lightning--descended from the sky and paralyzed two guards that happened to be there, rolled away the stone single handedly before several witnesses--and then announced that Jesus will appear in Galilee. Obviously we are seeing a clear case of legendary embellishment of the otherwise simple story in Mark."|| Placing Matthew a decade or two after Mark
serves Carrier's metanarrative of a developing myth. It does
not, however, necessarily fit the facts. The conviction of
the early church is that Matthew wrote first and if not that
Matthew and Mark were contemporaneous rather than separated
by decades. There simply was not time for the myth
building that Carrier envisions.
Carrier's characterization of Mark and Matthew's descriptions is humorous. He calls the young man in Mark 16:5 a "mere boy" as "standing around" rather than simply sitting. (Carrier's choice of words is a good example of the embellished language he claims Matthew used.) Matthew speaks of an angel and guards who were so frightened that they trembled and fainted, not "paralyzed." (Give Carrier an A for vivid verbs - and for exaggeration.)
Bottom line, Matthew elaborates - "embellish" implies intentional adding of extraordinary detail - with detail not included in Mark. His style fits the characterization of Matthew in the Gospels as an educated man. His language is eloquent and his style is sophisticated. Mark writes in a simple, almost rough, and economical style that fits the characterization of Peter, who Papias says was the source of Mark's narrative. Matthew elaborates with detail. Mark writes in a spare style with little detail.
It is also likely that Mark and Matthew write from the point of view of two different observers. There was more than one woman at the tomb after all. The experience would have been startling. That one observer would see detail that the other did not would not be surprising.
Carrier's conclusion that we are seeing a case of legendary embellishment is not the best analysis of the texts.
|[an angel] "announced that Jesus will appear in Galilee."|| Note that Matthew goes on to describe the
meeting of Jesus and the disciples in Galilee. That suggests
that Mark's text is interrupted, for he certainly would have
done as Matthew did and complete the narrative with the
meeting in Galilee. .
|"Matthew is careful to add a hint that this was a physical Jesus, having the women grovel and grab his feet as he speaks."|| And why would Matthew not have done so. The
whole point of the resurrection in all four of the Gospels
and in Paul's letters is that Jesus rose from the
grave in a physical body. We simply do not have the ending
of Mark to compare with the others.
|"Then, maybe a little later still, Luke appears, and suddenly what was a vague and perhaps symbolic allusion to an ascension in Mark has now become a bodily appearance, complete with a dramatic reenactment of Peter rushing to the tomb and seeing the empty death shroud for himself."|| Carrier is definitely stretching to make his
point. Would you not have run to the grave to see for
yourself if the report of the women was accurate?
Peter's rushing to the grave is hardly a "dramatic
reenactment" for the sake of embellishment of the narrative.
Most scholars note that Luke used sources not used by Mark or Matthew. It is not surprising that the several Gospels include different details. What would be surprising is that the three Gospels would agree at every point.
| " And to make the new story [Luke's] even
more suspicious as a doctrinal invention, Jesus goes out of
his way to say he is not a vision, and proves it by
asking the Disciples to touch him, and then by eating a
|| One of the characteristics of a conspiracy theory, and
that is exactly what Carrier is implying, is the collecting
of random details and weaving them into a narrative that
"proves" the conspiracy. Usually, the details or the
significance of them are exaggerated to persuade the
skeptic. Carrier does that here.
The Gospels earlier describe the disciples as reacting in fear as Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee toward them, thinking he was a spirit. It should be said that when the scripture describes spirits, it is not describing a personal vision or hallucination; the worldview of the Jews and the fundamental truth in the scripture is that spirits are as real as rocks. But they are also frightening. The disciples are reacting in fright in the same way here in Luke's account of their first seeing the risen Jesus as they did when they thought Jesus was a spirit coming toward them on the lake. And in both cases Jesus demonstrates that he is not a spirit.
|"Finally along comes John, perhaps after another decade or more. Now the legend has grown full flower, and instead of one boy, or two men, or one angel, now we have two angels at the empty tomb. And outdoing Luke in style, John has Jesus prove he is solid by showing his wounds, and breathing on people, and even obliging the Doubting Thomas by letting him put his fingers into the very wounds themselves."|| It is John's purpose, in the face of growing opposition
to the teaching that Jesus was the Son of God and also the
son of man, was to reaffirm the historic theology of the
early church. (See the argument in 1st
John.) It is not that this was a new idea; it is found in
the earliest texts of the New Testament, earlier by far than
the Gospel of John. But John was encountering this new
heretical teaching in Turkey where he was bishop, and
he needed to address the error. For that purpose he chose
details of the resurrection that support what was the
historic theology of the church. By the way, John was a
witness to the events.
Details John chooses demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God: the empty tomb and the grave clothes (20:1-9), Jesus' words to Mary that God was his Father (20:17), Jesus' words to his disciples in which he declares that God is his Father (20:19-23), finally, Jesus' appearance despite a locked door (20:24-29) .
Details John chose to demonstrate that the risen Jesus remained a man: Mary's encounter with the risen Jesus and her touching him (20:11-16) and his appearance to Thomas and his invitation to Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side (20:24-29).
John's narrative is best explained by the new challenges that confronted the historic faith that Jesus was the Son of God and that he had risen physically from the grave; the belief that Jesus was both deity and human was already a central part of the church's theology long before John wrote his Gospel. Carrier's theory that the narrative represented a growing myth lacks a motive.
As an example, Paul's description of the resurrected Jesus in 1st Corinthians 15, the earliest of the New Testament writings, demonstrates that the belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus was the conviction of the church as early as 50 A.D. The theology needed no myth to support it. What it needed was defense against the emerging heresy of a spiritual and non-physical resurrection. See Paul's emphasis on both the deity and the humanity of Jesus in Philippians 1 and 2:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.And in Colossians 2 especially verse 9, Paul affirms Jesus' resurrected body: " For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form," Notice that Paul uses the present tense "lives" not the past tense " lived."
These are only a few of the references in Paul's letters. Carrier can only make his case for an emerging myth of the resurrection by ignoring the entire body of Pauline literature, all of which preceded the Gospels.
Otherwise Carriers observations about the different details in the Gospels are interesting but explained by the fact there were several witnesses that saw things from their own points of view. The details themselves, however, do not change the story of the resurrection in any of the Gospels.
| Carrier picks and chooses
and then misrepresents the significance of the details of
the New Testament
in order to promote what is a theory without a conspiracy, and a theory very few scholars, either Christian or secular embrace.
It makes sense to reject it.