Fred

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« Reply #15 on: April 09, 2012, 03:10:39 pm »

lapwing wrote:  

"I think that "even making things up"  is incompatible with "I agree that the "NT authors clearly show a commitment to telling the truth,"  

There is an instance of things being "made up" about the resurrection in Mt 28:11-15

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Jewish leaders had logical reasons for doing this: to protect their position. It's interesting to note that even the soldiers were expected to be honest and not take bribes. There are many passages in the NT which show a strong commitment to truthfulness e.g. 2 Thess 2:9-12

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

First of all I’ll point out that quoting scripture doesn’t provide much of a justification for thinking the events occurred as reported.  The text of the Bible is data that has to be analyzed to try and derive history from it – history in the form of explanatory hypotheses.

Regarding making things up, within a context of telling the truth: There is a big difference between relating the overarching truth and an inerrant rendition of detailed events. Ancient biographers made things up about their subjects, not in order to deceive, but to convey the truth about the character of their subject. Analogously, it’s like relating a story about a young George Washington admitting to his father that he’d cut down the cherry tree.  The event didn’t occur, but the originator of the story wished to convey a sense of Washington’s honesty.  

The evangelists believed Jesus had risen from the dead and presented a coherent narrative to convey their belief. Why would you assume all the details are correctly related?  Even in modern times, the details of history are usually not available, but that doesn’t stop historians and biographers from making up details to convey their hypotheses about what occurred.

The evangelists believed Jesus rose from the dead – not everyone believes this, but I think the evidence is strongly supports this view.  The historical mystery is: how did this belief originate and how did it evolve?  Christians are free to assume it originated in the actual event of the Resurrection, but that is hardly the only possibility. Unless one assumes that miraculous resurrections are likely to occur, then the mere presence of such a belief would provide insufficient reason for someone else to believe the resurrection actually occurred.  I’ve never seen convincing evidence that miracles occur, but I have seen plenty of evidence that there are credulous people - and that superstitious folks are quite apt to be credulous This is not an argument that the resurrection didn’t occur, it is simply a comment that the available evidence isn’t sufficient to make the case.  

lapwing wrote:  

Objective and subjective

Objective=presenting facts uncoloured by opinions or personal bias, disinterested

Subjective=proceeding from a person's views, not impartial

I disagree that your contention that source criticism is objective. Once you make judgments about bias, provenance etc in ancient documents you are making subjective judgments. What you can say is that source criticism is systematic, but that is not the same thing.

True objectivity is an unattainable ideal, but one that should be strived for and it is possible to successfully move toward. The guidelines of the historical method at least provide an objective framework for formulating and defending hypotheses.  I agree that any interpretation of data will require subjective judgment.  This is part of the reason history is not an exact science – it is a network of explanatory hypotheses, some better supported than others. Peer review of historical hypotheses provides an opportunity to identify subjectivity and the potential to correct for it over the course of time.  

Although history is not an exact science, we can determine some things about the past with a great deal of confidence. Other things will be more tenuous. An honest assessment of history will keep this in mind, and admit uncertainty where appropriate.

Can you propose a more objective approach? Alternatively, do you simply propose we abandon all attempts at objectivity?  

lapwing wrote:  

"... the difficulty with making much of the idea that there were earlier documents. These hypothetical documents, that we don't have, do not help the case for Christianity in the least."  I don't understand, surely, the existence of earlier documents strengthens the veracity of the NT.

You seem eager to conclude everything in the Bible is true.  That’s not a historian’s perspective or role.  A historian examines the data and develops explanatory hypotheses for the data.  The historical framework would be something like this: 1) Jesus ministry occurred; 2) Jesus died; 3) Direct disciples of Jesus began teaching – initiating an oral tradition.  4) The oral tradition evolved.  E.g. it crossed a language  boundary (Aramaic to Greek) and a cultural boundary (Jew to Gentile).  5) some version(s) of the tradition were written.  

I’m writing this outline from memory, but based on a description from the Raymond Brown book I mentioned, and Brown is presenting a consensus scholarly view – not making this up from whole cloth. Within this framework, the existence of earlier, lost written works doesn’t change the picture.  There were still transitions, and opportunities for beliefs to evolve through both the oral and written phases.  If you think it helps make the case for Christianity, please explain how it does so.

lapwing wrote:  

"your personal beliefs are not derived directly from the Bible, but from prior interpreters of the Bible."

How do you know how I have formed my personal beliefs?

An educated guess.  Am I wrong?  You said, “The Bible is not a set of doctrinal statements - these have to be inferred and the nature of the task leads to different opinions.” Did you actually read the Bible with no prior instruction and guidance and infer Christianity from it?  

lapwing wrote:    

Bart Ehrman and EP Sanders

On the Dawkins' website BE scores 502 hits and EPS only 22. In a sense QED. Now this could be because BE is more of a populist. Now there's nothing wrong with being a populist but one must recognise that, since all humans are limited in what they can do, being a populist reduces the time available for serious academic work.

You seem to be confirming that you are committing the genetic fallacy.  Ehrman and Sanders are both respected among biblical scholars.  They both follow the historical method. Why does it matter what non-scholar atheists think?   BTW, there’s not much difference between Ehrman’s and Sander’s depiction of Jesus.  I think Ehrman is popular because he’s outspoken, has written books aimed at the general public, and has gotten a lot of press.  That being said, his perspectives are pretty mainstream among critical scholars.  

lapwing wrote:    

Oral Tradition

Vansina holds that pre-literate people have "highly developed powers of memory, and hand down their traditions in a form made suitable for oral transmission by the use of rhyme or other formulae for linking the material together" In the NT we know that Jesus was recorded as literate, as would have been Matthew, at least. The gospels were written during the lifetime of some of those present. Why is there such a distinct absence of dissenting voices e.g. "I was there at the feeding of the 5000 - really we all brought sandwiches"

Vansina is referring to the same thing I did: that teachings would be handed down by rote. There is no evidence of anyone ever memorizing recent events in order to convey them accurately to others. That is completely ad hoc.

What evidence do you have that Jesus was literate? The literacy rate of the region was extremely low, and generally limited to members of the upper class.  Most scholars assume he was illiterate.  Regarding Matthew – do you mean the author of the book of Matthew (whoever that was) or the disciple named Mathew?  Certainly the author was literate – he wrote the book. It is highly unlikely that Matthew the disciple, would have been capable of writing a literary work in a foreign language.

lapwing wrote:    Papias recorded that Mark wrote down carefully what he remembered of Peter's teaching and this is backed up by Clement of Alexandria. Irenaeus backs up the authenticity of Luke's gospel.

That’s what Papias said, but the Papias testimony is widely disputed.  Clement was writing what he’d heard, but
    this was a century after Mark was written.  Clement also believe Matthew and Luke were written before Mark, which makes little sense.

Irenaeus is indeed the first written account attesting to the canonicity of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  However he doesn’t give an serious justification for the claims.  Yes, he asserted Luke was a travelling companion of Paul’s, but this is widely disputed.  I remember Raymond Brown’s saying something to the effect that it is not impossible that the Author of Luke-Acts accompanied Paul on some of his journeys. But the reasons for assuming this are not very sound.  Against this thread of evidence is the motivation of the Church fathers to justify the correctness of these 4 gospels against the newer Gospels that had appeared.  

My issue is not that these hypotheses about authorship are necessary false. My issue is that conservative Christians begin with the assumption that the authors are the names that have been traditionally assigned, then cite the thread of evidence supporting the claim, and implicitly assert the case is closed. It’s a historical question that requires the best historical analysis, not dogmatic assertions.  The answers should be derived from the evidence rather than picking the evidence that fits the desired answer.

 

lapwing wrote:

For a scholarly article on this fascinating subject see for instance

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/45/45-1/45-1-PP099-109_JETS.pdf

This includes: "Since first-century culture was a largely oral culture, since it is commonly acknowledged that memory skills are highly developed in oral cultures, and since some degree of oral transmission in the period prior to the writing of the Gospels is acknowledged by nearly every NT scholar, why should the probability of a common written source be given greater weight than that of a common oral source?"

Harvey presents a historical hypothesis, and I am fine with giving it consideration.  He makes a fair number of assumptions.  It’s reasonable to think 1st century culture was oral, but it is speculation as to what level of informal control there was on the traditions that were being passed.  He’s assuming a high level of control, at such a high level that there would be verbatim agreement among the synoptics. I’m not an expert, but this seems a pretty extreme assumption.  We really don’t have any direct data to support this assumption.  Sure, it could be true , but at best, this is just another hypothesis that competes with the others, and that’s all Harvey says.  What exactly do you think this does for you?  It simply means we have three books that used a common oral source. They still aren’t independent.  I’ll note that he doesn’t address the language/cultural shift along the way.  He also doesn’t address the issue of exactly WHAT gets committed to memory, and when.  He doesn’t suggest that anyone was following Jesus around acting like a human dictation machine.

Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #16 on: April 10, 2012, 11:33:47 am »

The aside about the possibility of the soldiers getting into trouble for colluding with the high priests is interesting because it doesn't add anything to the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Evidently it was not considered unusual or out of place and so it indicates that the commitment to honesty was high in the Roman army then. This agrees with common sense and our knowledge of how the military works today. It's not difficult to imagine a similar scenario in Afghanistan where soldiers will be expected to be truthful to their commanders.

I still disagree with the phrase "objective framework" given that objective involves the idea of a lack of personal bias. A framework cannot be personally (un)biased. This is why I prefer the word systematic. I do agree that a systematic framework can be used to reduce subjectivism and increase accuracy.

"Unless one assumes that miraculous resurrections are likely to occur"

This indicates that you are assuming that God does not exist and so looking to justify your presupposition. It also shows a  misunderstanding about miracles - they are, by nature, rare events. Jesus' resurrection was a once only event for reasons that I'm sure you understand, if only intellectually.

The genetic fallacy

The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question. Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits.

I disagree that labelling Bart Ehrman as the atheists' favourite theologian is the genetic fallacy, as described above. The data from the Dawkin's website shows that I was correct. At least that is how I understand the word favourite. Rather this shows that you have put your own slant on what I said. I prefer to avoid using unsubstantiated adjectives to back up arguments (I've removed the word scholarly from my reference to the JETS article). What do you mean by mainstream, critical, scholarly etc? Are you implying that evangelical theologians cannot be described as such? Surely the use of such adjectives is subjective. What do you mean by "conservative Christians"? If you read a few of the Dawkins' website references, it is clear that atheists there are using Bart Ehrman to attack Christians and Christianity. Here's a theologian who has moved away from an evangelical faith to agnostic scepticism and you choose him as your example of objectivity. This suggests bias on your part.

"What evidence do you have that Jesus was literate?"

Lk 4:14-20

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”e

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now I know you say that quoting the Bible does not prove anything. But maybe you would agree that the NT would need to be authentic i.e. the picture here of synagogue worship in NT Galilee would need to be accurate. So someone in each synagogue would need to be able to read from the scrolls. Stephen Catto says that the "connection of scripture reading with the synagogue is not disputed by anyone".

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Fred

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« Reply #17 on: April 10, 2012, 07:45:25 pm »
 

lapwing wrote:  "Unless one assumes that miraculous resurrections are likely to occur"

 

This indicates that you are assuming that God does not exist and so looking to justify your presupposition. It also shows a misunderstanding about miracles - they are, by nature, rare events. Jesus' resurrection was a once only event for reasons that I'm sure you understand, if only intellectually.

 

A lack of belief in X is not the same as believing ~X. Are you thoroughly convinced aliens have never visited earth, that no one has telepathy, that reincarnation does not occur, poltergeists don’t exist, and no one is clairvoyant?  More likely, you have simply not been convinced that all of these actually occur. It would not make sense to assume everything that MAY exist (or occur) DOES exist (or occur).  If we don’t apply some level of skepticism to proposed new beliefs (beliefs we do not already hold) then we will end up accepting absolutely every proposal prima facie.  

 

From the perspective of historical analysis, the Resurrection-hypothesis is an explanatory hypothesis to explain the belief of early Christians (i.e. the early Christians believed in the Resurrection.  The “resurrection hypothesis” is the hypothesis that Jesus actually was risen from the dead).  This phenomenon (the belief in the resurrection) can also be explained by other hypotheses. The hypotheses can be compared using the criteria for inference to the best explanation. These criteria include plausibility comparisons: does the hypothesis depend on assumptions that are not in the belief set.  The Resurrection hypothesis depends on these assumptions: 1) God exists; 2) God has the power and inclination to intervene in the everyday world (i.e. he can and does work miracles); 3) God is that entity described in the Old Testament, which entails (among other things): selecting a specific ethnic group over all others to treat special.  You believe all these, and so of course you have no problem with the Resurrection.  While I think these things are possibly true, I haven’t seen an argument to convince me of such – just like I assume you haven’t seen a convincing case for reincarnation.  If you regard my lack of belief in miracles as a prejudice, then you should also apply that to yourself with regard to any other phenomena that you do not accept reports on prima facie.

 

 

lapwing wrote:  The genetic fallacy

 

The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

 

The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question. Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits.

 

I disagree that labeling Bart Ehrman as the atheists' favourite theologian is the genetic fallacy, as described above.  Rather this shows that you have put your own slant on what I said.” –

 

I actually said, “you seem to be confirming that you are committing the genetic fallacy” – and I said this because I can't imagine why else you would bring this up. What difference does it make who references him?

 

lapwing wrote:  The data from the Dawkin's website shows that I was correct. At least that is how I understand the word favourite. Rather this shows that you have put your own slant on what I said. I prefer to avoid using unsubstantiated adjectiv
   es to back up arguments

 

Again, I said it "seemed" so. I was making no blatant accusation, merely pointing out how it appeared to me.  

 

lapwing wrote: (I've removed the word scholarly from my reference to the JETS article).

 

I had actually researched the author and saw that he lacked the relevant scholarly credentials (I found a write-up on him at his university), but I saw no reason not to respond directly to his argument. It is the argument that matters, not the person making it – don't you agree?

 

lapwing wrote:  What do you mean by mainstream, critical, scholarly etc.? Are you implying that evangelical theologians cannot be described as such?

 

A critical scholar is one engaged in a critical evaluation of the material, attempting to derive what happened based on the information available while minimizing preconceptions.

 

lapwing wrote:  Surely the use of such adjectives is subjective. What do you mean by "conservative Christians"?

 

By a “conservative Christian” approach, I’m referring to someone who begins with the assumption that the traditional Christian beliefs are true, and tends to give special consideration to the Bible vs other historical documents.  Such scholars often create complex arguments to explain away apparent discrepancies in the Bible, under the assumption that the Bible is inerrant and therefore there must be a logical explanation for this. There's nothing wrong with such scholarship, but it has a different objective from scholars engaging in the historical-critical method. Such scholars follow the evidence where it leads, vs conservative scholars who simply try to provide interpretations of the Bible to justify believing it to be inerrant.  I think it should be clear that such conservative scholarship will be of little value in convincing non-believers that the Bible is true, whereas there is at least a theoretical possibility that a critical scholar could do exactly that.  As I've pointed out repeatedly, Craig attempts to use the tools of Critical scholarship to "prove" his case for the resurrection.  

 

lapwing wrote:  If you read a few of the Dawkins' website references, it is clear that atheists there are using Bart Ehrman to attack Christians and Christianity. Here's a theologian who has moved away from an evangelical faith to agnostic skepticism and you choose him as your example of objectivity. This suggests bias on your part.

 

First of all, Ehrman was never really a theologian (despite his degree). He has specialized in reading and interpreting ancient Greek, studying the relevant documents of the early Church, and in historical analysis.  But if you really think you're not committing the genetic fallacy, then please explain the relevance of Ehrman's skepticism.  Are you suggesting that the only credible way to analyze the data is from a position of faith?!  The fact that Dawkins references Ehrman has zero bearing on the quality of Ehrman’s scholarship.  Yes, I think Ehrman’s scholarship is as objective as anyone’s. He has subjective opinions, as everyone does, but if these lead to error – the error can and should be disputed, rather than dismissing him because you seemingly can't trust an agnostic.  

 

lapwing wrote:  "What evidence do you have that Jesus was literate?"

 

Lk 4:14-20

 

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read…. Now I know you say that quoting the Bible does not prove anything. But maybe you would agree that the NT would need to be authentic i.e. the picture here of synagogue worship in NT Galilee would need to be accurate. So someone in each synagogue would need to be able to read from the scrolls. Stephen Catto says that the "connection of scripture reading with the synagogue is not disputed by anyone".

 

I expect no one doubts that scripture reading occurred in 1st century synagogues, but plenty of scholars do question whether or not Luke is relating history here.  Mark wrote that Jesus taught in the Synagogue, but mentions no reading; Matthew copies this.  Luke’s passage appears based on Mark, and some scholars think that Luke simply copied and embellished Mark’s account to explicitly connect Jesus to Old Testament prophecy, somethin
   g that he appears to do a number of times.  Clearly, Luke had no direct knowledge of the event, so the best one could hope would be that he utilized another source besides Mark for this, an early source.  However, the fact that Luke quotes from the Septuagint (the old Testament in Greek) suggests that he wasn’t merely translating from an older, Aramaic document. I'll add another possible explanation for the passage: Jesus may have memorized the passage from Isaiah – remember that you argued such practices were common.  Nevertheless, I agree it’s possible Jesus could read, and I stated it too strongly when I said "most scholars think he was illiterate."  Absolutely some scholars think this, but others do not.  I don't have polling numbers, but the bottom line is that we don't know – the data is equivocal.

 

Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #18 on: April 11, 2012, 04:21:56 am »

Alien visitations, telepathy, reincarnation

I'm disappointed that you're coming up with the same old tired atheist cliches.

So a set of people hold supernatural belief A  with recent evidence that has flaws e.g. alien visitations that only occur in remote parts of USA. Another set of people hold supernatural belief B where the "flaw" in the evidence is that it occurred a long time ago e.g. Christianity. Trouble is the evidential connection between A and B is zero. Ah but this shows how gullible people can be you hint. Trouble is that fails to account for the early church growth and has no bearing on the validity of the evidence. Gullibility could be costly for NT believers and can still be costly today e.g. in Pakistan.

why else you would bring this up (Bart Ehrman)

The fact that Dawkins references Ehrman has zero bearing on the quality of Ehrman’s scholarship.

Not Dawkins but many of the atheists who post on the Dawkins website forums. I don't see it as coincidence that you first cite him and he is also the atheists favourite NT scholar. It seems to me you are using the word "objective" as a cover for citing someone who agrees with you. I've listened to a Youtube debate with Ehrman. I was underwhelmed but I don't have the details to hand. It may be that he is better in print and I would not be against reading any of his books.

scholarly

I removed the word, scholarly, not because I didn't think that the article was scholarly but that I prefer not to back up my reasoning with empty descriptors.

By what criteria did you label John Harvey as "lacking scholarly credentials" whatever that means. Sadly you repeatedly use the word "scholar" and its derivatives in an attempt to back up your arguments. It's unnecessary and detracts from your postings which are not without quality.

"A critical scholar is one engaged in a critical evaluation of the material, attempting to derive what happened based on the information available while minimizing preconceptions."

How do you know whether someone has minimised their preconceptions?

"Mark wrote that Jesus taught in the Synagogue, but mentions no reading"

The gospels are not an exhaustive account of everything Jesus said and did as is pointed out in John's gospel and can be immediately determined from their brevity. So saying that Mark mentions no reading is irrelevant.

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Fred

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« Reply #19 on: April 11, 2012, 07:57:09 pm »
 

lapwing wrote:  Alien visitations, telepathy, reincarnation

 

I'm disappointed that you're coming up with the same old tired atheist clichés.

 

So a set of people hold supernatural belief A  with recent evidence that has flaws e.g. alien visitations that only occur in remote parts of USA. Another set of people hold supernatural belief B where the "flaw" in the evidence is that it occurred a long time ago e.g. Christianity. Trouble is the evidential connection between A and B is zero. Ah but this shows how gullible people can be you hint.

 

The arguments I’ve seen from atheists have been to compare belief in God to belief in pink unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters. I chose these examples because they make a more reasonable case. It’s an epistemological issue: what constitutes a sufficient argument to induce a person to accept a proposition as true, a proposition about which one lacks a prior belief.  I’m not demanding empirical evidence, nor a sound proof.  But it seems unreasonable to accept everything we read, everything we hear.  

 

Unlike pink unicorns and FSMs, there is evidence for each of the items I listed. For example, hundreds of people have reported encounters with aliens. Some reports have been corroborated.  People making such reports are alive today – so we actually have 1st hand testimony.  Lots of people believe aliens are among us.  My issue is very straightforward: what criteria would you suggest be applied for assessing each of my proposals as well as the proposal for Jesus’ Resurrection?  I label this hypothetical set of criteria the “plausibility hurdle.” I challenge you to provide criteria that result in my list failing to leap the plausibility hurdle, but the Resurrection making it over.  I’ve challenged a number of people with coming up with this, and no one has succeeded.  

 

Someone is gullible if they accept virtually everything they are told.  Someone who accepts all the items in my list might qualify for this distinction, but at minimum I'd say they are excessively credulous.  At the other extreme, criteria that admits no new propositions over the hurdle are at an absurdly high level of skepticism – so high that learning would be impossible. So both extremes are problematic.  Where should one draw the line? I don’t know, but it should certainly be a consistent line – consistent criteria of assessment.

 

lapwing wrote:  Trouble is that fails to account for the early church growth and has no bearing on the validity of the evidence. Gullibility could be costly for NT believers and can still be costly today e.g. in Pakistan …

 

I really don’t follow you. What does church growth have to do with whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected?  The Church grew because it carried an appeal. I hope you do realize that it's growth rate truly skyrocketed only after Constantine accepted Christianity.

 

I’m not disputing the validity of the evidence.  But evidence is just data. I'm not objecting to the evidence, but only to your interpretation of the evidence.  

 

   ="" new="" roman""="">The question remains: what makes for an adequate, convincing case? There’s evidence of aliens abducting people, evidence of telepathy, reincarnation, clairvoyance, and poltergeists. How would you propose the evidence be evaluated?   Again, try to provide me the criteria you think appropriate, and we’ll see how each of the items I mentioned fare.  I don’t think criteria exist that would result in acceptance of the Resurrection while rejection of the other items I mentioned.  This is what I’d like you to try to understand: it’s neither prejudice nor unreasonableness to expect a very good argument to convince someone to accept the truth of a new phenomenon that is outside normal experience.  You, who believe it already, will naturally have a different perspective – but you should not demand that a simply adopt your perspective, any more than a UFO-follower should expect you to adopt their viewpoint.  

 

lapwing wrote:  why else you would bring this up (Bart Ehrman)

 

[qutoe=fredonly]First of all, Ehrman was never really a theologian (despite his degree). He has specialized in reading and interpreting ancient Greek, studying the relevant documents of the early Church, and in historical analysis.  But if you really think you're not committing the genetic fallacy, then please explain the relevance of Ehrman's skepticism.  Are you suggesting that the only credible way to analyze the data is from a position of faith?!  The fact that Dawkins references Ehrman has zero bearing on the quality of Ehrman’s scholarship.  Yes, I think Ehrman’s scholarship is as objective as anyone’s. He has subjective opinions, as everyone does, but if these lead to error – the error can and should be disputed, rather than dismissing him because you seemingly can't trust an agnostic. .

 

Not Dawkins but many of the atheists who post on the Dawkins  website forums. I don't see it as coincidence that you first cite him and he is also the atheists favourite NT scholar. It seems to me you are using the word "objective" as a cover for citing someone who agrees with you.

 

All I said is that Ehrman appears as objective as anyone, and I'm basing this on actually reading him and a number of other authors. You haven't read him, so you have formulated a negative opinion of him based on the fact that he's "the atheists favourite NT scholar." And of course you consider me biased, so my opinion doesn't count.  I don't care.  But if you do choose to read Ehrman, I'd recommend his textbook, The New Testament – A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writing.  But I think a better introduction to the methodology is: The Historical Jesus: Five Views, it includes some historical analysis by scholars of various persuasions.  If you have any desire to improve your apologetics skills, you really do need to read some contrary views.

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

Scholarly

 

I removed the word, scholarly, not because I didn't think that the article was scholarly but that I prefer not to back up my reasoning with empty descriptors.

 

By what criteria did you label John Harvey as "lacking scholarly credentials" whatever that means. Sadly you repeatedly use the word "scholar" and its derivatives in an attempt to back up your arguments. It's unnecessary and detracts from your postings which are not without quality.

 

His bio website says he has authored 3 books and one article. The article is taken from a series of sermons he delivered on the afterlife. Only one of the books is in the relevant field of study, a survey of oral cultures – and I believe the article you posted is from this book. He has no peer reviewed publications. This was my basis in saying he lacks scholarly credentials. As I said, I didn’t let this dissuade me – I still read the entire paper and commented on his argument, rather than dismissing him for this lack of credentials. Lack of credentials doesn’t imply a person is wrong, but if one is looking for books and articles to learn from, it makes the more sense to read the experts in the field rather than dilettantes.  Not because dilettantes are necessarily wrong, but because no one has time to read everything, so it makes the most sense to read the folks who are spe
   cialists in the field.

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

"A critical scholar is one engaged in a critical evaluation of the material, attempting to derive what happened based on the information available while minimizing preconceptions."

 

How do you know whether someone has minimized their preconceptions?

 

By reading the justifications for their interpretations. There is a clear difference between a person who treats the Bible as a historical document and someone who treats it as a theological document.  Theology does (and should) begin with religious faith.  A historical analysis does not and should not start with faith.  There are objective historical scholars of all types of faith. I don't dismiss their analysis because they are Christian.

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

"Mark wrote that Jesus taught in the Synagogue, but mentions no reading"

 

The gospels are not an exhaustive account of everything Jesus said and did as is pointed out in John's gospel and can be immediately determined from their brevity. So saying that Mark mentions no reading is irrelevant.

 

Everything is relevant when one is trying to establish history from a limited set of source material.   Such history consists of a series of explanatory hypotheses, layered one on the other.  Inferences can be made from data that is present, and inferences can be made from data that is not present; such is the nature of the process. While it’s obviously true that no one could have recorded everything Jesus said, it’s also questionable which items in the Gospels actually occurred, and which quotations of Jesus are historical. There is a strong case for Markan priority, that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source.  It is certainly possible that Luke indeed took Mark and embellished it as I suggested.  It’s just a hypothesis, and in this hypothesis  Mark's not mentioning this is relevant. I’m not arguing that’s necessarily what happened, because Matthew and Luke also had other sources available. But there’s no good reason for dismissing this possibility that this hypothesis is correct.  It disagrees with your hypothesis, but the hypotheses would need to be looked at side by side in whole.  It doesn't make sense to pick a winner in advance, or to simply dismiss one or the other.  

Fred

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« Reply #20 on: April 12, 2012, 11:59:10 am »

"The arguments I’ve seen from atheists have been to compare belief in God to belief in pink unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters"

blank has brought up leprechauns and fairies. On the Dawkins website leprechaun hits 134 times. I'd like to think that the atheists posting there are rounded people with a genuine interest in Irish folk tales and mythology but I think we both know better than that. Reincarnation? How would evidence for that work? "Alien visitation" hits 15 times. The trouble is you're comparing events with 20th century evidence with an event in the 1st century. So really you're comparing the strength of evidence of events from within living memory with one from ancient history. So the comparison is not about the resurrection per se but comparing evidence from different eras. It is really only valid to compare the resurrection with other events in ancient history. Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism? You seem confident that the early Church skyrocketed in numbers following official acceptance under Constantine although that was nearly 300 years later. Now, you're not the first atheist to bring that up. No surprise, of course, since the reason is the implication that early Christians only came to faith in numbers when it was expedient. That inference seems to be an over simplification to say the least though. Your statement is suggestive of my theory that atheists who post on forums are not human beings but are really AI devices - they do tend to behave that way! Your plausibilty hurdle is another example. Note that I am not saying the early church did not increase in numbers following official sanction - but how come you are so sure?

Bart Ehrman

I have heard him though. He said that "archaeologists do not use the NT". I checked back for the context. Maybe he omitted your favourite word: objective i.e. archaeologists who agree with Bart Ehrman. So you can understand why I was underwhelmed, but, as I said, he may be better in print, and I haven't ruled out reading him. I have seen a criticism that BE uses a "Chinese whispers" model for textual transmission and so ignores the checks and balances that copies of NT texts would be subject to - they were copied to be used and read.

John Harvey

From the JETS website "an academic periodical featuring peer reviewed articles". Are you saying that is not true? Is "peer review" your only criterion for "scholarly"? Or does the peer review have to be "objective" i.e. agreeing with your views? His JETS articles were not in the bio.: http://www.ciu.edu/discover-ciu/who-we-are/faculty-staff/john-d-harvey

Matthew, Mark and Luke

So what inference are you drawing that Mark does not specify that Jesus "read" just that he taught whereas Matthew and Luke stated that Jesus "read"? I would think that it was far more likely that Mark simply omitted that detail (he may have thought that his Jewish audience knew well what happened in a synagogue - only my surmise) rather than Matthew and Luke inserted something they knew wasn't true - for what advantage?

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

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"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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« Reply #21 on: April 12, 2012, 09:20:31 pm »
 

lapwing wrote: "The arguments I’ve seen from atheists have been to compare belief in God to belief in pink unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters"

   

blank has brought up leprechauns and fairies. On the Dawkins website leprechaun hits 134 times. I'd like to think that the atheists posting there are rounded people with a genuine interest in Irish folk tales and mythology but I think we both know better than that.

Agreed. I don't think those are good arguments.  There's no evidence for leprechauns and fairies.  However, there is evidence for the items I mentioned.

 

lapwing wrote:

 

Reincarnation? How would evidence for that work?

 

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stevenson#Reincarnation_research

Wikipedia_Article_Reincrarnation_Research wrote:

The children in Stevenson's studies often behaved in ways he felt  suggestive of a link to the previous life. These children would display  emotions toward members of the previous family consistent with their  claimed past life, e.g., deferring to a husband or bossing around a  former younger brother or sister who by that time was actually much  older than the child in question. Many of these children also displayed  phillias and phobias associated to the manner of their death, with over  half who described a violent death being fearful of associated devices.  Many of the children also incorporated elements of their claimed  previous occupation into their play, while others would act out their  claimed death repeatedly.[17]

Tom Shroder said Stevenson's fieldwork technique was that of a  detective or investigative reporter, searching for alternative  explanations of the material he was offered. One boy in Beirut described  being a 25-year-old mechanic who died after being hit by a speeding car  on a beach road. Witnesses said the boy gave the name of the driver, as  well as the names of his sisters, parents, and cousins, and the  location of the crash. The details matched the life of a man who had  died years before the child was born, and who was apparently unconnected  to the child's family. In such cases, Stevenson sought alternative  explanations—that the child had discovered the information in a normal  way, that the witnesses were lying to him or to themselves, or that the  case boiled down to coincidence. Shroder writes that, in scores of  cases, no alternative explanation seemed to suffice.
 

lapwing wrote:

 

"Alien visitation" hits 15 times.

 

Are you still looking at the Dawkins website?  I'm pointing out that there is actual evidence:

 

A great many people have reported being abducted by aliens.  Here is a website that takes these seriously: http://www.abduct.com/contact/contact.php

 

Here’s a Wikipedia article which lists a large number of UFO sightings:    imes="" new="" roman";color:windowtext;text-decoration:="" none;text-underline:none"="">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_major_UFO_sightings

 

A book that purports to identify some hard evidences:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Hair-Alien-Forensic-Evidence-Abductions/dp/0743492862/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1308448864&sr=8-3

 

A book that examines evidence of alien visits in history:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Supernatural-Meetings-Ancient-Teachers-Mankind/dp/1932857842/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1308448864&sr=8-9

 

Here’s information about specific abductions:

 

http://www.ufopsi.com/articles/antoniovillasboas.html

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_and_Barney_Hill_abduction

 

Here’s a more thorough treatment of the latter:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Captured-Betty-Barney-Hill-Experience/dp/1564149714/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1308448750&sr=8-3

 

lapwing wrote: The trouble is you're comparing events with 20th century evidence with an event in the 1st century. So really you're comparing the strength of evidence of events from within living memory with one from ancient history. So the comparison is not about the resurrection per se but comparing evidence from different eras.

 

That's absolutely wrong.  The issue is: what does it take to convince you that a new phenomenon (one for which you have no prior belief) actually occurs?  What are appropriate criteria to apply?  Then apply them consistently to all of these proposed beliefs and let's see which end up passing the plausibility hurdle.

 

lapwing wrote:  It is really only valid to compare the resurrection with other events in ancient history. Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism?

 

Are you suggesting that we should assess 1st century evidence with a softer set of criteria?  Grade it on the curve? Give it the benefit of the doubt?  Why?  Does this mean a 2000 year old story of reincarnation should be given more credibility than a story I see on 60 Minutes?

   

fredonly wrote:
Quote from: lapwing
Trouble is that fails to account for the early church growth and has no bearing
   on the validity of the evidence. Gullibility could be costly for NT believers and can still be costly today e.g. in Pakistan

 

I really don’t follow you. What does church growth have to do with whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected?  The Church grew because it carried an appeal. I hope you do realize that it's growth rate truly skyrocketed only after Constantine accepted Christianity.

 

I’m not disputing the validity of the evidence.  But evidence is just data. I'm not objecting to the evidence, but only to your interpretation of the evidence.  

 

lapwing wrote: You seem confident that the early Church skyrocketed in numbers following official acceptance under Constantine although that was nearly 300 years later. Now, you're not the first atheist to bring that up. No surprise, of course, since the reason is the implication that early Christians only came to faith in numbers when it was expedient. That inference seems to be an over simplification to say the least though. Your statement is suggestive of my theory that atheists who post on forums are not human beings but are really AI devices - they do tend to behave that way! Your plausibilty hurdle is another example. Description: http://rfforum.websitetoolbox.com/images/boards/smilies/smile.gif Note that I am not saying the early church did not increase in numbers following official sanction - but how come you are so sure?

 

So sure of what? Are you disagreeing with the facts I stated?  Until now, you hadn't mentioned that your issue dealt exclusively with growth during the first 300 years. You seem to be playing games, and arguing against a strawman rather than reading, understanding, and responding to what I say. You still haven't even stated your point, and you haven't answered my question, which I'll repeat: What does church growth have to do with whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected? Incidentally, if I were to jump to conclusions as you do, I could infer that you're making the same, tired old apologetic argument about the miraculous growth of the church, but I don't think it would be right to put words in your mouth and then brag triumphantly. Make your point, and I'll respond.

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

Bart Ehrman

 

I have heard him though. He said that "archaeologists do not use the NT". I checked back for the context. Maybe he omitted your favourite word: objective i.e. archaeologists who agree with Bart Ehrman. So you can understand why I was underwhelmed, but, as I said, he may be better in print, and I haven't ruled out reading him. I have seen a criticism that BE uses a "Chinese whispers" model for textual transmission and so ignores the checks and balances that copies of NT texts would be subject to - they were copied to be used and read.

 

Ehrman said that "archaelogists … digs are not based on the study of literary texts such as the New Testament Gospels."  Is this incorrect?  

 

I've never read of Ehrman using the "Chinese whispers" model, he uses the "telephone game" model.  I absolutely agree this overstates the case.  

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

John Harvey

 

From the JETS website "an academic periodical featuring peer reviewed articles". Are you saying that is not true? Is "peer review" your only criterion for "scholarly"? Or does the peer review have to be "objective" i.e. agreeing with your views? His JETS articles were not in the bio.: http://www.ciu.edu/discover-ciu/who-we-are/faculty-staff/john-d-harvey

 

Good point.  Nevertheless, I didn't dismiss him for my erroneous evaluation of him. I was just fully disclosing the reason for my comment.  I still read his entire article without prejudice, and commented on it.  

 

lapwing wrote:  

 

Matthew, Mark and Luke

 

So what inference are you drawing that Mark does not specify that Jesu
   s "read" just that he taught whereas Matthew and Luke stated that Jesus "read"? I would think that it was far more likely that Mark simply omitted that detail (he may have thought that his Jewish audience knew well what happened in a synagogue - only my surmise) rather than Matthew and Luke inserted something they knew wasn't true - for what advantage?

 

The inference I'm drawing is that Luke utilized Mark, and it is very possible that he simply expanded upon what Mark said, in order to stress the tie to Old Testament "prophecy."  

 

Luke himself makes it clear he's not an eyewitness, and relied on prior sources. So it is possible that he utilized another source that contained the expanded story. For this reason, I have to agree that it is possible that it is historical.  On the other hand, since we don't have such a source – it is somewhat ad hoc to assume that this is the case.  I can't rule it out, but it also doesn't make sense to insist it is necessarily true.  Bottom line: Jesus may have been able to read.  

 

Regarding the"advantage" – both Matthew and Luke believe Jesus was the Messiah, prophesied in the Old Testament. Tying him to Isaiah helps makes the case for this.

 

P. S. Tone down the hostility!   If your position is indeed so superior to mine, then let the facts speak for themselves.  If I end up repeating an atheist argument you have previously encountered, then feel free to reply with your boilerplate response - but please stop anticipating; it's a waste of time.  

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« Reply #22 on: April 14, 2012, 04:44:01 pm »

Reincarnation research
Thanks for the reference - I wasn't aware of this work, though, of course, you have discussed this point before
on other threads. Now I think I understand your point about reincarnation being "similar" to Jesus' resurrection
since it deals with the issue of life after death or the supernatural. But there are significant
differences. This work is based on present day testimony but the evidence is not direct. No one can
see a reincarnation event occur. The NT evidence is that the apostles saw the risen Christ.
UFO sightings can often turn out to be something else such as an artificial satellite. We don't actually know
what a UFO looks like. The apostles knew what Jesus looked like. So I don't believe it is credible to say
that the apostles were mistaken. If you are to deny Jesus' resurrection, then you must allege that the accounts were
fabricated or have suffered unbelievably severe corruption in transmission.

"That's absolutely wrong"
Are you saying that it's wrong to say there is a difference between the nature and quality of evidence for alleged
events in the 1st century and 20th/21st century? I can't agree with you there. Now if you are saying that since Jesus'
resurrection account is set in the 1st century that's too long ago to be believable then, of course, you can go with
that. But you must be consistent and not believe that other 1st century events with similar or less documentary evidence
happened. You did not answer my previous question on this so I will restate it:

Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism?
I've been trying to think of people of that period who are comparable with Jesus, in terms of the likelihood
to leave historical evidence. The Roman emperors are similar in fame now, but they were surrounded by a much greater
bureaucratic infrastructure during their lifetimes: they had memorials made in stone and paid historians etc. Jesus
had nothing like that in his lifetime. The large number of documents that attest to Jesus' life, death and resurrection
is due to the fact that his followers believed them to be important, since Christianity is a religion where personal
salvation depends on the truth of these events, not on personal behaviour (except putting your faith in Christ). So
another famous rabbi of the period may have had a similar (though more settled) life but his posterity may not
have been so well preserved. Hillel the Elder is a possible example. Documentary evidence for his sayings seem to come
in the Tannaitic Midrash (10-220 AD) but I found it hard to pin down the actual references. Josephus may also have
mentioned him. So

1. Do you believe that Julius Caesar was really assassinated as recorded by Suetonius, Plutarch et al?
2. Do you believe anything about the life of Hillel the Elder that has been passed down via Jewish midrasha etc.?

These may not be the best examples so, given your interest in early church history, you may be able to think of
better examples. Note that I am only concerned with how well we can trust our knowledge of the history of the period
through documentary evidence. I am not concerned here with miraculous events. Jesus and the early church did
non miraculous things. Do you believe those events?

So sure of what?
That the early Church skyrocketed in numbers following official acceptance under Constantine. I thought I made that
clear. Why are you so sure of this?

300 years
I was only making the point the resurrection and the "skyrocketing" church under Constantine are separated by a not
insignificant period of time. So it wouldn't be such a good comparison as with events from the same century as
the resurrection. But what you wrote shows that you are confident of some events in ancient history does it not?

What does church growth have to do with whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected?
It's a good question - good enough to be the subject of many PhD theses, monographs and books. So I don't think we
can settle it properly in this forum. You don't want "the same, tired old apologetic argument about the miraculous
growth of the church" so there may be no point in answering. I felt the same way about your
"I’ve challenged a number of people with coming up with this, and no one has succeeded." Why should I think
that I can do better than a "number of people"? They will be different so the common factor is you, not them. They
have failed to persuade you because you are not to be persuaded. That is the impression you are giving. We could play
the game of reference tennis since this is a subject for which people who study this subject have different views.
Is that what you want? The historicity of the Acts of the Apostles is a key to this. I've just read the Acts of Peter
and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve. Some say that these apocryphal Acts are more like historical novels which
use the known apostles in stories to make theological or moral points. Neither of them mentioned any specific known
places for the events. This is not the case for the four canonical gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. I asked before,
given that people at the time would be able to identify when and where these events took place, why didn't those people
come forward to say that the events were just made up (e.g. the feeding of the 5000, Peter's Pentecostal sermon).
You can't argue that they were suppressed by a powerful church since you have already implied that the church was
not powerful pre Constantine. I don't think you can argue that belief in the resurrection was not of fundamental
importance to the early church from its inclusion and explanation in the Acts and several epistles plus the regular
practice that became known as Holy Communion. There's no point to that unless you believe in the resurrection.
If you want to play reference tennis then here's an opening serve:
http://the7ones.com/2009/02/05/review-the-books-of-acts-in-the-setting-of-hellenistic-history/
but before you label the author as not objective or not a scholar note that he died of an intense illness before
completion and publication, after 18 years of work. Such criticisms could be considered bad taste.

Bart Ehrman and NT archaeology
I think the full quote is question to BE:"Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources" For archaeologists
BE answered "A flat out no! Archaeologists dig to find material remains from antiquity and their digs are not based
on the study of literary texts such as the NT gospels
". Now this may be an issue of semantics but this is not how
I understand how archaeologists work. From Archaeology: an Introduction "Historical archaeologists usually possess
a basic framework fo dates and a general idea of the society of a particular period into which to fit their findings."

(Surely often from historical documents). Herodium is an archaeological site south of Jerusalem and I argue that Josephus
is an important source for this site see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodium. In Bible and Spade it is stated:
The main historical source of the Second Temple’s days, the historian Josephus Flavius,
has described the site of Herodium in detail.

There is also the pool of Bethesda which was found to correspond to
the description in John ch 5:
Most scholars believe that the two pools of the Probatica group formed the Pool of Bethzatha in John 5.
It is described as having five porches or porticoes. Excavations in 1888 reveal
   ed these twin pools which had a rock
partition 20 feet thick between them. Five porticoes were found — one on each of the four sides and one on the
partition. The remains of the twin pools can be seen today behind the Church of St. Anne, just inside St. Stephen’s
Gate. It was here at the Pool of Bethzatha that Jesus healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years.
Although the man had come hoping to be healed by the waters of the pool, Jesus challenged him to trust in His
healing power when He said to him, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:8). The man was immediately healed
as he obeyed Jesus and took up his bed and walked.

Now it could be that BE's understanding of the word "source" and mine differ, but if they do I find it hard to understand why the question was even asked.

Of course, BE may be only talking about scholarly and objective archaeologists and not "extremely conservative" ones (BE's words about

NT scholars). I had a vision of Genghis Khan type scholars but I think in practice they are probably ordinary people.

John Harvey
I applaud you for reading the article but why did you spoil it by labelling him as not a scholar (you still haven't
defined what you mean by that accolade). You said that he hadn't published any peer reviewed articles which was a
false statement. I thought your comment about someone who had studied or worked in academic theology since 1983 was crass.
I was raised to believe that it was dishonourable to attack people behind their back but not to their face. You might
say what does it matter - John Harvey will never know. Well, if God exists, He knows as does anyone who reads your post.

"Tying him to Isaiah"
How is this affected by whether or not Jesus read from the scroll or recited the passage from memory? The connection between the Isaiah passage and Jesus is not affected by His ability to read.

Hostility
I think you have certainly trumped me in the hostility stakes:

You seem to be playing games, and arguing against a strawman rather than reading, understanding, and responding to what I say. You still haven't even stated your point, and you haven't answered my question, which I'll repeat ... Incidentally, if I were to jump to conclusions as you do, I could infer that you're making the same, tired old apologetic argument about the miraculous growth of the church, but I don't think it would be right to put words in your mouth and then brag triumphantly. Make your point, and I'll respond ... If your position is indeed so superior to mine, then let the facts speak for themselves.  If I end up repeating an atheist argument you have previously encountered, then feel free to reply with your boilerplate response - but please stop anticipating; it's a waste of time.  

Surely you realise the ridiculousness of giving orders to someone on an internet forum: it's also another example of atheist AI behaviour. You ask me to tone down the hostility but you ramp yours up. Please state what you find hostile and I'll apologise for it. I found all the above italicised paragraph "hostile". Note that I said "please": a courtesy that you did not extend to me.


Here are the questions I have asked either in this post or previously:

1. Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism?

2. Why are you so sure the early church only skyrocketed after official sanction from

Constantine?

3. Is "peer review" your only criterion for "scholarly"? Or does the peer review have to be "objective" i.e. agreeing with your views?

4.  Do you believe that Julius Caesar was really assassinated as recorded by Suetonius, Plutarch et al?
5. Do you believe anything about the life of Hillel the Elder that has been passed down via Jewish midrasha etc.?

6. Jesus and the early church did non miraculous things. Do you believe those events?

7. Why didn't people come forward to say that NT events were just made up?

8. How is the advantage of tying Jesus to the Isaiah prophecy affected by whether or not Jesus read from the scroll or recited the passage from memory?

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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« Reply #23 on: April 15, 2012, 02:11:46 pm »
 

Part 1 of response
(it wouldn't fit in a single post)

 

lapwing wrote: Reincarnation research
Thanks for the reference - I wasn't aware of this work, though, of course, you have discussed this point before on other threads. Now I think I understand your point about reincarnation being "similar" to Jesus' resurrection since it deals with the issue of life after death or the supernatural.

 

The similarity I was referring to in each of my examples was that they concern phenomena that might actually occur, but for which most people are skeptical. I think they are right to be skeptical. I'm asking you to provide criteria that could be applied to all of them, so that we could filter out the plausible from the implausible.  No two items have exactly the same evidence, they are all different.  I actually think each and every one is possible – I don't rule them out, but I don't consider the evidence and supporting arguments, sufficient to overcome my skepticism.

 

lapwing wrote: But there are significant differences. This work is based on present day testimony but the evidence is not direct. No one can see a reincarnation event occur. The NT evidence is that the apostles saw the risen Christ. UFO sightings can often turn out to be something else such as an artificial satellite. We don't actually know what a UFO looks like. The apostles knew what Jesus looked like. So I don't believe it is credible to say that the apostles were mistaken. If you are to deny Jesus' resurrection, then you must allege that the accounts were fabricated or have suffered unbelievably severe corruption in transmission.

 

No one has seen a resurrection occur.  If direct evidence is required, then we must also dismiss the Resurrection.  The apostles seeing the risen Christ is not the evidence; the evidence is the New Testament – stories written decades after Jesus allegedly rose from the dead, by unknown authors.  This is certainly indirect.  Where did the authors get their information?  All we can do is make educated guesses as to how the information got to the evangelists.  Compare this to the eyewitness reports of Betty and Barney Hill, or Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, who also report an encounter.  A number of other people have reported being abducted (e.g. here, here, here, and here).  These are first-hand accounts.  How is this LESS credible than the indirect evidence of the Gospels, stories with an unknown provenance.  The Biblical evidence with most plausible provenance is the testimony of Paul in 1Cor 15.  I think it's fair to assume Paul received this from Cephas and James, which would make it 2nd hand.  But what exactly was Paul told?  The information is very sketchy, stating simply that Jesus had "appeared" to these people. Even if they told Paul they had seen Jesus – why give them more credibility than the people reporting the alien encounters? Any potential mental or emotional issue we might point to for the alien encounters could be applied to the disciples who made their claims. Jesus may have appeared to them in dreams – people of the time tended to treat dream images as real.  Furthermore, experiencing the presence of the dead by the bereaved is a relatively common phenomenon that has been studied by psychologists for over a hundred years (a sampling of references is below). The followers of Jesus were superstitious and almost definitely had eschatological expectations. This would have shaped their interpretations of their experiences, and their interpretations would have directly translated into the stories they told about this.

”The nature of the sensing experience, therefore, seems to predict adaptation after bereavement. “ http://baywood.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,2,7;journal,135,255;linkingpublicationresults,1:300329,1

In a national survey in Iceland, 31 percent of respondents reported "having perceived the presence of a deceased person." A multinational Gallup survey conducted in sixteen western countries showed widespread claims of personal contacts with the dead…
http://baywood.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,2,7;journal,182,255;linkingpublicationresults,1:300329,1

“A post-bereavement experience that encapsulates these themes, providing closeness,
communication, and the continuation of an important relationship, is the sense of the dead
person’ s presence. At its weakest this is a feeling that one is somehow being watched; at its
strongest it is a full-blown sensory experience. This experience has over the past 50 years become
well documented in medical, counselling and psychological literature.”
http://www.liv.ac.uk/~kmb/MyPublishedPapers/BennettBennett2000a.pdf

“In virtually every culture, people tell stories about surviving spirits, benevolent or
hostile. ,,,It is people who have bonded deeply with a loved one who are most likely to
sense contact with that spirit after death… "
http://www.sylviahartwright.com/coroadc.pdf

 

"That's absolutely wrong"
Are you saying that it's wrong to say there is a difference between the nature and quality of evidence for alleged events in the 1st century and 20th/21st century? I can't agree with you there. Now if you are saying that since Jesus' resurrection account is set in the 1st century that's too long ago to be believable then, of course, you can go with that. But you must be consistent and not believe that other 1st century events with similar or less documentary evidence happened.

 

Irrespective of the date of the events, one has to evaluate the plausibility.  Just like alien encounters and reincarnations, a resurrection is implausible. On top of that, the older data has the additional problem of provenance.  

 

You did not answer my previous question on this so I will restate it:

 

Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism?

 

I answered your question in Post#12, and will respond to your more detailed questions below.

 

I've been trying to think of people of that period who are comparable with Jesus, in terms of the likelihood to leave historical evidence. The Roman emperors are similar in fame now, but they were surrounded by a much greater bureaucratic infrastructure during their lifetimes: they had memorials made in stone and paid historians etc. Jesus had nothing like that in his lifetime. The large number of documents that attest to Jesus' life, death and resurrection is due to the fact that his followers believed them to be important, since Christianity is a religion where personal salvation depends on the truth of these events, not on personal behaviour (except putting your faith in Christ).

 

There is a great deal of evidence for Jesus having lived – I don’t question that, but you're conflating the evidence for his existence with evidence for a literal Resurrection. Similarly, historians have some knowledge of the life of Alexander the Great from the biographies written about him by his generals, but they do not accept the notion that Alexander's father was Zeus – as some of the ancient biographies indicated.  

 

So another famous rabbi of the period may have had a similar (though more settled) life but his posterity may not have been so well preserved. Hillel the Elder is a possible example. Documentary evidence for his sayings seem to come in the Tannaitic Midrash (10-220 AD) but I found it hard to pin down the actual references. Josephus may also have
mentioned him. So

 

1.     Do you believe that Julius Caesar was really assassinated as recorded by Suetonius, Plutarch et al?[

 

   if";mso-fareast-font-family:arial"="">2.     Do you believe anything about the life of Hillel the Elder that has been passed down via Jewish midrasha etc.?

 

These may not be the best examples so, given your interest in early church history, you may be able to think of better examples. Note that I am only concerned with how well we can trust our knowledge of the history of the period through documentary evidence. I am not concerned here with miraculous events. Jesus and the early church did non miraculous things. Do you believe those events?

 

As I said in Post#12 – there's no reason to doubt the major events.  I don't know the details of any of the biographies you mentioned, but I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't some highly questionable elements.  Research capabilities were lacking in those days; facts could not be checked.  Source criticism is designed to sort out the likely from the unlikely.  Josephus writes of people with the gift of prophecy. Philostratus wrote a biography of Apollonius of Tyana, and described his clairvoyance, and that Apollonius ascended to heaven when he died. The Talmud writes of Honi ha-Ma'agel, who was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain. Although these things are within the realm of possibility, a historian is not going to judge that they really occurred.  

 

So sure of what?
That the early Church skyrocketed in numbers following official acceptance under Constantine. I thought I made that clear. Why are you so sure of this?

 

300 years
I was only making the point the resurrection and the "skyrocketing" church under Constantine are separated by a not insignificant period of time. So it wouldn't be such a good comparison as with events from the same century as the resurrection. But what you wrote shows that you are confident of some events in ancient history does it not?

 

I have a degree of confidence in the historical method, but I also realize it has its limitations.  Some history is strongly supported, some is not.  I realize the Christian Church started in the 1st century and grew from there.  

 

What does church growth have to do with whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected?
It's a good question - good enough to be the subject of many PhD theses, monographs and books. So I don't think we can settle it properly in this forum. You don't want "the same, tired old apologetic argument about the miraculous growth of the church" so there may be no point in answering. I felt the same way about your "I’ve challenged a number of people with coming up with this, and no one has succeeded." Why should I think that I can do better than a "number of people"? They will be different so the common factor is you, not them. They have failed to persuade you because you are not to be persuaded. That is the impression you are giving.

 

My problem with the argument is that it appears to be confirmation bias in action.  What makes it a miracle? The fact that it survived at all in the face of persecution?  Consider this:

 

The pagan attitudes toward Christianity presented above…formed a major obstacle to Christian preaching. The legal status of Christianity, at least after the time of Nero, constituted another hindrance. Such were the ambiguities and complexities in the situation, however, that the hindrance could become a means of promoting Christianity. Martyrdom was often a public spectacle that drew attention to Christianity and advertised it. Second-century Christian apologists testified that the way in which Christians faced death convinced them of Christianity's truthfulness. (see Justin, Apology 2.12 cf. Eusebius, Church History 2.9). Tertullian's bold declaration has become an axiom: "The blood of Christians [the martyrs] is seed" (Apology 50).

 

-- Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everitt Ferguson: page 608

 

    new="" roman""="">Is the miracle the growth rate?  Needless to say, the statistics for the early church are not going to be as reliable as modern statistics, but here's one scholar's estimate:

                                                                                           
 

Year

 
 

#Christians

 
 

%of population

 
 

40

 
 

1000

 
 

.0017

 
 

50

 
 

1400

 
 

.0023

 
 

100

 
 

7530

 
 

.0126

 
 

150

 
 

40,496

 
 

.07

 
 

200

 
 

217,795

 
 

.36

 
 

250

 
 

1,171,356

 
   e="padding:1.5pt 1.5pt 1.5pt 1.5pt" valign="top">  

1.9

 
 

300

 
 

6,299,832

 
 

10.5

 
 

350

 
 

33,882,008

 
 

56.5

 
 


This works out to be 40% growth rate per decade, up to the year 300.  This is comparable to the growth rate the LDS church has experienced since it began. My humble contention is that this does not look like a miracle.

 

We could play the game of reference tennis since this is a subject for which people who study this subject have different views. Is that what you want? The historicity of the Acts of the Apostles is a key to this. I've just read the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Peter and the Twelve. Some say that these apocryphal Acts are more like historical novels which use the known apostles in stories to make theological or moral points. Neither of them mentioned any specific known places for the events. This is not the case for the four canonical gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. I asked before, given that people at the time would be able to identify when and where these events took place, why didn't those people come forward to say that the events were just made up (e.g. the feeding of the 5000, Peter's Pentecostal sermon).

 

The Gospels are written in Greek, decades after the events, for communities outside of Palestine. For someone to do fact checking, they would have to travel to the locations of the events, speak and understand Aramaic so they could interview people, and search out people who had been alive and witnessed the events. When they returned, would their word be accepted by the true believers of the faith? If the Gospels really are true, it is actually quite unfortunate that we have no record of any such fact checking – that would have added some credibility to the stories.  You're using the absence of evidence to imply it must be true, and I'm sorry – but that doesn't make any sense at all.  It's suggesting a hypothesis must be true if it cannot be disproven – that's an argument from ignorance.

 

You can't argue that they were suppressed by a powerful church since you have already implied that the church was not powerful pre Constantine.

 

Besides being an argument from ignorance, you're ignoring the tenacity of belief.  When people make a belief commitment, it is not easy to convince them otherwise.

 

I don't think you can argue that belief in the resurrection was not of fundamental importance to the early church from its inclusion and explanation in the Acts and several epistles plus the regular practice that became known as Holy Communion. There's no point to that unless you believe in the resurrection.

 
 

I agree that belief in the resurrection was fundamental to the Church. However, the question is: what was the source of this belief in the Resurrection?  We know what Paul preached about it; we don't know what the 12 disciples taught about it.  Christianity began as a sect of Judaism: Jesus taught Jews; the disciples were Jews – and it was Jews that they were ministering to.  This original branch of Christianity DID die out.  We don't know much about it, but we do know about some Jewish "Christians" – the Ebionites and Nazarenes – groups that did not deify Jesus.  

 
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« Reply #24 on: April 15, 2012, 02:40:00 pm »
 

Part 2 of response

 

If you want to play reference tennis then here's an opening serve:
http://the7ones.com/2009/02/05/review-the-books-of-acts-in-the-setting-of-hellenistic-history/
but before you label the author as not objective or not a scholar note that he died of an intense illness before completion and publication, after 18 years of work. Such criticisms could be considered bad taste.

 

I don't wish illness and suffering on anyone, but that experience has no bearing on the quality of his scholarship.  Does the author indeed do what the reviewer says, "The author’s purpose in writing is to discover whether Acts can be relied upon as history by using a scientific approach. He strives to establish the historicity of Acts by appealing to reason and evidence, not faith."?  If so, then this is indeed an objective approach.  I would buy the book, if it were reasonably priced (It's about $60 at Amazon).  But not having read it I can't comment on his argument – but I can say that other scholars have drawn different conclusions. Evidently his view has not been persuasive enough to convince everyone to abandon their alternative views (the book was published in 1990, plenty of time for his analysis to have circulated and caught on).  For example, the author dates Acts to the year 62. Here's what Raymond Brown says about the dating of Acts:

 

That Luke used mark is most plausible from internal evidence; and if Mark is to be dated to the period 68-73, a date earlier than 80 for Luke is unlikely…The constant Lucan pessimism about the fate of the Jewish leaders and Jerusalem makes it likely that Jerusalem has already been destroyed by the Romans in 70…Objection to a post-80 date stems largely from the fact that Acts ends ca. 63 with Paul's two-year imprisonment in Rome, and the contention that if Luke had written much later than that, he would have reported Paul's subsequent career and death. As we shall see…that objection probably misunderstands the purpose of Acts which was not to tell the life of Paul but to dramatize the spread of Christianity, culminating with the symbolism of the great missionary coming to Rome, the capital of the Gentile empire. Indeed, the relation espoused by the Paul of Acts 28:25-28 between the mission to the Gentiles and the failure of the mission to the Jews is so different from what Paul himself wrote in Rom 9-11 ca 57/58 that it is  hard to imagine a date in the early 60's for Acts. –An Introduction to the New Testament, page 273.

 

Besides the discrepancy Brown notes above, there are quite a few other discrepancies between Acts and Paul's writing. These discrepancies are often presented as evidence that Luke is not a completely reliable historian.  I do wonder how Hemer deals with these issues – does he really follow the evidence where it leads, or is he trying to fit the evidence into his beliefs?  I can't say, because I haven't read the book.  If you have a copy, and are willing to sell it to me for around $25, I'll buy it and read it.

 

Regardless, at best this shows the problem with historical research of this type: the results are equivocal.  This applies even to the reports of events that are perfectly plausible.

 

Bart Ehrman and NT archaeology
I think the full quote is question to BE:"Do archaeologists and historians use the gospels as sources" For archaeologists BE answered "A flat out no! Archaeologists dig to find material remains from antiquity and their digs are not based  on the study of literary texts such as the NT gospels". Now this may be an issue of semantics but this is not how I understand how archaeologists work. From Archaeology: an Introduction "Historical archaeologists usually possess  a basic framework fo dates and a general idea of th
   e society of a particular period into which to fit their findings."

(Surely often from historical documents). Herodium is an archaeological site south of Jerusalem and I argue that Josephus is an important source for this site see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodium. In Bible and Spade it is stated:
The main historical source of the Second Temple’s days, the historian Josephus Flavius,
has described the site of Herodium in detail.
There is also the pool of Bethesda which was found to correspond to the description in John ch 5:
Most scholars believe that the two pools of the Probatica group formed the Pool of Bethzatha in John 5.
It is described as having five porches or porticoes. Excavations in 1888 revealed these twin pools which had a rock partition 20 feet thick between them. Five porticoes were found — one on each of the four sides and one on the partition. The remains of the twin pools can be seen today behind the Church of St. Anne, just inside St. Stephen’s  Gate. It was here at the Pool of Bethzatha that Jesus healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Although the man had come hoping to be healed by the waters of the pool, Jesus challenged him to trust in His healing power when He said to him, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:8). The man was immediately healed as he obeyed Jesus and took up his bed and walked.

 

Now it could be that BE's understanding of the word "source" and mine differ, but if they do I find it hard to understand why the question was even asked. Of course, BE may be only talking about scholarly and objective archaeologists and not "extremely conservative" ones (BE's words about NT scholars). I had a vision of Genghis Khan type scholars but I think in practice they are probably ordinary people.

 

You have convinced me that Ehrman got this wrong.  

 

John Harvey
I applaud you for reading the article but why did you spoil it by labelling him as not a scholar (you still haven't defined what you mean by that accolade). You said that he hadn't published any peer reviewed articles which was a false statement. I thought your comment about someone who had studied or worked in academic theology since 1983 was crass. I was raised to believe that it was dishonourable to attack people behind their back but not to their face. You might say what does it matter - John Harvey will never know. Well, if God exists, He knows as does anyone who reads your post.

 

Why are you so sensitive about this?  I didn't comment on his scholarship in my first response about it. I had read it and gave you my view of it.  Then you said,

 

lapwing wrote: (I've removed the word scholarly from my reference to the JETS article).

 

To which I responded:

 

fredonly wrote: I had actually researched the author and saw that he lacked the relevant scholarly credentials (I found a write-up on him at his university), but I saw no reason not to respond directly to his argument. It is the argument that matters, not the person making it – don't you agree?

 

I didn’t say he was not a scholar, I said he lacked scholarly credentials – based on my research.  You later pointed out that the paper you posted is indeed a peer-reviewed journal – and I admitted I was wrong.  Get over it. I at least admit mistakes when they are pointed out to me.

 

lapwing wrote: ("Tying him to Isaiah"
How is this affected by whether or not Jesus read from the scroll or recited the passage from memory? The connection between the Isaiah passage and Jesus is not affected by His ability to read.

 

Source criticism is a technique for deriving historical information from historical documents. One of the principles of source criticism is to identify the author biases - his personal point of view, the prevailing views of the culture, etc. and to try to filter out the facts from thsee biases, in an attempt to derive the raw facts. I was pointing out that Luke intended to connect Jesus to the Old Testament, since he was presenting him as the Jewish Messiah. In tandem with the fact that the passage appears derived from Mark, it seems possible that Luke simply embellished it in this way.  Sure, he could have tied Jesus back to Isaiah in other ways, but the way he chose (assuming this was his embellishment) certainly was effective.  Understand that I'm not insisting this.  I admitted that it is possible that this passage really is historical, but again – that's another problem with historical analysis: details are not nearly as reliable as the broad sweeps.  Documents such as the Gospels are sources that can be used to derive history, but treating them as veridical is treating them special.  

 

Hostility   an>
I think you have certainly trumped me in the hostility stakes:

 

You seem to be playing games, and arguing against a strawman rather than reading, understanding, and responding to what I say. You still haven't even stated your point, and you haven't answered my question, which I'll repeat ... Incidentally, if I were to jump to conclusions as you do, I could infer that you're making the same, tired old apologetic argument about the miraculous growth of the church, but I don't think it would be right to put words in your mouth and then brag triumphantly. Make your point, and I'll respond ... If your position is indeed so superior to mine, then let the facts speak for themselves. If I end up repeating an atheist argument you have previously encountered, then feel free to reply with your boilerplate response - but please stop anticipating; it's a waste of time.  

 

Surely you realise the ridiculousness of giving orders to someone on an internet forum: it's also another example of atheist AI behaviour.

 

Sorry I gave you an order.  I had asked you a couple of time to make your point about the growth of Christianity, but you instead jumped to conclusions about what you thought my argument was – that was frustrating.  It also gets to me to have to read posts like you made in  Post#21:

 

·         Your statement is suggestive of my theory that atheists who post on forums are not human beings but are really AI devices - they do tend to behave that way!

 

You ask me to tone down the hostility but you ramp yours up. Please state what you find hostile and I'll apologise for it. I found all the above italicised paragraph "hostile". Note that I said "please": a courtesy that you did not extend to me.

 

I am sorry. I will point out that you had jumped to conclusions  about what I was saying about the growth of Christianity – and I was frustrated. Thanks for pointing out that I crossed the line. I'll try to do better.  Please try to respond to what I have actually said, now that I've actually stated my position on the early growth of Christianity.

 

Here are the questions I have asked either in this post or previously:

 

1. Are there any 1st century events for which the documentary evidence is sufficient to pass your hurdle of skepticism?

 

I answered your question in Post#12, and expanded on it above.

 

2. Why are you so sure the early church only skyrocketed after official sanction from Constantine?

 

The most dramatic increase certainly was during the reign of Constantine – as the data shows.  Perhaps you would also characterize the 40%/decade growth rate prior to that as "skyrocketing."  Or perhaps you have some other data that shows different numbers, if so – present it please.

 

3. Is "peer review" your only criterion for "scholarly"? Or does the peer review have to be "objective" i.e. agreeing with your views?

 

I discussed objectivity in post#6 (in reference to Craig's argument), post#8 (in reference to using source criticism), again in post#12 (again related to source criticism), again in post#14 (regarding argument to the best explanation, and with regard to the need for historians to use a narrow set of beliefs). I could go on – but you seem to continue to ignore what I said, and are instead making what sounds like an antagonistic charge that "objective" = "agreeing with my views"  Repeatedly making such a charge, in spite of all my comments about it, seems to me to suggest hostility on your par
   t.

 

 

You now seem to have gotten hung up on my reference to "scholarly."  Read what I wrote in Post#20 about this issue.  Had I dismissed someone for being non-scholarly, you'd have a point – but I haven't done that. In the one case where I said an author lacked "scholarly credentials" – I admitted my error when you pointed it out.  But you keep bringing this up. Why?  

 

4.  Do you believe that Julius Caesar was really assassinated as recorded by Suetonius, Plutarch et al?
5. Do you believe anything about the life of Hillel the Elder that has been passed down via Jewish midrasha etc.?

 

Yes on both counts, but in no cases do I treat a historical document as inerrant – they undoubtedly contain factual errors. They always are written from the point of view of the author. This intent, and other bias, needs to be identified and filtered out as much as possible.  They need to also be examined for plausibility.  In short, they must be examined using source criticism and subjected to the historical method.  

 

6. Jesus and the early church did non miraculous things. Do you believe those events?

 

Some of them.  Just like any other history, the information has to be analyzed.

 

7. Why didn't people come forward to say that NT events were just made up?
I discussed this in detail above.

 

8. How is the advantage of tying Jesus to the Isaiah prophecy affected by whether or not Jesus read from the scroll or recited the passage from memory?

 

I discussed this above.

Fred

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« Reply #25 on: April 17, 2012, 02:51:45 pm »

Hi fredonly I want to start by saying that I appreciate the thought and effort you put into the last two posts.

Skepticism

I admit that my first instinct is to be skeptical about alien visitation and reincarnation, for different reasons. Alien visitation requires interplanetary travel over large distances and my opinion is that such an event would be likely to be widely detected. Reincarnation cannot be directly observed. You're right to say that no one actually saw the resurrection. According to the gospel accounts, people who knew Jesus well saw him crucified, took him down from the cross, buried him in a tomb and saw him alive and well afterwards. If all that is true, resurrection is the only viable explanation.

Now my position is different from yours since I have force of personal experience as well - being drawn by the Holy Spirit; receiving the gift of speaking in tongues while praying alone in the countryside - not in some emotional event and before I had ever witnessed the gift; the experience of the Bible coming alive and knowing the fellowship with other believers in prayer etc.

I think Blaise Pascal is often badly treated. As I understand it his cost benefit argument for being a Christian was something he devised after his commitment - it wasn't the reason for his conversion. So before I became a Christian, I was skeptical, but I'm arguing from a different viewpoint now. If you listen to people's testimonies, it's rare that they say the evidence for the resurrection was the thing that swayed them. Instead converts talk about how God drew them. Personal experience is not proof, of course, but usually plays a big part in conversion. I'm not saying that the evidence for the resurrection is 100% certain - how can it be from such a long time ago.

With cases such as Apollonius of Tyana, it seems that your argument is that if this is to be viewed as novelistic, then so are the gospels. The recorded behavour of the apostles  is a significant difference from Philostratus and one has to consider whether the literary type is similar or not, plus the culture behind the creation of the document. So I'm not convinced such examples are necessarily relevant.

Early church growth

Now the word miraculous came first from you, not me. I don't deny it but I think I have a different view on what the word means. Any one conversion is a miracle - it's an act of faith: no one can see God. The word miraculous can be used for, say, the miraculous recovery of a plant or animal species from the brink of extinction. It doesn't have the same meaning - the minefield of English! So I'm not talking about numbers - rather it's hard to see how the early church could be established if the apostles knew it to be based on a lie.

The Gospels are written in Greek, decades after the events

True, but given the account in Acts, preaching the gospel started much earlier and Jesus' ministry was between one and three years. I find it hard to believe that his disciples didn't talk about the miracles they had already witnessed. So if it was all a pack of lies, why didn't people say so at the time. It's likely that the spoken gospel reached far more people than the written gospels in these early days. You also give the impression that Palestine was entirely non Greek. The recent history of the Seleucid occupation and the presence of the Decapolis implies a more multi-cultural situation:

The Decapolis ("Ten Cities"; Greek: deka, ten; polis, city) was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The ten cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status. The Decapolis cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in a region that was otherwise Semitic (Nabatean, Aramean, and Jewish). With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis" was located in modern-day Jordan, one of them located west of the Jordan River in Israel. Each city had a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule.

It's suggesting a hypothesis must be true if it cannot be disproven

I'm not saying as much as that. I'm not saying this absence proves the truth of the gospel, I'm just asking why it didn't happen.

A belief commitment

Christian faith depends on the truth of the gospel events.

but I can say that other scholars have drawn diff
   erent conclusions. Evidently his view has not been persuasive enough to convince everyone to abandon their alternative views

How many times do people change their minds on forums like these? "When people make a belief commitment, it is not easy to convince them otherwise."

Why are you so sensitive about this?

I have what you may think is an irrational aversion to running people down behind their backs, even if I don't know them. It's ok to criticise people's words and deeds but not their character or background. So I think I was justified in disagreeing with Bart Ehrman's view of archaeology, but I would not be right to refuse to read him. Actually, I wonder if there was some old inter-disciplinary rivalry there. Mathematicians and physicists talk about Engineers carrying spanners in their back pocket. (I was an Engineer - "How many theoretical physicists would it take to build the LHC?!") So maybe NT scholars talk about archaeologists as historians with trowels in their back pocket  - just a guess.

as the data shows

But how was that data obtained. Trouble is it takes significant time to read the references (thanks for them) but I strongly suspect that the evidence will be documentary. So why trust those documents and not the gospels?

lacked "scholarly credentials"

This appeared to be synonymous with not a scholar. I realise now that you didn't mean that.

Definitions of "objective"

I've re-read your presentations on this. I can see that the aim is objectivity but I don't believe it can be guaranteed to be achieved e.g. what is plausible?

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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« Reply #26 on: April 18, 2012, 03:17:05 pm »
 

lapwing wrote: Hi fredonly I want to start by saying that I appreciate the thought and effort you put into the last two posts.

 

I appreciate the nice comment, and want to commend you for your very thoughtful response.

 

lapwing wrote: Skepticism

 

I admit that my first instinct is to be skeptical about alien visitation and reincarnation, for different reasons. Alien visitation requires interplanetary travel over large distances and my opinion is that such an event would be likely to be widely detected. Reincarnation cannot be directly observed. You're right to say that no one actually saw the resurrection. According to the gospel accounts, people who knew Jesus well saw him crucified, took him down from the cross, buried him in a tomb and saw him alive and well afterwards. If all that is true, resurrection is the only viable explanation.

 

Now my position is different from yours since I have force of personal experience as well - being drawn by the Holy Spirit;….

 

If you believe you have had a direct experience of the Holy Spirit, I won't dispute that. You are the best judge of your own experience. That being said, I don't consider your reported personal experience any more credible than eyewitness reports of aliens. That should have no bearing on your belief in your personal experience.

 

lapwing wrote: With cases such as Apollonius of Tyana, it seems that your argument is that if this is to be viewed as novelistic, then so are the gospels. The recorded behavour of the apostles  is a significant difference from Philostratus and one has to consider whether the literary type is similar or not, plus the culture behind the creation of the document. So I'm not convinced such examples are necessarily relevant.

 

I agree there are differences in the documents, and there is good reason to believe there is a rich oral tradition behind the Gospels that Phiolostratus lacks (it is at least less substantial). But there is still a general historical problem with reports of miracles or any other unusual phenomena.  We agree that there are good reasons to be skeptical of alien abductions, even though some people swear by them (presumably sincere people). It's appropriate to have the same skeptical framework with reports contained in historical documents. This doesn't prove the miracles didn't occur, but I think it does show that a purely historical analysis (not guided by faith) cannot make the judgment that they DID occur.

 

lapwing wrote: Early church growth

 

Now the word miraculous came first from you, not me. I don't deny it but I think I have a different view on what the word means. Any one conversion is a miracle - it's an act of faith: no one can see God. The word miraculous can be used for, say, the miraculous recovery of a plant or animal species from the brink of extinction. It doesn't have the same meaning - the minefield of English! So I'm not talking about numbers - rather it's hard to see how the early church could be established if the apostles knew it to be based on a lie.

 

I don't think the apostles were lying.  They were certainly sincere, but we don't really have access to what they said.  They may have believed they had post-mortem experiences of Jesus.  As I described in my prior two posts, various types of post-mortem experiences are not uncommon.   I'm not insisting it was this way, but I'm demonstrating that a supernatural explanation is not the only possible one.  Using pure historical methodology (not guided by faith), one can't say this miracle (or any oth
   er miracle) occurred.  

 

The Gospels are written in Greek, decades after the events

 

True, but given the account in Acts, preaching the gospel started much earlier and Jesus' ministry was between one and three years.

 

Paul's Epistles give us good evidence that something was being taught within 5 years of Jesus death.  1 Cor 15 gives us a sketch of what was taught: that Jesus died, rose, and was seen. That simple sketch could have been the kernel that grew into the more complex Resurrection narratives that appear in the Gospels. The historical events that led to this sketch are not possible to know from the historical evidence alone.  The Gospels were written later, and although they are likely to contain some factual information about Jesus, they were written by people who had some beliefs about Jesus that could have evolved between the time at which the sketchy information was being preached and the time of the writing.

 

I find it hard to believe that his disciples didn't talk about the miracles they had already witnessed. So if it was all a pack of lies, why didn't people say so at the time. It's likely that the spoken gospel reached far more people than the written gospels in these early days.

 

I've read several books on the historical Jesus, and they are unanimous in agreeing that Jesus had a reputation as a "miracle worker." Practitioners of faith healings and exorcisms were not uncommon, and it is plausible to think Jesus engaged in these practices.

 

Regarding the oral tradition – I'm pretty sure all historical analysts agree there was an oral stage. This is almost unavoidable, since there are good reasons to believe Jesus' closest followers were illiterate – and this was an oral culture. What is debated is the degree to which the tradition may have evolved prior to the written Gospels.  There's really no way to know using historical methodologies because we don't have any data. But it's feasible to think that the miracle stories about Jesus may have evolved. Except to those who begin with a belief with miracles, it is more plausible to think this occurred than that actual supernatural acts occurred. This is again the historical problem with miracles.  

 

You also give the impression that Palestine was entirely non Greek. The recent history of the Seleucid occupation and the presence of the Decapolis implies a more multi-cultural situation:

 

The Decapolis ("Ten Cities"; Greek: deka, ten; polis, city) was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Judea and Syria. The ten cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and political status. The Decapolis cities were centers of Greek and Roman culture in a region that was otherwise Semitic (Nabatean, Aramean, and Jewish). With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis" was located in modern-day Jordan, one of them located west of the Jordan River in Israel. Each city had a certain degree of autonomy and self-rule.

 
 

In his book, Greco-Roman Cluture and the Galilee of Jesus, Mark Chancey  reports his studies of the archaeological evidence from around 1st century Galilee, and concludes that Gentiles (who spoke Greek) in Galilee were almost exclusively located in the two major cities, Sepphoris and Tiberias. The rest of Galilee was predominantly Jewish. And since most of Galilee was rural, not urban, the vast majority of Jews had no encounters with Gentiles. Greek was not widely spoken in the area, and there would be essentially no reason for an average person to learn it, so the vast majority of the Jews spoke Aramaic and had no facility in Greek.

 
 

lapwing wrote: It's suggesting a hypothesis must be true if it cannot be disproven

 

I'm not saying as much as that. I'm not saying this absence proves the truth of the gospel, I'm just asking why it didn't happen.

 

This was in reference to fact checking of the Gospel claims.  To interview Jesus' followers would have required travel (an expensive undertaking), proficiency in Aramaic (as indicated above, you should not assume everyone spoke Greek), and a great deal of effort to search out relevant eyewitnesses, as opposed to peo
   ple who had heard something about the alleged miracle worker. What exactly would a fact-checker be looking for? How exhaustive a search would he perform?  Perhaps he might be satisfied to find people who had seen Jesus perform an exorcism or faith healing.  On the other hand, what if someone went to all this trouble and failed to find eyewitnesses?  Would that be a persuasive argument that the stories about Jesus were made up, to a true believer?  Would you expect them to consider a lack of positive evidence to be evidence the events did not occur?

 

 

lapwing wrote: A belief commitment

 

Christian faith depends on the truth of the gospel events.

 

My point was that even an inability to find eyewitnesses to the specific miracles would have meant nothing to a true believer.  

 

lapwing wrote: but I can say that other scholars have drawn different conclusions. Evidently his view has not been persuasive enough to convince everyone to abandon their alternative views

 

How many times do people change their minds on forums like these? "When people make a belief commitment, it is not easy to convince them otherwise."

 

Agreed – but that works both ways.  Why does he not accept the hypotheses that are contrary to his?  Suffice to say there are multiple competing hypotheses.  If we had the details, we could attempt to see which wins the inference to the best explanation.  My basic position is that there's insufficient data to pick any specific hypothesis and assume it is necessarily true. There's too little information, so all hypotheses have to be built up from assumptions; consequently there are many hypotheses that fit the few facts that we have.

 

lapwing wrote: as the data shows

 

But how was that data obtained. Trouble is it takes significant time to read the references (thanks for them) but I strongly suspect that the evidence will be documentary. So why trust those documents and not the gospels?

 

Below is an excerpt from the book that provided the population estimates.  Here's his argument for the starting numbers:

 

For a starting number, Acts 1:14-15 suggests that several months after the Crucifixion there were 120 Christians. Later, in Acts 4:4, a total of 5000 believers is claimed. And, according to Acts 21:20, by the sixth decade of the first century there were "many thousands of Jews" in Jerusalem who now believed. These are not statistics. Had there been that many converts in Jerusalem, it would have been the first Christian city, since there were probably no more than twenty thousand inhabitants at this time – J. C. Russell (1958) estimated only ten thousand. As Hans Conzelann noted, these numbers are only "meant to render impressive the marvel that here the Lord himself is at work" (1973:63). Indeed, as Robert M. Grant pointed out, "one must always remember that figures in antiquity…were part of rhetorical exercises" (1977:7-8) and were not really meant to be taken literally…Origen remarked, "Let it be granted that Christians were few in the beginning" (Against Celsus 3.10, 1989 ed.).—The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark.

 

You can choose to accept the claim of Acts 4:4 that there were 5000 believers, but I think Stark provides a good justification to discount it.  

 

Quote from: lapwing
Definitions of "objective"

 

I've re-read your presentations on this. I can see that the aim is objectivity but I don't believe it can be guaranteed to be achieved e.g. what is plausible?

 

I agree that pure objectivity is unobtainable, but some approaches are more objective than others.  

Fred

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lapwing

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« Reply #27 on: April 19, 2012, 08:30:46 am »

Hi fredonly,

Jesus and aliens

I understand that your skepticism about my belief in Jesus and aliens is not personal. Many others share my belief. I'm not using that, in this context, as an argument. I'm just saying that to depersonalise the discussion. I'm not saying that you are wrong to be skeptical but I still say that they are different cases. To encounter aliens on earth means that the aliens have to have travelled here. We know how difficult that is for us. An alien civilisation could be more advanced but would still have the problem of huge distances to overcome. So aging en route would be a problem - overcome by breeding several generations en route maybe. To be meaningful the aliens and their spacecraft would be detectable by our senses, radar etc. So wouldn't the knowledge of such an encounter be more generally obvious? Now the frustration for you may be that an all powerful invisible God can do miracles and not be detected. So, as with alien encounters, we have to trust the witness testimony. That is the similarity but I have tried to outline the differences. I think it likely that SETI or similar projects will be our first contact.

Post Mortem experiences

I've only read the Baywood abstracts and skimmed the pdfs but I don't think they compare with, say, Jn 20:19-29, the double appearance of Jesus to the disciples without and with Thomas. There seems to be a variety of these post mortem experiences for individuals who have lost spouses. The gospels give a strong impression of groups of people all having the same experience at the same time.

fact checking

I think your model is different from mine. I'm not thinking of someone like Tacitus travelling to check the story out. Rather I'm thinking of the local people who would have known about the events. I think you have to explain why the gospel accounts are to be considered unreliable. It is evident from the gospels and from other historians that people knew what constituted a miracle.

inability to find eyewitnesses - but what about the ability to find eyewitnesses who said that the miraculous events did not occur. The Jewish religious leaders would have been motivated to produce such eyewitnesses.

Acts 4:4, a total of 5000 believers

Most commentators believe that this figure includes the 3000 converted according to Acts 2:41 and the 120 original followers of Acts 1:15. Acts 2:5 "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven."

"Many who came up to the Feast of the Passover would remain to the Feast of the Pentecost. The consequence of this would be, that on such occasions the city would be full of strangers ... Josephus also mentions an instance in which great multitudes of Jews from other nations were present at the feast of Pentecost (Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 3, section 1)." Barnes' notes. Stark seems to be assuming the 5000 were all permanent residents.

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

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"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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« Reply #28 on: April 19, 2012, 12:38:55 pm »
 

lapwing wrote: Jesus and aliens

 

I understand that your skepticism about my belief in Jesus and aliens is not personal. Many others share my belief. I'm not using that, in this context, as an argument. I'm just saying that to depersonalise the discussion. I'm not saying that you are wrong to be skeptical but I still say that they are different cases. To encounter aliens on earth means that the aliens have to have travelled here. We know how difficult that is for us. An alien civilisation could be more advanced but would still have the problem of huge distances to overcome. So aging en route would be a problem - overcome by breeding several generations en route maybe. To be meaningful the aliens and their spacecraft would be detectable by our senses, radar etc. So wouldn't the knowledge of such an encounter be more generally obvious? Now the frustration for you may be that an all powerful invisible God can do miracles and not be detected. So, as with alien encounters, we have to trust the witness testimony. That is the similarity but I have tried to outline the differences. I think it likely that SETI or similar projects will be our first contact.

 

We can't imagine how aliens could have come to earth, but we could come up with some ad hoc hypotheses like space warps or faster-than-light travel (routine assumptions is science fiction).  It seems to me there's about as much evidence for this as there is for miracles: even if we assume a God exists, that doesn't imply he necessarily has any inclination to interfere with the natural workings of the universe he created.

 

But as I had said earlier, every phenomenon is different.  The challenges with space travel don't apply to reincarnation.  Instead, reincarnation is only possible if some fundamental component of the mind (the "soul" if you like) can exist independently of the body.  There's no evidence this is possible, although this should be easier for you to accept than me since you believe souls survive the death of the body.  I don't quite understand why you'd reject reincarnation, unless it's strictly because the Bible doesn't tell you this occurs.  But that's just an absence of evidence, not evidence that it doesn't occur.

 

The problem is that there are no general criteria that can select one thing over another.  Something seeming to be impossible eliminates all of them.  If we choose to accept eyewitness testimony, this admits most of them (maybe not the Resurrection – since we don't actually have a definite eyewitness account).  

 

Post Mortem experiences

 

I've only read the Baywood abstracts and skimmed the pdfs but I don't think they compare with, say, Jn 20:19-29, the double appearance of Jesus to the disciples without and with Thomas. There seems to be a variety of these post mortem experiences for individuals who have lost spouses. The gospels give a strong impression of groups of people all having the same experience at the same time.

 

I posted the psychological research to support the hypothesis that the concept of the Resurrection originated with a small number of Jesus followers (some of his disciples) having some sort of post-mortem experience.  

 

The Gospels were written after decades of preaching an oral tradition.  It seems quite plausible that preachers would invent scenarios to make a point.  Some preachers do this today: WWJD?  We actually know for a fact that fictional accounts of Jesus were developed – look at the Infancy Gospel of Jesus,  which presents stories of Jesus' infancy and childhood, or the Gospe
   l of Judas
, which presents narratives supporting a special relationship between Jesus and Judas.   These and all the other non-canonical Gospels demonstrate that people could and did make things up about Jesus.

 

Even without this context, the information in the Gospels has to be analyzed to allow educated guesses to be made about what really happened.  Only someone who believes miracles occur, and that the specific miracle of the Resurrection occurred, would consider any story about a post-mortem appearance of Jesus to be credible.  Just because something is written doesn't imply it actually occurred.

 

fact checking

 

I think your model is different from mine. I'm not thinking of someone like Tacitus travelling to check the story out. Rather I'm thinking of the local people who would have known about the events. I think you have to explain why the gospel accounts are to be considered unreliable. It is evident from the gospels and from other historians that people knew what constituted a miracle.

 

What stories did the locals actually hear?  What events were they to evaluate?  They didn't have the Gospels that we have. I completely disagree that people knew what constituted a miracle. It is very clear that ancient people were superstitious – they believed many things were possible that we now know are not. They believed supernatural forces were at constant play in the natural world; it was part of everyday life. Gods made the rain, caused floods, and earthquakes; diseases were due to supernatural forces. Since the ancients had this world-view that accepted, without question, the ability of some people to perform magic, and that natural events were attributable to supernatural action, this makes their judgment of the miraculous is highly suspect. The ancients who lived in Biblical times and wrote the Bible were not using modern rational standards for identifying miracles

 

inability to find eyewitnesses - but what about the ability to find eyewitnesses who said that the miraculous events did not occur. The Jewish religious leaders would have been motivated to produce such eyewitnesses.

 

Eyewitnesses to what? As I acknowledged, Jesus likely performed faith healings and exorcisms.  Are you expecting them to come up with eyewitnesses to testify they did not see the risen Jesus?  That would be meaningless.  The fact that I haven't seen aliens doesn't prove aliens don't come to earth.  More importantly, the Jewish religious leaders believed they had proved Jesus was not the messiah by killing him.  A messiah would be a king or priest, not a dead man.  Not only did they kill him, they "proved" he was cursed by crucifying him.  Deuteronomy 21:23: "Everyone who hangs on a tree is cursed."  It would seem that the case was closed: an accursed dead man could not be a messiah.  

Acts 4:4, a total of 5000 believers

 

Most commentators believe that this figure includes the 3000 converted according to Acts 2:41 and the 120 original followers of Acts 1:15. Acts 2:5 "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven."

 

"Many who came up to the Feast of the Passover would remain to the Feast of the Pentecost. The consequence of this would be, that on such occasions the city would be full of strangers ... Josephus also mentions an instance in which great multitudes of Jews from other nations were present at the feast of Pentecost (Jewish Wars, book 2, chapter 3, section 1)." Barnes' notes. Stark seems to be assuming the 5000 were all permanent residents.

 

How many Jews do you think would have visited Jerusalem during the Pentecost period?  Do you think a high percentage of the visitors converted?  Why is it more plausible to assume that visitors to Jerusalem, there for a short period of time, would be more likely to convert than permanent residents?  

 

The basic problem with a report like this is that one can never prove a miracle. It's only a miracle if the number is implausibly high, but if it's implausibly high – a historical analysis will assume it didn't happen because it's implausible.  I don't think it's possible to make a good case for a miracle based on a historical account.  I don't know about you, but I don't accept reports of miracles in modern accounts.  Do you believe in the Miracle of the Sun, in which the "Blessed Virgin Mary" appeared to children at Fatima, and thousands of people witnessed this alleged miracle?  

Fred

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« Reply #29 on: April 20, 2012, 07:04:57 am »

Faster than light travel!

I'm assuming this is tongue in cheek - contrary to the laws of physics to which aliens from another planet would be subject. The God whom Christians worship is not limited in this way since He created and maintains the universe.

Reincarnation

I don't think I actually rejected this. I tried to say that any evidence is going to be indirect unlike seeing the risen Jesus. I don't think the Bible says anything about reincarnation.

The gospels vs current preaching on WWJD?

These are not the same: "would" is not the same as "did".

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

(Gnostic) Gospel of Judas etc.

The earliest documents are dated late 3rd/early 4th century and there is supposition that it may have been written mid 2nd century to fit with comments on it by Irenaeus. I think we have already discussed novelistic accounts of the apostles. The existence of such fictional accounts does not necessarily mean that the canonical gospels are also fictional - see the prologue to Luke's gospel above. They are distinguished by a lack of place names and other realistic details and their theology and image of Jesus is very different.

Only someone who believes miracles occur

Christianity is a matter of faith - this applies to the resurrection. it cannot be proved to have happened as is true for many events in history.

Just because something is written doesn't (necessarily) imply it actually occurred.

I added "necessarily" to round off your statement. But it does imply that someone thought it important enough to preserve the account for posterity. This principle applies to any historical event.

I completely disagree that people knew what constituted a miracle.

I can't agree with this. Writing from a much earlier era and a different culture, Thucydides and Herodotus show different attitudes to "fables" but clearly show they know what is miraculous and what is not. H is prepared to accept some miracles and T does not.  I'm reading H at the moment - in 2.54-57 he gives varying accounts about the origin of two oracles and shows he knows what constitutes a miracle as an "obvious impossibility": giving a non miraculous explanation.

The word "miracle" or sign (semeion) of Divine authority (Vine) is used several times in the NT. Each time the event described is what we would understand now as a miracle (given the state of medicine at the time) without pre-knowledge of the NT.

They believed supernatural forces were at constant play in the natural world

It is Christian doctrine that God maintains the universe by the "word of His power". This is not the same as God acting miraculously. C.S. Lewis' book Miracles is a possible reference for you on this.

an accursed dead man could not be a messiah

Isaiah ch 53 has a different view on this. Do you have the OT ref to support your view?

How many Jews do you think would have visited Jerusalem during the Pentecost period?

http://www.josephus.org/Pentecost.htm

For a thoughtful talk on the historicity of the resurrection you could listen to  http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/intermediate/the-historical-reliability-of-jesus-resurrection.htm

For by one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

"Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men"
"If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer