Review of NBC's 'The Last Days of Jesus'

July 29, 2007     Time: 00:51:19


Review of NBC's 'The Last Days of Jesus'

Last Monday night the interview of Diane Sawyer of Mel Gibson concerning his forthcoming movie on the Passion, and then later in the week NBC aired that program that I told you about a couple of months ago on The Last Days of Jesus. Both of these were raising issues that were, I think, extremely interesting and significant. I have to say that I was proud of Mel Gibson and the way he handled himself in that interview. One may not agree with everything he said but I was amazed at the theological sophistication of this man and how articulate he was in defending the Christian faith in a secular environment. I would just wish that every one of us could be as articulate, as savvy, as Mel Gibson evidently is in defending the Christian faith in the public square. But I don’t want to talk about that interview so much this morning as I do want to talk about the program that Stone Philips hosted on NBC on The Last Days of Jesus because this raised some very interesting issues.

One of the things that I remarked about both the Mel Gibson interview and then The Last Days of Jesus is that the people that it featured were people like Darrell Boch, Craig Evans, N. T. Wright – in other words, do you realize these national media figures were the very people that were here talking to us at JFBC in November. I thought, wow, what a privilege we had to have these kind of men here and to hear from them ourselves.

But that program that NBC did I thought was a very good program. I thought it was very well balanced. It had three liberal theologians on one side – John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and Paula Fredrickson – and then on what we could call traditional or orthodox side they had N. T. Wright and Craig Evans. So it was three against two. If you remember what these kind of programs used to be like ten years ago you will appreciate that we have come light years. They used to just interview these radical leftist critics with the Jesus Seminar, but now you find appearing on the program and in a balanced way people like Craig Evans and N. T. Wright giving the orthodox side of the question. I was very encouraged by just the balance that you would see in a program like this that would give both the conservative as well as the liberal side of the matter.

Let me make some remarks upon the content of this program. I think it is very important that we not miss the forest for the trees with respect to this program. As I remarked to Jan after the program was over, the real story here is not the disagreements that these scholars have with each other. The real story of this program was the fundamental consensus that existed between radicals and traditionalists alike with respect to the events of Jesus’ Passion. Namely, they all agree that Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a triumphal entry as a deliberate herald of the coming of the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of Zachariah’s prophecy that Israel’s king would come into Jerusalem riding on an ass. They all agreed that Jesus then carried out some kind of disruptive action in the temple – over turning the tables of the money changers and driving out those who bought and sold. They all agree that the Jewish authorities were involved in Jesus’ arrest and trial. Whether this may have been just a hearing or a full meeting of the Sanhedrin not withstanding, they all agreed that the Jewish involvement in the trial and sentencing of Jesus was historical. They all agreed that Jesus was then delivered over by the Jewish authorities to Pilate and slandered before him as the King of the Jews and therefore is politically dangerous and needed to be gotten out of the way by the Roman military authorities. They all agreed that then Pilate sent him to the cross as a pretender to be the Messiah – as a Messianic pretender, a claimant to be the King of Jews.[1] They may have disagreed on whether or not Pilate was reluctant to do so or whether or not he offered to release Jesus to the crowd, but they all agreed that Jesus was crucified on the claims of being the pretended King of the Jews – the Messiah.

In other words, the really significant story here is that even these radical left-wing critics like Crossan and Borg who are involved in the Jesus Seminar who would love to deny the essential historicity of the Gospels really cannot deny the force of the evidence with respect to the central events of Jesus’ Passion and death. That is the real story here.

As we saw last week when I quoted Luke Timothy Johnson’s book The Real Jesus, the Passion story is some of the earliest and best established traditions about the historical Jesus that we have so that we are on good historical bedrock here with respect to the events of Jesus’ Passion.

The real disagreement then comes with respect to the degree of Jewish and Roman collaboration in the death of Jesus. That is where the disagreements seem to be voiced. Who holds the principal responsibility in this collaboration for getting rid of Jesus of Nazareth? What the revisionists (I will call them revisionists rather than liberals – I am trying to pick neutral terms here) want to say is that the basic idea is that it was really the Roman authorities, not the Jewish authorities, who are principally responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. The idea here is, according to the revisionists, that Pilate was a cruel, ruthless leader who would bring down his Roman soldiers on the Jewish crowds in order to keep peace in Jerusalem, in order to keep the order. So what Caiaphas – the Jewish high priest – did was more or less give Jesus over to the Romans to let him be killed rather than to allow slaughter of the general population. So Caiaphas comes off looking rather good, I think, in the revisionist’s picture. He basically was going to give up one man in order to save all of the people from a Roman slaughter.

In order to make this picture plausible the revisionists reinterpret Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. It is important for you to understand this aspect of the revisionist story. Rather than see the cleansing of the temple as an event to cleanse the temple of the buying and selling as it is portrayed in the Gospels, revisionists see the action of Jesus in the temple as a symbolic act of destruction of the temple itself and therefore a frontal attack upon the temple and what it stood for. The Jewish authorities therefore felt threatened by Jesus’ action against them in this symbolic destruction of the temple and therefore were quite willing and ready to get rid of this man who was attacking their authority and establishment.

Moreover, according to the revisionists, there is a tension in Jerusalem during the time of the Passover. There are these teeming crowds of hundreds of thousands of people, it is a tense time, Pilate is in a bad mood, there is an electric sort of atmosphere there, a kind of hair-trigger situation in which the least disturbance is going to set off Pilate and he is going to bring down the Roman soldiers upon the crowds. So Caiaphas, in order to prevent this Roman crackdown which might lead to bloodshed, has Jesus arrested and turned over to the Roman authorities.

That is the basic picture that the revisionists want to paint.

What might we say by way of assessment of this picture? First and foremost, before we look at it in its detail, I think that there is a certain suspicion that we ought to have about this revisionist picture. In other words, I think we ought to approach it with a real grain of salt so to speak. Why? Simply because there is a very strong politically correct motivation for this revisionist picture; namely, it is basically motivated by a reaction or repudiation of the history of anti-Semitism that has too often characterized some quarters of the Christian church. So there is a desire here to exonerate the Jewish leaders and people insofar as this is possible for any complicity in the death of Jesus. Instead, you put the blame on the Romans or the Roman authorities.[2] You heard even Craig Evans in the interview on NBC when asked, “Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?” Craig says the Romans killed Jesus. Now, that is painting with just as broad strokes as saying the Jews killed Jesus, but you see because there aren’t any Romans around today to get offended at this he can get away with it when he says the Romans killed Jesus. You have to ask, gosh, was Cicero responsible for the death of Jesus? Was Seneca? Was Tacitus? Obviously not. It was the Roman military authorities, principally Pontius Pilate, that was responsible for Jesus’ death, at least immediately.

Scholars often talk about a hermeneutic of suspicion. A hermeneutic of suspicion means that you approach a certain task with a certain suspicion saying “Why are they saying this? This sounds like it is in their self-interest.” Well, these revisionists use a hermeneutic of suspicion with respect to the Gospels by saying the Gospel writers wanted to placate the Roman authorities because they wanted Christianity to spread and be left alone, so that is why the Gospels blame the Jews or the Jewish authorities for the crucifixion. Because they want to appease the Romans. But you see that same sort of hermeneutic of suspicion ought to be applied to the revisionist’s own view itself. Namely, it seems, I think, very suspect that this view is motivated by a desire to rewrite history so as to repudiate anti-Semitism and to exonerate any Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus. In the same way that one ought to be suspicious about the Gospels, say, one ought to be suspicious about (to a same degree) the revisionists’ history themselves.

Having said that in general, I think that our suspicion turns out to be justified; namely, when you look at what the revisionists are saying, what is striking about it is the utter lack of evidence for it. There isn’t any evidence nor did you hear any evidence presented for it in the NBC program. Instead it is all based upon hunches and conjectures about what would likely happen. So, for example, you have Paula Fredrickson in the interview saying, “In my historian’s imagination, this is the way things would look.” Or John Dominic Crossan says, “I can imagine Pilate having an arrangement with Caiaphas where there is a standing order if anything moves crucify him.” This was the way the whole scenario was conducted in this program. It is based upon likely scenarios, hunches, projections of what one might expect to happen. So you have all sorts of speculations about tensions in the crowd and in the city, speculations about Pilate’s mood that day (about which we know nothing), speculations about what Caiaphas was thinking. All I want to say is this is not the way to do history. That is not the way history is done. The historian’s speculations must be controlled and guided by the evidence.

The fact is that very often conjectures about what we think should happen don’t turn out to be right. Things don’t go as one might expect them to go. Sometimes people surprise you by acting seemingly out of character. Sometimes events take a turn that one never would have expected and things turn out to be quite different. Just to take a mundane illustration. Who would have expected a brilliant general like Robert E. Lee to do anything as stupid as order Pickett to charge across an open field right into the teeth of the Union lines? It was slaughter and yet, despite his brilliance, that is exactly what Robert E. Lee commanded them to do. Now some revisionist historian, not having any evidence for Pickett’s Charge, might say, “Robert E. Lee, based on his military record and genius, would never have done something that stupid. Robert E. Lee would never have made that kind of mistake. Obviously we need to rewrite history to make this turn out differently.” See, that is not the way historians work. Historians work on the basis of the evidence, and when you look at the evidence here you got the evidence of the Gospels on the one hand and Paul which are multiple independent sources.[3] Stone Phillips was wrong when he said the evidence of what happened to Jesus is scarce. On the contrary, compared for most figures of ancient history, we’ve got more evidence about Jesus of Nazareth than we do for most persons in ancient Greco-Roman history. We’ve got four separate Gospel accounts plus the letters of the apostle Paul all referring to things like Jesus’ betrayal on the night that he celebrated the Last Supper, about the crucifixion, about Jewish involvement in the trial, about Pontius Pilate’s involvement. We also have testimony in Josephus and in Mara bar Serapion and the Babylonian Talmud all confirming Jewish and Roman collaboration in these events. So the evidence isn’t scarce, and the evidence is all on one side. On the other side is speculation, conjecture, and reasonable hunches about what might take place.

So, for example, let’s look at some specifics. What about the hypothesis of this hair-trigger tension that supposedly existed in Jerusalem during Passover time? Remember John Dominic Crossan says in the interview, “Anything could trigger a revolution. You could imagine Pilate saying, ‘If anything moves, crucify him!’” That sounds reasonable, believable, plausible. We can imagine a situation like that. But is that really what the evidence bears out? Well, I don’t think so. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem in his triumphal entry and the people are saying “Blessed is the Son of David. Blessed is the Kingdom of David which is coming” did the Romans move to arrest Jesus? Did that trip the trigger? Well, no! He came on in and there was no arrest, there was no Roman crackdown. What about when Jesus acted in the temple throwing out the money changers, temporarily disrupting the commerce of the temple? Did that result in an immediate Roman crackdown and response? Did they arrest him? No. Jesus continued to teach in the temple daily for the remainder of the week. Nobody molested him or attempted to crackdown on him. Moreover, the action in the temple is not represented in the Gospels as a symbolic attack upon the temple itself. The Gospel writers all agree that this was a cleansing of the temple. Jesus was deeply offended by the commercialization of the temple precincts with the buying and selling. So he cast them out. But during the ensuing days, Jesus went back to the temple and would teach there every day. So it wasn’t, I think, a symbolic attack on the temple itself.

Now, what about the problem of the crowd then? You remember Paula Fredrickson in the interview says the Gospel accounts are incoherent because, on the one hand they extoll Jesus’ popularity (he is so popular with the crowds), but on the other hand you have the crowd calling for his crucifixion and the release of Barabbas. Therefore this story about Pilate giving the decision over to the crowd cannot be historical.

Well, when you reflect on this a little bit, the appeal to the crowd or the action of the crowd in calling for Jesus’ crucifixion is really inconsistent with the revisionist’s own picture of a Jesus who was about to trigger a popular uprising by his actions in Jerusalem. It is the revisionist picture that is incompatible with the crowd calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, because on the revisionist picture remember you’ve got this situation in Jerusalem where there is lots of tension and all of these people are following Jesus, he is so popular and so forth, why would they turn against him? But it is not at all clear that this is inconsistent with the Gospels’ story of what happened. We frankly don’t know how many people were involved in the triumphal entry when Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day. There were hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem and we don’t need to imagine that all of them flocked out to acclaim Jesus or to welcome him. So we don’t really know how many people actually were following Jesus and how many of the crowd were either indifferent or didn’t really know anything about him.

Moreover, it is very interesting that on one reading of what happened, Jesus may well have disappointed people’s expectations. When he rode into Jerusalem, either Sunday or Monday, being hailed as the coming Messiah, the King of Israel, people thought he was going to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. Well, that meant throwing off the Roman authorities, right?[4] But what did Jesus do? If you read all of the Gospels what you find out from the Gospel of John is that he rode into Jerusalem and did nothing. He didn’t do anything. Instead, John says, he looked around and he went back out to Bethany where he was staying. It was only the next day that he came into the temple and having seen it the day before on the next day then he cleansed the temple. So Jesus’ triumphal entry was a monstrous anti-climax really. Here comes the King of Israel riding in Jerusalem and he doesn’t do anything. He just looks around and leaves.

And then during the ensuing days as he cleanses the temple and then teaches in the temple, he doesn’t overthrow the Romans, he doesn’t call for popular revolt. Instead, when the Pharisees try to trap him by bringing him a coin – a dinarius – and says (actually Jesus asks them to produce the coin), “Whose inscription is this? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” What does Jesus say? Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. He doesn’t call for popular uprising. He doesn’t tell people to stop paying taxes to Caesar. On the contrary, Jesus tells them to render to Caesar the things that belong to him.

So Jesus may well have disappointed many people’s Messianic expectations by his actions during that week. It is not impossible that the chief priests couldn’t have turned segments of the crowd against Jesus in such a way that their voices would prevail in that plaza where Pilate brought him out, and that their voices would cry for his crucifixion and the release of Barabbas. I think it is historically presumptuous to say, without any evidence to the contrary, that that could not have happened or that it didn’t happen.

What about Pilate’s supposed weakness? The revisionists say that we know from Josephus and Philo that Pilate was a ruthless man who was not at all reluctant to spill people’s blood. Yet, in the Gospels he is presented as a kind of weak figure that is out of character with what we know about the historical Pilate. Well, let’s suppose that the revisionists are wrong about there being this hair-trigger mood in Jerusalem. Remember I said that neither the triumphal entry nor the action in the temple provoked the Roman crackdown. Let’s suppose there wasn’t this kind of hair-trigger mood; that Jesus in fact was peacefully teaching in the temple and the crowds were hearing him gladly, and Pilate didn’t see any need to crackdown on him. Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders want to get rid of Jesus as a blasphemer. You will remember Craig Evans in the interview describing how at the trial the high priest says to Jesus, “Are you the Messiah the Son of God?” And Jesus says, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven to exercise judgment.” And the high priest goes ballistic. It was wonderful that the interviewer had Craig Evans on during that scene because probably these revisionists would want to deny that Jesus made any radical personal claims of this sort. For Crossan and Borg Jesus was just a kind of social gadfly – the Jewish equivalent of a Greek Cynic philosopher. But that doesn’t accord with the evidence for what we know about Jesus and his radical personal claims. I was so glad that it was Craig Evans’ remarks on the trial that the program broadcast because what that showed was what I talked about last week, namely, it was for these blasphemous claims that Jesus got himself in trouble with the chief priests. Therefore they needed to slander him to the Roman authorities as a rebel because they couldn’t carry out capital punishment as subordinates to the Roman authorities. They had to get the Romans to kill Jesus off. So Pilate, if I am imagining this right, might well know that they delivered up this man to them without sufficient cause; that in fact he wasn’t politically dangerous, he wasn’t stirring up an uprising in Jerusalem, and therefore this man might not really be such a bad threat after all.

It is very interesting to read about another Jesus that came on the scene some years after Jesus’ death. This is related by Josephus in his Jewish War section 6.5.3. This man was also named Jesus but he was the son of Ananus. It is almost unbelievable that history could almost repeat itself, but listen to what Josephus says happens during the years just prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.[5] This is on the eve of Jewish war when the Romans are about to destroy Jerusalem. This is what Josephus says:

But a further portent was even more alarming. Four years before the war when the city was enjoying profound peace and prosperity there came to the feast at which it is the custom of all Jews to erect tabernacles to God [so this is feast time as well in Jerusalem; not the Passover but the Feast of Tabernacle] there came one Jesus, son of Ananus, a rude peasant who standing in the temple suddenly began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” [In other words, he was denouncing the temple – the sanctuary.] Day and night he went about all the alleys with this cry on his lips. Some of the leading citizens incensed that these ill-omened words arrested the fellow and severely chastised him. But he without a word on his own behalf or for the private ears of those who smote him only continued his cries as before. There upon the magistrates supposing as was indeed the case that the man was under some supernatural impulse brought him before the Roman governor. Therefore, although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear but merely introducing the most mournful of variations into his ejaculation responded to each stroke with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, asked him who and whence he was and why he uttered these cries he answered him never a word, but unceasingly reiterated his dirge over the city until Albinus pronounced him a maniac and let him go.

What was the difference between Jesus, the son of Ananus, and Jesus of Nazareth? Why in the one case was the one crucified as the King of the Jews and in the other case he was simply let go? Well, it was because, I think, of Jesus’ Messianic pretensions. Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews. Remember what the Jewish authorities said to Pilate, “If you do not get rid of this man you are no friend of Caesar’s.” Pilate gives in.

We know from Josephus that Pilate was the type of man who wasn’t at all afraid of bumping heads with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. He was the type of person who would lock horns with these chief priests and scribes and wouldn’t always go along with them. Here is another account from Josephus that is from the Jewish War section 2.9.2-3. I’ll be reading a summary, not Josephus’ actual words. This is the first incident in which Pilate locked horns with these Jewish priests and authorities in Jerusalem:

Almost immediately upon Pilate’s arrival in Palestine in AD 26 he was at odds with the Jews. His first act of provocation against the Jews was the introduction into Jerusalem of Roman standards with embossed figures of the Emperor. Previous prefects had been careful not to offend Jewish religious views by not allowing any sign of Emperor worship when the troops entered Jerusalem. This act of Pilate aroused great indignation on the part of the Jews and as a result they sent a delegation to Caesarea who plead for five days for the removal of the standards. Pilate, on the sixth day, ordered a detachment of soldiers among the crowd and at a given signal they would draw their swords. When this occurred, all the Jews bared their necks and stated that they would rather die than transgress their laws. Pilate, realizing that this might lead to a national revolution, removed the offensive images from Jerusalem.

Now, if that doesn’t set a precedent for what you read in the Gospels I don’t know what does. Pilate here sees that these guys are stirring up charges against an innocent man, he wants to let him go, but when push comes to shove Pilate realizes what is in his own best self-interest and so he sends this innocent man to the cross and doesn’t care what happens about him.[6] So what you see in the Gospels I don’t think is weakness in Pilate. Rather, what you see is Pilate’s stubbornness but his willingness to compromise when he sees that the situation has gotten out of hand. In exactly the same way, he is stubborn when Caiaphas and these other fellows deliver Jesus to him for crucifixion. He is not afraid to butt up against them and disagree. But when he sees the trouble this might lead to for himself and maybe for Jerusalem he gives in. After all, when Pilate goes to the crowd and let’s the crowd decide what to do with Jesus this is insulating himself against any kind of popular rebellion. If he sends Jesus to the cross then if there is this popular sentiment out there in the crowd then this crucifixion of Jesus could well arouse a revolution. It could arouse popular indignation if he sends Jesus to the cross. Remember Jesus in the Gospel of John (now that I think about it) says, “If my Kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” So Pilate very cleverly, by letting the crowd make the choice, completely removes himself from any blame and thereby makes sure that no outbreak or uprising occurs in Jerusalem because he gives the crowd their own way. And he saves his own skin to boot.

I think you’d have to admit that is possible. That seems to me to be a plausible scenario that fits all the evidence. So given that the revisionists don’t have any evidence for their view – it is just based on conjecture and speculation about what you would expect to happen – it seems to me that there is nothing incredible or improbable about the accounts that we have in the Gospels. Therefore, if you ask the question, “Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?” and you want to answer that not theologically (theologically we are all responsible for the death of Jesus – it was our sins that sent him to the cross) but if you want to say who is historically responsible, I think that the answer is clear. While the Roman military authorities (principally Pontius Pilate) were the instrumental cause of Jesus’ crucifixion, it was the chief priests of the temple – the Jewish authorities – who were the moving cause of his crucifixion.

That is some of my reflections on the program.


Question: [inaudible]

Answer: That is a very positive feature of all of the programs that I’ve seen so far. They all have this disclaimer in it that when the Gospels speak of “the Jews” they mean the chief priests and the authorities. Because, after all, they [the disciples] were Jewish themselves. That is a very positive development, I think, in these documentaries. Nobody seems to be claiming this old hackneyed charge that in speaking of “the Jews” the Gospels are somehow blaming the Jewish people. That is the farthest thing from the truth.

Question: [inaudible- makes the point that the disciples were trying to convert their own Jewish people.]

Answer: Very good! You are absolutely on target. Exactly. This wasn’t a Roman movement. It wasn’t at first a Gentile movement.

Followup: [inaudible]

Answer: And when he did that, that was controversial, wasn’t it? Do you see the point that she is making? I think this is an excellent point. If the revisionists were right, why would the Gospel writers of the early Christian church ever make up these stories about Jewish complicity in the trial and involvement when they are trying to reach their fellow Jews with the Good News to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah. I think you are making a very good point. That is very astute. Good thinking.[7]

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The people that were primarily responsible for instigating the crucifixion were the chief priests. They were the temple authorities. Some of those might be Pharisees but others not. There would be Pharisees who were not members of the chief priesthood. So don’t, again, just kind of paint the broad picture that there were the Pharisees and Sadducees that were the ones responsible for instigating crucifixion. It was those in authority like Caiaphas and Annas and the Sanhedrin members who may or may not have been members of this order of Pharisees. In the book of Acts there are indications that there were some Pharisees that were believers that had gotten converted. But the masses were just ordinary folks. You would expect that just by the numerical proportions that there would be much more among the common people than there would be among these limited groups.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yes, right, that is right. Typically the Gospels will talk about the chief priests and the scribes when it is talking about these authorities that Jesus ran up against.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Judas certainly played a major role in the whole sad affair. I was stunned when I heard one of those interviewers say that they thought Judas might not have been a historical person. I have never heard any New Testament critic, even the most liberal, deny the historicity of Judas because he is in all of these independent sources and especially (this is very significant) Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11 in passing on the traditions about the Last Supper (which are even earlier than the Gospels), begins the Last Supper traditions, “On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took bread.” So even Paul gives this information that there was this betrayal that was involved. So, yeah, I think that Judas’ role in this whole thing cannot be underestimated. But, again, he would have just been sort of a pawn in the action. The really moving forces here were those chief priests that wanted to get rid of Jesus and that tried him that night.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It says in the Gospels that the chief priests stirred up the crowds to call for the release of Barabbas. That doesn’t mean that everybody was against Jesus. There must have been followers of Jesus who would have called out “Jesus! Jesus!” But it says the voice of the others prevailed so Barabbas was set free.[8]

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: I don’t know the answer to that question. That is a good question. I am not sure how to answer that. You are suggesting that even saying that would itself have been an assertion of divinity; I am not sure how to answer that.

Followup: [inaudible]

Answer: Right. That would be a clear case. But I am not sure about the trial.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Matthew 27:19, “While he was sitting on the judgment seat his wife sent to him saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of him.’” Here is the difficulty for the historian. This is just in Matthew, not in the earliest Gospels. So the historian will say, “How do we know this really happened or that this wasn’t a Christian invention?” But here, again, I guess what I would want to say is, “Why not?” Is this impossible that Pilate’s wife might not have had a nightmare about this and would have been superstitious enough to say don’t do anything? This doesn’t strike me as an implausible incident.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Now that is a good point. In other words, you are saying how would they come to know this? It says “She sent to him.” I guess what you would have to say is that this message was somehow conveyed to him, maybe by soldiers or an emissary, and that word got around and that Matthew heard the rumor and wrote it down.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: Yeah, because in Mark he says, “This truly was the Son of God.” The centurion at the foot of the cross.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: It is the sort of thing I think you can see that you are not on real firm ground here. It is something that I think, as a historian as opposed to someone who believes in the inspiration of Scripture, you just have to say, well, I don’t know. You don’t have any evidence for it, there is not really good evidence against it. You don’t know. So probably that is why it doesn’t figure too much in these sorts of discussions.

Question: [inaudible]

Answer: The question was, “Did either of these cover the resurrection of Jesus?”[9] You may remember, I was originally contacted about this NBC program to be interviewed for it. I said, “Are you going to talk about the resurrection?” And they said, “No.” They said it is going to be on the last days of Jesus. And I said, “Well, if you are not talking about the resurrection, you are not really talking about the last days of Jesus are you?” And the lady says, “Well, yeah, you make a pretty good point. I guess if it weren’t for the resurrection nobody would care about the last days of Jesus, would they?” And I said, “You are exactly right.” And I told her to call Craig Evans, call Darrell Boch, these guys know this material better. But if you want to talk about what happened to the corpse after the crucifixion, come back and talk to me. And she said, “I don’t think we are going to deal with the resurrection in this show.” And I said that’s fine, get these other guys. I was glad they did after seeing the program. I thought N. T. Wright and Craig did a superlative job. But you can only hope that maybe some of these scholars might come back or that these producers might come back and do a program on, say, the empty tomb. What is the evidence for that? Or the burial of Jesus. Because there you have all kinds of interesting things.

Again, with regard to the burial, you have this unexpected happening. Your best conjecture of what would happen to the corpse of Jesus as someone crucified by Roman authorities as a criminal, is that his body would have been taken down and thrown into a common plot reserved for criminals. Instead, what do you have? In the Gospels you have this unanimous testimony that a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin itself – Joseph of Arimathea – comes and takes the body and gives it an honorable burial in a tomb. Totally unexpected and out of the ordinary. That in itself I think is a mark of the historicity of the story because if it had never happened this isn’t the sort of story you would invent about what happened to the corpse of Jesus. So once again it just emphasizes you don’t do history based upon reasonable conjectures and surmises about what you would expect to happen. You have got to be guided by the evidence.

Let me just close by recommending three books to you that I think if you are interested in this are wonderful tools.

The first one is Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels published by InterVarsity Press. We gave one of these away as a door prize at Set Forth Your Case. It has articles on all of these things: the Passion, the death of Jesus, the trial of Jesus, the crucifixion, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas. It is a wonderful resource tool for your library. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.

The second is the book Jesus Under Fire edited by J. P. Moreland and Michael Wilkins published by Zondervan. This is a response of evangelical scholars to the so-called Jesus Seminar of which Borg and Crossan are prominent members. This includes articles by people like Darrell Boch and Craig Evans and others on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Finally, the last item is this book, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up, which is the transcript of my debate with John Dominic Crossan on the resurrection of Jesus that we held several years ago in Chicago with responses by two conservative scholars and two revisionist scholars including Marcus Borg. So you will get Borg and Crossan both in this volume. This is also available on tape. The tape is a real hoot because the debate was moderated by William F. Buckley. So you’ve got me with an American accent, Buckley with a British accent, and Crossan with an Irish accent, all interacting on this tape. It is really very entertaining and instructive. But that won’t include the responses by the other scholars or our final responses. But if you want to see how Borg and Crossan’s arguments stand up in an actual dialogue situation, that book would be one I could recommend.

[Closing prayer][10]



[1] 5:01

[2] 10:03

[3] 15:00

[4] 19:58

[5] 25:06

[6] 29:57

[7] 35:11

[8] 40:17

[9] 45:14

[10] Total Running Time: 50:47 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)