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#194 Jacob Kremer on Jesus’ Empty Tomb

January 03, 2011

Re: The "fact" of the Empty Tomb based on out-of-date scholarship?

A friend of mine and some like Richard Carrier are arguing that your claim that the majority of critical scholarship accept the fact of the empty tomb is out of date based as it is on the work of Jacob Kremer (1977). Apparently even Kremer has changed his view on the tomb (cf. http://war-on-error.xanga.com/700536947/infidel-guy-radio-richard-carrier-william-lane-craig-jacob-kremer-and-the-empty-tomb/).

Can you offer any defense of the claim?

Every blessing


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Dr. craig’s response


I was surprised by the assertion that Jacob Kremer had changed his mind on the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. At one level, I suppose, his having a change of mind wouldn’t matter, since the point on which I cited him was the state of scholarly opinion with respect to the historicity of the empty tomb (regardless of what he believed himself about the matter). Still, the claim that he could no longer be numbered among the majority of scholars in this regard deserved exploration. It sounded suspicious to me.

When I checked out the source on which the claim is based, it didn’t pass “the smell test.” It’s a private, unpublished interview by a South African student named Ferdie Mulder with Prof. Kremer. Moreover, Kremer’s English is just awful (and Mulder’s is far from perfect), so that the interview is a garbled mess. The situation is made even worse by Mulder’s apparent ignorance of German, so that when Kremer begins drawing a distinction between the Leib (body) and the Leichnam (corpse), Mulder doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, as is evident from his gross misspellings. So I had reason to suspect that Kremer was being misinterpreted here.

I decided to send an inquiry to Prof. Kremer in Austria, but when I asked my teaching assistant Joe Gorra to get his e-mail address, Joe found that Prof. Kremer had died last February! http://www.austriantimes.at/news/Panorama/2010-02-15/20644/Biblical_scholar_Jacob_Kremer_dies

Undeterred, I returned to the Mulder interview for another look. At the close of the interview Kremer refers to his forthcoming contribution to a Festschrift which is his "last" (or did he mean "latest"?) writing on the subject entitled “Auferstehung Jesu – das grosse Geheimnis, Hinführung zum Glauben an die Osterbotschaft heute – ein Versuch.

Mulder kindly furnished me a copy of this article. As I read it, I quickly discovered that Mulder had, indeed, misunderstood Kremer. On page 2 Kremer says,

Aus den unterschiedlichen und zum Teil uneinheitlichen, ja widersprüchlichen Angaben über eine Entdeckung des leeren Grabes kann allenfalls gefolgert werden, dass das Grab am Ostermorgen wahrscheinlich leer war, mehr aber nicht.

--which, being interpreted, means,

From the differing and in part unharmonizable, even contradictory, data about the discovery of the empty tomb it can at most be inferred that the tomb on Easter morning was probably empty, but nothing more.

He couldn't have been clearer.

Beyond this Kremer's concern is theological, that is to say, developing a theology of the resurrection. He's exercised to reject anthropological dualism in favor of a monistic anthropology. He doesn't believe in the distinction between soul and body. That's why he doesn't want to describe Jesus' resurrection as the reunion of Jesus' soul with his body or corpse.

What's intriguing here is that Kremer endorses Thomas Aquinas' view that the soul is the form of the body and, therefore, as strange as it sounds, an unanimated corpse is not a human body. My colleague J. P. Moreland holds this same view. If you lose your arm in an accident, then that object severed from you is, despite appearances, not a human arm (because it is no longer animated by a soul). That's why Kremer draws his distinction between the Leichnam (corpse) and the Leib (body). He thinks that Jesus' Leichnam was taken down and buried in the tomb, but since his soul lived on and the soul is not distinct from the Leib, the body lives on, too, and so Jesus' resurrection occurred immediately upon his death! This whole train of thought is obviously theologically driven, not historically motivated. As an exegete Kremer still thinks it historically probable that the tomb in which Jesus' Leichnam was interred was discovered empty, as the Gospels say. Indeed, Kremer's affirmation of the historicity of Jesus' empty tomb is all the more impressive precisely because his philosophico-theological perspective does not require it. Given his theology, the empty tomb becomes almost pointless. The evidence, and nothing else, forces him to accept it.

What can we learn from this unfortunate episode? Two things, I think: First, it is important to master foreign languages in dealing with non-English writers. A knowledge of German would have prevented this whole confusion. Second, it is important to understand the philosophico-theological presuppositions of a writer's view. Once one realizes that Kremer is coming at this from a Thomistic perspective, his otherwise bewildering differentiation between Leichnam and Leib becomes perspicuous. --similarly, his otherwise baffling claim that Jesus' resurrection is simultaneous with Jesus' death.

With respect to trends in current scholarship, as the so-called third quest of the historical Jesus continues unabated, New Testament scholarship continues to find in the Gospels historically credible sources for the life of Jesus, including what happened to Jesus’ corpse after the crucifixion. (See question #143.) Anyone who thinks that there has been a reversal of scholarship on the empty tomb since Jacob Kremer wrote his Die Osterevangelien in 1977 just shows that he doesn’t know the literature (on which see most recently Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus [IVP: 2010], pp. 461-2).

- William Lane Craig