Τρίτη, 7 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (6)

8. Who Would Want to be Persecuted?

8.1 Social Foundations of Martyrdom
8.2 Paul and Tertullian
8.3 Where Holding Gets It Wrong
8.4 Where Holding Gets It Right

8.1. Social Foundations of Martyrdom

James Holding rightly downplays the issue of martyrdom, since legend and fiction abound in that arena. The actual evidence from the first century does not support the conclusion that martyrs needed, much less had, what we would consider reliable evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. I have already addressed this in enough detail elsewhere.[1] Contemporary scholarship agrees: in the first century the persecution of Christians was much smaller in frequency and scale, and very different in nature, from that of later centuries. Moreover, the Church itself, as well as the social, political, and economic circumstances of the Empire as a whole, were all notably different in later periods.
As David DeSilva remarks, "rarely in the first century were Christians killed" and "far more rarely were they executed on official orders." Acts attests there was no formal Roman opposition to Christianity in any legal sense until after 62 A.D. at the earliest--and even then it was not as strong as it would become in subsequent generations. The only known Roman actions against Christians in the 1st century were the extralegal acts of emperors whom even the Romans themselves declared as formally damned (i.e. the decisions of Nero and Domitian lost all legal force). Later, around 110 A.D., the Emperor Trajan instructed Pliny the Younger that declaring political allegiance to Christ over the Emperor was effectively a crime (treason, no doubt); yet he says there was no specific law against Christianity, and Christians were not to be hunted down. Pliny himself reveals that he knew of no laws against Christians and had never had to deal with the problem before, so his response had to be improvised.[2]
At the same time, it may well be that the earliest Christians faced death more for the moral cause than any historical claim, which was not a novel idea. As W. H. C. Frend notes, "In the first two centuries C.E. there was a living pagan tradition of self-sacrifice for a cause, a preparedness if necessary to defy an unjust ruler, that existed alongside the developing Christian concept of martyrdom inherited from Judaism."[3] And Christian martyrdom particularly made sense from a cultural and sociological perspective. Alan Segal and others have found a common sociological underpinning of martyrdom movements throughout history, from aboriginal movements in the New World to Islamic movements in the Middle East and beyond. In every well-documented case, Segal observes, a widespread inclination to martyrdom "is an oblique attack by the powerless against the power of oppressors," in effect "canceling the power of an oppressor through moral claims to higher ground and to a resolute claim to the afterlife, as the better" and only "permanent" reward. "From modern examples," Segal writes, we can see that what produces martyrdom," as well as the corresponding "exaltation of the afterlife," is "a colonial and imperial situation, a conquering power, and a subject people whose religion does not easily account for the conquest." Some subjects are "predisposed to understand events in a religious context," and are suffering from some "political or economic" deprivation, or even a social or cultural deprivation (as when the most heartfelt morals of the subgroup are not recognized or realized by the dominating power structure).[4]
The Roman Empire was tailor-made to breed exactly such resentment and deprivation. This was prominent among the middle and lower classes--who were completely disenfranchised, abused, exploited, callously ignored, and all too often denied justice or even the means to live. But it was also present among even the higher echelons of society--for under the imperial system, having wealth and status increasingly became no guarantee at all of real influence or control, much less of safety or justice. Democracy was gone. Even the Senate itself could hardly take the initiative against the will of emperors, whose will was all too often anything but just, wise, or compassionate. Those of the Senatorial class serving administrative posts abroad would be even more distant from the base of imperial power. Regardless of your rank, at any moment, without warning, an emperor could decide you were a threat and have you eliminated, demoted, or stripped of your dignity and property--as happened frighteningly often, a fact Tacitus documents in deliberate detail. Even beyond this ever-present fear, Tacitus also documents how the emperor could interfere with a governor's control of a province in any number of ways, often through intermediaries of substantially lesser rank--which produced a regular state of intolerable insult. For example, though a proconsul was far the social superior of a procurator (who was often a freed slave, or at most a member of the equestrian class), to cross the will of an emperor's procurator amounted to crossing the will of the emperor himself--and since the emperor was not there to see what was actually happening, his procurators held a tremendous amount of power over any proconsul, and could easily abuse that power, upsetting the proper social order.
At every level of social rank, the same insult, injustice, insolence, and disenfranchisement could be found somewhere, affecting someone--even within the imperial army and administration. You basically had only two options: you could just "take it," or you could decide not to take it any more. Those who preferred the latter option would form that segment of the population from which Christianity successfully recruited, especially in its first century. And this selection bias would have significant ramifications for the attitudes and behavior of Christians, who would inevitably differ markedly from non-Christians precisely because they already differed from their peers, in attitude and behavior, before converting. And indeed, they would differ in exactly that respect relating to martyrdom and suffering that Alan Segal describes above. Christians represented those who weren't going to take it any more. The behavior of Christians, and the attractiveness of Christianity as a movement, can only be understood within this context.
Moreover, the logic of the Christian situation (as with all other comparable movements in history) is impeccable: if sinners go to hell or oblivion, and the faithful go to eternal heavenly bliss, then nothing else matters, for everything else is temporary and insignificant compared to the eternal future. The faithful will even inherit the earth itself, gaining all the power and plenty they always longed for, while watching their oppressors and exploiters suffer utter downfall and defeat. In other words, "everyone gets what they deserve." Anyone convinced of this will suffer anything. Period. They will endure any death, any torture, any discomfort, any indignity. And all the while they will smile inside, knowing their abusers will "get it" in the end, while they themselves will get twice the reward for having carried such a burden, remaining strong in the face of every effort of those evil powers to knock them down. In human history there has never been so powerful a motivator as this--a point well-taken by the Islamic authorities who found a way to exploit this motivation en masse to command entire armies, and mollify oppressed and exploited populations. The very same motivation led Buddhists to set themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam War. Yet Holding cannot claim this entails there has ever been "irrefutable proof" that Islam and Buddhism were true. Indeed, he must deny they are true at all. So evidence of a willingness to endure brutal fates and enormous hardships cannot establish the truth of any belief.
Instead, combine the eschatological ideology with the scale of deprivation endured by the subjects of Rome, and all you will get is a powder keg. Had Christianity not arisen of its own, it would have been necessary to invent it--or something like it. For such a movement was all but inevitable under the sociocultural conditions of the Roman Empire. It is human nature to long for peace, love, justice, and the control of your own life. Take all of that away from millions of people, and it is just a matter of time before rebellions break out. And there can only be two kinds of rebellion within a system like that of the Empire, which lacked true democracy or even a sufficient scale of freedom of speech: the violent or the cultural. Violent revolution is always an economic contest of military resources, which Rome would always win. And Rome always did. Therefore, the only rebellion that could succeed was a cultural revolution, which meant a war of ideas--and that was a war the rebels could win, so long as they had the better ideas and employed the right tactics on the battlefield of the mind. Such a war still had casualties (martyrs) and hardships (persecution), but it was still a war, and like all well-motivated wars, soldiers didn't give up simply because of the prospect of dying or suffering. Indeed, as in any righteous war, dying and suffering is exactly what soldiers are willing to pay for victory.[5]
Clearly the sociocultural conditions of the early Christian willingness to endure persecution and martyrdom fit exactly those of every other comparable movement in history, matching every element of the above analysis perfectly. Yet it follows, since it holds in every other case known to man, that their motivation was not some particular historical claim or esoteric dogma. As in every other case, their motivation was rebellion against a corrupt social order in defense of a superior vision of society. The motive was a moral system, a view of the way society should function and structure itself. That was what attracted recruits to the Christian movement, that is what they suffered and died for--not "proof" that Jesus stepped out of a tomb. As far as motivation and attraction are concerned, that was incidental. It mattered only when it came to the particulars of dogma or theology, and as one can observe, the Christians themselves were hotly divided about the nature of the Resurrection and the evidence for it.
Instead, as long as a missionary could convince someone already receptive to the Christian social message that their movement had the Backing of God, that was all they needed to win a convert for Jesus. Holding has not proved that "irrefutable" evidence of any sort of resurrection (much less a particular kind of resurrection) was necessary to achieve such persuasion--for there were scriptural proofs, miracles, proofs of sincerity, personal charisma, evidence of the Church's ability to meet social needs, and any number of other arguments that would have been sufficient, alone or in conjunction with each other, for quite enough people to account for the actual scale of Christianity's success in its first century (as we have seen in several chapters already, especially Chapter 6; and we will see more direct evidence in Chapter 13).

8.2. Paul and Tertullian

We can see all this in two representative Christian sources on suffering and martyrdom: Paul and Tertullian. Paul, because he is the earliest Christian to write anything down (as far as we know); Tertullian, because he is the first Christian to articulate so well the actual psychological underpinning of Christian martyrdom. The Epistles often describe the Christian mission as a war, and missionaries as soldiers (Philippians 2:25; Philemon 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). But Paul wrote of his own persecution even by fellow Christians:
I know this shall end up in my salvation, through your prayers and the additional help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but in all boldness, as always, now Christ, too, shall be made greater in my body, whether by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if to live in the flesh, this shall bring fruit from my work. What I will choose I don't know, for I am stuck between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ--for that is far, far better--yet to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Philippians 1:19-24).
Thus Paul cannot be put to shame, and doesn't fear struggle or death at all. To the contrary, he longs for it: death, to achieve his own reward in the future life; and struggle and shame, to satisfy his compassion by saving others before he goes. Longing for paradise and reward, and loving one's fellow man (with a desire to make sacrifices for the common good) are natural human attributes, not culturally specific ones. Paul struggles for others, not for some historical claim as to the nature of Christ's resurrection. Paul is willing to die for the reward, not because he thinks one ought to die simply to uphold a true proposition about an historical event. Paul's Christians believed in some historical event, surely, but we must ask why they believed, and what they believed, and the answer to both questions does not support Holding. They did not believe for the reasons he thinks, nor can we prove they believed in a resurrection of the kind he has in mind.
Thus, for an attitude like Paul's, which was no doubt typical of early Christians, and admirable even to many pagans, all that was necessary was the belief that preaching Christ would procure a heavenly reward, for him and others. And yet as far as we can tell, very little was needed for Paul to be convinced of that. In his letters, he only mentions three kinds of evidence that persuaded him or anyone else: a private "revelation" (which even Acts describes as an amorphous vision), the unlocking of secrets in scripture, and the working of miracles within the Church community.[6] Therefore, it cannot be maintained that Paul or any first-century Christians had any other evidence, or even needed it. They might have had more evidence than Paul mentions, but the evidence we have is insufficient to prove this. As far as we can prove, visions, scripture, and miracle-working were sufficient for every actual convert to the faith in the first century. Their willingness to suffer and die tells us nothing about any other evidence, and therefore cannot establish that there was anything like "irrefutable" evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, much less that he did so in any particular sense.
Paul also wrote:
For if I should want to shout aloud, I will not be a fool. For I will tell the truth. But I fear someone might hold me in greater esteem than what he sees of me or hears from me. And because of the great magnitude of my revelations, so I would not be esteemed too greatly, God gave me a thorn in my flesh, an Angel of Satan, so he might slap me, that I would not be esteemed too greatly. Three times I called upon the Lord about this, that it would go away. But he said to me, "My grace is enough for you. For power is fulfilled in weakness." And so I most gladly shout aloud all the more in my weaknesses, so the power of Christ will rest upon me. Therefore I delight in my weaknesses, in injuries, in frustrations, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful (2 Corinthians 12:6-10).
Paul never says he endures all this hardship because the tomb was empty or Thomas put his fingers in Christ's wounds or any such thing. He endures it because God told Paul directly, by revelation, that it was worth it. Period. Paul does not say he isn't worried because he has a ton of evidence, enough to be sure he's right. He doesn't need a ton of evidence. All he needs is a direct revelation from God--and all fellow Christians need is Paul's assurance of that fact, which Paul proves by his own behavior: his willingness to endure all these things! In fact, it is precisely that willingness that demonstrates Paul's power--the strength of his conviction--thus proving he deserves God's reward, and persuading others to find God's salvation.
This motivation--the achievement of salvation and favor from God--was the very thing that made the hardships of conversion an actual blessing rather than a liability. All this suffering was worth it, and could even make the destined blessings of God all the greater, just as a crippled veteran might revel in his medals and honors. And the only proof that prospective Christians apparently needed here was evidence of a missionary's conviction, which in turn rested primarily on private revelations from God (as far as we can tell from the letters of Paul), not "evidence" in a modern sense, and certainly not "irrefutable" evidence. Visions and revelations from the gods were a common cultural phenomenon among pagans and Jews of the day, and thus not peculiar to Christianity. They also have known biological causes and therefore do not entail supernatural origin.[7] Of course, for most people even back then this was not enough--which is why most people didn't convert. Rather, Christianity won over those for whom this was enough--because they had nothing better, and were fed up with their state of desperation and deprivation, and thus were ready for any hope.
A century and a half later, in chapter 50 of his Apology, Tertullian would summarize the whole case, drawing the very analogy that social historians have found in every other suffering movement:
It is quite true that it is our desire to suffer, but it is in the way that the soldier longs for war. No one indeed suffers willingly, since suffering necessarily implies fear and danger. Yet the man who objected to the conflict, both fights with all his strength, and when victorious, he rejoices in the battle, because he reaps from it glory and spoil.
Exactly. To understand converts to Christianity in the 1st century, one need only understand the soldiers who volunteered for every just war in human history. The psychology is the same. The motivation the same. Tertullian lists numerous examples of pagans engaging in self-sacrifice and enduring hardship and torture, admiring those who do, or exhorting others to do so. He represents self-sacrifice as the admirable height of moral wisdom, thus proving this was a cultural ideal widespread at the time. Tertullian continues:
Go zealously on, good presidents, you will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish, kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust. Your injustice is the proof that we are innocent....Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you. It is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow. The blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death.... And who that contemplates it, is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? Who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? And when he has embraced them, who doesn't long to suffer that he may become a partaker of the fullness of God's grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood? For that secures the remission of all sins.
Every element is here: the motivation is a war, of the oppressed against the oppressor, and their suffering is their victory. It proves the oppressed are right, courageous, and deserve every good thing. And it proves their abusers are evil, and therefore wrong. And the very fact that Christians were willing to die for this moral ideal was already a potent proof that their ideal was worth suffering for--and therefore it won even more converts. And those converts endured all abuse because the cause was just, and serving a just cause secured for them the eternal reward of God.
Of course, for Tertullian, the "doctrines" he spoke of were "supported" by the evidence of the Gospels. But that means he had at hand no more evidence than we do now. Yet the Gospels do not necessarily represent the beliefs of most Christians of the first century, or those of the first two generations. Nor can Holding's argument, which pertains only to the origin and early success of Christianity, be sustained for Christians so far removed from the original evidence. By then, for example, "checking the facts" was simply not a possibility, while converts could be won over not only by exaggerated evidence, but by the very conviction of Christians themselves, as Tertullian himself observes, rather than by anything we would regard as reliable proof.

8.3. Where Holding Gets it Wrong

So when Holding points out that "the Jews would dislike you, the Romans would dislike you, your family would disown you, everyone would avoid or make sport of you," this doesn't really argue for there being "irrefutable evidence" of the resurrection of Jesus. For we've seen there were many other motives available to potential and actual converts to endure such things. And, of course, I think Holding is overstating the case, as often he does. There is no evidence in Acts or Paul that being Christian led to "Romans" disliking you, and the evidence there is, in both Acts and Paul, demonstrates that not all Jews shared the hostility of those factions that pursued and harassed the Church. I am also not aware of any evidence from the first century of any convert actually being "disowned" by his family (maybe in later centuries, but too many things had changed by then to draw any definite analogy). So it could not have been too common, whereas there is evidence that at least some families remained intact even when divided by faith (it was a contingency Paul specifically responds to: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, 10:20-32). And it is certainly not true that "everyone" avoided Christians--it is not even clear that anyone avoided Christians in the first century. Shunning never happens in Acts and is not a problem Paul ever had to deal with in the epistles--to the contrary, if anything, he had to resolve quite the opposite problem (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:7-13). And Paul had no apparent difficulty enjoying the company of non-Christians himself (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:20-23), while Christians were exhorted to treat outsiders with kindness and humility (1 Thessalonians 3:12 & 5:15; Titus 3:2). Were Christians ridiculed in the first century? Maybe by some people. So were Jews. And even some pagans (the Roman satirists made no end of sport of popular cults). Did that mean everyone ridiculed members of all these religions? No. And I am not aware of any evidence supporting such hyperbole. Nor did such social conflict prevent all those other cults from winning converts.
Holding also claims "men like Paul and Matthew, and even Peter and John, gave up lucrative trades for the sake of a mission that was all too obviously going to be nothing but trouble for them." Nothing but trouble? Anyone who reads Paul's letters--even from our quote of Philippians above--can see missionaries like Paul believed there were positive gains worth far more than any losses. Love of one's fellow man is a natural human attribute, and every culture has those who despise wealth. So "nothing" but trouble is more hyperbole. And did Paul and his peers really give up "lucrative" careers? There is no evidence regarding how successful they were at their respective trades. It may well be they found an easier job they were better at, as many a preacher has done since. And there was certainly money in the Church, so much in fact that Paul had to defend himself against charges of profiteering (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:11-18; Acts 20:33-34). But money was not so highly regarded by devout men anyway (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:3, 6:10; 2 Timothy 3:2), and all the Apostles were no doubt such devout men even before they met Jesus. They probably despised money just like the Essenes, and sought a greater good, which became the very reason they followed Jesus in the first place.
Surely a man like Paul saw winning souls as a far more valuable use of his time than winning cash, so the prospect of giving up the latter for the former would present no deterrent. Conversely, most entering the Church would materially benefit from the loving, communist society it provided, while we already discussed the available motives of the few who would be giving anything up by entering (in Chapter 5). Finally, it was also possible to serve both careers: when in Corinth, Paul returned to his trade as tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3), and may have done so in other towns (Acts 20:34), as often as possible, thereby sustaining himself and his mission. Peter, John, and Matthew may well have kept regular jobs on the side, too, and certainly most actual Christians did. As far as we know, only those who were financially supported by the Church gave up paying jobs for missionary work.
Holding then confuses historical periods when he quotes Robin Lane Fox's discussion of events in the 3rd and 4th centuries. That can have no bearing on the state of affairs at Christianity's origin, or its development in its first hundred years. When Holding cites Fox for the claim that "Christians could expect social ostracization if they stuck by their faith," including "rejection by family and society" and "relegation to outcast status," Holding neglects to mention that Fox does not in fact demonstrate this, but only the existence of social tension between pagans and Christians within the same community, or even the same family, and only in some cases, in later centuries. Thus, Holding's quotation is three times off the mark, not only referring to the wrong period, but far overstating what his source actually claims. The evidence does not support any kind of culture-wide "shaming" of Christians--for not everyone was their enemy, and their values were not as contrary to the higher ideals of most Greeks, Romans, or Jews as Holding implies. Many among all three groups did not like the inequities produced by the values of the dominant elite. Even where Christians differed from their peers among the lower and middle classes, those differences were not the sort to cause resentment or disgust, but more likely admiration or, at worst, indifference. Indeed, the values of Christians were very close to the moral ideals of Greco-Roman philosophers, legendary sages, and revered Rabbis (for examples see Chapter 5 and Chapter 2).
In like fashion, none of the passages Holding cites from the New Testament support the conclusion that the entire pagan society was dead set against the Christians. All of his verses refer to specific occasions of persecution, which were not representative of the way Christians were normally treated in the first century. But those passages do support my argument that these persecutions were willingly born because of an expectation of future reward, and a commitment to the moral ideals of compassion and justice. Hebrews 10:26-39 is a classic example (and suggests a time in the Church at least a generation or two after the conclusion of Acts), where assurances that the evidence is "irrefutable" never come up, only assurances of the Christian apocalyptic hope, with its attendant fear of hell and longing for heaven. In fact, the letter then immediately goes into why this hope should be trusted without evidence (Hebrews 11). This is not a verse that helps Holding's case. There is nothing here about a universal pagan antipathy to Christian values, nor any reference to having strong evidence as the reason for persevering.
Philippians 1:27-30 also speaks only of specific adversaries, not the whole society in which Christians lived, and says nothing of Christians being hated for their values. And Paul declares there that those who persecute them will go down to destruction while they, by persevering, will be saved, another example of the real motivation behind Christians enduring every attack. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says nothing at all beyond that the Thessalonians suffered some great oppression that made them a model for other congregations to follow. It does not say what that oppression was, or from whom it came, or why. And since it refers to all this in the past tense, Paul cannot have meant a persistent cultural problem. In fact, when he elaborates in 2:13-16, it is clear that Paul means the Thessalonians were persecuted in a past incident by their own neighbors in a manner similar to the way certain factions of the Jews persecuted the Church in Judaea. According to Acts, these persecutions were not actions representative of the general population, but of a minority faction of adversaries. Moreover, Paul's analogy entails they were persecuted for theological doctrines, not their moral values. Similarly, 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 doesn't say what persecutions or oppression, from whom, or what for. But it does give the usual reason for enduring: the righteous gain heaven, their oppressors gain destruction (1:5-11). The reason given is never the strength of any evidence.
1 Peter 2:11-18 (which also comes from the later part of the 1st century) actually says the opposite of what Holding claims. It says Christians should win the praise of outsiders by their good behavior, thus refuting by their actions the false charges against them, and this entails fulfilling (not defying) the values of the wider culture (including obeying the government and the entire social order outside the Church).[8] And 1 Peter 3:16 completes the thought begun at 3:13, which is exactly the opposite of what Holding leads us to believe: "Who will harm you if you are zealous for what is good?" Only then does the letter go on to talk about those who are persecuted anyway, so already the letter is denying this was the norm. That is the context of the verse that exhorts Christians to be good "so when those people who blab disparage your good manner of life in Christ, they will be ashamed." Does that sound like Christian values were at odds with popular values? To the contrary, the fact that the author expected this disparagement to be unusual, and the fact that he expected persecutors would be ashamed to resort to it, both imply that Christians were living by values widely respected in Greco-Roman (and Jewish) society. And this is explicit in Titus 2:7-3:8, where Christians are specifically exhorted to follow popular values so outsiders will think well of them. Likewise, 1 Peter 4:12-16 says if Christians are to be persecuted, let it be for the name of Christ only, not for any evil deed. And, again, the motivation is immediately given (4:17-19) as the fate of heaven and hell, not the strength of any evidence. So none of this supports Holding's point.[9]
One continual theme in these passages is that those who suffer ought to suffer because Christ did, and Christ is the best of men, the ideal all should emulate.[10] Yet we know from the Gospel stories (and the predicted fate of the Messiah in scripture, as examined in Chapter 1) that Jesus was not persecuted because his values were unpopular, but for precisely the opposite reason: they were immensely popular, and it is only the wicked elite who attack him, and in so doing are charged as hypocrites. Hence Jesus was not executed because his values were despised, but because the elite had rejected the popular values of justice and compassion that Jesus represented and upheld. By being called to emulate him in their persecution, the message conveyed is that Christians are being persecuted by the same sorts of hypocrites who pervert popular values (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16), not by a society cherishing different values. And that was the point: Christians won converts because they were upholding the values that many cherished but their leaders did not--or, worse, rendered lip service to, but trampled in practice.

8.4. Where Holding Gets it Right

For all that, there is one thing that persecution and scorn did do to the Church: it changed it. Everyone who could find the same hope and moral vision in more accepted pagan philosophies and mystery cults would certainly prefer the easier road. It is only the desperate and fed up, who did not find these alternatives satisfying, who would find Christianity attractive at any price. And that gradually changed the character of the Church itself. Only the most radical or the most desperate filled the bulk of the movement. This included those who actually wanted martyrdom or weren't afraid of it but impressed and encouraged by it, those who found in Christianity something absent from philosophy and paganism but that they badly wanted, and even those who (like Tatian) had actually grown disgusted with those alternatives and took to Christianity as a backlash against elite arrogance. This may well be why Christianity so quickly became radicalized into a predominately Sarcicist religion (see Chapter 3). Since that sect was the only religion guaranteeing a resurrection of the flesh on easy terms (Judaism offered it on very hard terms, while other Christian sects offered something different or more complicated), all the people in the Roman Empire who wanted that (regardless of their beliefs) would have flocked to Christianity, while many others would find a better deal on even easier terms in pagan philosophy or salvation cults.
This selection effect in successful recruitment may also be a reason why Christianity was a slow starter. Because it appealed to a psychologically select segment of society, it never gained a very large following until centuries after its origin, after social conditions (and the Church itself) had changed enormously. To that extent Holding is certainly correct. Had Christianity won over a majority of the Empire in a single century, then maybe he would have an argument (contrast, for example, the fantastically rapid and remarkably complete success of the Scientific Revolution). But Christian success came nowhere near that, least of all within its first hundred years (we shall examine its actual scale of success in Chapter 18). Persecution no doubt played a part in that poor showing. But it was not enough to keep the Church from growing, even to the extent that it did. There were plenty of deprived and disgruntled people it could appeal to, and it didn't need proof of the Resurrection to win them over.
In the end, Holding is right to say that the hardships, though they mustn't be so exaggerated, were nevertheless enough that "it is quite unlikely that anyone would have gone the distance for the Christian faith at any time--unless it had something tangible behind it." This is always true. It has been true of every morally demanding idealistic movement in history, whether we're talking about the dawn of Islam or Soviet Marxism. But as we have seen, here and in several other chapters, that "something tangible" did not have to be "irrefutable" evidence of an historical event, such as Jesus rising from the dead. In none of the mass movements throughout human history involving a widespread willingness to suffer and sacrifice, has the motive ever been anything like that, but always a sociomoral ideal. Christianity was surely no different. Indeed, its social program was the one truly tangible thing it had to offer, and that was attractive and alluring all on its own.
Once the battle lines were drawn in this cultural war of compassion against insolence, brotherhood against exploitation, justice against corruption, and equality against inequity, there would surely be plenty of volunteer soldiers fighting for the Christian side. And like all volunteers for every just war in history, they would be fully prepared to assume the burdens of battle, with all its attendant miseries, sacrifices, and risks. It's simply human nature. The shame is that the Christian Church eventually succumbed to the very corruption, villainy, and injustice it began its faith fighting against. Ultimately, however, even for its claim to divine backing, there was ample evidence to meet the standards of those who actually converted (as we shall see in Chapter 13 and Chapter 17). So evidence of the Resurrection itself needed to be no better than the sincere devotion of missionaries--and nothing more (see Chapter 7)--which in turn required no more than biologically and culturally explicable visions of the divine, or a passionate, compassionate belief in a greater social good (see Chapter 10).

Buy Not the Impossible Faith!
Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed

Now available as a book, fully updated and reorganized. This is the definitive edition of “Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False?” Even better than online, improved and revised throughout. Available at Amazon


[1] See Richard Carrier, "IV. A Digression on Witnesses Being Willing to Die," in Chapter 2 of "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" (5th ed., 2004).
[2] Quote from David DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (2000), p. 44. For a summary and bibliography of the scholarship, see Caroline Bynum, Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity: 200-1336 (1995), p. 44. For a more thorough discussion of the issue, see: W. H. C. Frend, "Martyrdom and Political Oppression," The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, vol. 2 (2000): pp. 815-39; Mary Beard, et al., Religions of Rome: Volume 1, A History (1998), pp. 236-44; and Robin Lane Fox, "Persecution and Martyrdom," Pagans and Christians (1987): pp. 419-92.
       On the voiding of the legal acts of Nero and Domitian, see "damnatio memoriae," The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1996): p. 427. For the Pliny-Trajan exchange, see Pliny the Younger, Epistles 10.96-97.
       Holding claims to find evidence Paul executed Christians in Philippians 3:6, but I don't see how. In the passage he cites, Paul gives a list of his qualifications in parallel structure, such that the context does not fit that of Maccabees, which never uses either relevant word in the way Holding implies anyway. Diôkô is used 11 times in 1 and 2 Maccabees, always in the sense of "chase," not in any context relating to persecution (1 Maccabees 3:24, 4:9, 4:16, 7:45, 9:15, 11:73, 12:51, 15:39; 2 Maccabees 2:21, 2:31, 5:8; all are military actions); and zêlos appears only 4 times, none in any context relating to persecution (1 Maccabees 2:27, 2:54, 2:58, 8:16). As for Paul, he says only that "with regard to zeal" he "pursued" the Church, just as "with regard to the law" he was a Pharisee, and "with regard to obedience" to the law he was "blameless."
       The word for "pursue" here is ambiguous, with positive and negative meanings, from "follow" to "hunt"--though in formal terminology it means "prosecute a case" (cf. diôkô in Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott's A Greek-English Lexicon). Even if we assume Paul is using the term formally, he does not tell us what charges he brought, or what penalties he sought, or even whether he succeeded in winning any of his cases (so also for 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:13, and Galatians 1:13 & 1:23, where Paul also "besieged" or "endeavored to destroy" [portheô] the Church, which are just as ambiguous in their meaning, telling us neither what he actually did, or why, or whether it succeeded). Likewise, the word for "zeal" means "jealousy," though usually in a positive sense, as in "eager rivalry" or a "longing to emulate." In this case, Paul would mean emulating his fellow Pharisees, unless he is actually referring to rivaling the Jewish ecclesia and is not speaking of persecuting the Christian Church here at all (the context does suggest he meant to list only his positive traits here). By extension, the word means "fervor," hence "zeal" (cf. zêlos in the lexicon), which says nothing about whether Paul wanted or sought to kill anyone, much less that he did kill anyone. Conclusion: Paul may well have been partly responsible for some executions of Christians (as Acts claims). But we cannot prove this from anything Paul said in his letters.
[3] W. H. C. Frend, "Martyrdom and Political Oppression," The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, vol. 2 (2000), p. 818.
[4] Alan Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (2004), p. 314. His entire chapter on millennial and apocalyptic movements covers the evidence and scholarship, and links it to both Judaism and Christianity, as well as Islam and several indigenous religious movements.
[5] All of this is apparent to any attentive student of human history. But Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951) is still a best-selling discussion of it.
[6] For example: 1 Corinthians 12 & 15:1-8; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:11-12, 15-19 & 3:5; Romans 16:25-26; Acts 9:3-9. This point is thoroughly examined from several angles in Chapter 13 and Chapter 17. See the entirety of 1 Peter 1 for the exact same reasoning, that Christians should endure persecution for future reward simply because scripture says so.
[7] On the cultural context, see: Robin Lane Fox, "Seeing the Gods," Pagans and Christians (1987): pp. 102-67; Alan Segal, "Religiously-Interpreted States of Consciousness: Prophecy, Self-Consciousness, and Life After Death," Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (2004): pp. 322-50; Peter Green, Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (1990), pp. 408-13, 594-95; E. R. Dodds, "The Blessings of Madness" and "Dream-Pattern and Culture-Pattern," The Greeks and the Irrational (1951): pp. 64-101 and 102-34.
       On the scientific background, see: John Horgan, Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border between Science and Spirituality (2003); Eugene D'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (2001); and Eugene D'Aquili and Andrew Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (1999).
       See also: Richard Carrier, "Craig's Empty Tomb and Habermas on the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus," which is Section 4e of my Review of "In Defense of Miracles" (1999); Richard Carrier, "From Taoist to Infidel" (2001); and Richard Carrier, "Do Religious Life and Critical Thought Need Each Other? A Reply to William Reinsmith" (1996).
       The debate between Origen and Celsus (Origen, Contra Celsum 2.60) reveals this reality: reasonable people seeing apparitions while awake was enough to "prove" those apparitions real. Note that Origen says these apparitions are therefore astral bodies, not flesh. Origen did not believe Jesus rose in the flesh, but had switched bodies, leaving the corpse behind and donning a new astral body. Cf. Contra Celsum 5.18-24, 6.29, 7.32; Caroline Bynum, Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (1995), pp. 63-71; and Richard Carrier, "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb," Jeff Lowder & Bob Price, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): pp. 105-232.
[8] In fact, contrary to Holding's claim, Christians were always told to uphold the values and social institutions of the wider society: Romans 12:17-18 & 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:12-17 & 4:15; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Galatians 6:10; Colossians 3:22; Hebrews 12:14.
[9] I have not examined Holding's citation of Revelation, because the entire treatise is a prophetic vision. But in the section Holding cites (the mention of tribulations in Smyrna and Pergamum in chapter 2), only very specific persecution events are mentioned, not a general state of cultural opposition (one synagogue of "false Jews" in Smyrna and the execution of one man, Antipas, in Pergamum: 2:8-10, 2:12-13).
[10] e.g. Hebrews 12; Philemon 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 3:18, 4:1, 4:13.

9. Was the Idea of an Incarnate God Really Repugnant?

James Holding cites Earl Doherty for the argument that Jews would never believe "that a human man was the Son of God," much less deserved "all the titles of divinity and full identification with the ancient God of Abraham." Therefore, Holding argues, Jesus must have proved he was the God of Abraham. Of course, Holding neglects to mention that Doherty can use the exact same evidence to argue the reverse: that originally Jesus was never a literal human man, but always a heavenly being, an intermediary and representative of God.[1] Doherty's construction of the evidence is plausible, but not thereby proved. But neither is Holding's position proved. Therefore, the logic of Holding's argument here does not work: by the law of excluded middle, from what Holding presents we cannot decide whether Jesus gave "proof" of his divinity or whether early Christians rejected the very theology that later Christians developed. Both are consistent with the premise Holding gives in this section of his argument, but only one is consistent with Holding's conclusion, and to pick one theory over another is unjustified.
Holding could perhaps justify it by presenting evidence that the Christians of Paul's time believed what later Christians claimed. But there is nothing in the evidence from Paul himself that Jesus was ever thought to be God Incarnate while residing on Earth. All the evidence there is consistent with the view that Jesus was merely a man, a Messiah possessed by the Spirit of God, who was adopted by God (either at his birth, baptism, or death) and thus was the "Son of God" only in a legal and spiritual sense, not a literal sense. Indeed, Paul outright says that Jesus "was born from the seed of David in respect to the flesh," but "ordained the Son of God in power in respect to the spirit of holiness from the resurrection of the dead." In other words, from the seed of David he was a man, but after his resurrection he was appointed Son of God--when he was not flesh, but spirit.[2] It was standard Jewish understanding that every "Messiah" ("Anointed" and "King") was adopted by God at his anointing and thus became a Son of God, including David himself.[3] And the earliest Christians made this universal: Paul says every Christian, through joining Christ's spirit, became an adopted son of God.[4] There is nothing un-Jewish about this.
We also know of some early Jewish Christian groups (like the Ebionites) who stuck to this view, against the emerging, largely Gentile "orthodoxy" of the second century, which saw fit even to doctor the Gospel of Mark in an attempt to eliminate its adoptionistic slant.[5] Even when the idea arose (whenever it actually did) that Christ was a preexistent spirit that descended into the womb of Mary to form the flesh of Jesus, the Christians were not deviating from what was acceptable to many Jews of the time: God could certainly create flesh, and the Spirit of the Lord could certainly inhabit a living person. This would not be the Nicene view of a literal identity between God and Flesh. But the Nicene view would be centuries in the making. In Christianity's first hundred years, insofar as it remained Jewish at all, there is no evidence supporting the exact formula of the Nicene creed. What reliable evidence we have is entirely compatible with a view that God remained incorporeal and enthroned in Heaven even as his spirit animated the body of Jesus. That did not contradict Jewish ideology. Indeed, it conformed to it: for the Spirit of the Lord was expected to enter the body of Israel's human King, as well as the bodies of God's prophets.[6]
Nor was the idea of a preexistent spiritual son of God a novel idea among the Jews. Paul's contemporary, Philo, interprets the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 6:11-12 in just such a way. In the Septuagint this says to place the crown of kingship upon "Jesus," for "So says Jehovah the Ruler of All, 'Behold the man named 'Rising', and he shall rise up from his place below and he shall build the House of the Lord'." This pretty much is the Christian Gospel. Philo was a Platonic thinker, so could not imagine this as referring to "a man who is compounded of body and soul," but thought it meant an "incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image" whom "the Father of the Universe has caused to spring up as the eldest son. In another passage, he calls this son the firstborn," and says "he who is thus born" imitates "the ways of his father."[7] That sure sounds a lot like what the Christians were saying--and this from a Jew! Not all Jews were Platonists, either. Simply couple Philo's idea with the more common Jewish belief that the Spirit of God can "rest upon" ordinary human beings, and in fact must do so in the case of prophets and kings, and you have the early Christian Christology.
Therefore, we can prove nothing un-Jewish about what Christians taught in the first century. Certainly there would be Jews opposed to their idea, as there were numerous Jewish factions all opposed to each other--the Pharisees against the Sadducees, the Essenes against the Pharisees, the Scribes against the Baptists, the Jerusalem rabbis against the Galilean rabbis, and so on. In the words of John Barclay, "there was no universal template of 'normative' Judaism," even in Palestine, but especially in the Hellenized Diaspora.[8] And this proves quite the opposite of Holding's assumption: since there were many different ways to conceive of God and his mission even among the Jews themselves, no conclusion can be drawn about what "all" Jews would think from the example of only a few--much less from a few within only a few specific sects. And there is even less reason to focus only on Jews who were ideologically opposed to the Christian message. That can tell us nothing about what other Jews who were sympathetic to that message thought. You can't simply attribute to their friends the beliefs of their enemies, especially when it is probably not a coincidence that Christ became more literally God Incarnate precisely as Christianity became less Jewish.
So much for the Jewish perspective. Holding then claims that even "in the Gentile world" the "idea of a god condescending to material form, for more than a temporary visit, of sweating, stinking, going to the bathroom, and especially suffering and dying here on earth" would be "too much to swallow!" I find that an astonishing claim. For Greek and Roman paganism was filled with the idea of ordinary men being or becoming gods. As to the idea of a "sweating, stinking, defecating" mortal who dies and then becomes a god, there are so many examples in Greco-Roman religion I can't believe I even need to cite them. This is also the case for the idea of a literal son of a God who "sweats, stinks, and defecates" and then dies, becoming a God in Heaven.[9] There were some elites who balked at these ideas (especially Epicureans like Celsus and Platonists like Plutarch), but they represented a small minority of the population. The incredible ubiquity of belief in countless deified men and earthly divine sons proves this beyond any doubt. Christianity would hit no greater obstacle than every other popular cult worshipping divine men.
Lest there be any doubt, Plutarch says point blank that "it seemed credible to the Romans" (and was accepted on the mere testimony of one man) that Romulus was an eternal god who descended from Heaven, lived on earth as a mere mortal, died, then rose again to rejoin the gods. How is that any different from what the Christians preached of Jesus? Even in Acts (14:11-13), the Lycaonians readily assumed Barnabas and Paul were the gods Zeus and Hermes physically descended from Heaven, declaring that "the gods have become like men and come down to us!" And the Maltans quickly concluded Paul was a god merely because he survived a snake bite (Acts 28:3-6). Likewise, Celsus knew several men who manipulated crowds by claiming to be "God or God's Son or the Spirit of God" descended from above, which could only have been a successful scam if the idea was acceptable to enough people to make it worthwhile.[10]
In the end, Holding has not made an adequate case that what Christians actually believed in the first century would have been incredible to all Jews, much less those Jews who actually accepted the Christian message. Nor has Holding shown that all Gentiles found the idea of a God Incarnate "too much to swallow." To the contrary, there is evidence the early Christian idea of the Savior and Messiah as Son of God was actually right in line with the thinking of many Jews at the time, and we've shown there can be no doubt that a great many Gentiles fully accepted the idea of a God Made Flesh. So there would be no need of "irrefutable" proof to overcome hostility to this idea among either group. Indeed, Holding's own logic argues against his own case: for the fact that most Jews and Gentiles rejected Christianity in its first hundred years would suggest the evidence was insufficient to persuade those who actually did scoff at the idea of incarnated gods. In fact, there is not a single example on record of anyone in the first century who clearly scoffed at that idea subsequently becoming a Christian--yet only such evidence would offer any support to Holding's argument!
Even then, Holding would still have to present evidence that what changed their mind was "irrefutable" evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, rather than something less impressive to us today--like an argument solely from scripture. Holding can present no such evidence. Therefore, his argument is unsuccessful. In fact, it is inherently dubious. For why would rising from the dead prove Jesus was God? How would Jesus prove he was literally God? N. T. Wright himself, a staunch believer and expert on the subject, warns that "it has too often been assumed that if Jesus was raised from the dead this automatically 'proves' the entire Christian worldview--including the belief that he was and is" God or God's son. But as Wright explains, it does not--there are Jews even today who believe Jesus rose from the dead (and did many other miraculous things), but conclude from this "that he was and is a great prophet to whom Israel should have paid attention at the time," and nothing more.[11]
Many who were not gods rose from the dead, even in Jewish legend (see Chapter 3)--in fact, from a Jewish point of view, such an event would sooner prove Jesus a great prophet than a god. Likewise for any of his miracles, which did not exceed in magnitude those of Moses or Elijah. So how would anyone come to believe he was God? There is only one possible way: God told them. In other words: visions and interpretations of scripture. Therefore, the only evidence that would ever convince any Jew that Jesus was the Son of God would be scripture and the word of contemporary prophets (confirmed by miraculous deeds), neither of which would we ever consider "irrefutable" evidence.[12] And a Jew who would be convinced by such evidence (and we know those were probably the only people Christians actually convinced, as suggested by the evidence in Chapter 13 and Chapter 17) would not even need any other evidence, since that was the only evidence possible for such a claim. Therefore, Holding cannot use "objections to incarnation" to confirm the strength of evidence for the Resurrection, even in principle. At most it could only confirm the strength of evidence from revelations and scripture--which comes nowhere near "irrefutable" evidence, and is not evidence at all except to those who already accept that God talks to people, and then inspired the entire Bible as well as the Christian prophets.

Buy Not the Impossible Faith!
Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed

Now available as a book, fully updated and reorganized. This is the definitive edition of “Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False?” Even better than online, improved and revised throughout. Available at Amazon


[1] See: Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus, revised ed. (2000); Doherty's website: The Jesus Puzzle Online; and my critical review of his book: Richard Carrier, "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity" (2002).
[2] Romans 1:3-4. The words are unmistakable: Jesus genomenos, "came into being," "was born" a descendant of David (cf. gignomai), and then horistheis, "was separated out," "distinguished," "marked," "ordained"--the word in fact often meaning "deified" (cf. horizô), not in the flesh, but in the spirit, and not in life, but after death. It is true, however, that a few other passages from Paul imply preexistence, so (if we assume these other passages were not scribal interpolations) most scholars take this verse as representing the original Gospel, and Paul's view as a more Platonic development implying spirit possession (see discussion of Philo's "Son of God" later in this chapter and Note 7).
[3] See, for example: 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7 & 89:26-27; 1 Chronicles 17:13, 22:10-11, 28:6. Likewise, Israel (Jacob) was not only called "Son of God" but "God's firstborn son" (Hosea 11:1, Exodus 4:22-23). See "Son of God" in Jacob Neusner, ed., Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (1996).
[4] See, for example: John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26-27 & 4:5-6; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 5:1. And see "Son of God," Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed. (2003): pp. 408-09.
[5] See: David Horrell, "Early Jewish Christianity," The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, vol. 2 (2000): pp. 136-67 (for the shift in the first century toward a predominately Gentile Christianity: Todd Klutz, "Paul and the Development of Gentile Christianity," ibid.: pp. 168-97); Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993), esp. "Anti-Adoptionistic Corruptions of Scripture": pp. 47-118 (note, for example, that one of the common features of known scribal tampering in Acts is the addition of Christological titles: see sources cited in Note 20 of Chapter 7).
[6] See, for example: Numbers 11:25, 11:29, 24:2; Judges 3:9-10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6, 14:19, 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:6, 10:10, 11:6, 16:13, 19:20, 19:23; 2 Chronicles 15:1, 20:14, 24:20; Isaiah 11:2, 59:21, 61:1; Ezekiel 11:5, 37:12-14 (which anticipates the Christian idea that at the Resurrection God's spirit will inhabit all the saved, exactly as Paul says has happened); Micah 3:8; Zechariah 7:12. See also: Exodus 31:1-5; Numbers 23:7 (in the Septuagint text); Daniel 4:8-9, 4:18, 5:11, 5:14 (all singular in the Septuagint text). And for context, see "Son of God," Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period: pp. 596-97.
       For example, Colossians 1:15-18 does not say when the preexisting spirit created as the "image" of God entered the man Jesus--it says nothing about this happening at birth, much less through a virgin's womb, nor does this say anything about the man Jesus literally being God. And this idea may even be a later development, since the authenticity of Colossians is in doubt: see "Colossians, Letter to the" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000).
[7] Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63. The whole passage reads:
[The phrase] "Behold, the man named Rising!" [is] a very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul. But if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of 'Rising' has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the Universe has caused him to rise up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn. And he who is thus born, imitates the ways of his father...
In the same book, Philo says even if no one is "worthy to be called a son of God," we should still "labor earnestly to be adorned according to his firstborn Logos, the eldest of his angels, the ruling archangel of many names" (146). And in On Dreams 1.215, Philo adds "there are two Temples of God, and one is this cosmos, wherein the high priest is his first born son, the divine Logos." Compare these remarks with Colossians 1:12-19 and Hebrews 1:1-14, and the connections are obvious. Likewise with Zechariah 6:11-13, which not only says Jesus will "build the temple of the Lord," but "he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne, and he shall be a priest upon his throne."
[8] John Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE - 117 CE) (1993): quote from p. 83. See also: Morton Smith, "Palestinian Judaism in the First Century," Israel: Its Role in Civilization, Moshe Davis, ed. (1956): pp. 67-81.
[9] On both, see examples (like Asclepius, Hercules, Zalmoxis, Attis, the Dioscuri, etc.) and sources on pagan religion (which cite many other examples) in Chapter 3. Many of these were already literally demigods and thus their divine body was trapped inside their body of flesh, which "sweated, stank, and defecated" as no doubt Romulus and Hercules did, yet Romulus was literally and physically a god from heaven, and Hercules was literally and physically a son of god. Of course, whether Christians believed Jesus "sweated, stank, and defecated" while on earth is not even established--Holding is assuming this is what was taught or claimed, though we don't really know for sure. The sources we have are silent on this question.
[10] Plutarch, Romulus 27-28; Acts 14:11-12; Celsus, quoted in Origen, Against Celsus 7.9. And see Note 11 in Chapter 1.
[11] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003): pp. 720, 721 (cf. pp. 719-38). Wright's evidence, in that same chapter, for an early belief in literal incarnation is far weaker. But it is notable that even someone who is convinced of that, nevertheless still rejects assumptions like that of Holding, i.e. that proving Jesus rose proves Christianity true.
[12] And as we shall see in Chapter 10 and Chapter 13, this was the only evidence offered in any known case of conversion in the first hundred years--in conjunction with the "miracles" of missionaries themselves, which we have also discussed in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7.

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου