Saturday, 7 September 2013

Greek resurrection

One of William Lane Craig’s handful of constantly repeated arguments is presented most clearly in his debate with Bart Ehrman:

Fact #4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.

Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion:

1. Their leader was dead.

And Jewish Messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. But then the obvious question arises: What in the world caused them to believe such an un-Jewish and outlandish thing?

Craig rams home, repeatedly, the claim that the resurrection belief inherent in the latter gospels (Matthew, Luke and John, remembering that Mark has been appended with the resurrection story) is not a Jewish type of belief.

Okay, I think that we can accept that that may be the case (without necessarily accepting Craig’s Argument from Resurrection).

However, it should be noted that all the relevant documents New Testament are written in Greek.  Think about this for a moment.  The lingua franca of the Roman Empire was Greek and relatively recent historical findings indicate that Greek was a commonly spoken second language in ancient Judea.  And with an invading Empire comes their culture, including their mythology and history.

We should, therefore, not only be asking whether resurrection is a Jewish idea but also whether it could be an ancient Greco-Roman idea.

Guess what!  When you look at Greek mythology, you find that resurrections are not so unfamiliar.

Asclepius is resurrected by Zeus.  Achilles is resurrected by Thetis (who wasn’t even a major god). Heracles is resurrected by Zeus.

Even more interestingly, there is a semi-mythical chap from the seventh century BCE mentioned by Herodotus who 1) was a miracle worker 2) died 3) had his body disappear mysteriously from a locked room and 4) was resurrected and made immortal.  Not only that, his resurrection was attested by someone who claimed to have met him on a road.

Now, I am not saying that the history of Aristeas as related by Herodotus is true.  What I am suggesting is that if we have a person who can write Greek in the first century CE, that person is going to be familiar with both Greek history (such as it was) and Greek mythology.  Furthermore, when Paul (apostle to the gentiles) wants to spread the word of this new religion that he has adopted, he is going to be aware of the fact that his product has to be at least as good as what is currently available in the market place.

Zeus does resurrections, so Paul’s god has to do at least one resurrection.  The demi-god Heracles was resurrected and Aristeas was resurrected, so Jesus has to be resurrected.

Simply stated, if Jesus was not reported to have been resurrected, then the religion would not have gained any purchase.

This is not, in itself, evidence that it is totally impossible that there was a person called Jesus who was crucified until fully dead, who was placed in a crypt from which he somehow escaped and who then appeared to various people before shooting up into the sky until hidden in a cloud (according to precisely one scriptural witness - Luke).

What it is instead is evidence of an alternative explanation.  So long as we have an explanation which does not require the supernatural, and there need only be one, we are not forced by Craig – or any other apologist – to accept the premise that the only explanation for early Christianity is a bona fide resurrection.

There are other explanations, so Craig’s ignorance is dissipated and his Argument from Resurrection fails on this basis.

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