A Response To The Resurrection Hoax

Does Kareem have a case? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

On a Facebook thread I’m in, someone presented the thesis that the resurrection is a hoax with a link by an Abdullah Kareen of Answering Christianity. I will include a link at the bottom of this post for all interested in reading. For now, just how strong is the case?

Well, not too strong.

“The resurrection of Jesus is a hoax because Mark, the earliest gospel, never contained the story.”

This is how it begins, in other words, with a train wreck. Kareem seems unaware that the case for the resurrection today does not rely on the gospels but rather relies on 1 Corinthians and Galatians. Still, does the book of Mark contain no resurrection? Well, not exactly. We agree with Kareem that the ending of Mark is most likely added on. We also see that as irrelevant to our case. Let’s look elsewhere in Mark.

For instance, Mark 9:9 says:

“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Mark 14:28

“But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Mark has hints throughout the book about what is happening towards the end. The book is very fast-paced as indicated by the use of “immediately” throughout. Mark has identified the book as good news at the beginning and identified Jesus as the Son of God. He would not end the story then having Jesus being dead in the tomb and not even vindicated. Instead, Mark 16 has Jesus being risen. The women leave in awe and this is typical of Mark. Mark is meant to grip awe into you with the wonder about what happened next. Readers have enough information to know. That this gospel is written and ends there is to say that the story of Jesus has not ended.

Even if we did not have the gospel of Mark, it would not show the resurrection is a hoax. In fact, even if we knew the resurrection was false, that would not show it to be a hoax. A hoax is a plot done by someone or some group of people with the intention to deceive. That does not follow from Mark being wrong if he was. For instance, suppose Crossan is right and Jesus’s body was thrown to dogs. There was no intent to deceive. Then the disciples get the idea of vindication and get so excited they delude themselves into thinking resurrection. Now this didn’t happen, but in any case, it would involve no hoax and it would still involve Mark being wrong.

Going back to Kareem.

“The “resurrection” passages were later added to Mark, and his gospel was changed by Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers are anonymous. It was necessary for Matthew and Luke to change Mark according to their own understanding, they also relied upon the Q source. Regarding the Gospel of John, it’s completely different and draws upon ambiguous sources.”

Scholars today also know Matthew and Luke used other sources even if they did use Mark and even if they did use a Q source. For someone making a deal about there being no manuscript evidence of an ending to Mark at the time, there is ZERO manuscript evidence for Q. There has not been one Q document found. It is a hypothetical source. That does not mean it is false, but it means that Kareem is changing the standards in one paragraph.

Note also he has not shown that Matthew and Luke are false. Matthew and Luke when they do not copy Mark are seen to be independent sources. Kareem needs to deal with them on their own standards.

Furthermore, the point about the gospels being anonymous is a red herring. Many works in the ancient world were anonymous, but usually the deliverer of the work would know who wrote it, notably with something like a seal on the manuscript itself. Scholars who do not believe the gospels are by the people we normally say they are do not dispense of them as quickly as Kareem does and even still recognize much historically valid information. Those interested in a defense of the authorship of the gospels are recommended to check books on the New Testament or individual commentaries on the gospels.

“A central working hypothesis of this book and one of the most widely held findings in modem New Testament study is that Mark was the first canonical Gospel to be composed and that the authors of Matthew and Luke (and possibly John) used Mark’s Gospel as a written source. (Randal Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 23)”

Randal Helms is not a figure that is taken seriously in scholarship by liberals or conservatives. Helms is an English Professor. He is not a bible scholar. I could find a number of scholars, liberal or conservative, Christian or non, who would give this evidence. Why go with Helms? This tells us much about Kareem’s methodology.

Kareem goes on.

“Mark was the first writer to record the crucifixion, yet he was NOT an eye-witness!

“The author of Mark, the earliest of the narrative gospels, was not an eyewitness: he is reporting information conveyed to him by a third person or persons, who themselves were quite possible not eye-witnesses” (Robert Walter Funk, The Jesus Seminar: The Acts of Jesus, p. 4)”

Yes. Mark was likely not an eyewitness. So what? That means you could only write history on events you had seen? If that is the case, there can be no valid Civil War histories today. We would have to eliminate all of Plutarch’s writings as well. It is interesting to see a Muslim say this since the first biographies of Muhammad came well after he had died. Kareem assumes that if you did not see it, you would have no way of gaining information about it.

This would simply be false. This would be an event everyone would know about and would be part of the oral tradition. This event is recorded by Tacitus as well even referring to Pilate as the one who crucified him. Someone like Crossan even says it is as sure a fact as any in history that Jesus was crucified. I am reading Dale Martin right now, a highly liberal New Testament scholar, who also agrees with this. In fact, on page 186 he says it seems to be historically accurate that he was executed because he said he was the King of the Jews or someone said that he was claiming that.

Also, there is no reason the writers would make up a story about crucifixion. Crucifixion equaled shame in the ancient world. If you could avoid the mention of it, you would. If a story was being made up, it would not be about crucifixion. No one would state that the Messiah had been crucified. He might suffer, but He would not die a shameful death. The Jews and Greeks would not accept that. Not only that, the crucifixion is mentioned in several independent sources and there is no counter-story. We have the crucifixion in all four gospels, in Paul numerous times, and in other NT epistles, as well as sources like Tacitus and others.

Kareem goes on:

“Here is what Christian scholar Mack Burton says:

“There is no reference to Jesus’ death as a crucifixion in the pre-Markan Jesus material” (Who Wrote the New Testament? p. 87)”

There is also no scholar named Mack Burton. There is one named Burton Mack. Such a mistake like this indicates that our reader is not doing much reading. If you are going to cite a source, at least get their name right. Anyway, Mack is correct if talking about Q. There is no resurrection in Q because if Q exists, it is a sayings gospel with no narrative. However, there is a crucifixion in Mark itself and no one I know of says the crucifixion was added into Mark.

We go on:

“This means the Gospel writers fabricated the resurrection story. The legend of Jesus’ “resurrection” developed over a period of time. This explains why Paul, the earliest Christian writer, never records the Gospel version. Paul only says Jesus was “crucified for the sins of mankind” and he “rose from the dead”, which does not explain anything.”

If anything, it would mean they fabricated the crucifixion story, to which there is no basis for thinking that they did so. Paul never records a gospel version of it because first, he is the earliest Christian writer. Second, there was no need to. This was part of the oral tradition that would have already been known and would be useless to share in a high-context society.

The writer has made an assertion and he needs to show it. For the Muslim, the crucifixion did not happen, which leads to the question of “What did?” The earliest Christian creed in 1 Cor. 15 includes the death of Jesus. Was everyone in the world simply wrong that Jesus had died? This stretches incredulity. If he died a non-crucifixion death, there is no motive to turn it into a crucifixion death. It would have only led to shame on the part of the disciples and lowered the gospel movement.

Kareem goes on:

“Paul asserts that Jesus was crucified, yet he fails to mention any details which would later be recorded in the gospels.

We must keep in mind that Paul knew nothing of an event called the ascension that was separate or different from Jesus’ resurrection. Paul’s writings contain no hint of the two-stage process that would develop later, where resurrection brought Jesus from the grave back to life and ascension then took Jesus from earth to heaven. Paul’s proclamation was that God had raised Jesus into God’s very life. That was Easter for Paul. For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearances of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul. For Paul the body of Jesus who died was perishable, weak, physical. The Jesus who was raised was clothed by the raising God with a body fit for God’s kingdom. It was imperishable, glorified, and spiritual. (John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality, p. 241) “

Reply: This is simply false and again, bad sourcing. Spong is not a biblical scholar either. There are several scholars who would say such things, and Kareem should have checked some of those. At any rate, Paul does have Jesus being dead, buried, and raised. This would to a Jew imply an empty tomb since a resurrection that left a body in the tomb would have been nonsensical. To say Jesus was absorbed into God’s life would not explain the empty tomb nor would it explain the appearances to the disciples. Keep in mind this writer has not dealt with any positive evidence for the resurrection thus far. All we have is an argument from silence.

Still, it gets worse.

“The most striking feature of the early documents is that they do not set Jesus’ life in a specific historical situation. There is no Galilean ministry, and there are no parables, no miracles, no Passion in Jerusalem, no indication of time, place of attendant circumstances at all. The words Calvary, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee never appear in the early epistles, and the word Jerusalem is never used there in connection with Jesus (Doherty, pp. 68, 73). Instead, Jesus figures as a basically supernatural personage who took the “likeness” of man, “emptied” then of his supernatural powers Phil 2:7. (G.A. Wells, Can We Trust the New Testament? p. 3) “

Wells is a Christ-myther who I understand has now said it might be possible that someone named Jesus existed. The Christ-myth theory is not treated seriously by NT scholars, and this is from all sides of the field. Again, this is simply an argument from silence.

Kareem continues:

“Paul’s account of Jesus’ resurrection contradicts the Gospels:

The first thing we need to force into our minds is that when Paul wrote these words, there were no such things as written Gospels. This means that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection so familiar to us, as told by these Gospel writers, were by and large unknown to Paul and to Paul’s readers (Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, p. 48)

For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearances of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul. For Paul the body of Jesus who died was perishable, weak, physical. The Jesus who was raised was clothed by the raising God with a body fit for God’s kingdom. It was imperishable, glorified, and spiritual. (ibid, p. 241)”

If they contradicted the gospels we would say, so what? We don’t need the gospels to demonstrate the resurrection. Also, inerrancy is not essential for demonstrating the resurrection. Paul does say the body raised is spiritual, but what does that mean? Paul also says the spiritual man judges all things, but that does not mean the immaterial man. This is simply a bad translation here. See Dale Martin on page 219 of “New Testament History and Literature.” He states:

“Paul is not making a distinction of material versus immaterial here, but one between a body that is “merely alive,” that is, in a normal, “natural” state, and a body that has been miraculously transformed into one entirely composed of the material of pneuma.”

My stance would be it gets its power from the pneuma, but the idea of the body being immaterial is not accepted even by Martin.

Kareem goes on:

“If Paul is the first writer, then he must be relaying the earliest tradition, yet the Gospels, written many decades later, record an entirely different story. This certainly proves that the resurrection was fabricated in the oral tradition, because there’s not a single reference to the resurrection by historians like Philo Judaeus, and the testimony of Josephus is wholly agreed to be a forgery.”

Kareem states the gospels are many decades earlier, but does not support them. What does many mean? Is three or four if that many? Also, why would the other writers mention a resurrection? Philo would not mention it since likely he was not in Judea at the time and if at a distance would have regarded it as a myth. Josephus does not mention it because he does not believe it. However, Kareem is simply wrong that Josephus’s passage is wholly agreed to be a forgery. It is wholly agreed that parts of it are forged, but this also means that it is wholly agreed that parts of it are not. You will have to search for a long time to find a scholar who says that it is a total forgery. The only ones who really think that are the Christ-mythers.

He then goes to the 1 Cor. 15:3-9 passage with a number of problems.

First, he says there is no third day prophecy in the Scripture. This however assumes a sort of chapter and verse approach. Paul does not have that. N.T. Wright has written that Paul would have been saying that the message that Christ would rise is that which is taught in the Scripture. It was the idea one would draw out based on an understanding of the Scripture before even if there is no chapter and verse. It is what we would call a systematic doctrine.

The second is that there is no evidence that 500 people saw Jesus.

Actually, there is. It’s this very creed. This was an oral tradition that was shared amongst the first Christians from early on. It is too early for legend to develop and would not have been sent around if this event did not have some backing. Furthermore, Paul even knows some of these as if to say “Go ahead. They will tell you.”

The next is that the account says Jesus first appeared to Peter when the gospels say he first appeared to women.

Actually, it doesn’t say that. It says he appeared to Peter. The word “first” is not in there. The word of women was not acceptable as testimony in the early world. It would have damaged the creed and was non-essential. Note also if the account contradicted the gospels, again, so what?

Next, Peter disbelieved that Jesus was alive. (Resurrected)

We are not told where this is or what difference it makes since until he saw Jesus alive, this is quite likely true. So what? He changed his mind upon evidence.

Next is that we are told that Judas did not hang himself.

No. The reference to the twelve is a placeholder as it were. It was a name used to signify the apostles of the hold. We can speak of the Big Ten conference today in football, but there are no longer ten teams. The twelve just became a generic reference to the apostles.

Finally, Paul is said to describe the body as spiritual when the gospels say it was physical. This has already been dealt with.

Kareem goes on:

“Mark does not have the resurrection:

All things considered, then, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus very satisfactorily. Indeed, within two or three decades of Mark’s completion, there were at least two, and perhaps three, different writers (or Christian groups) who felt the need to produce an expanded and corrected version. Viewed from their perspective, the Gospel of Mark has some major shortcomings: It contains no birth narrative; it implies that Jesus, a repentant sinner, became the Son of God only at his baptism; it recounts no resurrection appearances; and it ends with the very unsatisfactory notion that the women who found the Empty Tomb were too afraid to speak to anyone about it. (Randal Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 34)”

Obviously, the women were not too afraid since the story spread somehow! In all of this, this is simply a critique of Mark’s style. It does not prove him false. Furthermore, once again, we do not need the gospels to make our case. Once again also, this is Helms speaking, not a Bible scholar.

But if his sourcing was bad before, it’s getting worse.

“Almost all contemporary New Testament textual critics have concluded that neither the longer or shorter endings were originally part of Mark’s Gospel, though the evidence of the early church fathers above shows that the longer ending had become accepted tradition. The United Bible Societies’ 4th edition of the Greek New Testament (1993) rates the omission of verses 9-20 from the original Markan manuscript as “certain.” For this reason, many modern Bibles decline to print the longer ending of Mark together with the rest of the gospel, but, because of its historical importance and prominence, it is often included as a footnote or an appendix alongside the shorter ending.”

His source?

Wikipedia.

I kid you not.

Nevertheless, this is stuff that is irrelevant to our discussion. Kareem seems to like to keep repeating this over and over as if he’s saying something. My response is “I agree. So what?”

We shall ignore other such references from now on.

He goes on:

“The Gospels are clear that no one witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. It was seen by NO ONE.

Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. (Mark 16:14)

It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. (Luke 24:10-11)”

If he means no one saw the resurrection itself, we agree. However, it is agreed by scholars that the apostles did claim to see the risen Christ. It is difficult to find one who disagrees with this. Now if you see someone die, and then you see them alive again and the tomb being empty and we would add healed from a crucifixion that would rip the skin off of someone, then you can make the inference that a resurrection has taken place.

We are then told about a list of writers who never mentioned the resurrection. After each will be a comment, with my thanks to J.P. Holding of Tektonics who has done much looking at this list. A link will be at the end.

Philo-Judaeus

Philo has already been dealt with.

Martial

He wrote poetry and satire. He was not a historian and would not have a need to mention the resurrection.

Arrian

He was second century. His focus was Alexander the Great. No need to mention Jesus.

Appian

He wrote about Roman armies. Why would he need to mention Jesus?

Theon of Smyrna

He was a mathematician and astronomer. Why should he mention Jesus?

Lucanus

He wrote one poem and some books about the tension between Pompey and Caesar. Why should he mention Jesus?

Aulus Gellius

He wrote on laws and antiquities. No need to mention Jesus.

Seneca

Seneca could have mentioned him, but he was also a Roman who would not have held the Jews in high regard and likely would have dismissed the accounts of a resurrection as superstitious nonsense.

Plutarch

The same applies to Plutarch. The Jews were not looked on highly by him so he would not have wanted to highlight them. He was more interested in Greek and Roman lives.

Apollonius

Apollonius was a supposed second-century miracle worker. He did not write anything.

Epictetus

His sayings were written by another and while he could have mentioned Jesus, there would be no need to. It would not be relevant to Epictetus’s teachings.

Silius Italicus

He wrote a poem about the second Punic war. Why mention Jesus?

Ptolemy

An astronomer. No need to mention Jesus.

Note listing the people who did not talk about something does not deal with those who did.

In all of this, Kareem does not deal with cases put forward by scholars today. You do not see interaction with a Habermas or Licona that presents their case and why they are wrong. There is no dealing with the appearances. There is no dealing with the conversion of James and Paul. In other words, Kareem never even deals with the evidence.

Furthermore, he gives no motive for a hoax. The apostles would have gained shame for their stance. There was no power or wealth to gain for them. In every Messiah movement, when the Messiah died, so did the movement. Somehow, it was different for Jesus. Why?

Kareem has a long way to go to answer such questions. He is free to come here and defend his thesis if he so wants. Of course, he can also go to TheologyWeb.com and debate on the resurrection there in the Deeper Waters section with me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters.

Kareem’s article can be found here.

J.P. Holding’s look at the list can be found here.

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