Jesus Beyond the Grave Book Summary

Title: Jesus Beyond the Grave
Editors: Robert M. Price & Jeffery Jay Lowder

TLDR: This book meticulously deconstructs the traditional Christian belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Leading scholars analyze the biblical evidence, exposing contradictions, historical improbabilities, and theological biases, while offering alternative explanations like theft, relocation of the body, and hallucination.

Chapter 1: Is There Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus? by Robert Greg Cavin

Cavin argues that even if we grant the complete historical accuracy of the New Testament Easter traditions, they still fail to provide sufficient evidence to establish the resurrection of Jesus as a miraculous event. He distinguishes between revivification (merely coming back to life) and resurrection (being transformed into a supernatural body), highlighting the latter as the claim defended by apologists like William Lane Craig.

Cavin examines the dispositional properties of the resurrected body as described by apologists, including immortality, imperishability, and the ability to move instantaneously from one place to another. He then argues that establishing the resurrection hypothesis requires proving these dispositional properties. However, Cavin contends that the New Testament Easter traditions fall short of providing the necessary evidence to establish these properties.

He explores two possible ways of establishing such universal generalizations about Jesus’ post-resurrection abilities: “from above” and “from below.” Establishing propositions “from above” would involve deriving them from well-established general hypotheses about individuals of the same kind as Jesus, like anyone who is executed for claiming to be the Son of God and then revivified. However, Cavin points out the lack of any such well-established hypotheses due to our lack of experience with revivified persons.

Establishing propositions “from below” would require gathering information about Jesus that directly tests his dispositional properties after his alleged resurrection. This would entail numerous independent instances of Jesus being exposed to conditions that cause death, aging, sickness, injury, and requiring teleportation, yet demonstrating his immunity to these factors over a prolonged period. However, Cavin argues that the limited number of appearances and the lack of genuine tests of these properties in the New Testament render the evidence insufficient for establishing these claims “from below.”

Cavin addresses two potential objections. First, he dismisses the argument that Jesus’ ability to appear and disappear and to pass through solid objects signifies a change in his body’s nature, making him incapable of being injured, dying, etc. This argument, he argues, relies on an unfounded generalization linking teleportation and passage through solid matter with the permanent inability to be injured, die, etc.

The second objection Cavin addresses is the liar, deceived, or truthful trilemma. This argument attempts to establish the truth of Jesus’ resurrection claims by asserting that he was neither a liar nor deceived. Cavin argues that this objection rests on the speculative generalizations that revivified moral teachers cannot lie and that those who have ascended and appeared in heavenly glory cannot be deceived. He concludes that the absence of empirical evidence for these generalizations renders them unsound and incapable of establishing the distinctive consequences of the resurrection hypothesis.

Ultimately, Cavin argues that the New Testament Easter traditions are insufficient to establish the distinctive consequences of the resurrection hypothesis, even assuming complete historical reliability. He emphasizes that the actual historical evidence for the empty tomb tradition and Paul’s appearance list is even weaker, failing to meet the logical requirements for establishing a proposition as bold as the resurrection hypothesis. He concludes by urging apologists to focus instead on the weaker claim of revivification, which still faces serious logical problems.

Chapter 2: The Resurrection as Initially Improbable by Michael Martin

Martin argues that the resurrection of Jesus is highly improbable, even on the assumption of theism. He utilizes Bayes’s Theorem to demonstrate how the low initial probability of a miracle, combined with the available historical evidence, renders the resurrection claim rationally unacceptable.

He explains that for the resurrection claim to be rational, its probability relative to the historical evidence and background theories must be greater than 50 percent. However, the lower the initial probability of the resurrection relative to background theories, the stronger the historical evidence must be to bring its final probability above 50 percent.

Martin then presents the Initial Improbability Argument, which states that (1) miracle claims are initially improbable relative to background knowledge; (2) claims that are initially improbable and lack strong evidence should be disbelieved; (3) the resurrection of Jesus is a miracle claim; (4) the evidence for the resurrection is not strong; therefore, (5) the resurrection of Jesus should be disbelieved.

He defends premise (1) by arguing that even if theism were true, God would have good reasons for never using miracles to achieve his purposes. Miracles, understood as violations of natural laws, impede scientific understanding and lead to difficulties and controversies in their identification. Martin argues that an all-powerful God would be able to achieve his purposes without resorting to such problematic interventions.

Furthermore, even if we accept Swinburne’s view that miracles are probable given God’s existence, Martin argues that this does not make particular miracle claims probable. He draws an analogy with the probability of ten heads in a billion coin tosses, which, while probable overall, is still improbable in any given case. Similarly, even if some miracles are probable given theism, any particular miracle claim is initially improbable due to the background belief that miracles are rare.

Martin argues that even in the non-interventionist sense, where God sets up the world so that an unusual event conveys a message without violating natural laws, the initial probability of such miracles remains low.

He then considers potential rebuttals to the claim of low initial probabilities. The first rebuttal, the Particular Time and Place Argument, asserts that his reasoning would absurdly render the probability of any future event low. Martin responds by pointing out that his argument is a special case of a more general and familiar point: more specific hypotheses have lower initial probability than unspecific ones. He demonstrates this point with various examples and argues that while the unspecific claim that some redeeming event will occur might be probable, the specific claim of Jesus’ resurrection at a particular time and place remains improbable.

The second rebuttal, the Free Will Objection, draws on an analogy with choosing a car from a lot with only one red car. Davis argues that since the choice is free, the initial probability of choosing the red car is not low. Martin responds that the initial probability of choosing the red car would be low from the point of view of onlookers who are unaware of the chooser’s preferences. Similarly, God’s choice of enacting a particular redeeming miracle is free, but the initial probability of choosing any one option, like the resurrection, remains low due to God’s numerous options and our lack of knowledge of his preferences.

Finally, Martin addresses the objection that he assumes background beliefs shared by both naturalists and supernaturalists instead of ones specific to Christian supernaturalism, like the belief that God wants to redeem human beings. However, he argues that even allowing this belief as part of the background knowledge still renders the resurrection initially improbable, since redemption could occur without any resurrection at all.

Martin concludes that the low initial probability of the resurrection, coupled with the insufficient strength of the historical evidence, makes it rationally unacceptable to believe in the resurrection claim.

Chapter 3: Why Resurrect Jesus? by Theodore M. Drange

Drange examines the apparent inconsistency between the atonement and the resurrection in Christian theology. He argues that the resurrection undermines the concept of Jesus’ death as a genuine and great sacrifice required for the atonement. To understand the importance of the resurrection within Christian theology, he turns to the writings of theologian Charles Hodge, critically analyzing Hodge’s four reasons for considering the resurrection of Christ to be “the most important fact in the history of the world.”

First, Hodge argues that all of Christ’s claims and the success of his work rest upon his resurrection. However, Drange points out a fallacy in this reasoning: even if the resurrection is a sufficient condition for those claims and success, it does not follow that it is a necessary condition. Furthermore, Drange argues that the alleged sufficient-condition relationships do not hold, demonstrating how each claim could be false even if Christ did rise from the dead. He then examines the possibility of the resurrection being a necessary condition, concluding that even under this interpretation, the resurrection is not a logical consequence of any of Christ’s claims or the success of his work.

Second, Hodge claims that the mission of the Holy Spirit depended on Jesus’ resurrection. Drange challenges this claim by examining various descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s mission in Hodge’s writings, concluding that none of them depend on the resurrection of Christ. He argues that Hodge’s statement lacks support and is merely an empty pronouncement.

Third, Hodge argues that Christ’s resurrection secures and illustrates the resurrection of his followers. Drange challenges this by asking whether the afterlife must involve a bodily resurrection and, if so, whether people could still be resurrected even if Christ’s body was not. He argues that Hodge’s response presupposes both an affirmative answer to the first question and a negative answer to the second, but fails to defend either. Drange argues that people could still have a bodily resurrection even if Christ’s body was destroyed, and that there is no reason why Christ’s mode of resurrection should be identical to that of his followers. Furthermore, Drange points out that many Christians believe in a disembodied afterlife or a resurrection with a new body, which would render the resurrection of Christ’s original body unnecessary. He concludes that the doctrine of an intermediate state, which Hodge himself accepts, undermines the importance of the resurrection.

Fourth, Hodge argues that if Christ did not rise, the entire scheme of redemption is a failure. Drange argues that this claim merely reiterates Hodge’s first reason and is equally erroneous. He argues that the atonement, the basis of the scheme of redemption, could have occurred without the resurrection. Furthermore, he argues that the references to the defeat of evil forces are misplaced, since it was the atonement, not the resurrection, that accomplished them. Finally, Drange addresses Paul’s statement in scripture linking the resurrection with salvation, concluding that Paul’s claim lacks theological backing and is contradicted by the independence of the atonement from the resurrection.

Drange concludes by examining the claim that the resurrection was intended to show important truths to mankind. He argues that this claim is refuted by the fact that most of mankind is unaware of the alleged resurrection and that the propositions supposedly shown by the resurrection do not actually follow from it. Ultimately, Drange concludes that Hodge’s reasons for considering the resurrection an important event are all failures. The resurrection, he argues, was unnecessary for the success of Christ’s mission, the work of the Holy Spirit, the afterlife, or the scheme of redemption. It may even have been an afterthought on the part of the biblical authors.

Chapter 4: Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation by Robert M. Price

Price challenges the widely held view that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 provides a precious window into the earliest days of Christian belief. He argues that this pericope is a post-Pauline interpolation, reflecting later developments in Christian thought. This undermines the traditional view that the passage contains an authentic pre-Pauline creed or tradition.

Price begins by challenging the scholarly consensus that, absent definitive manuscript evidence, suggestions of interpolations in the Pauline Epistles should be rejected. He argues that such a view is motivated by a theological apologetic agenda seeking to safeguard the apostolic originality of the text. He contends that internal evidence, such as contradictions, anachronisms, and redactional seams, can and should be used to identify interpolations.

The central contradiction Price highlights is between Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:11-12 that he did not receive the gospel from any man and the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that he received and delivered a tradition concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. Price argues that these two statements are irreconcilable if both are understood as genuine pronouncements of Paul. He then refutes various attempts to harmonize these passages by drawing on the works of John Howard Schutz, Oscar Cullmann, and J. Roloff, arguing that none of them are successful in resolving the contradiction without resorting to dubious superexegetical interpretations.

Price then analyzes the list of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, arguing that it represents a post-Pauline tradition, further supporting his thesis of an interpolation. He points out the sudden and unusual mention of an appearance to 500 brethren, which is absent from the Gospels and contradicts the focus on prominent leaders in the list. Price argues that the reference to the 500, most of whom were still alive to be questioned, suggests the list was initially a list of credentials for Cephas, the Twelve, James, and other apostles, but was later expanded with an apologetic aim of proving the resurrection by adding a mass of witnesses.

Price argues that the appearance to James the Just is also problematic. He examines the contradictory Gospel evidence regarding whether James was a disciple of Jesus before the resurrection, concluding that the late pro-James traditions, which depict him as a faithful disciple from the beginning, are more likely to be apocryphal and post-Pauline. He draws a historical analogy with Ali, the son-in-law and nephew of Muhammad, whose blood relation was initially sufficient for claiming the Caliphate, but later required embellishment with claims of piety, charisma, and new revelations. Similarly, Price argues that James’ blood relation to Jesus was initially sufficient for claiming leadership, but later required embellishment with stories of his piety and a special resurrection appearance, reflecting the later Tendenz of homogenizing apostolic worthies.

Price then explores the possibility of the appearances to Cephas and James representing rival traditions, arguing that Harnack’s view of competing credential-formulas for the two rival leaders is essentially correct. He examines the meaning of “all the apostles” in 1 Corinthians 15:7, arguing that it likely excludes James and includes Peter and the Twelve, thus serving as a polemical counter to the earlier “Cephas, then to the Twelve” formula. Price points out the conflation of the Twelve and the apostles in the list, indicating its post-Lukan character, since Luke is the first to equate the two categories. He concludes that the harmonizing conflation of the two lists, characteristic of a later catholicizing trend, was not Paul’s idea but was added by a later editor.

Price further undermines Pauline authorship by pointing out that a genuine eyewitness of the resurrection would not need to depend on a thirdhand list of appearances formulated by others. He argues that the pericope in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation into the original argument, inserted by a Paulinist apologist who wanted to vindicate Paul’s controversial apostolate by assimilating him to the Twelve and James.

Price then analyzes the lack of continuity between the pericope and the rest of the chapter, citing observations by Bultmann, Evans, Conzelmann, and Schillebeeckx. He argues that the passage was originally a separate apologetic fragment, preserved by being inserted into chapter 15, where it does not truly fit. The interpolator was probably a later scribe who wanted to strengthen the argument for the resurrection by prefacing it with a list of evidences for the resurrection, thus misunderstanding or being unaware of its original function as apostolic credentials.

Price concludes by measuring his analysis against a set of criteria for identifying interpolations proposed by Winsome Munro. He argues that the passage exhibits significant disparities with Paul’s own ideology, is stylistically and linguistically anomalous, and does not fit well in its present context. Moreover, he argues that the passage’s themes and concerns are related to later polemics and traditions found in works like the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Epistle of Peter to James. Finally, Price provides a plausible explanation for the interpolation’s motivation, concluding that it is a post-Pauline addition inserted by a later editor with a catholicizing agenda.

Chapter 5: The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb by Richard C. Carrier

Carrier presents a bold hypothesis: the original Christians did not believe that Jesus was physically resurrected from the grave but that he ascended to heaven after death and was given a new spiritual body. This original twobody doctrine, he argues, was later replaced by the legend of the empty tomb, which became the basis for the Christian belief in a physical resurrection.

Carrier begins by arguing that a twobody doctrine was plausible within early Judaism, challenging the claim by apologists like J. A. T. Robinson that Jews could not have conceived of resurrection outside of bodily terms. He surveys the diversity of Jewish sects in the time of Jesus, highlighting their willingness to accept a wide range of novel ideas seemingly contrary to modern conceptions of Judaism. He then demonstrates the existence of a twobody doctrine in the writings of Philo and Josephus, both prominent Jewish intellectuals of the time. Philo envisioned the soul as departing the body at death and ascending to heaven in an ethereal form, while Josephus explicitly describes a resurrection in which souls “cross over” into new bodies.

Carrier then argues that Paul’s views on resurrection are consistent with a twobody doctrine. He contrasts Paul’s teachings with the known Pharisaic defenses of a bodily resurrection, highlighting their stark differences. Paul, unlike the Pharisees, emphasizes the discontinuity between the earthly and resurrected bodies, arguing that we will be given new celestial bodies, not restored fleshly ones. This is evident in Paul’s use of the “seed” analogy and his insistence that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

Carrier carefully analyzes Paul’s descriptions of the resurrected body as “spiritual,” arguing that it was conceived as being made of pneuma, an ethereal substance distinct from the physical flesh. He draws on passages from 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, James, Jude, and the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Photius to support his interpretation of Paul’s conception of the psychikon and pneumatikon bodies.

Carrier then examines the possibility of a legendary development of the empty tomb story. He argues that the earliest known account, found in the Gospel of Mark, originated as a symbolic representation of Jesus’ ascension, not as a historical fact. He draws on Mark’s thematic agenda of “reversal of expectation” and his use of Psalmic and Orphic imagery to support his thesis. Mark’s empty tomb, he argues, symbolized the opened gates of death and the shedding of the earthly “tabernacle” of the body, just as the Phoenix rises from its ashes in a new body according to Clement of Rome.

Carrier then analyzes the subsequent embellishment of Mark’s symbolic empty tomb narrative in the later Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. He details how these later accounts add legendary details, such as guards at the tomb, earthquakes, angelic appearances, and encounters with the risen Jesus, transforming the original simple story into an elaborate narrative designed to support the doctrine of a physical resurrection. He draws comparisons with other known legends in antiquity, such as the defenses of Delphi during the Persian Wars as recounted by Herodotus, and the miraculous events in Judaea as reported by Josephus, demonstrating the plausibility of legendary development within the timeframe of the Gospel tradition.

Finally, Carrier examines the evidence from the appearance narratives in the Gospels, arguing that they, too, point to a legendary development from original visionary experiences. He concludes that the core appearance tradition does not depend on an empty tomb, and that the Gospel authors’ attempts to link the two events are artificial and contradictory, suggesting a fabrication rather than a preservation of a common truth. He argues that the original experiences were likely hallucinations or visions, motivated by grief, anxiety, and cultural predisposition, and subsequently elaborated into the more physical and detailed accounts found in the later Gospels.

Carrier concludes by arguing that the theory of a twobody resurrection doctrine best accounts for the evidence, being both earlier and better corroborated than the traditional view of a physical resurrection. He suggests that the original Christians believed that Jesus was “raised from the dead” by being given a new spiritual body in heaven, and that the story of the empty tomb arose later as a legendary embellishment of this original belief.

Chapter 6: The Case Against the Empty Tomb by Peter Kirby

Kirby assembles a detailed argument against the historicity of the empty tomb story. He argues that the narrative is a fictional invention of the author of Mark, building his case on four key points: (1) all reports of the empty tomb are dependent upon Mark, (2) the empty tomb narrative in Mark exhibits signs of fictional creation, (3) the story as told by Mark contains improbabilities, and (4) other traditions of the burial and appearances support a reconstruction of events that excludes the discovery of an empty tomb.

Kirby begins by surveying four alternative possibilities for what happened to Jesus’ body: he was left hanging on the cross, disposed of by the Romans, buried by Jews in a criminal’s grave, or remained buried in a tomb. He argues that each of these hypotheses is plausible and that there is no need to choose a specific alternative in arguing against the empty tomb story.

Kirby then examines the dependence of all empty tomb accounts on Mark’s Gospel. He cites redaction-critical studies demonstrating the dependence of Matthew, Luke, and John on Mark for their empty tomb narratives, arguing that there is no evidence of any pre-Markan tradition of an empty tomb. This means that the entire story hangs on the reliability of a single source, making it vulnerable to critical scrutiny.

Kirby then examines the fictional characteristics of the empty tomb narrative in Mark, arguing that it shares similar features with other fictional accounts in the Hebrew Bible, such as the story of Elijah’s ascension in 2 Kings. He further argues that the character of Joseph of Arimathea and the tomb burial story in Mark are likely fictional, pointing to the unidentified location of Arimathea and the improbable motivation of Joseph. He also examines Ludemann’s suggestion that the “young man” at the tomb represents Mark himself, inserting himself into the story as a “witness” to lend it credibility.

Kirby also analyzes the famous ending of Mark’s Gospel, where the women flee the tomb in fear and silence. He argues against the interpretation that their silence was temporary and that Mark intended to imply they later informed the disciples. Instead, he argues that their silence is meant to be permanent, explaining why the story was not known earlier. This indicates that the empty tomb story did not exist before the writing of Mark, since if it had, it is unlikely that the story would have ended with the women telling no one.

Next, Kirby explores the improbabilities of the empty tomb story as told by Mark. He addresses and dismisses arguments based on the timing of the anointing, the possibility of decomposition, and the role of women in burial practices. He then focuses on two more serious objections. First, he highlights the incongruity of the women witnessing the tomb being sealed yet only realizing later that they would need help to open it. He argues that had they thought of this earlier, they would have brought assistance or sought permission from Joseph. Second, he cites Carrier’s claim that the round rolling stone described in the Gospels is anachronistic for the time of Jesus, indicating that Mark retrojected his knowledge of later tomb designs onto the story.

Kirby also examines the improbability of the tomb burial itself, highlighting the difficulty of accounting for Joseph’s motivation. He discusses the problems with the view that Joseph was merely a pious Jew seeking to fulfill God’s law, as well as the view that he was a secret disciple of Jesus. He concludes that the story is more plausible if there were no tomb burial by Joseph at all.

Finally, Kirby explores other traditions concerning the burial and appearances that contradict the empty tomb story. He points to the account in the Secret Book of James that Jesus was buried “in the sand,” indicating a dishonorable burial in a makeshift grave. He also cites passages from Acts, John, Justin Martyr, and the Gospel of Peter that suggest Jesus was buried by his enemies, the Jews, not by his disciples. Kirby argues that these passages, while possibly harmonized with Mark, are more likely to represent vestiges of a different tradition. He further argues that the tradition of Jesus being buried by his enemies is likely to be pre-Markan, since it is improbable that Christians would later invent a story of a shameful burial when they already believed he was honorably buried.

Kirby concludes by arguing that the evidence he has presented makes a convincing case that the empty tomb story is a fiction invented by Mark. He contends that the absence of any other credible explanation for the disciples’ transformation from dejected fugitives to zealous preachers, combined with the evidence against the empty tomb, makes the hallucination theory the best explanation.

Chapter 7: Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story: A Reply to William Lane Craig by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Lowder provides a detailed critical response to William Lane Craig’s arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb story. While agreeing that Joseph of Arimathea likely placed Jesus’ body in a tomb, Lowder argues that Craig fails to demonstrate the resurrection as the best explanation for its emptiness. He explores the plausibility of the relocation hypothesis, which suggests that Jesus’ body was temporarily stored in Joseph’s tomb on Friday and then moved to a public graveyard reserved for convicts on Saturday. This would account for the empty tomb without requiring a resurrection, and would also explain various inconsistencies and improbable details in the Gospel accounts.

Lowder first examines Craig’s argument that the historical credibility of the burial story supports the empty tomb. He challenges Craig’s honorable burial hypothesis, which states that Joseph honorably buried Jesus in a tomb that later became empty due to the resurrection. Instead, Lowder defends the relocation hypothesis, arguing that it is the best historical explanation for the empty tomb.

Lowder begins by surveying three possible scenarios for what happened to Jesus’ corpse: he was not buried, he was dishonorably buried in a public graveyard, or he was honorably buried in a privately owned tomb. He then analyzes the historical evidence for and against the non-burial hypothesis, concluding that, despite the low prior probability of a crucified victim being buried, the specific circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, such as the lack of mass crucifixions, the approach of Passover, and the role of Joseph of Arimathea, make burial more probable than not.

Next, Lowder explores the dishonorable burial hypothesis, arguing that it is compatible with the available evidence. He argues that, contrary to some interpretations, dishonorable burial in first-century Palestine likely included tomb burial, and that the Markan burial story does not explicitly contradict this practice. However, he highlights the incompleteness of the burial rites in Mark, which omits the required washing and anointing of the body.

Lowder then presents and defends the relocation hypothesis, arguing that it offers the best explanation for the available evidence. He argues that the relocation hypothesis accommodates the rushed chronology of the Markan burial story, the statement in John 20:2 suggesting that Mary thought the body had been moved, the defiling nature of storing Jesus’ corpse in Joseph’s own tomb, and the empty tomb itself. He also addresses Craig’s objection based on the lack of mention of the two thieves in the relocation scenario, concluding that the objection is easily answered.

Lowder then turns to Craig’s argument from Paul’s testimony, challenging the claim that Paul knew Jesus’ permanent burial place was empty. He argues that Paul’s statement that Jesus was “buried” is neutral with respect to specific burial scenarios and does not entail an empty tomb. Moreover, he argues that the two sources Craig cites for Paul’s alleged knowledge of the empty tomb – conversations with other Christians and a personal visit to Jesus’ burial place – are both highly improbable.

Next, Lowder challenges Craig’s argument that the presence of the empty tomb pericope in the pre-Markan passion story supports its historicity. He argues that the existence of such a pre-Markan story is itself speculative, and that even if it existed, there is no reason to suppose it included an empty tomb tradition. He further critiques Craig’s dating of the pre-Markan source to within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion, concluding that it is based on unfounded assumptions.

Lowder then addresses Craig’s argument that Mark’s use of “the first day of the week” to describe the day of the empty tomb’s discovery is evidence that the story is primitive. He argues that the expression is not awkward in Greek and is a common Hebraic form, appearing in other New Testament texts, and that its absence of the third-day motif does not make it improbable for a legendary story. He concludes that the phrase is more likely a consequence of Mark’s narrative sequence than evidence for an early tradition.

Lowder then examines Craig’s fifth argument, that the Markan empty tomb account is simple and lacks legendary development. He argues that the simplicity of the account does not make it likely to be true, and that the Markan narrative, being solely an empty tomb story without a description of the resurrection itself or any appearance narratives, lacks the “theological and other developments” that characterize demonstrably legendary accounts like the Gospel of Peter and the Ascension of Isaiah.

Lowder further argues that the discovery of the empty tomb by women does not support its historicity, challenging Craig’s claim that such a detail would have been too embarrassing for the early church to invent. He argues that women were qualified to serve as legal witnesses in the absence of men, citing evidence from both Jewish and Roman legal sources, and that there is no evidence of any anti-Christian polemic criticizing the church for relying on women’s testimony.

Next, Lowder challenges Craig’s argument from the investigation of the empty tomb by Peter and John. He argues that the relevant verses are not uniformly attested in the manuscripts, with the Lukan account possibly representing an interpolation, and that the absence of this story from Mark and Matthew is problematic for Craig’s view. Furthermore, he argues that if the women were silent for a significant period, as Mark implies, then it is unclear how Peter and John would have known about the empty tomb to investigate it.

Lowder then critiques Craig’s eighth argument, that the early preaching of the resurrection in Jerusalem supports the empty tomb, since if the tomb were occupied, the Jewish authorities could easily have refuted the Christian claim by pointing to the body. Lowder argues that this argument relies on the flawed assumptions that first-century non-Christians took Christianity seriously enough to bother refuting it, and that the body would have been identifiable after the seven-week period before the first public proclamation of the resurrection.

Next, Lowder challenges Craig’s argument that Jewish polemic provides independent confirmation of the empty tomb story. He argues that the historicity of the polemic should not be assumed and that, even if historical, it need not have been based on a sincere belief or an independent knowledge of the alleged empty tomb. He concludes that, absent evidence of such independent knowledge, the Jewish polemic cannot count as independent confirmation of the empty tomb story.

Finally, Lowder examines Craig’s argument from the lack of veneration of Jesus’ burial place as a shrine. He argues that Craig’s argument from silence is inconclusive, and that the lack of veneration is compatible with both an empty tomb and a dishonorable burial in a common grave.

Lowder concludes by arguing that Craig’s ten lines of evidence fail to demonstrate the probability of the empty tomb story. He argues that, in the absence of inductively correct arguments for or against the historicity of the empty tomb story, the historian should be agnostic about the matter.

Chapter 8: Taming the Tehom: The Sign of Jonah in Matthew by Evan Fales

Fales presents a unique interpretation of the “sign of Jonah” in Matthew, suggesting that it refers not to the physical resurrection of Jesus but to a symbolic three-day ordeal encompassing his confrontation with the forces of social and political chaos. He utilizes tools of myth analysis from anthropology, drawing on the work of Durkheim and Levi-Strauss, to uncover the deeper meaning of Matthew’s passion narrative as a political theory disguised in mythical form.

Fales begins by highlighting the close correspondence between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel passion narratives, arguing that this is particularly true for Matthew, who draws heavily on Old Testament themes and imagery. He then presents the “sign of Jonah” prophecy in Matthew 12:39-40, which seems to contradict the chronology of Matthew’s own passion narrative. Jesus declares that he will be imprisoned “in the heart of the earth” for three days and three nights, just as Jonah was imprisoned in the whale, yet Matthew’s passion chronology indicates a period of only two nights and a day and a half.

Fales then criticizes both fundamentalist and liberal approaches to the passion narratives, arguing that both fail to adequately account for the relevant historical and literary context. He proposes instead a reading of the passion narrative as a myth, arguing that understanding the text in terms of mythical categories avoids convicting Matthew of an obvious contradiction and provides new insights into the meaning of the narrative.

Fales defines myth as a way of articulating a theoretical understanding of human existence in fictionalized narrative form. He argues that religious myths, in particular, function to understand, establish, codify, and justify the social and institutional structures of a community, often by projecting social realities onto a realm of supernatural beings whose behaviors and relationships mirror those of the social world. He draws on the work of Durkheim, arguing that religious myths originate in and express unconsciously felt social pressures and arrangements, offering a natural explanation for the universality of religious belief systems and the close correspondence between the supernatural and social realms.

However, Fales diverges from Durkheim on several points, arguing that the creators of religious myths were not unconscious of the political realities they were describing, and that myths can be used to express both conservative and rebellious political agendas. He also argues that the idealized nature of supernatural beings, often depicted as standing over against the social order they represent, can be understood in terms of a “Platonic Forms” model, where gods embody the idealized conception of social institutions.

Fales then explores the structural features of myths, drawing on the work of Levi-Strauss. He argues that myths are comprised of layers of contrasting themes, with each layer resolving itself in the next, effectively defusing social tensions by replacing them with less-charged oppositions. This dialectical process, he argues, can be uncovered by analyzing the structural relationships between different versions of a myth, without regard to their chronological order.

However, Fales criticizes Levi-Strauss’s overemphasis on binary oppositions and his neglect of diachronic considerations. He argues that mythemes, the semantic elements of myths, should not be understood as devoid of intrinsic meaning but as contributing to the construction of a message through their arrangement and context.

Fales then turns to the “sign of Jonah” prophecy, arguing that Jonah’s imprisonment in the whale represents a common mythical motif of entering the realm of death, often associated with rites of passage and the social transformation of an individual. He connects this motif with the Hebrew Bible’s pervasive imagery of chaos-waters and sea-monsters, arguing that they represent social and political chaos and the forces that threaten the order of the community.

Fales then argues that Jesus’ journey into the realm of death is structurally divided into two equal periods, with the first half encompassing his confrontation with the mundane forces of evil in Jerusalem, and the second half encompassing his descent into Sheol after his death. He connects this dualistic structure with the presence of sympathetic women who frame each half of Jesus’ ordeal, arguing that this motif echoes similar themes in ANE mythology, where women symbolize parturition and the “rebirth” of a hero into a new social status.

Fales argues that the woman who anoints Jesus for burial at the Bethany meal marks the beginning of the first half of Jesus’ passion, while the two Marys at the tomb mark the end of the second half. He emphasizes that Jesus’ anointing for burial occurs before his death, signifying the start of his confrontation with death, and that Judas’ betrayal and the ensuing events of the passion are set in motion immediately after this anointing. He also highlights the division of Jesus’ trial between the Sanhedrin and Pilate, punctuated by Pilate’s wife’s dream-warning, representing the two spheres of authority that Jesus must overcome.

Fales then argues that the Bethany meal occurred on Thursday morning, based on Matthew’s chronological clues and the requirements for fulfilling the “sign of Jonah” prophecy. This interpretation requires a compressed timeline, with Jesus entering the tehom at dawn on Thursday.

Fales concludes by rejecting the fundamentalist view of a literal resurrection, arguing that the historical implausibilities of such an event, combined with the symbolic nature of the death/resurrection motif in Matthew’s Gospel, render this interpretation unlikely. He suggests that the Easter appearances were likely visions or hallucinations, motivated by grief, anxiety, and cultural predisposition, and subsequently elaborated into the more physical and detailed accounts found in the later Gospels. He also rejects the claim that only the Easter appearances could account for the emergence of the early church, arguing that the church’s success can be explained by its powerful political theory and program, which addressed the social and political concerns of both Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Empire.

Fales concludes by suggesting that the death/resurrection motif in Matthew’s passion narrative is not about individual salvation but about the social and political transformation of Israel and the Roman world. He sees Jesus as a figure who, through his sacrificial ordeal, teaches repentance and obedience to the god of Israel, not just to Assyria/Nineveh as Jonah did, but to Rome itself, offering a new vision of social order and legitimacy.

Chapter 9: The Plausibility of Theft by Richard C. Carrier

Carrier argues for the plausibility of theft as an explanation for the empty tomb. He examines and refutes William Lane Craig’s arguments against the theft hypothesis, showing that it remains a viable and even more probable explanation than a miraculous resurrection.

Carrier starts by acknowledging that the Nazareth decree implies tomb robbery was a widespread problem in first-century Palestine. He then addresses Craig’s six objections to the theft hypothesis.

First, Craig argues that no one had a motive to steal the body. Carrier refutes this by pointing out that body parts and crucifixion nails were valuable for necromancy, and that sorcerers would have had a strong motive to steal the body of a holy man. He cites evidence from ancient magical papyri and classical literature to support this claim. Carrier also argues that other motives are possible, such as a pious desire to restore Jesus’ reputation by creating the illusion of an ascension.

Second, Craig claims that only Joseph of Arimathea, those with him, and the women knew the tomb’s location. Carrier refutes this by pointing out that the thief could have been part of Joseph’s party, or could have followed them secretly or obtained the location through inquiry or bribery. He also argues that Matthew assumes the location was known well enough for a guard to be placed there, and that grave robbers could have simply stumbled upon the tomb.

Third, Craig argues that it would strain credulity for a theft to be pulled off unnoticed in only thirty-six hours. Carrier rejects this argument, pointing out that thieves had two entire nights and a Passover Sabbath to work with, which provided ideal conditions for a successful theft. He argues that violating the Sabbath would be of little concern to non-Jewish grave robbers, and that even a pious theft could be justified by those who believed they were acting for a greater cause.

Fourth, Craig contends that the presence of grave clothes in the tomb seems to preclude theft. Carrier argues that the grave clothes could have been left behind intentionally, either by body snatchers or by a pious thief seeking to create the illusion of an ascension. He also notes that the very mention of these cloths is a natural embellishment to such a narrative and is therefore suspect, arguing that they are likely not a genuine detail.

Fifth, Craig argues that conspiracies tend to come to light. Carrier refutes this by pointing out that necromantic grave robbing would not involve a conspiracy and that a pious theft could be carried out by one or two individuals who had strong motives to keep their actions secret. He argues that history does not support the claim that secrets tend to be revealed, and that the circumstances of first-century Palestine, with its near-universal illiteracy and lack of investigative institutions, made it even easier to get away with such crimes.

Finally, Craig contends that the theft hypothesis fails to explain the appearances of Jesus, giving the resurrection theory greater explanatory scope. Carrier rejects this argument, highlighting that greater explanatory scope alone does not make a theory more credible. He argues that the physicality of the appearances in the Gospels can be explained as a later legendary development and that everything in the epistles can be consistently interpreted as fitting visions rather than encounters with a physical body. Furthermore, Carrier emphasizes that the resurrection theory requires the truth of Christian theism which faces its own difficulties regarding plausibility and evidential support.

Carrier concludes by arguing that the theft hypothesis is not only plausible, but even more antecedently probable than a miraculous resurrection. He then considers the possibility that the theft was discovered, suggesting that the rumour of theft refuted by a fantastical story in Matthew might be evidence that theft actually occurred. He draws analogies with modern “conspiracy theories” and the recalcitrant beliefs of cults like Heaven’s Gate and the People’s Temple, arguing that devout Christians might similarly deny or explain away a discovered theft.

Finally, Carrier examines the story of the guarded tomb in Matthew, arguing that it is an invention designed to counter the accusation of theft and to create a parallel with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. He highlights the numerous parallels between the two stories, both in terms of details and overall structure, and concludes that Matthew deliberately invented the guard story to create this symbolic connection and to bolster his apologetic agenda.

Carrier concludes that the theft hypothesis remains a viable option for explaining the empty tomb, and that the evidence for resurrection is not strong enough to rule it out. He argues that in the absence of reliable evidence for supernaturalism, a natural explanation like theft remains the most reasonable conclusion.

Chapter 10: The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law by Richard C. Carrier

Carrier delves into the legal aspects of Jesus’ burial, arguing that the surviving evidence suggests his body was not formally buried on Friday night, but was instead legally moved to a public graveyard for convicts on Saturday night. This hypothesis, he argues, explains various details of the Gospel accounts and offers a plausible natural explanation for the empty tomb.

Carrier begins by examining the historical sources for Jewish law, discussing the Mishnah, Tosefta, tractate Semahot, Midrash Rabbah, and the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. He argues that despite their late dates, these sources are remarkably conservative in preserving earlier traditions and laws, and are largely corroborated by first-century sources like Josephus and Philo.

Next, Carrier addresses the objection that Jewish law would not apply during the Roman occupation. He cites evidence from Josephus and Philo that Roman authorities generally respected Jewish law, particularly under Tiberius, when Jesus was executed. He also notes that Roman abuses of Jewish law, such as Pilate’s attempt to introduce legionary standards into Jerusalem, were met with fierce resistance, suggesting that the Romans were aware of and generally adhered to Jewish legal sensitivities.

Carrier then analyzes the relevant Torah and Mishnah laws concerning the burial of executed criminals. He argues that the Deuteronomic law requiring burial before sunset applied to those crucified, based on the Hebrew word “es,” which could mean either “tree” or “cross.” He cites Josephus’ account of the Jewish “constitution,” which explicitly mandates burial before sunset for those executed by stoning and hanging, as well as Josephus’ condemnation of the Zealots for violating this law during the Jewish War. Carrier also cites Paul’s explicit reference to Jesus fulfilling the Deuteronomic law by becoming “a curse for us,” and the Gospel accounts of Jesus being condemned for blasphemy, a capital offense under Jewish law.

Carrier then examines the Mishnah law requiring burial of condemned criminals in a special public graveyard, separate from the tombs of their ancestors. He cites Josephus’ statement that the condemned must be buried “dishonorably” and the corroboration of this practice in both Talmuds, the Tosefta, and the Midrash Rabbah, arguing that this law likely applied in the time of Jesus.

Carrier addresses the difficulty of reconciling this law with the Gospel accounts of Jesus being buried in a private tomb. He argues that the law could be fulfilled temporarily by placing a corpse in storage until a proper burial could be carried out, such as during the Sabbath or a festival. He cites evidence from the Midrash Rabbah and the tractate Semahot that it was common practice to store bodies in temporary tombs, particularly those who died just before sundown on the Sabbath. He also notes that it was legal to move unburied bodies into shaded areas during the Sabbath.

Carrier then examines the chronology of Jesus’ burial, arguing that Joseph of Arimathea likely did not have time to accomplish a full burial before sundown on Friday. He cites the Gospels’ emphasis on the urgency of sundown and the various delays involved in obtaining the body and transporting it to a tomb. He also notes that if it was the first day of Passover, Joseph could not have legally completed a burial anyway, even if he had the time.

Carrier concludes that the most plausible scenario is that Jesus was temporarily placed in a tomb on Friday evening and then formally buried in the criminals’ graveyard on Saturday night. This would explain the empty tomb discovered by the women on Sunday morning, since the body would no longer be there.

Carrier then explores the possibility that the disciples deliberately concealed the location of Jesus’ final burial place to prevent disputes with Joseph of Arimathea, his family, or Jesus’ blood relations, and to avoid undermining their mission by having Jesus’ corpse become a source of veneration or profit for others. He suggests that the disciples, recognizing the potential of the Gospel message, exploited the Jewish belief in bodily ascension to explain the empty tomb and to create a closed corpus of authority based on Jesus’ continuing “presence” through the Holy Spirit.

Carrier concludes that if his reconstruction of events is correct, the empty tomb was not a miraculous event but an honest mistake, based on the disciples’ ignorance of the legal requirements of Jewish burial law. He suggests that the combination of the empty tomb, the disciples’ grief and confusion, and their desire to find meaning and hope in the wake of their leader’s death created ideal conditions for the emergence of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

Chapter 11: Financial Aspects of the Resurrection by J. Duncan M. Derrett

Derrett examines the financial and social implications of Jesus’ resurrection, highlighting the self-interest inherent in the apostles’ program and arguing that their success in spreading the Gospel can be explained by their skillful exploitation of the religious and social milieu of the time. He contends that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, whether based on an actual event or a misunderstanding, served as a powerful tool for attracting converts and legitimizing the nascent Christian movement.

Derrett begins by addressing the “white-collar” nature of the Christian ministry, pointing out the irony that vast numbers of religious operatives have been sustained by the earning public while offering unverifiable services and “uncashable checks.” He criticizes the disapprobation directed at his own theory that Jesus survived the crucifixion and was subsequently cremated, arguing that such a view threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on a belief in a supernatural resurrection.

Derrett then examines the difficulties the apostles faced in selling their “commodity,” the message of Jesus, in a world already saturated with competing ideologies and self-interested individuals. He identifies four discouragements: (1) Jesus’ rejection of traditional Jewish practices like the Temple service, which would have angered conservative Jews and undermined their financial interests; (2) Jesus’ shameful execution, which contradicted his claims to messianic authority; (3) the continual falling away of those who initially followed Jesus, which cast doubt on the validity of his teachings; and (4) Jesus’ rejection of the common principles of profit and loss, which seemed to contradict the realities of everyday life and the inherent human desire for financial gain.

Despite these obstacles, Derrett argues that the apostles were successful in attracting followers and financial support. He suggests that the key to their success was their exploitation of both the material and spiritual aspirations of potential converts. He points out that Jesus himself recruited a tax collector, Matthew, and that the early church had a treasurer, Judas, indicating an awareness of financial matters. He also notes that Jesus attempted to recruit a rich man, and that the early church attracted wealthy converts like Ananias and Sapphira, whose capital they effectively exploited.

Derrett then argues that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, whether based on a genuine event or a misunderstanding, significantly enhanced the apostles’ program. It served as a parable for the general resurrection, a doctrine already popular among the Pharisees, and lent credibility to Jesus’ teachings. It also offered the promise of eternal life and reward in Jesus’ future kingdom to those who followed him, providing a powerful incentive for self-denial and sacrifice in the present world.

Derrett then explores the “proofs” of the resurrection offered by the disciples: the empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances. He argues that both were unconvincing as evidence for a miraculous event, since other explanations were available for the empty tomb, such as theft or reburial, and the appearances lacked any genuinely new information or independent corroboration. He argues that the disciples, being “interested witnesses,” had a strong motive to promote the resurrection belief, regardless of its veracity, and that their success in doing so was due to their skillful manipulation of public sentiment and religious expectations.

Derrett concludes by proposing a scenario in which Jesus survived the crucifixion but later died from complications such as gas gangrene. The disciples, motivated by self-interest and exploiting the Jewish belief in bodily ascension, concealed the location of Jesus’ final burial place and used the empty tomb and the “appearances” to promote a closed corpus of authority based on Jesus’ continuing presence through the Holy Spirit. They then successfully disseminated this message by appealing to the spiritual aspirations of potential converts and by offering the promise of eternal reward for adherence to Jesus’ teachings.

Chapter 12: By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus by Robert M. Price

Price presents a scathing critique of William Lane Craig’s apologetic arguments for the resurrection, highlighting his tendentious methodology, his reliance on logical fallacies, and his ultimately circular reasoning. He argues that Craig’s work represents a regression in biblical scholarship, characterized by dogmatic presuppositions and a disregard for critical historical methods.

Price begins by comparing Craig’s apologetics to Scientific Creationism, arguing that both represent a covert attempt to control intellectual inquiry with dogma. He challenges Craig’s claim that a recent conservative trend in New Testament scholarship represents an “enlightenment,” arguing that it is more akin to a failure of nerve in the face of scientific discovery.

Price then critiques Craig’s appeal to consensus as a form of evidence, highlighting the false analogy with appeals to expert testimony in practical matters like legal or medical decisions. He argues that in intellectual discussions, unlike practical matters, there is no time constraint and one is free to critically examine all available evidence and arguments. He also notes the inherent circularity of Craig’s approach, which begins by assuming the truth of Christianity and then seeking to find evidence that supports this pre-existing belief.

Price then challenges Craig’s “Double Truth” model, arguing that it is more accurately a “half-truth,” since Craig admits that his arguments are ultimately beside the point and that unbelief stems from a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. He argues that Craig’s dismissal of those who disagree with him as “unbelievers” hiding behind a “smoke screen” of insincere arguments is a projection of his own apologetic strategy, which relies on rhetorical tricks and manipulation rather than genuine historical research.

Price then tackles Craig’s attempt to evade the principle of analogy in historical reasoning by claiming that critics reject miracle stories because of “naturalistic presuppositions.” He argues that historians do not reject all miracle stories on principle, but only those that lack sufficient evidential support and are inconsistent with our background knowledge of the world. He points out that Craig himself relies on the principle of analogy when he rejects miracles reported in non-biblical texts.

Price argues that the real issue is not “supernaturalism” versus “naturalism,” but whether the historian should abdicate his role as a critical sifter of evidence by accepting the dogma of biblical inerrancy. He contends that Craig, by defining the Gospel as the truth, has created a circular system in which his faith can never be disproved.

Price then examines Craig’s attempts to harmonize contradictions between the empty tomb stories of the Gospels and the list of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. He criticizes Craig’s claim that Paul knew about the empty tomb, arguing that it is based on an implausible reconstruction of events and a tendentious reading of Paul’s text. He also points out that there are competing burial traditions, such as the account in Acts that Jesus was buried by his enemies, which undermine Craig’s assumption that a vacant tomb is the only alternative to a “spiritual” resurrection.

Price also critiques Craig’s argument from the lack of veneration of Jesus’ tomb, arguing that it is a weak argument from silence and that an occupied tomb would have been suppressed by Christian authorities once the empty tomb story gained acceptance.

Price concludes by arguing that Craig’s attempts to “exhume Jesus” are based on a flawed methodology and a dogmatic commitment to a predetermined conclusion. He contends that Craig’s apologetics are ultimately a form of priestcraft, designed to protect traditional Christian beliefs from the challenges of critical historical inquiry.

Chapter 13: Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli on the Hallucination Theory by Keith Parsons

Parsons critically examines thirteen objections to the hallucination theory presented by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics. He argues that none of these objections are compelling and that the hallucination theory remains a viable explanation for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

Parsons begins by analyzing the first objection, which states that there were too many witnesses for the appearances to have been hallucinations. He points out that Kreeft and Tacelli define “hallucination” as a private experience, but that mass hallucinations are well-documented phenomena. He provides several historical examples, including the “Angels of Mons” and the “miraculous” manifestations of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, and discusses the factors that contribute to the occurrence of collective delusions, such as shared expectations and social reinforcement. Parsons concludes that the simultaneous “sightings” of Jesus by groups of disciples are no more remarkable than similar reports about Elvis Presley or Jimmy Hoffa.

Parsons then addresses the second objection, which states that the disciples were simple, honest, and moral people, and therefore unlikely to have hallucinated. He argues that the Gospels do not portray the disciples as particularly moral or insightful, noting their frequent displays of disbelief, disloyalty, and even cowardice. Furthermore, he argues that hallucinations are not limited to dishonest or immoral people, and that decent, honest people have been experiencing and believing in delusions for thousands of years. Parsons concludes that the disciples’ character does not make them immune to hallucinations.

The third objection Parsons examines concerns the appearance to 500 brethren at once, which Kreeft and Tacelli argue is more remarkable than 500 separate hallucinations. Parsons argues that Paul’s account of this “appearance” lacks the crucial details that would make it credible, and that it is unclear whether Paul even meant that the crowd saw a physical person rather than experiencing a collective vision.

Parsons then addresses the fourth objection, which claims that hallucinations usually last only a few minutes, while the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days. He argues that the “forty day” motif is a common symbolic trope in both the Old and New Testaments, and that the actual appearances recounted in the Gospels are limited to a much shorter period, suggesting that the author of Acts was not intending to portray a continuous physical presence of Jesus for forty days.

The fifth objection Parsons examines is that hallucinations usually happen only once, while Jesus appeared many times to ordinary people. He points out that this claim is not supported by the psychological literature on hallucinations and that there is no reason to think normal people cannot experience multiple hallucinations, particularly under stressful circumstances. He cites the high prevalence of hallucinations in the general population and the common experience of bereavement hallucinations as evidence for this possibility.

Parsons then addresses the sixth objection, which claims that hallucinations come from within, while Jesus’ appearances were surprising and unexpected. He argues that dreams often contain surprising and unexpected elements, and provides numerous historical examples of people experiencing vivid hallucinations that led to surprising and unexpected actions.

The seventh objection Parsons examines is that the disciples did not expect Jesus’ appearances and were initially skeptical of them. He argues that the Gospels’ portrayal of the disciples as initially skeptical is a later legendary development, designed to answer the accusations of their enemies and to bolster the credibility of the resurrection claim. He also points out that the disciples’ alleged skepticism is inconsistent with their supposed previous experiences of Jesus performing miracles, suggesting that either they were not so skeptical or the miracle stories are not historical.

Parsons then addresses the eighth, ninth, and tenth objections, which state that hallucinations do not eat, that the disciples touched the risen Jesus, and that they conversed with him. He argues that these details are simply not true of hallucinations, and that there is no evidence from the psychological literature to support the claim that sane people cannot hallucinate such things. He also notes that the appearance narratives are late legendary developments, embellished to answer the objections of non-Christians, and that the earliest accounts, like Paul’s testimony in 1 Corinthians, lack these details.

The eleventh objection Parsons examines is that the apostles would not have believed in the hallucination theory if Jesus’ corpse had still been in the tomb. Parsons analyzes the logic of this argument, concluding that it is based on the flawed assumptions that Jesus was buried in an identifiable tomb, that the disciples knew where he was buried, and that they would have checked for the body. He argues that Jesus was likely buried dishonorably in a common grave, and that even if he had been placed in a tomb, his body would have been too decomposed to be identifiable by the time the disciples might have checked.

The twelfth objection Parsons addresses is that the Jews would have stopped the “hallucinogenic” story if they could have produced the body. He argues that by the time the disciples began to proclaim the resurrection, Jesus’ body would have been too decomposed to be identifiable, and that even if the authorities had produced a corpse, the disciples would simply have denied that it was Jesus’.

Finally, Parsons examines the thirteenth objection, which claims that the hallucination theory cannot explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the corpse. He argues that this argument falsely assumes that the hallucination theory must explain every detail of the resurrection narratives, and that skeptics are not obligated to accept these stories as 100 percent accurate. He draws an analogy with UFO abduction stories, which also involve claims of unexplained phenomena that cannot be corroborated, arguing that the Christian apologetic strategy is akin to claiming that only real aliens in real spaceships can explain all the UFO data.

Parsons concludes that none of Kreeft and Tacelli’s objections to the hallucination theory are compelling, and that the theory remains a viable explanation for the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. He argues that the hallucination theory, combined with an understanding of the legendary development of the empty tomb and appearance stories, offers a more plausible and parsimonious explanation for the available evidence than the resurrection hypothesis.

Chapter 14: Swinburne on the Resurrection by Michael Martin

Martin critiques Richard Swinburne’s probabilistic argument for the resurrection in The Resurrection of God Incarnate. He argues that Swinburne’s probability estimates are unrealistic and that, once corrected, the probability of the resurrection falls well below 50 percent.

Martin begins by examining Swinburne’s background assumption that the existence of God is as probable as not. He argues that Swinburne’s concept of God is incoherent and that his theistic explanations conflict with our background knowledge. Martin highlights three conceptual problems with Swinburne’s God: (1) God cannot know anything about the future, including whether anything is morally right or wrong; (2) God’s being disembodied conflicts with his being all-knowing; and (3) God’s being all-knowing conflicts with his being morally perfect.

Martin then analyzes Swinburne’s claim that theistic personal explanations are simpler than their rivals. He argues that theistic explanations are improbable in light of our background knowledge of how personal explanations work, and that even if theism is simpler than its rivals, this does not entail that it is more probable. He also notes that naturalism seems to be a simpler theory than theism.

Next, Martin examines Swinburne’s attempts to explain evil and miracles, arguing that his solutions to these problems are inadequate. He criticizes Swinburne’s Free Will Defense, pointing out its dependence on the dubious notion of contra-causal freedom and the implausibility of reconciling free will with brain science through quantum theory. He also criticizes Swinburne’s explanation of natural evil, arguing that his claim that animal suffering is necessary for the animals’ own good is inconsistent with his admission that animals lack free will. Moreover, Martin argues that Swinburne’s admission of the existence of heaven, a world without suffering and with free will, undermines his justification for evil in our world.

Martin then challenges Swinburne’s estimate that, given the existence of God, the Incarnation and Resurrection are as probable as not. He argues that the satisfaction theory of atonement, which Swinburne adopts, is problematic and that the Incarnation and Resurrection are not the best means of atoning for sin. He also criticizes Swinburne’s claims about God’s sharing in human suffering and providing paradigm examples of moral goodness, concluding that Swinburne’s estimate for the probability of the Incarnation and Resurrection is too high.

Martin then examines the probability of the evidence used to support the claim that Jesus is the Incarnated God, arguing that it is not very probable. He critiques Swinburne’s claims about Jesus leading a perfect life, teaching the atonement, and predicting his return within the lifetime of his followers, concluding that Swinburne’s estimate for this probability is too optimistic.

Next, Martin analyzes the probability of the evidence for the Resurrection given Swinburne’s background assumptions. He argues that the lack of independent confirmation from Jewish and pagan sources and the failure of other New Testament texts to support the details of the Resurrection story lower this probability. He also challenges Swinburne’s principle of testimony, arguing that the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, particularly in religious movements, provides counterevidence.

Martin then considers the probability of the evidence on alternative explanations, such as hallucination and fraud. He argues that Swinburne’s estimate of 1/1000 for this probability is far too low, even if we do not elaborate on the alternative explanations. He also critiques Swinburne’s claim that the traditional account of the Resurrection is simpler than elaborated alternative accounts, arguing that simplicity is not the only consideration in theory choice and that the traditional account requires its own elaborations to accommodate the evidence.

Finally, Martin re-computes the probability of Jesus being the Resurrected God Incarnate using more realistic figures. He concludes that, given the corrected probability estimates, Swinburne fails to show that the resurrection claim is probable.

Chapter 15: Reformed Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics by Evan Fales

Fales argues that Reformed epistemology, as articulated by Alvin Plantinga, C. Stephen Evans, and Peter van Inwagen, leads to a hermeneutical approach that is both cognitively disastrous and dangerous. He critiques the Reformed claim that Christians know the “Great Things” of the Gospels in a properly basic way through the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, arguing that this view ignores the overwhelming evidence of disagreement and incoherence within Christian tradition, and that it would represent a return to the divisive and destructive hermeneutical approaches of the sixteenth century.

Fales begins by contrasting the Reformed view of religious knowledge with the traditional Christian reliance on the authority of the Church and the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and critical historical methods. He argues that Reformed epistemology, by rejecting both tradition and reason in favor of the direct promptings of the Holy Spirit, undermines the possibility of genuine dialogue and progress in biblical interpretation.

Fales then examines Plantinga’s A/C (Aquinas/Calvin) model of Christian knowledge, which posits a sensus divinitatis that is degraded by original sin but can be restored through the work of the Holy Spirit. He argues that Plantinga’s claim that Christians know the “Great Things” of the Gospels in a properly basic way is problematic, since there is no clear consensus on what these “Great Things” are, and the history of Christian creedal pronouncements is marked by contradiction and disagreement.

Fales then compares and contrasts Historical Biblical Criticism (HBC) with Traditional Christian Biblical Commentary (TBC), arguing that TBC’s principles of scriptural perspicuity and divine inspiration are untenable in light of the difficulties and disagreements surrounding biblical interpretation. He critiques Plantinga’s attempts to discredit HBC by arguing that its methodological principles are flawed or biased, concluding that the genuine debates within HBC occur at a more specific level, concerning historical matters and specialized tools of research, rather than at the level of global principles.

Fales then examines some of the historical findings of HBC, highlighting its success in establishing reasonably firm conclusions about various biblical narratives, such as the dependence of the Genesis creation account on ANE myths, the mythical nature of the Exodus story, the unreliability of biblical prophecies, and the late dates of the Gospels. He argues that these findings, along with the pervasive disagreements within TBC, demonstrate that Scripture is anything but perspicuous for contemporary Christians.

Fales then criticizes the Reformed attempt to circumvent the problem of miracles by arguing that God’s interventions in the natural order need not violate the laws of nature. He points out that such a view fails to address the problem of how divine causation could be reconciled with the laws of physics, and argues that there is no principled reason why supernatural causation, if metaphysically possible, could not be detected scientifically.

Fales then analyzes the Reformed defense of testimony as an irreducible source of knowledge. He argues that while Coady’s refutation of Hume’s “reductionist thesis” correctly identifies the necessary presupposition of truth-telling for the existence of language, it does not undermine the need for empirical confirmation of the reliability of testimony. He argues that the inductive process of learning and interpreting language embeds a ground-level principle of interpretive charity that applies to the domain of the familiar and easily recognizable, but that this principle can be overridden by evidence that contradicts testimony or suggests the possibility of error or fraud.

Fales concludes by arguing that the Reformed approach to biblical hermeneutics is dangerous because it encourages a fideistic acceptance of scriptural claims, regardless of their plausibility or evidential support. He suggests that the A/C model of Christian knowledge, which privileges the subjective promptings of the Holy Spirit over reason and evidence, is disconfirmed by the cacophony of contradictory claims made by Christians throughout history. He concludes that a return to the Spirit-driven hermeneutics of the Reformation era would be a disaster, and that a commitment to critical historical methods remains the only viable path toward a genuine understanding of the Bible.


“Jesus Beyond the Grave” presents a collection of essays that challenge the traditional Christian understanding of the resurrection of Jesus. It meticulously scrutinizes the historical, logical, and theological foundations of the resurrection claim, offering alternative explanations and questioning the reliability of the biblical evidence. While the book’s contributors hold varying viewpoints on the nature and historicity of Jesus himself, they all agree that the traditional claim of a physical resurrection is highly improbable and lacks sufficient evidential support. This book provides a crucial contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, offering a valuable resource for those seeking a critical and intellectually honest evaluation of the evidence.

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