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Was Jesus’ body reburied?

On Friday night I participated in a debate on the resurrection of Jesus with atheist James Fodor (President Melbourne University Secular Society). We were debating what best explains the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. It was a well natured and thought-provoking event (and quite well attended as well – which was pleasing).

I argued that there were several historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection which require explanation. Refreshingly (and perhaps somewhat controversially in some atheistic circles) James did not deny any of these facts a priori.

The first of these facts that require explanation was that on the Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion women found Jesus’ tomb empty. Most intriguingly (and surprisingly) James agreed  with this fact – that on the Sunday morning women did indeed find the tomb empty.

Whilst we agreed on the fact, we disagreed on its interpretation. James asserted that the women found the tomb empty because the body had been reburied, whereas I asserted that the women found the tomb empty because Jesus had been raised from the dead.

So which interpretation is more plausible?

The reburial thesis in more detail

James argued that after sundown on the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea reburied the body in another tomb (or taken to a common grave) without the knowledge of the disciples or the women. Hence when the women arrived on the Sunday morning, the tomb was empty.

I suggest that reburial is completely implausible. I argue that the resurrection becomes the most reasonable because of the failure of any naturalistic theory to properly account for all the facts.

Assessing the reburial thesis

The reburial hypothesis utterly fails for the following reasons.

  • There is no evidence of any reburial. There is no positive evidence to suggest a reburial, e.g. archaeological or testimonial evidence from any source that Jesus’ body was reburied. No early counter-apologists or theorists have ever proposed reburial. The earliest alternative explanation for the empty tomb was that the disciples stole the body. There was no early attempt from opponents to suggest that Joseph reburied Jesus elsewhere. In John 20:2 Mary Magdalene assumes reburial because this would be the natural response to an empty tomb (this also shows how unexpected resurrection was). The key question remains why she and the early church didn’t continue to believe in reburial (or theft)?  Particularly given that in the same narrative, John records the disciples recognising the grave clothes that Jesus had been buried in (John 20:6-7).
  • Isn’t the empty tomb evidence of reburial? James suggested that the empty tomb was evidence for reburial, but this assumes the very thing you’re trying to prove. The empty tomb is the fact we’re trying to explain – we can’t automatically assume it’s evidence for reburial. An empty tomb is equally convincing evidence of a resurrection (unless your presuppositions drive you elsewhere).
  • The unlikely silence of Joseph of Arimathea. This proposal assumes that Joseph of Arimathea moved the body and told nobody. This is implausible for several reasons:
    • Joseph was a believer and would have been known to Jesus’ followers. If he had reburied the body and inadvertently forgotten to tell anyone, it seems inconceivable that the early community wouldn’t have gone to ask him where he had moved it.
    • It appears Joseph was known to the authors of the Gospels (and also likely Nicodemus as well who appears with Joseph in John’s account). The fact that Joseph is named in the narrative suggests that Joseph was known to the recipients of the Gospels (as was Nicodemus) as well as the authors i.e. the testimony would have been connected with Joseph. It appears likely that the authors of the Gospels would have consulted with Joseph and he would have been able to explain if he reburied the body.
    • Joseph would still have been a follower of Jesus when the Gospels were published. The Gospels were published some 30+ years after the events and Joseph would have still been a believer (given what the Gospels say about him). If Joseph knew that the body was elsewhere, it is unlikely that he would be a believer in the resurrection and still a Christian believer.
    • Jesus’ followers would have wanted to give Jesus a proper burial. It seems completely unlikely that the body would have moved and his friends and followers wouldn’t have been informed – so they could finish the burial processes (precisely what the women came to do on the Sunday morning).
  • It was the Sabbath (and a particularly holy one). Jesus was buried on the Friday afternoon because the Saturday was the Passover – a particularly holy Sabbath. Joseph was a member of the Council of the Sanhedrin and would have been particularly concerned for ritual cleanliness and hence he would not defile himself by carrying a dead body on the the Sabbath (explicitly forbidden under Jewish law). It defies belief that on one of the most important Jewish holidays a leading member of the Council will stagger around carrying a dead body with 30 kilos of spices. Now James recognised this weakness in his theory and hence he proposed that instead Joseph would have waited until after sundown – after the conclusion of the Sabbath – to perform the reburial. Yet this fails to account for the next point…
  • It would have been dark. Even if Joseph waited until after sundown to move the body to be ritually clean, it would have been dark. Ancient cities were dangerous places at night and there were no street lights. It is completely implausible that a respected Jew at the conclusion of particularly holy Sabbath would go out in the dark, stumbling around with a body and 30 kilos of spices searching for a new tomb when there was no pressing need to rebury the body. Even if he had to rebury the body in haste (which is still unlikely) he could have waited until Sunday morning at first light, and that’s precisely the reason that the women went to anoint the body on the Sunday morning at this time as this was the earliest opportunity they had. If Joseph needed to rebury the body there would have been no need to move the body until the Sunday morning – he would have expected the body to still be there!
  • There is no motivation for Joseph to move the body. Why would Joseph move the body and why the rush and why would he not tell anyone? No-one was anticipating a resurrection, so there would have been no reason to move the body quickly.
  • The Jews cared for their dead (even for dead criminals). The Jews would have wanted to properly care for their dead. Even criminals were allowed a proper burial (even those buried in common graves), it seems incredulous that the body would have been moved and no-one cared to find it and wanted to carry out the necessary period of mourning, especially given that Joseph was a friend of the disciples of Jesus!
  • There were guards at the tomb. Jesus was tried for crimes against the state and hence it is hardly plausible that they would have allowed someone to move the body in the middle of the night. Matthew records guards placed by the tomb to prevent precisely such actions. How Joseph overcame the guards in the middle of the night to simply rebury the body defies clear explanation.

Conclusion

In many respects it appears that James’ theory is a modified version of ‘the disciples stole the body’. He argues that ‘Joseph (a disciple) took the body and didn’t tell anyone’. Yet for the reasons outlined above, it seems implausible that Joseph (or anybody) reburied the body of Jesus.

Hence we are still left with the historical fact that James recognises of an empty tomb. Given the utter implausibility that the body was reburied, I wonder if James will accept the other alternative to explain the empty tomb?

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A debate: Jesus’ resurrection best explains the historical facts

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Christianity stands or falls on the historical events surrounding that first Easter. If there was no resurrection then the Christian message is false. What best explains the happenings on that first Easter morning? Was there a resurrection? Hallucinations? A mistake?

Join us on the eve of Easter for a respectful debate between atheist James Fodor (President Melbourne University Secular Society) and Christian Robert Martin (Melbourne Director City Bible Forum) on this most important of topics.

7pm Friday 18th March

Coopers Inn (Level 1, 282 Exhibition St)

Cost: $10 per ticket

REGISTER HERE

All profits from the evening (after room hire and promotional costs are recovered) will go to help ‘Deworm the world‘ an initiative which will offer enormous benefits for children in the developing world.


About our speakers:

James Fodor is President of Melbourne University Secular Society. He regularly engages issues relating to Christianity, belief and atheism and he blogs at Godless Theist.

Robert Martin is Melbourne Director of City Bible Forum. He regularly speaks and writes about Christianity, culture and atheism and blogs at Atheist Forum.


This is a joint event between City Bible Forum and Melbourne University Secular Society.

The big surprise about an evening with Sam Harris

Last weekend I attended An Evening with Sam Harris hosted by Think Inc at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. A packed room of at least 1000 people heard one of the ‘four horsemen of the non-apocalypse’. I have read a number of Harris’ works and engaged extensively with his works and I always enjoy hearing high profile speakers live, so I was quite looking forward to the evening.

I’ve collected some of my thoughts in this review and I must confess the evening was mixed. There were some excellent moments and other parts which were, slow or well, even boring.

1. A quality host makes for a quality night. I must confess I was a little surprised when the evening began and it became clear that Sam Harris wasn’t going to give a presentation. I was expecting a similar format to that of the Holy Trinity Down Under. Instead Harris was interviewed for an hour by comedian and former Project host, Charlie Pickering. Pickering was an excellent pick as host. He was knowledgeable, quick witted and provided real energy to the discussion (which was unfortunately needed at times).

I particularly appreciated his comment after playing a clip of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking about the massive problems in Islam which required a ‘reformation and an enlightenment’. Pickering quipped, ‘it’s ironic that a Jesuit-Catholic was calling for a Reformation’. Unfortunately the cleverness of Pickering’s observation was lost on the mostly atheist audience.

2. Sam needed a sleep. Throughout the evening Sam Harris seemed tired. He is naturally quietly spoken, but during the evening I felt this was accentuated. He was rarely animated and despite the best efforts of Pickering the conversation was at times technical and even boring. Harris speaks with great precision but the conversation lacked consistent energy and a solid hour dealing with philosophical topics can be a little wearying. Given the price for the evening (the cheapest tickets were $79) it might have been wise to let Harris have a couple more days resting up.

Moreover, this was perhaps where Pickering needed to engage more contemporary and personal issues in the conversation. This was the main weakness of Pickering’s approach. The great opportunity of an ‘evening with…’ is to get behind the scenes, to hear things that you couldn’t otherwise glean from a person’s writings. Yet I felt that Harris just shared what he had written in his books and hence for the most part I felt that Harris shared little that I hadn’t already read in his writings or knew. This made for a disappointing experience.

With that said, the most interesting, and engaging, part of the conversation was the opening discussion on gun ownership.

3. Gun ownership is like a religion. I was surprised when Pickering opened the conversation with questions on guns. The ethics of gun control is a fascinating source of division within the atheist community (often between North Americans and the rest of the world), and Harris himself has been at the heart of such division e.g. see this piece. Hence this was a great opportunity for genuine controversy and disagreement. Harris admitted that he got hate mail from both sides!

Harris made the fascinating admission that ‘gun ownership’ to some was like a religion, ‘gun ownership is their central identity’. Harris estimated that there might be around 1 million adherents to this ‘religion’. I agree with Harris’ perspective that gun ownership is like a religion. Interestingly this admission demonstrates that atheism and religion are not binary opposites (as I outline here). Perhaps it would be worthwhile to ask how dangerous the ‘gun ownership religion’ might be?

4. The irony and inconsistency of denying free will. The most technical aspect of the conversation surrounded the philosophy and science of free will. Pickering pushed and asked excellent questions to unpack some of Harris’ contention that we do not have free will. Harris maintained that all we have to explain human behaviour are our genes and environment. He contented that before making a “choice”, ‘we know neuro-physiologically your mind is made up’.

This naturally led to questions of the nature of fatalism and determinism. Harris rejected fatalism suggesting that we still have a choice, ‘there is no sense of inevitability, but mystery’. I wonder how many atheists are satisfied with the acceptance that our ‘choice’ is simply a ‘mystery’?

Despite Harris’ protestations, his conclusion that choice resides in some form of ‘mystery’ undermines his proposal to deny free will. If our decisions are simply the result of our genes and environment – then it’s hard to not see determinism sliding into fatalism. The slide to fatalism represents that we are just dancing to the tune of DNA in a giant system.

Harris’ proposal also fundamentally undermines the notion that there are such people as ‘freethinkers’. In Harris’ view there are no such thinkers – hence some of the language used in atheist gatherings should be modified. Perhaps to ‘gene and environment reactors’?

The assertion to deny free will had many and enormous implications for the later conversations about the ‘goodness’ and value of alternative cultural systems (notably Islam) – the irony of which seemed to be lost on all participants.

Why are we so critical of ‘bad’ people? Why are we critical of ‘sub-optimal’ decisions that affect human well-being? Why are we so critical of a man who kills his daughter out of shame because she’s raped?

Harris’ response to this particular scenario was, ‘what are the chances that represents a peak of human suffering?’. Harris suggested that this act should be ‘unthinkable, a ghastly misuse of human life’. Yet if you deny ‘free will’ then this man was just doing what his genes and environment told him. it plainly wasn’t unthinkable. It becomes hard to raise any objections against the man’s moral responsibility or utility. Once free will is denied, it seems impossible to avoid moral relativism.

Why does Harris think this doesn’t represents a ‘peak’ of human suffering (hence a morally correct decision)? Because his genes and environment told him.

Why does the the man who kills his daughter think this is the right thing to do (hence a morally correct decision)? Because his genes and environment told him.

Who is right?

Ultimately it’s the one with the most power to coerce the other (and that’s exactly what their genes and environment led them to do).

Without free will there can be no moral responsibility. Without moral responsibility the critiques on Islam and other ideologies lose force. Just as you can’t lock up hurricanes, how can we then critique or lock up any ‘false’ ideologies or valleys in the moral landscape. The moral landscape is reduced to a sea of DNA and we sail along wherever it takes us.

5. Be careful when criticising dogma. After a long period discussing guns, psychedelic drugs, free will, ethics and the power of ideas, we finally got to what I was anticipating – a forthright criticism of religion and theism.

Harris responded to the critique that some atheists are just as fundamentalist and dogmatic as religions. He thought this was a ‘cute move’ which ‘goes over smoothly’, but suggested that it was a totally false analogy.

It was false because ‘there is no principle in “not being convinced” as accepting claims religiously without evidence and argument.’ He proposed that there are ‘thousands’ of dead gods that ‘every’ Christians and Muslims reject without paying them any attention. Hence all the atheist needs to just reject them all.

Harris’ argument appears to be built on the assumption that religiously held beliefs are all held without evidence and argument – which is a dogmatic assertion of many atheists believe – ironically contrary to the evidence [the reasons and evidence for theistic belief may be bad, but they are still based on reason and evidence]. Similarly the idea that because Christians reject all other gods means that we can reject all gods appears to justify wholesale communal ignorance i.e. because a Christian rejects Thor with no justification, then an atheist can justify rejecting all gods. Where is the critical enquiry?

His ‘argument’ rests on ignorance, laziness, assertion and ironically dogma. So rather than demonstrating how the analogy was ‘totally false’, Harris seemingly demonstrated its truth.

Moreover, throughout the evening Harris was critical of ‘dogma’. yet when you deny free will and with it free thinking, how is impossible to avoid the conclusion that everyone believes their own ‘dogma’ simply based on their genes and environment?

6. The underdog steals the show. I confess I’d not heard much of Maajid Nawaz before the evening. Yet, the dynamic of the evening changed remarkably when he came onstage. He brought energy and rhetorical flourishes that I had expected from Harris. Nawaz really did steal the show. Harris’ comments seemed pedestrian and less incisive than Nawaz who engaged the questions with thought and intellect as he engaged a fascinating discussion on the nature of being liberal and the ‘regressive’ left.

If the ‘clap-o-meter’ (the somewhat annoying tendency for the audience to clap seemingly profound statements) was any barometer of audience engagement then the last half of the evening was far more engaging than the first (where Harris by himself rarely got an applause).

This was the big (and pleasant) surprise about an evening with Sam Harris.

7. Where were the women (again)? Like many other atheist ‘rallies’ that I’ve attended there was a certain irony in the critiques of Nawaz and Harris and other questioners about religious misogyny. With no female stage presence, and a predominantly male audience and only one female questioner amongst a whole line of men, the critique loses some force. I recognise the challenge in organising an event when your main speakers are male, but there seemed no self-awareness of the irony of this critique. Again, this event demonstrated that modern atheism is profoundly dominated by young white males.

Overall. The evening was mixed. It was nice to hear Sam Harris in the flesh, but unfortunately he didn’t really share much that I hadn’t already read or heard. The undoubted highlight was the conversation, dynamism and insights of Maajid Nawaz alongside the wit and humour of Charlie Pickering. Sam Harris himself was well, a bit disappointing.

 

Is Iceland the atheist paradise?

Iceland

I saw this meme shared by a couple of atheist Facebook pages today including Atheist Alliance International and Anti-Theist Propaganda.

As you can see it proposes Iceland as some kind of paradise. Iceland has no army, they clamp down on corruption, a strong economy and low crime – a paradise indeed, built on atheism.

Yet a little bit of research demonstrates that these claims seem to fall apart.

1. Iceland has no army. 

I’m a little unsure how this makes Iceland being a better place to live. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m not sure how having no army makes a country secure and safe from any foreign threats? If anything it would make a country more of a target for any potential rogue state.

2. Iceland’s economy is booming.

Iceland’s economy may be growing at the moment, but this growth has been somewhat precarious. This article from Fortune magazine shows that Iceland’s economy suffered a ‘spectacular collapse’ in 2008, which precipitated the European Debt Crisis. Before this collapse the Icelandic economy was in the grip of a property bubble of ‘unmitigated proportion’. The high growth of Iceland is somewhat artificial as it’s harder to buy imported goods which give an ‘artificial boost’ to the local economy and restricting what locals can buy.

More recently the Icelandic economy has recovered but the OECD describes its recovery as ‘solid’, not quite the optimistic ‘booming’ that the meme implies. Real GDP has only just recently passed the peak pre-GFC.

So I would suggest that it’s a bit misleading to say that the economy has been ‘booming’

3. Iceland has an atheist majority.

This is the most contentious of claims. The official statistics of Iceland indicate nearly 23,000 people or about 12.5% of the population identify as “Other and not specified” and “No religious organisation”. This contrasts with the number of people identifying with The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland – 73.76% of the population.

It’s certainly possible that most of the people identifying with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland are atheist, but that would seem to be a strange conclusion to draw.

There is no question that Iceland has a large convinced atheist population, but to suggest that it’s a majority seems to be misleading at best and without justification.

Conclusion

There is nothing wrong with creating memes which convey simple truths in pithy and memorable ways. But I think it’s more important to create memes which actually reflect truthful statements.

Debate: Is God really there? Robert Martin vs Raphael Lataster (part 2)

In November last year I participated in a debate on the topic, ‘Is God really there?’ It was hosted by the Sydney Atheists.

The first part of the debate is here. The Q&A time and closing statements are now uploaded. I tried my best to put the questions on the screen (as sound is a little difficult at times). Would love your thoughts.

Freedom of speech: some questions for Russell Blackford

I have just been reading some of Russell Blackford’s book, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. This is a challenging issue in our current society and Blackford’s book deals with many controversial issues of our society.

I was most interested in his chapter on freedom of speech and what I read was generally excellent. I broadly agreed with and accepted Blackford’s thesis and the framework he drew, but any ethical theory is only as good as it’s application. Hence I wanted to ask Russell some questions to ‘test’ the application of his theory and help make some judgements on a number of contemporary ethical situations.

Blackford on Freedom of Speech

Blackford’s basic thesis is no single framework or worldview should be imposed by state coercion. The state should not silence opposing views unless ‘they lead to violence or impossibly hostile conditions for citizens to live their lives’ (p.169).

Blackford’s proposal, if applied, would allow society very free and open speech with the state offering very little control or suppression of competing voices. Blackford argues for minimal interference by the state with it’s citizens speech (p.170).

“Citizens may influence the social environment through their speech and expression, but forego the power to suppress the speech and expression of others” (p.169)

The rationale for this freedom Blackford argues is that ‘there is public interest in permitting debate that is not so restrictive of the parties involved. This allows them to express themselves passionately, emotively, and loyally’ (p.173)

However Blackford does not envisage complete freedom of speech as he does draw some limits. He suggests we need to have provisions for ‘threats, defamation and fraudulent representations’ (p.170). Yet Blackford is critical of suppressing speech simply because if causes offense. He proposes that ‘most forms of speech are not directly harmful’ (p.171). Curiously he separates harm from offense, where he seems to understand harm in a ‘direct’ physical sense, where it incites violence or causes an intense emotional reaction. Blackford warns against prohibiting speech that is merely offensive: ‘what may be offensive to one person, may be of value to another’ (p.174) and ‘care must be taken to avoid a tyranny of the sensitive’ (p.185).

Blackford’s vision for freedom of speech is a very libertarian and free. Competing voices should be allowed and not suppressed, even if we disagree vehemently. This is a potentially exciting vision for society, where all people get to participate and say what they want. This will be as Blackford acknowledges, ‘inherently messy’ but it would be free.

 

 

There is much to commend in Blackford’s thesis, however the real test of any ethic is its application. Does it work? How will it work?

So I have five questions to ask Russell in how his ethic (and a secular ethic) might be applied to a modern context with modern (real-life) examples and situations.

Questions in application

  1. How and where do we ‘draw the line’? It’s fine to allow freedom of speech but as soon as we allow exceptions, or require ambiguous tests of emotional reaction, the line becomes quite blurry as to what merely causes offense and what causes a ‘high emotional reaction’.
  2. Should foreign anti-vaccination and anti-abortion activists be allowed to enter Australia?
  3. Should a news reporter be allowed to criticise the Anzacs on Anzac Day?
  4. Within this framework and given that we should suppress speech simply because if causes harm, is there such a thing as ‘hate speech’? If so, what would constitute ‘hate speech’? Opposing gay marriage?
  5. Would it be possible in this society for Christian believers to say things which are consistent with their passionately held beliefs, e.g. that people are ‘sinful’ and that ‘homosexuality is wrong’?

I’m really keen to hear how Russell answers these and applies the ethic, because this has enormous implications on how we conduct public debate in our society.

Richard Dawkins nails it: the universe doesn’t give a damn

I just saw this tweet from Richard Dawkins:

It seemed as though he was writing a series of tweets responding to and critiquing an anti-intellectual stance which suggests that, ‘if it feels right, or it comforts me, it must be true’. Hence this message that Dawkins tweeted moments before.

I completely agree with the sentiment expressed in these tweets. Comfort without truth is empty!

Yet what really intrigued me was what he said about the universe. The universe doesn’t care about your feelings.

Do you think the universe gives a damn how you feel?

Dawkins has nailed it. In an atheistic universe the universe doesn’t care about us. It doesn’t care if you’re right. It doesn’t care if you’re wrong. It doesn’t care if you suffer. It doesn’t care if you succeed. It just is and that’s it.

This is precisely what Dawkins himself wrote in one of his most famous quotes from River out of Eden,

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

This describes atheism. In an atheistic universe there is ultimately nothing but blind pitiless indifference. The desire and quest for a better world, for justice, for the ‘good’, for meaning, for hope in the end is doomed.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t seek after them, but that does raise the question of how ‘rational’ their pursuit becomes? Is it rational and reasonable to pursue justice when there ultimately isn’t any? Is it rational and reasonable to promote the ‘good’ when there ultimately isn’t any?

In the end, if Dawkins is right and there is no god, no hope, no meaning and no future, then whether we succeed at life or fail, it doesn’t matter – the universe just doesn’t give a damn.

 

A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: The significance of a flawed king?

A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: Chapter 6 – The promise and failure of King David

The sixth chapter of John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible concludes Dickson’s treatment of the Old Testament. There is a lot of material to cover in the Old Testament and Dickson covers some major themes in a generally helpful way. Though ironically in this chapter as he describes flawed characters, his treatment is also somewhat flawed.

King David – a flawed king

The Old Testament is a large and complex series of writings and may be potentially daunting to the doubter. Yet Dickson rightly and helpfully focuses on a major theme of the Old Testament: the ‘anointed one’ or Messiah.

He helpfully explains what a Messiah is (p.104), what his role was to be (i.e. save God’s people (p.105)), who some of these Messiah figures were (e.g. David) and how these Messiahs saved their people in unexpected ways – notably in David defeating Goliath (p.106-108).

Most interesting in Dickson’s treatment was highlighting the ‘paradox of the Messiahs’. This paradox is whilst these ‘Messiah’ kings are ‘chosen by God and anointed with his power, but they are spectacularly sinful’. Dickson makes the fascinating admission that after reading literature from Egypt, Babylon, Greece or Rome, ‘I have never seen this approach [reporting the sinfulness of heroes] to historical writing in anything I’ve come across’. This obviously doesn’t ‘prove’ that the Old Testament is true, but it may allay the concern that the Old Testament is simply apologetic encomium. Dickson rightly suggests that this reflects the main themes of the Old Testament, the failure of Israel and the patient love of God (p.113).

Allaying the concerns of the more skeptical ‘doubter’ who may question the historical existence of King David, Dickson highlights some of the archaeological evidence for David. Dickson references Tel Dan inscription which makes a clear reference to the House of David which convinces many scholars that David was not a mythical character (p.109).

Dickson rightly concludes his chapter outlining the Old Testament promises of a perfect anointed one and Messiah. Thus leading us to the New Testament.

So what do atheists make of this theme – the anointed one/Messiah? Were you familiar/aware of the concept of the ‘Messiah’? What do you make of the way Messiahs were portrayed? And what of the Tel Dan inscription, were you aware of that?

I’d be keen to hear thoughts.

Weaknesses

As I mentioned in my introduction, there is a certain degree of irony in a chapter which speaks about the weaknesses of the leaders of Israel. For the chapter itself contains three main frustrations and weaknesses which I felt considerably weakened it.

  1. The chapter lacked a clear unifying thread. Unlike some of the earlier chapters which were much clearer, this one seemed a little haphazard. Was it about leadership? Failure? Humility? Servant leadership? It seemed as though the main point was about the ‘anointed Messiah’, but then why open the chapter with a discussion on Dickson’s own book on humility (pp.101-102)? It seemed unrelated to the main point and hence somewhat obscured later points (which as I’ve re-read are actually clearer). The opening story makes the theme of the chapter confusing and the value of this story also leads me to the second weakness.
  2. The value of personal anecdotes? Dickson included three personal stories in this chapter which were of dubious value. One about his book on humility (pp.101-102), one where he stood in the valley of Elah (p.108) and another about sharing a Psalm with a NFL team (p.112). It was unclear on each occasion how the personal anecdote added much to the main point and indeed felt a little like a bragging travelogue. Dickson uses first person stories to great effect, e.g. in sharing about the different types of literature he’s read (p.113), but these just didn’t seem to fit and distracted, rather than supported the point of the chapter.
  3. The Tel Dan inscription. Whist the Tel Dan inscription is important in giving us greater confidence in the existence of an historical David, care must be taken about how much can be extrapolated from it. Dickson claims that the Tel Dan inscription shows that King David was ‘as flesh and blood as Bar Hadad II’ (p. 109). Yet I’m confident that the scholar he quotes, George Athas, would disagree (and I was pulled up by Athas himself in an essay I wrote when I claimed so much). The Tel Dan description speaks only of the house of David, not of the individual person. I don’t think it’s illegitimate to connect the House of David with the real historical character and it is reasonable to suppose that David isn’t simply a mythical figure. But the Tel Dan inscription alone doesn’t allow us to say with complete confidence that Kind David was a ‘flesh and blood person’. Care must be taken when assessing archaeological evidence like this and ensuring we don’t press the evidence beyond what it tells us.

 

Overall

Unfortunately I found the weaknesses a little distracting (most notably the introduction) and made it harder to draw out the main themes. Nonetheless, Dickson has introduced this important topic and explained, with some of the concerns of doubters in mind, the Old Testament theme of the anointed one and how the Old Testament closes awaiting a perfect Messiah.

How Bart Ehrman thinks atheists make themselves look foolish

I saw this video by Bart Ehrman speaking at an atheist convention responding to the question, “I can’t see any evidence in archaeology or history for an historical Jesus”:

It is devastating critique of the Jesus mythicist position.

Ehrman says,

“There is so much evidence that….this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity”

“There is no scholar in any college or university in the western world who teaches Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, early Christianity, any related field who doubts that Jesus existed”

Ehrman recocognises that “that is not evidence…but if you want to know about the theory of evolution vs the theory of creationism and every scholar in every reputable institution in the world believes in evolution. It may not be evidence, but if you have a different opinion you’d better have a pretty good piece of evidence yourself.”

This is very similar to the position Matt Dillahunty takes – which I’ve outlined here.

The key piece of evidence for Jesus’ existence?

“The reason for thinking Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources”

“Early and independent sources certainly indicate that Jesus existed”

“One author we know about knew Jesus’ brother”

“I’m sorry, I respect your disbelief, but if you want to go where the evidence goes…I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism, because frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world”

Why Ricky Gervais wants to drown everyone

Just before Christmas I saw a couple of comments by Ricky Gervais on Facebook concerning animal welfare. They really piqued my interest as they raised deep questions about the value of human life and judgement on evil human behaviour.

Something to make you angry?

The first post was why the death of a man should cheer you up. The second post came a couple of days later about another animal welfare story.

Judgement of wickedness?

What caught my eye was a comment made by Gervais himself commenting on the morality of such an act:

I’m so ashamed of my species. I wish God really did exist so he drown us all like it says in that mental book. I fucking would. [18.551 likes]

It was fascinating that Gervais, a convinced and celebrated atheist, wanted an ultimate judgement! This is something that atheism can never achieve, but it does resonate deeply within us and was precisely the purpose of the great flood of Noah.

Gervais has spoken about Noah in his stand up comedy. In his routine he was critical of the God wanting to wipe out humanity, accusing him of ‘going straight to genocide’. He was critical of what he thought were petty crimes instead warning God of ‘anger management’.

Yet his recent Facebook comment suggests that maybe God does have a case after all?

Gervais seems to have understood and empathised with God who looked out and ‘saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was full of pain’ (Genesis 6:6-7).

Gervais looked out and saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, he was grieved and ashamed.

Perhaps if Gervais’ children’s book on Noah had a picture of a hunter next to a dead animal and a man playing with a dying wolf he’s about to kill, then maybe Gervais might not be so quick at making jokes about the ‘petty’ nature of God’s anger on human wickedness.

Many atheists, including Gervais, criticise the flood of Noah as being an awful, unnecessary,  genocide. Yet deep down it appears that when faced with dreadful human behaviour Gervais has acknowledged that we really do want judgement – and 18,551 people agree.