-- Earl Doherty, Challenging the Verdict, p. 214
Recent frequent commenter David has repeatedly challenged my view, which I presented in my 27 July blog Is I Corinthians 15:3-8 ‘Too Early’ to Be Legend?, that Geisler and Turek, in their popular apologetics book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, begged the question when they asserted that the so-called ‘creed’ which Paul is allegedly quoting in I Cor. 15:3-8 is too early to be the product of legends. Also repeatedly, I have stated my reasons for surmising this (see here, here and here).
David then urged me to reconstruct Geisler and Turek’s argument, which they never formally lay out themselves, and show how that argument commits the fallacy which I have charged it of committing. In one comment, David did me the service of presenting his own rendition of Geisler and Turek’s under-expressed argument, which he culled from statements found on pp. 241-243 of their hokey book. David writes:
In the interest of fairness here is my exposition of the G/T argument from page 241-243:
P1. Legends require sufficient time for development (implicitly assumed)
P2. As corroborated by multiple independent attestation, the crucifixion happened around 30AD
P3. The Gospels record that the Resurrection happened 3 days later
P4. The Corinthian creed predates the writing of Corinth (56AD), probably within 0-3 years of the Resurrection.
P5. 0-3 years is not sufficient time for legend development.
Let's look at these points.
In regard to P1, it is stipulated that “legends require sufficient time for development.” That’s well and good, but the question of how one determines how long a time is "sufficient" for a legend to develop is not adequately explored by Geisler and Turek. How long a time is sufficient, and how does one determine this?
I remember hearing all kinds of stories about Elvis Presley not long after he died in 1977. There were sightings of him virtually every week within months after his death; he was seen in grocery stores from Las Vegas to Monte Carlo, he was seen driving down city streets, he was seen at gas stations, convenience stores, shopping malls, and pictures of him (or what looked like him) were circulating along with these stories, etc. There was even a report of a motorcycle accident in which Elvis, still very much alive, had broken his leg. I always thought these were tongue-in-cheek, but some fans apparently took these reports seriously, and maybe were responsible for generating them to begin with. They had put an undying hope in "the King" – a hope which refused to die with him. The rest of society snickered and sneered while the loyal core held true to the dream. But I don't think anyone who didn't believe these reports felt the need to sit down and launch into refutations, let alone parade Presley's body through the city streets.
Were these stories about Presley legends? Well, I certainly do not think they were factual claims. Were they just tabloid hype intended to sell the gossip rags? Surely these stories were enlisted to promote sales, but does this make them any less factual? And did some people take these stories seriously? Again, they seemed unserious to me, but it also seemed to me that some people certainly were in fact taking them seriously.
While the Elvis phenomenon may be a good test case for how long it takes legends to develop, the one advantage it has is that Elvis’ death can be traced to a date by contemporary records. Elvis died in August of 1977. There is also vast evidence – much much more than sufficient – that Elvis actually existed. But legends focusing on supernatural personages tend to be much more blurry. In such cases, there may not be any actual historical inception date, even approximate, back to which the legend can be legitimately traced. That is, they may have no actual historical basis whatsoever. Can the legends of Mithras, Zoroaster, Dionysos, Osiris, et al., be traced back to some seminal historical event? If not, how can we apply the sufficient time rule to these legends? When did Mithras slay his sacred bull? Can the Mithraen religion be traced back to this event, or did it actually occur in the first place?
Now another point to keep in mind is the fact that legends involving supernatural claims are certainly not going to be unlikely to develop in a culture steeped in worldviews governed by the primacy of consciousness. In such cultures, the basic metaphysical premise of such legends is essentially guaranteed. The evidence we have of first century Palestine and the centuries prior to it and those following after it, sufficiently attests to the widespread acceptance of worldviews assuming the primacy of consciousness. From the Greek pantheon to the official religion of Rome, to the Hellenistic mystery religions, the Egyptian deity cults, and yes, even the culture of Judaism, the primacy of consciousness premise was alive and well, thriving in full bloom at this time in human history. People who accept the primacy of consciousness metaphysics deprive themselves of any consistent rational basis from which to question claims about miracles, miracle workers, magicians, deities, risen saviors, virgin births, miraculous healings, exorcisms, etc. In such a cultural environment we find the basic platform for myth-building and legendary development well established, such that it would difficult to explain if legends did not emerge, especially out of the messianic expectations which had reached their culmination at this time in Judaism. Jews had become desperate for the deliverance promised by the prophesied advent of their Messiah, and it was just a matter of time until inventive mystics were willing to pull one out of their hat.
However, if it is insisted that “legends require sufficient time for development,” and this means a substantial amount of time like, say, 20 years, or even more, this may be exactly what we have in the case of the Jesus story. On pp. 244-245 of their book, Geisler and Turek quote William Lane Craig on the matter, who claims that “tests show that even two generations is too short to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical fact.” What we have in the case of Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament, may in fact be much more than two generations. Wells makes the following points:
If, then, Paul did not regard the earthly Jesus as recently deceased, Alvar Ellegǻrd may be right in suggesting, in his 1999 book, that the earliest Christian ideas about him were to some extent shaped by imprecise knowledge about the Teacher of Righteousness who figures in Dead Sea Scrolls written around 100 B.C. as a revered leader (not the Messiah and no a supernatural personage) to whom God had made known all the mysteries of the prophets, and who had been severely persecuted. Whether he was an actual historical figure or largely a construction to give substance to his followers’ conception of the founder of their movement cannot now be determined. In any case, the Scrolls show that his memory was still treasured a century or more after his presumed death. What his followers thought they knew about him was that he had lived long ago and had been maltreated and persecuted, probably dying as a martyr. It would be natural for those who knew, even indirectly, of what is said of him in, for instance, the Qumran Habakkuk commentary to assume that the persecution eventually led to his martyrdom. The Scrolls do not name him – they avoid actually naming the sectarian personages (including the Teacher’s chief enemies) whom they mention – but ‘Jesus’, which means ‘Yahweh saves’, and hence has connotations of ‘salvation’, would be an appropriate name to have been given at some stage to someone of such religious importance. (Can We Trust the New Testament?, pp. 8-9)
Moving onto P2, we have the premise: “As corroborated by multiple independent attestation, the crucifixion happened around 30AD.” In response to this, we must ask: What do these independent reports allegedly corroborating the claim that a miracle-working man-god was crucified and resurrected in 30 AD actually say, and when were they written? Were these reports written at the time of the alleged event itself? No scholar dates the authorship of any extant text referring to Jesus, either in the New Testament itself or from non-Christian sources, to this time. The earliest we have is Paul, and as we have already seen, he never puts any indicator of time or place for the crucifixion or resurrection. And by all accounts Paul himself was writing from the late AD 40’s into the early 60’s. So even here we are not talking only 0-3 years from the approximate date assigned to the crucifixion going by literalist Christian accounts in the gospel narratives, which blows the “not sufficient time for legend development” thesis out of the water. Apologists seek to get around this by making Paul quote a creed in I Cor. 15:3-8 which, it is alleged, “goes right back to the time and place of the Resurrection itself” (Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, p. 242). But even then apologists are unable to stand by this with anything more than wide approximations; Geisler and Turek, for instance, qualify their statement by allowing from “eighteen months to eight years after,” which only causes one to wonder how they arrive at this kind of conclusion in the first place, especially when Paul gives no indication of when or where or under what circumstances Jesus was crucified, and does not even state that what he is including in his letter is a quotation from a pre-existing creed.
The gospels, the earliest being written at least a decade or more after I Corinthians (which itself is usually dated to about 53-57 AD, even on a conservative estimation, this is more than enough time for a legend to have developed if some seminal crucifixion event took place circa 30 AD), are the first documents from which an approximate date for the crucifixion can be inferred, and even then the best for this is Luke, which many scholars date to the later decades of the 1st century (it is generally accepted that Luke’s gospel contains unmistakable references to the war which resulted in the destruction of the temple in AD 70, and Richard Carrier’s summary of Steve Mason’s argument for Luke’s reliance on Josephus identifies solid reasons why Luke was most probably not written until AD 94 at the earliest). All these sources were composed by Christians, and no non-Christian notice (uninterpolated that is) dates to these periods (again, see my Paul, the Historicity of the Gospel Jesus, and Early Non-Christian Testimony for details). By the early second century you start seeing some brief mentionings of Christians and even of Jesus, but these can be reasonably understood as reports repeating what Christians by this point in time had come to believe. None of this is impressive as corroborating evidence, especially for the kind of event they are purported to corroborate.
P3 states that “The Gospels record that the Resurrection happened 3 days later.” This is the detail of Jesus rising “on the third day,” an early tradition which is older than any reference suggesting any actual date or timeframe for the crucifixion itself, and appears to have been borne from theological purposes rather than from reports deriving from an actual historical event. Addressing this matter, Wells makes the following points regarding this reference in I Cor. 15:
Nor does mention of ‘the third day’ constitute a precise historical allusion. As the other indications of time in the passage (‘then’, ‘after that’) are vague, and as it supplies no time reference for the death of Christ from which to reckon the three days, the preciseness of this one reference in it cannot be attributed to any general interest in chronology, but is (as Evans concedes) more likely intended as ‘a theological statement’ ([Resurrection and the NT], p 48). Pagan gods whom no one now believes to have existed, were resurrected on the third day. Metzger has observed that ‘in the East, three days constitutes a temporary habitation, while the fourth day implies a permanent residence’; hence the purpose of Paul’s formula may be to ‘convey the assurance that Jesus would be but a visitor in the house of the dead and not a permanent resident therein’ ([article on 1 Cor. 15:4 in Journal of Theological Studies, New Series, 8], p 123). The influence of pagan parallels could have been strengthened by the rabbinical idea that the general resurrection – presaged according to Rom. 8:29 and Coloss. 1:18 by Christ’s resurrection – will occur three days after the end of the world. ‘In these conditions’, says Goguel, ‘it is natural that the resurrection of the Christ was placed in a chronological rapport with his death similar to that which was thought would occur between the end of the world and the general resurrection’. If so, then ‘on the third day’ is ‘not a chronological datum, but a dogmatic assertion: Christ’s resurrection marked the dawn of the end-time, the beginning of the cosmic eschatological process of resurrection’ (Fuller, [The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives], pp 26-7, with references to Goguel; cf. Vermes, [Jesus the Jew], pp 234-5 for other saving events occurring, in Jewish lore, ‘on the third day’). (Did Jesus exist?, p. 31)
Even highly credentialed Christian literalists are often prone to misunderstanding the reference to “the third day” in I Cor. 15:4. Again I quote Wells:
I must stress that, although Paul clearly implies that all these appearances were quite recent occurrences which went back no more than a few years, he does not say that they followed the resurrection immediately, or even soon. Even Archbishop Carnley, whose book on the resurrection is the most valuable of the NT evidence that I have seen, says that Paul’s “message involved the startling claim that Jesus had been seen alive three days after his death and burial” ([The Structure of Resurrection Belief], p. 140). It is the resurrection, not the appearances, that Paul puts three days after the burial. He does not say that the burial was recent, nor that the appearances followed soon after the resurrection. People who claim to see a ghost do not necessarily suppose it to be the wraith of someone recently deceased. (The Jesus Myth, p. 125)
P4 affirms that the ‘creed’ which Paul is supposedly reciting in I Cor. 15:3-8 “predates the writing of [I Corinthians] (56AD), probably within 0-3 years of the Resurrection.” Of course, this premise assumes that Paul is in fact quoting from a creed in I Cor. 15. I wonder if the entirety of this creed has ever been located, and if so, has a reliable date been put to it? It would certainly be interesting to see what else it says. Paul never recites it again in his letters, which by itself is perplexing. Regardless, assuming the passage does contain an excerpt from an earlier creed, how can its date be established? What evidence puts it "within 0-3 years of the Resurrection"? What else did this creed say? Is it found anywhere else in the early Christian writings? Interestingly this creed is not found in the many speeches given in Acts, which purports to portray the adventures of Jesus’ apostles (well, at least a few of them) after his resurrection.
Now note the questionable assumption we have here. By alleging that Paul has quoted from an earlier creed which dates “probably within 0-3 years of the Resurrection,” isn’t this assuming that the resurrection actually took place? To say that the origins of a piece of text can be traced back to a specific event, is to assume that the event in question actually happened. Indeed, such statements would be nonsensical if they did not assume the event back to which a textual allusion referred actually took place. So really here we have the offending premise, for it assumes what the legend theory disputes, namely the historicity of the resurrection itself. Naturally the question comes up, in addition to the questions about the dating of the creed which Geisler and Turek have assumed in their argument, as to how we can put a date to the resurrection in the first place. As I have demonstrated over and over, Paul never gives any indication of time, place or circumstances for the resurrection, something he references repeatedly in his several letters. So the date for the resurrection does not come from Paul’s own writings. Where do Geisler and Turek get their date for the resurrection? From the gospels, of course, which are the first documents in the Christian record to associate Jesus’ crucifixion with Pontius Pilate. It is only by reading the gospels into Paul’s letter that one can put a date to what Paul talks about. But as Doherty’s statement which I quoted at the beginning of this blog rightly acknowledges, “reading the Gospels into 1 Corinthians is simply circular reasoning.” So at this point, Geisler and Turek are without a doubt begging the question against the legend theory in their frail attempt to wave it away.
P5 stipulates that “0-3 years is not sufficient time for legend development,” which is only relevant if in fact we have something to date back to and start the clock ticking. If the event which starts the clock is itself disputed in fact not to have taken place, then we cannot simply assume, as Geisler and Turek clearly do, that the event did take place, thus warranting the stopwatch to which this statement appeals. Of course, in response to P5, I wonder how one determines that "0-3 years is not sufficient time for legend development." Why can't a legend develop in, say, 6 months? I just want to know why. After all, the germs of a legend could be born in a passing suggestion. Suppose after the crucifixion, Jesus’ followers, anxious for him to live again, believed that he was resurrected in some otherworldly realm, not necessarily on earth, and not in the flesh as the gospel stories have it? After all, Paul does not say that the appearances he mentions in I Corinthians 15 were made by a physical Jesus appearing to followers in the flesh. Paul makes no effort to distinguish the appearances which Cephas, James and the 500 brethren enjoyed from the one he himself got, and nowhere does Paul say that Jesus appeared to him in a physical body, with fresh wounds and eating fish, etc. These are later traditions not found until the gospels, after the legend had developed.
As for the dating, how do we establish that the legend did not start in some very primitive form around the year of, say, 6 AD or even earlier, like 25 BC, and that only by the time Paul hit the scene, it had become quite developed, fusing OT inspired theology with Wisdom literature motifs and a few influences from pagan religions that were popular at the time (e.g., Mithras, Osiris-Dionysos, Bacchus, etc.) sprinkled in, and by the time that the authors of the gospels hit the scene, the central figure of worship, Jesus, had all sorts of stories sprouting up about him (e.g., virgin birth, baptism by John the Baptist, miracles, healings, wrestling with the devil, raising the dead, trial before Pilate, an empty tomb, etc.)? By this point, it would seem that dating the resurrection to AD 30 would be sensible, given the gospels. But if the gospels themselves are legends, then the claim that the resurrection took place in AD 30 is historically worthless.
So let’s review what we have here: Paul, who gives no date to the crucifixion and resurrection that he ascribes to Jesus, is allegedly quoting from a creed in his letter, dated to ca. 56 AD, claiming that this resurrected Jesus "appeared" to a bunch of people, the vast majority of whom being completely anonymous, and this creed can allegedly be dated back to 30 AD or sometime soon thereafter, with no evidence whatsoever for this dating.
From all of this, David concluded:
Conclusion: The window between Resurrection and resurrection belief is insufficient for legend development.
Related conclusions of this argument that other apologists use: C1. Early belief in the Resurrection requires an alternative explanation.
Then David stated:
C2. The Resurrection actually happening is the best explanation of early resurrection belief.
Again let me just point out that G/T says 'There's no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.' They do not say 'It could not be a legend because the Resurrection actually happened'.
David closed with the following declaration of faith:
I remain firm in my stance that you are incorrectly evaluating the argument when you conclude it is circular.
by Dawson Bethrick