Legends, Lüdemann, and Inductive Inference
A prime example comes from the very passage in Geisler and Turek’s book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist which started our lengthy discussion in the first place, where they say of the passage in question that “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” (p. 242, emphasis added). There is a strong tendency in the apologetic literature to portray apologetic positions and arguments as aligned with, informed and corroborated by the latest, most rigorous historical scholarship. And yet here are Geisler and Turek telling us that “there’s no possible way” that 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 could contain legendary material, even though we are repeatedly told that historical conclusions are at best probable in nature.
In my analysis of Geisler and Turek’s misleading statements about 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, I pointed out that such declarations take the timeline for Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection as found in the NT gospels for granted, which of course begs the question against the legend theory, the very position to which statements like the one quoted from Geisler and Turek are apparently trying to answer. Specifically, Geisler and Turek’s view assumes that Paul was talking of a man who recently lived, who was crucified and resurrected in his own lifetime. Unfortunately, nothing in Paul’s letters explicitly confirm any of this, and statements from Paul’s letters which are taken to imply that Paul’s Jesus was a recent historical figure are questionable at best, and difficult to reconcile with the overall treatment of Jesus found throughout Paul’s letters (see for instance here, here, and here). Paul nowhere gives any explicit timeframe for Jesus’ life on earth, never states when or where he was crucified and resurrected, and only vaguely (without any details pertaining to place, time or situation) mentions Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and even then only in passing, and only once in all his letters, namely in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. This is in stark contrast to the detailed stories we find in the later NT strata, namely the gospel narratives.
In substantiating the position that it is improbable that legends in the first century AD developed in less than a generation, David referenced the work of Gerd Lüdemann, Professor of History and Literature of Early Christian at Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany. According to David, Lüdemann is responsible for breakthrough research on legends in the first century, and found in that research that no legends outside Christianity developed in less than a generation, and may have even taken longer for them to develop. When asked what is meant by “develop” in this context, David clarified as follows: “the idea is that within a generation one would not see much changing of the story” (David Parker, 28 Nov. 2008).
Keep in mind that, prior to having been written down by Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church, this “creed” in I Corinthians 15:3-8 was supposedly an oral tradition that was passed around among Christians. That’s one of the operating assumptions lurking beneath claims, like Geisler and Turek’s, that the content of what we’re reading in this passage “goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.” I have sought from David validation for this assumption, and unfortunately it was rather fleeting, and in his 4 Aug. 2008 comment he admitted that he “cannot personally date the creed,” and “guesses” that I am correct that those who do assign a date of the early 30s AD to what is assumed to be a creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, like Gary Habermas, cannot figure such a dating without relying on the gospels. Without the gospels, there is no indication of a date for Jesus’ crucifixion and no basis for assigning the date of what is claimed to be a creed in the passage in question to the early 30s. Consequently, if the content of the gospels has a legendary character, as the legend theory holds, then they are unreliable for purposes of establishing the date of Jesus' crucifixion. We are then left with the early epistles, which not only fail to identify a timeframe for the crucifixion, but in fact treat it as if it happened in some remote past, with no interest paid to time, place or circumstances of the event in question.
If I Corinthians 15:3-8 does contain an “early creed,” and Paul did not formulate it himself, who did? Of course, there seems to be no clear answer here. If it is a creed, it appears to be anonymous. This apparently does not raise any concerns for Christians insisting that it does contain a creed, for they also typically insist that Paul would have researched it and verified every element of what it stated, otherwise he would not have recited it in his letter. They take statements from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where Paul mentions that he met with Peter and James on his two visits to Jerusalem, as license to make this kind of assumption. We are to believe, then, that Paul was not just out missionizing various gentile locales, but also an avid fact-checker, chasing down any possible shred of evidence to back up every claim he makes in his letters. We are thus assured that Paul did all the necessary homework, and we’re expected to simply believe what he says on this assumption. If a defense could be weaker, I wouldn’t want to see it.
As for the original content of an oral tradition (that is, when it is first formulated), when asked how we can know whether or not the tradition that finally got penned to a piece of paper years later underwent change or remained entirely intact, if it were embellished or modified along the way at some point, David conceded, in a 1 Dec. 2008 comment, that “historians can't know for sure,” but added that “they can formulate what the most probable conclusion [in] that best explains the data.” So we’re back to what someone thinks is “most probable,” and what apparently governs the assessment that a conclusion is “most probable” is how well “it explains the data.” This gives little cause for supposing that what we read in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 in fact reflects an intact oral tradition which originated in the early 30s. Moreover, after ample attempts to criticize my position, I see no reason why the legend theory fails to "best explain... the data," or why it is less probable than the miracle stories contained in the literature.
At any rate we have, on this view, an oral tradition, which gives no details as to time, place or circumstances of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus listed therein, whose author(s) are unknown, whose date of origin is at best speculative and based on later sources which clearly exhibit the telltale marks of legendary development, and which cannot with any confidence be verified not to have undergone change or modification since its original formulation. Paul then picks it up somewhere (though he never calls it a creed, and never identifies any human being(s) as its source), and recites it only one time in all his letters, tagging onto its end his own claim that the risen Christ “appeared” to him, and never elaborating on the experience he claims here to have had in any of his letters. There are numerous other problems with this passage which I will bring out in my next blog. For now, what is interesting at this point is the heavy reliance on inductive methodology in concluding that the New Testament, especially early letters like Paul’s, could not have been tarnished with legendary development.
David made the reliance of the “too early to be legend” thesis on inductive reasoning explicitly clear in several statements he made in the comments section of this blog.
For instance, in his 28 Nov., 2008 comment, David wrote:
The argument is a rather simply inductive move, taking the trend in first century legend develop and extrapolating to a probability about Jesus' story.
is your position akin to the view that, since Ludemann has (purportedly) shown that no other legend in first century Palestine developed in less than a generation, therefore the Christian legend did not develop in less than a generation?
Insert probably before "did not develop" and it looks good. Its called extrapolating from the sample to the general population. The heart of the inductive method.
Okay, so the basic reasoning is: Since it is believed that no other legend in first century Palestine developed in less than a generation, it is supposed that the Christian legend therefore probably did not develop in less than a generation. How’s that?
Yup, just like the old "all observed polar bears are white, therefore inductively we can assume that probably the polar bear in that room is white." Don't remember where I heard that example, but its common in books which introduce the inductive method.
it is my position that classical deductive/inductive arguments in addition to historical evidence are sufficient to make a rational case for Christianity.
Now recall that, when asked what his ultimate starting point is, David David gavethe statement “the Bible is the Word of God.” In that same exchange I had given my own critique of this statement as a starting point, and at that point David took it to a friend of his, a Christian named Dominic “Bnonn” Tennant, who posted his own response to my points on his own blog. (In turn I posted my own rejoinder to Tennant’s points, and so far I’ve seen no response to it from any Christians.) In going to Tennant for guidance on such matters, David clearly demonstrated that he considers Tennant to be an authority on things philosophical.
The problem is that Tennant’s position dramatically undermines David’s defense of the “too early to be legend” thesis. In his 18 Jan. 2009 comment to this Triablogue post, Tennant declared that “induction is an informal fallacy.” When challenged on this (by John Donohue, an occasional visitor to my blog), Tennant, in the same blog comments section, quoted an encyclopedia no less, no doubt a stalwart source of philosophical acumen:
In logic, a type of nonvalid inference or argument in which the premises provide some reason for believing that the conclusion is true. Typical forms of inductive argument include reasoning from a part to a whole, from the particular to the general, and from a sample to an entire population. Induction is traditionally contrasted with deduction. Many of the problems of inductive logic, including what is known as the problem of induction, have been treated in studies of the methodology of the natural sciences. (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 'induction'.)
I’m glad these aren’t my problems!
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends