This is the third article in a series of four by Farrell Till in reply to Christian, Matthew Perman on the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first two were *Put Me Down For Myth* and *Standing On Quicksand*. The fourth article will follow soon. From *The Skeptical Review*, 1997:
By Farrell Till
In his continuing effort to defend the unlikely New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead, Matthew Perman, in typical apologetic fashion, made so many unsupported assertions that I could not adequately respond to them in a single article. This time I will address his "arguments" that I didn't have space to comment on in my last article. Then if Perman wants to respond to my rebuttals, he may do so in a later issue.
Perman expressed surprise that I would "reuse Dan Barker's argument" that the doctrine of a bodily resurrection had evolved from an earlier belief in just a spiritual resurrection. Well, in the first place, this is not "Dan Barker's argument"; it was an alternative view of some scholars long before Barker used it in his debate with Michael Horner. I am not saying this to take away any credit that is due Dan Barker but simply to point out a fact that Perman would surely know if he had researched the resurrection issue as thoroughly as he apparently wants us to believe he has. If Perman would tear himself away from the fundamentalist works that he obviously spends a lot of time reading, he just might find that there is much more to this issue than the simplistic, illogical apologetic arguments that the likes of Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler, and Gleason Archer keep recycling for the benefit of Christians looking not for truth but for something-- anything--to extenuate their irrational presuppositions. Furthermore, I suspect that Perman's "surprise" that I would "reuse" this argument is more a matter of dismay than surprise, because he was at the debate when Dan Barker used the argument against Michael Horner, so Perman knows that Horner's only response to it was to quibble that a statement about a "spiritual book" would not be intended to mean that the book was made of spirit. A flagrant equivocation like this hardly constitutes a refutation of the argument.
To Perman's credit, he has at least tried to refute the spiritual-resurrection argument. Central to this argument is the fact that the apostle Paul, in his famous defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, made no references at all to an earthquake, an empty tomb, women, angels, or other elements that figured so prominently in the gospel accounts of the resurrection. Perman explained Paul's silence on these matters by claiming that Paul was merely reciting a "formula" of a "creed" that was meant to be only "a summary, or brief outline, of the core of Christian beliefs." For the sake of argument, let's just assume that this is so. How would that explain the fact that the whole of Paul's writings, which constitute the major part of the New Testament, made no references to any of these? Nowhere did Paul mention Roman guards, women who visited the tomb and found it empty or an angel that descended in an earthquake, rolled the stone away from the tomb, and announced to the women that Jesus had risen. In fact, Paul nowhere mentioned the virgin birth of Jesus or the place of his birth or gave any chronological indication of when his resurrected savior-god had lived. Perman may want to cite 1 Timothy 6:13 as a text that put Jesus's trial in the time of Pontius Pilate, but the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy and the other pastoral epistles is too much in dispute in scholarly circles for anything they say to be considered convincing evidence of what Paul may have thought about the "historical Jesus." In none of the undisputed Pauline epistles will Perman find any indication that Paul knew anything about the Jesus who is described in the gospels. Paul preached only a resurrected Jesus, but he knew nothing or at least indicated nothing about where this Jesus was born, when he was born, where he lived, or when and where he died and was resurrected.
Is it reasonable to believe that in all that Paul wrote about Jesus, he wanted to give only a "summary, or brief outline, of the core of Christian beliefs" and so "chose" not to mention any of the biographical information that is recorded about Jesus in the gospels? Paul's silence in these matters, considered in the context of the time between the writing of Paul's epistles and the gospels, is certainly compatible with the spiritual-resurrection argument that I presented in an earlier response to Perman. Paul put Jesus into no particular historical setting, but after Christianity had developed legends about when and where Jesus lived, the gospels, written decades after Paul's epistles, filled in the gaps that he had left. With the historical setting that evolved, the spiritual resurrection that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 15 evolved into a bodily resurrection.
Some Christian scholars, by the way, do not think that Paul was reciting an "early creed" in this chapter. They argue that verses 3-11 are a post-Pauline interpolation, which interrupts the continuity that flows logically from verse two to verse twelve and also contradicts what Paul said in Galatians 1:1, 11-12 about the manner in which he had received the gospel. Christian apologists, however, argue that the disputed passage is an early creed, and so this is a position that requires them to defend their claim of the bodily resurrection of Jesus against statements in 1 Corinthians 15 that clearly indicate Paul was speaking about spiritual rather than physical resurrection.
That both Christological and ecclesiastical evolution occurred during the decades that the New Testament was being written should be apparent to all who have no fundamentalist axes to grind, so it would not be at all unreasonable to assume that evolution also occurred in the most vital of all Christian doctrines, i.e., the resurrection. As I showed in my first response to Perman, an early belief in the spiritual resurrection of Jesus is very much in evidence in 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, which I will review before addressing Perman's attempt to make this passage notmean what it clearly says.
But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain....
There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body (emphasis added).
In this passage, Paul presented an analogical argument by pointing out that even in nature, the body that is sown (a grain of wheat) is not the body (a stalk of wheat) that "shall be." Anyone who has had any horticultural experience at all knows that this is true. The seed that is planted bears no resemblance at all to the plant that "rises" from the seed, so if Paul was not arguing that the body that is resurrected is radically different from the body that is planted (buried), his analogy makes no sense at all.
Let's notice also that Paul's analogy was actually an answer to a question: "But someone will say, `How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come'" (v:35)? In other words, Paul understood that to sell his claim that Jesus was resurrected, he had to convince people who were skeptical about the possibility of dead bodies returning to life that resurrection from the dead was plausible. To those skeptics who questioned how it would be possible for dead bodies to return to life, Paul was, in effect, saying, "That's not at all hard to explain. The body that is buried is not the same body that is resurrected, just as a seed that is planted is not the same as what comes from the seed." As noted in my first response to Perman (TSR, July/August 1996, p. 5), Paul incorrectly believed that a seed, when planted, dies and from the dead seed a new body, i.e., the plant, comes forth, and so he argued by analogy that this is what happens when a physical body dies. From the dead physical body, a new body will arise. Paul wasn't much of a botanist, but, nevertheless, this was his argument, and so Christians are stuck with it.
The important thing to note in this passage is that Paul thought resurrected bodies were not the same as the bodies that were buried. The body that was buried was a corruptible body; the body that was raised was an incorruptible body (v: 42). The body that was sown (buried) was a natural body; the body that was raised was a spiritualbody (v:44).
In response to this, Perman argued, "But when Paul says of a believer's body in verse 42 that `it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption,' he is not saying that our bodies will be taken from materiality, but from mortality" (TSR, November/December 1996, p. 3). Oh, really? Well, it would have been nice if Perman had made a hermeneutic attempt to show that this is a reasonable way to interpret the statement, but he made no such effort. He just arbitrarily declared that this was the meaning of the statement and went on to something else. Does he seriously expect us just to accept his arbitrary claim that this was what the statement meant, when it so obviously disagrees with the import of Paul's argument?
To settle the matter of what Paul meant, I will just let Perman argue with what Paul said later in verse 50: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption." So we have Paul saying that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but we have Perman saying that Paul never meant that "our bodies will be taken from materiality." However, if "flesh and blood" cannot inherit the kingdom of God, Perman needs to explain how that the resurrected bodies of Christians will be able to inherit the kingdom of God without first being "taken from materiality." If they aren't "taken from materiality" but spirited [no pun intended] away to heaven as material bodies, then Paul was wrong when he said that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. If not, why not? Unless Perman can explain why not, he is stuck with yet another textual problem that demands explanation.
Further evidence that Paul believed that material bodies are planted (buried) from which spiritual bodies are resurrected is seen in verses 51-53: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed--in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." This is just one of the many New Testament passages that expressed belief in an imminent return of Jesus. Thus, those who would not "sleep" (in the mystery that Paul was explaining) would be those who were still alive when Jesus returned (see 1 Thess. 4:15-17). They would not die or sleep, but they would be changed, after the dead had been raised incorruptible. Why would they have to be "changed"? Because they would be living in flesh and blood (physical bodies) when Jesus returned, and Paul had just said that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, a "change" would be absolutely essential before they could be taken to heaven.
In the "change" that those who were alive at the time would experience, their corruptible bodies would have to put on incorruption, and for this to happen, some change in their bodies would be necessary, just as the bodies of the dead, which had been planted as natural, "corruptible" bodies, would be raised as spiritual, "incorruptible" bodies. Otherwise, these bodies would not be able to "inherit" the kingdom of God.
So let's juxtapose two major statements that Paul made in this passage: (1) His conclusion from his analogy of the seed was that "the body (physical) is sown incorruption; it is raised in incorruption. (2) Those who were alive at the time of Jesus' second coming would be "changed" by having "this corruptible" (the physical body) put on "incorruption" (a spiritual body). After stating this, Paul then went on to say, "So when this corruptible (physical body) has put on incorruption (spiritual body), then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: `Death is swallowed up in victory'" (v:54). By arguing that a "change" from "corruptible" to "incorruptible" would take place in the physical bodies of those living when Jesus returned, Paul removed all reasonable doubt about what he had meant earlier when he said that "(t)he body [of a dead person] is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption." He obviously meant that the resurrected body is a spiritual, "incorruptible" body as opposed to the physical body that was buried.
Despite language as explicit as this, Perman contended that "this verse [it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body] most forcefully teaches the traditional doctrine of the resurrection," because "it is the same it in both cases." In other words, Perman is arguing that the body that is sown (buried) has to be the same body that is raised, because the pronoun it was used in reference to both bodies, but a simple illustration will suffice to show that Perman is wrong. Let's suppose that someone says, "My profession has changed twice in my lifetime. First, it was preaching, then itwas plumbing, and now it is teaching." In such a statement, the pronoun it is the same pronoun, but it obviously refers to three different professions: preaching, plumbing, and teaching. So there is absolutely nothing in the way that Paul used the word it that would require "it" to refer to the same "physical body." What Paul really meant was that it [the body] is sown [buried] as a physical body, but it [the body] is raised a spiritual body. To argue that it (the natural body) was the same as it (the spiritual body) would make Paul's argument completely meaningless. If the two "its" were the same, then Paul would have had to say, "It is sown a natural body, and it is raised a natural body." If not, why not?
Perman argued that the word spiritual doesn't have to mean "made out of spirit" but can mean "directed by and orientated to the Spirit." This is true, but the issue is not what the word spiritual can mean but what it did mean in the context where Paul was using it. Perman said that "virtually all commentators" agree that the word didn't mean "made out of spirit," but when Perman's case is weak, he likes to talk about how many "commentators" agree with his position, as if that is supposed to prove he is right. The issue in a debate should never be the number of scholars or commentators who agree with one's position but the quality and force of the arguments, and the force of argument is against Perman on this issue. Let's notice that Paul equated the body corruptible with the body natural and the body incorruptible with the body spiritual: "The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.... It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (vs:42-44). For Perman to argue that Paul simply meant that the body is raised "orientated to the Spirit" is ludicrous, because, as noted above, he went on to explain that those who were living when Jesus returned would have to be "changed," i.e., their corruptible (bodies) would have to put on incorruption, before they could inherit the kingdom of God. Since Paul usedincorruptible synonymously with spiritual, he couldn't have meant that these people would have to undergo a change that would "orientate them to the Spirit," for the clear teaching of the New Testament is that unless one is already "orientated to the Spirit" when Jesus comes, he/she would not be qualified for entry into heaven. The "change," then, would be a change from flesh and blood to spirit, i.e., from corruptible to incorruptible, which would then entitle them to go to heaven, where flesh and blood cannot enter (v:50).
That the New Testament teaches this can be seen in a similar passage in 1 Thessalonians:
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we forever be with the Lord" (4:13-18, emphasis added).
Notice that Paul was saying in this passage that it was only those who were dead in Christ who would be resurrected to meet the Lord. In Christ is a New Testament idiom that denoted a state of salvation, which would have required a prior "orientation to the Spirit," so those whom Paul thought were going to be resurrected to meet Jesus at his return would be those who were "asleep (dead) in Christ." If Paul thought that only those who had died in Christ would be resurrected to meet Jesus at his return, we would hardly expect that he believed just anyone living at the time would also be caught up to "meet the Lord in the air." Surely, Paul thought that those so honored would be those who were living in Christ at the time of his return, but if they were living in Christ, there would certainly be no need to "change" them so that they would be "orientated to the Spirit," because such orientation would have already occurred. So what else could be the "change" that Paul mentioned except a change from corruptible or natural bodies to incorruptible or spiritual bodies?
Completely ignoring the wording of Paul's analogy, Perman said, "(T)here is continuity between the seed to [sic] the plant (they are the same organism), yet there is also change. And certainly both the seed and the plant are both physical! Christians do not have `the body that shall be' because we are not immortal yet" (TSR,November/December 1996, p. 3, emphasis added). If Perman would just read Paul's analogy, he will see that Paul did not use "the body that shall be" in reference to the resurrection of the dead but in reference to the seed that is sown: "And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain" (v:37, emphasis added). Certainly, both the seed and the plant are physical, but Paul was merely making an analogy. One thing is planted; another thing comes from what is planted. Paul believed that this illustrated to his readers how that the dead could be resurrected. They are buried as natural, corruptible bodies; they are raised as spiritual, incorruptible bodies.
In support of the theory that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection had begun as only a belief in a spiritual resurrection, I stated that the Greek word for "buried" in 1 Corinthians 15:4 was thapto and that it "meant to inter or bury and carried with it nonecessary connotations of entombment" (TSR, July/August 1996, p. 4, emphasis added), but Perman is apparently trying to distort my statement into meaning thatthapto could not be used in reference to a burial in a tomb. This, however, is not what I meant. Perman's argument-- which really isn't his but only something he is parroting from fundamentalist apologetic works--is that Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that Jesus was buried but rose again on the third day implies an empty tomb, but if there is nothing in the word thapto to imply entombment and if, as I have already noted, Paul never made any references to when Jesus lived, where he lived, where he died, where he was buried, how he was buried, etc., exactly why would saying that someone was buried and rose again necessarily imply an empty tomb, especially if that statement was made in a context in which spiritual resurrection was being discussed? If someone should say (as superstitious people sometimes do) that a certain individual died and was buried and that his ghost has appeared to several people who knew him before his death, would such a claim as this imply an empty grave? Anyone hearing such a claim would understand the claimant was saying only that the person's ghost or spirit had returned from the dead and not that the body had left the grave. So if Paul thought that Jesus had risen as a spiritual entity (as I believe I have clearly shown that he did), that would not in any way imply that he believed an empty tomb had been found, but even if it did, this would prove nothing more than that Paul believed an empty tomb had been found. What Perman would then have to do is prove that Paul was right in believing that an empty tomb had been found. Otherwise, he becomes just another fundamentalist arguing that if the Bible says something, it must be true.
Perman also misunderstood my point about egeiro, which was the Greek word that Paul used in listing the "appearances" that Jesus had made. I merely quotedEphesians 5:14, where Paul had urged the Ephesians to awake from sleep and arisefrom the dead, and pointed out that the word for "awake" in this verse is egeiro,whereas anistemi was the word he had used for "arise." This is simply a fact, which Perman didn't dispute, so my point was that if the word was used in the sense of awaking in this text, it could have carried this meaning in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 too. I cited other passages where the word egeiro was obviously used in the sense of visionary appearances, but that is not the same as arguing (as Perman tried to make it appear I had done) that the word was never used in the sense of actual physical sightings. My intention was to show that the meanings of the Greek words that Paul used were completely consistent with the view that Paul was arguing in 1 Corinthians 15 only for a spiritual and not a bodily resurrection.
Perman must consider burial by entombment crucial to his case, because he claimed that there is a "wealth of evidence supporting the burial of Jesus in a tomb" (TSR, November/December 1996, p. 2). He cited six points from which he concluded that the entombment of Jesus is a historical fact:
Archaeological support: Perman alleged that archaeologists have discovered the tomb of "Yohanon, who was discovered in Tomb #1 at Giv'at ha-Mitvar, As el-Masaref by Tzaferis," and his "heel bones [were] transfixed by a large iron nail and his shins broken," evidence that Perman sees as proof that "Yohanon" was crucified and then buried in a tomb. I have to wonder why Perman didn't document this information so that I could evaluate both it and his source. I'm not denying that such a discovery was made, but does Perman just expect me to accept his word that this tomb was found, with the remains exactly as he (or his source) described them? I really doubt that Perman knows any more about this discovery beyond the bare information that he cited, which I suspect that he has taken from an apologetic source that was just as sketchy with details as Perman was. At any rate, there is no way to critically evaluate this information, because Perman didn't say when this discovery was made, who this Tzaferis is who allegedly made the discovery, what exactly was meant by heel bones that were "transfixed by a large iron nail," whether the death of this "Yohanon" occurred under a Roman administration or some other regime, the estimated dating of the death, etc. In other words, the information is too sketchy to determine if it would materially affect other information that indicates victims of Roman crucifixion were thrown into garbage heaps or buried in common graves. Furthermore, if the archaeological information about this person Yohanon should conclusively indicate that he was crucified under a Roman administration, at about the time Jesus allegedly lived, and then buried in a tomb, it would prove only that this person was so buried. It would not prove that Jesus was, and so Perman would still face the task of having to prove that the disposal of Jesus's body was done in a manner different from the usual practice.
Jewish holy men (as was Jesus) were buried in tombs so their graves could be preserved. This is the claim exactly as Perman made it, and beyond this mere assertion he said nothing to try to prove the claim. However, even if the claim is true, Perman must show that this practice was done even in cases of Roman executions where disposal of the bodies by entombment would have been dependent upon permission from Roman authorities. The New Testament does indicate that such permission was granted in the case of Jesus, but to accept this as conclusive proof that Jesus was entombed would be to assume the historical accuracy of the New Testament. If the historical accuracy of the New Testament is going to be assumed, then there is nothing to debate. I admit that it says that Jesus was buried in a tomb. However, I don't admit that this is necessarily a historical fact just because the New Testament says it.
The burial story lacks legendary development. Again, this is just an unsupported assertion that Perman made. If he thinks it is true that the burial story lacks legendary development, then he must at the very least do a literary analysis of the story to explain what he finds in it to support this claim. When I read the burial story, I find it embedded in narratives that tell about three hours of darkness at midday, an earthquake that resurrected "many saints," an angel that descended in an earthquake to roll away the stone sealing a tomb, angels that talked to women, a resurrected man who was apparently able to teletransport himself and to pass through material objects like doors, etc. If Perman can't see "legendary development" in such literary devices as these, then he has a serious inability to interpret literature. He said that the New Testament critic Bultmann agrees that the burial story lacks "legendary development," but this would prove only that Bultmann thought that the story lacked legendary development. At any rate, if the entire body of Bultmann's critical works were analyzed, I suspect there would be very little in them that Perman would agree with. What we have in Matthew Perman, then, is a would-be apologist using smorgasbord research in his quest to defend the resurrection. If he finds critics who agree with him, he will cite them on their points of agreement, but he will leave uncited the many details and points on which the critics do not agree with him. Of course, Perman just has to say that "most [critics] agree with him [Bultmann]," but Perman conveniently omitted the names of these "most" who agree.
Archaeology confirms the description of Christ's tomb in the gospels. This assertion, for which Perman offered no supporting evidence, is as meaningless as the old inerrantist argument that geographical accuracy in the Bible proves that it was inspired of God. Inerrantists will point to the many geographical places mentioned in the Bible and argue that the accuracy of the writers in these details must mean that they were inspired of God, as if uninspired writers, familiar with the locales in which they set their stories, would have been unable to report geographic and topographic details accurately unless they were divinely inspired. Libraries are filled with books in which such accuracy is contained, but simplistic biblical apologists think that a feature like this in the Bible should be accorded special significance.
So let's suppose that "archaeology has confirmed the accuracy of the description of Christ's tomb." All this would prove would be that the New Testament writers accurately described a tomb as tombs were known to exist in those days. What would be so extraordinary about a writer accurately describing a tomb? If I should write a narrative in which I accurately describe a grave site as graves are now known to exist but then continue in my story to claim that the person buried in this grave later rose from the dead, what reader in his right mind would think that my accurate description of the grave would give credence to the extraordinary claim that the person buried in the grave later rose from the dead? I do wish that Christian apologists could think a little more rationally, but I've just about given up hope of ever finding one who can.
The phrase `first day of the week' reveals an early date for the story, because, Perman claims, "it [the phrase] fell out of use by the late 30s or so to be replaced with `on the third day.'" Again, Perman has simply made an assertion for which he gave no supporting evidence, and, quite frankly, I get a little tired of his regurgitation of simplistic "apologetic" arguments that he finds in Josh McDowellian books and bounces back to us without even attempting to prove their validity. There are two problems with this claim: (1) the phrase did not "fall out of use" by the late thirties as evinced by its use in New Testament books that were written well after the 30s (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). (2) "The third day" was a term that came to be applied to the time that Jesus was presumably resurrected. He was resurrected on "the third day" (1 Cor. 15:4; Acts 10:4), and this was even the phrase that was used when the gospel writers reported the many times that Jesus told his disciples he would be resurrected (Matt. 16:21; 20:19; Mark 9:31; Luke 9:22). So "the third day" wasn't an expression that came into use after the late 30s. If we are to believe that the gospels accurately reported the conversations of Jesus, this was an expression that was used even during the personal ministry of Jesus to denote the time that he would rise again.
What Perman apparently can't see-- or doesn't want to see--is that the phrase "the first day of the week" wasn't used in the gospel narratives to denote the time that Jesus was resurrected but the time when the women went to the tomb (Matt. 28:1;Mark 16:2: Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The sole exception to this is a statement in the Marcan Appendix, which says, "Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (Mark 16:9), but even this statement disputes Perman's claim that the phrase "the first day of the week" had fallen out of use by the late 30s. There is a scholarly consensus that Mark 16:9-20 was added to this gospel at a later date. The literature on this subject is too extensive to review, but since Perman likes to talk about what "most scholars" think, he might want to research what New Testament scholars think about the date of this addition to the gospel of Mark. The statement that Jesus "rose early on the first day of the week" in this late addition to Mark's gospel demolishes Perman's claim that the phrase "fell out of use by the late 30s."
The inclusion of Joseph of Arimathea strongly supports the burial record. Why would this be so? Well, Perman argued that "(t)he members of the Sanhedrin were too well known for someone to place a fictional member on it or to spread a false story about one of its members burying Jesus." Such an argument as this gives no consideration at all to the time that separated the alleged burial of Jesus and the writing of the gospels. Mark, the earliest of the four gospels, is generally dated no sooner than A. D. 70, except of course by fundamentalist apologists, so after the alleged crucifixion and burial of Jesus, 40 to 70 years passed before the gospel accounts were written. In a time when radio, television, newspapers, and other modern means of communication didn't exist, it isn't difficult at all to imagine that a fictional member of the Sanhedrin could have been created and passed unnoticed. Even today, how many people would know who the vice-presidents of the United States were 40 to 70 years ago? How many would know who the supreme court justices were that long ago? Who was the speaker of the house of representatives in 1950? 1940? 1930? Furthermore, the gospels were written in Greek by Hellenistic Christians, whose audiences would not have been Jews personally familiar with the religious/ political milieu in which Jesus had allegedly lived. If a writer today should fictionalize a member of the Israeli supreme court as it was constituted 40 years ago, how many Jews who are citizens of other countries would notice it? This argument is completely without merit, and the only thing it proves is the desperation of Christians who have no real evidence to support their resurrection belief.
In addition to his "wealth of evidence supporting the burial of Jesus in a tomb," Perman made several other baseless claims, none of which can be proven and none of which would prove anything even if their truth could be established. They have been repeatedly discredited, but Christian apologists continue to recycle them.
Scholars know that Mark used a source that originated before A.D. 37. How does Perman know this? Are you ready for the answer? He knows, because Mark did not use the name Caiphas when referring to the high priest during the trial of Jesus! From Mark's silence on this matter, Perman concludes... well, to be more exact, the apologetic source from which Perman gets his material has concluded that A. D. 37, the last year of Caiphas's term, was the last possible date for the origination of the source that Mark used. I suppose it has never occurred to Perman that "Mark," a Hellenistic writer, just may not have known the name of the high priest at that time, and so that was why he gave no name. Who was the prime minister of Israel 40 years ago? Who was the chief justice of the Israeli supreme court 40 years ago? How many people today would not know these things? A modern writer could easily get such information as this from the internet or a local library, but information wasn't so easily accessible when the gospel of Mark was written. A writer back then who didn't know the name of a Jewish high priest who had lived 40 or 50 years earlier would have had no choice except to tell his story without specifically naming the priest. Regardless, Mark's silence on the name of the high priest is certainly no evidence of a source earlier than A. D. 37 for his burial story.
Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Mark did indeed use a source that dated before A. D. 37. Let's even assume that his source dated even earlier than that. What would it prove? It would prove only that Mark had used an early source, but it would not prove that the information in that source was historically accurate. Anyone could write a fictional narrative and plot it with a specific contemporary setting, but this would be no guarantee that the information in the narrative is historically accurate. Surely, Perman and his apologetic cohorts can see that.
Even if the gospels were not written by actual eyewitnesses, there is still the eyewitness testimony of 1 Corinthians 15. Either Perman is not reading my responses carefully or he is being intentionally evasive, because I discussed at length in my first response (TSR, July/August 1996, p. 5) that Paul never claimed that he had seen the resurrected Jesus in bodily form. The only records we have of Paul's experience with Jesus are Luke's three accounts in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and they are contradictory on some points. They do agree that nobody with Paul saw Jesus, and so this wonderful eyewitness testimony that Perman is so excited about was a visionary sighting that only Paul experienced. If Luke's accounts are accurate, then Perman must acknowledge that Paul himself described it as a "heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). Perman is free to consider this amazing evidence if he wants to, but I consider it no more convincing than someone's claim that he was told that another person saw Elvis Presley in a vision. What we all want to see from Perman is real evidence, but he seems unable to produce any.
The use of women to discover the tomb establishes the credibility of the resurrection story. This worn-out apologetic argument shows an incredible ignorance of the culture that produced the gospel accounts. It is true that in Jewish society, women had very little social or political status, but Perman ignores that the gospels were Hellenistic productions. If their authors were Jews, they were Hellenistic Jews who had been exposed to cultural influences that were not quite as unkind to women as was the Mosaic law, which considered women to be mere chattel. Hellenistic literature and mythology had goddesses as well as gods and heroines as well as heroes. Hera was the queen of heaven and the consort of Zeus; Athena was the goddess of wisdom, and Athens, the center of Greek learning, was her namesake; Artemis was the goddess of the moon and also the protector of wildlife; Aphrodite was the goddess of love.
These are only a few of the many goddesses and nymphs who were worshipped and respected by the Greeks, and it would be unreasonable to think that generations of Hellenistic Jews could have lived in Greek societies without having been influenced by their fascination with goddesses. Greek culture, for example, had Sibyls, who were aged women that uttered prophecies thought to have been revealed to them by the gods. They functioned much in the same way as the "oracles," like the famous one at Delphi, and Hebrew society didn't escape the influence of the Sibyls as evinced by writings like The Sibylline Oracles, a pseudepigraphic work purporting to contain the prophetic utterances of several Hebrew Sybils dating as far back as Sambethe, a daughter-in-law of Noah. Such works as these could not have been produced in a culture that put no credence in the testimony of women. Furthermore, a study of the Old Testament shows that the Hebrews had their prophetesses, such as Deborah and Huldah in Judges 4 and 2 Kings 21, and that the worship of goddesses like Ashtaroth was often a religious problem in early Israel (Judges 2:13; 10:6; 1 Sam. 7:3-4; 12:10). The Hebrews also had their heroines like Ruth and Esther in the canonical books and Judith in the apocryphal. To argue that the testimony of women would have commanded no respect in first-century Judaism is a claim that cannot be substantiated, and it ignores evidence that indicates the gospels were Hellenistic in origin.
Finally, I must ask Perman to explain why the apostle Paul didn't even mention that women were the first to find the empty tomb and to see the resurrected Jesus. If "the use of women to discover the tomb" is so forceful in "establish[ing] the credibility of the resurrection story," then why didn't Paul realize it and include this information in 1 Corinthians 15? He labored long and hard in this chapter to convince the Corinthian Christians that Jesus had risen. In so doing, he listed six separate postresurrection appearances Jesus had allegedly made, including even the famous claim that he had appeared to "about five hundred brethren at once," but Paul left out entirely what Perman believes is information that "establishes the credibility of the resurrection story." That was very negligent of Paul, but it was even more negligent of the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit not to have given Paul an inspirational nudge to let him know that the experiences of the women was information that he definitely needed to include. Perman's god apparently didn't think this information was quite as important as desperate Christian apologists think it is.
Perman attaches undue importance to the opinion of the Jewish author Pinchas Lapide that the resurrection of Jesus did actually occur. In the next issue, I will address this point and a few other loose ends. After that, if Perman insists on believing in the resurrection of his crucified savior-god, I know of nothing else to do but extend to him my sympathy. He, of course, may reply to my articles if he wishes, but unless he can show us something better than the fundamentalist flapdoodle that has characterized his other two articles, I will see no need to dignify his apologetic desperation with another response.