A Review of Chapter 11 of The Christian Delusion

Chapter 11 is written by Richard Carrier and entitled “Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable.”  The chapter opens by summarizing some miracles written by the historian Herodotus the Halicarnassian.  Carrier says it is reasonable to doubt stories of miracles because it is more likely that human error can account for the story than that a miracle really took place.  The author believes there are no relevant differences between the miracles recounted by Herodotus and the miracles recounted in the New Testament.  I admit up front that I have not studied the miracles in Herodotus and therefore have no firm opinion on them either way (only a naturalist must deny all miracles).  In this review I will focus merely on Carrier’s argument against the resurrection of Jesus.

He believes the NT documents are not reliable.  Unfortunately Carrier does not go into much detail and resorts to childish comments such as the book of Revelation being a “veritable acid trip” (p. 300).  He is even sympathetic to the idea that Mark wrote his Gospel as a deliberate myth (p. 303), a viewpoint held by virtually no modern scholars.  Suffice it to say that I do not have such a low view of the NT writings (I provided some references in my review to the last chapter).  Carrier resorts to claiming that Paul and all the other apostles believed Jesus rose from the dead solely on the basis of visionary experiences as opposed to witnessing a physically resurrected Jesus.  He misses the fact that both Galatians and 1 Corinthians (two letters he quotes from) use the technical terminology for passing down a tradition.  In other words, the witnesses cataloged in 1 Corinthians 15 are witnesses to the resurrected Christ who started the tradition that made its way to the church.

Carrier believes that it is possible to explain the rise of Christianity without resorting to the supernatural.  The only two things that need to be explained are (1) why the first Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead and (2) what happened to Jesus’ body.  Carrier never really gets around to providing an hypothesis for what happened to Jesus’ body but merely notes that the disappearance of a body is not sufficient grounds to believe the resurrection.  I imagine the first Christians would agree that a missing body without other evidence would not be proof of Jesus’ resurrection.  It is important to point out, however, that the Jews also thought Jesus’ body was not in the tomb (Mt 28:15).  Regarding the first point, Carrier says that the first Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead because it was foretold in the Scriptures and because of hallucinatory revelations.  This is an unsatisfactory hypothesis since the first Christians believed Jesus physically rose from the dead, not that he merely went to heaven after death.  In fact, if Jesus merely went into the afterlife as everyone else was thought to do, then he could not be said to have been resurrected at all.  Carrier also suggests that the first Christians may have made up their encounters with the risen Jesus so that they could support a movement whose moral goals they approved of.  This is even less convincing since it explains nothing.  Are we to believe that they could not pursue their moral goals without claiming Jesus rose from the dead?  And why would Paul start believing Jesus rose from the dead?  Even when he has Paul’s own account of why he converted, Carrier feels free to concoct his own hypotheses.  Perhaps Paul was guilt-stricken by persecuting Christians, perhaps he hallucinated, or perhaps he made it all up.

A final argument against the resurrection is that if God really wanted to save the whole world the resurrected Jesus would have appeared to everyone.  This isn’t so much an argument against the resurrection as it is an argument from divine hiddenness.  I believe God will one day make Himself known to everyone and that all men will eventually be saved.  The mere fact that God does not do what Carrier thinks He should do (p. 309) is not a compelling argument.

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2 thoughts on “A Review of Chapter 11 of The Christian Delusion

  1. “He believes the NT documents are not reliable.”

    It is no secret among NT researchers that the documents are not reliable. Those scholars spend a great amount of time arguing which sayings of Jesus are traceable to Jesus himself, and which events recorded in the Gospels actually happened. All you have to do is notice the many contradictions between the different accounts to see they can’t possibly ALL be reliable.

    “He misses the fact that both Galatians and 1 Corinthians (two letters he quotes from) use the technical terminology for passing down a tradition.”

    But even NT scholars argue whether this tradition derives from other Christians or from Paul’s own visions, as Paul claims in Gal 1:12. If Paul’s version of Christianity derives from his own personal visions, why should we give it any more credence than we give (say) the visions of Joseph Smith or of Mohamed?

    “It is important to point out, however, that the Jews also thought Jesus’ body was not in the tomb (Mt 28:15).”

    Hypothesis I: Matthew invented this response of the Jews for narrative effect.

    Hypothesis II: This response of the Jews was genuine, but was the result of some confusion over where Jesus was buried.

    Hypothesis III: This response of the Jews requires a supernatural intervention to be explained.

    Which hypothesis seems preferable to you?

    “This is an unsatisfactory hypothesis since the first Christians believed Jesus physically rose from the dead, not that he merely went to heaven after death. ”

    Actually, there were Christians who denied the bodily resurrection from a very early time. This is clear from the debates about it that appear (one-sidedly) in the NT.

    “I believe God will one day make Himself known to everyone and that all men will eventually be saved.”

    2000 years and Christians are still waiting. Even though “Jesus himself said” that it would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries.

  2. Hi Robert:

    It is no secret among NT researchers that the documents are not reliable.

    It is not a consensus view so Carrier should have argued his point.

    Those scholars spend a great amount of time arguing which sayings of Jesus are traceable to Jesus himself, and which events recorded in the Gospels actually happened.

    This fact shows that the scholars believe the Gospels are at least somewhat reliable. Unlike Carrier, they don’t believe Mark was written as a deliberate myth.

    All you have to do is notice the many contradictions between the different accounts to see they can’t possibly ALL be reliable.

    There is a difference between reliable and infallible. Concerning the resurrection, the main points are supported by all four Gospels. The authors of TCD have no problem appealing to someone like Josephus even though he contradicts himself from time to time.

    But even NT scholars argue whether this tradition derives from other Christians or from Paul’s own visions, as Paul claims in Gal 1:12.

    Galatians 1:12 uses the very formula I mentioned and uses it to refer to the normal human-to-human transmission of tradition. The term “revelation” is used to refer to the message Paul received directly from Christ. Galatians 1:12 states that Paul received the “gospel” directly from Christ while in 1:18-2:10 we see that Paul met with the disciples in Jerusalem where he undoubtedly learned many traditions about Jesus. I see no need to invent a new interpretation of the technical terminology for passing down tradition.

    If Paul’s version of Christianity derives from his own personal visions, why should we give it any more credence than we give (say) the visions of Joseph Smith or of Mohamed?

    First of all, I don’t think Paul’s version of Christianity derived solely from his own personal visions. Galatians 1:18-2:10 shows that Paul’s version of Christianity was the same version of Christianity preached by Jesus’ disciples (a disagreement over table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles does not change that). Second, it would be impressive if the message Paul received in visions matched the message the Twelve received from Jesus during his public ministry. Note that the message received by Muhammad is not compatible with the message of Jesus or the Twelve. Ultimately, my rejection of Joseph Smith and Muhammad has nothing to do with the fact that they claimed to have received visions. For the sake of argument, I’d be willing to grant that both of them were actually spoken to by supernatural beings and still not convert to either religion.

    Which hypothesis seems preferable to you?

    I don’t accept hypothesis 1 because it is unlikely that Matthew would invent a story that could create doubts in his Christian readers. I don’t accept hypothesis 2 because if the Jews were confused over the location of the tomb they would not admit that the tomb was actually empty. I suppose you could suggest that they were certain they were at the right tomb when in fact they were not but I don’t find that plausible either. Solely on the basis of Mt 28:15 I would also reject hypothesis 3. I think Mt 28:15, by itself, merely shows that the tomb where Jesus was buried after his crucifixion was empty.

    Actually, there were Christians who denied the bodily resurrection from a very early time. This is clear from the debates about it that appear (one-sidedly) in the NT.

    What passages do you have in mind? More importantly, did any of these early Christians who thought Jesus merely rose spiritually actually claim to have seen the risen Christ? 1 Cor 15 is usually appealed to but the interpretation you would have to use seems to be popular mainly among people trying to deny the resurrection as opposed to understanding Paul’s letter.

    2000 years and Christians are still waiting. Even though “Jesus himself said” that it would happen within the lifetime of his contemporaries.

    Ultimately irrelevant to whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.

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