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Light on facts, heavy on theory
on May 1, 2015
I started this book with hopes of learning about this amazing discovery, but instead the book morphed into a veiled attempt to refute the resurrection of Jesus. I expect an academic to take a detached view of the facts, following them where they lead. It became apparent half way through that this wasn’t the case. The authors veered from facts to almost sheer speculation and out-and-out errors. For example, rebutting one assertion that first century Jews would not have moved Jesus’ body to Nazareth for burial, the book says Jews “were forbidden” to do this. Nowhere in the Law does it state this. There were strict rules for touching the dead, rules for cleanliness, etc, but they were not forbidden. It seems doubtful to me someone would move the body either, but not because it was forbidden.
One of their assertions is that the oldest complete New Testament we have is from the 4th century, the implication being the book were written much later that the events. There is a simple reason for the relative abundance of copies after this date—Christianity was illegal and there were periodic persecutions and manuscript burnings until Constantine converted around AD 312. Up until this point NT books were written on the inexpensive but not durable material of the day—papyrus. With Christianity’s new standing, it was now copied onto sturdier, but costly vellum. Contrary to what the authors asset, we do have extensive papyrus copies of portions of the NT dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. One fragment of the Gospel of John found in Egypt dates from 90 to 130 AD. Further, the NT was extensively quoted by the early Church Fathers in as early as the first century. Even Bart Ehrman, who writes extensive against the NT, admits that it is the best attested ancient document in terms of manuscript evidence.
The authors make a great deal out of the supposed source Q, a product of 19th century higher criticism, to the point of asserting it as fact. To date, no one has ever seen this source or found any reference to it, and somehow, for 1,800 years, everyone missed it “hidden in plain sight”. It is purely a product of speculation, wishful thinking, and literary wrangling. The implication is that the Gospels were not eyewitness accounts, but by writers that drew from Q to write their gospels. Thus, the “Jesus Discovery” authors can later write, when trying to make a case for Jesus being married, that the idea of Jesus not being married was “received tradition”. It wasn’t received tradition, but concluded from four eyewitness accounts. The New Testament says nothing about being married to anyone other than the body of believers, yet the authors have no qualms about building a case based on this “silence”. I gave up reading before they got to making the case of a spiritual resurrection. This theory is as old as the resurrection itself, originating with the Gnostics in the first century. Aside from Sadducees, first century Jews believed in a spiritual afterlife before Jesus came along. If all he did was rise as a spirit, it was no resurrection.
If the authors want to conjecture, they must deal with the minimal facts that most historians agree on: (1) Jesus was executed by the Romans, (2) the tomb where he was first laid was empty (the book’s case that this wasn’t the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is irrelevant), (3) his followers claimed post resurrection appearances of Jesus, and (4) the Christian faith exploded in the first century. I didn’t expect the authors to deal with this, but I did expect them to stick closely to the facts. In the end, we have a cluster of inscribed ossuaries—we don’t know how they were placed in the tombs, by whom, or when, other than around the first century CE.
I appreciate the extensive work they did, but not their unwarranted speculations.