Thursday, July 31, 2008

Would Jesus Tap?

It seems to me that the MMA world seems to possess an inordinate number of Christians. Matt Hughes coached a recent season of "The Ultimate Fighter" on Spike and he brought with him a stack of bibles and expected his team members to read them every day. It was interesting to watch as the single contestant that appeared most devout, Dan Barrera, who was even willing to trust God to the point where he quit his job hoping for big things on the show, suffered a pretty rough loss in his first fight and was eliminated.

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (one of my favorites) is really struggling lately, and God seems to be part of the problem. Josh Gross of SI goes Inside the Mind of Rampage where we learn the effects of Jackson's God convictions. Hopefully he can recover from this and pull himself back together.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fact #4, James' Conversion Part 3, Hegesippus on James

Habermas and Licona believe that Jesus' brother James had been a skeptic prior to the resurrection and subsequently converted to Christianity. They are not claiming that this one fact alone proves that the resurrection occurred, but that this one event, taken with others that are agreed upon by the vast majority of scholarship, does point to the resurrection as an actual historical event. This is part of what I described as their minimal facts approach.

Do we really know that there was a man named James, brother of Jesus, that had been a skeptic prior to the resurrection and subsequently converted? I've shown that the evidence offered by Habermas and Licona simply do not warrant this conclusion.

Habermas and Licona point to the fact that two extra biblical sources mention the martyrdom of James. They first appealed to Josephus and then to Hegesippus. I discussed Josephus last time. Hegesippus' comments on James death can be viewed here.

It's interesting to compare the account of James' death from Josephus to that of Hegesippus. What's obvious immediately is that the circumstances are entirely different. This should be an immediate clue to the reader about the conclusions that can be drawn. Since the circumstances that lead to his death are different we should probably start by being agnostic about the reasons for the death.

But this is not how the apologist operates. James must have died on account of his Christian faith. According to Habermas and Licona, James apparently held this faith with conviction, to the point where he was willing to die for it. Josephus says no such thing, but Hegesippus does. Should we prefer Hegesippus to Josephus? Why? No argument is made.

It's reasonable to conclude that James was an important leader of a Jewish sect that operated around the time of the life of Jesus. It's reasonable to conclude that he was killed. We know that some sources imply that James is a skeptic, others say he's the leader of Jerusalem Christians. One source says he was killed due to the machinations related to who would become high priest. Another source says he was killed for professing Christianity. Does this entitle use to just assume that in fact he was a skeptic prior to the resurrection, became a Christian based on what he perceived to be a personal appearance from Jesus, and died as a martyr for this belief? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fact #4-James Conversion Part2, Josephus on James

I want to turn now to some of the extra biblical sources that Habermas and Licona mention regarding the supposed conversion of the skeptic James, starting with Josephus.

As was the case regarding the Testimonium Flavianum, Licona and Habermas confidently assert that James, the brother of Jesus Christ, is mentioned by Josephus. No mention of the questions associated with this text are made.

The text can be read here, but I'll offer my own summary of it.

The context of this passage is the machinations that occurred between rival factions regarding the appointment of the high priest. A man named Ananus had been high priest, and he was succeeded by his own son, also called Ananus. This younger Ananus was an insolent person. Apparently he decided that it was advantageous to have a person named James, brother of Jesus (who was called the Christ) killed. This killing outraged the esteemed Jewish citizens, who appealed to authorities. As a consequence Agrippa stripped Ananus of the high priesthood and gave it to Jesus, son of Damneus.

First, let's note the obvious problem here. Why in the world are Jewish authorities upset that James, the leader of a heretical sect of Christians who in their mind deserved death, has been killed? And even if this unlikely event did happen, why is it that Josephus, an orthodox Jew, would not even bother to comment on the outrageous nature of these events?

Finally, notice the punishment inflicted on Ananus for what he has done. The high priesthood passes to Jesus, son of Damneus. Is James in fact the brother of Jesus, son of Damneus? Was he killed because he was part of a rival faction vying for the high priesthood? The addition of the text "who was called Christ" by a later Christian interpolater would make perfect sense of all of these features. It explains why the Jews became enraged at these events. Because James was not the leader of a heretical Christian sect, but in fact was part of a rival orthodox sect vying for the priesthood. It explains why Josephus doesn't comment on what would be very unusual; orthodox Jews are upset that a heretical individual has been killed. He doesn't comment because in fact it wasn't written this way originally.

Of course it is not out of character for Christian copyists to modify texts. We've already seen this with Josephus, as even Christians admit. This is unfortunate for those that would wish that we can obtain certainty from these questionable ancient sources.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fact #4-The Conversion of the Skeptic James

I'm returning now to my review of Habermas and Licona's book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. My previous comments on the book are located here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,and here.

In this post I want to discuss the 4th alleged fact accepted by the majority of NT scholars. This is the claim that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic of Jesus' claims, but converted to Christianity subsequent to the resurrection.

Presumably this fact would be difficult to explain without at least concluding that James genuinely believed that Jesus was raised. After all, what would it take for you to become convinced your brother was the Messiah? What changed for James that lead him to become a follower of Christ when he had previously been a skeptic? An actual resurrection would of course fully explain these events.

But once again, do we really know these things as fact? Do any of our texts actually say that this is what happened with James? In fact they do not. This is an inference drawn from the fact that some texts portray James as an important Christian leader and others portray Jesus' family as skeptical of his claims. Is this inference justified? The texts discussed below (and cited in my most recent post) can help us decide.

The earliest Christian documents are the Pauline texts, and in them we are informed that James is a very important leader in the church and "brother of the Lord." In Gal 1:19 James is the lone apostle that Paul met with in Jerusalem. In Gal 2:9 James is portrayed as one of the three pillars along with Peter and John. In Gal 2:12 we find that James is the leader of a faction with members that appear to have caused Peter some embarrassment to the point that he withdrew from the Gentiles. Nothing written from Paul would suggest that James had been a skeptic that converted upon a post resurrection visit from Christ.

The earliest gospel is Mark. Mark tells us that Jesus had a brother named James (6:3), and that at one point Jesus' family members thought he might be crazy (3:21). Like Paul, Mark says that there is a person named James that is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (5:37, 9:2, 14:33). But for Mark this James is not the brother of Jesus. He's the brother of John and son of Zebedee. This James is listed as one of the twelve disciples according to Mark, along with another James, James the son of Alphaeus (3:17-18). Mark never informs us that Jesus' brother became a Christian.

The information that Matthew offers is similar to that of Mark. Jesus has a brother named James (13:55). But James the son of Zebedee (one of the 12 disciples along with James son of Alphaes, see 10:2-3) is part of the inner circle of three (17:1). Matthew doesn't suggest that Jesus' brother James became a Christian.

The author of Luke/Acts has a slightly different picture. Again, like Paul, Mark, and Matthew, James the son of Zebedee is part of the inner circle of three along with Peter and John (8:51, 9:28). Two men with the name James are again listed as being among the 12 disciples (6:13-16). We are not told that Jesus has a brother named James. In fact, where Mark and Matthew tell us that James is Jesus brother, Luke appears to be using the same source, but he actually omits the reference to James, almost as if he doesn't want us to think that James is Jesus' brother (4:22). Turning to the book of Acts, Herod has James the son of Zebedee put to death by the sword (12:2). Then, without any fanfare or introduction, another James enters the picture, and this James is similar to the James we're familiar with from Paul. He seems to be a very important church leader. Peter tells others to inform James regarding his escape from prison (12:17). Then James (presumably the same one) is shown as if he's the leader of the Jerusalem Council, pronouncing his final judgment and orders (chapter 15). Who is this James? As far as Luke is concerned we have no reason to think he's the brother of Jesus.

How would an inerrantist make sense of all of this information. Obviously all of this information must fit together within a coherent historical framework. It must be purely a coincidence that the James that was part of the inner circle of three was replaced with another James, this time the brother of Jesus, now a member of the three reputed "pillars." The leader of the Jerusalem church of Acts 15 must be none other than the same skeptical James that thought Jesus was crazy at Mk 3:21. He was so persuaded by the appearance described in I Cor 15 that he was obliged to change his thinking.

And here we arrive at Habermas and Licona's supposed fact. But Habermas and Licona are presenting themselves as offering only those facts accepted by the scholarly consensus. Whether or not the scholarly consensus does agree that this is a fact, I would say that anybody that wants to call themselves a scholar simply cannot just take the inerrantist approach and assume that all of these pieces simply must fit together within a historical framework by hook or by crook.

The scholar needs to recognize that different authors may have different agendas. None of the biblical authors say that James the brother of Jesus had been a skeptic and subsequently became a follower. Maybe none of the biblical authors saw it this way. Is it possible that Paul and James represent rival factions, and while James is admitted to be relevant in the early going he is subsequently downplayed and perhaps his role is minimized? Anybody that knows anything about Catholic vs Protestant apologetics knows that the Roman Catholics take a more Jamesian approach to the gospel whereas Protestants emphasize Paul. Are the canonical scriptures reflecting that rivalry by sort of writing James out, spinning off different characters called James to obfuscate his real historical role, having the non-brother James stand in the place of the brother James as within the inner circle of three?

Habermas and Licona need to show why we shouldn't consider these alternative theories, rather than simply assuming that we must adopt a position that is really an amalgamation of all of the data. This position is really based on a demand for inerrancy, which the skeptic of course does not share and cannot assume.

Biblical Texts Relevant to James the Brother of Jesus

I'm posting these texts to provide easy reference for my next post regarding James.


Gal 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother.

Gal 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

Gal 2:12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.


Mk 3:16These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mk 5:37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.

Mk 6:3 "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Mk 9:2 [The Transfiguration] After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

Mk 12:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately,

Mk 14:33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.


Mt 10 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mt 13:55 "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

Mt 17:1 [The Transfiguration] After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.


Lk 4:22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

Lk 5:8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Lk 6:13When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: 14Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, 16Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Lk 8:51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child's father and mother.

Lk 9:28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.


Acts 12 1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.

Acts 12 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.

Acts 15 13When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16"'After this I will return
and rebuild David's fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things'
18that have been known for ages.

19"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Republicans Oppose Abortion?

I have a theory on Roe v Wade and the ostensible Republican opposition to it. My theory is this: Republicans love Roe v Wade and don't oppose it.

Let's consider first what would happen if Roe v Wade were overturned. Republicans would remove from their base the single issue that motivates them the most. More money and more energy is invested in Republican candidates because of this issue than any other. What do Republican candidates actually gain by giving the pro-life what they want? What they gain is a lot less monetary contributions and a lot less zeal.

Now let's consider what the pro-life cause has to show for their efforts over the years. They worked really hard and got Reagan elected in 1980. He started by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor. I can imagine him speaking to his disappointed pro-life constituents after she voted in a pro-choice manner after her nomination. "Damn guys. I thought she'd do what you wanted. Who knew? Keep working hard for me and we'll get it next time."

So next it was Scalia in '86. All right. Now we're talking. So close now. Next up from Reagan: Kennedy. Once again I'm imagining him confronting his disappointed pro-life supporters. "Boy, do I have egg on my face. Who knew? Tell you what. Work really hard and get Bush the Elder elected. I'm sure we'll get it then."

And so they did. And what happened? Well, we got Souter. Once again, turns out he's pro-choice. "Who knew?" Well, I'll tell you who I think knew. I think Bush knew. And I think Reagan knew. With the sources a President has at his fingertips I just can't imagine they didn't know.

So then finally Bush throws the pro-lifers a bone and gives them Clarence Thomas. Then Clinton is elected and of course you get two pro-choice nominees. This pads out the pro-choice court such that W can come in and give us two more conservatives without seeing much change radically with regards to the law.

Doesn't this look exactly like the carrot? It's always almost within reach, but we never quite get there.

Now, a lot of people are ready to vote for McCain because he's more pro-life than Obama. I say you're wasting your time. He's the quintessential RINO. As a member of the "Gang of 14" he was instrumental in spiking many of the (supposed) pro-life justices that were waiting to be nominated. Can we really imagine that he'd get this done? Expect another O'Connor. Expect the carrot to remain just out of reach.

My advise to Democrats is to try and get Roe overturned and take the zeal and money away from the Republican candidates. It's not as if abortion would be illegal. It might be in a couple of states, like South Dakota or Nebraska. It might come with a few modest restrictions in most states. Perhaps you'd have to have an abortion prior to the end of the 2nd trimester. These are reasonable restrictions that middle America would be happy with. This move would help Democrats more than just about anything.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Bullets are Real, Your God is Not

Via Loqu

Error, Pride, and Bluster

Having been banned from Triablogue I'm forced to comment on their threads elsewhere, which is sometimes inconvenient, but oh well. I really probably shouldn't involve myself, but it's just too interesting sometimes.

Jason Engwer's form remains consistent as I had previously mentioned. His posts can in large part be recreated by simply cutting and pasting the same insults over and over. His recent discussion with John Loftus, Evan, and DingoDave from a thread at Debunking Christianity is another case in point.

This discussion though I think illustrates some personality differences that are very relevant to evaluating the trust that you can put in certain individuals. Here's how.

Being guilty of an error is obviously a problem. Nobody wants to make errors. But everybody does. It's certainly easy to do with regards to Christian origins. It's such a broad field and there is so much misinformation that it's easy to be misled and consequently repeat something that is false. Evan made statements that were mistaken regarding Celsus and Minucius Felix. That's a problem. But Evan's behavior after being shown the error is very important, and it suggests he's a trustworthy person. He immediately conceded the error.

I think this is a very important quality to have. I recently mentioned how Mark Shea likewise conceded an error. I disagree with Mark about a number of things, but I give him credit for admitting to a mistake. I like to think that I'm willing to admit to errors when I commit them. In this thread I mistakenly thought Eusebius was involved in the Easter controversy, when in fact he was just quoting others that had been involved with it long ago. In this thread I mistakenly asserted that the first manuscript that contained the gospel heading was 400 years after the fact, when in fact it is 200 AD. But as soon as I became aware of the error I conceded it.

I've probably made errors that I haven't conceded. Sometimes pride or lack of understanding makes it difficult to recognize them. But I make an effort.

But what of the Triabloggers? I have never seen one of them concede anything more than an inconsequential error, though in my (admittedly biased) view they are guilty of many. In this thread Steve in an effort to win a debating point redefines the term "atheist" to include Mormons. He went on to further defend this position against David Wood here. In this thread Jason shows his ignorance in making claims about Bayes' Theorem. In this thread Jason mis characterizes John's argument terribly, suggesting that because he claims that the ancients were generally more superstitious and gullible that he also believes that ancients would never consider evidence. I tried to get Jason to face his misrepresentation over and over again, but he just could not. In this thread Jason again misrepresents the position of some skeptics on hallucinations, claiming that skeptics would argue that when a group hallucination occurs this means that the group is seeing the exact same thing within their own mind. When I asked Jason which skeptics hold to such a view or why he is characterizing the skeptical position in this way he just refused to deal with my question over and over again.

What does it say about a person when they cannot concede that they've made a mistake? There's nothing wrong with failing to understand something mildly complex like Bayes' Theorem. It's not all that unusual to attribute the wrong views or arguments to someone. But what is unhealthy in my view is when these mistakes are pointed out to you that you are unable to concede them, for whatever reason. When a healthy person becomes aware of facts that he previously was unaware of, he allows those facts to modify his opinions. In this way he is more likely to hold to true opinions. Those unable to perform the self correction are more likely to hold to false opinions.

The other thing I notice is the constant Triablogue assertion that the opponent was previously "refuted." For instance, Jason is talking about how John has been "corrected many times" and he says "notice how poorly" John interacted with certain arguments in the past. This is in regards to this thread (which is the same thread that included one of Jason's misrepresentations that I referred to above).

Obviously I participated in that thread, and I don't see John as being "corrected" or that his arguments "poorly" interact with some of the information Jason is putting forward. But I also recognize that I have a bias, and I wouldn't expect Jason to see it the same way. Which is why I don't feel it necessary to pontificate on who exactly was the "victor." What value does it bring to the discussion for me to repeatedly bloviate on how I think I crushed all of my opponents?

Does Jason not recognize that he and his fellow Triabloggers may not be the best judge of who is the victor in an argument that he is involved in? How much trust should be placed in an individual that seems so oblivious to his own biases? Does he comprehend the message he's really communicating with these bloviations? Touchstone does. Read him react to Paul Manata's similar triumphalist statements here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Significant New Archaelogical Find

A stone tablet found in the area of the Dead Sea that dates to the decades just prior to Jesus' birth apparently communicates that a Jewish leader will be slain and resurrected in three days.

We've heard from such people as William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright that the concept of a singular resurrection prior to the general resurrection had no precedent in the Jewish mind and that Jews had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah. The former point is belied by the gospels themselves, which inform us that some of Jesus' followers believed him to be either Elijah or John the Baptist raised from the dead (Mt 16:14), and that Herod also believed that the beheaded John the Baptist was raised from the dead (Mk 6:16). This tablet would further confirm the apologetic error on that point and also suggest that Craig and Wright are wrong that this concept of a dying and rising savior was completely foreign to the Jewish mind.

HT: Greg Krehbiel