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Old 03-19-2001, 09:00 AM   #1
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Question What happened?

About 300 years after a peasant Jew lived, was crucified and was buried, the religion He founded took over the greatest, and most cosmopolitan empire in all of ancient history. The question remains, how did this extraordinary event actually happen?

Now, the basic facts of the story are not supernatural, and are well enough attested to be pretty agreeable to serious historians. They are:

1) A person by the name of Jesus of Narareth was born around 4-6BC
2) His ministry lasted about 3 years c. 30AD
3) He was executed by crucifixion by then Roman governor Pontius Pilote, and was buried in a grave by Joseph of Arimathea
4) Within days of that event, Jesus closest friends, followers and even some of His family members were saying that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive again. They believed this against all opposition, and eventually (about 300 years or so) the religion that they founded swept over the Empire, replacing virtually every other religion the Western World had known to that point.

How did this happen? For the purposes of this thread, I would like to assume that the Resurrection did NOT take place. The rest of the events described above, however, are pretty much historically accepted as being true. How do you account for them, especially point number 4?

Thank you,

Nomad
 
Old 03-19-2001, 09:13 AM   #2
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Within his own lifetime, Sakyamuni Buddha was widely recognized as a great sage. The religion he founded took over not one but two of the greatest empires the world has ever seen, in India and in China. Various forms of it permeated other Imperial states as well. How did this happen?

Within his own lifetime, Mohammed was recognized as a messenger of god. The religion he founded united a diverse group of warring tribes, a much greater feat than taking over an empire, and founded the greatest Empire of its time, that stretched from China to Spain. It may now be the fastest growing religion in the world today. How did this happen?

Must have been due to intervention of higher powers. Couldn't possibly have been due to perfectly mundane if complex historical and social processes. Clearly Buddha proves...no, wait...Mohammed proves....no, wait....gosh, is anything proved here?

OR


Three hundred years after being introduced to China, Christianity has yet to make any serious headway against Taoism and Buddhism. I guess that proves.....no, wait....

Two hundred years after being introduced to America, Buddhism has yet to make any serious headway against Christianity. I guess that proves....no, wait.....

One thousand years after being introduced to western Europe, Islam has yet to make serious headway against Christianity. I guess that proves...no, wait....gosh, is anything proved here?

50,000 years after neandertals buried their dead with flowers and other markings of religious ritual, humans are still inventing new religions daily. I guess that arguments from historical success or failure prove .....exactly nothing.

Michael
 
Old 03-19-2001, 09:33 AM   #3
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Hi Michael

Thank you for the response. But you didn't answer the question.

Care to try?

Nomad
 
Old 03-19-2001, 09:52 AM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">(3b)... and was buried in a grave by Joseph of Arimathea
4) Within days of that event, Jesus closest friends, followers and even some of His family members were saying that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive again. They believed this against all opposition, and eventually (about 300 years or so) the religion that they founded swept over the Empire, replacing virtually every other religion the Western World had known to that point.

</font>
I would actually dispute points 3b and 4, primarily 4.
3b: Since the disciples didn't actually stick around for the burial, I'm not sure that they can be counted on to verify the circumstances of it.
4:Since the actual written accounts of the events immediately proceeding the crucifixion were not written down until at least 20 years later (at least the extant accounts), some room for reinterpretation of the events is conceivable. When I look back on events that have occured to me, I sometime interpret them in a different light then I did at the time they occured. I think there are some suggestions of this even within the gospels, for instance the encounter with Jesus where he is mistaken for the gardener (Jn 20:11-15), or not recognized (Lk 24:15ff.) or the abrupt ending or Mark at 16:8 in the earliest manuscripts. I know that personally, when in a group, the dynamic of the group can be very conducive to selective interpretation of events (sometimes relatively minor aspects are elevated to a more important status or relatively important events downplayed). I'm not sure that the gospels actually give enough information for an alternative reconstruction of post-Resurrection events. Any reconstruction would necessarily include undocumented and unprovable hypothesis.

I'll try a bit however.
Elements that I would question include the guards. I question whether they were there at all and if they were when they arrived and whether any body was even present when and if they did. If there were any, I don't think they verified whether a body was present when they arrived. I think there is therefore a gap between any possible burial and the guards arriving.(See Mt 27:57-66 for support of this window). There would then have been a window of opportunity for transfer of the body. Perhaps Joseph of A. himself could even have staged a removal or transfer of the body to try to ensure a continuation of the movement (in which case he would have been successful.)

I know it's not popular anymore, but I still kind of like the 'swoon' theory or at least some version of it. I'm not absolutely convinced that Jesus was dead after the crucifixion. He spent relatively little time on the cross compared to the average time required to kill via crucifixion (at least from accounts I've heard). I already know that this isn't a popular theory, but have yet to hear a really good argument against it. The arguments I have heard use medical speculation on his condition (but no doctor was there to examine his body!) or speculation over what would have happened to the centurians had they let him off the cross while alive (but where is this documented, plus how do we know that the Romans were uniform in all areas about enforcing this, also Joseph of A. did seem to have some influence!) What could have happened to him after this, I don't know. Perhaps he died shortly afterwards from his injuries or fled the area or went into hiding.

If I'm allowed to introduce elements which are hypothetical, speculative, improbable (but then again how improbable is resurrection from the dead) and undocumented, I think I could construct a scenario which would account for the belief in the resurrection without any resurrection actually taking place.
 
Old 03-19-2001, 11:17 AM   #5
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Actually, Earl Doherty has a more far-reaching hypothesis:

The earliest Christians, including Paul, preached a cosmic divinity without an earthly history, in the fashion of some pagan deity. Paul seems ignorant of the content of the Gospels, even though much of that content would suit his purposes admirably. Jesus Christ raising Lazarus from the dead is something that he'd gladly have mentioned as proof that JC has conquered death, for example. So why would Paul not have mentioned the Gospels when his successors for nearly two millennia have never tired of doing so???

The writer of Mark created an Old-Testament-inspired allegory, a Midrash, about him, which eventually became "understood" as a literal biography.

The writers of Matthew and Luke added the "Q" sayings, some of which were ultimately Cynic sayings and some of which were answers to those who rejected them.

The resurrection accounts were added in order to fit in with Paul's dying and resurrected Christ; the four Gospels have four different resurrection accounts which are likely separate compositions.
 
Old 03-19-2001, 11:43 AM   #6
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"Within his own lifetime, Mohammed was recognized as a messenger of god. The religion he founded united a diverse group of warring tribes, a much greater feat than taking over an empire, and founded the greatest Empire of its time, that stretched from China to Spain. It may now be the fastest growing religion in the world today. How did this happen?"

Well. Basically, Mohammed claimed that Allah had revealed his word to him. Mohammed did not claim to be divine or perform miracles. Some people believed him. Those that believed him started killing those that didn't. Eventually, more people starting joining than were being killed.

That pretty much explains the beginnings.
 
Old 03-19-2001, 12:02 PM   #7
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How did this happen?

Easy Nomad. The answer is violence, fear and social pressure. Christianity spreadlike wildfire and took over the Roman Empire after Emperor Constantine converted because he believed that it was Jesus helped him win a battle. Funny, I thought Jesus was the "Prince of peace." After Christianity became the official empire of the religion, its spread increased because one could get in trouble for not being Christian. Hmm, either I become a Christian or I die. Not a hard decision in my book.

This is quite the same for Islam. "kill the infidels," a war cry to scare the b-jesus, I'm sorry the "b-mohammed", out of the unconverted. (Ok, I know it was a really bad joke. I mean no disrespect to Jesus or Mohammed, the historical persons. It was just a cultural play on words.)

The powerful thing that Christianity offered, and still offers, is a comforting sense of "us vs. them." And this is another reason why it spread(s) so fast. However, as it encounters groups where the people don't believe in an "us vs. them" mentality, you see that it doesn't make too many inroads.

These reasons have nothing to do with Jesus personally, nor the events of his life. Just the characteristics that come from the religion that arose from his life, or moreso Paul and Peter.

-Spider

 
Old 03-19-2001, 12:13 PM   #8
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Spider:
How did this happen?

Easy Nomad. The answer is violence, fear and social pressure. Christianity spreadlike wildfire and took over the Roman Empire after Emperor Constantine converted because he believed that it was Jesus helped him win a battle. Funny, I thought Jesus was the "Prince of peace." After Christianity became the official empire of the religion, its spread increased because one could get in trouble for not being Christian. Hmm, either I become a Christian or I die. Not a hard decision in my book.

This is quite the same for Islam. "kill the infidels," a war cry to scare the b-jesus, I'm sorry the "b-mohammed", out of the unconverted. (Ok, I know it was a really bad joke. I mean no disrespect to Jesus or Mohammed, the historical persons. It was just a cultural play on words.)

The powerful thing that Christianity offered, and still offers, is a comforting sense of "us vs. them." And this is another reason why it spread(s) so fast. However, as it encounters groups where the people don't believe in an "us vs. them" mentality, you see that it doesn't make too many inroads.

These reasons have nothing to do with Jesus personally, nor the events of his life. Just the characteristics that come from the religion that arose from his life, or moreso Paul and Peter.

-Spider
</font>
Actually, the time frame for Nomad's question is decidedly PRE-Constantine. Specifically, you fail to provide a historically informed naturalistic explanation for the resurrection, and utterly fail to discuss the first 300 years of Christianity's rapid expansion. While many conversions after Constatintine can no doubt be explained by the emperor's influence, what explains its spread, for example, when Nero was busy using Christians as so much kindling?
 
Old 03-19-2001, 12:13 PM   #9
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Nomad:
Hi Michael

Thank you for the response. But you didn't answer the question.

Care to try?

Nomad
</font>
Oh please, Nomad, do you seriously want anyone to write a book for you explaining the success of one strain of Christian belief over all others, as well as over previous religions? What are you going to do if we can't, crow that Christianity succeeded in converting the smallest and least technologically and socially advanced of the world's major empires of the time because god intended it to be that way? Don't be silly.

As I said, the reasons for Christian success are entirely mundane and unteleological. If you have some other explanation, put up some claims and then evidence, and we'll discuss. The default position of history is non-teleology. If you think history has a moral dimension, it is up to you to prove it.

Michael
 
Old 03-19-2001, 12:18 PM   #10
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by not a theist:

I would actually dispute points 3b and 4, primarily 4.
3b: Since the disciples didn't actually stick around for the burial, I'm not sure that they can be counted on to verify the circumstances of it.</font>
Hi nat, and thanks for the reply. A couple of questions on each point if I may.

First, we recently went through a rather prolongued discussion on the historicity of both Joseph of Arimathea, and the empty tomb, and I would welcome your comments on it. Basically, I believe that we established that belief in the empty tomb itself is more reasonable than any other explaination. If you have any questions or comments on that thread, however, please take a look at:

Jesus Christ: Worth Burying in a Tomb?

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">4:Since the actual written accounts of the events immediately proceeding the crucifixion were not written down until at least 20 years later (at least the extant accounts), some room for reinterpretation of the events is conceivable.</font>
Fair enough, and this is why I want to work from the assumption that the Resurrection did not actually take place. This way we can test the plausibility of other presumably naturalistic accounts.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I'll try a bit however.
Elements that I would question include the guards. I question whether they were there at all and if they were when they arrived and whether any body was even present when and if they did. If there were any, I don't think they verified whether a body was present when they arrived. I think there is therefore a gap between any possible burial and the guards arriving.(See Mt 27:57-66 for support of this window).</font>
Alright. I don't think we have to treat the historicity of the guards at the tomb as a given in any event. Although I personally believe that they were there, it could also be argued that Matt added this bit to refute the common alternative theory of his own day, that the disciples had stolen the body. Since the guards are absent from all other accounts (except the much later GPeter), I don't see this as a central issue.

On the other hand, removal of the body by anyone else, especially Joseph of A would be highly problematic, since he would presumably be in an excellent position to debunk the resurrection story that the disciples would have been spreading. The same would hold true of anyone else that had the body, with the possible exception of the disciples themselves.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> There would then have been a window of opportunity for transfer of the body. Perhaps Joseph of A. himself could even have staged a removal or transfer of the body to try to ensure a continuation of the movement (in which case he would have been successful.)</font>
Given the risks involved to Joseph in this scenario, it would strike me as being highly improbable that he would do this however. After all, the fact that he had already requested the body from Pilate would have made him a prime suspect from the other members of the High Council when the body turned up missing. Also, this was all taking place during the Sabbath, and as a member of the High Council, Joseph of A would have been pretty busy to be out removing dead bodies from the grave. Finally, we would have to assume, under this scenario, that Joseph actually expected Jesus to rise from the dead before the event itself, and given the portrayal of the disciples themselves, this kind of foreknowledge by Joseph would be inexplicable.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I know it's not popular anymore, but I still kind of like the 'swoon' theory or at least some version of it. I'm not absolutely convinced that Jesus was dead after the crucifixion. He spent relatively little time on the cross compared to the average time required to kill via crucifixion (at least from accounts I've heard). I already know that this isn't a popular theory, but have yet to hear a really good argument against it.</font>
There are a number of problems with the swoon theory that make it more or less unworkable.

1) The Romans knew their business. They would have known if Jesus was dead or not, just as they already knew that the two other criminals were not dead, and broke their legs. Pilate's surprise would have been shared by the soldiers on the scene, and they would have wanted to make sure that Jesus was really dead (hence the piercing with the spear described in John 19:34, which certainly meets with what we would expect according to what medical doctors have said).

2) Josephus tells us that when he tried to rescue three of his friends from crucifixion, even given the best medical care at the time, two of the three died in any event. This argues strongly that survival on the cross was extremely unlikely.

3) Even assuming that Jesus did survive, he received no medical treatment, and was actually laid in a sealed tomb. Under such circumstances, he would not have survived, and even if through some miracle he did, how would he have removed the stone?

4) Even assuming Jesus got out of the tomb alive, he would have been in such bad shape, no disciple would have seriously thought of his resurrection as being extraordinary, or awe inspiring to the point of thinking that he was God. The swoon theory fails to account for the response of the disciples themselves.

5) What happened to Jesus after he had emerged from the tomb? In other words, how did the disciples hide the living body?

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> The arguments I have heard use medical speculation on his condition (but no doctor was there to examine his body!) or speculation over what would have happened to the centurians had they let him off the cross while alive (but where is this documented, plus how do we know that the Romans were uniform in all areas about enforcing this, also Joseph of A. did seem to have some influence!) What could have happened to him after this, I don't know.</font>
Given someone with enough authority, Jesus could well have been taken down before he was dead (as we see from Josephus' example in trying to save his friends). But the problem here is that the disciples would have had no resurrection to talk about in this case. Pilote would have known that Jesus was not dead when he handed Jesus over to Joseph.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Perhaps he died shortly afterwards from his injuries or fled the area or went into hiding.</font>
Jesus fleeing runs contrary to everything we know about the man, and would have been impossible without a lot of help, especially from someone with medical skills that could administer treatment before he was entombed. I do not see how this could have been accomplished.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">If I'm allowed to introduce elements which are hypothetical, speculative, improbable (but then again how improbable is resurrection from the dead) and undocumented, I think I could construct a scenario which would account for the belief in the resurrection without any resurrection actually taking place. </font>
I would definitely like to hear your theories nat. I am interested in understanding how the non-believer squares the death of Jesus with the birth of Christianity, two events that I think are as certain as any historical event can be.

Peace,

Nomad
 
 

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