Collins and Chesterton on The Fall

“Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness…. Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness. It must also account for such amazing contradictions.”  — Blaise Pascal, Pensees

In his book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (2011), Dr. C. John “Jack” Collins discusses the various literary, historical, theological, philosophical, and scientific issues that go into answering the titular question. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but it is fascinating, nonetheless. In the course of the discussion, Collins gives some critique of the views of Dr. Leon Kass:

“The recent Genesis commentary of Leon Kass [The Beginning of Wisdom (2003)] regularly advocates that we read Genesis ‘anthropologically’ and ‘philosophically’ (terms that strike me as intentional echoes of Aristotle), rather than ‘historically’: that is, as a record, not of what did happen, but what might happen, and what always happens. This, he contends, gives us a much richer way of reading….

[Kass contends that], ‘Read as history, the text fails to persuade the skeptical reader.’ With all due respect to Kass, if we fail to read the Genesis story as some kind of history, we fail to persuade the perceptive reader, because we fail to do justice to [the feeling of] nostalgia [that Kass himself acknowledges the text evokes].

For me, it is G.K. Chesterton [As I Was Saying, ed. Robert Knille (1985)] who best captures the refreshment that comes from realizing this:

Adam-Eve-SerpentThe Fall is a view of life. It is not only the only enlightening, but the only encouraging view of life. It holds, as against the only real alternative philosophies, those of the Buddhist or the Pessimist or the Promethean, that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind;… on that proverb that says ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,’ which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and sceptics: ‘We look before and after, and pine for what is not’; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.

If we say, as I think we should, that there is a level of figurative and symbolic description in Genesis 1-4, we must still allow that the story we find there provides the best explanation for our lives now, and for our hunger for things to be better.”

In other words, Collins’ point (as I understand it) is that a “literal”, historical interpretation (which he holds) must not ignore certain literary considerations, which may include “figurative and symbolic description” (e.g., re the “serpent”). With this acknowledgement, we have in the opening chapters of Genesis a true account of historical events which also explains the simultaneous greatness and wretchedness of Man and his internal yearnings for what was lost.


The Case Against Jeb Bush

“Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is today’s mushy moderate candidate who may well follow in the footsteps of a whole string of similar losers, from Mitt Romney and John McCain in recent elections, all the way back to Thomas E. Dewey, who managed to lose even in an election where three different Democrats were on the ballot, fragmenting that party’s vote.”  — Thomas Sowell, esteemed economist, author, columnist

I hadn’t planned on starting to comment on presidential candidates quite so early. But, I thought George Hewes’ recent article, “JUST GO AWAY: The Case Against Jeb Bush for President”, made some excellent points that I wanted to share. It’s relatively brief, but I urge you to read the whole thing. Here are the passages that stood out for me:

“Far too many Democrat operatives and pundits have said they fear Jeb Bush more than any of his GOP rivals. This is a trap, and a pretty obvious one. All that matters is how the candidate matches up against Madam Secretary.

Jeb Bush - common core and amnestyGiving Jeb the nomination neutralizes some of the best arguments against Hillary. She’s a relic from the 20th century? So is Jeb. She’s a longtime member of the political ruling class who thinks she’s entitled to the presidency because of her last name? So is Jeb. She supports an immigration policy that rewards lawbreakers and dilutes our cultural identity? So does Jeb. She’s charisma-challenged and is propped up not by grassroots enthusiasm but rather by the largesse of big money donors? So is–you get the idea….

After a weak menu of options in 2012, the GOP candidates this time are young, diverse and inspiring. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul -– any of them would be a great contrast to Hillary. Whether we like it or not, much of politics in the 21st century has to do with optics and imagery. A successful candidate absolutely must be articulate and good on television. Just imagine the debates in the fall of 2016 with the right candidate. Any of the aforementioned GOP candidates would play the part of the youthful, bold JFK-type figure against the older, stiff, and uncharismatic Nixon….

[D]oes anyone really believe Jeb has the fire in his belly to counterpunch against the viciousness that the Clinton campaign is sure to throw at him? Walker, by contrast, has fought cage matches against the left in Wisconsin and come away victorious each time. Cruz is a skilled orator who has fought members of his own party in the Senate as well as Democrats. The times call for a silver-tongued pugilist, not a patrician too gentlemanly to return fire….

[T]he fastest way to defeat is to pick a moderate who stands for nothing, excites no one and lacks the stomach for the blood sport of presidential campaigning. A Jeb Bush nomination would continue that trend.”

More can be said, of course, about Jeb’s record, positions, attributes — both good and bad. None of the other candidates, including the ones mentioned, is perfect, either. But, Hewes does an admirable job of summarizing the anti-Jeb case, and we’re still in pre-primary season….


Sowell on the Discrimination of Women in the Workforce

As I work my way slowly, intermittently through Thomas Sowell’s rather large text, Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, (4th ed., 2011), I find myself wanting to share, well, almost all of it. Of course, that’s not going to happen, but I will probably post on a few more topics from this book. Sowell’s goal in writing it was to present the often-intimidating topic of economics in a lay-friendly format, with no charts or graphs and a minimum of technical language. As I write this, I am about half-way through it, and I have to say that he succeeds in his goal. I love the variety of real-world examples and illustrations, too. (Though, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind a few simple charts/graphs.)

Basic Economics 4th edThere has been some buzz in the news lately about “equal pay for women” and what certain politicians and activist organizations are actually paying their female staffers, etc. So, I figured I would post something about the discrimination against women in the labor force this week. Or, rather, I will let the distinguished Dr. Sowell share some of his knowledge and insights on the topic in his own words. In Ch. 10, “Productivity and Pay”, there is a section titled “Pay Differences” in which Sowell points out that it is the combination of supply and demand which determines pay, just as it does with the prices of other goods and services. But, he also discusses the various factors that go into the kinds of labor that are in demand and why some people are paid more or less than others. In particular, I would like to cite from a couple subsections titled “Differences in Skills” and “Job Discrimination”:

“[T]he dwindling importance of physical strength reduced or eliminated the premium for male workers in an ever-widening range of occupations. This did not require all employers to have enlightened self-interest. Those who persisted in paying more for male workers who were not correspondingly more productive were at a competitive disadvantage compared to rival firms that got their work done at lower costs by eliminating the male premium, equalizing the pay of women and men to match their productivities. The most unenlightened or prejudiced employers had higher labor costs, which risked the elimination of their businesses by the ruthlessness of market competition. Thus the pay of women began to equal that of men of similar qualifications even before there were laws mandating equal pay.”

Note that, while the next section is not specifically about women, I felt that the effort to get an understanding of what is meant by “discrimination” was important before going forward.

“While pay differences often reflect differences in skills, experience, or willingness to do hard or dangerous work, these differences may also reflect discrimination against particular segments of society, such as ethnic minorities, women, lower castes, or other groups. However, in order to determine whether there is discrimination or how severe it is, we first need to define what we mean.

Sometimes discrimination is defined as judging individuals from different groups by different standards when hiring, paying or promoting. In its severest form, this can mean refusal to hire at all…. [M]embers of different groups have been treated differently in laws and practices all around the world and for thousands of years of recorded history. It is the idea of treating all individuals the same, regardless of what group they come from, that is relatively recent as history is measured.

Overlapping with discrimination, and often confused with it, are employment differences based on substantial differences in skills, experiences, work habits and behavior patterns from one group to another…. While preferences for some groups and reluctance or unwillingness to hire others have often been described as due to ‘bias’, ‘prejudice’, or ‘stereotypes’, third-party observers cannot so easily dismiss the first-hand knowledge of those who are backing their beliefs by risking their own money…. Distinguishing discrimination from differences in qualifications and performances is not easy in practice, though the distinction is fundamental in principle. Seldom do statistical data contain sufficiently detailed information [to make such distinctions].”

Okay, now we get more into the discussion as applied to women in particular…

“Women, for example, have long had lower incomes than men, but most women give birth to children at some point in their lives and many stay out of the labor force until their children reach an age where they can be put into some form of day care while their mothers return to work. These interruptions of their careers cost women workplace experience and seniority, which in turn inhibit the rise of their incomes over the years relative to that of men who have been working continuously in the meantime. However, as far back as 1971, American single women who worked continuously from high school through their thirties earned slightly more than single men of the same description, even though women as a group earned substantially less than men as a group.

This suggests that employers were willing to pay women of the same experience the same as men, if only because they are forced to by competition in the labor market, and that women with the same experience may even outperform men and therefore earn more, but that differences in domestic responsibilities prevent the sexes from having identical workplace experience or identical incomes based on that experience. None of this should be surprising. If, for example, women were paid only 75 percent of what men of the same level of experience and performance were paid, then any employer could hire four women instead of three men for the same money and gain a decisive advantage in production costs over competing firms.

women-in-the-workforce-sourcePut differently, any employer who discriminated against women in this situation would be incurring unnecessarily higher costs, risking profits, sales, and survival in a competitive industry. It is worth noting again the distinction made in Chapter 4 between intentional and systemic causation. Even if not a single employer consciously or intentionally thought about the economic implications of discriminating against women, the systemic effects of competition would tend to weed out over time those employers who paid a sex differential not corresponding to a difference in productivity. This process would be hastened to the extent that women set up their own businesses, as many increasingly do, and do not discriminate against other women.

Substantial pay differentials between women and men are not the same across the board, but vary between those women who become mothers and those who do not. In one study, women without children earned 95 percent of what men earned, while women with children earned just 75 percent of what men earned. Moreover, even those women without children need not be in the same occupations as men. The very possibility of having children makes different occupations have different attractions to women, even before they become mothers. Occupations like librarians or teachers, which one can resume after a few years off to take care of small children, are more attractive to women who anticipate becoming mothers than occupations such as computer engineers, where just a few years off from work can leave you far behind in this rapidly changing field. [NOTE: I can personally attest to this!] In short, women and men make different occupational choices and prepare for many of these occupations by specializing in a very different mix of subjects while being educated.

The question as to whether or how much discrimination women encounter in the labor market is a question about whether there are substantial differences in pay between women and men in the same fields with the same qualifications. The question as to whether there is or is not income parity between the sexes is very different, since differences in occupational choices, educational choices, and continuous employment all affect incomes. Men also tend to work in more hazardous occupations, which usually pay more than similar occupations that are safer. As one study noted, ‘although 54 percent of the workplace is male, men account for 92 percent of all job-related deaths.’”

There ya go! I think Prof. Sowell has demonstrated that the “discrimination” against women in the workplace is largely misunderstood, since much of what is commonly (but falsely) considered such is actually due to legitimate reasons (i.e., differences in skills, education, experience, and seniority), which, in turn, exist for valid reasons having to do with different interests and priorities in life. I have seen/heard other people try to make this point, but feminists and others who have bought into the whole “war on women” mindset don’t usually want to try to parse out the truth if it goes against their agenda.

If they would just accept that men and women are different, not interchangeable, perhaps they would be less likely to perceive so much “discrimination” that isn’t really there. This would result in less anger and stress, which would probably make them happier and more satisfied people. Just sayin’…


On Jesus’ Burial: 9 Reasons the Gospels Are Credible

“It appears unfounded to doubt the fact of Jesus’ honorable burial — even historically considered.”  — Wolfgang Trilling, distinguished NT scholar and German redaction critic


As a modern-day Westerner, when I think of burial of a person’s remains, I picture them usually in a coffin/casket, which is lowered into a large rectangular hole, which is then filled with dirt. If that isn’t possible, the remains might be interred in a mausoleum. Then, of course, there is the alternative of cremation. But, in Jesus’ case, things were a little different.

Joseph of Arimathea requests Pilate release Jesus' body to him

Joseph of Arimathea requests Pilate release Jesus’ body to him

Skeptics have posited everything from the body being put in an anonymous tomb (which location was forgotten by the disciples) to the body being put in a shallow grave outside the city, where it was probably devoured by wild dogs. That last bit seems far-fetched but would not be uncommon for insurrectionists (as Jesus was accused of being) and thieves (like the two who were crucified with Jesus) in that temporal, cultural, and geographical setting. It might be a valid hypothesis for what happened to Jesus’ remains, too, especially since tombs — cut into the rocky hillsides — were generally reserved for the well-to-do, which Jesus and his family were not. But, we have historical, contemporary records telling us that what actually did happen was far different. For example,

“After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”  — John 19:38-42 (NASB) (cf. Matt. 27:57-61)

*Note: We know from other passages that Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, had purchased the tomb in question.

“Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath day they rested according to the commandment.”  — Luke 23:55-56 (NASB) (cf. Mark 15:46-47)

Of course, we can’t leave out the bit about the guards at the tomb. Matthew tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees met with Pilate, expressing their concern that Jesus’ disciples might steal the body in order to fake his “ris[ing] again” – an event Jesus Himself predicted. Pilate agreed that this would be unacceptable and consented to their request.

“Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.’ And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”  — Matt. 27:65-66 (NASB)

*Note: To be clear, when it refers to a “guard”, it is not referring to merely one man. There is also some debate about whether the guard was Roman or Jewish.

But, why should we believe the biblical account? Jesus’ disciples could have done anything with the body and written whatever they wanted later. According to famed apologist and philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig, there are nine reasons why the historical credibility of the Gospel story of Jesus’ burial is so widely acknowledged. More can be said on each, of course, but I will do my best to summarize them here:

1) Early evidence provided by Paul’s testimony. Several factors within the structure and wording of the formula in I Cor. 15:3-5 show that Paul’s mentioning of the burial was meant as a reference to Jesus being laid in the tomb, not just a confirmation of His death. The historicity of Jesus’ burial is supported by three facts: a) there was insufficient time for a burial legend to arise between the events and the origin of the tradition (ca. AD 30-36); b) the testimony of the women witnesses (more on them later) stands behind the tradition; c) Paul no doubt knew the stories behind the traditions he passed on (e.g., I Cor. 11:23-26), including that of Jesus’ burial. See Gal. 1:18 for confirmation.

2) Burial story was part of the pre-Markan Passion story, making it relatively old. Most critics and scholars agree that the burial account came from Mark’s source material for his Passion account. Again, we have three reasons to accept the historicity of the burial account: a) insufficient time for legend to accrue; b) presence of eyewitnesses in the early Christian fellowship to affirm the facts; c) Paul’s likely knowledge of at least the pre-Markan Passion story.

3) Simple and non-theological, non-apologetic nature of the story itself. Most critics agree with liberal 19th-century theologian Rudolf Bultmann in this regard. There is no significant overlaying of theological or apologetical material — just the simple story of Joseph pleading for the body, wrapping it in linen, and placing it in a tomb.

4) Joseph of Arimathea is probably historical. Even the most liberal critics agree that it is extremely improbable that this character, a member of the Sanhedrin, was made up by Christians. Given early Christian hostility toward the Jewish leaders responsible for Jesus’ death, it makes no sense for them to invent such a person, who donated time, money, and property to make sure Jesus’ body was properly cared for. His actions are attested by Matthew, John, and most notably Mark.

5) Joseph’s laying the body in his own tomb is probably historical. Consistent descriptions of the acrosolia (i.e., ‘bench tomb’), supported by archeological discoveries of their use at the time by notables, lends credibility to the account. Details about it being new and owned by Joseph are also likely true, since placing a criminal’s body in just any tomb would defile any family members’ bodies already interred there.

6) Burial late on the Day of Preparation. Based on what is known about Jewish procedures for handling of executed criminals and burial, Jesus would have been buried on Friday prior to the rising of the evening star. Leaving the body on the cross overnight would defile the land, and with the coming Sabbath, it had to be interred before nightfall. With a little help (namely, from Nicodemus), Joseph could have completed the simple burial described in the Gospels in the allotted time.

Tomb from outside, plus Matt 27 verses7) Observation of the burial by women is historical. If women had not actually been witnesses to the events as reported in the Gospels, it would be difficult to explain why the disciples were not given those roles. (See this post for a bit more on the status of women and the different accounts.) Plus, since it is improbable that they would be involved in one and not the other, the women’s roles in both the burial and empty tomb events may be seen as confirming each other. And, if any of the lists of female witnesses is believable, then there is no good reason to doubt the others, either.

8) Customary careful preservation of the graves of Jewish holy men. The graves of Jewish martyrs and holy men were held in great reverence and carefully maintained. If Jesus’ body was still at the burial site, it likely would have been similarly venerated by His followers, since they were not expecting any resurrections until the end of the world. This may also explain why the women hung around to watch the burial and their desire to anoint His body with spices and perfumes as soon as they could.

9) No other burial tradition exists. Despite the claims and attempts of some liberal critics to show an alternative, “true” account of Jesus’ burial (e.g., shallow grave in criminal graveyard), no such evidence exists. If Joseph’s burial of Jesus in his tomb is mere legend, why are no conflicting traditions anywhere to be found, even by Jewish polemicists?

When combined, these nine factors provide a compelling case for the historical credibility of Jesus’ burial, as related in the Gospels and later referenced in the epistles. The majority of N.T. critics recognize this. As Trilling indicated above, there is no good reason not to. But, of course, this is not the whole story! In fact, the core of Christianity is founded on what happened on the third day after Jesus’ burial!

I hope this post and the preceding 4-part series were helpful and informative, regardless of your religious convictions. If all goes as planned, next year around this time I will finally finish (and post) my 5?-parter on Jesus’ Resurrection for you! In the meantime, you might want to check out this article by RTB’s Ken Samples: “Five Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection”.


On Jesus’ Death, part 4 of 4: Swoon Theory and Substitutionary Atonement

“Except for the romantic few who think that Jesus did not die on the cross but woke up in the tomb and ran off to India with Mary Magdalene, most scholars accept the uniform testimony of the Gospels that Jesus died.”  — Raymond E. Brown, distinguished (though somewhat controversial) Catholic scholar and emeritus professor of Biblical Studies, Union Theological Seminary

3 crosses in silhouetteAs you recall from the first post in this series, the first factor we addressed was whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Person whose crucifixion is recorded in the Christian gospels and later writings. We looked at the “Imposter Theory” and concluded that such an imposter was highly unlikely. Ancient secular and Jewish records also show that it was generally believed that Jesus (called “the Christ”) was indeed crucified. The second factor to be addressed is whether or not Jesus actually died on that cross, and the third question is if He was beyond natural revivification.

With that in mind, we have now examined the physiological effects of the beatings, scourging, and crucifixion, as well as the added results of hanging on a cross from an engineering aspect. Before even reaching the cross, Jesus experienced:

o    Severe contusions & lacerations
o    Immense blood loss (probably 4-6 pints)
o    Hypovolemic & hemorrhagic shock
o    Extraordinary thirst, with drying of mouth & tongue
o    Tachycardia leading to heart failure
o    Pulmonary distress & pleural effusion
o    Pericardial effusion
o    Electrolyte imbalance
o    Extreme exhaustion & physical weakness

As if that wasn’t enough, once crucified He also suffered from:

o    Irreparable neurological trauma (inc. crushed or severed median nerves)
o    Respiratory acidosis
o    Total dislocation of the shoulder & elbow joints
o    Spear thrust through the chest and into the heart

We know from historical records that a few people did survive crucifixion. If taken down before “expiring”, with their wounds tended to immediately, it was possible in some cases to recover. After a lengthy period of recuperation, one would be heavily scarred, almost definitely crippled, and possibly suffer other long-term damage. Of course, none of them were also thrust through with a spear. So, let’s look at that again….

The Gospel accounts tell us that the Jews wanted to be sure the three bodies on Golgotha were not still hanging on their crosses after sundown, since it was the Day of Preparation for Passover, so they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths. The usual method was to break the person’s legs with a club or mallet, so that he could no longer push up to exhale. We know from John’s eyewitness testimony (John 19:32-37) that the soldiers who broke the legs of the two thieves on the other two crosses did not bother to do so with Jesus, because “they saw that He was already dead”. However, perhaps just to be extra sure Jesus was not merely unconscious, one of them thrust a spear into His side. And the soldier knew just where to strike to make sure Jesus was dead even more quickly and, thus, mercifully than if he had broken His legs. (Just try to “play dead” when someone knifes you between the ribs!) As mentioned earlier, the Bible says that “blood and water flowed”, which we know is evidence that He was pierced all the way to the heart.

But, Maybe It Wasn’t So Bad…

Now, let’s assume for a moment that for some reason the Roman soldiers had taken it easy on Jesus. (Bribed, maybe?) Perhaps the beatings and scourging were not quite as harsh as normal; Jesus was in serious shape, but not critical. Maybe the guard who hammered in the nails was sloppy and somehow missed the median nerves entirely (not bloody likely!). In other words, I am proposing, for sake of argument (as others have), that the biblical record is accurate as far as the basics of what happened, but that the severity of Jesus’ internal and external injuries were less, perhaps much less, than was normally produced by Roman practice.

Some people (e.g., Barbara Thiering) have suggested that snake poison was administered to Jesus at some point, so that he would pass out (perhaps lapse into a coma?) and appear to be dead. Others (e.g., Hugh Schonfield) have speculated that a drug, probably made from mandrake, was given to Him to produce a deathlike appearance. Given the physiological trauma, I don’t think either one of these would have helped a crucifixion victim’s condition one bit. Plus, both scenarios assume that the Roman soldiers could be easily duped or bribed. But, history tells us that they were quite proficient at killing. Plus, under Roman law, if a prisoner escaped or a condemned man lived, whomever had responsibility had to take the prisoner’s place. So, you better believe they did not take chances!

But, again for sake of argument, let us assume that something like this happened. We still have a man who has been brutally beaten, flogged, and nailed to that cross. He still had to endure the effects of hanging on that cross for three (six?) hours. His joints would still have slowly separated. He would still be stuck in a “fully inspired” position, with his ability to breathe greatly restricted. Would he really be able to “fake” not breathing long enough to fool the soldiers? Oh, wait… Then he got a spear stuck in his side!

So, now you need to ask yourself how long someone in that condition could have lasted, after being taken down and put in a cold stone tomb. There is the matter of exposure and possible hypothermia to consider, as well as hunger and thirst. A severely beaten and injured man, somehow still alive, would then have to survive at least XX hours with minimal protection against the elements and no food or water. Although, it is possible that Joseph of Arimathea (or someone else) could have left garments and food & water in the tomb for Him. But, there are other factors that work against such suppositions.

The Fall of the Swoon Theory

David F. Strauss

David F. Strauss

This leads us to consider “Swoon Theory”. (Well, technically, we have already broached it.) Though it usually comes up in discussions about the Resurrection, I will address it here, because it is basically the hypothesis that Jesus was not really dead when they removed him from the Cross and that He later recovered while in the Tomb. Somewhat ironically, it was the 19th-century German scholar and liberal theologian David F. Strauss who gave one of the earliest and best critiques against this theory in his book A New Life of Jesus, 2 vols. (1879). Strauss’ main points might be summarized as “Removal of tombstone?” and “Subsequent travel?”

As stated above, we have a Jesus in an extremely weakened physical condition, with pierced and damaged hands and feet, who must 1) unwrap himself, then refold the linens; 2) somehow move the very large stone, which was typically set in a groove or gully, thus requiring it to be rolled uphill; and, 3) oh, by the way, there would be no edge to grip the stone from the inside. Once free of the tomb (and what about those Roman guards?), this man, who likely could barely even stand for long, would somehow have to walk — probably crawl — to where the disciples were. Yet, all reported appearances had Him standing and walking. Furthermore, while the wounds were still present, He appeared vital and healthy! So much for “Swoon Theory”.

In the end, there is no reason to assume any sort of “swoon theory” has any basis in reality and every reason to believe the presentation of the historically reliable Gospel record. When you add it all up, modern biomedical analysis (see “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1986) tells us that there is no way that anyone could survive such a horrible ordeal. Jesus had truly expired. He was not merely unconscious or even comatose, nor had He been poisoned or drugged. He was not going to simply wake up in the cool of the tomb, or possibly with the aid of another drug. Nor could He have freed Himself from the tomb and walked around in such condition. Jesus was dead dead and beyond revivification. Short of a true miracle, that is. But then, skeptics don’t believe in miracles, anyway. And, of course, faithful Christians believe that Jesus did indeed die, and the miracle was in His physical, bodily resurrection three days later!

As we shall address in a subsequent series, even if Swoon Theory worked and all records/testimony to the contrary was fabricated, it cannot account for the disciples’ belief in the risen and glorified Jesus, or the empty tomb, or the later conversions of skeptics like James (Jesus’ brother) and Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus).

I would be remiss if I finished this series without including something about WHY Jesus had to die. WHAT did He accomplish? To that end, here is a brief quote from Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson [h/t]:

“[T]he charges brought against Jesus… were blasphemy in the religious court (a capital offense) and treason in the civil court (also a capital offense). He was found ‘not guilty’ on each count. Yet he was executed.

What is the underlying meaning of all this? It is very simple. The crimes are not his.

Whose crimes, then, are they?

Blasphemy and treason are the two crimes on our charge sheet in the judgment court of God. We have blasphemed against God by making ourselves the center of our world and the lord of our own life. We have committed treason against God’s rightful authority by refusing his will. That was what Adam did. It is what we also have done.

Jesus has been found guilty and condemned for our crimes.

In the Gospel narrative, every reliable witness before the court points to Jesus and says, ‘He is innocent of these charges.’ There is only one possible explanation, therefore, for his death. He is accepting the charges leveled against us in the courtroom of the eternal Judge. He, the perfect image of God, is being marred beyond human semblance so that we might be restored to the image of God.”



On Jesus’ Death, part 3 of 4: Crucifixion

In the first entry in this series of posts, we looked at a few (but not all) early, non-Christian references to the death by crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as well as variations of one popular theory that claims Jesus of Nazareth did not die on a Roman cross. In the second entry, we examined the severe physical trauma that Jesus must have gone through, based on the descriptions of events in the Gospels, before He was even crucified. Today, we will consider the Crucifixion itself.

The Crucifixion:

Over the years and particularly the past few decades, archeologists and historians have gained increasing knowledge about ancient times and the various beliefs and practices. As a result, we now know that some of the details that we thought we knew from medieval paintings and the like are not quite correct. For example, the crosses used in Jesus’ day looked more like a “T”, with the vertical post (or stipes) not showing much, if at all, above the crossbeam (or patibulum). The vertical beam was permanently embedded in the ground and rose only 6 to 8 feet.

jesus-carries-his-crossIt has been confirmed, though, that criminals sentenced to crucifixion were made to carry their own crossbeam (perhaps 75-150 lbs.) on their shoulders out to the place of execution. With the physiological effects of the beating and flogging already described, this would be quite painful and exhausting, especially when the prisoner would stumble and fall to the ground. Between the crossbeam on the shoulders and the occasional fall, clotting wounds would likely be rubbed or impacted, reopened, and subjected to dirt and gravel. From the Gospels (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26), we know that, as they led Jesus out of the Praetorium, the soldiers ordered a bystander named Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ crossbeam the rest of the way. This was most likely because Jesus was so weakened from the trauma He had already endured that they knew He didn’t have the strength to do it Himself.

When the place of execution was reached (the hill called “Golgotha”, or “(Place of) the Skull”, in Jesus’ case), the prisoner was again completely stripped. The soldiers were probably none-too-gentle about this. When the garments were removed, the wounds that were stuck to the garments with clotting, dried blood would be reopened and start bleeding out again. This was made worse when He was thrown or forced to the ground for the nailing, causing dirt and gravel to once again be ground into the wounds. Roman centurions were not exactly known for being gentle. Of course, what did they care about a common criminal about to be executed?

The hypovolemic shock, tachycardia and heart failure would all have been aggravated with the trek through the city and up to Golgotha (probably about 1/2 mile), especially with the added burden of the crossbeam (which thankfully was only temporary). There is a strong membrane called the pericardial sac that surrounds the heart and is normally in direct contact with it. As the heart fails, a clear straw-colored fluid begins to separate and collect between the heart and the pericardial sac. This puts more pressure on the heart and further keeps it from functioning properly.

Since being flogged and losing so much blood, Jesus also would have been having trouble breathing, due to His body’s struggling to keep oxygen and carbon dioxide flowing. There is another membrane called the pleura, which basically lines the inside of the rib cage and is folded back onto the surface of each lung. At this point in Jesus’ ordeal, a similar, clear straw-colored fluid would be filling the space between the lungs and the pleura. When He was upright, this pleural effusion would collect at the level of the heart. Acidity of the blood (i.e., acidosis) is also increasing at this time, which will soon cause serious problems.

The arms were stretched out in a straight line along the crossbeam, so that the hands were as far apart as possible when nailed to it. (This will be more significant when we examine the effects of hanging on the cross.) Another point of historical clarification that some are still unaware of is that crucifixion victims were not nailed through the palms of the hands. Indeed, the weight of the hanging body would have caused the iron nails to rip through the palm and out between the fingers. Rather, the nail (which was square and roughly 4-6 inches long, like a railroad spike) was driven through the crease at the wrist, where the forearm meets the base of the palm. Specifically, the nail went through the carpal tunnel where the bones are connected by strong ligaments, making it the only solid anchor point. Back then, the wrist was considered part of the “hand”, so the facts are again entirely consistent with the biblical description.

large square nailsThe median nerve, the largest running through the hand, would be crushed by the nail. The smaller, ulnar nerve is the one that causes the “funny bone” sensation when we bump our elbow just “right”. Now, imagine squeezing your ulnar nerve as hard as you can with a pair of pliers! That is something like the incredible pain experienced by having a huge nail driven through the median nerve. And it would last until the victim died. The pain was so intense (much to the Romans’ delight) that they coined a new Latin term to describe it — ex crux (literally, “from the cross”), which is where the English word ‘excruciating’ comes from.

As for the nailing of the feet, there was a little more variation. Among the remains of the only known 1st century crucifixion victim from Israel is a right heelbone (or calcaneus) with a nail piercing from “outside” to “inside”. The nail is no more than 5 inches long with the point bent over, so it could only attach one heel to the post. The feet were probably nailed one to each side of the post. This does not mean, however, that the traditionally-pictured method — with both feet nailed to the front of the post, usually through the tops of the feet — was not also used. The Gospels give no clues as to which way was used on Jesus, but either way would have caused further damage to nerves and/or bones. We also don’t know if a foot rest (or sedile) was used — not that it would have provided much relief.

As soon as the crossbeam (with victim nailed to it) was attached to the vertical post, gravity started to play a major role. Whichever way the feet were nailed, the knees would have been bent in a half-knee bend position. (Ever tried to support your weight for long like that?) Even someone in good shape can’t sustain this for more than a minute or two. So, basically the whole time someone is crucified, their bodyweight is supported just by their arms. From an engineering standpoint, each arm must provide an “upward component” of force to carry the weight of the body. As time passes, the arms stretch, the shoulder and elbow joints are pulled apart, and the arms lengthen roughly 3 to 6 inches.

The only way to give any relief to the arms is by an extreme effort to push up on the legs. Of course, this causes the feet intense pain, as the nails grind against the periosteum membrane and possibly the tarsal bones. But, it is necessary in order to breathe. (This is why the soldiers would often break the victim’s legs or ankles in order to hasten their death. The 1st century bone remains that I mentioned earlier show evidence of this practice.) Unfortunately, this causes the arms to rotate slightly at the wrists, thus causing the nails to further aggravate the crushed median nerves. Also, with each painful breath, Jesus’ back rubbed up against the coarse wooden post, keeping wounds open and bleeding.

But, why is this necessary to breathe? Normally, when we inhale, the ribs expand on their hinges and the diaphragm muscle contracts and flattens. When a crucified body has all of its weight hanging on its arms and is unable to shift support to the legs for more than a few moments, the weight of the internal organs keeps the diaphragm down. The intercostal and pectoral muscles around the lungs halt normal breathing while the body hangs downward. In other words, the chest remains in an inhaled position. Without the ability to pull their arms down (or their body upward), it is extremely difficult just to *release* a breath. Eventually, the victim becomes too exhausted to continue pushing up on their feet to breathe anymore. Thus, death by crucifixion is usually the result of slow, agonizing asphyxiation.

crucifixion_wristsRemember that blood acidity problem I mentioned earlier that results from an insufficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide? Now is when it really starts to get bad. The problem is really the carbon dioxide, which is transported in the blood plasma. When someone hypoventilates (i.e., they aren’t breathing enough), carbon dioxide isn’t expelled fast enough, so it builds up (as carbonic acid) in the blood. This acidosis effect has been accelerating since the scourging and now reaches a stage where Jesus begins to experience cardiac arrhythmias. At this point, He could surely feel the irregular beating in His chest and knew His time was almost up. Shortly, at the appointed hour (i.e., 3pm, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered), He managed one final breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then He died, quite likely while in full cardiac arrest.

As sunset approached, the soldiers examined the three crucified on Golgotha. The two thieves were still alive, so the soldiers broke their lower legs, ensuring they would expire within minutes. Jesus already appeared to be dead, so they did not break His legs. But, one soldier decided to make sure by piercing Jesus’ side (probably the right frontal part of the chest) with his spear. The speartip would have gone through the chest wall, penetrated the pleural space of the right lung, then entered the pericardial space and finally into the heart. John 19:34 (NASB) says that, “immediately blood and water came out.” The blood, of course, was from the heart. The “water” would have been the clear, slightly straw-colored fluid that had collected in the pleural and pericardial spaces.

Whew! That was another rather graphic post (like the last one) but necessary to explain just how serious Jesus’ physical condition was from a medical standpoint in those final hours. Next post should wrap up the series with additional facts and a bit of speculation.

Until then… Happy Resurrection Day!


On Jesus’ Death, part 2 of 4: Beatings and Flogging

Physical Exhaustion & Trauma

Anguish in the Olive Grove:

To examine the physical exhaustion and trauma that Jesus experienced during His final hours, we must begin in Gethsemane. It was there that He knelt in fervent prayer, knowing that His imminent suffering and death were fast approaching. The Bible says that He was distressed and troubled, telling His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matt. 26:38 and Mark 14:34) In fact, Luke says that He was in such anguish that His sweat “was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Hematodrotic Jesus in the Garden (by Fred Carter)

Hematidrotic Jesus in the Garden (by Fred Carter)

Note that it does not say that he was sweating actual drops of blood, but instead uses a simile. Now, this could be a bit of hyperbole used to emphasize the intensity of Jesus’ anguish. Besides, the Gospels tell us that it was already dark, so there would need to be a good amount of moonlight or torchlight for one of the disciples to notice the color of Jesus’ sweat.

But, it is also possible that there was some actual blood mixed in with His sweat. There is a rare medical condition called hematidrosis, which occurs at times of extreme stress. The capillaries in the sweat glands break down, resulting in enough bleeding to cause the sweat to have a pinkish color. Although the amount of blood is not significant, the skin is left very sensitive. It would also be an indicator of the intense distress Jesus’ mind and body were going through even before his arrest.

Sidebar:  I would like to bring up one other verse regarding this point which is often left unmentioned. In the same passage in Luke 22, between His submission to the Father’s will (v.22) and the sweat like drops of blood (v.24), it says that an angel appeared and strengthened Jesus. It isn’t clear whether it was a strengthening of His resolve and/or some other type of spiritual, emotional, or physical strengthening. It doesn’t say if the angel spoke or touched Him, so perhaps just seeing the angel was an encouragement that the Father was still with Him. On the other hand, the angel may have conferred some measure of divine, superhuman endurance upon Jesus’ otherwise human body, in order to help Him withstand the torture (and stay conscious) until the appointed time. (There may be theological problems with this hypothesis in regards to when & how much divine power Jesus could access, but it was just a thought.) Or, maybe it was something in between. Regardless, I suppose it may not even be worth mentioning in an apologetics argument. After all, a skeptic is not likely to say, “So what if Jesus went through all that torture?! That angel gave Him extra ‘strength points’! He cheated!” Skeptics don’t typically believe in angels, after all.

The Beatings:

The first recorded instance of physical abuse that Jesus suffered during “the Passion” at the hands of others is when He was brought before Annas immediately after His arrest. When Jesus answered Annas’ question, an official standing nearby thought Jesus was being insolent and struck Him in the face. (John 18:19-24)

The next occasion was during His trial before the high priest Caiaphas and the ruling council of the Sanhedrin. When Jesus finally confirmed that He claimed to be “the Messiah, the Son of God”, the high priest accused Him of blasphemy, and the rest agreed and condemned Him as “worthy of death”. They blindfolded Him, spit in His face, punched and slapped Him (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65). Mark and Luke (Luke 22:63-65) mention that the guards also joined in the beating and mocking.

While there is no specific mention of it in the New Testament, it is possible that they also ripped out some or all of Jesus’ beard, too. It was not uncommon to do so in beatings like this. Some believe that the prophet Isaiah’s reference to this (Isaiah 50:6) was not only something he personally experienced but was a prediction of what Jesus would suffer. If He did have His beard ripped out, it may have happened at this point, or later in the Praetorium, or both.

Although the Jewish leaders officially condemned Jesus under Jewish law, they had no authority under Roman law to put Him to death, so they bound and took Him to the Roman procurator (or governor), Pontius Pilate. Pilate heard the accusations but did not find Jesus worthy of any real crime. When he discovered that Jesus was from Galilee and thus under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Jesus to Herod. Herod and his soldiers mocked and ridiculed Jesus, though there is no mention in the Gospels of physical abuse. Then Herod sent Him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:6-12)

Jesus beaten and crowned with thornsPilate tried again to point out that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death, but the crowd, as “persuaded” by the Jewish leaders, insisted that He be crucified. Perhaps hoping that it would appease their bloodlust, Pilate decided to first have Jesus flogged. (More on this in a minute.) Such scourging was also a prerequisite to crucifixion under Roman law. And remember, if Jesus had indeed suffered from hematidrosis in Gethsemane, his skin was unusually sensitive, thereby heightening the pain of the beatings and flogging.

Sometime after the flogging but before the crucifixion, the governor’s soldiers were able to have a little “fun” with Jesus. They took Him to the Praetorium (i.e., probably the Judgement Hall in the governor’s palace stronghold), stripped Him, put a scarlet/purple robe on Him, forced a crown of long thorns onto His head, and put a staff in His right hand. Then they mockingly bowed and hailed Him as King of the Jews. But, they also spit on Him and struck Him repeatedly about the head and face with the staff. (Matt. 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-3) Note that this brutal beating was after the already incredibly agonizing torture of the flogging.

Pilate then had the brutally beaten Jesus brought out (wearing the robe and crown of thorns) and again attempted to get the Jewish leaders to listen to reason. Perhaps he thought the severity of punishment that had already been administered would be deemed sufficient. But, they demanded Jesus’ death, so Pilate reluctantly ordered his soldiers to proceed with the crucifixion. (Matt. 27:1-2,11-26; Mark 15:1-15; John 18:28 – 19:16)

The Flogging (or Scourging):

In the Praetorium, Jesus would have been completely stripped and bound to a whipping post. He would then have been severely flogged about the shoulders, back, buttocks, and backs of the legs. The leather braids would also often wrap around to the fronts of the legs and the chest and abdomen. The soldiers who did the flogging were officially supposed to limit themselves to 39 lashes, but it was common for them to really get “into it” and give many more.

Now, to truly understand the brutality of this practice, one must realize that they did not use a bullwhip or even a typical cat-o’-nine-tails. The whip, or flagrum, consisted not only of several, braided leather strips attached to a short handle, but several shards of broken bone and iron balls were also tied in among the leather strips. Not only did each lashing cause lacerations from the leather, but it also caused the sharp bone shards to slice deeply into the skin and muscle, ripping out chunks of flesh when the flagrum was pulled back. This would often expose ribs, veins, even the spine and some internal organs over the course of the scourging. Also, the metal balls would cause severe bruises that sometimes broke open with later blows, thus adding to the trauma and agony. As one physician put it, the flogged areas would be reduced to “quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” As I will describe in a moment, this treatment would put the victim into critical condition, and many died before they even got to the place where they were to be crucified.

flagrum and victimObviously, these wounds would have caused significant blood loss, perhaps as much as half of Jesus’ total body volume of blood, causing Him to go into hypovolemic (or cardiovascular) shock. When less and less blood is returned to the heart, less and less is pumped out. The resulting drop in blood pressure causes it to beat faster and harder (140-160+ bpm). This is called tachycardia, the first physiological effect of hypovolemic shock. An athlete in good shape (and no loss of blood) only sustains this for a short while, but Jesus experienced this for His remaining hours, which would eventually lead to acute heart failure. It is not surprising that He would have had trouble standing and staying conscious, let alone carrying a cross — even just the horizontal crossbar, which was likely the case.

Another physiological condition caused by hypovolemic shock is that the kidneys go into overdrive, reabsorbing every drop of fluid filtered through them. This means that there is nothing left from which to make urine. (In itself, this was probably the least of Jesus’ problems.) The reduced blood volume triggers the thirst response in order to try to replace body fluids. As a result, Jesus would also have been extremely thirsty, and He probably had not had anything to drink since supper the previous evening.

Stay tuned for Part 3 this Easter Sunday…


On Jesus’ Death, part 1 of 4: Imposter Theory and Secular Evidence

It’s getting close to Easter (aka “Resurrection Day”) again and, as usual, I wanted to come up with something relevant for my readers. I was casting about for something with a theological/apologetical flavor and eventually remembered an old manuscript I was working on back in 2003 & 2004, which I decided to, um, resurrect. So, I guess you could say I’ve been working on this series of posts for almost 12 years!

It was waaaay too long for a single post, which is why I broke it up. I tweaked it a bit, but it holds up pretty well, despite having been composed years before I starting doing any regular writing. I don’t remember all of my sources, but I have heard/read many of the historical facts and explanations from various people over the years. The esteemed Dr. Gary Habermas was likely a major source, as was Dr. Alex Metherell regarding the medical/physiological aspects. I think I got some material from Jesus Under Fire by Wilkins et al., too, but I lost my copy, so I can’t check it. Then, of course, there is a bit of my own speculation….

There are actually 5 parts, since I have one called “On Jesus’ Burial” to finish up with. I’ll be publishing every 3-4 days until they’re all out, so… happy reading!












One of the most controversial truth claims of Christianity is that of the physical, bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, before examining the truth of the Resurrection itself, at least two other facts need to be established. First, we must look at the likelihood that the biblical Jesus of Nazareth was indeed crucified. Any claim to resurrection requires that the subject be:

1) who s/he is supposed to be, not an imposter;
2) actually dead, not just temporarily unconscious or comatose;
3) beyond natural revivification.

So, we shall consider secular evidence for Jesus’ crucifixion. We shall also examine the “Imposter Theory”, “Swoon Theory” and other naturalistic explanations, as well as the effects of the injuries Jesus experienced during his trials and on the Cross.

Second, there is the matter of Jesus’ burial, specifically in the fresh-cut tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, which was sealed and guarded, yet later found empty. We shall look at a couple of the favorite theories of skeptics and their problems, as well as evidence that Jesus was buried in the manner described by the Gospels.


Imposter Theory

I think it would be best to first clear up who it was that was condemned to die and hung on a Roman cross. (Of course, there were thousands who died in this manner over the years, but you know the time and circumstances I am referring to.) The “Imposter Theory” proposes that Jesus was at some point replaced, either just before or during the trials, by a lookalike (e.g., a brother, cousin, or other) in order to fool the authorities into thinking they had killed Jesus, when He had really escaped into seclusion in another country. It has been used by liberal, gnostic, and secular skeptics over the years, including being incorporated into popular fiction, from the medieval “Gospel of Barnabas” to modern writings by Michael Baigent et al. Some version of this theory also has long been held by Muslims (Surah IV:157-158), who honor Jesus as a prophet but do not believe He was killed or is the Son of God. They typically believe either Jesus did not die from the crucifixion or someone else was crucified in His place — i.e., Allah changed the appearance of either one of Jesus’ followers who volunteered (e.g., Simon of Cyrene) or one of His enemies (e.g., Judas Iscariot) to be a doppelganger for Jesus. Either way, “Allah raised Jesus to the Heavens.”

One major problem with this theory is just whom Jesus or the Apostles and/or other disciples might have convinced to make this sacrifice. Such loyalty to the point of self-sacrifice is not unheard of, but not for a simple rabbi. If the imposter thought Jesus was indeed an anointed king and/or Messiah and/or the Son of God, then such dedication could be understood. On the other hand, people don’t sacrifice themselves for something they know is a lie. (Same argument goes for the Apostles and many first-generation Christians.) And, for Jesus or His chief disciples to ask someone else to sacrifice himself, especially for the purpose of deception, would be entirely against Jesus’ character and teaching, not to mention the fate He had already foretold of Himself. (One further note: While the apostle Thomas was known as Didymas (i.e., the Twin), there is no evidence whatsoever that he was Jesus’ twin, nor is Thomas listed among Jesus’ brothers. It is also questionable whether any of Jesus’ siblings believed His claims prior to His resurrection. Nor is there reason to believe that Judas Iscariot was the imposter, particularly given the later account of his death.)

The second major problem with the “Imposter Theory” is when and how the switch might have been accomplished, such that Jesus’ enemies would not realize the switch had been made and no one else who knew Him but were not “in on it” would inadvertently give it away. Certainly it would have to be done prior to the scourging, otherwise Jesus’ life would have still been at risk by enduring it Himself. (Plus, it would be rather difficult to fake those wounds half-way through the trial.) Jesus probably sat in a cell for a while between His trial before Caiaphas and being taken to Pilate, so perhaps some guards were bribed and the switch was made then. But, Caiaphas and the other high priests and Jewish leaders went along to present their case to Pilate, and they would have had plenty of opportunity from then through the time the alleged imposter was hanging on the cross for at least one of them (or another bystander) to notice anything about Jesus that didn’t quite “fit”. (Unless, of course, it was a divinely altered appearance, I suppose.)

More possibilities could be examined here, but it would all be speculation, because there is nothing to support the “Imposter Theory”. When problems with this theory are brought up, the explanation is typically that the Apostles and/or later Christian leaders eradicated any documentary evidence (in the Gospels or elsewhere) that might point to a possible switch having been made or subsequently discovered. Basically, a conspiracy theory with no supporting evidence. One might ask why the alleged conspirators did not insert more “evidence” to make the now-traditional stories bulletproof.

Evidence that Jesus was Crucified

“Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.”  — John Dominic Crossan (leader of the radical liberal Jesus Seminar), Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145

Josephus AntiquitiesOutside of the canonical Gospels and subsequent Christian writings, which are accepted by most historians as reliable records of history, there are a few other sources from ancient times that attest to Jesus Christ’s having been crucified. Perhaps the two most significant are by well-respected historians from the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD. In his The Antiquities, the secular Jewish historian Flavius Josephus writes about:

“Jesus, a wise man,… who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher…. [And] Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified,….”.

(There are other parts of this passage that are disputed, but not these parts.)

The Roman historian Tacitus, in describing Nero’s blaming of the Christians for the burning of Rome (while he himself was guilty), explains that:

“Christus, from whom the name [Christian] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus….”

The ‘extreme penalty’ referred to is acknowledged by modern historians to be the torturous death by crucifixion, a popular method of execution for insurgents and common criminals. The Romans may not have invented it, but they certainly perfected it in their search for ways to inflict the most pain and humiliation possible.

Even ancient Jewish literature makes reference to Jesus’ miracles and His crucifixion. In the Babylonian Talmud (ca. AD 400-500), for instance, it says, “And a Master has said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led Israel astray.’” Another passage states, “It was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (the Nazarene) was hanged.” When someone was said to be “hanged on a tree” in those times, it often referred to death by crucifixion rather than lynching or hanging with a noose.

So, we have no credible evidence of any imposter taking Jesus’ place, nor a likely scenario for the switch to take place without His friends or (more importantly) His enemies noticing something suspicious. Furthermore, we have the witness of ancient Roman and Jewish documents attesting that Jesus Christ, the controversial Galilean rabbi and miracle-worker, was accused of serious crimes one Passover and executed by way of crucifixion under orders of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Sounds pretty clear-cut to me.

Have a Blessed Palm Sunday!


Why People Believe and Why People Kill: Countering Dennett and Harris

A few weeks ago, I said I would be sharing a few more passages from Dr. David Bentley Hart’s book Atheist Delusions. In this citation from early in the book, Hart is in the midst of pointing out some of the bad arguments, poor understanding of both religion and history, and sanctimony in the anti-religious rhetoric of the “new atheists”….

Cover to Breaking the Spell“That there might be such a thing as religious experience (other, of course, than states of delusion, suffered by the stupid or emotionally disturbed) is naturally never considered, since it goes without saying that there is nothing to experience. Dawkins, for instance, frequently asserts, without pausing actually to think about the matter, that religious believers have no reasons for their faith. The most embarrassingly ill-conceived chapter in [Daniel Dennett's] Breaking the Spell consists largely in Dennett attempting to convince believers, in tones of excruciating condescension, that they do not really believe what they think they believe, or even understand it, and attempting to scandalize them with the revelation that academic theology sometimes lapses into a technical jargon full of obscure Greek terms like ‘apophatic’ and ‘ontic’. And [Sam] Harris is never more theatrically indignant than when angrily reminding his readers that Christians believe in Christ’s resurrection (for example) only because someone has told them it is true.

It is always perilous to attempt to tell others what or why they believe; and it is especially unwise to assume (as Dennett is peculiarly prone to do) that believers, as a species, do not constantly evaluate or reevaluate their beliefs. Anyone who actually lives among persons of faith knows that this is simply untrue. Obviously, though, there is no point in demanding of believers that they produce criteria for their beliefs unless one is willing to conform one’s expectations to the kind of claims being made. For, while it is unquestionably true that perfectly neutral proofs in support of faith cannot generally be adduced, it is not a neutral form of knowledge that is at issue. Dennett’s belief that no one need take seriously any claim that cannot be tested by scientific method is merely fatuous. By that standard, I need not believe that the battle of Salamis ever took place, that the widower next door loves the children for whom he tirelessly provides, or that I might be wise to trust my oldest friend even if he tells me something I do not care to hear.

Harris is quite correct to say, for instance, that Christ’s resurrection — like any other historical event — is known only by way of the testimony of others. Indeed, Christianity is the only major faith built entirely around a single historical claim. It is, however, a claim quite unlike any other ever made, as any perceptive and scrupulous historian must recognize. Certainly it bears no resemblance to the vague fantasies of witless enthusiasts or to the cunning machinations of opportunistic charlatans. It is the report of men and women who had suffered the devastating defeat of their beloved master’s death, but who in a very short time were proclaiming an immediate experience of his living presence beyond the tomb, and who were, it seems, willing to suffer privation, imprisonment, torture, and death rather than deny that experience. And it is the report of a man who had never known Jesus before the crucifixion, and who had once persecuted Jesus’s followers, but who also believed that he had experienced the risen Christ, with such shattering power that he too preferred death to apostasy. And it is the report of countless others who have believed that they also — in a quite irreducibly personal way — have known the risen Christ.

It cannot be gainsaid that Christians have faith in Easter largely because they belong to communities of believers, or that their faith is a complex amalgam of shared confession, personal experience, spiritual and ethical practice, and reliance on others, or that they are inevitably obliged to make judgments about the trustworthiness of those whose word they must take. Some also choose to venture out upon the vast seas of Christianity’s philosophical or mystical traditions; and many are inspired by miracles, or dreams, or the apparent working of grace in their lives, or moments of aesthetic transport, or strange raptures, or intuitions of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and so on. None of this might impress the committed skeptic, or seem like adequate grounds for faith, but that does not mean that faith is essentially willful and irrational. More to the point, it is bizarre for anyone to think he or she can judge the nature or credibility of another’s experiences from the outside…..

…[L]et us graciously grant that there is indeed such a thing as unthinking religious conviction, just as there is a great deal of unthinking irreligious materialism. Let us also, more magnanimously, grant the truth of the second conviction I attributed to these writers above: that religion is violent, that religion in fact kills. At least, let us grant that it is exactly as true, and as intellectually significant, as the propositions ‘politics kills’ and ‘color reddens’. For many things are true in a general sense, even when, in the majority of specific cases, they are false. Violent religion or politics kills, and red reddens; but peaceful religion or politics does not kill, even if it is adopted as a pretext for killing, just as green does not redden, even if a certain kind of color blindness creates the impression that it does. For, purely in the abstract, ‘religious’ longing is neither this nor that, neither admirable nor terrible, but is at once creative and destructive, consoling and murderous, tender and brutal.”

Note: I don’t remember reading anything to indicate that Hart is a complete pacifist. So, when he refers to “killing” here, I assume that exceptions would include things like “just war” and capital punishment by the state, at least in the Judeo-Christian context. I must also assume that, as a Christian, Hart also accepts the God-directed wars and judgments in the Old Testament as just, as well. (I won’t address that now, since that is a topic for another time.)

Jesus Christ before Caiaphas the High Priest

Jesus Christ before Caiaphas the High Priest

“I take it that this is because ‘religion’ is something ‘natural’ to human beings (as Dennett so acutely notes) and, as such, reflects human nature. For the broader, even more general, and yet more pertinent truth is that men kill (women kill too, but historically have had fewer opportunities to do so). Some kill because their faiths explicitly command them to do so, some kill though their faiths explicitly forbid them to do so, and some kill because they have no faith and hence believe all things are permitted to them. Polytheists, monotheists, and atheists kill — indeed, this last class is especially prolifically homicidal, if the evidence of the twentieth century is to be consulted. Men kill for their gods, or for their God, or because there is no God and the destiny of humanity must be shaped by gigantic exertions of human will. They kill in pursuit of universal truths and out of fidelity to tribal allegiances; for faith, blood and soil, empire, national greatness, the ‘socialist utopia’, capitalism, and ‘democratization’. Men will always seek gods in whose name they may perform great deeds or commit unspeakable atrocities, even when those gods are not gods but ‘tribal honor’ or ‘genetic imperative’ or ‘social ideals’ or ‘human destiny’ or ‘liberal democracy’. Then again, men also kill on account of money, land, love, pride, hatred, envy, or ambition. They kill out of conviction or out of lack of conviction.

Harris at one point approvingly cites a platitude from Will Durant to the effect that violence follows from religious certitude — which again, like most empty generalities, is vacuously true. It is just as often the case, however, that men are violent solely from expedience, because they believe in no higher law than the demands of the moment, while only certain kinds of religious certitude have the power to temper their murderous pragmatism with a compassionate idealism, or to freeze their wills with a dread of divine justice, or to free them from the terrors of present uncertainty and so from the temptation to act unjustly. Caiaphas and Pilate, if scripture is to be believed, were perfect examples of the officious and practical statesman with grave responsibilities to consider; Christ, on the other hand, was certain of a Kingdom not of this world and commanded his disciples to love their enemies. Does religious conviction provide a powerful reason for killing? Undeniably it often does. It also often provides the sole compelling reason for refusing to kill, or for being merciful, or for seeking peace; only the profoundest ignorance of history could prevent one from recognizing this. For the truth is that religion and irreligion are cultural variables, but killing is a human constant.”

I find Hart’s responses to Dennett, Harris, et al., to be very informational and compelling, and the color-blindness metaphor was particularly eye-opening. (Hah!) It would be easy to dismiss what he says as merely the equivalent of “You can’t prove what I believe isn’t true, and I know what I know, so leave me alone!” and “Lots of non-religious people kill, too, so stop picking on religion just because some religious people kill.” But, that would be entirely missing the point.


In Favor of the Legalization of Medical Marijuana

“You have to go to the doctor. You have to be diagnosed with the debilitating disease or medical condition. You have to get that diagnosis in writing. You have to send that written diagnosis to the Department of Health and wait for the department to send you an identification card in order to become a medical marijuana patient. You can’t just walk into your doctor’s office, walk out and buy marijuana.”  — Ben Pollara of United for Care, speaking in favor of Florida’s Amendment 2

You may be surprised by my position here, but this issue is one of those rarities where my libertarian streak shines through. Of course, it would really be apparent if I argued for the legalization of marijuana and/or other recreational drugs across the board. I’m still pondering this and gathering reports pro & con, but at this point I’m not quite ready to go that far. Too many things in the negative column. But, marijuana for legitimate medicinal purposes? Absolutely.

woman-smoking-marijuana-140121Marijuana/cannabis should not be vilified outright, simply because some people use it as a mind-altering “drug” and other, violent people make money cultivating and selling it. It is an herb, a plant put here on this planet by God. Like most things, it can be used for good or for ill. Like many plants of various sorts, it has certain uses, certain effects, and can be modified for other uses or to increase or reduce certain effects. That is part of the wonder of God’s creation, which He has provided for our benefit, and I believe He wants us to use the minds He gave us to learn and develop new things — including treatments for medical conditions.

Marijuana is still a federally illegal substance, but 23 states (plus D.C. and Guam) have medical marijuana programs and 12 more are considering it. (It is also legal for recreational use in 4 states and D.C., as of this writing.) There are many concerns about legalizing cannabis for any reason, and some believe that even legalizing it for medical use will still lead to the “unintended consequences” of long-term health and societal ills. Pot has long been considered a “gateway drug” leading to the use of more serious (i.e., more dangerous and expensive) drugs. But, marijuana has issues of its own, too. For example, it is highly addictive and causes intellectual impairment (e.g., cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, decreased IQ), which in turn lead to lower educational attainment and/or employment problems. On an even more serious note, marijuana can cause mental illness (including paranoia), sometimes leading to suicide (e.g., teens who smoke pot are 7x more likely to attempt suicide), suppression of the immune system, and lung-related health problems. Of course, the more immediate effects of marijuana use include panic/anxiety, increased heart rate (and, therefore, chance of heart attack), sensory distortion, slowed reflexes, and poor coordination, all of which can result in traffic-related and other accidents.

Most concerns, though, are really more applicable to a general legalization of marijuana, when large numbers of people would be using it, which leads to matters of broader socio-economic impact, public health & safety, employee drug-testing, etc., and appropriate laws for dealing with those who commit anything from driving a vehicle to serious crimes while under the influence and/or seeking “funding”. I am only recommending a very limited legalization for very specific purposes.

Proponents point to studies indicating, for instance, that legalization of marijuana even just for medical use has led to reduced beer sales (by 5%) and fewer traffic fatalities (by almost 9%). On the other hand, pot-positive traffic fatalities in Colorado have doubled since voters legalized pot there in late 2012. On the other other hand, overall traffic fatalities in Colorado have gone down since 2007. Keep in mind, this is in a state which has legalized marijuana for recreational use, not just medical use. Advocates also point out that a comparison of CDC surveys indicates that the feared increase in pot use by teens apparently did not happen in medical marijuana states, which makes sense if the state programs are set up in a way to ensure only those with serious medical conditions have access to the (legal) marijuana. Also, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports an overall 25% drop in fatalities associated with prescription drugs taken for chronic pain in states where medical marijuana is available as an alternative.

But, probably the strongest argument in favor of legalizing medical marijuana is the relief from pain and suffering that would be available to many thousands of people with serious medical conditions who now cannot find that relief, or can only at exorbitant prices, or with terrible side effects.

I suppose legal medical marijuana could lead to “long-term health and societal ills”, and the pro-cannabis activists certainly see it as a stepping stone to broader legalization. But, that is why it needs to be closely regulated and monitored, much like other controlled substances with medical applications that people can get only with a doctor’s prescription. (See quote at top of post.)

I don’t know all the details of the recently proposed Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, but I like what I hear and think something like this is definitely needed. The bipartisan bill would legalize medical marijuana at the federal level, reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I (under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970) to Schedule II. So, while still recognizing its highly addictive nature and potential for abuse, the law would also recognize its medicinal value, grouping it with narcotics like morphine and codeine and stimulants like amphetamines and methamphetamines. Beyond that, of course, it is up to each individual state to decide how they want to handle the specifics. (See “Legality of cannabis by U.S. jurisdiction”.) But, at least those growing, selling, and buying cannabis products will no longer be raided by federal law enforcement.

On the state side, some people & programs prefer to only allow a certain number of cannabis producers to grow in their state. I think this is a mistake for economic reasons, since it smacks of state-run cartels, hinders entrepreneurship and free-market competition, and benefits an ongoing black market. Sales should be handled only by doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and other closely-monitored, licensed dispensaries. Sales taxes on cannabis products should not be prohibitively high, complicated, or inconsistent.

Medical-Cannabis1Any state legislation to establish a legal market and infrastructure for medical marijuana must be tightly-written to ensure that it is not easy to get cannabis in just any form, from just anybody, for just about anything. Despite assurances from people like Ben Pollara (see quote above), this was the problem with Florida’s Amendment 2, which I reluctantly had to vote against in Nov. 2014. Non-smokable forms are preferable (e.g., pills, vapors, oils), but states should probably allow the smoking of raw cannabis in some cases, if it is indeed the best way to treat medical conditions, as some claim.

Any cannabis product should only be sold to an adult (age determined by state). When the patient is a minor, it should be administered or supervised by a parent, legal guardian, or medical professional. I don’t believe illegal sales/distribution or possession — either by a dispensary owner/employee, an authorized patient, or an individual who got their hands on someone else’s supply — should ever be a felony, but that should still be up to the individual states. A reasonable fine and replacement of the product (or retail price thereof) seems fair punishment for civil violations and unclassified (or lesser) misdemeanors; community service would be preferable to jail time (and is less costly for the state), except maybe for repeat offenders. By and large, these are not violent offenses, after all.

Marijuana use must be restricted to a limited list of the most serious diseases and debilitating medical conditions, the symptoms of which have been shown by authorized testing to ease from the use or application of some form of cannabis. Things like leg cramps, stress, and trouble sleeping — which some people currently use it for — should NOT be on such a list. Those which would be on it include forms of severe epilepsy (e.g. Dravet Syndrome); multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s Disease; various cancers; glaucoma; HIV/AIDS; severe pain, severe nausea, cachexia (i.e., dramatic weight loss and muscle atrophy) from other conditions.

When dealing with extreme pain and disability from conditions like these, possibly even the threat (or promise) of death, the physical dangers and consequences of “smokin’ pot” seem negligible by comparison. I know that if I or a close relative was diagnosed with one of those debilitating conditions that has proven responsive to some form or derivative of cannabis, I would at least want the option to be available without threat of federal prosecution. Assuming production and dispensation are tightly (but fairly) controlled, I see no moral/ethical, economic, or pragmatic reason why it shouldn’t be.

UPDATE 3/17/2015: Debra J. Saunders at has a good article about the CARERS Act and who in the Senate (and White House?) might support it: “Medical Marijuana Bill Lost in Smoke”.

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