Let us hypothesize (for the sake of argument) that some specific account of Jesus, resurrection, miracles and all, were actually historically true. Assuming (for whatever reason) that only so few people were willing and able to write about the event that only four survive to this day.This is compounded by my mulling over Vinny’s recent blog entry: Can Evidence Ever Prove a Miracle?
What sorts of things would we expect to see?
Let’s see if this illuminates areas for study. What WOULD we expect?
My first thought was to frame the account of Jesus: What are the basic facts we utilize in our hypothetical as accurate? I put together these:
1. He was a traveling philosopher/rabbi/teacher during Pontius Pilate’s prefect (26-36 CE) in Palestine (Galilee, Samaria & Judea.)
2. He gathered followers, both core and peripheral.
3. He performed miracles such as healing, feeding large crowds and raising people from the dead.
4. He talked to crowds regarding his particular philosophy.
5. He became accused of a crime.
6. He was crucified.
7. He was buried.
8. He miraculously resurrected from the dead.
9. He appeared post-resurrection to numerous individuals over a period of time.
10. He then ascended into heaven.
And already…I have a problem with number 3.
In putting together this conjecture we would agree Jesus did miracles—but how many? To what extent? Put yourself in First Century Palestine. First of all, other than the upper class, you are sustenance living—generating enough grain or food to provide for your family, your livestock and to plant for the coming year. You are being taxed to within an inch of starvation.
One bad season, one famine and you are wiped out. Only the hardiest will live.
Second, death is a firm reality. Infant mortality is large. There are no hospitals, sewage flowed freely in most cities. A flu or broken arm most likely meant death.
Now imagine you introduce an individual who can cure all disease in this society. All wounds. Who can literally bring people back to life. Further, this individual can turn a few loaves and fishes into a meal for 1,000’s.
Jesus would be inundated from dusk to dawn by crowds clamoring to be healed and fed. His reputation would be impossible to suppress. We see people today flocking to fake healers; what would happen if crippled legs really did straighten and grew strength? Amputees regrew body parts? Dead people came back to life?
Larry has (cruelly) limited us to four sources, yet wouldn’t such a person be in every source? Even the emperor would be interested in such a person. Imagine not having to carry food for the army, and being able to heal your wounded soldiers. Tiberius would be invincible!
I am unable to visualize a balance, in our made-up account, of how to have Jesus perform some miracles, but not enough to attract attention. Be that as it may, assume he did.
Given our 10 facts, what would we expect next in historical accounts?
However, first an admonition—is historical method the adequate means to determine what should or would possibly happen given certain factors? The study of history looks to events that have happened. It makes no judgment whether these events “should” or “should not” (I’m not talking about studying motivations, or bad judgments.)
Virtually ever historian agrees it was bad tactics on Hitler’s part to start a two-front war with Russia in 1941. We may use the vernacular, “He shouldn’t have done it,” but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We do not discount a historical event simply because it seems improbable.
On September 10, 2001, if asked, most people would say the possibility the Twin Towers would be completely destroyed the following day was extremely unlikely. Yet 24 hours later, we all faced such a reality. Even looking at the course of human events, expecting humans to act as they have in the past, we see historical variances—unexpected happenings—where history would tell us not to expect it to happen in the future. Yet it does.
So we can project, based upon past expectations, yet understand something can veer and cause a completely different, unintended result, putting history on a completely new course.
A good example is the genre of fictional alternative history, like Turtledove’s Guns of the South where the South obtain machine guns during the US Civil War. Given that fact, we could reasonably project, they would utilize the weapons and (assuming adequate supplies) repel the North.
But would the South then attack the North, or would it be content to leave a border, forming a new country? Would it feasibly attack Mexico? What if it engaged in trade, utilizing the guns for material, and thus introducing the guns to other nations, such as England? Assuming they received the guns in the Winter of 1865, we can project what would happen in the next few months. What would the world look like in 1870? 1890? In 1900--only 35 years after the introduction of the machine gun--is it possible to even conjecture what would happen?
In the same way, we are dealing with writings made at least 35 years after the events. It would be difficult to develop a method of what these writings would probably look like, given the variables involved.
The only model I can utilize would be to view the historical development of other religions.
1. People would expect a continuation of consistency. The reason they were drawn to Jesus in the first place was what he did and/or what he said. They would expect the same message to continue, and more importantly, expect the continuation of miracles.
Of course, this raised the question—in our account are we going to say the apostles can do miracles? I see three choices: 1) they could not, or 2) they could but to a lesser extent, or 3) they could the same as Jesus. If it was either (1) or (2), then we would expect some reason must be given as to why they could not perform the same amount.
In these four accounts, I would anticipate claims of what Jesus said and did, followed by claims of his disciples following that philosophy.
2. We would expect a veneration of Jesus’ activity, especially if fewer miracles were performed by the apostles. (People may not care if they are still getting fed and healed.) Where he was born, what house he grew up in. More importantly, where this or that miracle occurred. Certainly where the greatest miracle of all occurred—the tomb.
Included would be veneration of his statements. This creates instability in our method, in that people tend to make stuff up, especially about leaders. How many beds did George Washington sleep in? Did he chop down a cherry tree? Without an early system of verification, people could claim Jesus said anything, as long as it was within the general frame of the expected philosophy, and no one could (or would) question it.
We would expect descriptions of his miracles. Especially the Resurrection. Words and doctrines of Jesus, specifically words and events that conformed to the intended recipient’s beliefs.
3. There would be a succession of leadership. And typically an issue. What would qualify a person to be Jesus’ successor in leading this religion? Typically, that, too, is an issue. Would it be bloodline? Appointment by Jesus? Who saw him post-resurrection?
We would expect a disagreement over method of determining leadership. If Peter claimed to be the first to see Jesus post-resurrection, he would claim the method used is: “whoever sees Jesus post-resurrection.” If Paul claimed to receive direct revelation from God the Father, he would claim the method it is who God says is the leader.
Do you see the problem we now enter? Peter claims one way (which coincidently makes him leader); James claims another method (by sheer chance making James the leader); and Paul claims yet another way that….well…you get the idea.
At this point we would expect to see competing claims to leadership; disagreements over methods as to who is rightfully appointed.
4. Finally, we would anticipate the later the writings, the more they would mold to the changing requirements of the religion. If some new issue was introduced, we would anticipate the writings to include statements of Jesus added to address those issues.
Included in the mythology development would be injection of statements relevant to the present troubles.
Understanding this as a mind-experiment, I did draw conclusions—some unexpected:
a) I am a bit surprised how similar the writing we have would be, regardless whether Jesus actually did miracles or not. This may be my inherent utilization of what humans typically do, in reviewing other religions such as Judaism, Mormonism or Islam; the thought that whether Jesus really did these things or not, people are people and at some point will act on their humanity.
b) The silence of Paul becomes deafening. It makes little sense the first writings following Jesus’ existence do not refer to his miracles, do not refer to his sermons, do not refer to his doctrine, do not refer to any happenings in his life. Nothing about his baptism, interaction with Jewish leaders, or interaction with disciples.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. How can we have a leader of a religion be so prominent as proclaimed in our account, yet so under-utilized in the first accounts referring to him? The recipients of Paul’s letters, written 15-25 years after Jesus lived, would want to know what Jesus said about their problem. What Jesus did. Not Paul’s particular problem with marriage.
c) Why is the Resurrection an afterthought? If this is the lynchpin of Christianity, as Paul proclaims, it seems odd the four accounts have better record-keeping on feeding people than on its occurrence. While Luke and John give greater length and detail—they are later accounts. Paul simply lists appearances with no time, place or historical background. The earliest account, Mark, doesn’t think it important enough to even list one appearance. Matthew barely mentions two.
I would think, given the account above, and the records we have, we would need to reassess the import of the Resurrection on these writers. They didn’t seem to find it terribly factually interesting.
d) I am not certain how one gets around some veneration. Would Mary be pressed to give anecdotes about Jesus’ childhood? Would his childhood home become revered, or places he walked become pilgrimage destinations? Certainly the empty tomb, simply by its connection to the Resurrection, would become a place to visit.
Yet we see nothing of that.
Any thoughts? What do you think we would see, given the 10 facts I listed above? Am I too rigidly following the pattern of other religions? Why would this one be different?
What would you expect to see written about Jesus, if this actually happened, in the first 35 years following his death?