DoOrDoNot asked, “I'm interested in what you would do with this in light of the "die for a lie" argument. Even if Christians weren't systematically persecuted, but had legitimate reason to fear prosecution, wouldn't that still lend some support to the argument?”
The problem regarding “Die for a Lie” is:
1) We don’t have enough information;
2) The information we do have tends toward bias; and
3) We fail to understand people’s motivations.
Remember, this argument is ONLY useful regarding those claiming to see a physically resurrected Jesus, or perhaps those involved in an initial fabrication and/or conspiracy. Everyone agrees people willingly face persecution, torture and martyrdom for something incorrect—a “lie.” Even Christians agree Muslims will blow themselves—dying for “a lie.” Imagine a few scenarios—all very plausible.
1) Peter (and Paul) have an altered state of consciousness, believe they see Jesus post-mortem and convince others Jesus is still alive. They spread Christianity, are persecuted, and eventually suffer martyrdom. “Die for a Lie” doesn’t work, because they didn’t think it a lie—just like Muslims dying for an incorrect claim, these individuals were dying for what they thought was true (even though it wasn’t.)
2) Peter and Paul initially teach and believe Jesus was resurrected spiritually in heaven, and it is only later-developed Christianity, after Mark’s Gospel, that the idea of a physically resurrected Jesus is claimed. Again, taught, persecuted and martyrdom. Again, “Die for a Lie” doesn’t work, because they were dying for what they thought was true—even if it wasn’t.
Let’s try something allowing “die for a lie” to have more force:
3) Peter (and/or other Disciples) completely make-up the concept of physically resurrected Jesus. They obtain wealth, honor and status as leaders in the church. There is sporadic persecution in certain localized areas against the Church. Unless one can demonstrate the conspirators themselves were in actual danger, “die for a lie” still doesn’t hold sway, because the persons involved didn’t think it would happen to them until too late.
We should pause at this point and note Paul certain was persecuted and actively pursued. But Paul is a later convert who (even under the best Christian scenario) saw a vision and was converted. He wasn’t part of any initial conspiracy.
And finally, the best possible chance for “die for a lie”:
4) Peter (and/or other Disciples) completely make-up the concept of physically resurrected Jesus. They obtain wealth, honor and status as leaders in the church. Active persecution directly against the conspirators putting them in imminent danger. Now they would certainly not “die for a lie,” right? ‘Cause we certainly would not. But are we projecting our 21st Century motivations on 1st Century individuals?
Dr. Moss raises the interesting example of Achilles. Remember, for these individuals, unless one was a great person of importance, there would be no record of your ever having been alive. No obituaries, no High School yearbooks, no scrapbooks, no pictures, no videos, no Facebook. Nothing. Once dead, you disappeared like your ancestors did, and your descendants would likely do. The only way to be known was to have your reputation remembered.
Dr. Moss pointed out Achilles had two (2) contradictory prophecies about his life. Either he would live a very, very long time but he would be an unknown person, eventually long forgotten. Or he would gloriously die at a young age, and his reputation would be remembered forever. Achilles chose fame as his means of living forever.
If given the same choice—what would Peter do? Or the other Disciples? If they believed they would be remembered for a long time….would they willingly die for a lie?
Instead of creating possible scenarios, look at the facts we have:
1. At some point in the First Century, individuals began claiming Jesus was resurrected either physically or spiritually post-mortem from crucifixion death.
2. This group—Christians—fought amongst themselves regarding whether to continue Jewish practices. Some did, some claimed they did not.
3. There is no Jewish or secular record of Jewish persecution against Christians.
4. The only record of organized Jewish persecution against Christians is from Christian sources, almost exclusively one (1) book—Acts of the Apostles. A book demonstrating an anti-Jewish bias.
5. The Jewish authorities had their hands full with a variety of competing Jewish claims—Christianity would be one amongst dozens. Not to mention governmental shifts, Roman oppression, and rebellion.
6. Within the first 10 years of its existence, Christianity shifted its focus from converting Jews to converting Gentiles.
[From this, I would argue there was no organized Jewish persecution, but the readers can draw their own conclusion.]
7. The Christian leaders (by their own accounts) gained wealth, honor and status within their community.
8. The first Roman persecution—Tacitus’ account of Nero—the Christians were scapegoats. No opportunity to recant, or avoid persecution. Plus this was Rome, not necessarily near the disciples.
9. The second recorded account regarding organized Roman government pursuit of Christians was Pliny the Younger where Christianity is reviewed as a puzzlement. This is too late for “die for a lie” to work.
So where does “die for lie” even come in? One would have to create a scenario similar to number 4 above that speculatively draws from Christian documents, and ignore the culture, Jewish situation, leaders’ status and complete absence in other historical documents of the times.