I recently learned of J. Warner Wallace author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels As he ostensibly utilizes methodology akin to the legal system…well…you can see why I was intrigued. Alas, it is nothing more than Christian apologetics.
But recently, he offered a video blog entry: How do we know the Apostles Died as Martyrs. Of course I could not resist. Mr. Wallace indicates he is convinced the Apostles died as martyrs because there is no counter-evidence to the contrary. He points out how defense lawyers offer counter arguments, and opposing factual with differing evidence, yet we have none of that here. On the one hand we have tradition they died as martyrs, but we have no First Century documents (Mr. Wallace points out) saying they lived long lives or were not martyred.
Curious, I asked a question. “What documents would include such information?” Was there some Jerusalem Journal or Galilean Gazette I did not know about keeping obituaries? Was there some First Century High Priest diary listing out each of the 12 disciple’s deaths as they passed on? Yet what really intrigued me was Mr. Wallace’s insistence on First Century documents.
See the first writing we have regarding even a possible martyrdom is 1 Clement, traditionally dated to the early 90’s CE. The second writing would be Josephus’ account regarding James, the brother of Jesus, dating to the later 90’s CE. The third possible writing would be Acts of the Apostles, dated after Josephus (in my opinion), making it very late 90’s CE at best. (And in case one wanted to date it earlier, I am including it within the First Century.)
As you can immediately see—the stories themselves did not circulate amongst Christians in writing prior to the very end of the First Century! It seems slightly…unreasonable…to anticipate anyone disputing these tales MUST be within the few years left within the First Century.
Further, 1 Clement does not explicitly indicate Peter and Paul died martyrs, Josephus does not indicate James’ death had anything to do with Christianity, and Acts only utilizes James, son of Zebedee’s death like a Star Trek Red shirt (as I previously pointed out.) Indeed it was not until the Second Century the martyrdom tales gained their legendary legs and took off with Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul, and Second Apocalypse of James. It wasn’t until the very end of the Second Century, perhaps the beginning of the Third, that Hippolytus gave us the deaths of the other disciples.
So…we don’t really have obituaries in the First Century. And no one is even saying the disciples died martyrs to provide anyone with the notion of countering the tales.
What possible documents could Mr. Wallace be referring to?
We will never know.