Τρίτη, 7 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (3)

2. Who Would Follow a Man from Galilee?

2.1 Two Key Problems
2.2 Getting the Context Right
2.3 Working Class Rabbi
2.4 The Galilean Connection
2.5 The Gospel of John
2.6 The Role of Messianic Prophecy
2.7 Why a Virgin Birth?
2.8 Conclusion

2.1. Two Key Problems

James Holding points out that "the Greco-Roman world was rife with what we would call prejudices and stereotypes," and far more starkly than we are used to in our own society. That is correct, but not everyone shared the same prejudices. Thus Holding makes a false generalization when he claims that Gentiles would not listen to Christians plugging a Jewish deity. We already know that many Gentiles flocked to Judaism even before Christians came along, either converting to it, supporting it, or holding it in high esteem. We also know that Christianity was most successful in its first hundred years within exactly those groups: Diaspora Jews and their Gentile sympathizers (see Chapter 18).
Once Christianity had saturated that market apparently as far as it could (though still winning a few converts outside it), it began de-Judaizing the religion in order to make it palatable to more Gentiles. We see this process begin in the early 2nd century, and some scholars claim to see it beginning already in the Gospels or even with Paul. This move had become increasingly necessary after the two Jewish wars lost the Jews a lot of their earlier support and sympathy. But, either way, the tactic worked. Christians could then claim that old advantage of persuasion: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." And they could begin to make their religion more philosophical, more Hellenistic, and less Jewish, all the while claiming to have rendered Judaism obsolete. Thus, even when its Jewishness really did become a problem, Christianity quickly found a way to overcome the handicap. Of course, Holding is right that had Christianity remained obstinately Jewish, it would have failed--and as a matter of fact, the original Jewish sects of Christianity did fail. That's why the successful Christian movements became increasingly un-Jewish--and why the Western Christian tradition became responsible for perpetuating the enduring bugbear of anti-Semitism.[1]
Holding does appear to concede as much, arguing only that Christianity "never should have expanded in the Gentile world much beyond the circle of those Gentiles who were already God-fearers." Of course, it didn't--that is, not much beyond--until later, once issues of evidence could no longer arise, and the successful sects began abandoning their Jewishness, even turning against Judaism. Even so, Christianity did make some early inroads into groups outside the category of Jews and their sympathizers, for the simple reason that Christianity made it easier to convert. A large deterrent against conversion to Judaism was its intense list of arduous social and personal restrictions and its requirement for an incredibly painful and rather dangerous procedure of bodily mutilation: circumcision (in a world with limited anesthetics and antiseptics). Once Paul abandoned those requirements for entry, he had on his hands a sect of Judaism that was guaranteed to be more popular than any previous form of it. Thus, far from Christianity's increased success being impossible, it was guaranteed. This does not mean people flocked to it in droves--but it does mean that the already significant inflow of Gentiles toward Jewish religion was certain to become significantly greater for its Christian sect.
A second factor that Holding overlooks is what Paul was doing: throughout his letters the impression is clear that he wanted to create a community that would transcend racial and social prejudices and encompass everyone, essentially ending the unwelcome strife between Rome and God's People by finding a way to unite them in peace.[2] This was to be a New Israel, a community that would realize a socialist utopia of brotherhood by its own efforts, without violence or rebellion. It would be free of the meddling influence of--and manipulation by--the corrupt Sanhedrin, Priesthood, and Rabbinate, and the Roman powers-that-be (economic, political, or military). And it would certainly not be spoiled by the very institutions that Paul saw destroying society--especially distinctions of wealth, status, and race. Paul was fanatic about this, and made heroic efforts to push this agenda by traveling and writing letters throughout the Roman world, putting out fires and strengthening communities. He sought every means of persuasion to realize his dream ("I become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some," 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, 10:33). Is it really so surprising that he would succeed at this? Certainly he didn't win over the world. But he was selling a very beautiful and attractive idea, and he clearly had the skills and education to package it in whatever way any given audience would find most persuasive. I think every scholar today would agree that had there been no Paul, there would have been no Christianity as we know it. His role in rescuing Christianity from failure cannot be overlooked. If anyone could sell this new "Judaism Lite" to the Gentiles, it was he.

2.2. Getting the Context Right

So not only did Christianity abandon almost from the start most of the things Gentiles found distasteful about Judaism, but it benefited from one of the most industrious and skillful salesmen the ancient world ever saw. That put Christianity in at least the same standing in terms of potential success as almost every other ancient cult. Holding claims that "the Romans naturally considered their own belief systems to be superior to all others," yet the Romans were famous for accepting into their society literally every single foreign religion that crossed their doorstep--from the castrated priesthood of Attis to the cosmopolitan Egyptian cult of Isis to the Syrian sun-cult of Emperor Elegabalus, and beyond.[3] Sure, there were intellectuals like Seneca who were horrified by all this, or who, like Plutarch, sought to alter these foreign traditions to be more palatable, more "philosophical." Yet they could not stem the tide of elites and commoners who embraced all these diverse foreign religions all over the Roman Empire. As far as foreign cults go, Christianity had stepped into a seller's market.[4]
It is true, as Holding suggests, that Christianity was much like a 1960's-style counter-cultural movement, but that was its appeal: the Christian missionaries were meeting a new market demand, of a growing mass of the discontented. They were not successful with those well-served by the social system. They were successful with those who were sick of that system, disgusted with it, and yet powerless to do anything about it. And observe how successful the 60's movement was, despite launching into full flower right on the wings of the most rabidly conservative McCarthy era, and facing violent opposition from every quarter. Christianity wasn't nearly as disruptive: the Christians organized no mass protests, engaged in no civil violence, dodged no drafts, and paid their taxes--indeed they didn't even advocate breaking any laws whatsoever, but submitting fully to all the authorities (Romans 13:1-7; see further discussion in Chapter 10).
As to other elements of stigma that might have dissuaded converts, we shall discuss those either below or in other chapters. But as far as the government was concerned, there was no real threat from Christians, and as a result persecution during the first hundred years, especially from the government, was unusual and typically unexpected (we cover this in Chapter 8; but the attitude of Gallio was typical: Acts 18:12-16). For now it is enough to note that there was nothing inherently shocking about Christianity, when compared with all the other strange foreign cults that flourished then--which included numerous sects of Jews, who found their own Gentile converts or supporters.

2.3. A Working Class Rabbi

So there was nothing about being Jewish that prevented Christianity from achieving the small success it did in its first hundred years. But Holding offers a few other stigmas, which he claims would have handicapped it (besides still more that he assigns entire sections to, which we will deal with in their proper order). He rightly notes that many among the snobbish elite looked down their noses at working-class occupations like carpentry, and Jesus was a carpenter--which may indeed be a reason why Christianity won little support from the elite quarter. But other groups did not share this low opinion--and they were the ones the early Christians successfully evangelized: the working class, the poor, those who resented the rich and powerful--and, again, Jews and their sympathizers.
Jews greatly admired tradesmen, and usually expected their rabbis to master a trade. The greatest and most revered rabbis of the period had practical trades: Hillel was a woodcutter, Shammai a carpenter. This was typical throughout the great rabbinical tradition. Jehuda was a mechanic, Jose a tanner, and Jochanan the Sandaler was, as one can tell from his name, a sandal-maker.[5] Paul himself was a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). Does it sound like these people or their admirers would have scorned the idea of revering a carpenter? Not at all. In the Mishnah, Rabbi Gamaliel said, "Fitting is learning the Torah along with a craft, for the labor put into the two of them makes one forget sin." Indeed "all learning of Torah which is not joined with labor is destined to be null and cause sin" (Mishnah, Abot 2.2a-b). Rabbi Jehuda said, "Whoever does not teach his son a trade teaches him robbery" (b. Gemara 29a), a proverb almost identically embraced by pagans, as expressed by a leading Platonist, "if a man will not dig or knows no other profit-earning trade, he is clearly minded to live by stealing or robbery or begging" (Xenophon, Economics 20.15). Rabbi Shemaiah even said we should love work.[6] And every member of Essene communities was expected to ply a manual trade--this was part of its anti-elitist vision and one of the very reasons people joined it. And of Jewish sects, Christianity resembles the Essenes more than any other, both in its moral ideals and its consistently anti-elitist rhetoric.[7]
Christianity in the first century was most successful among Jews, as well as Gentiles who shared or were sympathetic to Jewish values. But what about outside those groups? There, Christianity was most successful among the middle and lower classes, especially targeting craftsmen and other middlemen whom the aristocracy often scorned (see Chapter 18.4). Obviously, tradesmen, middlemen, and the lower classes didn't look down their noses at themselves (see Chapter 12). In other words, outside the arena of Jewish values, Christianity was most successful among those who would not have looked down on a carpenter, while it was least successful among those who did. Therefore Holding's argument is irrelevant to what actually happened.
If logic is not enough to prove that pagan tradesmen held their own class in high esteem, we have evidence. In Lucian's account of his education (My Dream) he explains how his family sought to improve his prospects by buying him an apprenticeship to a stonecutter, after considering several other trades--in the course of which all his friends and family argued for the value and respectability of becoming a tradesman. We also have countless examples of Greek and Roman tradesmen boasting of their jobs in inscriptions and reliefs carved on their homes and tombstones, and of trade guilds boasting in public inscriptions of their recognition, membership, or accomplishments. Clearly there had to be a substantial segment of the population that thought well of such achievements.[8]
I photographed an example myself when I visited the British Museum:
Inscription and relief: Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius (c. 20 B.C., near Rome)
Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius (c. 20 B.C., near Rome).
This relief depicts two brothers, celebrating their achievement of freedom (the symbols of their manumission from slavery are shown on the left hand side) as well as their professions: the tools of a smith or minter are depicted above their heads, and the tools of a carpenter to the right. The Publii were clearly proud of their trades and went to considerable expense to boast of them. They would not have bothered if no one was going to admire them for it.
Therefore, the profession of Jesus would not have been a major barrier to conversion. To the contrary, among those the Christians actually evangelized, it was often an asset--and for some Jews it would have been a requirement. Nor was it thought odd to worship a god who held a lower-class occupation. Hephaestus was a blacksmith, Orpheus a musician, Pollux a boxer, and Romulus a shepherd, while some gods were "humiliated" by being sent to earth to be enslaved by human masters--hence Apollo became a shepherd and Poseidon a bricklayer. Yet this did not diminish the worship of any of these deities. As even the Christian author Arnobius admits of his pagan peers, "You represent to us the gods, some as carpenters, some physicians, others working in wool, as sailors, players on the harp and flute, hunters, shepherds, and, even beyond that, mere rustics." Throwing another carpenter into the mix would hardly make a difference.[9]

2.4. The Galilean Connection

However, the most important stigma Holding brings up here, since he names this entire section after it, is the fact that Jesus came from the Idaho of Judaea: the most hick-and-bumpkin county of Galilee. He summarizes the point very well, worth quoting in full:
Christianity had a serious handicap...the stigma of a savior who undeniably hailed from Galilee--for the Romans and Gentiles, not only a Jewish land, but a hotbed of political sedition; for the Jews, not as bad as Samaria of course, but a land of yokels and farmers without much respect for the Torah, and worst of all, a savior from a puny village of no account [i.e. Nazareth]. Not even a birth in Bethlehem, or Matthew's suggestion that an origin in Galilee was prophetically ordained, would have unattached such a stigma: Indeed, Jews would not be convinced of this, even as today, unless something else first convinced them that Jesus was divine or the Messiah.
Of course, even by the Christians' own inflated numbers in Acts, few Palestinian Jews were convinced. But besides that, hasty generalizations abound here. Yes, most of the Jewish elite, especially snobs (most notably, those who would feel threatened by the popularity of any outsider, Galilean or not, gaining moral authority among the people), would balk and snipe at the origins of Jesus. And yes, some Jews of every rank would snobbishly or naïvely expect a messiah to hail from a famous city, just as they expected him to hail from royal blood (and the Christians did struggle to assert just such a claim for Jesus).
But most of those receiving Paul's mission would have had neither prejudice. Among Gentiles, most by far would know nothing of a past Galilean rebellion, nor would a rebellion be any stigma for those who disliked the Roman order. Among Diaspora Jews, Galilee was nevertheless part of the Holy Land of Israel, and that was always more prestigious than not. In fact, along with Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and a dozen or more others, there was a distinct sect of Rabbis that originated and held authority in Galilee. Holding's premise that "seditious lands" produced a stigma is also questionable. Italy rebelled against Rome barely a century before in the Social War of 90 B.C., and Asia Minor followed soon after that in the Mithradatic Wars of the 80's, yet neither territory was stigmatized for it--so why should Galilee have been? There is no evidence it was.[10]
Nor was Galilee such a disrespected hick region, as some have claimed. Apart from the disagreements between Galileans and Pharisees attested to in the Talmud (which were no more derisive than those between Pharisees and Sadducees), within the first hundred years of the Christian mission we have no actual criticism or disdain for the region of Galilee from any source except the Gospel of John. So also for Nazareth, which was not the tiny hovel it is often made out to be. A Jewish inscription from the 2nd or 3rd century confirms that Nazareth was one of the towns that took in Jewish priests after the destruction of the Temple in 66 A.D. Would priests deign to shack up in a despised hick town? And archaeology confirms it may have had a significant stone building before then (perhaps the synagogue that Luke attests to being there in Luke 4:16). Nazareth definitely had grain silos, cisterns, ritual immersion pools, cave dwellings and storerooms, a stone well, and a significant necropolis cut from the rock of Nazareth's hill, all in the time of Jesus. This was no mere hamlet, but a village inhabited by hundreds experiencing significant economic success.[11]
In contrast, John is alone in having anyone declare anything like the concern of Nathanael: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). Yet Nathanael is not mentioned in any other Gospel, nor in Acts--so he was either not a real person, or not a very important one in Christian memory. And yet, even according to John, this lone snob is converted after a single conversation with Jesus, while Jesus still lived, and not by any evidence of his resurrection after he died (1:47-49). Since the only man on record scorning a Nazarene origin was still open to the possibility that Jesus was the Christ, and then fairly easily convinced of it, it follows that hailing from Nazareth was no great barrier to conversion, nor was anything like evidence of his resurrection required to overcome that barrier.
Likewise, though Josephus mentions Galilee a total of 158 times in his entire opus, not a single mention contains any hint that the region was looked down upon in the Roman period. In fact, it was the recipient of great honors under Herod: he lavished building projects on "Sepphoris, the security of all Galilee," which received the coveted and prestigious status of "metropolis," and he chose to build the great city of Tiberias there, in the very lifetime of Jesus.[12] Herod would not insult Emperor Tiberius by choosing to build and name a new city after him in a scorned backwater. Josephus also reports that Galilee was renowned for its prodigious oil production, and the governorship of Galilee was highly coveted--for a time Josephus was governor of Galilee himself, and certainly appears to have been proud of it.[13]
Even the respected Jewish scholar and sage Eleazar the Galilean came from there. Indeed, the very fact that there was a Galilean scholar famous enough for us to know of him proves Galilee was no hick backwater. Eleazar was also famous for converting the Gentile King Izates to Judaism during the reign of Claudius--exactly when Paul was preaching Christ. So hailing from Galilee did not turn off even well-informed kings.[14] Finally, Josephus records that, combined with Perea, Galilee produced 200 talents in tribute a year, a substantial sum, and most of that came from Galilee. In fact, measured in terms of wealth and number of major cities, Perea was far more a hick backwater than Galilee--yet the revered John the Baptist hailed from and preached in Perea. So coming from a hick backwater was clearly no barrier to prestige or respect.[15]

2.5. The Gospel of John

So why is the Gospel of John the only source we have from the period that denigrates Galilee? Probably for exactly the opposite reason Holding thinks: John included that material deliberately, to exploit the disdain people have for elite snobbery. By playing up the snobbish rejection of any message from Galilee or any prophet from a small rural town, John is playing on popular disdain for exactly such attitudes. His audience would see the Jewish elite in his story the same way someone from a small, wholesome town in upstate New York sees Manhattanite snobs who despise anyone not from "the Big Apple."
Indeed, the Republican Party in the United States often plays the "small town of mom and apple pie" against the "decadent New York elite" in exactly the same way John does. "See how they look down their noses at you? Don't you hate that? So don't follow them--follow us! We're the party of the common man, of true family values against the hypocrisy and corruption of the big city snobs!" That message resonated even more strongly then than it does today--and yet the same rhetoric still works today. It would have worked even better back then. Christianity was originally a movement for the poor and the disgruntled middle-class. It preached to the very people who despised the Jerusalemite snobbery that John went out of his way to depict. So representing the Jerusalem elite as despising the origins of Jesus actually helped the Gospel. It didn't hurt it. Having a hero from a "small town" was a big sell--it held out an alternative to elite snobbery: a hero just like the average man, who, just like the average man, suffered under the heel of these big-town jerks.
This is clear from the way John uses this material, repeated in no other Gospel. Nor are any of the key characters ever mentioned in any other source, not even Acts. Consider John 7:41-52:
Some said, "This is the Christ." But others said, "What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? Doesn't scripture say the Christ will come from the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" So there arose a division in the multitude because of him. And some of them would have seized him, but no man laid hands on him.
Already John is saying that though some rejected Jesus on these snobbish grounds, many were not dissuaded by that fact--enough in fact to create a "division" and prevent the Jewish officials from seizing Jesus. Thus, the argument was not that effective against accepting Jesus. And John's audience is meant to sympathize with those people who rejected the elitist argument. This is clear from the way the story continues:
The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees, but they said to them, "Why did you not bring him?" The officers answered, "No one told us to." The Pharisees therefore answered them, "Are you also led astray? Have any of the rulers believed in him, or of the Pharisees? But this multitude that doesn't know the law are accursed!"
In other words, John is using the fact that the elites (the rulers and Pharisees) rejected the message of Christianity as a point in its favor (which means it must also have been true). John was in effect arguing to the reader, "You common folk, see how they denigrate you, and say you are ignorant and accursed?" Thus, John attests not only to the fact that it is the non-elites who are converting to Christianity (not the snobs whom Holding quotes), but also the fact that this was the very reason they were converting: they despised attitudes like that of the Pharisees depicted here, and John is using that anger as a means to persuade them of the merits of the Christian message.
This is proven by the speech that John now includes in this narrative (in the mouth of Nicodemus, a Pharisee that John alone portrays as gradually coming over to Jesus's side, cf. 3:1-9, 7:51, 19:39):
Nicodemus (who came to [Jesus] before, and was now one of them) said to them, "Does our law judge a man before it first hears from him and knows what he does?" They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search, and see that out of Galilee no prophet arises."
Nicodemus thus champions the enlightened ideal of justice,[16] against the very corrupting prejudice the Pharisees are expressing here. To understand how a reader of John would react to this passage, we can rephrase it in a modern context:
Snob: "He's from Idaho. No great scholar has ever come from Idaho."

Righteous Man: "What, are we going to judge him before we even know what he's actually said and done?"

Snob: "You must be from Idaho!"
The insulting fallacy of responding to a valid call for the just and equal treatment of everyone, by accusing the one who makes that call of being a hick themselves, is exactly the sort of thing that enraged the lower classes back then, as it does today. John is getting the audience on his side, and turning them against the Jewish elite. We will examine this class conflict further in Chapter 12.
So the fact that Jesus hailed from Galilee was no barrier to Christian success. On the contrary, among those who actually did convert, it would have been either irrelevant or an actual asset, considering that Galilee was not really so scorned a place, but especially considering how authors like John exploited so effectively what scorn there was, using the very prejudice Holding points to as a weapon in Christianity's favor. Indeed, the entire Gospel of John is crafted to appeal to that universal human tendency toward reactionary anti-elitism described so well by Richard Hofstadter in the context modern America (though in that case with different social causes). Accordingly, Richard Rohrbaugh concludes from a survey of scholarship on John:
John is almost certainly a Galilean gospel...[aimed at] a group which exists within a dominant society but as a conscious alternative to it, [in particular] an alienated group which had been pushed (or withdrawn) to the social margins where it stood as a protest to the values of the larger society.[17]
That is the very target audience who would side with Nicodemus, not the other Pharisees. Holding's argument would be correct--for many Pharisees. But not of those who shared the view expressed by Nicodemus--and those were the people Christianity successfully evangelized, far more successfully than the Jewish elite, as John himself admits.

2.6. The Role of Messianic Prophecy

At the same time, an origin in both Galilee and Nazareth was exploited by some Christian evangelists in another way: as confirming that Jesus was the Christ. This is the tactic employed by Matthew, who tells us that the Christ had to come from Nazareth, "that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, that he shall be called a Nazarene" (Matthew 2:23). Although no such prophecy can be found in the extant text of the Bible, there was no canon at the time, and we don't know what texts Matthew's audience may have relied on or how they interpreted them.[18] Matthew also claims (more credibly) that prophecy predicted a messiah who would come from "Galilee of the Gentiles," a land that was "previously held in contempt, but later made glorious" (Isaiah 9:1), and that he would preach out of the Galilean city of Capernaum (as all the Gospels depict him doing).[19]
Against this point, Holding argues that the Christians could still claim this prophetic "Galilee" connection and yet place the birth of Jesus "in Sepphoris or even Capernaum" for the prestige it afforded, rather than Nazareth. But such a conjecture carries little weight. First, there is no reason anyone had to expect the messiah would come from anywhere but, at most, Bethlehem (e.g. John 7:41-42)--and the only sources we have on his place of birth make every effort to place it precisely there (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:1-7). The prophetic anticipation of a messiah from Capernaum does not specify birth, but the light of glory, and accordingly all the Gospels place the origin of the Gospel there. Second, as we've seen, all evidence shows that the Messiah was expected to be a despised person from Galilee. No prophecy expected a messiah from anywhere prestigious, apart from Bethlehem.
And third, Holding's conjecture assumes the Christians were eager to lie--which assumes too much, since his entire case depends on the premise that the Christians only told the truth (or at least told enough truth for him to rely on their records for making his case). It may be that Holding's point still carries weight against those who argue Jesus is a fiction. One might dispute even that, but I see no need to here. It might be true that in such a case a better place of origin would have been contrived for him. After all, once we grant that the Christians were fabricating, then we could presume that an origin at Nazareth might not have occurred to them (though an origin in Galilee would, per Isaiah 9:1-2). But Holding must suppose the Christians told the truth about his origins, so the prospect of inventing a better one is excluded. And for a real hero, his story (true or not) would far outweigh in its persuasiveness any trifle over where he came from--as it did for John the Baptist and Rabbi Eleazar.
We have seen already from the evidence above that had Jesus really come from a small town in a lesser county of Judaea, telling the truth about that would not have harmed the Christian mission, at least with those who would readily sympathize with the rural and middle-class roots of this Hero of the Masses. To be snobbish about where you came from (or what you did for a living) was, indeed, the very kind of thing the Christians despised about the social system they found themselves in, and the very thing they were seeking to escape by creating their own community where all would be equal. This was their intended audience, and for them a Nazarene hero, indeed a hard-working carpenter who didn't live off the backs of others, would not be a difficult sell.

2.7. Why a Virgin Birth?

Finally, almost as an afterthought, Holding raises the issue of Jesus's parentage, asking: "How hard would it have been to take an 'adoptionist' Christology and give Jesus an indisputably honorable birth" instead of making the harder-to-sustain claim that he was fathered by God? Of course, many Christians did exactly that, i.e. preached some form of adoptionism. Indeed, it is not clear that Paul preached anything to the contrary, and he certainly makes no mention of anything but an ordinary birth into the Davidic line. So it cannot be said that Christianity's initial success had to be despite a claim to virgin birth--the jury is still out on when that idea entered the tradition. But Holding's question can be reframed as: "Why would later Christians (like the author of Luke) add to the package something that would be harder to sell?" One reason is that an incarnated god was actually easier to sell to Gentiles than the more difficult idea of an Anointed, who was "Son of God" only in a particular esoteric sense intelligible mainly to Jews. We will address that issue in Chapter 9.
But presuming the Christians wanted to believe (and hence to preach) that Christ was both a man and God Incarnate, there is no other way the story could have sold except by positing a virgin birth to an unmarried woman--and thus the need for these circumstances nullifies any difficulty this idea would pose to persuading mockers. This is because Jesus could only have been God Incarnate if he was not fathered by a human being, while his divine patrimony could only be defended if his mother was, by law, a virgin when she conceived. Besides those requirements, to be the first-born son was the most socially admired, and a virgin conceiving is both a miraculous testimony to his divinity and the best way to gain the Christians the rhetorical advantage of prophetic confirmation.[20] Although the whole idea of the virgin birth would, as Holding suspects, add ammunition to Christian enemies, it would at the same time add appeal to those groups who were more sympathetic to the idea of a Divine Man than a mere "Chosen One." The overall effect would be a net increase in the popularity of the cult, since more people would be impressed by a miraculously born god-man than by accusations of absurdity or illegitimacy, while those who were quicker to believe the accusations were often the very people who would never have converted anyway.
Even apart from the logical motive to make Jesus virgin-born, there could have been a historical necessity for the doctrine, at least for those who wanted or needed to believe Jesus was literally the Son of God. If Mary really was betrothed to Joseph when she conceived, and Jesus really was her first born, then she had to be a virgin, and therefore Jesus had to be virgin born. For unless Christians were going to lie, they had to argue that Mary's first child was not produced by a sexual union (since sexless conception was the only way Jesus could be fathered by God), and since Mary was a virgin when she married Joseph (Luke 1:27; if she was not a virgin, unless she was a widow or divorcee, she would have been executed for the crime of fornication per Deuteronomy 22:13-21), Jesus therefore had to be virgin born (i.e. born to a women who had never had sex).
Therefore, the only way Jesus could have been the literal son of God is if Mary was a virgin when she conceived him. And since the idea of virgin-born gods was already in the cultural atmosphere, and was self-evidently miraculous and thus "proof" of God's intervention in history in a way that would confirm the divinity of Jesus, there was ample motive to develop and promote the idea. This would not have hindered the actual success Christianity enjoyed. And there is no evidence it did.

2.8. Conclusion

Holding says, "What it boils down to is that everything about Jesus as a person was all wrong to get people to believe he was [a] deity--and there must have been something powerful to overcome all the stigmas." But we have shown that there were no stigmas relevant to the very audience the Christians successfully targeted. To the contrary, everything Holding points to as making their mission harder actually made their mission easier--or had no significant impact on its success at all among those who did flock to the faith. For what Jesus did while on earth is irrelevant to what he could do for you now that he was exalted to the highest throne in heaven, and it was the heavenly Jesus that was sold to the masses, not a mere carpenter from Galilee (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 14).

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Notes

[1] See Todd Klutz, "Paul and the Development of Gentile Christianity" and Jeffrey Siker, "Christianity in the Second and Third Centuries," in The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, vol. 1 (2000), pp. 168-97 (esp. p. 193) & 231-57 (esp. pp. 232-35), respectively. On Paul's criticisms of his fellow Jews (which paralleled that of other Jewish radicals, such as the community at Qumran), see Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (1997) and Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (1992). On the development of anti-Semitism, see: John Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (1985); Peter Schafer, Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World (1997); William Farmer, Anti-Judaism and the Gospels (1999); Magnus Zetterholm, The Formation of Christianity in Antioch: A Social-Scientific Approach to the Separation between Judaism and Christianity (2003).
[2] For example, see Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:15 (w. 3:16-4:6); Ephesians 2:11-19, 4:1-6; and Romans 2:10-11 (indeed, the entirety of Romans chs. 12 and 13).
[3] There are numerous examples of this. The castrated priesthood of Attis was formally set up in the capital city of Rome by the government itself. The cosmopolitan Egyptian cult of Isis won the esteem of the otherwise-maligned Emperor Caligula and became the number one mystery religion among the Roman elite in the 2nd century (which is well-attested to even as far off as the cities of Roman Britain). The Syrian sun-cult of Emperor Elegabalus was formally established in Rome even before his reign, and during his reign became the official state cult. The Phrygian Mithra won the hearts of many among the legionary elite. The Greco-Chaldaean theology of Neoplatonism won the minds of many of the later Roman intelligentsia. The backwater Black Sea cult of Alexander of Abonuteichos won the favor of emperors and governors. And so on.
[4] On all these facts, the evidence is thoroughly documented by Robert Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire (2nd ed., 1992; tr. Antonia Nevill, 1996), and Mary Beard, et al., Religions of Rome: Volume 1, A History and Religions of Rome: Volume 2, A Sourcebook (1998).
[5] Michael Rodkinson, "The Generations of the Tanaim: First Generation" in The Babylonian Talmud (1918); and "Hillel and Shammai" in the Jewish Virtual Library (2004). Their trades are evident even in the stories told of them. For example, in b. Talmud, Shabbat 31a, Hillel drives someone off with a builder's cubit he happened to have in his hand.
[6] Indeed, his complete declaration is more revealing: "Love work. Hate authority. Don't get friendly with the government" (Mishnah, Abot 1.10b). This expresses the attitude of exactly those for whom Christianity was most attractive. Another example of this resentment of the elite appears in Rabbi Judah's declaration that even "the best among physicians is going to Hell" (Mishnah, Qiddushin 4.14l); the Christian tale of the woman who bled for twelve years reveals a similar criticism of doctors in Luke 8:43. We might even see this attitude in the prominent disdain held for "the scribes" as a group throughout the Gospels: this may have been a jab at men who claimed authority in the Law yet did not hold what was considered a real working-class job.
[7] Philo, via Eusebius, Preparation of Gospel 8.11.5-12. See also: s.v. "Essenes," Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6 (1971): pp. 899-902; Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (1997): p. 562; Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 1 (2000): pp. 262-69. Sources describe as many as six different factions of Essenes, each with slightly different beliefs. In addition, the ancient Therapeutae were probably a faction of the Essenes as well. See: s.v. "Therapeutae," Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 15 (1971): pp. 1111-12; Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (1997): p. 1608; Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 2 (2000): pp. 943-46. Eusebius found them so similar to Christians that he mistook them as an early Christian sect in History of the Church 2.17. Scholars are agreed that the Qumran community was probably a faction of the Essenes. See s.v. "Dead Sea sect," Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 5 (1971): pp. 1408-09. Some Roman elites regarded this counter-cultural community at Qumran with at least a little respect: Pliny, Natural History 5.73, and Dio Chrysostom, via Synesius, Dio 3.2. Finally, for some online guidance, see Sid Green, "From Which Religious Sect Did Jesus Emerge?" (2001).
[8] See Ramsay MacMullen, Roman Social Relations (1974), pp. 70-80. See also Ethele Brewster, Roman Craftsmen and Tradesmen of the Early Empire (1917), whose work was updated by Alison Burford, Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (1972). Tradition before the time of Christ also held that Socrates, the greatest and most admired philosopher of the ancient world, was the son of a stoneworker and a stoneworker himself (Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers 2.5.18, citing pre-Christians sources, e.g. 2.5.19, 2.5.20-21). He was also, incidentally, a convicted criminal executed by the state.
[9] See the relevant entries in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology (1951). Quote from Arnobius, Adversus Nationes 3.20.1. On how Jews would respond to the idea of an incarnated god who became an ordinary rabbi, see Chapter 9.
[10] On the sect of Galileans: Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, History of the Church 4.22.7; and Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin and Trypho the Jew 80. On the Social and Mithradatic Wars, see "Social War" and "Mithradates (VI)" in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1996).
[11] See: "Nazareth," Avraham Negev & Shimon Gibson, eds., Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, new ed. (2001); and B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1 (1969), esp. pp. 233-34, which discusses four calcite column bases, which were reused in a later structure, but are themselves dated before the War by their stylistic similarity to synagogues and Roman structures throughout 1st century Judaea, and by the fact that they contain Nabataean lettering (which suggests construction before Jewish priests migrated to Nazareth after the war), as well as their cheap material (calcite instead of marble); pp. 170-71 discusses Aramaic-inscribed marble fragments paleographically dated around the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century, demonstrating that Nazareth had marble structures near the time the Gospels were written (even if not before). Otherwise, very little of Nazareth has been excavated, and therefore no argument can be advanced regarding what "wasn't" there in the 1st century. Likewise, evidence suggests any stones and bricks used in first century buildings in Nazareth were reused in later structures, thus erasing a lot of the evidence.
       On an unrelated note: some have claimed that Luke's description of the town as built on a hill (4:29) is factually incorrect, but I have confirmed from photographs and archaeological reports that Nazareth was built down the slope of a hill, and many of its houses, storerooms, and tombs were cut from the rock of that hill (while the "brow" of that hill would likely have been cut or built up to provide a place for hurling the condemned, according to Mishnah law, Sanhedrin 6.4).
[12] Josephus, AJ 18.27 & 18.36-37 (JW 2.167-68).
[13] Josephus, Life 228-35 (where he also notes that Galilee contained 240 cities and villages); Life 340-46, 390-93; JW 2.585, 2.590-94.
[14] Josephus, AJ 20.38-48.
[15] Josephus, JW 2.95, 3.44; Life 340-46; and see "John the Baptist," Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): pp. 727-28, and corresponding maps (and Josephus, AJ 18.116-19). Note that when Herod Antipas received Galilee and Perea as his tetrarchy, he lived and set up his administration in Galilee, thus demonstrating its greater prestige, and when he held a birthday banquet for himself, it was the leading men of Galilee who were invited--we hear no mention of "leading men of Perea" (e.g. Mark 6:21). For more on Galilee, see "Galilee" at JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[16] "He who decides a case without hearing the other side, even if he decides justly, cannot be considered just." (Seneca, Medea 199).
[17] Richard Rohrbaugh, "The Jesus Tradition: The Gospel Writers' Strategies of Persuasion," The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, vol. 1 (2000): pp. 198-30, quote from pp. 218-19; Gospel of John discussed: pp. 218-22. For the situation in modern America, see Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). To be exact, it was not the actual values of the wider society that Christians set themselves against, but the corruption of those values by the elite and their supporters (see Chapter 10). "It is a mode of resistance" which "may take the form" of "passive symbiosis" as the Christian Church did: Bruce Malina & Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John (1998), p. 7 (quoting Halliday); cf. "John's Antisociety," pp. 9-11.
       That there was a major conflict of values and expectations between the upper and lower classes is obvious to any expert in Roman history, and is now the consensus view. See: Michael Grant, "The Poor" in Greeks and Romans: A Social History (1992): pp. 59-82; C. R. Whittaker, "The Poor in the City of Rome" in Land, City and Trade in the Roman Empire (1993): VII.1-25; and P. A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (1971). For a discussion of this point in connection with early Christianity, see: Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (2002); Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (1996), pp. 147-62; Bruce Malina, The Social Gospel of Jesus (2001), pp. 26-35, 104-11.
[18] Some scholars think Matthew may have meant the prophecies that the Messiah would be rejected (which we argued was the case in Chapter 1, and is geographically implied in Isaiah 9:1), in which case Matthew's tactic is identical to John's--exploiting the lowly origins of Jesus as a rhetorical advantage: s.v. "Nazarene," Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000): pp. 950-51.
[19] Matthew 4:12-16, citing Isaiah 8:21-9:2. Note that Capernaum is among the least prestigious cities of Galilee, thus prophecy did not anticipate a messiah from a prestigious city, undermining Holding's premise that everyone would expect such an origin.
[20] For an explicit reference to the prophesy of his virgin birth as evidence Jesus was the Christ, see: Matthew 1:23 and Justin Martyr, Apology 1.33, who reports the pagans believed Perseus was also born of a virgin (ibid. 1.22, 1.54; so also Dialogue 67). Obviously, the more miraculous his birth, the more persuasive his claim to divinity. Though, as with all the scriptural passages the Christians used to persuade people Jesus was the Christ, Jewish opponents could claim they were interpreting them incorrectly--see Richard Carrier, "The Problem of the Virgin Birth Prophecy" (2003). This was a problem faced by every sect of Judaism: the central issue in their debates was always the interpretation of contended passages in scripture, leaving victory to whomever was the more persuasive, which differed depending on their audience--which is why Judaism never unified itself in regard to how to interpret scripture. Different views always had their loyal adherents. The Christians simply found theirs.
===============


3. Was Resurrection Deemed Impossible?

3.1 The Popularity of Resurrection
3.2 How the Pagan Mission Changed Christianity
3.3 Jewish Background
3.4 Was There a Better Idea?
3.5 Conclusion

3.1. The Popularity of Resurrection

James Holding's next argument is that pagans would not buy a physical resurrection of the flesh. "Indeed," he says, "among the pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible." Of course, this would be no problem for the mission to the Jews, since a great many Jews (though not all of them) already expected such a thing. But it is false anyway: many pagans believed resurrection was possible, even desirable. And those were probably the very pagans the Christians converted. Already the Jews appear to have gotten the idea of a resurrection of the flesh from pagans: it was a fundamental of Zoroastrian belief, and throughout the Roman period Zoroastrianism was the common national religion in the Persian Empire (in practical terms, everything east of the Roman Empire up to about India). Theopompus and Eudemus of Rhodes, both Greek historians of the 4th century B.C., described this Persian belief. Theopompus wrote in particular that "according to the [Persian] Magi, men will be resurrected and become immortal, and what then exists will endure through their incantations."[1] So the idea of a physical resurrection would be readily accepted by enough Jews and Persians to present no difficulty for the Christian message.
But even a great many Greco-Roman pagans flirted with the possibility of being raised from the dead. We have so many stories and claims of physical resurrection within the pagan tradition that there can be no doubt the Christian claim would face no more difficulty than these tales in finding pagan believers. Herodotus records the Thracians believed in the physical resurrection of Zalmoxis, and formed a religion around it that promised eternal paradise for believers, and later on certain Italians came to believe in the resurrection of Aristeas of Proconnesus. Lucian records that the pagan Antigonus had told him: "I know a man who came to life more than twenty days after his burial, having attended the fellow both before his death and after he came to life."[2] Celsus, though himself a doubter, attested to a widespread belief in resurrected men among pagans, rattling off a list of those whom pagans believed rose again:
Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and Pythagoras himself in Italy; and Rhampsinitus in Egypt, whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift; and also Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Taenarus, and Theseus.
Later on Celsus added to this list the aforementioned Aristeas of Proconnesus--as well as the deified Dioscuri, Asclepius (see below), and Dionysus.[3] We've already discussed the resurrections of Romulus, Osiris, Adonis and Inanna as well (in Chapter 1), and we could add several mortals who were resurrected in Greek myth besides the Dioscuri, such as Eurydice and Alcestis--and in legend, Theseus.[4] So it is plainly false to claim that no pagans would believe in a resurrection of the body, especially for a deified or divine man. Even Hercules, whose "resurrection" is usually portrayed only as an ascent to heaven, nevertheless ascended in his divine body, after its mortal material was burned away on the pyre.[5] In like fashion, Celsus reports that "a great many Greeks and Barbarians claim they have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Asclepius himself." And not only was Asclepius a resurrected and deified mortal, but he was the preeminent "resurrector of the dead," and that was a prominent reason pagans held him in such esteem. Since Justin could not deny this, he was prompted to claim that "the Devil" must have introduced "Asclepius as the raiser of the dead" in order to undermine the Christian message in advance.[6]
It goes well beyond this. Lucian and Apuleius both report the common belief that resurrecting the dead ("calling moldy corpses to life," as Lucian puts it) was one of the expected powers of a sorcerer, and sorcery was very popular among the majority of pagans. Hence Apuleius has his fictional sorcerer Zatchlas raise Telephron from the dead. But among historical claims, Apuleius relates a medical resurrection performed by Asclepiades. Apollonius of Tyana was believed to have risen a girl from the dead using a spell. In the 4th century B.C. Heraclides of Pontus recorded that through some mysterious art Empedocles "preserved the body of a lifeless woman without pulse or respiration for thirty days" and then "he sent away the dead woman alive." Proclus reports that Eurynous of Nicopolis was "buried before the city by his relatives" but then "returned to life following the fifteenth day of his burial" and lived many more years, and that Rufus of Philippi, a pagan high priest, "died and returned to life on the third day," living long enough to tell his story.[7]
Pliny the Elder reports there were numerous such tales believed by many people, even without magic. He says Varro reported on two different occasions seeing "a person carried out on a bier to burial who returned home on foot," besides witnessing the apparent resurrection of his uncle-in-law Corfidius. Pliny also reports that the sailor Gabienus had his throat cut "and almost severed" yet returned from the dead that evening, to report on his visit to Hades. Plato records a similar story related by Alcinous about Er the Pamphylian, who "was slain in battle" and ten days later his body was recovered and brought home, then "at the moment of his funeral, on the twelfth day, as he lay upon the pyre, he revived" and "after coming to life he related what he said he'd seen in the world beyond." In a similar story, the Syrian commander Bouplagus rises from the dead on a body-strewn battlefield (despite having been stabbed twelve times) as Roman soldiers were looting the bodies, and chastised the Romans for looting the dead. The Lady Philinnion returned to life to visit her lover. The villainous Aridaeus fell to his death but returned to life "on the third day" to relate his trip to heaven, and was so transformed by what he learned there that he led a life of impeccable virtue thereafter. Timarchus spent two nights and a day in a sacred crypt, during which time he died, visited heaven, and returned. Ultimately, Pliny the Elder says he also knew of "cases of persons appearing after burial" but chose not to discuss them because his book was about "works of nature, not prodigies." This nevertheless proves such tales were transmitted and believed by many people. Pliny himself doesn't say what he believed, only that these stories weren't the subject of his book. But he still records numerous returns from death, and as we have seen there are many, many more.[8]
The great abundance of these tales reflects a widespread hope of returning to life within the pagan community, or at the very least refutes any notion that this was always thought to be "impossible." The evidence is overwhelming: that one could return to life in the body that died, or in an even better body, was a commonplace belief among a great many pagans, and was not deemed "impossible" except by a few skeptical elites (such as the Epicureans). What matters here is not what the true events were behind all these stories of resurrected men and women. What matters is that many people clearly believed these were genuine risings from the dead, or that such a thing could and did happen, or was something they could imagine happening. Nor does it matter how much any of these stories resemble that of Jesus (also a demigod, being the divine son of a god), for the relevant underlying concept remains the same: returning to life in a body. Therefore, Holding cannot maintain there was any significant resistance to the Christian claim among those pagans who actually did convert. To the contrary, they would have found a large and ready audience eager to believe just such a thing. Any differences there may have been between the many and varied pagan ideas of resurrection and what the Christians taught (which itself varied according to sect) were all minor points of metaphysical detail, not fundamental barriers to the idea of Jesus returning bodily from the dead.

3.2. How the Pagan Mission Changed Christianity

It is sometimes claimed that the Jews made a distinction between resurrection and mere resuscitation (even though there is no evidence such a distinction was at all widespread among the Jews), but that makes no difference here: anyone who would readily believe in the resuscitation of a corpse (and we see many pagans did) could easily believe (for example) in the subsequent improvement of the body rendering it immortal. The Zoroastrians believed this explicitly, and many of the Greeks and Romans did, too, in their conception of the divine body of gods and immortal heroes--and what the Christians were selling was essentially the very same thing.[9]
So, contrary to Holding, there is no apparent barrier to conversion here. Indeed, even the New Testament proves this: when Paul preached at Athens, then one of the greatest centers of intellectual life and critical thought in the whole world, his audience reacted in several different ways--they didn't all think what he said was ridiculous. Though "some" of the Greeks "sneered," others said "we want to hear you again on this subject" and "a few" even "became followers of Paul and believed" (Acts 17:30-32). That probably represents the true proportion of pagan responses to the entire Christian message: some sneered, exactly as Holding observes; but some remained curious and considered it; and a few even bought it and believed.[10]
Against this Holding declares that "the pagan world was awash with points of view associated with those who thought matter was evil and at the root of all of man's problems." Such a point of view did exist among a segment of the population, yes--especially among the more snobbish elite. It was the dominant paradigm among Orphic mystics and Platonist philosophers, and a feature of the more popular mystery religions. But we have no evidence of many advocates of those movements flocking to early Christianity. Hence it appears those were the very people the Christians largely failed to evangelize in their first hundred years. Rather, their success was greatest among the middle and lower classes, among whom this Platonic and Orphic disdain for the flesh is less in evidence. And yet even so, the earliest Christians sought to accommodate even these sensibilities, as we see in Paul's effort (in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54, Corinthians 4:16-5:10, and Romans 7:18-8:18) to articulate a view of the resurrection that appealed to the very sensibilities of the Orphic mindset: we will leave the dirty material behind and get bodies made of superior, heavenly material instead. However you interpret what Paul was trying to say in these passages, it cannot be denied that what he says would have appealed to the very people Holding has in mind here, because it satisfied their desire to live forever without the stains and burdens of our present bodies. Thus, Christianity could be sold to everyone.[11]
As Christianity evolved into numerous competing sects over the later first century, some went even further toward this Orphic disdain for the flesh accommodated by Paul (and we generally call these groups Gnostic, though not always correctly), while others went in the other direction, toward a restoration of the flesh that died (for whom I have coined the word Sarcicist, after sarx / sarcis, "flesh"). Concerning this split, Dale Martin demonstrates that "early Christian preaching about the resurrection of the dead" actually "divided the Corinthian church along social status lines." He shows how the elite members "influenced by popular philosophy to deprecate the body, opposed the idea of a resurrected body," while the lower classes more "readily accepted early Christian preaching about resurrected bodies." The division arose because Jew and Gentile alike "could find analogies" within "their own culture, especially in views apparently held by the masses." But these views were "generally ridiculed by the philosophically educated," whereas to the lower classes such a view was "perfectly acceptable." In fact, popular concern to save the flesh is reflected in the popularity of personal and funerary beliefs that obsessed over the relative integrity of the corpse and body.[12] This did not mean they expected to get their bodies back--but it does mean they would not have abhorred the idea of getting their bodies back, especially improved bodies, free of all that was bad about the old ones, which is exactly what the Christians were offering.
Caroline Bynum, a leading expert on resurrection ideology in the West, argues that "one cannot say that Christians taught literal, material, fleshly resurrection because Christ rose thus" as "there is a full range of interpretation of Jesus's resurrection in the Gospels and Paul," so the choice made by any particular group still "requires explanation." And it appears that one leading motive of the Sarcicists was to maintain social hierarchy and control. Bynum demonstrates that Christians who explicitly defended a resurrection of the flesh after the 2nd century argued it was necessary to make sure, for example, that women remained subjugated to men. Jerome, disgusted by women using a Pauline doctrine to justify haughty declarations of sexual equality, implied that resurrection of the flesh was needed to oppose this, apparently to ensure women remained subjugated to men in the future world. In contrast, Paul envisioned the elimination of all distinctions of class, race, and gender in the end (Colossians 3:11). Even Paul's infamous misogyny was based on the inheritance of sin through Adam and Eve (1 Timothy 2:12-14), which of course would all be done away with in the new creation--for once their "body of Adam" died (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-50), women would no longer inherit the sin of Eve.[13] This was the original vision of the Christian movement: equality for everyone in a utopian future, against the elite use of class, race, and gender distinctions to oppress the people under the heel of injustice. But after its first hundred years this vision was hijacked by a sect obsessed with maintaining these inequalities, even in heaven. Since this development came many generations later, the story of why and how it took place can have nothing to do with what really happened to Jesus on that first Easter Day.
We cannot be certain whether that was the original motive for a shift away from Paul and toward a more radical Sarcicism in the first hundred years of the Church. It appears to have been a factor in its success later on (especially after the 3rd century, when Christianity became a religion of the government), but those first hundred years are inadequately documented to find out what happened or why (which is also a problem for anyone who wants to insist, contrary to the evidence of Paul, that the original church was thoroughly Sarcicist). But from the analysis of Dale Martin and others, and given the evidence of popular beliefs I surveyed above, it seems likely that many among the uneducated masses, and some among the educated class, were disturbed by the idea of losing their body. These groups were apparently not impressed by highbrow attempts to argue for a disembodied immortality. To the contrary, regardless of what they believed, getting their bodies back was more what they wanted, and was easier to understand, defend, and explain, and that made them highly receptive to the idea. Judaism clearly offered it, and early Christianity was unmistakably a Jewish movement.
An influx of various Jews and pagans who were more attracted to the idea of a resurrection of the flesh (suitably improved and glorified) would have inevitably influenced how some churches came to interpret the resurrection--and once persecution became more widespread (in the 2nd and 3rd century), many actual and potential converts who were happier with other modes of salvation might have found easier paths in accepted pagan cults and Jewish sects. This meant persecution may have caused Christianity to swell with those very people who wanted to get their flesh back--since Christianity was the only cult offering that on easier terms (Judaism offered it only on very hard terms, as explained in Chapter 2). And these people would primarily have come from the most anti-elitist segments of the population--for it was precisely their disdain for the ivory castle argumentation of philosophers that led them to sneer at highbrow concepts of immortality and favor instead the more popular ideas, elevating the dreams and longings of the common man above the fancy rhetoric of the stuffy academics. The effect this had on the development of Christian dogma was probably significant (I discuss this further in Chapter 8.4).
Hence when Holding quotes the remark of Pheme Perkins that "Christianity's pagan critics generally viewed resurrection as misunderstood metempsychosis at best" and "at worst, it seemed ridiculous," we can agree: that does capture the range of attitudes among its critics. But those critics did not represent every view held in antiquity, and by definition they did not represent Christianity's supporters or converts. It is a simple matter of logic: those who sympathize will join or tolerate a creed, while those who have opposing ideas will use them to attack that creed. So we cannot claim what those critics say is what the converts believed. To the contrary, it almost certainly is not--that is why they converted. Thus, Holding's arguments do well to explain why some of those who refused to join the movement did not convert. But his arguments tell us nothing about why those who converted actually did so. He can't present a single example of anyone saying "I used to think resurrection was so impossible as to be ridiculous, but the Christians convinced me otherwise!" So Holding's original premise must be restated: "among some pagans, resurrection was deemed impossible." Can we generalize from that to say that all pagans would have resisted the idea? No.
Obviously, Epicureans like Celsus had strong dogmatic reasons to hold resurrection in contempt. That is why we have no record of any Epicurean being convinced within the first hundred years, and why Celsus tries so hard to argue that resurrection was ridiculous. But Epicureanism was always a minority sect in antiquity. So Holding cannot use the arguments of an Epicurean to represent the entirety of the ancient world. Yes, for Celsus, as he himself said (from the fictional perspective of a skeptical Jew), "the question is whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body." But neither his Epicurean, nor a Sadducean, nor a Platonic attitude were commonplace among the masses, nor were they universal even among the elite. His own argument attests this, for Celsus is criticizing Christians for making the same claim of resurrection as many pagans, not a different one. Again, differences in metaphysical detail are irrelevant here, since no matter the details, it's still the same thing: getting to rise from the dead to live forever in a better body. That's what the Christians as well as a great many pagans believed possible.
The bottom line is, as even Origen points out, "being an Epicurean, Celsus does not hold the same views with the Greeks, and neither recognizes demons nor worships gods as do the Greeks" and therefore his critique of Christianity does not represent the general attitudes of the Greeks (or Romans or Syrians or anyone else).[14] It represents certain segments of opinion, but a minority only. Epicureanism was perhaps the rarest dogma going. Platonism was more popular, but far more popular still were eclectic varieties of Stoicism and Aristotelianism, and the beliefs among the masses could be described as vulgarized amalgams of all these, with a rich variety of differing opinions. Christians simply won the hearts of those who had sympathetic opinions, hence those who believed it was at least possible to come back to life in a superior body. And the evidence is abundantly clear that there were many who thought so.

3.3. Jewish Background

So much for the mission to the pagans. What about the Jews? Holding claims that among the Jews "there was no perception of the resurrection of an individual before the general resurrection at judgment." But that is not true. Individual Hebrew and Christian resurrections abound in scripture,[15] and many Jews had no trouble believing that Jesus might be the resurrected Elijah or John the Baptist--in fact, they expected the resurrection (or at least "return") of Elijah to presage the general resurrection of Israel. This is clear from the following conversation recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:
Jesus commanded them, saying, "Report this vision to no one, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." And his disciples asked him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And he answered and said, "Elijah did come, and shall restore all things. Indeed I say to you, that Elijah has already arrived, and they knew him not, but did to him whatever they wanted. In such a way shall the Son of man also suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood he was talking about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:9-13)
In other words, Jesus says he will rise from the dead, prompting his disciples to ask him, if that is the case, why Elijah hasn't returned from the dead (or from heaven, where the dead go [16]), since he is supposed to come first. Jesus responds by saying Elijah already did come. And that meant John the Baptist was the risen Elijah, and so the disciples infer.
Thus, it must have been a common belief that there would be an individual return to the land of the living, before the end, similar to Christ's (in whom resided the spirit of God rather than, in the case of John, the spirit of Elijah). We see this also when King Herod heard of the miracles performed by Jesus and his disciples, at which "he said, 'John the Baptizer is risen from the dead, and that's why these powers work in him!'" While "others said it is Elijah" or "one of the prophets" of old (who certainly died and were buried, even if Elijah wasn't), "Herod, when he heard these things, said, 'John, whom I beheaded, he is risen'."[17] Does that sound like "there was no perception of the resurrection of an individual before the general resurrection"? To the contrary, it sounds like Jews and Gentiles were ready to believe in just such a thing.
Other sources confirm there were many Jews, even within the Rabbinic tradition, who expected the resurrection to take place in stages, not all at once. There were many different opinions as to how many stages and in what order they would rise. But in one scheme there would be four stages: first Adam, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then those buried in Palestine, then everyone else. Some Jews also thought their martyrs would rise before everyone else, too.[18] And, of course, as we already saw, the Gospels attest to the belief that John might rise from the dead before the general resurrection, as well as the belief that Elijah or even some other prophet would rise early, heralding the approach of the end. But it is notable that the first expected to rise in one scheme was Adam--which might explain why Christ was regarded as the "new" Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Either way, the idea of a staged resurrection formed the basis of Paul's apologetic for why Jesus rose before everyone else: "in Christ all will be made alive, but each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then those who belong to Christ, at his coming, and then the end comes" (1 Corinthians 15:22-24). That Paul regarded Christ as the "firstfruits" entails he believed the resurrection of Jesus was the first stage of the general resurrection, for the firstfruit was always the first sheaf of grain in one general harvest, and in like fashion Paul emphasizes that the resurrection must take place in the proper order. Thus Paul, like many other Jews, believed the general resurrection would come in stages, and for them the resurrection of Jesus would (and did) indicate the general resurrection had begun--which is why Paul appears to have expected the end to come in his own lifetime.[19]

3.4. Was There a Better Idea?

So there was no barrier here, either--many Jews were prepared to accept that a Christ might rise from the dead before the rest of Israel. However, Holding does raise a more nuanced argument: "A physical resurrection was completely unnecessary for merely starting a religion," he says, since "it would have been enough to say that Jesus' body had been taken up to heaven, like Moses' or like Elijah's." Of course, this argument requires supposing Jesus was fictional. If it is the case that Jesus was executed and buried as the Gospels say, then resurrection was the only claim available, since an actual public death and burial would prevent any other claim being made. In other words, if everyone knew Jesus was dead, then Christians could only claim he ascended to heaven by also claiming he rose, in some sense, from the dead. But even if Holding can wriggle out of that conundrum, there are three other important problems with his last argument.
The first problem with this argument is that it suffers from a common flaw in counterfactual history: it assumes only the easiest and most persuasive ideas win out. History decisively refutes such a notion: a great many zany ideas have gained widespread purchase and endured for centuries. For example, requiring castration to enter the priesthood was "completely unnecessary" for the success of the Attis cult, since it "would have been enough" to have, say, some sort of symbolic castration instead (exactly like Paul's device of replacing the true circumcision with a "spiritual" one, even calling that the better one, in Romans 2:28-29 & Philippians 3:3). But they didn't. And yet the cult flourished, at least as well as Christianity did in its first hundred years. In like fashion, in later Christian history unitarianism was easier to sell than Nicean trinitarianism, since unitarianism (as championed, for example, within Arianism) was less convoluted and left fewer opportunities for attack and criticism, yet the Church sided with the latter despite having to expend vast resources and foster tremendous strife and violence to win the argument. So religions often succeed by starting out or sticking with the position harder to defend.
The second problem with this argument is that it assumes there was no other reason for choosing the more difficult sell. As we already have seen, there were reasons why many people, among both Jews and Gentiles, wanted to believe in a resurrection, either by raising the flesh or by gaining a superior body like heroes and demigods. Those were the people who joined up, and many eventually formed the Sarcicist sects of the Christian church. Their reasons for believing something regarded as so odd by various others had more to do with their desires and expectations, and disdain for lofty philosophical systems, than with their being convinced by a decisive presentation of empirical evidence (a point we shall address in later chapters).
Both the first and this second problem negate Holding's argument because Christianity's success was not at all remarkable until the late 3rd century. Before then it was a struggling minority cult. Indeed, it barely even blipped on the radar of Roman society before the age of Trajan. We will demonstrate this in Chapter 18. Here it is enough to note that, when the evidence was still theoretically checkable and therefore relevant to Holding's case, Christianity only won a tiny fraction of the hearts and minds of the Greek, Roman, and Jewish world. That kind of humble success does not require Christianity to have been the most sellable product since the invention of beer. As long as it would sell at all, as long as a tiny fraction of the evangelized groups would find it attractive--and we've shown they would--then Christianity would succeed on the scale we observe for that first century, just as the cult of Attis did. And we can certainly say that requiring men to hack off their testicles is a far stronger deterrent than preaching a Christ risen in the flesh, an idea a great many people already accepted as plausible.[20]
But the third and most important problem with Holding's last argument is that it places the Gospels before Paul--when we know the order is the other way around. Holding says "it would have been enough to say that Jesus' body had been taken up to heaven" in order to get the religion started, yet as it turns out, that appears to be exactly how it did start: Paul never makes any distinction between Christ's resurrection and ascension--and he also equates our resurrection with Christ's, and describes our resurrection as an ascension.[21] Holding asks "why bother making the road harder?" But clearly that is a question to ask for later Christians, not the Christians of Paul's generation--for maybe they didn't make it harder.
And as we have already seen, those who later deviated from Paul by reconceiving Christ's resurrection as a revival of his (divinely improved) corpse, and then distinguished that event from his ascension, were not making the road harder--rather, they were making it easier--for their chosen target audience: the disgruntled, anti-elitist masses, who were awash with stories of revived corpses and resurrected god-men appearing on earth. Though this did make it a harder sell to many educated elites and their allies and sympathizers, we see that Christianity already had a very hard time winning such people over, exactly as Holding's argument predicts. In contrast, those few elite intellectuals who eventually did convert and told us why do not give the account of their reasons that Holding wants: rather than being overwhelmed by what we would call empirical evidence, they were dissatisfied with all the alternatives (we will present this case in Chapter 17).

3.5. Conclusion

It is clear that, contrary to Holding's claims, a bodily resurrection, even of an individual, was not regarded as impossible by all pagans and Jews, but only some of them. Indeed, for many, especially among those groups the Christians most successfully evangelized, such a resurrection was eminently credible and sometimes desired. Thus, Holding's argument fails even if we suppose the Gospels represent the original Christian belief--and we've seen reasons to suspect they do not.[22]

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Notes

[1] This quote and the corroboration of Eudemus are preserved by the Roman historian Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 1.9 (3rd century A.D.). That Theopompus said this is also corroborated in the 6th century by Aeneas of Gaza, Theophrastus 72. Despite a few skeptics, most scholars now agree the Jews got the idea from the Persians: see the summary of modern scholarship in John Hinnells, Zoroastrian and Parsi Studies (2000), esp. pp. 29-92. Borrowing is demonstrated not only by the fact that early Greek sources identify it as a Persian (and not a Jewish) belief, but by the fact that the Old Testament completely lacks any reference to the doctrine until after the Jews were exiled to cities in contact with Zoroastrianism.
       For example, the earliest mention comes from the author of Ezekiel 37, who came up with the idea only late in his career, after twelve years of captivity in Babylon (per Ezekiel 33:21). Daniel mentions it, too, but this book is written about events in Persia and among Zoroastrian magi, and is a 2nd century B.C. forgery anyway, as demonstrated by Curt van den Heuvel in "Revealing Daniel" (1998); see also "Daniel, Book of," Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000). Likewise, Isaiah 26:19 appears in a section that modern scholars agree was heavily redacted in the postexilic period (see ibid., "Isaiah, book of").
       The best recent treatments of this aspect of Zoroastrian belief throughout Western history is provided by Alan Segal, "Iranian Views of the Afterlife and Ascent to the Heavens," Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (2004): pp. 173-203; Albert De Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature (1997) and "Shadow and Resurrection," Bulletin of the Asia Institute 9 (1995): pp. 215-24; and Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 3 (1975), esp. pp. 367-68 and 392-440.
[2] Herodotus, Histories 4.94-96 & 4.13-16 (also in Apollonius, Miraculous Stories 2.2); Lucian, Lover of Lies 26. I discuss the issue of pagan resurrection beliefs in the "Main Argument" of Richard Carrier, "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" (5th ed., 2004), and elsewhere. That worshippers of Zalmoxis, "King and God," obtain immortality is attested in Plato, Charmides 156d (Zalmoxis and his followers were also noted healers: ibid. 156e-158b). The sources and sociological background to the Zalmoxis cult is excellently surveyed by Mircea Eliade in Zalmoxis the Vanishing God (1970).
[3] Origen, Contra Celsum 2.55, 3.26, 3.22. Besides the Dioscuri, Pliny says many gods lived and died on alternating days (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5.17). Celsus didn't believe in resurrection because he was an Epicurean (who, unless these are two different men, ibid. 4.36, 4.57, sometimes also adopted a Platonic point of view for his fictional critics of Christianity, cf. ibid. 1.8, 4.75; note also Lucian, Alexander the Quack Prophet 1-3, 60-61). For an updated analysis of a select few examples of pagan beliefs about their own resurrected gods see Tryggve Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East (2001) and "The Dying and Rising God: The Peregrinations of a Mytheme,"in Ethnicity in Ancient Mesopotamia (ed. by W.H. van Soldt, 2005), pp. 198-210.
[4] Eurydice returns from the dead but due to a flubbed promise is forced back, while Alcestis is returned to life by being either rescued or sent back from Hades, either way for selflessly exchanging her life for that of her husband (cf. Apollodorus, Library 1.3.2 & 1.9.15). Euripides wrote an entire play on the death and resurrection of Alcestis: cf. Euripides, Alcestis (esp. 1115-61; notably, once risen from the grave, she could not speak "until purified in the sight of the nether gods on the third day," 1144-49). As for Theseus, the famous Athenian king was seen by soldiers fighting on the side of the Athenians at Marathon: Plutarch, Theseus 35.4-36.2 (who alone calls it a phasma, "ghost," yet still a demigod, thus he appeared in a numinous divine body instead of his original body that was still buried, cf. Plutarch, Cimon 8.5-6); Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.15.3 (who says Athenian art depicts Theseus "rising from the ground" at Marathon). The legend is discussed by Robert Garland, Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian Religion (1992), pp. 82-98; and Emily Kearns, The Heroes of Attica (1989), pp. 120-4. The "resurrection" of Theseus appeared in Athenian art within 30 years of the event: cf. J. Neils & S. Woodford, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 7.1 (1994), pp. 922-51; and H. A. Shapiro, Art and Cult under the Tyrants in Athens (1989), pp. 143-49.
[5] On Hercules ascending in his "divine" body while leaving the mortal part of his body behind, see: Lucian, Hermotimus 7, which must be read in the context provided by Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995), pp. 3-37, w. 115-17, 127-28; and Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Mortals and Immortals: The Body of the Divine," Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays (1991), pp. 27-49.
[6] Origen, Contra Celsum 3.24; Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin and Trypho the Jew 69. For attestations to Asclepius as both resurrected and resurrector, see Edelstein & Edelstein, eds., Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (1945), esp. § 66-93, § 232-56 (and § 382-91, § 443-54). Most famously, before his deification Asclepius raised Tyndareus from the dead (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 29.1.3), but even in general, Aristides, a devout follower of Asclepius, assumed his pagan audience thought a god might be able to resurrect a dead man (Aelius Aristides, Funeral Address in Honor of Alexander 32.25).
[7] Lucian, Lover of Lies 13; Apuleius, Florida 15, Metamorphoses 2.28, Florida 19 (also referred to in Pliny, Natural History 26.8; and Celsus, On Medicine 2.6.15); Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.45 (the author expresses uncertainty whether she was really dead, but this proves he did not rule it out); Heraclides of Pontus, via Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 8.61, 8.67 (another account of this resurrection appears in Apollonius, Miraculous Stories 2.1). Proclus reports on Eurynous and Rufus in his Commentary on Plato's Republic 2.115-16, for which I quote the translation of William Hansen, Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels (1996), pp. 199-200.
[8] Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.176-179. Er: Plato, Republic 614b. Bouplagus & Lady Philinnion: Phlegon, De Mirabilibus 3 (Lady Philinnion is also reported in Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Republic 2.115-16) & 1. Aridaeus: Plutarch, On the Delayed Vengeance of the Gods 563b-568a. Timarchus: Plutarch, On the Sign of Socrates 590a-592e. There were also legends and stories of people resurrected by magic herbs: Pliny the Elder, Natural History 25.5.14 (Tylon and others); Hyginus, Fables 136 (Glaucus); Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 1.25.6 (Isis resurrecting Horus). There might also have been a popular belief that the Emperor Nero would or did return from the dead (Suetonius, Nero 57; Tacitus, Histories 1.2, 2.8; Augustine, City of God 20.19; some allusions in book 5 of the Sibylline Oracles). And several cases of "ghosts" returning from the grave are also recorded where the "ghost" clearly had a completely physical body: e.g. Polites (Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.6.7-11) and Polycritus (Phlegon, De Mirabilibus 2; Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Republic 2.115-16).
       On resurrection as a common theme in pagan sacred fiction as well, see G. W. Bowersock, Fiction as History: Nero to Julian (1994), and Note 39 from the "Main Argument" of Richard Carrier, "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" (5th ed., 2004). For example, Petronius made fun of the theme by having his hero embark on a pilgrimage to "resurrect" his penis (Satyricon 140.frg.2), and Plutarch mentions a play attended by Vespasian in which a dog played at dying and rising again from the dead (On the Cleverness of Animals 973e-974a).
[9] There was no such distinction between "resurrection" and "resuscitation" in the Greek or Hebrew languages: the same words meant both. For instance, the most distinctive Christian word for "resurrection" (anistêmi and cognates) was used just as often to refer to ordinary occasions of "getting up" from sleep or rest, waking up from an apparent death (Pseudo-Aristotle, De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus 839a), or the pagan idea of revival of a corpse (e.g. Phlegon, De Mirabilibus 3 says "anestê ho Bouplagos ek tôn nekrôn," "Bouplagus rose from the dead," the exact same terminology employed by Christians for Jesus). The Christians themselves used the same word for mere revivification, too (Hebrews 11:35; Mark 5:42, 6:14-16; Matthew 9:25; Luke 8:55, 9:7-8; Acts 14:19-20).
       So there was no distinction in the vocabulary. And the conceptual distinction was hardly commonplace or well-defined even within Judaism. I demonstrate this point in "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb" in Jeff Lowder & Bob Price, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): pp. 105-232. In summary, the general resurrection for some Jews was identical to resuscitation, the only difference being that God would change the laws of the universe so bodies would not die or decay (much as the Zoroastrians believed), whereas other Jews (like Paul) imagined instead that God would change our bodies to produce the same effect--which was no different from what pagans imagined happening to deified heroes (as is well argued in the two books cited in Note 5 above; and see also Richard Carrier, "Osiris and Pagan Resurrection Myths: Assessing the Till-McFall Exchange," 2002). In fact, that the Christian conception of resurrection was essentially the same as apotheosis in a new divine body is clear from Paul, who describes resurrection as rising in a superior, glorious body akin to the bodies of heavenly beings (1 Corinthians 15:35-54), and then ascending into the sky (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) to rule over angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), which is essentially how the pagans imagined their demigods.
[10] Holding says "we can see well enough that Paul had to fight the Gnostics, the Platonists, and the ascetics on these counts," though it is unclear to me what he means. There is no case anywhere in the Epistles, or even in Acts, where Paul debates with any of these groups by name, nor any example of any of these groups disputing the resurrection of Jesus (e.g. even his opponents at Corinth only denied the resurrection of the converted, not that of Jesus--Paul thus rebuts them by explaining how denying the latter was an unforeseen consequence of denying the former, which means he assumed they all agree Christ was raised: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20). I can only suppose Holding means that Paul must have engaged such debates, even though we have none on record (except general allusions to them, e.g. Acts 17). That is probably true--at least, Paul must have debated the concept of resurrection with, for example, Platonists in Athens. It is less certain if he debated whether Jesus was raised with Christian Gnostics or Proto-Gnostics, since most such sects agreed he was. Paul might have debated the details with them, but there is no specific evidence of that. Nor is there any evidence he wrestled with Christian groups who actually denied the resurrection of Christ--I suppose that is possible, though explaining how there could be such groups so close to the evidence would raise an interesting conundrum for Holding.
[11] I make a brief case for this in "General Case for Spiritual Resurrection: Evidence Against Resurrection of the Flesh," Part 3 of Richard Carrier, "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story" (5th ed., 2004). But I demonstrate the point with decisive thoroughness in "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb" in Jeff Lowder & Bob Price, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005): pp. 105-232. Note that I do not argue that Jesus was believed to have risen as a soul, but that he left his flesh behind and entered a new body composed of spiritual substance, the substance of angels and other heavenly bodies. It is not necessary to agree with that conclusion here. It is enough to observe that, whatever Paul is saying, it is targeted at accommodating those who do not want to live forever in exactly the same bodies they have now, but in something more heavenly and pure, while at the same time satisfying those who do not want to live forever as a disembodied soul.
[12] Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body (1995), pp. 107-08 (he also demonstrates the popularity of the resurrection of corpses among the pagan commons: pp. 111-12, 122-23). The same conclusion is reached, from different evidence and angles, in Gregory Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995) and Stanley Porter, "Resurrection, the Greeks and the New Testament" (in Resurrection, edited by Stanley Porter, Michael Hayes and David Tombs, 1999, pp. 52-81). On popular funerary beliefs, see Caroline Bynum, Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity: 200-1336 (1995), pp. 45-47, 48, 51-58. The motives for preserving bodies intact were varied, and did not imply hope of resurrection--rather, what the evidence demonstrates is that not everyone regarded corpses as mere offal, but held the welfare of the corpse to be important to the well-being of the dead. As Bynum demonstrates, discarding or mutilating corpses often disturbed people--and that is not the attitude of a Platonist.
[13] Caroline Bynum, Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity: 200-1336 (1995), pp. 26-27. Jerome's remark appears in Epistles 84.6. Similar sentiments were echoed in Tertullian, De Pallio 3-4 and Didascalia 19 (cf. 1-12), etc. For discussion, see Bynum, pp. 90-91, 99-100.
[14] Origen, Contra Celsum 3.35. Similarly, all of N. T. Wright's evidence (to which Holding refers) comes only from a few literary elites, who were not representative of the ancient pagan world. Indeed, much of Wright's evidence comes from the wrong period: four centuries before the Roman era! And the wrong place: the highly unique culture of Classical Athens.
[15] 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:19-37, 13:21; Mark 5:21-43 [paralleled in: Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56]; Luke 7:11-17; Acts 9:36-43 & 14:19-20; John 11:5-44.
[16] According to Jewish understanding in the time of Christ: cf. b. Talmud, Chagigah 12b; Philo, On the Migration of Abraham 2-3, Questions and Answers on Genesis 3.10-11, 4.74; Josephus, BJ 2.154-55, 3.372-75.
[17] Mark 6:14-16; cf. Matthew 14:1-2. In Luke's account (9:7-8) we hear that "others" besides Herod believed Jesus was the resurrected John. That many Jews believed Elijah would return before the general resurrection is attested in Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin and Trypho the Jew 49, and was most directly based on Malachi 4:5, but also "interpreted" out of certain obscure passages in Zechariah.
[18] See: Hermann Strack & Paul Billerbeck, "Allgemeine oder teilweise Auferstehung der Toten?" ["Resurrection from the Dead: All at Once or in Stages?"] Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash 4.2 (1961): pp. 1166-98; Adolf Jellinek, ed., Bet ha-Midrash (1967), 3.13; Chaim Meir Horovitz, ed., Bet Eked ha-Agadot (1967), 1.58; Solomon Wertheimer, ed., Leket Midrashim (1960), pp. 6, 12. Curiously, Matthew says "many saints" rose before everyone else on the day Jesus died (Matthew 27:52-53), which creates all manner of problems for Christian dogma, but it does resemble the Jewish idea of staged resurrection.
[19] See Romans 13:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It seems every Christian generation for the next two centuries expected it to come in their own lifetime (see, for example, Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians 1987, pp. 266-67).
[20] Besides all the evidence already given, consider the remark of Justin Martyr (emphasis added):
When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the firstborn of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem Sons of God. (Apology 1.21)
Justin could not make this argument it if wasn't true--which means even his own strictly Sarcicist notion of resurrection was neither new nor different for pagans, refuting Holding's claim that it was. Holding might claim Justin is lying, but why should we believe that? Justin would not shoot himself in the foot by using an argument his pagan audience knew was baloney. For if Justin knew pagans would know this statement is false, why would he say it? Clearly, he believed it would appeal to pagans and win his argument. Therefore, it must have been true--true enough not to make him look like a liar.
[21] Our resurrection just like Christ's: 1 Corinthians 15:13, 15-16, 20, 23, 35; Philemon 3:21; Romans 6:5. Cf. 1 John 3:2. Our resurrection will be an ascension: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. That Paul never distinguishes the resurrection and ascension of Christ is evident from all his kerygmatic hymns and lists: his summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 mentions no ascension, only the resurrection (so also Romans 1:1-6); and his summary of the Gospel in 1 Timothy 3:16 mentions no resurrection, only the ascension--yet Paul could not exclude mention of the resurrection in any summary of the Gospel, so he must have believed the ascension was the same thing (similarly for the "exaltation" of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11). At the very least, there is no evidence Paul regarded them as separate events.
[22] I have omitted from the body of this essay Holding's unintended implication that Christians were persecuted because they believed in resurrection, quoting N. T. Wright. Holding has clarified himself on this point, explaining that this is not what he meant by "one of the themes of that persecution was the Christians' tenacious hold on the belief in bodily resurrection," but if anyone mistook him to mean that, please note that his evidence does not relate to the claim. Such treatment does not mean Christians were persecuted because of this belief, only that their persecutors were mocking their faith. Anti-Semites who snatch a Jew's yarmulke or the Imperial Guards who cut off the sacred topknots of Samurai were not persecuting Jews and Samurai because they wore yarmulkes and topknots.
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