Friday, February 11, 2011

Death of James the Disciple

I discuss “not willing to die for a lie” often enough, and I already chronicled Peter’ history (and some Paul), I am placing this blog entry to extrapolate on James the Disciple, son of Zebedee.

First the Players:

Jesus had many disciples (Luke 10:1); twelve were primary. (Matthew 10:1) Of the 12, three held an even closer relationship—Peter, James and John. James and John were brothers, sons of Zebedee. Only these three were present at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1). Only they were given affectionate names by Jesus. (Mark 3:16-17), and saw the ruler’s daughter raised from the dead (Mark 5:35-43). These three were the ones with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mark 14:33).

But of the three, James is treated like the red-headed step-child. Peter (by tradition) goes on to become a leader in the church, the first Pope, author of two (2) canonical works, and testimony for a third. John (by tradition) goes on to also become a leader in the church, author of five (5) canonical works, and the longest living disciple—the sole non-martyr.

James? James does…well…nothing. In the Gospels he is never listed as solely stating or performing an action—he is always linked with his brother John. (See Mark 10:35; Luke 9:54). He is never listed as a leader in the Church. Indeed, his solitary moment in the limelight (what we will be discussing) is the dubious distinction of being killed in a parenthetical statement within the introduction to a glorious story on another Disciple—Peter.

For those of you familiar with Star Trek: James was the red-shirted crewmember beamed down to the planet.

His brief part:

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Acts 12:1-4

Our second player then, is this Herod. What is this about? [Note, this king’s name was “Agrippa” and the other historical documents refer to him as such. Only Acts refers to him as “Herod.” To avoid confusion, I will refer to him as “Agrippa” from now on.] To understand this, we need a little history. (Some of this will come up in our sources later.)

Herod the Great ruled Israel (Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea and Batanea) from 37 BCE to 4 BCE. (This is the Herod famous for the Slaughter of the Innocents.) King Herod was paranoid about his family assassinating him, so he killed his own sons, including Aristobolus. Aristobolus had a son (Herod’s grandson)—Agrippa. When Herod died in 4 BCE, the kingdom was split amongst three sons (who managed to stay alive)– Herod Archelaus ruled Judea and Samaria, Herod Antipas (killer of John the Baptist) became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, and Philip received Batanea.

Herod Archelaus was a rotten ruler, so in 6 CE, at the people’s request, Judea became a province of Rome. This instigated the famous census of Luke 2.

In the meantime, our Agrippa is growing up in Rome. If he is one thing, it is an opportunist; unfortunately, he is a poor money manager, and frequently finds himself in debt. Both monetarily, and favors to others for bailing him out.

In 34 CE, he encourages Caligula to seize the throne from Tiberius. Tiberius, none too pleased, tosses Agrippa in prison. However, Tiberius conveniently dies, Caligula becomes Emperor, and Agrippa’s fortunes are restored. Even better, Philip (Agrippa’s uncle) had died without children, so Caligula gives Agrippa Philip’s territory—Batanea—and the title “King.” A title no Israelite had since Herod the Great.

Herod Antipas is unhappy with his nephew having a higher title, and attempts to steal it. Caligula repays this exploit by exiling Herod Antipas and increasing King Agrippa’s government to include all the land Herod Antipas had in 39 C—Galilee and Perea.

Caligula eventually goes totally insane, and is replaced by Emporer Claudius (41-54 CE.) Again, King Agrippa hitches his wagon to the correct star at the right moment, and Claudius gives him Judea and Samaria in 41 CE (in addition to what Agrippa had before). King Agrippa now rules the same territory (with the same title) as his grandfather, Herod the Great. Alas, not for long, as he dies in 44 CE.

Second the Incident

This occurred when King Agrippa ruled in Jerusalem from 41-44 CE. Acts 12 starts off, “About this time” meaning we are to look at the verses prior to give us point of reference. However, this is problematic since Acts 11 (vs. 28-30) ends with a famine that didn’t occur until after King Agrippa died. (around 46 CE.) Either Luke is mistaken, Luke has deliberately modified the chronology (which makes no sense to start a differing chronology with “about this time”), or—if one prefers the novel inerrantist approach—Acts 11 was only talking about a prediction of a famine. The prediction occurring while Agrippa was alive; the famine not occurring until a few years later.

Regardless, we cannot narrow this down any more than 41–44 CE.

Next we should look at the disposition of King Agrippa—why was he harassing the church? The Catholic Encyclopedia would like to claim it was due to his fervent religious belief. However, Josephus paints Agrippa as magnanimous:
Now this king was by nature very beneficent and liberal in his gifts, and very ambitious to oblige people with such large donations; and he made himself very illustrious by the many chargeable presents he made them. He took delight in giving, and rejoiced in living with good reputation. He was not at all like that Herod who reigned before him; for that Herod was ill-natured, and severe in his punishments, and had no mercy on them that he hated; and every one perceived that he was more friendly to the Greeks than to the Jews; … But Agrippa's temper was mild, and equally liberal to all men. He was humane to foreigners, and made them sensible of his liberality. He was in like manner rather of a gentle and compassionate temper. Accordingly, he loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure; nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.

However, there was a certain mall of the Jewish nation at Jerusalem, who appeared to be very accurate in the knowledge of the law. His name was Simon. This man got together an assembly, while the king was absent at Cesarea, and had the insolence to accuse him as not living holily, and that he might justly be excluded out of the temple, since it belonged only to native Jews. But the general of Agrippa's army informed him that Simon had made such a speech to the people. So the king sent for him; and as he was sitting in the theater, he bid him sit down by him, and said to him with a low and gentle voice, "What is there done in this place that is contrary to the law?" But he had nothing to say for himself, but begged his pardon. So the king was more easily reconciled to him than one could have imagined, as esteeming mildness a better quality in a king than anger, and knowing that moderation is more becoming in great men than passion. So he made Simon a small present, and dismissed him.

Josephus can be taken with a grain of salt here. He paints King Agrippa far nicer than he probably was. For example, Josephus goes on to relate King Agrippa’s death (similar to the account in Acts 12), stating other men referred to him as a god, and he declined, claiming their proclamations had doomed him. The picture here is a little TOO good.

We have no further information as to why Agrippa would attack the Church. It wouldn’t be their monotheism—Jews were monotheistic. Nor would it follow the typical Roman persecution—Agrippa would not require Christians to sacrifice to other gods! Indeed, at this early stage, the church was still grappling with its obligation to the Law, and many continued to follow Jewish traditions.

Early Christians were accused of Cannibalism and incest (due to misunderstandings of their rituals.) Numerous Christians defended against these accusations. This demonstrates we cannot know for any certainty why (if he did at all) Agrippa would pursue the Church.

It is important to note Luke (with very few exceptions) portrays the persecution of the early church by the Jews and claims the Gentile authorities were favorably disposed towards Christianity against the Jews. Personally, I am persuaded Luke was writing at a time to evangelize to gentiles, and desired to avoid claims of Roman persecution, by laying all the blame to the Jews. This incident would follow such a pattern.

Additionally, Luke writes a lengthy tale regarding Stephen’s martyrdom and the events surrounding it (Acts 6:8-8:1); whereas no information is provided regarding James’ death other than the general statement of persecution, and that James died by the sword. Luke then follows James death with the story of Peter escaping from Prison by a miracle. (Acts 12:3-19)

Luke is writing a story about Peter escaping from prison, once again drawing from Euripides. Hellenistic fiction often included accounts of “wonderful characters” escaping from prison through divine intervention. In Bacchae it was a divine escapee for a devotee who had been jailed by a tyrant attempting to stop a cult. (Sound familiar?)

In short, Luke is writing about Peter’s miraculous escape in the manner familiar to his audience. Luke injects James’ death to introduce an element of danger—Peter was in fear for his life when rescued by God. King Agrippa had already killed James…Peter was next!

James’ death has nothing to do with “die for a lie.” He was killed like a Star Trek red-shirted crew member as a plot device.

Third the Sources

We receive our first hint James was killed in Mark 10:35-40:
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."

And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"

They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."

But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

They said to Him, "We are able."

So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."

Biblical scholars claim Jesus’ statement that James and John will “drink the cup I drink” is intended to be a prophesy foretelling their martyrdoms.

[See Matthew 20:20-23 for an interesting demonstration of Matthew’s use of Mark. Useful for arguing Markan Priority in the Synoptic Problem. Matthew, disliking the pride demonstrated in James and John, takes this question from their mouth, and indicates their mother asked it. Matthew cleaning up Mark. But then Matthew suffers from fatigue, and continues with Mark’s Jesus’ reply, having Jesus say, “Are YOU willing to drink my cup?” meaning James and John’s mother! Then Matthew has the brothers reply to a question posed to their mother. Fatigue.]

This raises an interesting problem. John wasn’t martyred, according to church history. See Acts of John. (Although Tertullian (Chp. 36) indicates John was dipped in boiling oil and survived, so maybe this is sufficient.) So if this was a prophecy about James and John suffering martyrdom…why didn’t John?

Indeed it is this problem that causes Ben Witherington III to claim John WAS martyred and another John wrote…John. Of course, the problem with this alternate view is how it conflicts with church history.

We have no other documents from the first century. None from the second.

Eusebius refers to Clement of Alexandria’s writings probably written sometime around 200 CE called, “The Eight Hypotyposes.” Within them, Eusebius reports Clement of Alexandria stated James’ accuser was converted by James’ demeanor and was beheaded with James. However, it should be noted Later writers considered Clement’s Hypotyposes to be “fables.”

Possibly around 200 CE (it is difficult to date the document, as its authorship is questioned) Hippolytus (listing all the disciples’ deaths.) states James was killed by Herod the Tetrarch. Curious that Hippolytus implies it was Herod Antipas who caused the death, as compared to Agrippa. Note this document calls the ruler “Herod” instead of “Agrippa” and states he was a Tetrarch, not a king. It is very likely the author confused Herods.

James’ account follows our typical pattern. A brief account with in the First Century writings, with little detail as to why or how the person was killed. A long silence, and then the flurry of writings at the end of the Second Century, typifying the person as a martyr. This follows the pattern established by the genre. See Martyrdom of Polycarp (150-160 CE), Acts of Paul, Acts of Andrew (all 150 -200 CE) and even Lucian. 165-170 CE.

James died as a plot device to introduce an element of danger within a story about Peter.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Arguing for the Resurrection

Jon, at Prove Me Wrong runs a Bible Study/atheist group (it works; don’t knock it!). Its people have a broad continuum of knowledge regarding the Bible. Anywhere from those who have studied their entire life to others only knowing the fellow holding the “John 3:16” sign at football games.

Some are deconverts; some life-long atheists. Some more familiar with Catholicism; others with Pentecostal movement. A mixed bag generating wide input. Jon asked me to lead the group on the topic regarding Jesus’ Resurrection.

As I was preparing, I first encountered the concern regarding the different levels of knowledge. While I didn’t want to bore those who know the gospels forward and backward, on the other hand there would be no gain to jump in on whether Joseph of Arimethea existed or not, if people didn’t even know who he was. [In fact, after the talk, one fellow did come up to me and say he never knew Jesus was buried in another person’s tomb. My fears were well founded.]

My second consideration was how to present the material in such a way, so a person can understand the controversies involved. There are so many possible rabbit trails; it can be confusing to the listener whether I am presenting the predominant Christian view, a less traditional Christian view, or a skeptical position.

I decided the easiest way to present was to role-play a Christian apologist—present the basic information and Christianity’s position as a Christian apologist would, utilizing a signal. When I held a white-board marker, I was being the Christian apologist; set the marker down, I explained why what I just said may not be necessarily true. I think (I hope) it generally worked.

If you are with me so far, I prepared to plan a case for the resurrection as if arguing on behalf of Christian apologists everywhere. I looked at it like a lawyer—if I represented the Resurrection Account and I was attempting to persuade an impartial (or in this case, generally hostile) audience, what would I use to persuade? What would I not? What evidence would I emphasize; what would I de-emphasize.

Now the best approach (in my opinion) is the minimal facts argument perfected by Dr. Habermas, Dr. Craig and Dr. Licona. It can be presented quickly, has an intuitive flow with it, there is easily accessible data to back up the individual supporting points, and the counter-arguments can often take longer to explain. No sense reinventing the wheel—I would present the case the popular apologists do. There is only one problem--a significant problem--it doesn’t work.

Dr. Licona, in his latest work, The Resurrection of Christ concludes:
The only legitimate reasons for rejecting the resurrection hypothesis are philosophical and theological in nature: if supernaturalism is false or a non-Christian religion is exclusively true. Pg. 608

If that is not clear, I will explain. The world can be broken down into three (3) types of people:

1) Non-theists;
2) Theists who don’t believe in Christianity exclusively; or
3) Theists who believe in Christianity exclusively.

Dr. Licona implies the historical evidence is convincing to the third category—people who are already convinced of resurrection anyway! In other words, one has to be 99% there, before the evidence can take them the remaining 1%. If the only reason to reject the Resurrection is that one doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t believe Christianity, it follows a necessary requirement TO believe in the resurrection are 1)Belief in God, and 2) Exclusive belief in Christianity.

Simply put—the evidence alone is insufficient.

I prepared this handout to give the basic information and some additional pointers. And then I utilized the minimal facts, more to inform than convince.

As I prepared, I was surprised what points I would abandon (if I was a lawyer arguing the case). Here are a few:

1) Earlier dating of the Gospels compared to late dating is irrelevant.

We often see this battle where the more traditional conservative biblical scholars seem to attempt to get the gospels as early as possible to get them closer to the eyewitnesses, to make them more believable.

But in a historical analysis…so what? Many of our historians of the time are even later than late dating of the Gospels. The example I used was Tacitus and the Roman Fire. The Fire occurred in 64 CE. Tacitus wrote over 50 years later, in 117 CE. No one questions his work because it is “too late.” (Although he is slightly better than the gospels, as he was reviewing some written records.) If Jesus died in 30, and Matthew as written in 80 CE—this puts it roughly in the same time period.

The argument over dating of the Gospels, frankly, loses the forest for the trees. Early or Late date, the timing is equivalent to many historical documents we accept.

2) Any attempt at reconciling the appearances.

Anyone seeing a debate watch the apologists shuck and jive away from doing so. There is a reason—once stated the reconciliations lack the ring of truth in an argument. One has the women splitting up, popping up here, going there, and the disciples running around like wild hooligans to make them align.


Again, I turned to Tacitus. He records where Nero was, and the destruction of the Rome Fire. Which is different than Suetonius. Who are both different than Cassius Dio. Yet does anyone argue whether the Fire occurred because of these varying details? Of course not.

In the same way, treat the Gospels equally. Yes they disagree. Don’t tell anyone this, but they are not all historical in every detail. Sorry. And you may even need to pick one to the exclusion of another. (Gasp!) But attempting to align all accounts is just not believable. No neutral party would accept it.

3) The empty tomb is important. But not for the reason you think.

Many apologists attempt to claim the empty tomb is relevant because the non-believer MUST account for what happened to create the situation of an empty tomb on Sunday morning.

Wrong—the empty tomb is part of the story. The famous analogy is apt: “There must be an Emerald City; where else would the yellow brick road lead to?” See, the yellow brick road is part of Wizard of Oz. Not an independent fact for the story to accommodate.

In the same way, the empty tomb story could easily have developed many years after the resurrection story was in circulation.


I would argue this is an unnecessary irrelevant fact, that it is more likely to be true because it is so unnecessary.

Think about it. Imagine we have a resurrection story. Completely and utterly made up. There you are…say 50 CE…and you have Jesus coming back from the dead. What day do you have him come back?

Paul says Jesus Resurrected on the “third day” (1 Cor. 15:4) according to the scriptures. Not sure exactly what scripture Paul is talking about…

Be that as it may, if you kill him on Friday (day before Sabbath) [Mark 15:42], add three days—out he pops Monday. Simple as pie. Matthew even makes it worse by insisting Jesus was in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights, (Matt. 12:40) causing inerrantists headaches, trying to reconcile.

If you are making it up—why cause all the problems? Seems to me, the simplest solution is have Jesus die on Friday, fester for three days, and come out on Monday, resolving all these issues.

Unless the tomb really was empty on Sunday, and therefore even those proclaiming resurrection “three days” after death were stuck with an inconvenient fact.

As a lawyer, arguing for the Resurrection, the key point I would continually emphasize was the Disciples proclamation. Something happened to cause them to abandon traditional Judaism for this variance. I would emphasize the early statements of Paul regarding Resurrection, the later writing in Acts of speeches utilizing the event, and the gospels themselves recording the appearances.

I would stay away from Joseph of Arimathea, the women, and the soldiers. Those elements of the story are weak. Focus on the initiation of the belief.

Alas, this is a two-way sword. One could equally say, something must have happened to Joseph Smith, or Mohammed or David Kuresh or Sun Myung Moon, or how every other religion started.

Couldn’t they equally be viable?

I was recently asked what I would utilize to argue for the Resurrection. I would use the minimal facts (it glosses over the problems, and covers the necessary points), realizing it was doomed to failure. The only recourse after that would have to be reliance on supernatural intervention—say something like, “The Holy Spirit must give inward witness.”

If Minimal facts (Disciples reporting appearances of Jesus) was insufficient to convince their friend—Thomas—who had more and better opportunity to observe, inspect and investigate than I, why should it convince others who have less?

Finally (because it comes up over and over and over) I would stay away from this rotten argument, “You are predisposed against miracles so you won’t believe it.” Telling someone they don’t believe what I am trying to convince them to believe (as I know they don’t believe it) is not saying much for the strength of my argument.

Of course they don’t believe it!—that is the very reason I am trying to convince them to do so! If they already believe it—I wouldn’t need to convince them by argument, now would I?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day

I heard (from an unreliable source) the original concept of Groundhog Day included Bill Murray being stuck for thousands of years. Imagine waking up to ”I got you Babe” every day. For 2000 years!

If you could live the same day over and over for exactly 10 years—what would you do? Would you teach yourself piano? A language? Watch every movie available? Learn a trade? Or would you laze your way through it; biding your sentence until complete?

More importantly, where do you want to be 10 years from now? Do you want to learn something? Just survive? What are you doing to reach that goal?