Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gerd Lüdemann versus William Lane Craig

The brilliant Gerd Lüdemann debates the resurrection of Jesus with William Lane Craig at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2002.

Lüdemann is the author of The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (London, 1994), and debunks the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus.

Some points:

(1) Craig’s first “fact” is that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in a tomb. This is not a “fact” at all: it is merely assertion in the gospel of Mark, and there is no necessary reason why it must be true. The Christians might have invented this to give Jesus an “honourable,” rather than a shameful, burial. Furthermore, Craig commits a gross non sequitur: even if it were true that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in a tomb, it simply does not follow that the location of the tomb was known by his disciples. One astonishing datum is that there was no known veneration of Jesus’s tomb in early Christianity: it is most probable that they had no idea where he was buried.

There is good reason to think that the gospel of Mark (the earliest gospel) is already filled with legends and fictions, and that the empty tomb story is one fiction of Mark (Collins 1989; Collins 1993; Lüdemann 1994).

Despite Craig, even Jesus’s alleged rising on the third day in 1 Corinthians 15:3–6 is said to be in accordance with the scriptures, not with any eyewitness accounts, which suggests that the belief that Jesus rose on the third day could have come from nothing more than exegesis of an Old Testament passage in Hosea 6.2 (as Gerd Lüdemann 1994: 47 argues).

(2) Craig’s attempt to claim that Matthew and John are independent attestations of the empty tomb story is unconvincing. They are no such thing, but secondary and redactional stories from Mark. Nor does Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–6 require an empty tomb story at all. There is no direct evidence for any empty tomb in Paul. There are no multiple, independent sources for the empty tomb story: it is all dependent on Mark, and there is a good case he invented it (Collins 1989).

(3) Despite Craig, the earliest tradition in Mark and taken over by Matthew is that the earliest resurrection “appearances”/hallucinations of Jesus were in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. That may well be true and suggests that the disciples fled back to Galilee after the death of Jesus. That is precisely why Mark has women go to an empty tomb in his ending, because in the tradition Mark received the disciples had fled. The stories of resurrection “appearances” at Jerusalem in Luke and John are therefore fictions. If these gospel writers could write fiction (such as the absurd fantasies one reads in the gospel of Matthew 28:1-3), then why not Mark in the empty tomb story?

(4) Craig asserts that there was no belief in a dying and rising Messiah in first century Judaism. That may well be true, but proves nothing. As Robert M. Price argues, when Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676), a Jewish rabbi who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah in 17th century, apostatised, his movement did not collapse and there were Jewish believers in Sabbatai Zevi as the Messiah for at least two centuries following his apostasy! Even Nathan of Gaza, his leading disciple, continued to think Sabbatai was the Messiah.

Anyway, it is clear that Christianity - before it became a Gentile religion as developed by the apostle Paul - remained a minority sect within Judaism. Is that not precisely what one would expect if early Christian ideas about a crucified Messiah were peculiar and an innovation? Craig’s assertion that Jesus was under a curse because he was crucified was arguably only one view in the Judaism of the first century AD, possibly a minority one (O’Brien 2006), and in the form in which we have it in the New Testament (in Galatians 3:13) is a particular exegesis of Paul himself, probably based on that minority view, to defend his gospel of the abolition of the Mosaic law. Many patriotic Jewish people in Jesus’s time may not have thought that Jesus was the Messiah, but merely held that he had died unjustly, killed by the hated Romans.


Collins, Adela Yarbro. 1989. The Beginning of the Gospel: Probings of Mark in Context, Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Lüdemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (trans. John Bowden), SCM Press, London.

O’Brien, K. S. 2006. “The Curse of the Law (Galatians 3.13): Crucifixion, Persecution, and Deuteronomy 21.22-23,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29: 55-76.

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