Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Debate: The Rubicon Crossing and the Resurrection - Holding vs Carrier

I've come across an interesting written debate on the internet between Jame Patrick Holding and Richard Carrier. The debate is over The Julius Caesar's Rubicon Crossing and Jesus' bodily Resurrection from the dead - Which is better attested to by history? One tell-tale sign that a written debate is good is if there is a lot of back and forth. That means that each side brings up good points that must be answered and challenged. This when it gets good. Holding quotes William Lane Craig's statement in Reasonable Faith and this is what causes such uproar:

Historians of the Roman Empire often refer to "Caesar's crossing the Rubicon" as an undisputed fact of historic significance, even though it is attested only by four ancient writers, two to three generations after the event, all dependent on one eyewitness account [long since disappeared!], and preserved in significantly different forms corresponding to the various authors' ideologies, including one which attributes Caesar's decision to enlarge his frontiers to divine guidance.

I invite anyone with even a passing interest to read Holding's and Carrier's website. For my comment I want to focus on how much attestation we have for the Rubicon crossing. Carrier said he thought that Holding is being nit picky by pointing out that no where in the The Civil War (assuming in any of the 10 copies we have) does Caesar mentioned the Rubicon. I think it might be because Caesar looked at it like crossing the street not a watershed event in his career or history. How could he have known that. I mean he would have to have been God to know that. The thing is a lot of people (especially Muslims) are skeptical because no where in the Gospels does Jesus explicitly says "I am Yahweh, worship me!" and desire to ignore all the evidence that is in the Gospels and yet are willing to see that there is is plenty of Evidence that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Notice that no where does Holding try to argue that Julius Caesar did not cross the Rubicon and Carrier tries to prove that Jesus did not rise from the Dead. Jesus however does claim to know what was going to happen to him well before his crucifixion and Resurrection.

 21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. - Matthew 16:21

How did He know know? Gee, Jesus would have to be God or something. Yup, definitely God.

The other point that needs to be made from the stand point of manuscript attestation is that we only have 4 textual attestations for the crossing of the Rubicon.

The fourth point made is that we have the story of the "Rubicon Crossing" in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.

This is true, but it is irrelevant. As my co-apologist Mike Licona has noted, replying to the objections of Acharya S, these sources are rather late - later than even Carrier believes the Gospels to be from their sources: Appian wrote in the 2nd century A D, Plutarch after 70, and Suetonius around 115. And to make matters worse for Carrier, our earliest manuscripts of these works are as much as a millennium removed from the originals.

I make this point not to accuse these works of unreliability or having been tampered with, but because I see no reason to think they have been. The point rather is to treat these documents in the same way Carrier treats the Gospels would be unreasonable. (A reader has added that Plutarch does give an account of the personal crossing.)

Carrier has a retort for this, observing first that these other authors "have been confirmed in material evidence and in other sources." Of course the same may be justly said of the Gospels, especially Luke; but Carrier offers no further details at this juncture, so neither will we.

He adds secondly that these authors "often quote and name many different sources, showing a wide reading of the witnesses and documents, and they show a desire to critically examine claims for which there is any dispute." Be that as it may, it would not occur to Carrier that the Gospels lack this because there was no dispute over source material which required this kind of comparative work -- in other words, it is unreasonable to demand that the Gospels do comparative work if their sources are uniform and reliable, as indeed would be first-hand testimony.

On the matter of alleged bias in the Gospels, we refer the reader here, and to here, section titled, "Was Paul a Liar?", for a reply to the matter of the use of oaths, which shows exactly the opposite of what Carrier claims.

So the earliest attestation of Julius Caesar moving a huge army across the Rubicon is well over 100 years after it happened. Does this mean that Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, and Plutarch were wrong? Nope. I wouldn't argue that. But that leaves folks like Richard Carrier in a quandary: Why accept Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, and Plutarch because all four talk of the Rubicon crossing, yet discount Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who all talk of the crucifixion, empty tomb, and Resurrection? Rejecting one means rejecting both.

While the discussion in the two article is really about the historicity of the Rubicon crossing with the Crucifixion of Christ, it lends itself well to the discussion to just how reliable History is in general and the New Testament in particular.

JP Holding - The Rubicon Crossing and the Resurrection
Richard Carrier - The Rubicon Analogy

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