Refuting the New Controversial Theories About Jesus – Program 2

By: Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2006
Is it true that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, meaning, of course, that the story of his resurrection is pure fabrication?

The Greatest Cover-up in History


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, what about five controversial new books about Jesus that have been featured in specials on NBC, ABC, and the National Geographic Channel?

You know about The Da Vinci Code movie and book. We will include that in our discussion. But what about The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent, and The Gospel of Judas? Is there new information about Judas that we didn’t know? Is Michael Baigent correct in asserting Jesus didn’t die on the cross; that it was the greatest cover up in history? What evidence does he present?

Finally, what about the claims made in The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor and Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman?

To answer these questions and expose the historical errors in these books my guests are: Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Dr. Evans was selected as a member of the National Geographic dream team of scholars and asked to examine the Gospel of Judas. He appeared in the two-hour National Geographic special, and also appeared in the NBC special regarding The Jesus Papers. My second guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He is acknowledged as one of the leading scholars in the world on the resurrection. We invite you to join us today to find out the truth about these new controversial books.


Ankerberg: Welcome to the program. If you’re breathing out there and you’ve been watching television, you know there’s all kinds of specials that have been taking place about Jesus. And you know that The Da Vinci Code movie is coming down the pike May 19. Here are two that are connected, The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent is the latest one. You remember he wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and Dan Brown copied Holy Blood, Holy Grail, some of the thoughts about that book, in The Da Vinci Code.
Well, now Baigent came out with a new one called The Jesus Papers. And one of my guests, Dr. Craig Evans, was on that television special on NBC. And my other guest here is Dr. Gary Habermas. He’s the chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.
Now, Craig, let’s start with you. You were on this special, okay? And The Jesus Papers says he’s exposing the greatest cover-up in history: Jesus didn’t die on the cross, He was drugged; and He went down to Egypt, then later on up to France. He’s got a real tale going on. What’s wrong with this?
Evans: Well, just about everything is wrong with that book imaginable. In the Dateline program, Michael Baigent said to Sarah James, the interviewer, that the gospel story of Jesus’ death is a fraud. Well, the only fraud that we’re talking about here is Michael Baigent and his book. This book is a travesty. There is no scholarship in it. He bases his conclusions either on documents he hasn’t seen, but are rumored to have been bought off and hidden away by the Vatican; or the most ridiculous part, two letters he says, written in Aramaic, which he has seen but can’t read and no one else has seen, supposedly letters found underneath a house in Jerusalem 40 years ago, which any papyrologist will tell you is impossible. Those letters would have rotted away a long time ago.
We are asked to believe on the basis of these letters, which he says Jesus wrote long after He supposedly died, we are supposed to believe Baigent’s interpretation that Jesus really didn’t die, that somehow, in cahoots with Pontius Pilate, with his knowledge, Jesus was drugged, faked His death, and was taken down, put in the tomb, and then at night, according to a piece of artwork, when the moon is up, Jesus’ body is taken out of the tomb where He’s later revived. This thing reads like a real cheap detective story. It is ridiculous.
Ankerberg: I love it! I love it! I wonder if he believes any of it himself. I mean, he’s a smart person, but what he’s telling you, nobody would buy a house or swampland in Florida on what he’s saying.
Evans: Well, they shouldn’t. They’d be very foolish if they did.
Ankerberg: Yes. One of the things, Gary, is right down your pike. That this whole thing, the historical basis for Jesus’ death and the resurrection appearances. Baigent says, and it’s copied over in a lot of ways in things in The Da Vinci Code, but one of the things that Baigent says is He was drugged. Now we’re going back to what is called the old swoon theory. And it’s very interesting to me that smart scholars like Elaine Pagels at Princeton kind of said we need to investigate that all over again. This is Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot, the swoon theory. This has been dead for a long time, that theory all by itself. Why in the world is that resurrecting itself right now? And let’s knock it dead again.
Habermas: Well, it’s the old idea of what goes around comes around. The swoon or apparent death theory was the most popular critique of the resurrection of Jesus prior to about 1830. And in 1835, David Strauss wrote a famous Life of Jesusin which he critiques this view. His major critique was, the problem with apparent death is that no one who’s struggling, who’s survives the tomb, should have died on the cross but didn’t; should have died in the tomb butdidn’t; can’t roll the stone away butdid; now Strauss didn’t accept the guard; but He walks on feet pierced by nails to where the disciples are, and He holds His hands up and He says [weak whisper], “I told you I would rise again from the dead.” And what does He look like? He hasn’t washed His hair, He’s bleeding again, He’s bleeding through His clothes, He’s limping badly. And the phrase that comes from Strauss, the disciples would get a doctor rather than proclaim Him risen.
In other words, here’s what comes out of the apparent death theory: alive, yes; risen, no way. There’s a lot of difference if people don’t make that distinction, alive, yes; risen, no. Because you have two problems. First of all, the man you see in front of you is not raised from the dead. And Peter, maybe, is shouting out, “Go get a doctor! Get some rags! Get some water!” They know He’s in bad shape. And then you’ve got one of the disciples over in the corner, almost 20 times in the New Testament, we are told that believers will be raised like Jesus. And you’ve got a disciple over there saying, “Oh boy! Someday I’m going to have a resurrection body just like this one!” The problem is, the theory doesn’t work. It doesn’t translate from that kind of life to eternal life, and therefore, the Church is without cause.
Ankerberg: Yes, and then you have to come back and say, where in the world did they get the message of resurrection if Jesus is in a bloody form and later on He must have crawled into the bushes and died or something.
Habermas: Well, I don’t doubt… the critics are right. They would say, “Wow! God spared Him!” Yes, they would say that. Could they see an answer to prayer? Yes, if He survived the cross they’d say, this is a miracle. But you don’t go from that to resurrection. Alive is not raised. Look at Lazarus. He dies again, right? These other people die again. So alive is not raised. Somehow you have to make that gap.
But I will say this, with all the other critiques of apparent death that are around today, medical ideas and other things, Strauss’s critique still rings true. I just did a count recently of what scholars say. First of all, you can count guys on one hand of the 2400 sources since 1975 on the resurrection – French, German, English – this many. I mean, not five, but I mean on one hand you can count those who think apparent death. When scholars respond, they still cite Strauss. I think all of us would like to have that kind of influence in our writings. But Strauss’s critique has been around for almost 200 years as the knock-down critique of the apparent death theory.
Ankerberg: And Craig, let’s follow up on that in terms of the resurrection for Jewish people, what was it?
Evans: Well, there would be a heavy burden of proof to make the claim that Jesus was resurrected. And I mean a heavy burden of proof in the thinking of Jesus’ followers. They don’t expect Him to be resurrected right away. Someday in the future in the general resurrection, of course. But two or three days later? No. They’re not expecting that.
And if a wounded Jesus came staggering into their company, they would react exactly as Gary just said. They would call for a doctor. They would call for 9-1-1. They wouldn’t say, “Our Lord is risen.” That would never occur to anyone.
And some try to say, well, maybe Jesus wasn’t really resurrected. Maybe it was just a series of visions that some of the disciples have. Maybe it’s more like a ghost story. That is condescension, I think. That is belittling the intelligence of these people. They know the difference between a ghost story and a person who is resurrected. They know the difference between a revived, wounded man and resurrection.
There had to be something about Jesus when He appeared to them that convince them, despite their expectations, Jesus was truly resurrected. And that it isn’t just somebody’s vision, or a rumored ghost story. There had to be something very real, and I would add, tangible, to convince them that Jesus was indeed resurrected.
Ankerberg: Alright, I went and talked with Tom Wright at Westminster Abbey, who is the Canon Theologian there, and he also appeared on ABC’s Jesus special when Peter Jennings was alive, and he was talking about the resurrection. Now, ABC cut out his words, but we had him say those words later on. He said the reason he became a Christian, he was a professor at Oxford University, the reason he became a Christian is because of the resurrection. Okay? And he painted a scene that was unbelievable.
Gary, you were a skeptic. You were going to Michigan State. You didn’t even believe this. And then you ended up doing your Ph.D. in this area. What was riveting about the resurrection that nailed you?
Habermas: I think what is most convincing about the resurrection data is that, without virtually any exceptions, scholarship thinks you have a dead Jesus. Baigent is odd man out in this discussion. You have a dead Jesus.
What you have to account for is what is conceded by virtually everybody, because you have to have a cause for their turnaround, for their radical turnaround. And what being willing to die means, we often miss this point, being willing to die for what you proclaim, we have a lot of people in the world today who are willing to die for an ideology, political or religious, but what that means is, when you’re willing to die, you believe your cause.
So now you have to back up and say, why did they believe this cause? And I think the single most important event, after the death of Jesus, is that His earliest followers, and not just the Paul tradition, but the James, the women at the tomb, both traditions, what you have here is an experience. I’m going to say this the way critics will all affirm, is that the earliest followers of Jesus had experiences which they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus.
And that single statement, that they believed they saw the risen Jesus, the data comes like this. There’s at least 10 different lines of data from early reconstruction of this, arguing that they thought they saw the risen Jesus. And natural theories don’t explain that away. You have to at least concede they thought. And I think that’s the key, because they had experiences. And going back to why we’re transformed today, we’re easily transformed today by somebody else’s ideology. And all I’m required to die is to be really sold out. The disciples were in a unique place. They were really sold out to an ideology, but they are the only ones who were present for these experiences that gave rise to the ideologies. They died for, I’d say it this way, they died for the truth or falsity of an event, not for the truth or falsity of an ideology. The ideology comes later. And to me, that’s the key early proclamation on which Christianity is based.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to continue talking about some of these books. We’ve got The Jesus Dynasty, by James Tabor, and the Gospel of Judas. What do these have to say about the death and resurrection of Jesus? We also want to talk about what’s the difference between a spiritual body and a physical body, and what was Paul talking about, and did he have just a vision. Those kinds of questions, when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking about, did Jesus actually die on the cross, or is Michael Baigent right, it’s the greatest cover-up in history: He actually got off that cross and survived, went down to Egypt then over to France? And The Da Vinci Code has got Jesus traveling as well. And the fact is, we’ve got also the Gospel of Judas. And these things, Craig, put them in perspective for us. What are these things?
Evans: Well, as I see it, Michael Baigent’s latest book, this is mostly fiction, with just a few facts sprinkled in. And you know what? That’s what the Gospel of Judas is. And the Gospel of Judas is one among many in the second, third centuries and beyond. You take a couple of facts and you spin a yarn, you spin a fanciful tale, and you say, “Hey, folks, in private behind closed doors this is what Jesus really taught.” But that has not a shred of claim, legitimate claim, to what Jesus really did teach in public.
Ankerberg: Gary, let’s talk about Jesus actually did die on the cross. All the evidence is there. You even have non-Christian sources, which you wrote a book, The Historical Jesus, and you’ve got all the non-Christian sources in here. All of them say Jesus died. And Tabor, in The Jesus Dynasty, he says, you know, it’s almost incredible that anybody would say that He didn’t die. I mean, that’s a sure fact. But let’s get Jesus dead here. How do we know for sure Jesus died? And then, what about these resurrection appearances? And did Paul just have a vision?
Habermas: Well, that’s a tall order. Some of the relevant facts here are medical. And, unfortunately, we know crucifixion from more than the first century: reported crucifixion during the Nazi persecution of Jews; there are several medical doctors who have asked for male volunteers to be crucified and they’ve observed what’s happened. One with a radiologist who watched what happened during the chest.
There are different views on exactly what happens, but the predominate view is still, and Michael Baigent reports this, interestingly enough, that the predominate view is that death by crucifixion is essentially death by asphyxiation. If you hang with your arms out, the weight of your body pulling down, the closer your arms are to your head, the faster it’s over.
In one experiment in Germany a number of years ago, the men passed out in a maximum of eleven minutes. Now, that’s too soon for historic crucifixion, but that’s because the men were hanging from 2 by 4’s and their feet were not attached to anything. What attaching feet does is actually prolong it. Because as long as you can push up and you can free your lungs, the predominate view, again, you can breath.
But gravity, pain, because you’re pushing up on the nails, in the case of many of these. By the way, almost every ancient reference to crucifixion mentions nails, not ropes. That doesn’t mean people couldn’t have been tied, but almost every one mention nails. So you’re going to push up on nails. I think it’s kind of built in here, very painful, antigravity. You can’t stay up there very long, you slump back down, you begin asphyxiating. You don’t have to have a medical degree, if you’re standing there, to make sure a person’s dead. All you have to do is ask, how long has he been in the low position on the cross? Because a low position on the cross is designed to ensure death.
Then you have this detail in the Gospel of John that they stabbed Jesus in the side and blood and water came out. The leading medical view is that the spear went through the heart, as indicated by the fact that the water comes from the pericardium, a thin sac that surrounds the heart that holds a watery fluid, and the blood from where it’s held in the heart. It’s not true, by the way, that dead men do not bleed.
Now, some Bible, some New Testament critics have said, “Ah, that’s a spiritual mention here by John. We don’t find it anywhere else.” I’ll just mention here that there are two references outside of the New Testament that people having their chest pierced. Martin Hengel’s little book on crucifixion mentions several sorts of coup de grace, a crushed skull, a bow and arrow, to finish a guy off. Broken ankles are for that reason, so the person can’t push back up.
Recently, James D. G. Dunn, in his book Remembering Jesus, said that he takes very seriously the references outside the Gospels to the piercing just to make sure the job’s done; it makes sense.
So you’ve got the asphyxiation, you’ve got the chest wound. We already mentioned the Strauss critique, this isn’t the kind of person,… the person who comes out of this is a person who’s alive, but that kind of person is not raised from the dead. So use just a few of the reasons, but today it is virtually unanimous among scholars, And besides, if He didn’t die on the cross, you’ve got to get James on board. How does Paul come on board later? From, you know, raised Jesus is walking around, His wounds heal…
Ankerberg: Because all through the New Testament gospels you have the family of Jesus didn’t believe in Him. I mean, the brothers, James, and Jude…
Habermas: Mark 3, John 7.
Ankerberg: They didn’t believe in Him, and the only thing that seemed to turn them around is what 1 Corinthians 15 says is, “He appeared to James…” [1 Cor. 15:7]
Habermas: James.
Ankerberg: Well, that would do it, wouldn’t it?
Habermas: It would. It would. And yet you have Tabor saying that tradition, that vision tradition, doesn’t go through Jesus’ family, if I understand him correctly. So, yes, a lot of claims contrary to it.
And I should keep saying over and over again, what the majority of scholars grant today. Almost nobody takes apparent death. But I should say, this isn’t established because almost everybody concedes it. It’s the other way around. Almost everybody concedes it because we have multiply attested facts that come in from different angles. You only concede, I mean a good scholar concedes what the data says. So the fact that the data says it is far more important than scholars conceding it. But when you get both, I think we’re on to something. Pretty heavy historical fact.
Ankerberg: Alright, talk about the empty tomb, because Tabor says there were two graves, and everybody’s got a version on this. Of course, Baigent says He didn’t die at all, so He escaped and went down to Egypt, then over to France. And I’m just saying, talk about the actual data in the New Testament that shows He was buried.
Habermas: Yes, and Craig’s done a lot of things on this too, on the burial. But I recently counted virtually everything in print on the resurrection, French, German, English. And what came out of this is 23 different arguments for the empty tomb cited by recent New Testament scholarship. This is an amazing number of arguments.
By far the most common one is that women report this. And the idea is, if you’re going to make up a story in the first century, and by the way, it’s not true what you often hear a woman could not testify; they could testify, but often times there was an inverse relationship between how important the data are, and whether you use women. The more important it is, you don’t use women. Now, if you’re making up a story, you don’t use witnesses on this important fact where the audience is going to say, “Pfft. You used women.” Why does each of the Gospels cite women? Because women were the ones that went to the tomb. Now that has impressed a generation of scholars.
But you also have what I call Jerusalem factor: If you’re going to make Jesus rise from the dead, put the tomb in Turkey. Put it somewhere else, not in the city where the church is born, where a Sunday stroll could determine whether the grave is open or closed.
You also have enemy attestation.
You also have multiple attestation on the empty tomb. Contrary to a few New Testament scholars, the New Testament empty tomb texts are not dependent on Mark. We have three or four independent attestations here to the empty tomb. This is heavy stuff.
And you know, one of the favorite comebacks of the critics, some of the more far left critics, I’ll say, “Well, hey, your own source tells you that they didn’t preach the gospel for fifty days. Come on, after fifty days you’d not recognize the body.”
I say, wait a minute. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! This is a moot point! The gospels did not proclaim, “We have a tomb with an unidentifiable body, and since it’s unidentifiable, it’s not Jesus.” No, their claim only works if there’s no body in the tomb. And anybody could, you know, confirm that with a Sunday afternoon stroll in Jerusalem.
So don’t put it in Jerusalem, and don’t use women! The exact two rules they disagree with. Plus multiple attestation, plus enemy, we’re on the road to a good factor. And by the way, the vast majority of New Testament scholars, about 75% if you count them, about 75% concede the empty tomb.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’ve got to hold up there. Craig, what hits you with what Gary was saying here? Summarize what we’ve talked about today.
Evans: The Jewish people took burial very seriously, so any idea that a person is still alive, put in a tomb, or a person not buried at all, or the idea that somebody lost track of Jesus’ body or it went missing, all of that is condescension, and frankly it is insulting to the Jewish people. They took burial traditions very seriously.
The gospels rightly note the women noted where Jesus was buried. Why? Because eventually His body would be moved to a family tomb, when the law allowed it. Remember, Jesus died the death of a criminal, and so His burial was not in the hands of His family. But, His family could keep track of His body at the very least, a year later gather His bones, place them in an ossuary, and put the ossuary in the family tomb. We have to keep the facts in mind when we interpret the Gospels.
Ankerberg: Alright. In our next program we want to talk about some of the hype and the buzz that surrounds of these books. But I also want to talk about one thing that they’re all sure about and that is that Jesus never claimed that He was God. Alright? And we want to talk about where He did claim that. Also that Son of Man statement that keeps coming up and came up at His trial. We want to talk about Pilate, and was he in cahoots with Jesus? Everybody seems to disagree with the New Testament view of how Pilate is presented. We think that it’s right on target, and we’ve got a lot of evidence to support that. So all of that we’re going to talk about in our next program.

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