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The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave

The Empty TombChristian apologists produce loads of material arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is well supported by the evidence. The skeptics? Not so much. That’s what this book aims to rectify.

The Empty Tomb is a collection of essays edited by Jeffery Jay Lowder and Robert M. Price. Lowder co-founded Internet Infidels and Price is a biblical scholar at the Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary and a fellow of the Jesus Seminar. About half of the essay authors are philosophers (Evan Fales, Michael Martin, Keith Parsons, Theodore Drange, and Robert Cavin), which might seem surprising given that most of the essays deal with historical claims, but seems to work alright. The essays themselves are all pretty good, but the collection is still somewhat uneven. I’m going to hit the highlights, both good and bad.

After Price’s introduction, the book starts off with Cavin’s “Is There Sufficient Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?” Saving the best for last they are not, as this is the best essay in the book. Cavin argues that we can’t establish the resurrection as true from the evidence at hand. It’s not a complicated thesis and his arguments are not especially clever (of course, I didn’t come up with them, so maybe I shouldn’t say that), but he lays his argument so clearly and cogently it’s impossible not to find it convincing. Skipping Martin’s essay, we have Theodore Drange’s “Why Resurrect Jesus?” I don’t have any specific criticisms of this one, but it was probably my least favorite essay. Drange attacks the coherency of the theology of the resurrection. It seems to me that theologians will be able to rationalize and harmonize just about any of the fuzzy doctrinal claims made in the Bible, so arguing about the coherency of one is a losing battle. That’s not to say that critiquing Christianity for its theological claims is bad, just not easy. Next we come to one of Price’s two essays, this one arguing that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is a post-Pauline interpolation. I have two other books by Price, both of which are very good, and this essay maintains the same level of quality. It really does seem that 15:3-11 is out of place in 1 Corinthians. I’m not expert, especially not on Paul’s letters, so I hesitate to say much more than that. The longest essay in the book comes next: Richard Carrier’s “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb.” Carrier’s essay revolves around a detailed analysis of Paul’s comments about the body of Jesus after his resurrection. His analysis has been criticized elsewhere and I don’t find it convincing. I do wonder if early Christians did perhaps believe in a resurrection of sorts without an empty tomb. It seems like something like that would have happened if there wasn’t an actual empty tomb. This leads us to our next essay, in which Peter Kirby argues for the empty tomb story being a fictional creation of Mark. One of the better essays of the collection, Kirby lays out the fictional characteristics of Mark’s story, some its improbabilities, and other considerations. The essay, which I think I’ve linked here before, can be found online here. Continuing on we have Lowder’s essay arguing for the relocation of the body of Jesus to account for the empty tomb. Certainly an interesting perspective and he makes his case (largely a response to William Lane Craig) very well. A few essays later is J. Duncan M. Derrett’s very bizarre contribution. He starts off arguing about selling Christianity as some sort of commodity, but I just sort of skimmed the rest, lost by his strange prose. I’m sure with more effort it’s not hard to understand, but I don’t really have the motivation. Price follows Derrett with an attack on William Lane Craig and biblical scholarship (sort of). Other reviews have noted that Price is quite polemical here and the whole essay borders on an ad hominem attack. That said, I think Price raises some valid issues: how are we to take arguments from Craig when he doesn’t take them seriously as reasons for believing in Christianity? He believes for other reasons (that pesky “I know it to be true” stuff).

The essays I didn’t mention are also pretty good (Carrier’s other two and Parsons’s on hallucinations stand out), though some aren’t the greatest (Fales’s two contributions are uninspiring). It’s a pretty good skeptical case against the resurrection of Jesus overall. If anything, it made me realize how much I like reading Biblical scholarship. This really isn’t a book of Biblical scholarship and it doesn’t claim to be. When I first started reading books on Christianity, I wondered if my interest was soley due to the fact that I wanted arguments against Christianity. Reading this book, I noticed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as reading Crossan, Koester, Mack, and Ehrman and it made me want to read more of them. Still, this book has its strengths. A wortwhile read for just about anyone interested in the evidence for Christianity.

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