The Short Version
SJT quotes a lot of secondary sources to claim persecutions were common, still only comes up with Nero's persecution in Rome in 64 CE, makes some stuff up (Christianity was illegal until Constantine) and provides a pitiful body-count to support her early Christians were brave claim.
SJT: Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion. (my emphasis added)”
As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:
- He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
- He had them nailed to crosses.
- He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)
1. Tacitus was born in the provinces in 56 or 57 CE. He wasn't an eyewitness. And these Christians were killed as scapegoats. So Carrier's reasoning is sound, recanting wouldn't have done a thing. So you have one persecution, from Rome, in 64 CE. Which is about 30 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus. I'm dubious a lot of the converts there witnessed the resurrection decades earlier in Jerusalem.
SJT: In Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”2. Carrier is still correct. Tacitus is not explicitly an eyewitness. Recanting would have not saved them as they were scapegoats. They weren't killed for believing in the resurrection, but the claim they started they fire in Rome.
The major flaw in your argument is you cannot identify any early Christians who 'witnessed the resurrection' sic who were killed by Nero. Which is going to be hard because it is 30 years later and a long way from Jerusalem.
“Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85).
SJT: In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.3. And now you're just lying. Christianity was only illegal briefly during the reign of Valerian over 200 years later than the alleged resurrection. One brief persecution in Rome under Nero does not mean Christianity was illegal up to Constantine. Most of your 5-6 million Christians would never have witnessed the resurrection either. They would have lived in the wrong time period, or the wrong location.
Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul?4. If they knew it was an hallucination, sure, that'd be unreasonable. If they thought it was a genuine religious experience- such as you do- why not? And you have failed completely, to show that it was a risky religion to belong to. Josephus doesn't mention anything about them being persecuted and he's pretty good at covering Jewish sects between 35 and 70 CE. Now the Zealots. That was dangerous to belong to. The body count at Masada alone seemed much higher than anything described in Acts.
It took over 30 years after the alleged crucifixion before Nero decided to persecute some Christians in Rome (and there's no evidence that this went wider than Rome). That's pretty good compared to the regular religious violence recorded in Josephus in Judea.
SJT: Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection.5. Bingo. His hallucination didn't include any corroborating detail about the gospel Jesus. Like the gospel Jesus never existed...
It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives.6. 1 Corinthians, written by Paul decades before the gospels were compiled, has this little nugget
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom...Somehow Paul was oblivious to the signs the Jews wanted? No fulfilled prophecies? No miracles? The gospels are full of them. Yet he doesn't tell people people to believe because of miracles.
You still haven't shown it was a risky religion to belong to.
SJT: Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.
Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:8. This is so boring. These aren't actual facts you can use. These are what early Christians came to believe. The fact there is no corroborating extra-biblical evidence for these miracles, and Paul earlier seemed unaware of them, ruins their credibility. That and the fact they're impossible! The gospels were written decades later than the alleged life of Jesus. That's plenty of time for various legends and myths to be promoted and adopted as 'true' by the time the gospels were composed.
Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).
SJT: Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist?9. Just because he believed he had a genuine encounter with some manifestation of Jesus, does not make this a fact.
SJT: Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven.10. Right, because people who start religions are so trustworthy and reliable when it comes to what they say. Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones. People who were as straight as an a arrow.
You're putting a lot of faith in the words of guy who seemed oddly ignorant of much of the gospel Jesus.
SJT: Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.11. Again. So what? If he genuinely believed his vision was the correct manifestation of Jesus, that works.
SJT: Paul, the author of thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.12. You have a sample size of one! You describe an event that has a suspiciously odd similarity to a seizure. This when epileptic seizures are known to cause increased religious experience and conversions. And you've got exactly one prominent Christian killed between the alleged crucifixion and the sack of Jerusalem. And this is a guy who could never have witnessed the resurrection.
13. Again, your sample size of early Christian bravery is stuck at a sample size of one. Even if you throw in James and Stephen (noting Stephen was a later convert who didn't witness the resurrection either), that's about one prominent Christian a decade. Only one of which, could have experienced the resurrection of Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.
And speaking as someone whose field-work in conservation in developing countries has entailed a lot of that above, I'm not sure why Paul's "sacrifice" should mean anything. At least he believed he was securing for himself a wonderful afterlife.
SJT:14. All arguments can be improved by not quoting CS Lewis.
As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
SJT: Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”15. No, you're misrepresenting that point. The reality is that ancient peoples who were semi-literate, had little scientific knowledge and saw the supernatural- including gods- everywhere- aren't a hard sell. Even Julius Caesar got to be a god.
We do know that people have been willing to make enormous personal sacrifices, down to death, for their gods. Whether it is the Zealots fighting Vespasian, or the Ismailian assassins operating out of 12th C Syria, or kamikaze pilots during World War two, or suicide bombers in the Middle East, it happens. Dying for religious beliefs is depressingly common.
SJT: More boring bits deleted:
I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung. Carrier states:
“Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”
16. Again, I don't have a dog in this fight. Believing in the resurrection is part of the beliefs of Christianity. Becoming Christian means accepting that. It doesn't make the resurrection true, or early Christians brave.
Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.”Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
SJT: Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:17. Oh please. You're doing that amateur apologetic thing of finding allegorical and vague verses that can be manipulated into matching the gospel Jesus.
Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.stuff deleted
SJT: Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):
- Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
18. This is from the Testimonium Flavianum and much of it is thought to represent later Christian editing. Note that Josephus was not an eyewitness and wrote the Antiquities nearly 60 years after the events.
He also didn't mention that the early Christians were brave, nor corroborates the miracles or the resurrection.
- Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
- The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.
Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”21. Wow, what a Strawman Argument. Here's a simple concept. Early Christians believed they same way you and other Christians believe. They were told a story and they bought it. They didn't believe because they personally witnessed anything. They believed because conversion tactics in that period worked.
Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.
- People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
- People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
22. And as Pascal's Wager reminds us, Christianity is supposed to generate an enormous benefit for belief in the afterlife, and a horrific cost if they don't.
- Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
23. And martyrdom pretty much gives you an automatic pass into heaven.
- Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
24. So one on side, we have an infinite eternal benefit stream, and on the other a fairly trivial risk of death and persecution. That pretty much ensures the Benefit-Cost ratio is all on the joining Christianity side.
- Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.
25. Where do you get that anyone thinks they all knew it was a lie? I thought Carrier argued the basis of Paul's belief was an hallucination, not lied.
“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).
26. And another secondary source. That actually lists zero persecutions. Here's an idea. The reason the early church grew quite happily, is they weren't persecuted by and large. They were tolerated. Christians didn't start insurrections. They paid their taxes. They weren't worth the effort of persecution.
27. And Carrier's criticisms stands. He addressed your concerns below.
Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.
According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”28. Problematic because both James and Jesus were pretty common names, no identification is made with the early Church- other than the disputed "who was called Christ" passage. It's thought this likely an later Christian edit as Josephus, as a non-Christian Jew, would not have given out this title. Nor as Carrier explains, was the motive for the death sentence clear-cut.
According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.29. Herod reigned from 41-44 CE. So we've gone about a decade since the alleged crucifixion before James has been killed.
According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”30. Not exactly a story brimming with credibility. It has a lot of fantastic elements and an amazing tolerance for a hostile crowd to listen to a lengthy diatribe, that gets recorded at an amazing level of detail to be written years later.
This is even if we assume that Acts is a credible source in the first place. Which SJT has not established.
Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: (https://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html unless otherwise noted).31. Yeah, so no actual primary sources for this. Just tradition from an organisation that exploited martyrdom to market its beliefs.
So in the end, the body count of apostles, of believers who were even present during the alleged life of the gospel Jesus, is very low. Much lower than what we'd expect for a group of people at constant risk of death, and martyred at a regular pace. Compared to the Jewish zealots, early Christians seem to have been absolutely wimps. The Zealots knew how to kill and die for their beliefs.
Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword. Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014). Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014). Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD. Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18). James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014). Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014). Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).
Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal
32. No, you haven't established it was illegal
and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.33. You have neither the body-count nor the actual attested-to persecutions to support this claim.
The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world.34. Believing something doesn't make it true.
Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected.35. Why not? Neither Stephen nor Paul witnessed the resurrection. They had no difficulty preaching it. They were persuaded it happened. In one case, probably via a seizure.
Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles.36. Rubbish, Paul doesn't care about the miracles. That's the line from 1 Corinthians again.
Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.37. If risking their lives is the metric for true belief, then the Zealots are more entitled to have their faith accepted as true. There's nothing here that marks the Early Christians exceptionally brave.
“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis38. What a stupid thing to say. Of course we realise you believe it is true.