Category Archives: Resurrection

What Explains the Massive Changes in Jewish Social Structures Among Early Christians?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Lest anyone forget, Christianity was born out of Judaism. Jesus was a Jew and his disciples were Jews. Immediately after Jesus died, and his teachings were carried forward by his disciples, they continued to attract mostly Jewish followers. The Book of Acts even reports Jewish priests and Pharisees joining the movement in the early years (see Acts 6:7; 15:5). The Christian movement would eventually become dominated by Gentiles, but only years later.

Something that is usually forgotten is that these early Jewish believers left behind several foundational social structures of Judaism. Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains how important these key structures were in his book Scaling the Secular City:

In New Testament times and earlier, at least five religious and social beliefs formed the very core of Jewish corporate and individual identity. Centuries of dispersion and captivity by Gentile nations reinforced the social importance of these beliefs which were already valued for their religious content. These structures defined the Jews as a people and kept them from falling apart as a nation.

They were major elements in education of the young, and the early converts to Christianity, including the disciples (most of the early church was composed of Jews for the first few years of its existence), would have been taught to cherish these structures from their youth.

What are these social structures?

First, there was the importance of the sacrifices. While obedience to the law was slowly eroding the centrality of the sacrificial system, nevertheless the importance of sacrificing animals for various sins was a major value in first-century Judaism.

Second, emphasis was placed on keeping the law. Regardless of whether one was a Sadducee or a Pharisee, respect for the law of Moses and its role in keeping people in right standing with God was a major value.

Third, keeping the Sabbath was important; several laws were formulated to help define Sabbath-keeping and to maintain its prominence.

Fourth, clear-cut non-Trinitarian monotheism was a defining trait of the Jew. The Shema asserts that God is one, and this doctrine was nonnegotiable. Specifically, there was no belief that God could ever become a man.

Fifth, the Messiah was pictured as a human figure (perhaps super-human, but not God himself), a political king who would liberate the Jews from Gentile oppression and establish the Davidic kingdom.  No conception of a crucified messiah who established a church by raising from the dead was known.

Moreland reminds us that “the early church was a community of Jews who had significantly altered or given up these five major structures” and he asks, “What could possibly cause this to happen in so short a time?”

Keep in mind that

society did not change rapidly in those days. Jews would risk becoming social outcasts if they tampered with these five major beliefs, not to mention that they would risk the damnation of their own souls to hell. Why was such a change made in so short a time after the death of a carpenter from Nazareth – of all places – who had suffered the death of a criminal on the cross, a death expressly detested among the Jews in their belief that “cursed is he who dies on a tree”?  How could such a thing ever take place? The resurrection offers the only rational explanation. (emphasis added)

What could cause these Jews to abandon their beliefs, their social institutions that had survived for centuries? Something dramatic, something never before seen, something amazing – Jesus rising from the dead. That is what the New Testament historical documents report, and there has never been a better explanation offered.

Why Is Paul So Important to Historians Studying the Resurrection of Jesus? #5 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, asks just this question.  His answer is important to understand.

A priority must be assigned to Paul because he is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus, and there are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.  And he personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.

Paul’s conversion is especially interesting because he was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.  Therefore Jesus’ resurrection is reported not only by his friends but also by at least someone who was a vehement foe at the time of the experience.  Paul’s belief that he had witnessed the risen Christ was so strong that he, like the original disciples, was willing to suffer continuously for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of martyrdom.

Let’s recap what Licona is saying.  Paul is important because:

  1. He is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus.
  2. There are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.
  3. Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.
  4. He personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.
  5. He was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.
  6. He was willing to suffer and be martyred because his belief in the risen Jesus was so strong.

In future posts, we will look at a couple of skeptical arguments as to why we should discount Paul’s writings as evidence of the resurrection.  Licona presents these arguments and then responds to them, so stay tuned.

What Are the Roles of Faith and Reason in Christianity? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this series Philosopher Edward Feser demonstrated that reason, not faith, brings us all the way to the conclusion that Jesus is divine.  Once we arrive here, where do we go?

Feser explains:

Suppose you know through purely rational arguments that there is a God, that He raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and therefore that Christ really is divine, as He claimed to be, so that anything He taught must be true; in other words, suppose that the general strategy just sketched can be successfully fleshed out.

What would follow?  Faith, or belief, enters and takes center stage.

Then it follows that if you are rational you will believe anything Christ taught; indeed, if you are rational you will believe it even if it is something that you could not possibly have come to know in any other way, and even if it is something highly counterintuitive and difficult to understand.  For reason will have told you that Christ is infallible, and therefore cannot be wrong in anything He teaches.  In short, reason tells you to have faith in what Christ teaches, because He is divine.

We have faith in Christ and what He teaches because of who He is.  Because He proved himself to be divine by resurrecting from the dead, we believe Him.  That is faith.

Does every Christian follow the process that Feser describes, reasoning through philosophy and historical evidence to the conclusion that Jesus is divine?  Obviously not.  Most Christians believe because they have received it on authority from someone else who does understand the arguments.

There may even be more than one link in the chain to get back to someone who understands the arguments, but this hardly matters.  What matters is that there are theologians and philosophers and other scholars who do understand the arguments, so even the person who does not understand the reasons for his faith still indirectly bases his faith on those reasons.

This is no different than anything else we come to believe in life.  For the vast majority of things we each believe we have received on authority from someone else.  Feser gives a parallel in science.  “The man in the street who believes that E=mc^2 probably couldn’t give you an interesting defense of his belief if his life depended on it.  He believes it because his high school physics teacher told him about it.”

Continuing alone these lines Feser further argues:

Most people who believe that E=mc^2, and who believe almost any other widely known and generally accepted scientific proposition, do so on the basis of faith in exactly the sense in question here.  They believe it, in other words, on the authority of those from whom they learned it.  Everyone acknowledges that this is perfectly legitimate; indeed, there is no way we could know much of interest at all if we weren’t able to appeal to various authorities.

So these are the roles of reason and faith in Christianity, a far cry from the story that atheists tell.  Some of you may be complaining at this point that you know Christians who disavow this approach, who truly do have blind faith, who say that reason has no place in their belief system.  Feser’s final words on this topic are a propos:

I do not doubt that there are and have been Christians and people of other religions whose theory and/or practice does not fit this understanding.  But I do not speak for them, and neither did Aquinas and the other great thinkers of the Western religious tradition.  And if the ‘New Atheists’ are serious about making a rational case for atheism, then, as I have said, they should be taking on the best representatives of the opposing point of view – not blabbering on for hundreds of pages about the dangers of ‘faith’ as an irrational will to believe something in the face of all evidence, when this is an attitude that the mainstream Christian theological tradition has itself always condemned.

What Are the Roles of Faith and Reason in Christianity? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A typical accusation of atheists toward Christians is that we only believe what we believe because of blind faith.  In other words, we have no rational reasons for believing in God or believing that Jesus died for our sins.  The person who believes in fairies or unicorns is no different than the Christian belief in God.

Richard Dawkins makes this point dozens of times in his book The God Delusion.  Here is one example: “Christianity . . . teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe.”  And elsewhere: “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument.”

Is this a fair characterization of Christianity?  Is it totally based upon blind faith with no justification whatsoever?  As we’ve mentioned about Dawkins before, he avoids, at all costs, actually engaging with the best of Christian thought.  So, what has been the Christian answer to the question of faith vs. reason?

For this answer, we turn again to Philosopher Edward Feser.  In his book The Last Superstition he takes on this atheist misconception.  Feser describes what the traditional Christian account of the roles of faith and reason are.

First, we start with reason.  According to Feser, “Pure reason can reveal to us that there is a God, [and] that we have immortal souls.”  By using philosophical arguments, we can conclude these two things.

However, Christians claim to know much more than just that God exists and humans have immortal souls.  They claim to have actually received revelation from God.  Does faith come into the account now, after we have established by reason that God exists and humans have immortal souls?  No.  “For the claim that a divine revelation has occurred is something for which the monotheistic religions typically claim there is evidence, and that evidence takes the form of a miracle, a suspension of the natural order that cannot be explained in any other way than divine intervention in the normal course of events.”

By reason alone, we know that if God exists, then miracles can occur, because of God’s very nature (creator and sustainer of laws governing nature).  The God that we have arrived at by reason is a God who can suspend the laws of nature.  To what miracle do Christians point?  The resurrection of Jesus.  Feser reminds us, “If the story of Jesus’s resurrection is true, then you must become a Christian; if it is false, then Christianity itself is false, and should be rejected.”

Is this where faith comes in?  No.  Feser explains that “the mainstream Christian tradition has also always claimed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical event the reality of which can be established through rational argument.”  So, the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus builds upon the philosophical argumentation that God exists and that humans have immortal souls.  The philosophy comes first, and the historical evidence second.  Please note that so far, we have only discussed reason, and faith has not yet entered the picture.

If the historical evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming, then there are “rational grounds for believing that what Christ taught was true, in which case the key doctrines of Christianity are rationally justified.”

Feser takes us back through the argument again, and it is worth reviewing:

The overall chain of argument, then, goes something like this: Pure reason proves through philosophical arguments that there is a God and that we have immortal souls.  This by itself entails that a miracle like a resurrection from the dead is possible.  Now the historical evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact resurrected from the dead is overwhelming when interpreted in light of that background knowledge.  Hence pure reason also shows that Jesus really was raised from the dead.  But Jesus claimed to be divine, and claimed that the authority of His teachings would be confirmed by His being resurrected.  So the fact that He was resurrected provides divine authentication of His claims.  Hence reason shows that He really was divine. . . .  At every step, evidence and rational argumentation – not ‘blind faith’ or a ‘will to believe’ – are taken to justify our acceptance of certain teachings.

In part 2 of this series, we will move to the role of faith.

What Are the Parallels Between Jesus and the “Divine Men” of the Ancient World? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Mythicists claim that the stories about Jesus were merely copied from other pagan myths circulating around the Roman Empire in the first century. If this is true, it does cast some doubt on the uniqueness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and it certainly makes one wonder if all the stories about Jesus were borrowed from other sources.

In order to discuss this claim, I will call to the stand one Bart Ehrman, a man who is no friend to Christianity. Ehrman was interviewed by Ben Witherington in a seven-part series last summer after Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist?, was published.

In part 3, Ehrman cited the work of Jonathan Smith who claimed that there were no unambiguous accounts of dying and rising gods in the ancient world.  Witherington follows up with another question about the resurrection of Jesus:

In what way is the Jewish notion of a resurrection a different idea than either the fertility crop cycle idea, or what is sometimes said about pagan deities that either disappear or die?

Ehrman answers:

One of the reasons for thinking that the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection is not exactly like what you can find in pagan myths about their gods is that it is solidly rooted in Jewish apocalyptic beliefs of the first century. This should come as no surprise, since Jesus and his followers were not pagans with pagan views of the divine realm, but first-century apocalyptically minded Jews.

In some pagan circles, there was a belief in fertility gods, who would spend some time in the underworld and some time in this world, alternating year after year. These gods were closely connected to the crops: they (both the crops and the gods connected with them) die in the winter and come back to life in the Spring. And they do that year after year.

That obviously is not like the early Christian belief in Jesus, who does not go into the underworld then return to this world year after year. Instead, Jesus was believed to have gone to the underworld for three days and then to have been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven where he is to stay until he returns. This is not rooted in pagan mythology, but in apocalyptic theology.

After reading through Ehrman’s answers and checking other sources, here is my conclusion on the alleged parallel accounts of “divine men” of the ancient world.  There are similarities to the accounts of Jesus, but they are on the surface, and somewhat trivial.  Given the tendencies of people throughout history to repeat archetypes and themes in their stories, it is not surprising that we would find some of these repeated in the stories about Jesus.

When we start to dig deeper into the Jesus stories and try to find parallels in ancient accounts, we find that the similarities end.  In particular, the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus are both unique in ancient history.  There just aren’t other pagan accounts that mirror these important aspects of the Jesus narratives.

Given that the evidence does not support the mythicist contention that the Jesus stories were completely cribbed, I submit that  there is no good reason to doubt the historicity of the person of Jesus based on alleged parallel accounts.  Bart Ehrman and I can agree on this point.

What Are the Parallels Between Jesus and the “Divine Men” of the Ancient World? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Mythicists claim that the stories about Jesus were merely copied from other pagan myths circulating around the Roman Empire in the first century.  If this is true, it does cast some doubt on the uniqueness of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and it certainly makes one wonder if all the stories about Jesus were borrowed from other sources.

In order to discuss this claim, I will call to the stand one Bart Ehrman, a man who is no friend to Christianity.  Ehrman was interviewed by Ben Witherington in a seven-part series last summer after Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist?, was published.  In part 1 of this post series, we reviewed Ehrman’s response to alleged parallel accounts of “divine men” in the ancient world.  After allowing that there are some parallels, Ehrman argues

that all of these figures about whom such stories were told were also different in key ways from one another. They were not all the same. The stories varied from one person to the next. The stories about Jesus are different in many ways from the others (just as each of them is different from the others).

Why is this important?  Why are the differences among accounts of ancient “divine men” damaging to mythicist claims?

This is important to bear in mind because mythicists often claim that everything said about Jesus can be paralleled in the myths and legends told about other divine figures on earth. And that simply is not true. A number of the key stories about Jesus are in fact unique to him, including some of the most important.

What are some examples of stories that are unique to Jesus?  According to Ehrman,

even though there are numerous instances of divine men who are supernaturally born, there is no instance of a divine man being born to a “virgin,” as happens in the case of Jesus, for example in the Gospel of Matthew. The entire point of most of the pagan supernatural birth stories is that a (mortal) woman is made pregnant by a God, precisely by having sex with her (often in human form, though sometimes Zeus preferred being in the form of a swan, or a snake, or…. some other animal, for some odd reason). I don’t know of any instances in which a woman gives birth as a virgin.

So too: the resurrection. The Gospel understanding of the resurrection is that Jesus came back into his body (a one-time corpse) which was then transformed and raised and exalted (explicitly in Luke-Acts) to heaven. This reanimation of the body type of resurrection is not attested, so far as I know, for any other divine man in antiquity.  This is an important point because mythicists want to claim that all the stories about Jesus were simply taken over from the pagan environment. And this is simply not true.

Neither the virgin birth, not the resurrection of Jesus, find parallels in other ancient accounts of “divine men,” according to Ehrman.  As these are two of the most crucial aspects of Jesus’s life, not finding these in other ancient accounts deals quite a blow to the mythicist assertion that everything written about Jesus’s life was just copied from other sources.

In part 3, we will continue looking at Bart Ehrman’s interview with Ben Witherington.  More to come!

Should We Calculate Prior Probabilities to Determine if Jesus Was Resurrected?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I am aware that there are philosophers who employ Bayesian analysis to determine probabilities that historical events occurred, but I am becoming skeptical of the value of these analyses.  A Bayesian analysis requires a calculation of the prior probability that a historical event occurred, without considering any of the evidence we have that the event occurred.  But how we do calculate prior probabilities for a historical event?

I think the problem was clearly illustrated in a debate between Greg Cavin and Mike Licona.  Cavin mounted an attack on the resurrection of Jesus by arguing against the prior probability of it.  Remember that prior probability calculations ignore the actual evidence for the event.  Here is Licona’s summary of Cavin’s argument (note: Greg Cavin has contacted me and denied that he made the argument presented below, so I have edited the comments below to represent a generic argument made by a generic atheist named Bob; even if Cavin did not make this argument, I have heard arguments like it made plenty of other times by other atheists):

[Bob’s] first argument is the probability that Jesus rose is astronomically low, since, even if God exists, he doesn’t have a tendency to raise people from the dead. In support he said that, of the estimated 100 billion people who have lived and died on the Earth, the historical evidence is inadequate to suggest that any have been raised from the dead. So, even if the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection were good, there would still be only a 1 chance in 100 billion that Jesus was raised.
Bob argues that the prior probability of Jesus rising from the dead is 1 in 100 billion.  Given this low prior probability, there is no need to even look at the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  The evidence doesn’t matter because it can never overcome 1 in 100 billion odds.  Here is Licona’s response:
I replied that historians don’t use prior probabilities in historical inquiry.  One cannot calculate the prior probability that the U.S. would drop nuclear bombs on Japan during WWII, since in all of human history no nation had dropped a nuclear bomb on another before or since WWII.  Moreover, I’ll be 51 in two weeks.  That’s a lot of days in my life. Yet Sunday was the first day I had ever spent in Temecula, California. Given my “tendency” not to go to Temecula, one should conclude that I wasn’t there that evening.  Historians examine a historical report then look at the evidence for the event occurring.  Thus, prior probabilities are the wrong tool for historical inquiry.  It’s like using a calculator for an archaeological dig.
I think Licona’s response is compelling.  You cannot determine whether a historical event occurred without actually examining the evidence for it.  Calculating prior probabilities may be an interesting exercise, but I doubt that it is the best way to approach historical inquiry.  It just doesn’t matter that resurrections are rare.  In fact, even Christians claim that resurrections are rare in history.  But that fact just has no bearing on whether Jesus rose from the dead.

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In this final post in the series, we will review apologist Rob Bowman’s final thoughts on Joseph Smith’s golden plates.  Bowman writes:

Whereas the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances were obviously miraculous, supernatural occurrences, there is nothing supernatural or miraculous about a set of metal plates with engravings on them.  Showing skeptics the metal plates should not have been any more problematic than showing skeptics the Great Isaiah Scroll today is.  Joseph had no hesitation or reluctance to show people the Egyptian papyri on which he claimed were the writings of Abraham and Joseph, even to complete strangers. Yet someone could be in a room with Joseph, with the plates supposedly sitting right there on the table under wraps, and Joseph would not allow them to look at the plates.  If we’re going to compare the Resurrection appearances with the gold plates, it’s a bit like Peter telling Thomas, “Jesus is right behind that wall over there—Hi, Lord!—but I’m sorry Tom, you’re not allowed to see him now.”

So what are we to make of the golden plates?  Were they real or were they fake?  According to Bowman,

It isn’t clear how many people actually saw the plates or closely inspected them.  The three witnesses say they saw the plates, but give no details, and evidently did not even touch them.  The testimony of the eight witnesses appears to have been written out for them to sign; it claims they handled the plates and saw the engravings, but there are reasons to find this claim dubious.

The simplest explanation for Joseph’s behavior is that he had something, perhaps metal plates of some kind, but not gold plates with modified Egyptian characters.  I don’t think we have enough information to determine if Joseph found the plates somewhere or if he made them, or what. But the best explanation for why he didn’t show the plates openly was that they weren’t what he claimed they were.  That explains why the only people who testified to seeing the plates were a small group—people in his family and a few others, people who were either invested in the project in some way or were easy to manipulate or convince or both—such as Martin Harris.

Here are some additional thoughts I have about the resurrection vs. the golden plates.  As Bowman suggests, coming up with a plausible natural explanation of the golden plates is trivial.  Smith could have made the plates, bought the plates, or even found the plates.  There is nothing supernatural about golden plates.

None of the witnesses of the plates appeared to be in a position to understand the Reformed Egyptian language allegedly engraved on the plates, including Smith himself.  None of the witnesses saw an angel telling Smith where the plates were.  Nobody was with Smith when he allegedly found the plates.  Nobody can know if Smith correctly translated the Book of Mormon from the plates.  In fact, Mormon historians have carefully documented that the plates were rarely even around when Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon.  Much of the material in the Book of Mormon can be directly traced from the King James Bible and contemporary sources that Smith borrowed from – hardly miraculous.

By contrast, the public execution and subsequent resurrection of Jesus, who was then seen by both friends and enemies, over many days, in many different places, screams for a supernatural explanation, especially because Jesus predicted, before he died, that these things would happen.  Skeptics have attempted for 2,000 years to explain what happened without invoking the supernatural, and have utterly failed.

There is simply no comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the golden plates of Joseph Smith.  Any attempts to claim that they are similar, are, in my opinion, foolish.  My special thanks to Rob Bowman for making his comments available to me.  I think you would all agree that they were quite helpful!

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 2, we continued looking at Rob Bowman’s online exposition of how the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and the witnesses of Joseph Smith’s golden plates compare to each other.  In part 3, we will compare the lives of the witnesses after their experiences of either the resurrection or the viewing of the golden plates.  Bowman writes:

The witnesses to the Resurrection gained credibility after their experience, becoming consistently reliable, faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and honorable members of the Christian movement.  Cowardly Peter, doubting Thomas, and persecuting Paul each became unwavering witnesses to Christ and remained so for the rest of their lives.  Peter and Paul were both martyred for their faith, as were some of the other apostles (e.g., James the son of Zebedee in Acts 12).  Not one of the known witnesses of the Resurrection ever undermined his or her testimony.  Not one ever left the Christian church.  Not one was ever excommunicated or excluded from the church.  Not one ever tarnished his or her witness by engaging in wicked behavior.  Not one ever diluted his or her witness by also bearing witness to other religious claims in conflict with the Christian faith.

What about the golden plate witnesses?  Did they live out their lives in a similar fashion?

The witnesses to the gold plates, far from gaining in credibility following their signing the testimonies, lost credibility over the years. Martin Harris diluted his witness by also bearing witness later to the Shakers and the Strangites.  Hiram Page had his own seer stone and claimed to receive revelations that Joseph condemned as from the devil!  Several of the witnesses were excommunicated (some eventually returned, others did not).  Several of the witnesses over the years gave conflicting testimony as to whether they actually saw the plates with their natural eyes or physically handled the plates.  Joseph [Smith] claimed that God had commanded him to take over thirty women, some of them already married to living men, as his wives.  David Whitmer maintained, not without cause, that Joseph was a fallen prophet.  Joseph and Hyrum were killed, not for their testimony to the Book of Mormon, but because of violent mob reaction to their polygamy and other illegal activities.

There is simply no comparison between these two groups of witnesses.  What a stark contrast!  Bowman continues:

Mormons routinely argue that the checkered history of the witnesses all the more underscores the fact that they never disavowed their testimony that Joseph did have the plates.  There is some question about this claim with regard to Cowdery and Harris, but letting that pass, one may accept that Joseph had something like metal plates without concluding that the whole story is true and Joseph really did translate gold plates with Egyptian characters by the gift and power of God.  The lack of credibility of the witnesses is a real evidential difficulty that cannot be turned into an apologetic asset.

In the last post of this series, Bowman explains some final difficulties with the golden plates.  You won’t want to miss it.

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1, we started looking at Rob Bowman’s online exposition of how the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and the witnesses of Joseph Smith’s golden plates compare to each other.  We pick up where we left off.

Bowman next looks at the “contrast between the makeup of the collection of publicly identified witnesses to the Resurrection and the publicly identified witnesses to the gold plates.”

The witnesses to the Resurrection included at least five women (with Mary Magdalene as the first such witness); the witnesses to the gold plates included no women.

The witnesses to the Resurrection identified as family members of Jesus actually consisted only of, perhaps, two such family members, James and Cleopas (if, as some scholars think, he was the man by that name elsewhere identified as a family member).  An appearance to Jude may be implied, and it isn’t unreasonable to speculate that Jesus also appeared to other family members such as Mary.  Still, the named individuals who functioned as public witnesses to the Resurrection included only one or two family members of Jesus. The rest of the named witnesses were drawn from a dozen or more families, with at most two individuals from any one family (such as Simon Peter and Andrew, or James and John the sons of Zebedee).

By contrast, the witnesses to the gold plates were drawn almost entirely from two families, the Smith family and the Whitmer family.  Hiram Page married into the Whitmer family, which means that all of the “eight witnesses” were from the Whitmer and Smith families.  Oliver Cowdery was Joseph Smith’s second or third cousin.  David Whitmer was one of the “three witnesses.”  Thus, ten of the eleven witnesses were relatives of either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer!

Think about this.  Jesus’s resurrection was witnessed by numerous people who were not related to Jesus.  In the case of the golden plates, the witnesses mostly came from two families, one being Smith’s own – hardly a diverse group.  This puts into question the overall credibility of the golden plate witnesses, and certainly cannot compare to the diversity of the resurrection witnesses.

Bowman next looks at, perhaps, the most interesting comparison of the witnesses – their credibility after their experience.  In part 3 , we will look at the lives of the resurrection witnesses and the lives of the golden plate witnesses.  The contrast is glaring, to say the least.  See you then.