This blog post is part of the ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’ series. In this series, evidence that has been put forward by Christian apologists in support of the idea that Jesus was resurrected will be explored and critically examined. As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true.
Christians believe that about 2,000 years ago a Jewish teacher called Yeshua (Jesus) roamed across Palestine healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, making the crippled walk and raising at least one man from the dead. It is also believed that he himself was raised from the dead after he was crucified by Romans.
Famed Christian apologist William Lane Craig offers the following reasons as to why he thinks the gospels should be assumed to be reliable until proven wrong:
1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.
2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends." Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the "vanishing hitchhiker" rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.
3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.
4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.
5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.
From: The Evidence for Jesus
The few historians of antiquity who are claimed to have written about Jesus include Josephus Flavius (93AD), Pliny (110AD),Suetonius (110AD) and Tacitus (107AD). The writings of these historians are often presented by apologists as extra-biblical confirmation of the accounts of the gospels. There are many reasons as to why these writings do not constitute evidence of the reliability of the gospels (see: Examining The Extra-Biblical Evidence for Jesus).
It is on the basis of the alleged ‘reliability’ of the gospels (as claimed by Christian apologists), and the writings of the aforementioned historians which mention Jesus, that Christians believe that Jesus Christ not only existed, but was also divine, as the gospels suggest.
Sathya Sai Baba:
Let me now introduce you Sathya Sai Baba…
According to Wikipedia:
Sathya Sai Baba , born Sathyanarayana Raju on 23 November 1926, is a popular, South Indian guru,spiritual figure and educator. He is described by his devotees as an avatar, godman, spiritual teacher and miracle worker. The apparent materializing of vibuthi (holy ash) and small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches by Sathya Sai Baba has been a source of both fame and controversy – skeptics consider these simple conjuring tricks, while devotees consider them evidence of divinity. Sathya Sai Baba has claimed to be the reincarnation of the great spiritual guru, Sai Baba of Shirdi, whose teachings were an eclectic blend of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.
There is no real reason to doubt the existence of Sathya Sai Baba. He is very much alive today, with tens of millions of followers in over 178 countries:
Some of the alleged miracles attributed to him include:
Magically materialising a surgical knife out of thin air, and performing an appendectomy on a patient (link)
Demonstrating omnipresence (link)
Healing a crippled boy (link)
Performing a delivery on a pregnant woman in her dreams, only for her to wake up to find beautiful twins by her bedside (link)
Brings a man back to life (link)
Many, many more independent accounts of purported miracles of Sathya Sai Baba can be found here, here, here, and here – and there is no shortage of devotees alive today claiming to have been first hand witnesses to his miraculous acts.
But is there any reason to believe that these claims are true?
Fortunately, some have taken the trouble to investigate these claims and have found them to be fraudulent:
Even in an age of advanced scientific knowledge, and the availability of digital technology to capture and analyse images (like the above video), there are millions who believe in the miracle claims of Sathya Sai Baba despite there being no record of him performing the alleged miracles under controlled conditions.
If people can be this credulous today, despite there being in existence the tools to verify claims of alleged magic (which has so far never been demonstrated to be real) – imagine how much more credulous people must have been 2000 years ago, around the times the gospels were written.
Applying the same standards of evidence:
Here is a recap of Craig’s reasons for accepting the reliability of the gospels (inane as they are), contrasted with how they could equally be used to defend the claims of divinity of Sathya Sai Baba:
1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts.
Well, Sathya Sai Baba is alive today. And so are his followers who claim to be ‘witnessing’ his alleged miracles even today.
2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends."
Again, Sathya Sai Baba is alive today. And so are his followers who claim to be ‘witnessing’ his alleged miracles even today.
3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable.
Stories of Sathya Sai Baba’s life have been covered by the BBC, which has a reputation for being fairly reliable by today’s rigorous standards. It certainly has a more highly developed method of transmission of its information (electronic and digital), than the Jews did 2000 years ago!
4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision.
First of all, there is no way of verifying this.
Secondly, the apostles of Jesus are not disinterested third-parties, but stake-holders in the popularisation and propagation of a religious tradition. Supervision by the apostles is precisely what would lead to embellishment of stories of Jesus, and that is what we see when the gospels are examined. Embellished accounts of Santhya Sai Baba’s life are also exactly what we are getting from his followers today, many of whom claim to have witnessed Sathya Sai Baba’s miracles themselves, first-hand.
5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.
How so? This is ridiculous. 97% of Mark’s Gospel is duplicated in Matthew; and 88% is found in Luke. The Gospel of Mark, meanwhile, was written 40 years after the events it describes, and there is no knowledge of where the author of Mark (by the way all the canonical gospels are anonymous, with the names ascribed to them later, arbitrarily, by the Church) got his information from.
Compare this with Sathya Sai Baba, meanwhile, whose exploits have been reported by people who are still alive today, who can be contacted for more information or corroboration.
We can even go talk to the man himself if we have to, so the ‘historical reliability’ of the accounts of Sathya Sai Baba’s magical exploits aren’t an issue at all.
Going by the standards of evidence Christian apologists are willing to use in defense of the divinity of Jesus, if they are consistent, they would also have to conclude that Sathya Sai Baba is who his followers believe he is… a ‘Godman’…
But of course we don’t believe that Sathya sai Baba is a ‘Godman’, and nor can any rational person. By the same token, we can’t believe in the divinity of Jesus either. The reason is simple. The evidence being offered is simply not good enough.
As a critical thinker, when faced with a claim, before accepting it to be true, one must float as many possible explanations for that claim. These proposed explanations must then be analysed to see which one is most consistent with the available evidence. Out of all the possible explanations, the one that is best supported by the available evidence is the one that should be deemed the most likely one.
As it is, claims of this nature (miracles by religious figures) have many possible explanations… fraud, misinterpretation, superstition, etc.. which are much more likely, when compared to supernatural explanations for them. We have numerous verified instances of religious fraud. We have numerous verified instances of people being mistaken about phenomena they thought were supernatural. We have numerous verified instances of superstitions flourishing and growing into religious movements. But we do NOT have verified instances of supernatural events occurring in the world.
Maybe there was a man called Yeshua 2,000 years ago roaming through Palestine antagonising the Romans and religious elites of his day with highly controversial socio-political views. As far as we know there were many such people in the region during that time, and he could have been one of them. But to say this person, if he existed, also performed miracles, walked on water, and rose from the dead, is another matter altogether.
Fictitious magical stories are told/written all the time about people who have existed historically (or exist even today), just like the examples we’ve seen of Sathya Sai Baba, and others.
For claims of the divinity of Jesus and Sathya Sai Baba to be taken seriously, the quality of evidence should be exceptionally good. Hearsay (i.e. unsubstantiated claims) from the followers of the the people in question cannot suffice – even if reports of such hearsay appear in the news.
And because hearsay is all we have, we are justified in not taking the claims of the divinity of either Jesus or Sathya Sai Baba seriously.
UPDATE: Sathya Sai Baba died on Sunday April 24th 2011.