From: email@example.com (Russell Turpin)
Subject: Fallacies in historical thought (was: What criteria?)
Summary: We do NOT have 500 witnesses.
Date: 19 Sep 90 05:42:39 GMT
In article , firstname.lastname@example.org (Roger Meunier) writes:
> ... If Christ did not rise from the dead, then there is no
> resurrection and no eternal life. But the record of over
> 500 witnesses to the bodily resurrection of Christ makes
> this a moot point.
Not at all.
The above is one of the more common fallacies into which many
people slip when making historical argument. We do NOT have a
record of 500 witnesses. What we have is a record of one or two
alleged witnesses claiming that there were 500 others. These are
vastly different claims.
Anyone making the former claim today would be asked minimally
what interview process was used to determine the opinions of the
alleged witnesses, and how this data was analyzed. One cannot
blame the gospel author for not answering this question, his
times and thought being what they were. But without the answer
to these questions, the claim of 500 witnesses is close to
meaningless. One *can* expect modern readers to show more
perspecuity than those to whom the gospels were originally
Once I heard someone claim many witnesses to an alleged healing.
What most struck me was that I had been part of the crowd when
the alleged healing took place, and what I saw was nothing
miraculous. Some around me had been impressed, despite the fact
that many of them clearly were not paying attention or had been
in no position to see in any event. The person claiming the
miracle had not bothered to talk with the people that were there,
to determine who saw what, whether their activity at the time and
observational position had even given them the ability to witness
anything, or even if they concured in his perceptions. Despite
this, he glibly declared a crowd of affirming witnesses in
talking about the event the next day. I can only imagine what he
would claim if this became an important event in the start of a
new religion. A healing would become a resurrection, and a room
full of "witnesses", most of whom were busy praying, and some of
whom would have contradicted his original story if asked, would
become a crowd of astonished doctors who examined the body before
This kind of testimony, especially by someone who already
believes, especially written down decades after the fact, means
next to nothing. If we had a record of 500 witnesses, 500 people
who independently wrote down their perceptions and thoughts at
the time, and whose writings survived, then we would have vastly
more evidence than we do now. But contrary to what Mr Meunier
implies, we don't have such a record.
This is but one of many fallacies that David Hackett Fischer
explores in "Historians' Fallacies". This book is a wonderful
compedium of all the ways that historical argument can go deeply
wrong. It is intended for the professional historian or serious
historical reader. If someone had taught it to Josh, we might
now have a few volumes less of silly apologetics.